Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Whisky Extravaganza

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society held its annual San Francisco stop of their Whisky Extravaganza this past Tuesday.  I unfortunately have missed the past two years.  It used to be held at the historical Fairmont Hotel – which was a great venue.  This year it was held at the Intercontinental Hotel.  As with all whisky tasting events, I wasn’t going to try and take tasting notes.  My purpose in going was to enjoy the experience and  I could care less if all I could remember about a specific whisky is that it tasted good.

I made sure to get to the Hotel early to attend the Whisky Panel, which consisted of several representatives from different distilleries.  The San Francisco panel consisted of Simon Brooking, Dr. Bill Lumsden, Ricky Crawford, Neyah White, Mitch Bechard, Nicholas Pollacchi and Steve Beal.  Good thing I got there early though as by the time the panel started it was standing room only.   It was a great answer question session that was very casual and insightful.  Questions posed by the attendees ranged from very technical to more general and philosophical.  The appeal for me was the informal atmosphere though. Whisky events are always at risk of coming off as highbrow and exclusive.  This panel discussion, I am happy to say was nothing like that.  The jokes were abundant even though the whisky wasn’t – but there would be plenty of time for that later.

After the panel, I met up with Peter from The Casks and we moved down to the actual tasting.  I didn’t really know what was going to be poured that night so I had no plan of attack other than to hit the SMWS bottlings first.  There were 5 SMWS bottlings this year, for some reason I remember there being a lot more the last time – I could be and probably am wrong though.  In any event, the 5 were from Rosebank, Glengoyne, Linkwood, Glen Scotia and Ardbeg.  The SMWS bottlings are single cask bottlings and a great way to try unique expressions from the different distilleries, however they can be somewhat confusing and cryptic.  The name of the distilleries are not on the bottles, rather a number and tasting descriptor are used to identify the bottles.  I have had the Rosebank before, so I passed on that, but I tried the rest.  The Glen Scotia is the one that stood out for me.  It was beguiling, surprising and most importantly tasty.

Most of the distilleries that you would expect to be present were there.  There were also a few independent bottles too.  One of the highlights was connecting with Mitch Bechard from Glenfiddich who generously poured some of the 30 year old expression for us.  Wow! This was some amazing stuff.  Often whiskies aged for this long can be over wooded.  This 30 year old was surprisingly fresh from that prospective.  A complex and very balanced whisky.  Yum…I’ll take a bottle please!

I enjoyed several other good whiskies throughout the night but what I really enjoyed was the atmosphere and the opportunity to chat with other whisky lovers.  The set up for Whisky Extravaganza is perfect for me.  There is a good selection of whiskies to try, but at the same time it isn’t overwhelming.  Relaxed, straight forward whisky tasting in an environment that is conducive to interacting with others.  There aren’t hoards of people jockeying to try to get a pour of the super special, super rare whisky or a selection that makes your brain go on tilt.

Good show Scotch Malt Whisky Society!  I will have to prioritize this event and not miss it like I have the past couple of years.

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