Think Flavour – Whisky in its purest form
I’m often asked how I started being a barstalker. Before I started going to bars, I discovered my love for Scottish single malt whisky. The variety of tastes, the art of extracting taste from old barrels and the romantic idea of green landscapes, salty air and wading in wellingtons through the mud has always fascinated me. The demand for whisky grew and I watched the prices rising and the good whiskies were no longer available. Over the years, I have dealt with more and more spirits and my original love was forgotten.
Last year, I came across the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at the whisky fair in Frankfurt, the Interwhisky. Also abbreviated as the Society or SMWS, it is a Scottish whisky club founded in Edinburgh in 1983 and offers sophisticated whisky lovers the world’s largest collection of rare and exquisite single cask whiskies. Single Cask means whisky from one barrel, bottled at cask strength, unfiltered and limited. No addition of water nor artificial colours goes without saying. An authentic whisky enjoyment, which is based on its individuality, not on its origin, age or price. We often judge the quality of products on their opulent packaging. However, the bottles of the Society all look the same. This is not just a feast for the tidy-minded on the shelves, but draws attention to the essentials: the flavours.
The full strength of the whisky is dedicated to whisky lovers who focus on unusual experiences and unique flavours, far from the standard bottlings, which provide a constant flavour profile.
Twelve unique flavour categories, each represented by a colour, help you find your way around – from Young & Spritely to Old & Dignified, Light and Delicate to Heavily Peated. No information about the region, no information about the distillery. But not quite, the green bottles all carry identically designed labels with a unique number code consisting of two parts. The number 9.131, as an example, would be the 9th distillery where the whisky was bottled and the whisky comes from barrel number 131. There are more than 130 distilleries in the portfolio and, of course, the distillery is hidden behind the number. If you take a closer look, the label also provides information on age, type of cask, region, abv, date of distillation, and outturn of the cask.
My personal highlights are the poetic tasting notes which, in addition to the flavour categories and the colour, help you to explore the character of each bottle. I stick to bottle 9.131 from the Light & Delicate category: a cheery treat, sweet and luscious with New York cheesecake and a banana split ice cream sundae with whipped cream, nuts sprinkled on top and a glacé cherry. It is the perfect dram to celebrate the moment. The prices, from my point of view, are unbeatable and vary depending on limitation and age. This bottle is £54.40 and is one of 162. The bottles are exclusively available for members of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Membership is £160 in the first year and it’s absolutely worth every penny.
The members wait eagerly for every first Friday of the month, when 20 new whiskies await their aficionados. Currently, the club has more than 28,000 members worldwide. In addition, members regularly receive the magazine “Unfiltered”.
At the beginning of September I was invited for a tasting in Berlin organised by Peter Eichhorn. He is the SMWS brand ambassador for Berlin and organises regular tastings in the Union Jack Bar.
SMWS currently has two partner bars in Berlin, where the whisky can be tasted: the Union Jack, a Whisky Pub in Charlottenburg and Bar am Steinplatz, the winner of the Mixology Award for the Best Hotel Bar of the Year 2017.
More information about other cities and events can be found here.
A few days later, I traveled to Edinburgh and spent a wonderful afternoon in Queen Street 28 an impressive four-storey Georgian building. There you will find a cosy bar on the ground floor and a restaurant above that, where even non-members of the Society can enjoy a huge range of whiskies. The upstairs bar is reserved for members only, as is the head office in Leith, the old port of Edinburgh, called The Vaults. Edinburgh is a dream city with warm hospitality and great bars. Here my bar adventures in Edinburgh.
Besides whisky, rum is one of my passions. The Society is now bottling single cask rum and none other than Ian Burrell, the Global Ambassador for Rum, helps select the barrels and write the charismatic tasting notes and bottle descriptions. Jamaica me crazy: We run into a freshly-painted candy shop in Kingston, Jamaica, but as the solvent on the nose evaporates it leaves the fruity aroma of strawberry red lace liquorice. There are intense reggae flavours of jerked spices, sweet peppers, cranberries and a leather strap. Here you can clearly taste the origin of the rum, great rum. Unfortunately, this rum is now sold out, but the next ones are ready. The exclusiveness covers not only whisky and rum, there is also cognac and gin in the Society’s portfolio.
Usually I write about my bar adventures, but the products of the Society fascinate me again and again with their diverse flavour profiles. More information can be found on the official SMWS page https://de.smws.com
Editor’s note: Some pictures have been provided to me by the PR Agency Alle Vögel fliegen hoch. The rest of the pictures were shot by me.