The Scotch Malt Whisky Society presents….Exotic Cargo

Members or watchers of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society may recently have heard about one of the Society’s latest projects:  The release of a blended malt.  No, not a blend….a blended malt.   (And if that subtle distinction in terminology still confuses you, you are welcome to write to the Scotch Whisky Association and let them know your thoughts on the matter.  Good luck.)

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse the Society of doing in recent times, it’s standing still.   Clubs, societies, bottlers, and brands need to continually evolve and change with the times, and the Society has been particularly pro-active in expanding its list of bottlings and the benefits that membership bestows on its members.

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Hyde Single Grain Whiskey – The Aras Cask releases

Every whisky drinker has his or her favourite category or variety of whisk(e)y.   Once upon time, many were firmly camped in one category and rarely ventured outside it.   You might have been a Scotch person who never touched Bourbon.   Or a fan of the Irish stuff who found the malts of Scotland a bit too robust.   However, with the explosion of whisky bars around the country and diverse ranges of spirits more readily and affordably available to try by the dram, people can now explore categories of whisk(e)y outside their comfort zone without too much grief.   It’s one of the reasons that people are expanding their horizons and – whilst we all still have our favourite – at least we’re embracing other categories.

For obvious reasons, it’s about this time every year that people suddenly decide to check out Irish whiskey.   St Patrick’s Day means different things to different people, but – if nothing else – for whisky drinkers, it’s a good excuse to insert an ‘e’ into the word and try a drop of the pure.

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Fets Whisky Kitchen

One of the greatest and most appealing aspects of being a member of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the Members’ Rooms in the UK.  With two venues in Edinburgh and one in London, the Members’ Rooms are both havens and heaven.  They’re the whisky equivalent of entering one of the First Class airline lounges at an airport:  Cosy lounges, brilliant food, a comfy fire during winter, knowledgeable and friendly staff, meeting facilities, and – of course – a sensational whisky bar.  New and old SMWS whiskies adorn the shelves and they’re great venues to try the latest releases first without necessarily having to buy a whole bottle for yourself.

Of course, whilst that sounds great on paper, the reality is that for members who don’t live near either Edinburgh or London – and particularly for members who live in other countries (not to mention other continents!) – a visit to one of the Members’ Rooms isn’t exactly a stroll around the corner.

The Society started to address this many years ago with the introduction of “Partner Bars”.  These were existing third party venues, initially the bars inside high-end hotels, but over the years they’ve branched out to include some very formidable whisky bars, dive bars, restaurants and pubs.   Quite simply, the Partner Bars are venues that stock SMWS bottlings which can then be purchased over the bar by the dram.  No, you don’t have to be a Society member to be able to buy a dram but, depending on which country/venue you’re in, many Partner Bars offer the drams at discounted prices for Society members.  (You simply need to flash your Membership Card).

Fets Whisky Kitchen in Vancouver, Canada, is arguably the most well-stocked and extensive whisky bar in Canada.  And whilst whisky-loving folks will obviously focus on the bar, Fets is actually a mighty good restaurant, serving absolutely delicious food.  Operating for over 30 years now, the venue is located just outside and east of the CBD.  The food menu is “southern inspired” and the whisky menu is…well, it’s huge.   The whisky range expanded further in October 2013 when the venue became an SMWS Partner Bar.  There are over 800 different whiskies available by the dram, including an unbelievable 180 different SMWS single cask bottlings!  And for those whose whisk(e)y flavour preferences sit outside Scotland, there is also a huge range of American whiskies (over four pages’ worth of bourbons, ryes, and craft whiskies on the menu), plus impressive selections from Canada, Japan, Ireland, India, Australia, and more.  The bar is also home and host to a large number of whisky tastings, events and product launches that are held throughout the year.

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The pioneers of Australia’s malt whisky appreciation community

“The whisky appreciation scene and the whisky enthusiasts’ community is booming.”

Captain Obvious, 2016.

For anyone who’s climbed aboard the hurtling whisky juggernaut in the last three or four years, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was always this way.  Here, in Australia, we have brand ambassadors flying around the country and presenting whiskies to established fan bases and new audiences.  We have multiple whisky bars operating in the capital cities and out in the suburbs.  We have countless whisky clubs that meet regularly.  We have online whisky clubs and groups that exist in various Facebook spheres.  We have a selection of 40 to 50 different whiskies to choose from in the supermarket chain retailers.  We have online whisky stores that ship the latest and greatest releases to your doorstep.  We have whisky expos in each of the capital cities.  We have distilleries opening up or establishing all across the country.   I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:  We ain’t never had it this good before.

