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It’s no secret that the team here at Ape are rather fond of a top notch whisky or two. And if we do say so ourselves, we somewhat know our stuff, especially when it comes to single malts. We do, though, find it increasingly difficult to cut through the marketing and hype of new releases. We’re after the real stuff; the cask-strength whiskies that have more substance than story.

SMWS: A Members-Only Whisky Club

Airy angel fairy cup-cakes anyone?

That’s why we often call on the The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), a members-only whisky club. Their model is simple: buy whisky one cask at a time and bottle it exclusively for members. There’s no colouring nor filtration. Each bottle is whisky from a single cask of spirit distilled at just one distillery. And with relationships with most of Scotland’s 130+ distilleries, the Society is able to get their hands on some whiskies which rarely make it to market.

Better yet, there’s no faux ‘limited edition’ marketing puffery; each release states the precise number of bottles yielded by each cask and once they’re gone, they’re gone. So yes, one for the whisky purists, perhaps, but the Society is certainly not a home for snobbery nor pretence. Know absolutely nothing about whisky, rum or cognac? No problem. You’ll be spared the charm offensive of certain showy brands and instead be welcomed in for a few drinks to find out exactly what you do and don’t like.

Forget The Brand And Focus On Taste

Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s new members rooms, Bath Street, Glasgow

That emphasis on flavour means that you’ll never find a distillery name on a Society bottling; they have been cut in favour of numerical codes. The logic? Forget the brand and focus on what the stuff tastes like.

Alongside the code, each bottle has its own moniker which charmingly reflects its taste profile and style. “Oil Rubbed Rhubarb”, anyone? Every bottling is curated by a ‘Tasting Panel’ charged with sifting the masterpieces from the muck, with only stand-out drams going forth to bear the Society’s name.

Exclusive Society Members’ Rooms

Membership throws open the doors to the Society’s clubhouses in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow

Beyond exclusive access to bottlings online, membership throws open the doors to the Society’s clubhouses in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

This writer has spent many an evening in the Farringdon outpost, ordering charcuterie boards by the metric tonnage whilst the barmen hunt out something he hasn’t tried. They rarely come up short, though; any Society member can attest to the reassuring, if overwhelming, sight of hundreds of the Society’s moss-green bottles which line the back bar.

Hundreds of the Society’s moss-green bottles which line the back bar

Handily, they have devised an ingenious solution to the much welcome problem of choice. Each and every bottle at the bar falls into an alphabetic price category. ‘A’ drams are this amount, ‘D’ is that amount, and so on and so forth. Practical, yes, but being able to select a random member of the alphabet and be given a glass of whisky in exchange is frankly just a very pleasing experience.

At-Home Entertainment

Virtual tasting events are being run throughout the festive period.

While we wait for restrictions to be lifted across the country, the Society has thoughtfully adapted to its member’s needs with an extended programme of at-home entertainment over the festive period.

SMWS members can look forward to virtual tastings and live pub sessions, masterclasses, live music, podcasts, video content, music playlists and much more.

The Perfect Gift: SMWS Membership

Your membership card identifies you as belonging to the world’s leading whisky club, gives you access to their Members Rooms and discounts at their partner bars

Membership can be sought online, for oneself or as a gift to another. A name, email address and the rather agreeable sum of £65 is all that is required. However, if you really want to treat them, why not add a five dram Discovery Pack or their first full bottle to the order? These optional extras will give the recipient a welcome taste of what’s to come from the world’s leading whisky club.

Membership of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) starts as £65 and is available at smws.com now.