Our whisky is always best enjoyed when it’s shared. That goes for any bottling, but it’s an even more special experience if it’s a treasured bottling of Cask No. 1.1, the whisky that started the whole venture when it became the Society’s first release in 1983.
Our founder, Pip Hills, got 2019 off to a spectacular start when he returned to The Vaults in February to crack open a precious bottling of 1.1 and share it with a packed Members’ Room.
Along with a dram of Society liquid history, he also shared his tales of how the discovery of whisky in its purest form prompted the foundation of what is now the world’s leading whisky club. If you missed out, we captured the entire occasion for our Whisky Talk podcast. And you can read more about Pip’s whisky tales in his book, The Founder’s Tale, which he released in August – as you might expect, it’s quite a story…
From kicking off with Cask 1.1, we ended the year having reached the 140th distillery that we’ve bottled whisky from for our members, adding new distilleries from Taiwan and the United States to our roster of distillery codes along the way. That brought us up to 110 different spirit bottlings for the year, including new blended malts, armagnacs, cognacs, rums and gins in amongst our amazing whiskies.
We’ve offered members more variety than ever before this year – our spirit manager Euan Campbell counted 40 different wood types that he’s used for maturation during 2019. And if a bumper year of industry awards is anything to go by – rounded off by our third consecutive accolade as Independent Bottler of the Year in the IBC competition – we’re making sure quality is right up there with consistency.
MEMBERS AT OUR HEART
Pip reminded us of how whisky brought the early members of the Society together with a shared passion and as one of the best excuses in the world to get together with kindred spirits. We’ve spent the year with that sense of sharing at the heart of everything we’ve been doing, with more member involvement than ever before.
As well as having a bigger presence at the Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay festivals, we’ve also been holding ‘virtual tastings’ to allow members wherever they are to join an online tasting with our ambassadors. We also held our first Gathering at The Vaults at the end of summer, bringing members together from near and far to share in a week-long programme of Society events – including our lucky competition winner, Michele Meador, who travelled from Georgia in the US to join us in Leith. We loved hosting the Gathering, so put Monday, 31 August next year in your diary for a week of events leading up to our next festival on Saturday, 5 September. See you there or online!
In August we also welcomed 12 flavour ambassadors from across the world to The Vaults, to celebrate their passion for the Society as well as their preference for each of our 12 flavour profiles of whisky. It was the perfect example of how a diverse group of people can start the day as merely sharing a membership and end it as a group of friends, brought together by a shared love of whisky and for their sense of belonging to the Society.
We’ve also been looking to our members around the world for advice on the best places to enjoy a whisky night out in their home cities, with Unfiltered featuring Society-inspired evenings in Shanghai, Washington DC, Berlin and Tokyo throughout the course of 2019. In each city, our members have given us the inside scoop not only on the Society’s partner bars, but where else to find a great whisky and a bite to eat.
Look out for more member-inspired nights out in the future, and be sure to keep tabs on our list of international partner bars – an amazing network of brilliant bars that we’re adding to all the time as our global membership increases.
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
As well as growing our network of partner bars, we’re kicking off 2020 with some exciting news – the opening of our Members’ Room in Glasgow. Our new home at 38 Bath Street in the city centre is coming together as we speak and should be ready to throw open its doors in February next year, so there’s not long to go, and we can’t wait to see you there.
We’re also going to be making big changes at 28 Queen Street in January, to provide more space for members. The first floor, currently home to the Dining Room, will become exclusively for members’ use, with a combination of comfy and cosy seating as well as higher tables for dining. The kitchen staff behind the award-winning Dining Room will be staying in place to provide a gastro bar menu. From what our Queen Street regulars tell us, there’s a positive buzz about the changes – and don’t worry, we’ll remain open throughout the refurbishment, with minimal disruption expected.
It’s been another great year of whisky stories as well, with Unfiltered taking us on in-depth visits to new distilleries at Macallan and Lagg on Arran, as well as taking detailed tours of historic sites such as Tamdhu and Tomatin. Our members’ magazine is now bigger than ever before and continues to be the place for everyone to delve into the wider world of whisky, but we also launched our own podcast this year, Whisky Talk, which is drawing listeners from around the world for its insightful and entertaining interviews.
We hope you agree that it’s been a brilliant year for the Society, but we’ve no plans to rest on our laurels. We plan to start 2020 with a bang, so look out for some big news coming your way very soon that we hope gets you looking ahead to the new year with anticipation.
Finally, we’d like to thank you for being a dedicated member of the Society and for sharing your passion for the club. We look forward to serving up and enjoying some sensational drams together in 2020, and we always welcome your feedback and input into everything we do. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2020 from the entire SMWS team,
The Vaults, Leith