For the first 35 years or so of its existence, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society did one thing, and they did it well. They blazed a trail through Scotland in search of the most mind-blowing single malts they could persuade whisky distilleries to part with, cask by individual cask. They would then bottle their finds at cask strength — a couple hundred bottles is usually the yield — and sell them to members of the Society. They'd provide copious, insanely florid tasting notes (excerpt from an actual review: "The whisky cascading into the glass was like a sunset over the Sahara dessert, burning the sky with a life-enhancing deep orange radiance...."), funny names ("Handbags And Hookahs," anyone?), but never the names of the distilleries from which they came, in the name of encouraging imbibers to taste the whisky, not the brand.
The blueprint worked well, as the Society transformed itself from a handful of single malt geeks to an international organization numbering close to 30,000. So why mess with success? No idea, but I'm glad they did. Last year, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's name became a bit of a misnomer, as they branched out into bottling other single-cask spirits ranging from bourbon to armagnac. These were exciting, but the Society's rums were what really thrilled me. So far, they've released half a dozen bottlings from the Caribbean (Jamaica, Trinidad) and Latin America (Nicaragua, Panama). The latest, released earlier this month and called "At The Races," is the first bottling from Barbados.
In case you're not a rum geek, you should know that Barbados is home to the Foursquare Distillery, which turns out some of the most highly coveted sipping rums in the world, including Doorly's, The Real McCoy, and their own Foursquare. Of course, the bottle doesn't say where At The Races came from, but if you're guessing Foursquare... let's just say you're not wrong. Aged for 14 years in refill bourbon barrels and bottled at 57.3% ABV, this is a strong rum — that alcoholic heat comes through on the nose and the palate. The pale straw color indicates that the barrels have had a pretty light touch when it comes to aging the liquid inside. A splash of water lets fruitier notes take over, notably banana, ripe plum and a bit of dried coconut. It's not surprising for a rum like this to be bottled by a whisky society, since its spicy peppery notes and dry, lightly woody finish wouldn't seem too alien to whisky fans.
At The Races is a challenging rum, both for whisky geeks and for rumheads who are used to sweeter, more mouth-coating fare. But if you're up to the challenge, the rewards are plentiful. This isn't the first Society rum I'd recommend — that honor would go to the delectably funky Welcome To Jamrock, which is still available — and at $145, it ain't cheap. But with only 72 bottles allotted to the U.S., if you're on the fence about getting it, I'd move sooner rather than later.