I must admit my experience with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is limited – perhaps unsurprising for a private membership organisation.
The SMWS was started by Philip Hills (author of the excellent book Appreciating Whisky). After trying a Glenfarclas directly from the cask in 1978, he was persuaded to buy the cask with a group of friends. This expanded and became a public society in 1983.
I’ve never been a member (representation in Belgium has been a bit problematic in recent years – it’s now run by someone with a background in bartending) but on the other hand I’ve been seriously impressed with some of the older bottlings that I’ve tried (Lochside 1966 92.7 and Jura 1972 31.4 spring to mind). I’ve also enjoyed my visit to the Edinburgh Members room a couple of years ago (thank you for the invite L.).
Here are two recent SMWS bottlings that I could try from the November 2017 outturn.
Mortlach 15 yo 2001 ‘Moment of Serenity’ (55,1%, SMWS 2017, 76.135, first-fill hogshead + PX finish, 233 btl.)
Nose: sweet and savoury. Some (slightly winey) red fruits, raisins and oranges. Then meaty notes, caramelized onions and cloves from the wood. Funny combination of raspberry and cured ham. Some stony hints.
Mouth: same clash between the meaty Mortlach character, some dry nutty notes and vague raisiny touches. Plenty of ginger and cinnamon dust now. Rather earthy in a way, and rather sharp too.
Finish: long, spicy, with cocoa.
For me the sweet and savoury notes don’t find a nice balance here. Maybe the sherry finish was too short (one year). I’m not a big fan of the classic Mortlach meatiness anyway. Around € 90 – now sold out.
Caol Ila 7 yo 2010 ‘Honey and vanilla smoke’ (58,4%, SMWS 2017, 53.242, refill bourbon hogshead, 332 btl.)
Nose: fairly simple but with a certain classic beauty. Sweet vanilla and honey indeed, with ashy smoke and a hint of peanut butter. Hints of apples and lemons. (Shell)fish. Concrete and wet sand.
Mouth: even sweeter than expected. Pears, peaches, vanilla syrup and sweet barley. Also cigar ashes and leather. A faint medicinal edge as well.
Finish: long and clean, with sweet toffee, pepper and hints of tar.
Certainly better in terms of balance although in this case the complexity is slightly limited (which is unsurprising considering its age). Also sold out, but they have a similar cask 53.247 available for around € 65.
Maybe not an exceptional duo. I keep looking for casks that are more to my liking, perhaps a little older.
In case you’re interested: a SMWS membership costs around € 75 for one year (or more if you prefer a welcome pack which includes whisky). Once you’re a member, you have access to their extensive portfolio of bottlings, you get their Unchilfiltered magazine and you have access to their events and venues around the world.