Booze Banter

Event Review – 2011 Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza at The Union League, Center City Philadelphia


Friday, October 28th marked our fifth visit to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza which was held at The Union League in Center City Philadelphia. There is only one way to describe how I feel when I attend these events (this also applies to Philly Beer Week):

So maybe there are several ways to describe how I feel when I attend these events!

There are also several reasons why I was REALLY looking forward to this year’s event:

  1. Five of us planned on taking the afternoon off so that we could meet up for lunch and have a beer or two prior to the event.
  2. Between personal friends and friends of friends, there would be about fifteen of us attending.
  3. We had our own table (with a placard that read “It’s just the booze dancing”). This makes eating at the event much easier. It also gives us a place to put our swag bags.
  4. Five of us would be spending the night at The Union League, making this an event that would extend into the early hours of the morning.
Let’s get on with the review…

2PM –  I met up with Pete, Rob, and Swagmaster Rick at The Union League. We checked in to our room, dropped off our bags, then went straight to The Oyster House for some lunch to hold us off until the main event. Pete and Rob had the New England Clam Chowder, Rick had the Manhattan Clam Chowder, and I had the Snapper Soup. We then shared two orders of Fried Oysters, a dozen assorted raw oysters, and an order of fries. We washed down our meal with a round of beers (I had an Ommegang Hennepin).

3:15PM – Our friend Frank called to tell us know that he checked in to The Union League. We met him outside The Oyster House and then headed west to have another round of beers at Tria. Frank had not yet had lunch, so he ordered a sandwich while we drank our beers. I had a Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale. Delicious!

4:40PM – Met up with The ROK on the corner of 16th & Sansom as we walked back to The Union League. Once we arrived, we met up with our friend Bill (this would be his first time at the event).

5:30PM – Headed up to the second floor and signed in for the Whisky Panel that was scheduled to start at 6PM. Limpd and his Pappy arrived a few minutes prior to the start.

6PM – The Whisky Panel would prove to be my favorite part of the actual event. For one hour, several Brand Ambassadors fielded questions from the whisky loving audience. The room was filled to capacity and the Brand Ambassadors did an excellent job of keeping things fun and informative. Laphroiag and Ardmore’s Simon Brooking, Highland Park’s Martin Daraz (absolutely hilarious!), and Glenmorangie and Ardbeg’s David Blackmore were particularly entertaining. We were even given a very small taste of Ardbeg Alligator.

7 to 8:45PM – The Wookie, his future brother in law (Wisk_e) and his friend Tool (they actually call him this!), and two of Pete’s cousins met us at the start of the official tasting.

This is where I start to have mixed feelings about this year’s Extravaganza…

As soon as we entered the room, we knew that this year’s event attracted many more people than in prior years (I wonder if my constant Tweets promoting the event had something to do with this). They also added many more tables and moved the food to a different room, rather than having it set up in the middle of the tasting room. After taking a quick stroll around the room to develop our whisky tasting game plan, we noticed that Yamazaki, The Glenrothes, Aberlour, Johnnie Walker, Jameson, Tullamore Dew, and several other distilleries didn’t show up for this year’s event. There were also far fewer pourers on hand to take care of the larger crowd. We all agreed that this combination of more people, fewer Distilleries, and far fewer people doing the actual pouring resulted in a bit of frustration as we tried to sample everything that was available. Although I don’t know why fewer Distilleries showed up this year, I think it has something to do with the fact that there are so many similar events happening across the country within a relatively short period of time. It’s not like they employ hundreds of Brand Ambassadors to man these events. I just wish that the Society didn’t print a generic program that lists ALL of the Distilleries that might attend their events. It’s very frustrating to see a whisky like Aberlour’s a’Bunadh listed in a program and then not being able to drink it!

Although this year’s whisky selections weren’t as impressive as in years past, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t many great whiskies to drink. Ardbeg (Alligator!), Glenmorangie (they had the Signet, but I didn’t get to try it), and Laphroiag (Cairdeas!) had the most extensive selection of whiskies to sample. There were also several Society bottlings and other independent bottlings (the Loch Chaim Isle of Arran was delicious!) that were well worth drinking.

8:45 to 9PM – With just 15 minutes left and a very mild buzz, I decided to do a quick walk around and drink as much whisky as I could get my hands on. Don’t be alarmed! When they’re pouring a whisper of whisky into your glass, it takes ALOT to get really out of hand. We’ll call this last 15 minutes “The Lightening Round!”. It was alot of fun!

