On Tuesday November 27th, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America held their annual Extravaganza event at the Union League in Center City Philadelphia. This event was originally scheduled for November 1st, but thanks to the mayhem that was caused by Hurricane Sandy, the event had to be rescheduled. Although this rescheduling resulted in a much smaller crowd at this years event, there were some huge benefits from our perspective, especially since the majority of the distilleries from years past were still in attendance.
There were around ten of us scheduled for the original date, but due to work and family commitments (surprise surprise!), only five of us were able to make it on November 27th. Limpd, his Pappy (aka The Godfather of Whisk(e)y), The Rick (aka Swagmaster), our friend Bill, and I met up at around 6PM. Just in time for The Whisky Panel!
This year’s panel included Gregor Cattanach of Diageo (we met him for the first time during the NYC Extravaganza this past May), David Blackmore of Ardbeg/Glenmorangie, Simon Brooking of Laphroiag/Ardmore, Ricky Crawford of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, and Gabe Cardarella of Dewar’s. As he has done in years past, Alan Shayne, the Society President, asked the panelists questions from the audience. The topics ranged from “How are the Scottish distilleries responding to the rise in whisky production around the world?” to “What are your thoughts on whisky collecting as an investment?” to “When did you have your first whisky and how did you wind up working in the industry?”. All of the panelists took turns answering the questions and there was a tremendous amount of camaraderie between them. Although they each have different employers, you can tell that they all know each other really well and have mutual respect for each other. In between all of the seriousness, there was a great deal of joking and ribbing which we all found very entertaining.
Once the Whisky Panel was over, Alan Shayne instructed us to head on over to the tasting room. We secured our table, made sure Pappy was comfortable and set up with his first dram, then worked on our individual plans of attack as we surveyed the night’s offerings.
Since I am having a bit of writer’s block this week, I will skip the usual recap and instead cut/paste an email chat between Limpd (L) and I (G) with our impressions of this year’s Philly Extravaganza…
L: It was a good night but not a great one. I think I liked my first two Philly events (2007 & 2008) and the 2012 NY event better.
G: Maybe it was all about the expectations (mine weren’t particularly high given all the rescheduling), but I really enjoyed last night’s event. I sent Gabby a quick thank you (for the complimentary admission) this morning and mentioned that although they may have had a serious drop off in attendance due to the rescheduling, I thought that it was a much more manageable crowd, and the people working the event looked like they were having a really good time. They were oh so chatty! There may not have been as much whisky as in prior years, and definitely not as much variety as NYC, but what was there was quite nice. As I also told Gabby, I may have spent more time talking than drinking last night.
L: They definitely were chatty and the ease of getting a dram at each table was far more reminiscent of the NYC event where they had a ton of support for each ambassador. I might have spent more time talking than drinking if I hadn’t spent so much time with Ricky Crawford. The glass is never empty with that guy! I thought the panel event was better than last year with the panelists showing a great deal of camaraderie (although Gabe seemed a little left out) and spent a lot of time contemplating answers to the questions from the audience. It wasn’t just a bunch of canned answers to staged questions. I just wish they gave you a bigger pour going in, or at the very least addressed the pour at the start with some general information on tasting notes and ice/water usage. The Triple Wood was a nice way to start off the night.
G: Agreed on the panel. They did a great job of answering the questions and it’s clear that the Scottish whisky industry is quite tight and well connected. It probably helps that they all know each other from all of the events that they attend together. Agreed on poor Gabe. He was a bit quiet during the Q&A.
L: One big gripe was that I found that the book that the Society produces is useless if the whiskies aren’t there. You might as well have given me the whisky bible or the inventory from Park Ave liquors. And, where was Glenlivet (no Nadurra for Pappy) and Suntory (both of which I missed) and Compass Box (who were fantastic in NY) and the Isle of Jura (a little meh) and Murray McDavid (who I thought came last year). And, where were pours from Johnnie Walker, Chivas and the Famous Grouse. I liked the addition of the Brugal at the Macallan/ Highland Park table, but I missed the Grouse.
G: To be honest, I didn’t pay too much attention to the book. Suntory was a no show last year as well. What I really miss is the Aberlour.
