Beyond the branding

Membership of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society opens the door for adventurous whisky lovers to sample drams that most drinkers haven’t had the chance to discover, or may never even have heard of. Let’s raise a glass to the unsung heroes of the whisky world, says Richard Goslan

SMWS spirits manager Euan Campbell at distillery number 66

The unassuming exterior of distillery 108


The Scotch whisky industry was built – and still runs on – the demand for blended whiskies, where the individual components going into the bottle have remained somewhat of a mystery.

That means many distilleries have never sought a significant profile in their own right, although they are key ingredients in famous blended whiskies. Odds on, you just didn’t know it.

Since our foundation in 1983, the SMWS has celebrated the single cask from both high-profile distilleries and those more obscure locations that have been less celebrated in their own right. For almost 40 years, we’ve been bringing those bottlings into a wider, more colourful world of single cask whiskies, rather than the experience of blended whiskies where an individual distillery’s identity played second fiddle to an overall ‘house style’.

Controlling the flow at distillery 108

Distillery 88, tucked away in Speyside and spotted by photographer Peter Sandground


If you haven’t heard of a distillery, that doesn’t in any way mean the quality of its whisky is inferior. In fact, as the level of interest in Scotch increases, more previously shy and retiring distilleries are becoming stars in their own right, as companies start to showcase distilleries that were previously only seen as ingredients in their blended products.

The Society has always been ahead of the curve in championing whisky from these distilleries well before they became known as single malts. Distillery 88, for example, was practically unknown as a single malt 10 years ago but now has a wide range of expressions. Distillery 108 launched its first official bottling under its own name in late 2018. Distillery 6 has contributed the key ingredient to the internationally popular William Lawson blend, but has gained a following for its single malt bottlings under The Deveron label since 2015. And for many years, most of the whisky produced at distillery 9 went into blends including Chivas Regal, but it has now reclaimed its former position as one of the world’s top 10 selling single malts.

Distillery 6 contributes the key ingredient to the internationally popular William Lawson blended whisky


“The fact that it is Scotch whisky is already a mark of quality, with centuries of know-how and industry collaboration leading us to where we are now,” says SMWS spirits manager Euan Campbell.

“What the Society offers is the opportunity to experience whiskies from across the entire spectrum, regardless of how much those distillery owners may have invested in marketing them as single malts.

“Our Tasting Panel also applies the same approach to any assessment that comes in front of them, whether it's a sample from the most desirable or rare distillery or a lower profile one, so members can explore all of our bottlings with absolute confidence – regardless of branding.”

Inside the dunnage warehouse at distillery 9


The great news for Society members and whisky fans is that you’ve maybe only seen the tip of the iceberg in the whisky world, and through the SMWS there’s a whole world of whisky out there to discover – and to try bottlings from these distilleries before they become more widely available. The opportunity to explore the intricacies of the ‘ingredients cupboard’ of the wider blending industry – in their unadulterated cask strength state – is an unusual and unique experience that’s only open to Society members, and should open up a whole bigger, wider world of never-ending whisky adventures.