There are tastings-a-plenty to be had through out the year that offer an array of different experiences. The whisky that is being poured is obviously what most people are interested when they debate whether or not to go to a whisky tasting. But to be honest that is not the only thing that one should consider. You can only drink (and actually taste) so many whiskies in one evening.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society has been putting its Whisky Extravaganza for years. Fortunately I am not old enough to have attended them all, but I have been to the my fair share. Last year’s Extravaganza was a good time with plenty of good whisky and great conversation. This year was no different as I was able to have great conversations with the whisky industry folks as well as with other whisky enthusiasts, including Pete our buddy from The Casks. One of the attractions that the SMWS likes to promote is the whisky panel where the audience has the opportunity to ask the different brand ambassadors questions. However I think it is more of an opportunity for the ambassadors to talk amongst themselves and take comedic jabs at each other. The questions were fairly straight forward but luckily for us the responses were not. There was a great combination of humor mixed in with very useful and interesting information about whisky and how it is produced. Any attempt by us to provide a commentator-like summary of the entertaining responses would not do them justice. You just have to be there to experience it for yourself.
After the whisky panel was over, which was about an hour and a half, we headed over to the main tasting ballroom. The Extravaganza is not the sensory overload event that WhiskyFest can be. Don’t get me wrong, I love WhiskyFest, but just for different reasons. The tables manned by the various whisky companies and distilleries surrounded the empty tables for the attendees in the center of the ballroom.
There was a solid showing of expressions to be tried. But my first order of business was to hit the event organizer’s booth: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I always look forward to trying their unique single cask expressions. The casks that they choose are usually excellent and there are many that are from lesser known distilleries. They brought 6 bottles out this year: 50.42 (Bladnoch), 125.48 (Glenmorangie), 73.40 (we were told Glenburgie but when I double checked the bottle code online it shows Aultmore), 27.90 (Springbank), and 127.9 (Port Charlotte). As is my normal operating procedure at whisky tastings I did not take tasting notes of the whiskies that I tried. I find that it really detracts from the enjoyment of the evening for me. I did enjoy the Springbank and the Port Charlotte. This Port Charlotte was significantly different from their earlier bottling that was aged in a first fill sherry cask. It was really interesting to see and taste the difference between the two.
There was also definitely a buzz around the Suntory table as they were pouring their new – to the US – release Hakushu. Another highlight of the evening was the classic malts’ 34 year old blend which was an amazingly complex and full flavored whisky – again proving that blends are not necessarily of a lower quality. It was also good to see distillery bottlings of Auchroisk 20, Ardmore 30 as well as the Johnnie Walker Double Black (another very solid blend). Another treat – although not publicized – was a small sample of the Balvenie’s soon to be released Tun 1401 Batch No.3. This is a vatting of casks from several different casks spanning over multiple decades. Nicholas Pollacchi, who helped to make this whisky was kind enough to share this with us. A fabulous whisky that should be arriving in the US soon.
I do have to say that I was disappointed that the selections from Old Pulteney and An Cnoc were not there despite being in the event’s program. I am assuming that the same program might be used at all of the Whisky Extravaganza events. But I was looking forward to enjoying a tipple or two from each of these distilleries. Overall it was another superb event held by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society that provided a broad array of great whisky, tasty food and excellent conversation and information. If you are interested in not only the whisky but also a great atmosphere, experience and relaxed conversation then this is the event for you. Thank you to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for the invite and I look forward to future Extravaganzas.