It can be hard to keep track of everything that’s happened in the past 12 months, but before the year ends is as good a time as any to find a moment to take stock and reflect on some of the key events in our whisky yearbook for 2018.
For the Society this year, it’s been all about celebrating the 35th anniversary of our founding at The Vaults in Leith. We marked this by catching up with our founder and member #1, Pip Hills, for an extended interview. We wanted to capture his reflections on how the Society began and took off through word-of-mouth across Edinburgh and then beyond – much further beyond.
THE MAIN MOTIVATION
Pip told Unfiltered in a wide-ranging interview this year about the Society’s origins: “The people I spoke to who said it couldn’t be done were so dull, there was no imagination. They were all pulling in big salaries from their companies and they were all selling blended whisky, and they were surprised that anybody would want malt whisky, which showed how little they knew! But my main motivation was fun. It was a fun thing to do.”
Some 35 years on, Pip’s mantra remains central to the Society’s sense of purpose – not only to share the best whisky in the world, but to make sure our members are having fun in the process. With that in mind, we’ve hosted parties in Speyside, Islay and of course where it all began in Edinburgh. Our 35th anniversary events took place at our branches across the world – and where members couldn’t attend in person, we set up our first ever live online tasting, to share the experience no matter where you were.
A YEAR OF ADVENTURE AND EXPLORATION
Our adventures have taken us to distilleries across Scotland as well as beyond the world of whisky, with missions to track down the best single cask bottlings from the Armagnac region, and the finest casks from Spain’s ‘sherry triangle’ around Jerez.
Those experiences have been related in full in Unfiltered, now in its 10th year and bigger and better than ever. To mark our magazine’s first decade, we’ve made every issue available to members as a digital archive, to enjoy at leisure over a dram or to search out knowledge about whatever aspect of whisky you want to explore further.
DON’T JUST TAKE OUR WORD FOR IT…
We’ve seen a record number of bottlings this year, with more variety than ever before. Among our picks: a series of special 35th anniversary bottlings; 10 festival bottlings for the Spirit of Speyside and Islay festivals; whisky expert Charlie MacLean’s selection for July Outturn; our youngest ever whisky, a three-year-old, from distillery 136; our first-ever English whisky, from distillery 137; our Jazz Trio from distillery 24; three new bottlings from our experimental series of blended malts, with Exotic Cargo 2 and two batches of Peat Faerie; more offerings from our Single Cask Spirits collection of armagnac, cognac and rum; our first bottlings from Japanese distillery 130 for five years; and another very special treat to come your way from our series of special 35th anniversary bottlings before the year is out.
We’re delighted the judges in various spirits competitions around the world have reinforced our belief that we’re offering members the very highest quality in everything we do; 2018 has also been a record-breaking year for the Society in the number of awards we’ve picked up. And what a way to wrap it up – by retaining our title as Independent Bottler of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s Independent Bottlers’ Challenge. That’s the sixth time in the past nine years we’ve picked up that accolade, which we’d like to think speaks for itself in terms of the consistently high standard of the bottlings we offer to our members.
BRINGING MEMBERS TOGETHER
The Society’s global circle of single cask enthusiasts is growing all the time. Our new branch in China has just marked its first anniversary, Singapore and Italy are up and running, and Hong Kong is also all set to burst into life in 2019.
We have a bigger team of SMWS ambassadors than ever before, and a more visible presence at whisky festivals across Europe and the rest of the world. Our network of partner bars continues to expand, with new additions internationally and a constantly improving selection of the very best bars where Society members are guaranteed to meet kindred spirits and fantastic SMWS bottlings.
What else? We’ve revamped our Members’ Rooms at 19 Greville Street, opened a new pop-up bar at 78 Northcote Road in Clapham, and we’re putting the finishing touches to our self-catering accommodation in the apartment above the Members’ Rooms at The Vaults.
BETTER WHEN SHARED IN 2019
As we approach the new year, Pip’s mantra about having fun is foremost in our thoughts for 2019. With that in mind we’re planning to follow on from our 35th anniversary by building on our sense of community at the Society and finding even more ways to demonstrate that whisky discoveries are better when shared.
That means more events for members to get involved with, both in person and online, more opportunities to share your thoughts and opinions about bottlings with fellow members, and more colourful whisky experiences taking place in Scotland and around the world.
Watch this space…
Merry Christmas to all of you when it comes and all the best for 2019.
The SMWS team