Open tasting: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Benelux & Germany

Calypso Roosendaal, 11 October 2014

The Dutch branch of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society opens its doors twice a year (or rather their second base of operations: Calypso in Roosendaal) for members and non-members. Everyone can have a taste of the present Society outturn.

At the same time, they organise a Whisky School or Master Class for a group of 25 people. The chairman for Benelux, and above all jovial Scotsman, Kenny Macdonald captivates his audience with stories from his homeland and the Society.

Rain plus Brussels Ring and Antwerp Ring are not a good combination to make it on time. So I arrived twenty minutes late and missed the introduction.
Eleven people did subscribe for the Whisky School. The majority of them weren't Society members. Only three people were. I'm curious how many new members joined after spending the afternoon with Mr Macdonald.

He planned a tasting of 5 whiskies, one from each region:
  • Lowlands: 5.39 A Vibrant promise of Spring (Auchentoshan, 15 yrs, 58.7% ABV, refill hogshead).
  • Speyside: 36.77 Wee secrets of flavour (Benrinnes, 17 yrs, 59.1% ABV, refill barrel).
  • Campbeltown: 27.107 To the Manor born (Springbank, 16 yrs, 56% ABV, refill Gorda).
  • Islands: 31.28 Going nuts in a rugby club changing room (Isle of Jura, 25 yrs, 52% ABV, refill hogshead).
  • Islay: 53.186 Home and Away (Caol Ila, 23 yrs, 54.2% ABV, refill hogshead).

While tasting these drams, he passed on some basic knowledge of Scotland's geography and the influence of it on the whisky making process. If there's one advice that really needed to stick, it's this: "Do not let anyone tell you how to drink your whisky (with or without water or ice).". Find your own way and experiment to find your sweet spot.

Of course, the almost obliged whisky making process was not forgotten. By using a scale model, the participants were shown the life cycle of whisky from grain to liquid gold.

To finish the afternoon he showed us a somewhat dated Diageo brand movie. I'm guessing the commercial was nearly 15 years old. VHS quality, Tom Selleck moustaches, 10-year-old Glenkinchie and age statements were still praised. Nice to see how the marketing dept. of a company can change course completely in less than 10 years.

There is yet another reason why the whisky school is recommended, whether you are a whisky virgin or not. Being read the (sometimes over the top, I agree) Society tasting notes by a pureblood Scot... You'd book the same course every year. And €25 for five whiskies, snacks and an introduction (or being brushed up) into whisky seems a fair price to me.

The open bottle tasting afterwards was impressive. Some 70 bottles could be tasted at €3 per glass, regardless of the age or price of the whisky. Fortunately, someone left a list to decode the Society numbers and the people behind the counter knew their drams.

But allow me to formulate a few suggestions for next tastings:
  • The bottles could be categorized by the 5 classic regions or by the 12 SMWS flavour clans? Five smaller tables are far less daunting than one big table.
  • A takeaway shop could be an advantage. Tasting, approving and having the possibility to take the bottle home should trigger impulsive buyers.
  • Events like this are most welcome in Belgium. And it won't be that hard to find volunteers to help you organise it.
P.S. Thank you for the generous samples and see you next year!