I was recently leafing through an old book of mine entitled Scots On Scotch. It was edited by Pip Hills, founder of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and in his introduction he recounts the colorful story the Society’s origins. The book on the whole is quite good, but this chapter alone makes it a must-have for any fan of Scotch whisky.
But as I read it, I got to thinking…
Pip Hills was the founder and director of the Society until 1995, at which point he and the Society parted ways. But why did he leave the Society? What happened that precipitated this? If you’ve read any of his books (such as this one or Appreciating Whisky) or listened to his CD The Sound of Whisky (highly recommended), or visited the Malt Masterclass site you’ll come away with the impression that his passion for Scotch whisky hasn’t dimmed at all. So why did he leave the Society that he founded?
I did some quick searching and turned up no more info than I had previously (in other words, none), but did run across a chilling bit of news that made my heart quail:
Please be aware that the Society is no longer taking bookings for the flats at The Vaults – sorry for any inconvience that this may cause.
You don’t know how sad this made me! From the day I joined the Society (since probably before that day!), I’d looked forward to staying at the Vaults*. This was the Society’s first home, right in Edinburgh, and their 3 flats were available only to members. You could call ahead with your reservation, and they’d have a bottle of whisky waiting for you in your room. And after sampling a wee dram or two of that, you could slide downstairs to the members’ rooms for a wee dram before dinner in the members dining rooms, and then…well, I could go on. Clearly, I had a vision for this visit!
Alas, the flats at the Vaults are no more. The Society is selling them off.
Let’s face it. Things change. I’m quite sure the Society today is very different from the Society of 1995, or 1985, or even 2005. It’s sad to me that the Vaults are closed. But at least the members’ rooms remain, and so a visit to them is still a Scotch dream that I can look forward to.
But it’s hearing of a change such as this, or in 2006 when Bob Dewar* stopped illustrating their labels and newsletters, that makes me wonder all the more why Pip Hills parted ways with the Society. Was it decisions like this one? Was the Society moving too far afield from the vision he had for it? Or was he moving in a different direction than the Society?
I like being a member of the Society, and intend to continue as one. I look forward to visiting the members’ rooms in Edinburgh and London in the future, and will continue to enjoy their whisky. But I would like to know why he left in 1995, and would generally like to know more about the Society’s history, and how it came to be what it is today. It’s a fascinating organization, one that I’ve always been keen to know more about. Pondering the question of what happened in 1995, whether this was a pivotal turning point for the organization, and why its founder left at this point is just one aspect of this curiosity.
So, if any of you who read this happen to have some good info that you can send me way, I’d love to hear it. All info is welcome: anecdotes from your years as a member of the Society, tales of its early years and growing pains, and stories of the ways its changed over years. Please leave a comment! Maybe we can create a sort of people’s version of the full history of the Society, compiling our notes and anecdotes into a full picture…
*You can see some of Bob Dewar’s great illustrations for the Society on their old website, such as here.
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