Friday, 21 May 2010

Scotch Malt Whisky Society

19 Greville Street
London EC1N 8SQ

Had Willy Wonka turned his back on chocolate and gone into whisky, I rather suspect he would have liked the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Entering the London rooms of this palace of malt, for the first time, I felt for a moment like Charlie without Grandpa Joe. Forget the regular array of brands one might find at a discerning pub, this place was covered ceiling-to-floor with SMWS's very own number-coded single malts, bottled straight from the cask. Each cask tastes different, of course, which is why the Society is rather coy about revealing the identity of the distillery from which each bottle is taken. Instead, drinkers are encouraged to pick their drams from an impressively extensive SMWS menu, containing many outlandish names (Whisky-flavoured Condoms and Skunk Road-kill, anyone?) and tasting notes bordering on the poetic. Prices for a generous pour range from a reasonable £4.50 to an eye-watering £23 at the other end of the scale. Bottles may also be purchased on site.

My first experience of the Society's exciting wares had come at the
inaugural session of the Whisky Squad at The Gunmakers pub some weeks earlier. This time, on my first visit to the Society's Greville Street quarters, as a guest of booze blogger Billy, our group sampled at least the following:

Pepper, Lemon and Smoke

(38.18) 59% vol, 12 yrs, from mothballed Speyside distillery Caperdonich.
Nose of vanilla and caramel. Loads of pepper and lemon on the palate, not much smoke, but plenty of chunky chocolate brownie, finishing lengthily.

Kissing a Mermaid

(26.66) 60% vol, 10 yrs, Highland distillery Clynelish.
T writes: Fortified wine on the nose, on the palate petrol and a handful of chilli-infused salt followed by toffee chews.

Ooh! Ouch! Aaah!

(4.137) 58% vol, 12 yrs.
Dark gold colour. Cured meat on the nose. Firey with sherry flavours. Add a few drops of water for toffee apple.

Onions Spring Eternal

(10.71) 55% vol, 11 yrs, Islay distillery Bunnahabhain.
Onion on the nose! Sherry-sweet finish.

Hazelnut in Every Bite

(28.20) 57% vol, 19 yrs, Highland distillery Tullibardine.
Before I knew what this was called I found mint and cucumber on the palate. After I was told the name I suddenly found hazelnut. Funny, that.

Others I could mention:

Swelling, Crashing Waves of Flavour: (53.140) 56% vol, 18 yrs, Islay distillery Caol Ila.
Soot and Ash: (72.19) 57% vol, 20 yrs. Speyside.

Despite the mightily fine whisky, and brilliant staff, I can't help but end with a quick grumble about the Greville Street premises, whose "light and contemporary" interior resembles an Ikea showroom. The website claims these pine-lined rooms are "ideally placed to mix business with pleasure", and I concede their proximity to the City means that is probably the case, but the blandly corporate hotel-bar feel suggests the scales may have tipped too far in favour of Business here.

INTERESTED? The SMWS is a members-only club, with individual 
membership starting at £100 for the first year, and about £40 annually thereafter. Members are permitted to bring up to three guests to any of the Society's three tasting venues, in London, Edinburgh and Leith.


  1. The 4.137 is from Bowmore and the 72.19 is from Miltonduff. This is the page I've been using to cheat for the numbers I don't remember (which is most of them...).

    I know what you mean about the Ikea feel - it does get better when it's dark outside and they get a chance to do a bit of mood lighting, but the atmosphere is a bit weird.

    Also, never diss the Whisky Flavoured Condoms - one of my favourite whiskies I've had from the SMWS :)

  2. Aha - the secret code is cracked! Cheers for the link, Billy. I take your point about Greville Street looking better in the dark. Bring on winter!?