More and more I see people considering stopping their Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership (SMWS). I have to confess I have never understood the appeal of paying a membership fee for the opportunity to spend more money on bottles. I bought a W club (The Whisky Shop membership) membership and instantly realised it was a mistake. The value proposition just didn’t add it and the SMWS is the same to me. If you want access to an exclusive club and live near a venue it might be worth it for you but only if you like the venue and staff enough I would say. Certainly a great number of people must be more than happy with their memberships and good on them. That was going to be the end of it for me until I got an email from a marketing agency with this image.

I was immediately interested being interested in cars more than whisky (I know right!) and wanted to read more about this timelessly beautiful car and its owner Mr Pip Hills. As fate would have it his latest book was all about him, his car and this society which he established with friends as a co-operative in 1983.

The story starts with a history lesson of the late 70’s and early 80’s. A time when blends were king and the whisky market was shrinking. An amazing story comes towards the end of the book  but is relevant now. While visiting Bowmore distillery and going to the sample room at the end with Mr Morrison the owner Pip was represented with a blend. A blend containing a whack of Bowmore but a blend all the same. Quite a weird thing by today’s standards but it shows how far the industry has come. That wasn’t the interesting bit though. The interesting bit was that the owner didn’t know what his own whisky tasted like! He had to ask Pip what it was like and if it was any good, which really is just plain bad management. Bessie Williamson knew what her Laphroaig tasted like she just didn’t think anyone would like to buy it raw which was a fair assessment really.

Anyway, we are in a world where single malts aren’t a thing but having bought a cask from Glenfarclas Pip knew well matured single malts were glorious and under appreciated. Indeed, anyone he shared his cask with felt the same and being a serial entrepreneur he saw an opportunity. Pip had found the market for the single malts in bonded warehouses that the owners of the whisky hadn’t been able to appreciate or tap into. His role would be to join the two together. Producers would get revenue for whisky and the public would get excellent product.

The book outlines the trials and exploits of Pip and his 1937 Diesel powered Lagonda through starting, running and ultimately being ejected from his society. The Lagonda is an ultra rare prototype donkey and is one of only 2 cars ever made. In the end of the engine manufacturer didn’t see a market for Diesel powered cars and gave up on the project.

The entire book runs through at a jolly light-hearted conversational but fast pace. You really feel like you are with Pip in the society as he tells his well told tales from his past. You can feel the passion for his interests and hobbies and his love of his family, friends and acquaintances. You feel the pain with him when he recounts the many friends who have died on him of old age or ill health. This is a fantastic book which was entertaining to read and educational on the society.

When it was established there was an obvious reason to join and it was clearly ahead of its time. The way the society has lead the industry in a lot of the customs and marketing it now has is quite extraordinary but I still won’t buy a membership. Under its new owners its lost its innovation and character and with so many independent bottlers now available it’s hard to see what it offers over a nice whisky bar or an indi bottle bought in a normal shop.

In terms of this book though? It is a must read and available at Amazon for just over £10. A good present idea or a treat for yourself get it now.


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