Scotch Malt Whisky Society launch in India

Last week the well-known association for malt lovers, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society  was launched in Mumbai. The SMWS was set up in 1983 and now operates in 19 countries with over 26,000 malt-loving members. Ashwin Deo (founder of Turning Point wines) is the man behind the set up of the society’s Indian outpost.

Pic courtesy: The Arbuturian

In case you’re wondering, SMWS is a member’s only club which bottles the world’s widest selection of rare single cask malts. The Society acquires special casks from the 129 distilleries they are associated with and bottles these whiskies under their own label, making them exclusively available to members. Every cask owned by SMWS is represented by a cask number, instead of the distillery name. As a policy SMWS do not reveal the source of the cask, but their brochure of tasting notes (called Outturn) holds a few hints. A little snooping and you’d be able to put a name to each, but if you’re lazy there are unofficial cheat SMWS codes available online.

So what makes these bottles special? Well, for one they are all cask strengths which means there’s no dilution or blending of these whiskies and average at about 58% alcohol (the usual is not over 45%). Second, they are rare in the sense that each cask is unique and gives only about 300 bottles. So once the cask is finished, the whisky is gone forever!

What I love about SMWS (apart from all the quality dram, of course!) is the quirk and sense of humour that runs through  their tasting notes. Like cask no 35.48 titled ‘J.K. Rowling meets C.S. Lewis’ where the whisky is described as being the colour of ‘Ron Weasley’s Head’. Or cask no 29.131 ‘Buttercups, bothies and barbeques’ which runs ‘A rather unusual nose – it suggested a coal sack full of sugar puffs, buttercups by rock-pools, a bothy (with old-fashioned oil lamps), vanilla….’

If you’re ever inclined to pen down tasting notes, this is a good place to start learning.

I asked Georgina Bell, Global Ambassador of SMWS for her picks from the launch Outturn of SMWS India. Here’s what she said. Also, she gives GQ India readers a guide to tasting cask strength whiskies here –

Georgina Bell, Global Ambassador of Scotch Malt Whisky Society

What should you consider when buying a bottle?

When buying a bottle think about how you’re going to enjoy it, and with whom. Are you buying it to share with friends for a special occasion, to impress some colleagues over dinner, or just to curl up with by yourself as an indulgent treat? Or have you just been won over by it when tasting, or enticed by the attractive tasting note? One thing’s for sure though – once our whisky is gone, it’s gone – so you really do have to buy it when you see it! But the beauty is that the next best whisky is always around the corner, waiting to be explored.

Speyside, Highlands, Islay – do you have a favourite?

My favourite really depends on my mood, what I feel like drinking at that particular time and the season. Because all of our whiskies are single cask, they are the exception to the rule so may not usually portray the stereotypical flavour expected from a region. I feel there is a time and a place for every whisky. Personally, I love a lighter more fresher, delicate whisky in the summertime, something a little richer and warming in autumn when the leaves start to crinkle and go brown – something from a port pipe never fails to disappoint! And when winter comes around and those colder months begin to edge in nothing warms me more than something smoky, rich, big and voluptuous.

5 picks from the current Outturn

21.27 ‘An Enticement of Sweet Oak’ This whisky is from a distillery that was mothballed in 1986, only to be reopened in 2008, so this cask is from before that closure, standing at a majestic 39years old. The significance of the distillery reopening is really special for me – showing a revival in old distilleries and faith that the whisky industry is growing. You don’t often find a cask this old from the distillery, let alone a cask of this quality. The word rarity doesn’t quite do it justice

G4.3 ‘Custard Creams and Kentucky Staves’ Grain whisky is having a massive revival in the industry – I often see it as the cheeky younger sibling to malt whisky: massively overlooked but with incredible potential. Grain whisky has the most incredible finish, and is very similar in mouth texture to rye. I find it extremely refreshing, and this particular one is very easy to match food to.

26.89 ‘An Exotic Tearoom Experience’ This 27 year old highland whisky from a refill Sherry cask has the most distinguished, elegant taste out of all the whiskies on the March Outturn. I have a few similar, yet different, bottlings at home in Scotland – it’s a whisky that just works for me every time. It was one of our launch whiskies at the parties we’ve thrown in Mumbai and Pune, and was the most popular at each event. Due to the cask type the whisky has an overpowering sultry, perfumed, incensed note that has an ability to calm me completely. I also love the tasting note – the panel were able to pick up spiced apple tea, Turkish delight and ras el hanout spices – try it for yourself and see if you agree!

4.168 ‘ Gunpowder, Treason and Plot’ Whisky is often described as smooth and delicate. This baby is the complete opposite – a little rugged, unrefined, big, rich, chewy, salty, meaty with a taste of ‘Australian Riesling’ and a smell of Porchetta d’Ariccia with crackling and Thai Spices’. This whisky is at polar opposites to what the distillery usually produces, and is a real treat for when you need a big beastie of a dram.

Finally, again for great rarity and also length of flavour, is 73.55 ‘Apples and Pears’. Before I started at the society I’d never heard of this distillery – bearing in mind we bottle from 129 different distilleries how could I! Over the years every cask has surprised me: each one is a liquid joy. We only got 73 bottles from this one cask to share around our 15 branches around the world which means our members are in for a treat with this. Standing at 21 years it’s a stunning dram, perfect for all times of day. This is really one to share with friends – compare notes on the whisky and see what you all get