As you know, dramming.com is not your premier source for the hottest and latest whisky news. But sometimes I just feel I have to join the megaphone community to throw in my tuppence.
Last week saw the official announcements for two new online based whisky websites that will charge you a membership fee to enjoy their benefits.
The W Club
The W Club is basically an extension of The Whisky Shop, a UK based chain of – you guessed right – whisky shops. According to Dominic Roskrow’s announcement on his blog the club members will benefit from shop discounts, the right to purchase exclusive bottlings, full fledged online content and prize draws. Annual membership fee is a fairly modest £25 or £12.50 (with or without ‘introductory pack’, whatever this may consist of).
With the backing of a major player in the whisky retail business all this looks pretty professional. On a somewhat less professional note, the club website pointed to in the announcement is still virtually non-existent.
The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society
Launched as a whisky blog and local whisky club with a Jewish twist a few years ago, founder Joshua Hatton now teamed up with fellow blogger Jason Johnstone-Yellin of Guid Scotch Drink and club member Seth Klaskin to turn the project into a commercial venture. A Scotland trip was organized in 2011 that certainly also served to establish the contacts with the industry which are now supposed to pay off.
The new JSMWS did not only find inspiration for its name at the SMWS but also for its concept of operation. It will act as independent bottler, offering its products exclusively to its members. With this comes members-only bonus content for the website.
There will be three membership levels: White for $180 including one year membership and one bottle of whisky in addition to some merchandise, Silver for $480 (four years of membership, two bottles of whisky and more merchandise) and Black for $960 (six years of membership, three bottles of whisky and even more merchandise). All memberships will renew at $36 per year after the corresponding periods and entitle you to buy the society bottlings. You can become a member now, but it is not stated what bottle(s) you will receive for your membership package.
Let me tell you a secret. For a short while last year I had toyed with the idea of doing much the same as the JSMWS, some kind of club offering whisky to its members they couldn’t get somewhere else along with a few online doodads, bells and whistles. I have not pursued that idea further.
Why? I have noticed that this concept of having to pay money to a company just to receive the privilege to purchase a bottle of whisky from them makes me feel uncomfortable. And when I won’t be able to fully stand behind what I offer, it is better not to do it. By no means does this mean that I wish those ventures misfortune, not at all. It’s just not my cup of tea. This is why I have not joined the SWMS despite their astonishing range of bottlings, and this is why I will not join one of these new clubs.
This is a purely personal sentiment which you may share or not. Some people may indeed enjoy the feeling of buying themselves into a circle where they can feel privileged, but I prefer to go shopping for whisky on the free market. In recent years, the number of independent bottlers has steadily increased: Today there is more high quality single cask single malt whisky being offered than ever before, so why should I jump an additional hurdle to gain accees to even more bottles?
Yet I do wish those ventures success as an enrichment of the whisky scene. The W Club will certainly gain a following being part of a major business and backed by someone as renowned as Dominic Roskrow. Setting up a newcomer business like the JSMWS with its fairly elusive pricing scheme requires a lot of chutzpah and stamina which I hope the owners will manage to sustain.
One final word of advice to the JSMWS: Please don’t advertise yourself as ‘bottler of the world’s finest single cask, single malt, natural cask strength whiskies‘. Claiming you will have the finest whisky in the world is a promise that is virtually impossible to deliver.