The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is arguably the most well-known whisky club, with branches in various countries around the world. In existence for over 25 years, the SMWS has bottled over 3000 casks for its members. Membership, in its simplest form, gives access to a range of tasting events and special bottlings, as well as entrance into the SMWS’s 3 venues in the UK. After paying the $229 initiation fee, your membership starts with a selection of 4 small samples of the society’s bottlings. Strangely, the society’s bottlings don’t list the specific distillery (for brand protection purposes, apparently), but there exists a “distillery code” through which one can decipher the distillery from the bottle’s label.
We managed to get our hands on 1.152 (Glenfarclas 12 years old) and 3.160 (Bowmore 10 years old). Here is what we thought of each:
1.152 (Jelly Belly Beans Galore)
The tasting notes on the bottle are as follows: The nose is sweet, jelly beans (toffee popcorn, peach, liquorice and melon); water brings charcouterie meats, grapes, and pineapple. The palate is substantial — cinnamon, chilli, and chocolate; then tarragon and lime on reduction.
From the code above, we were able to deduce this as a 12 year old Glenfarclas. At 56.7% alcohol, this cask-strength whisky has considerable bite, with water both mellowing this effect and bringing out more nuanced flavors. I tend to agree with the listed tasting note of “jelly beans,” as there is a tart sweetness that fits the profile of a jelly bean almost exactly. There is also nice tropical notes such as pineapple right from the beginning, with some cocoa balancing things out. The whisky sticks to the palate, and on the finish has some smokey characteristics, leaving the taste of Montreal smoked meat. All in all, a very pleasant dram, provided some water is available to temper the high alcohol.
3.160 (Islay beach scene)
The tasting notes on the bottle are as follows: The nose evokes pork chops and lemony prawns on a beach barbeque, then hints of buttery mint; fruitier with water, it also finds coconut and perfumed smoke. The palate has burnt heather and barbequed meats with fruit.
If I thought the Glenfarclas was overpowering in the alcohol content, this Bowmore 10 year old comes in at 59.9%, so be sure you have a splash of water on hand to simmer the alcohol kick, and bring out the depth in this dram. There is definitely a citrusy note on the nose, with buttered prawns featuring prominently. A hint of seaweed also lingers, becoming more available on the palate. The finish is slightly medicinal, with a citrus tang and undertone of smokiness. Overall a very complex dram, with much of the typical Bowmore characteristic.
Both these whiskies are fantastic drams with unique character to them, and I’m amazed how accurate the suggested tasting notes are. Get yourself a membership and you’ll have access to these bottlings, among many others. If the $229 price tag scares you, you can always befriend a member, and hope they’ll let you sample their wares.