9 to Midnight – After the event, we moved to the first floor of The Union League and settled in to the lounge. Rob shared his brand new bottle of Templeton Rye with us, and it was gone within an hour (relax…there were 10 of us drinking it). We also spent some time in their newly renovated cigar room. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable three hours!

Midnight to 2AM – Swagmaster Rick, Wisk_e, Tool, and Frank took a cab to South Street for some cheesesteaks. Bill, Rob, Pete, The Wookie, and I took a walk to Little Pete’s for some breakfast food. Mmmmm….. Scrapple, Egg, and Cheese sandwiches! Delicious!

Some final thoughts…

While the actual Extravaganza was a bit disappointing when compared to our past experiences, the pre and post game activities more than made up for any of the event’s shortcomings! All of us had a fabulous time despite the diminished whisky selection. I guess we’re just spoiled.

But wait! There’s more…

On November 1st, our blogging buddy The Whisky Woman Tweeted the following picture while she was attending this year’s New York WhiskyFest:

So here’s the question:

How is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society going to respond to this since they typically hold the Philadelphia Extravaganza on the last Friday in October?  Stay tuned for further developments…

16 replies »

  1. I was equally disappointed with the absence of several ambassadors. You would think with a record crowd there would have been more vendors not the opposite. Of course, Pappy and I made the best of our situation. The Dewar’s 18 and the Glenmorangie Signet were my favorites. Pappy enjoyed the lighter offerings from the Classic Malts (Dalwhinnie and Glenkinchie) as well as their “smart” pourers.

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  2. I agree as well. The panel discussion was well done and very insightful. The crowd was so deep at some tables it was nearly impossible to get a taste. It would have been even more disappointing if it were not for the steep discount negotiated by Swagmaster Rick.

    Having said that, the Union League is still an excellent spot for an event like this. Its always great to be able to hang in the lounge afterwards.

    I hope this was just an off year and that next year a number of the “missing” distilleries return.

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  3. Perfect review and I hope the SMWSA reads this. The main event was definitely not up to previous years standards and I hope they up their game next year. If not for the fun that we added ourselves it would have been a disappointing event.

    In my mind we pay for these events to try interesting rare whiskys, to learn something from the distilleries, and so we don’t have to wait in line “at the bar”. This year’s event didn’t accomplish any of these. There were only a few things I hadn’t had before, the lines were 3-4 deep at each table, and the “ambassadors” were horrible. I think the lack of knowledge from the “pourers” was the greatest disappointment. I bet some of the reps couldn’t even find the distilleries they represent on a map or spell their names. The SMWSA and distilleries would do better to recruit locals (like us) to pour and talk up the whiskys.

    I will give an honorable mention to Glenmorangie and Laphroiag they represented well and the others would do well to imitate their presentation!

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  4. G-Lo,

    That was a great write up. A shame your experience didn’t live up to prior years. I guess there’s always next year…

    In the meantime, you and the gents will have to catch up on all the expressions you missed out on. And the Glenmorangie Signet was fan-tastic!

    Cheers!
    THF

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    • Yo THF! Although the event itself was somewhat lacking, we still had a great time. We had a few first time attendees with us, so it was fun to show them around and feel like a veteran. The pre and post game activities are what made it extra special. As far as the Signet goes, no clue why I didn’t sample it. It’s on my list!

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  5. Hey G-LO,
    I have been anxious to read your review of this event and like many who commented here, am sorry for you and the rest of the BoozeDancing crew that there were some obvious let-downs on the part of the event.

    I do think you brought up a good point being that there were so many of these events happening within days/weeks of each other (I was only at the NYC WhiskyFest 2 days after the Philly SMWS event and was live tweeting about it as our other blogger friends were live tweeting about the South Africa WhiskyLive event … I could go on but think that proves the point). Perhaps the brands are over-spent (these events costs lots of money for the producers – having to pay for booth rental, travel, signs, staff, marketing material, hotels, meals and most importantly, inventory).

    As for WhiskyFest NYC being on the same weekend as Philly SMWS next year … I’ll be curious to see how the BoozeDancing crew works that out. 🙂 I’ll post my review of the WhiskyFest later this week.

    Cheers guys!
    -WW

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    • Yo WW! Thanks for the comment and the behind the scenes perspective. As far as future events go, there’s WhiskyLive NYC in April 2012, probably a Whisky Guild Cruise in Philly around the same time, the Moorestown Whisky Guild event that is probably coming up, and then there’s the Fall 2012 dilemna, i.e. WhiskyFest NY vs. Extravaganza Philly. Tough choices for sure. Will probably come down to time, money, and family/real job responsibilities. Only time will tell. All I can say is, “Stay tuned!”.

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