Monday, 7 April 2014

An irrepressible spirit of adventure

AFTER much arm twisting (well not that much), a great deal of informative Twitter chatter (I'm looking specifically at you Ben Cops, Matt Veira and Tom Thomson) and a quick glance at the old bank balance, and I decided it was high time I joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Why? Well, let me explain.
    I'm a recent whisky convert, a watered-down malt weakling who only began their whisky journey back in 2012 when, as a Scotsman who had just turned 40, I thought I really should make a concerted effort to try and appreciate this complex brew from my windy, rainy homeland.
    My good friend and guiding light, Yan had been banging on at me about whisky for decades. I foolishly chose to ignore him, deciding to have the occasional beer and bottle of wine instead. My loss, eh? But he’s a sensible chap and with his words of encouragement and advice ringing in my ears, I took a fistful of cash and exchanged it for a bottle of Aberlour A'bunadh and a couple of Glencairn glasses. This marked the start of my journey to the spirit world and, let’s face it, it wasn't a bad place to begin, was it?
    Other bottles came and went, samples were regularly exchanged, and nights down the pub served as an enjoyable education, turning my nose up at frothing tankards of ale in favour of a wee dram instead. Yan even brought cheese, caramel shortcake and chocolate to the pub to accompany our tastings, which, as you can imagine, was met with quizzical glances from some of the locals.
    Since then, as can be seen from my scribblings both here and over on Twitter, I've been sipping, swirling and sniffing drams from all over the world ever since and what was once a mere curiosity has now turned into a full-blown obsession.
    I am always looking to bolster my whisky knowledge, buying books, scouring blogs, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube vlogs and devouring whisky magazines on a regular basis. So when I heard my Twitter chums eagerly discussing the merits of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I was desperate to find out more. Most people reading this, I'm sure, will know all about the SMWS and what they do, but for those who don't, here's the deal.
    As a member, you are given access to a dizzying array of single cask malts - and a few other curiosities - from all over the world. On the first Friday of every month, the society release its latest offerings and once they are gone, they are gone for good. Sometimes there might be 600 bottles of a particular whisky, other times there's only a couple of dozen.
    Membership also gives you access to the Society's members' rooms in Edinburgh and London where you and up to three friends can settle down with a few choice drams and a bit of food. Not only that, but when you join, you get an automatic subscription to Unfiltered magazine and three tempting 10cl bottles to get you off on the right foot.
    Each bottle is given an imaginative name - such as Pork Chops in Red Wine Sauce and Hard Glazed Pretzel Sticks - and has a code plastered across the label which cryptically tells you what distillery the spirit is from, along with a mouthwatering paragraph of brilliant tasting notes which sets the mind racing.
    So, after seeing Twitter light up with SMWS chat, I did a bit more research and quickly decided I just had to experience some of what they were having. Decision made, I then discovered the SMWS were offering a package deal to tie in with the Cocoa Loco celebration - membership and a bottle for a special price. This sealed the deal and I threw money at this cask strength whisky haven as fast as I could pry my credit card from my wallet.
    To my delight - I was expecting it sometime this week - my membership pack smartly arrived last Monday, complete with journal, membership card, three 10cl bottles, a £10 voucher, and a rather splendid 70cl bottle of the wonderfully titled A Delicatessen Shopping Basket - a 16-year-old Bowmore.
    I will obviously still buy whisky locally - I think it’s extremely important to support local businesses, especially whisky and wine specialists - but I'll also be dipping into the SMWS range to expand my whisky knowledge and taste a few weird and wonderful drams.
    Exciting times ahead, then, and plans are already being laid out to visit the Edinburgh members' rooms in May to coincide with the Edinburgh Whisky Stramash. That could be messy, mind, so we'll see how it pans out...
    Tasting notes for the four whiskies I received will follow, along with a few details about where they’re from, but it might be a while, as I don't want to rush any of them!
Let the journey continue!

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