I've been meaning to write about the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a while now. The SMWS is a club based Scotland with branches around the world including the US. They purchases entire casks of whisky and then bottles them for a their members. This is unique in a few ways.
First, normally a bottle single malt scotch is comprised of whisky from many casks blended together; the only stipulation is that they need to come from the same distiller, otherwise it's a blended or vatted malt (blended can contain grain alcohol; vatted is typically pure malt). This blending allows the producer to create a consistent product year to year. However, any given cask could be very unique, sometimes very different from the regional or house style.
Second, the bottles are shipped at cask strength. This means they are not cut down with water to 80 proof like most whisky. This allows the true flavor of the whisky to come through and some would say preserves the whisky. You have to be careful with cask strength whisky though. The nose can burn your nose when you nose the scotch (love the three uses of nose) and the scotch is quite strong. I commonly will nose and taste it at full strength first, then cut it down with water, revealing new flavors and aromas plus making it less toxic.
Finally, the SMWS often finds casks from distillers that are no longer in business. It's interesting to get a bit of history in a bottle.
Anyway, as much as I love the whisky, I think I enjoy the descriptions of the bottles in the tasting notes. They are funny, evocative, and often useless but almost always fun to read. Here's a blurb from a recent mailing:
The most easterly of the Islay distilleries has a reputation for big smoke (the old maltings had no fans, allowing the smoke to penetrate the barley more). This sample is pale gold from the first refill barrel. The nose seems gentle compared to previous experience - plastic chairs by a swimming pool, putty, menthol, and some soap. Water brings the addition of paint tins, resin, and maritime notes. The nose might be youthful and temperate, but the taste is grown up and powerful - sweet tar, Germoline, pine forests, and lightly smoky with a dry finish; cooler with water. An angel wearing Doc Martins.
Mmm, paint tins...
In addition to the bottles, SMWS has tasting events around the world including Seattle (although I missed the one that just happened) and club houses complete with overnight rooms in Scotland and England. I'll have to try those out sometime.
It's a great way to try some really interesting whisky. If you're into whisky, I highly recommend it.