Scotch Malt Whisky Society celebrates one year in Canada — Slainte!

- October 19th, 2012

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There’s a serious Scotch whisky scene in Calgary. But that doesn’t mean people take their whisky too seriously, other than seriously enjoying it.

At least, that’s the explanation given by the folks behind the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Canadian chapter, which is based right here in Calgary.

For the past year, the society has been importing rare single-cask Scotch with cheeky names like The Wench with the Wrench and Lady of the Night, and uncorking it in monthly tastings for a growing number of members in one of the best whisky markets in the country.

The chapter is celebrating its first anniversary Friday with a party at Kensington Wine Market, which also serves as the society’s retail partner here as well.

What started out as a labour of love for husband and wife Rob and Kelly Carpenter who discovered the society while living in Scotland, has turned into the ultimate club for lovers of cask-strength whisky.

“It’s been fun but it’s been quite a bit of a learning curve,” Kelly said, adding that while she and her husband are self-described “whisky geeks,” they were by no means pros when they dove into the business, having to set up a liquor agency to be able to import and retail the product here in Alberta.

But, based on membership growth, the gamble on the project has paid off, with nearly 300 members in all corners of the country.

“We were all caught off guard by how quickly it took off … and we thought interest would plateau,” said Kensington Wine Market’s resident whisky expert Andrew Ferguson.

“The reason (for continued growth) is that the quality of the whisky has been consistent.”

The society was formed in Edinburgh (of course), in 1983 by Phillip ‘Pip’ Hills, who got the idea after going in with some friends on the cost of a cask of whisky, and has expanded to 16 chapters worldwide.

With the society bringing in about seven to 10 whiskies a month, all single-cask bottlings identified by a number and a cheeky name, not the producer, members get to try whisky they may not normally gravitate toward.

“The crux is the single cask — because they are a single cask, it may not be a fair representation of a proprietary bottling from a distillery,” Carpenter said.

“What the society is doing is they’re getting people to challenge their preconceived notions.”

And the anonymity has proven beneficial as well, Ferguson said.

“Because they’re not promoting the distillery by name, they’re not trying to compete with the owners’ core brand, which means they can have things that other bottlers aren’t able to,” he said, adding the SMWS is likely the only group doing single cask bottlings of Ardbeg, outside the distillery.

Just like the whisky, membership will cost you. But it’s not as bad as you may think. After your $230 membership fee (which does get you four 100 ml bottles of Scotch from the line), you get access to bottlings, and first crack at entry to the First Friday tastings.

While you may think that the whisky up for sale would be pricey, it’s not much more than what a decent bottle of Scotch would run you. And for a single cask bottling, we’re talking pretty good deals. Very few have been over $200, and the average is in the $120-130 range.

But as much as the whisky, both Carpenter and Ferguson say there’s a camaraderie that has developed, even among the disparate group, ranging from people in their early 20s to retirement and from varied backgrounds.

“The other really neat thing that has happened is that there’s a real fraternity that has been developed, you don’t even need to lead the tasting,” Carpenter said.

“They’re just happy to come out to the tasting and see each other every month.”

For those who want in on the action, you can check out Kensington Wine Market, which also offers a wide array of non-society events and tastings, or check out the society’s website for more info and details on launching events in Edmonton and Vancouver.

Categories: Drinking

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1 comment

  1. Colin says:

    I have bottle 940 Black Bowmore Second edition that I am looking release to an interested individual

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