For the first time ever, a Canadian whisky has been selected to join the prestigious Scotch Malt Whisky Society — the first to ever meet its high standards.
Shelter Point Distillery in Campbell River, B.C., has been presented with the honour.
“It’s very, very significant because to be selected for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) means a lot,” John McCheyne, master brand ambassador for the organization.
“What’s happened over the years is that when we’ve bottled a new distillery at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, our members often, a sizable proportion of them, go out and buy the branded version of that whisky. So Shelter Point will likely see an upsurge in their branded bottling sales as a result of this.”
The Shelter Point Distillery opened in 2011 and James Marinus, head distiller, said they spent several years prior to construction to make sure they were ready to build and distill single malt and single grain whiskies.
“Being new at it you don’t know what the end result is going to be and now we’re almost 12 years in and we’ve learned a lot with how things finish off and it’s been a fun project,” Marinus said.
He said since the first batch, they have changed some grain varieties, and some malting varieties and experimented with different barrels.
“You can learn from the other guys all you want but until you do it yourself, you don’t get a real good understanding of what the outcome is going to be,” Marinus added.
McCheyne said with the news that Shelter Point is now a member, they will become known in countries around the world.
He said their members rely on the SMWS to find and verify the best whisky.
“We believe that we gave whisky to the world. We have a long, long history, long heritage, prominence of whisky, it’s part of our community, it’s part of our life. It’s not just a drink to us, it’s part of what we are and I think that’s gone on for hundreds and hundreds of years,” McCheyne explained.
The society started in 1983 and has more than 35,000 members.
It’s a privilege for distillers to be invited to join the organization and only members can purchase SMWS whiskies. Each whisky is identified only by a number and is sold in a green bottle so that the colour of the drink when poured is one of the components of enjoyment, McCheyne said.
“We have a collaboration with many distilleries in Scotland to start with, it was all single malt, single cask scotch to begin with, all of the distilleries when they found out what we were trying to do, were very, very keen to work with us,” he said.
As whisky began to be distilled in other countries, McCheyne said their members wanted some guidance on some of the best products worldwide.
“We have to sample the whisky before we bottle it,” he added. “All of the whisky, even the scotch, has to pass a tasting panel before we will bottle it and over the years, many of our samples that we’ve had have been rejected because we didn’t think they were interesting enough for our members.”