My wife took me to Edinburgh to celebrate my birthday, a pilgrimage to the two SMWS venues in Edinburgh. While the London rooms at Greville Street, Farringdon are about the size of a large living room, the operation is a bit bigger in the society's home town. There are two venues, the original rooms in Leith, which I guess you'd call downtown Edinburgh, and the other in the city centre, on Queen Street.
We had lunch on Saturday in "The Vaults" in Leith, so called because the building used to be a site where imported casks of wine was stored and tasted before trading (not because, as you might assume, the next cask of society Bowmore is resting before being bottled). Society casks used to be stored all over the place, at various bonded warehouses and distilleries across Scotland, but recently they've been transferred to a central warehouse in West Scotland. Either way, they're not at The Vaults.
We walked from Edinburgh castle to Leith, via Royal Mile whiskies and a pub. Once you get past John Lewis the trip is along a major road filled with Polish supermarkets, pubs and headshops (selling a good selection of bongs alongside whisky and cigars). The Vaults itself is an imposing, period port warehouse building set among the remains of its peers (converted into offices mainly) and 60s flats and highrises. Inside, the venue is large, imposing, high ceilinged (literally two floors worth), lots of leather, red walls and roaring fires. The room was mainly full of people having lunch rather than drinking whisky, although that's probably not the case in the evening. A display cabinet on one wall houses every *.1 release - 1.1, 2.1 and 3.1 sit next to each other in the first cabinet, and the later *.1s are stacked on top of the cabinet at the back.
We met Crystal Coverdale there, The Vaults bar manager who came to Scotland from Vancouver to "do" whisky a year ago and ordered the society share lunch - a meal for two with two 20cl bottles of previous cask samples, out of which you have a dram each and take the rest home. You get to choose from a large bible of old bottles, one from "tier 1" and one from "tier 3". This was previously set up for four people and four shares, but has been scaled down to two based on customer feedback. As you can imagine, this is all old, lost bottlings from years ago, and the choice was pretty tough - loads of Ardbegs, Springbanks, Caol Ila's I'd never heard of, Macallans, Rosebanks and even 129.1, which I might have gone for if I'd not already tried it (wonderful though it is).
I picked a 29 year old Glenugie and a 7 year old Ardbeg in the end. Lunch was genuinely excellent - who knew the food was so good here? Fish and chips - light, perfectly cooked haddock, brittle beer batter, excellent tartar sauce. Crystal also gave us a couple of bonus drams - the dregs of cask samples of an old Rosebank and a Macallan.
It was a great lunch, a wonderful venue and I was checking out the "for sale" signs on the flats on the way back to Edinburgh.
SMWS 99.11, Glenugie, Tickled by mostera deliciosa, 29 years old, 43.4% A⊕
May 1980, Refill bourbon, 192 bottles.
Body - Quite spicy, lots of wood, light peat, a little musty, floral.
Finish - Very long, oily, orange juice, pepper, lacquered wood.
SMWS 25.52, Rosebank, Fresh and juicy collides with spicy heat, 18 years old, 53% A+
July 1991, Refill bourbon, 216 bottles.
Body - Sharp and spicy, black pepper, lots of wood and dried chilli.
Finish - Long, fizzy, chilli hot, almost cinammon.
SMWS 24.108, Macallan, Ferarri screech, 13 years old, 57.9% B+
June 1996, Sherry butt, 556 bottles.
Body - Spicy red wine, bitter tannins, sweet fruit and Sichuan peppercorns, lovely delivery in the end.
Finish - Very long, sweet red fruits, Japanese plums.
SMWS 33.83, Ardbeg, "Oh, for the joys of a long winter night", 7 years old, 60.2% A⊕
2002, Refill bourbon, 231 bottles.
Body - Acrylic paint and turps, garden twine, balanced by intense sweetness. Extremely drinkable.
Finish - Long, hot and sour, intensely peated, tannic and beautifully bright. Very good.
In the evening, we went to Queen Street for dinner. Queen Street is full of upmarket, Edwardian townhouses, and the venue is a converted house centred round a grand, central spiral staircase with rooms off it on each floor. While waiting for dinner, we chatted to Angus behind the bar, who took me on a tour of the many bottles that don't appear on outturns and happened to be behind the bar that day, many of which I tried. Dinner was excellent again, but more importantly, here's some of the whisky I tried (I didn't take notes, we were out for dinner!)
53.201- Caol Ila, True love on a pebble beach (extremely good, can't believe out of all the Caol Ila I've bought recently I didn't pick this up!)
53.219 - Caol Ila, Confident high-wire artist (A jobbing society 53)
59.52 - Teaninich 30yo, Tasty melange of exotic fruit (good)
3.230 - Bowmore, Sports day - 26yo parma monster, beautiful, and not in any outturn. Had to pick this up, happy birthday to me.
3.218, Bowmore, Opening the bonnet of a classic car - 13yo and also outturn-less. Nothing to write home about though.
1.185, Glenfarclas, Russian, Jamaican, Turkish, Thai. A big 30 year old refill bourbon Glenfarclas, again no outturn. Very good but too rich for me at £170+
85.26, Glen Elgin, Fragrant perfumes and deeper resonances. A 28 year old, overlooked Glen Elgin which was so good I had to hunt one down. From an old outturn.
Edinburgh is a fantastic city - we did the gallery and nearly did the castle, walked a lot and had some nice pints, and stayed in an amazing hotel. And two society rooms really is ridiculously indulgent. We'll be back.