Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2011 – my experience (and what a damn good one it was!)

Whisky events are always a treat, this much I know.  Each event, be it this Extravaganza, WhiskyLive or WhiskyFest (plus the many other ones out there that I’ve not been to…yet) offer both the casual and experienced whisky drinker/connoisseur/enthusiast a variety of ways in which to learn about, drink and experience whisky as well as the camaraderie we all feel as we muscle our way through the show floor from one table to the next; from one masterclass to the next, etc…

Each show has it’s own feel, flare and vibe that goes along with it.

For instance, WhiskyFest is a larger-than-life event that (in my opinion) one should plan out the night prior to actually getting there to make sure you do not disappoint yourself.  There is a lot to see, learn and do and not enough time to hit every table.  You should not, however, go there to drink all you can drink and get piss drunk.  You can go to the bar and do that.  Like all whisky events, you should have fun but you should use the opportunity to A) taste the stuff you’d never find in a bar and B) learn more about whisky, the process & history so you can teach others.  Ok, I’ll get off my soap box.

So, if WhiskyFest is a behemoth, what’s WhiskyLive?  A smaller, more manageable event yet with a similar feel (outside of the US you can get special show bottlings which is great but, US liquor laws suck and don’t allow the sale of alcohol on the showroom floor.  On the upside, there are stores that have booths at WhiskyLive events in the states and they often offer special show pricing and special bottlings for sale that you can pick up from their stores or they can ship to you – that works for me!).

And now onto the story at hand: What is The Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza?  Well, you may remember my report from last October’s Boston show.  If not, I can tell you it is very different from the first two events I mentioned.

“How so, Hatton?” you may ask…

The Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza, now in it’s 18th year, is a show put on by the SMWSA (Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America).  The SMWSA is an exclusive society (that you can join for a fee) and they somehow pass that feeling of exclusivity onto the show.  While anyone and their grandmother is welcome to attend, you sort of feel like you’re in “The Inner Circle” when you’re walking the room.  You FEEL like you’re part of something somehow bigger and in a very cool way.

To kick off the show they had a Q&A panel that was made up of many various well known brand ambassadors such as Simon Brooking from Laphroaig, Evan Cattanach from Diageo, Ricky Crawford from The Glenlivet, Gardner Dunn from Suntory and others.  The discussion lasted about an hour and there were some great questions asked.  Also, it wasn’t just “learning”.  It was fun & funny.

One of the highlights to the discussion was not just the Q&A but, it was the company I had next to me.  To my left were my friends from Malt Impostor: Stephen, John and Bill and to my right was none other than Malt Maniac and New York’s Jazz DentistPeter Silver.  I’ve been Facebook friends with Peter for sometime but this was the first time I had a chance to have more than a 2 minute conversation with him.  Smart, funny, charming… you name it.  A great guy!  Thanks again for the conversation, Peter.  Bill (of Malt Impostor fame) by the way, is the Author of a book entitled “The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges’ Library of Babel“.  I’m about 20 pages in and loving it.

Another highlight for me was an odd one.  And an insanely unexpected one.  Three days before the show my wife texted me and told me that one of her closest old high school buddies friended her on Facebook and looking at his profile, she noticed that he was a Brand Ambassador for The Macallan, Highland Park and Famous Grouse (what are the odds?).  He told her that he was going to be at the show and that I should look him up; he wanted to meet & talk.  Man-o-Maneschewitz it’s a small world!  To put it lightly, Jeremy (the aforementioned BA for The Macallan) was just as nice as can be.  We had a great discussion and he shared some fun high school stories that I will not post on this here blog.  I wouldn’t want him to pick it out and get embarrassed…  Jeremy, looking forward to connecting with you again soon!  You have to come over next time you’re in Guilford!

A new item added to this show is what’s called a “Super Pour”.  At around 8:30, certain participating booths would break out super high-end, old or rare whiskies for people to try.  For instance, Laphroaig broke out their 25yo cask strength whisky.  It was damn brilliant!  I hope they continue this “Super Pour” for these shows.  My only suggestion would be that they do the “Super Pour” a bit earlier in the night.  Being so late in the show I’d expect that peoples’ taste buds are a little shot and some folks might be a little too tipsy to fully appreciate what they’re tasting.

I also got to meet up with Joshua Wortman.  You may know him from A Whiskey Rebellion or perhaps from the “Make it a Bushmills” contest from last year.  It’s nice to meet mishpucah (that’s Hebrew for “family” or, in this case “a fellow Jew”) at whisky events.  I wish I had more time to talk with him, it was just at the end of the night.  Joshua, I look forward to connecting with you again soon!

The SMWSA table had some incredible whiskies to try.  These are whiskies you can’t find anywhere else, unless you’re a member of the society (here is a link to their site if you wish to become a member and you can find your country’s arm of the society there).  Aron Silverman (another good Jewish boy) was manning the table and pouring five different expressions.  The best of which, and I’m not just saying this because this whisky is from my top distillery of choice, was a single cask (all SMWSA bottled are single cask whiskies) 16yo Glenmorangie which was matured for that full amount of time in Pedro Jimenez sherry casks.  “Mouthwatering and delicious!” — Sammy Davis, the Candy Man.

One of the more popular tables was the Usquaebach table.  I was speaking with Noah Goldstein (the Usquaebach BA, and a Jew 🙂 ) for a while and he was amazed as to how busy his table was.  After all, the focus is more on single malts…  I think this speaks to the general public’s excitement that the brand is back and… they’ve got some solid, solid blends.

Another popular table was the Suntory table and they were pouring both the 12 & 18yo Yamazakis as well as the 12yo Hibiki.  It’s so nice and refreshing to Americans becoming more and more receptive to Japanese whiskies.  I’m looking forward to seeing more Suntory (and hopefully Nikka) whiskies in the US soon!  While at the table I had a chance to talk with my friend Yoshi Morita (Salesman for Suntory in the US).  Yoshi is a complete gentleman and as of late, a new daddy!  His eyes didn’t look as red as expected, what with having a new born in the house!

Oh, there’s more… (Like I said, this was a damn good experience!)  Another cool thing about this show is that the society’s president, Alan Shayne (who I interviewed last year), is a very hands-on type of guy.  He also helped to man the SMWS table which gives people an opportunity to talk with the man behind it all here in the US.   Speaking with him is always a treat.  He’s got my sense of humor (which is a bit scary, but cool!).  And yes, another fellow Jew!!  I love it!

The night ended on such an “up” note – I was greeted with some samples of SMWSA whiskies to review (special thanks to Aron S!).  Four in all.  Expect to see reviews of those whiskies in the coming weeks.

This is a show that you really should try to get to if it’s in your area.  Below is a listing of the upcoming Extravaganzas for 2011.


Joshua “Yossi” Hatton