“What we'redoing is always exposing the very best theindustry hasto offer”

“What we'redoing is always exposing the very best theindustry hasto offer”

Ian Wisniewski talks with Paul Miles,managing director of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

People | 08 Sep 2008 | Issue 74 | By Ian Wisniewski

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IANWhat’s the society’s mission statement?PAULWe’re a membership organisation, and our mission is to delight and intrigue our members.We are about single cask, single malt whiskies, and we’re bottling a few hundred casks a year.IANWhat’s your role and when did you begin?PAUL I began in July last year, previously I was working for Glenmorangie as a business development director, and my role is to ensure that we stay focused on what we are.When someone joins the society they’re already interested in malt whiskies, and it’s our job to make sure they get all the information they need to enjoy that. And that means things like the tasting notes being interesting and engaging, and having a spread of flavours and aromas in every bottling list.IAN How would you describe the range on offer,do you cover each region?PAULWe try to have a mix of whiskies, and it would be surprising if the whole gamut of malt whisky wasn’t represented in each list, but we don’t go out to do it that way. We go out to represent a broad range of flavours and aromas.What we’re doing, in effect, is always exposing the very best the industry has to offer.IAN Howeasy or challenging is it to source the stock you would like?PAULWith the concentration in the industry, access to stock is becoming a key issue.We have access to in excess of 80 distilleries in the current stock profile, so it’s more distillery access than the society has ever had.And if you look through our bottling list you would find a greater width and depth now than 25 years ago, 15 years, ago, five years ago. We don’t take ownership of a cask until the tasting panel says we want it. The tasting panel comprises around 40 people and we’re always adding to it, more than half are nonsociety staff. We can focus on taste and aroma, we don’t have to think about anything else, and if we don’t like it we don’t buy it.IAN The tasting notes on your bottling list are very evocative, are they written by a single author?PAUL No, a tasting note is always a joint effort, drafted by a number of people, and it comes from the commentary of a tasting panel. What you find is that one person will say something and then they’re off.Ian:How varied is your membership?PAULWe describe it as eclectic and extraordinarily wide ranging, from the extremely academic malt whisky connoisseur through to somebody who believes they might be interested in malt whisky.IAN It sounds as though you can just turn up on your own,get chatting and make friends?PAUL Oh yes, in a member’s room environment you can go on your own, someone will probably say to you, what are you drinking, what do you think ?We’ve got a member’s room in London and two member’s rooms in Edinburgh. One is The Vaults which is the home of the society, where we started, and then Queen Street which is a more contemporary venue.Outside the UK there’s a member’s room and a society bar in Switzerland, and a society bar in Japan, which is a bar inside a hotel in the centre of Tokyo, where members have particular benefits although it’s also open to the public.Overseas is very much an area for development.IAN How varied is your programme of events?PAUL There’s a core of events that are, if you like, whisky and conviviality, groups of friends sitting down with a society ambassador.Whatever event you go to you will see a very wide range of people, and you’ll see someone with a notebook writing their own notes and talking to someone from the society about that bottling. We run 70-80 tastings every year across the entire country, where members bring guests and you have an opportunity to taste and buy at the time.IAN How do you see the society evolving?PAULWe want to provide as wide and as deep a selection of whiskies as we can. The society has grown from a handful of members living in and around Edinburgh 25 years ago, to 27,000- 28,000 members around the world, and I would say it’s very much about creating a wider opportunity for members outside the UK.
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