Whisky Societies: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

In my previous post, I discussed the illustrious Keepers of the Quaich. Today it’s time to shed a light on another global whisky society.

SMWS bottle roundel

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS)began in the late 1970’s when Phillip ‘Pip’ Hills bought a quarter cask of Glenfarclas single-cask Scotch malt whisky.  He shared his experience with university friends and in 1978 they formed an informal group to buy, bottle and enjoy single casks. The group became a private Members’ Club in 1983 when a historic building – The Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh – came up for sale. The building was purchased and restored, providing a Members’ Room, Tasting Room and offices for the Society. The building was originally used as a wine store.

The Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh
The Vaults in Leith, Edinburgh

Since its official foundation in the 1980’s, membership has grown to around 28.000 people, with franchised branches in many countries.  A Members’ Room opened in London in 1996, and a second venue was acquired in Edinburgh ‘s New Town in 2004. That year the Society was acquired by Glenmorangie plc, but returned to private ownership in 2015.

Membership entitles members to buy Society whisky and also gives members access to its private members’ venues (along with the ability to bring 3 non-member guests), and the opportunity to buy tickets for various tasting events. The events are held at members’ venues and also at other non-Society venues around the world.

The Tasting Panel

Whisky-aficionados from around the world join this Society to delight in indulging their passion for exceptional single malts in the company of like-minded individuals. All the malts on offer are selected by The Tasting Panel – a secretive group of independent whisky connoisseurs from all walks of life – and are bottled straight from the cask.

The selection criteria are simple: quality and interest. All the Tasting Panel’s work is performed with no information on age, origin or cask type, to ensure Society whiskies are always bottled when they are ready, whether young or old, Highland or Lowland, sherry casked or ex-bourbon.

SMWS Cask No. 1.1
A bottle of SMWS Cask No. 1.1, complete with Society founder Pip Hills’s handwritten information on the label.

The bottling codes

The Society’s unique code for every single cask bottling remains fundamental on the label. For the uninitiated, the first number represents the distillery the whisky is from and the second represents the number of single casks that have been bottled from that distillery. The number is growing all the time.

A complete list of SMWS distillery codes can be found here.

SMWS Bottles


Official website: https://www.smws.com

Interview with Pip Hill in Unfiltered: Unfiltered Magazine: Pip Hills, member #001

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