It's all too easy to miss the tasting rooms of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in London. After all, it is a private members' club that happens to be tucked away off a main street in Farringdon. Don't worry if you're not a member though, as knowing someone who can get you inside is part of the challenge and fun of it all.
Unlike the rather grandiose entrance in Edinburgh, the London branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is rather descrete and looks like many of the other residential flats around the Clerkenwell area. It is only their small swipe card and the barely noticeable glass by the side of the door that gives you a hint it's anything but residential. In contrast to their sister branches, London's tasting rooms are extremely contemporary, complete with polished wooden floors and modern art hung for sale.
Only one of the two floors serves whisky, the other is set aside for private dining and rooms available for hire. The main tasting room seats around twenty to thirty people with a variety of comfy couches, and becomes busy very quickly during the week.
All whiskies offered on their rotating quarterly menu are cask strength, usually containing 50% or more alcohol content. The menu is split based on distillery locations and describes each whisky in detail on a dedicated third or half of a page, with some amazingly accurate descriptions. The society even offers a number of whiskies not exclusively Scotch in origin in addition to the small list of beers, wine, champagne and soft drinks for the non-whisky drinkers.
Each whisky is served in a proper whisky drinking glass, perfectly shaped to allow the drinker to fully appreciate its unique 'nose'. These tiny tulip-shaped glasses really capture this essence, though you have to be careful not to burn your nose from their concentrated vapours. If you don't know what sort of whisky you like, staff members are usually very helpful at suggesting one to suit your taste, or better yet many of the members are more than willing to suggest one of their favourites. The bar staff will usually give you a small dark green jug filled with plain water that can be used to slightly water down the whisky and change the flavour and intensity of the drink.
The society organises many events throughout the year including tasting events and gatherings for new members. Membership prices are not particularly outrageous, also giving you benefits to sister branches in Scotland and discounts for many of their events and access to the wide variety of whiskies only available to them. The London branch is a terrific place for anyone to kick back and enjoy the Water of Life and can be found on 19 Greville Street, Farringdon, EC1N 8SQ. Go to their website to apply for membership.
By Patrick Kua