The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will always hold a special place in my heart. Those of you who know me well will already be aware that my most recent place of employment, The Strath Ale Wine & Spirit Merchants in Victoria, British Columbia, was a retail partner shop for the SMWS in Canada, and for all intents and purposes I was the face of that partnership (along with the lovely faces of SMWS Canada founders Kelly and Rob Carpenter). With the help of my trusty sidekick, Mr. Adam Bradshaw (who has since taken up my old mantle of Whisky Specialist at The Strath), I organized and hosted monthly, and eventually twice-monthly tastings for around 50 eager SMWS members and guests. Naturally, when my wife and I spotted a chance to attend an SMWS Outturn here in the Netherlands (as the invited guests of SMWS Benelux Ambassador Hans Offringa no less) we jumped at the opportunity.
A quick bit of backstory regarding the Society for those not already in the know: the SMWS is a membership based whisky club, and independent bottler of unique and top-shelf single cask whiskies. Chapters exist everywhere from the UK to Japan to Australia and several points in between. While the basic workings of the SMWS remain globally consistent by design, each chapter seems to have its own set of bylaws and peculiarities, mostly rooted in local liquor laws and other customs (Canada for example, is one of the few SMWS countries that has physical retail outlets for its whiskies). Yearly membership grants you worldwide access not only to the whiskies themselves, but also regular tastings, as well as entry to some extraordinary members only whisky bars in the UK and elsewhere. Without sounding like too much of shill (and for the record, I’m in no way connected to the Society at the moment beyond being a member myself) I would highly recommend membership to anyone living in an area in which the SMWS currently operates, particularly if you’ve moved beyond the basics of single malt whisky and are looking to broaden your horizons and perhaps make a few new whisky friends along the way.
The Netherlands tasting was held last weekend at the cozy, well-stocked J.D. William’s Whisky Bar in downtown Amsterdam. After a failed attempt at spending some time wandering the famous Rijksmuseum (it was far too crowded on a drizzly Sunday in July for the quick pop-in we were hoping for) and a spot of lunch, Mrs. Whiskymafia and I sauntered down to the venue, shook hands with our esteemed host Mr. Offringa at the door, and saddled up to the bar. A flight of five SMWS whiskies sat before each of us, and we began some preliminary nosing of our glasses while staring at the fine array of whiskies from around the globe arranged on the back bar. The small room filled quickly with other members and guests, and the tasting was soon underway. Presenting in English for the kind benefit of myself and some other non-Dutch speakers in the room, Hans led us through a blind tasting of each of the five drams, stopping periodically to take some guesses from the audience as to the possible age, strength, region and distillery of the whiskies (SMWS bottles are labelled with a numbered code system as well as some often eccentric names like, “Jar Jar Binks In Trouble Again” rather than the name of the distillery itself).
The lineup consisted of some truly fantastic and unique releases from Aultmore, Tomatin, Bunnahabhain, Glen Scotia and Laphroaig (in that order if memory serves). The Tomatin was a particular favourite of mine, a well-sherried monster matured in Olorosso before a finishing in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks. The other highlight of the afternoon was the final dram of the day, a Netherlands exclusive bottling of Laphroaig that had been hand-selected by Hans Offringa himself. Truly remarkable stuff.
After lingering for some friendly chatting, hand shaking and a post-tasting cleansing ale, m’lady and I bid J.D. William’s a friendly tot ziens and strolled off into the bustling Amsterdam streets. Our first, and certainly not last, Scotch Malt Whisky Society tasting in the Netherlands had been a highly enjoyable and soul nourishing success.