But it wasn’t always this way.   Hard as it might seem to believe, there was a time when life for the Australian whisky enthusiast was the polar opposite.   Imagine being a whisky fan in the mid-1970’s when less than a handful of single malt brands were available.  Imagine going into a bottle shop in the late 1990’s and having a selection of no more than six different bottlings to select from.      Imagine no whisky bars.   Imagine no online whisky resources or communications.  In fact, imagine no internet.

It was in those seemingly primitive times that the first pioneers and members of the whisky enthusiasts’ community of Australia set out trying to (a) source malt whisky, (b) share their enthusiasm with other people, and (c) gather together a community of like-minded souls around them.

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The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship, 2016

The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship is a bit like the internet.  It’s something you might think is a relatively “new” thing, when the reality is that it’s been around for decades longer than you gave it credit for.

In actual fact, the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship has been around since 1989!  As the name suggests, it is a tasting competition, and had its origins in Adelaide, South Australia.  The competition’s principal format and structure has remained largely unchanged over the years: Competitors are presented with eight whiskies pre-poured before them, and supplied with a list of nine possible whiskies – in other words, the eight whiskies that are on the table, plus one red herring.   Competitors are then given 30 minutes to identify which whisky is which and to write their answers on the answer sheet.  Of course, having a list with all of the possible contenders in front of you makes the exercise seem a little easier, but the challenge is also in establishing which whisky of the nine on the list is not on the table!

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Paul John – Indian whisky gets serious

Well, I’ll come out and say it up front:  I’ve not previously been a fan of Indian single malt whisky, having tried numerous expressions of Amrut over the years.  Early experiences (2009) were very forgettable; several return visits between 2011 and 2013 left me wanting, and even when I tried some of the more recent releases of Amrut at The Whisky Show earlier this year, I struggled to get enthused.  But you cannot dismiss an entire country’s single malt production on the basis of one distillery.

So when the good folks at Paul John got in touch with me from India after their recent Australian visit and offered to send me their core range for critical analysis and review, I was happy to have my Indian experiences challenged and changed.  And if you want to read the Executive Summary, here you go:  This is good whisky!

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The art of matching food to whisky

SMWS Whisky Dinner

with Franz Scheurer and LuMi Bar & Dining

When the Scotch Malt Whisky Society launched and commenced operation in Australia back in 2002, one of the earliest and most staple activities was a healthy program of whisky dinners.   The tradition has never died and, here in Sydney at least, the Society continues to hold at least two significant whisky dinners each year for its members. When it comes to matters culinary, if you’re going to promote something as being uniquely special, delivering excellence, and showcasing “the best”, then you need to work with the best. For this reason, wherever possible, the Society chooses to team up with Franz Scheurer – the maestro of matching food to whisky.

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What whisky bloggers are doing wrong…

(or why Whisky Bloggers are annoying a lot of people right now)

So who was the first whisky blogger?  Was it before or after WordPress made this caper so easy?  Well, it was before.  A long time before.  Back in 1887, in fact.  For that is when an ambitious chap by the name of Alfred Barnard first approached a distillery and cheekily asked for a free sample so he could write about it.  Two hundred and thirty years later, and it turns out several thousand wannabes are following suit.

Yes, I’m aware of the irony.  And I can hear the heavy breathing of the elephant in the room.  But bear with me…

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The 1980’s Heavy Metal Guide to Single Malt Whisky

Michael Jackson once compared a particular single malt to a car (e.g. “the Rolls-Royce of whisky”).  Others have since compared certain single malts to particular Grand Cru wines.   More recently, people have started writing tasting notes for whiskies and suggested various songs or bands to match and pair with the whisky.  So, whisky and music is now a thing, right?  Okay then, let’s take it one step further…

No one likes to admit it, but there was once a time when heavy metal was actually commercially successful, and major record labels were falling over themselves trying to sign up hard rock acts.  The genre is lampooned today, and often labelled dismissively as hair metal.  But, like me, you might be from that era when heavy metal was actually on top of all the charts and hair metal bands ruled the airwaves.   But has anyone ever compared single malt to heavy metal artists?  Perhaps now is the time.  Get out the hair gel, put on your spandex, and take yourself back to the 1980’s.  Here are my comparisons…

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The Whisky Show, Sydney, 2015

Sydney is spoiled for choice with a number of whisky expo-style shows running through town each year and May 15-16 saw The Whisky Show return to the Stamford Plaza hotel at Mascot to strut its stuff.

The Whisky Show offered three sessions; one on the Friday evening, and then 12noon-4.00pm and 5.00pm-9.00pm on the Saturday.  Of course, the Saturday sessions coincided with World Whisky Day, so it was a fine opportunity to celebrate the occasion.

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