Every October for the past five years (2006 to 2011), the boys and I have attended the Fall edition of The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza that’s been held at The Union League in Center City Philadelphia. During our 2011 excursion to this event, we noticed a significant drop off in the number of whisky brands that were represented and were somewhat frustrated by this, especially when we noticed that attendance for this event was significantly up (you can read my recap of this event by clicking here). After reading reviews of the Fall 2011 DC, Boston, and San Fran Extravaganza events, and hearing about all of the whiskies that didn’t make it to Philly (Diageo Distiller’s Editions and The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch #3 were especially missed), we were determined to get to Manhattan so that we could find out first hand what we were missing.
Attending a whisk(e)y event in Manhattan has been on our radar for quite some time, but the timing of the events (WhiskyFest, WhiskyLive, and the Whisky Guild Cruise) has always been in direct conflict with our work, vacation, or family event schedules. After receiving an email from the Society in February, and seeing that the Spring event in Manhattan would be on May 10th, I checked my calendar and decided to take a chance by planning to attend this event. I emailed The Usual Suspects to see if there was any interest, but unfortunately, most of them weren’t able to make it. Thankfully, Limpd was as intrigued as I was, so we made our reservations in late April and planned to make a day of the event, i.e. get to Manhattan in time for lunch and a couple of drinks, head to the event, stop for one more drink on our way back to Penn Station, and then head home.
About one week before the event, I was informed that I would need to attend a budget meeting from 3 to 5PM on the day of the event. Once again, my plans to attend a Manhattan whisky event were being tampered with! Staying positive is not one of my strengths, and by the time Thursday morning rolled around, I was getting seriously annoyed. This montage from “Clerks” (pardon the expletives, but I think they’re appropriate this time around) sums up how I was feeling on the morning and early afternoon on the day of the Extravaganza…
Although my budget meeting went as poorly as can be expected, I was out of there by 3:45, which enabled me to catch a 3:50 PATCO train back to New Jersey. Limpd picked me up at the station and drove us to Trenton. We caught the 5:28 Amtrak train, and by 5:40, we were enjoying some Sam Adams Boston Lager in the bar car. Our train arrived at Penn Station on time, and by 6:35, we were taking advantage of the perfect Spring weather and walking to the Roosevelt Hotel. We were at the Extravaganza at exactly 7PM.
Once we were checked in, we wasted very little time and took a quick stroll around the room to see what we’d be drinking over the next two hours. We immediately noticed that there were several whisky brands that we’ve never seen at one of the Philly Extravaganzas, i.e. anCnoc, Balblair, Compass Box, Longmorn, Old Pulteney, and Usquaebach (sadly, The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Yamazaki, and Hibiki were not in attendance).
Since our goal when we attend these events is to try as many new whiskies as possible, we headed straight for the Balblair table to sample the three expressions that they brought to the event. After speaking with their Brand Ambassador, he recommended that we start with their 2000 vintage, then move on to their 1991 vintage, and then end with their 1989 vintage. Although the pours were small, we walked away with a very positive first Balblair experience.
Our next stop would be The Classic Malts table where we would be guided through some very interesting Speyside whiskies by Gregor Cattanach, a former Global Brand Ambassador for the Evil Empire. Err… I mean Diageo. We spent quite a bit of time at The Classic Malt table and managed to try a Clynelish 14, an Auchroisk 20 (pronounced Oth Rusk), and a Glen Spey 21. Gregor was incredibly accommodating and walked us through each expression, as well as giving us a brief lesson on Scottish pronunciation. He then proceeded to call me a “name dropper” for mentioning the Brian Cox Scotch pronunciation videos that we wrote about back in June of 2011. Thankfully, Gregor would prove to be the rule, rather than the exception, i.e. he wasn’t the only Brand Ambassador that would make us feel at home.
Since we had quickly worked our way through six whiskies within 45 minutes, we decided to take a short break for food. Much like the Philly event this past Fall, the food stations were located just outside of the main event area. Although there was nothing particularly special about the food, what we had was well prepared, and would prove to be a perfect accompaniment for our drinking adventures. We needed food that would satisfy and line our stomachs, and that is exactly what was offered (roast beef and roast turkey sandwiches, pasta, salad, and a few desserts). Within ten minutes, we were back in the main room for more whisky.
The first hour went by very quickly, so we picked up the pace and worked our way around the room to see what else we needed to try. I had the Compass Box Hedonism and Peat Monster, Glenmorangie Artein and Signet, Highland Park 15, Laphroiag 10 Cask Strength, The Macallan Fine Oak 15, Aberlour A’Bunadh #38, Knappogue Castle 12, Usquaebach Old Rare Superior Blend and 15 Year Old Blend, and Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask No. 36.54 (they call it “A cheeky treat for afternoon tea”). Along the way, we managed to chat with each of the Brand Ambassadors, and they all proved to be extremely friendly and knowledgable (or perhaps it was just the booze dancing).
What impressed me most about the New York event was how the Brand Ambassadors and pourers managed the crowd. There were several tables that were very crowded (it was four deep at the Compass Box table), but they managed to get everyone a drink in a timely fashion AND still keep the conversation flowing as they entertained questions from the attendees. The fact that we were able to try so many whiskies and have a few conversations within a two hour span made all of the travel and pre-event aggravation well worth the trip.
After the event, we walked back to Penn Station and make a quick stop at the bar at Keens Steakhouse for one more drink. As I have mentioned in several posts, the bar at Keens is one of my favorite destinations whenever I’m in New York. Great service, great food, great atmosphere, and a RIDICULOUSLY huge whisky menu are what keep me going back. While the whisky selection was incredibly tempting, we decided to just have a beer before our train. We stayed for about an hour and played the “Had it, had it, had it!” game as we marveled at the whisky selection. We also played “Guess what the bartender is making!” as he crafted several cocktails for a couple at the far end of the bar. Apparently, a Blanton’s Old Fashioned was quite popular that night.
We returned to Penn Station by 10:45 and had just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat at what I thought would be a gastronomic mistake at the end of an otherwise fantastic evening, i.e. we ordered a half a dozen tacos from Taco Bell. Thankfully, we survived the tacos and had an uneventful ride home on Amtrak.
With the exception of the pre-trip work drama, our maiden voyage to the New York Extravaganza was a complete success. Beautiful weather, perfectly timed train travel, fantastic whiskies, good food, and the opportunity to speak with some very nice people. Who could ask for anything more?
But wait! I’m not done yet…
Below are some photos from our travels. Cheers!