SCOTLAND, since 1983
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) enjoys the status of a ‘legendary’ bottler. It was founded in 1983 as – per its name – a society by a group of friends, rather than a commercial whisky bottler. Since its early years, the society has gone through several transformations. This includes the investment into its own tasting rooms in Leith, Edinburgh, and London, the setup of a share-scheme for its members in 1996, and then the takeover by Glenmorangie in 2004. The SMWS followed the principle only making their drams available to those subscribing to an annual membership, that also offers access to tastings and other social events. Membership (which comes with different options) grew exponentially over the years with several local branches opening in the US, Europe, Australia, Japan, Taiwan and South Africa. With the takeover of SMWS by a private investor in 2015 some of this has changed somewhat.
In the 3 ½ decades of its existence, the SMWS has bottled close to 7000 different Single Malts, mostly Scottish, but also Japanese, North American, Australian and more. The first thing that comes to mind related to SMWS is the mystique surrounding the provenance of the spirit. Instead of the typical colourful labels with clear denominations, the SMWS has chosen to use specific codes to represent distinctive distilleries and to work with simple- text-based labels instead of any imagery.
Some of the most notable bottlings include 1960s Springbank and Glenfarclas drams, as well as Japanese Single Malts. Despite their often-low initial cost, these bottles now fetch prices up to several thousand dollars.