L: I could have sworn that Suntory was there last year, I guess I’m thinking of the 2010 event. Oh, I forgot about Aberlour. Love them, especially the A’Bunadh. I started the night with the Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 (which Gillespie had been kind enough to share earlier in the year). It was as good as I remember. Maybe, a bit pricey, but still very good. Then, I headed over and had the Aberfeldy 21 and the Dewars 18 and talked a little bit to Gabe about Aberfeldy and Dewars (seems like a knowledgeable guy, just not as personable as the other guys. I guess that comes with age and experience).
G: I never made it to the Dewars and Aberfeldy table. Definitely would have been worth a visit.
L: I think you would have liked it. From the panel discussion, I had taken Gabe’s advice and tried the Aberfeldy and the Dewars to see if I could find the Aberfeldy in the Dewars. It was an interesting experiment and I came away with a greater appreciation of both. After some food, I had the Macallan 15 & 18 and the Highland Park 18 & 21. All of them lived up to my prior expectations. They could have used a brand ambassador and another pourer.
G: I only had the Macallan 12 because that’s what the pourer recommended. Also had the HP 15 since I rarely get to try that. Dee-lish all around!
L: I hit the Single casks table and threw down a Dalwhinnie 15. This might be right up there with the Doublewood as my “table whisky”. Not overly spicy or peaty, just a nice dram. And, we spent a fair amount of time talking to Gregor (what a great guy), and my dad was touched that Gregor came over to talk to him and invite us downstairs for a cigar. Also, Gregor spoke quite a bit about whisky as an investment. While an open bottle might not last a year on the table (unless it begins with a T – Tamdhu, Tomintoul), I had never really thought about investing in a few lower priced quality bottles. I wonder what the Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 28 is going for on the open market.
G: I had three whiskies from Gregor’s table: Talisker 10 to start the night. Oban 14 after that. And Lagavulin 16 to end the night. Gregor was superb! He was a great addition to the event. So personable and knowledgeable. Would have been nice to join him for a cigar. A definite class act! As far as whisky as an investment, I doubt I’d ever go down that road. Drinking it is so much more interesting.
L: I had the Caribbean Cask and the Peated Cask. The Caribbean Cask wasn’t as good as I remembered (maybe we had the Rum Cask instead) and the Peated Cask was not really very peated. I found them both to be okay but nothing special. I had the Glenfiddich 18 and that is just a great dram.
G: I really liked the Tun 1401. The other two Balvenies weren’t as memorable, but that probably has more to do with my palate being on overload at that point. The Glenfiddich 15 and 18 were really really good. Will have to revisit them! Their pourer was quite good too. I’m pretty sure she worked the NYC event.
L: I had a lot at the Society table. It was a shame about the shipping error, but the two bottles that they brought (Cask No. 24.122 – Sweet, but with grown up flavours and Cask No. 125.48 – Old-fashioned tea chests and maple candy) were both very good. The Macallan (24.122) was very smooth and the Glenmorangie (125.48) had a little bit of bite to it. Both had reminded me why I like to buy bottles from the Society and why I look forward to the packages from Gabby. And, Ricky, the guy with the fantastic mustache, and Alan Shayne did a great job. And, give them extra credit for borrowing bottles from the other tables and holding a contest. That was improvised genius!
G: Agreed on the Society table. Getting Ricky was a great move on their part. Much like Simon and Blackmoore, he knows his stuff. Alan was particularly bubbly last night. I think he was having a really good time. You’re so right about the contest. A great idea, especially since it was formulated on the fly!
L: I was quite impressed that Alan came over and talked to my dad (and that he knew his name) at the end of the night. The prize was a box of 6 Extravaganza glasses and Pappy took it home with great pride.
G: It’s all about connecting with your audience. That little gesture insured that we’ll return next year.
L: Agreed. I think Pappy already has the end of October blocked on his calendar for next year. I have to thank Mark Gillespie. My dad was also touched that he came over and talked about including him on a Virtual Tasting.
G: Mark is a great guy. We need to work up some kind of event and have him over.
L: I think he mentioned that he might have an opening this month. We’ll have to check schedules, the weather forecast, and Barthenon availability. And I have to thank you, Swagmaster Rick, and Bill for making sure that my dad’s glass was never empty.
G: Please. Ya gotta love The Godfather! I’m just happy to see that he has a good time.
So there you have it! Yet another great evening of whisky, food, and the company of wonderful people. We’re already counting down to our next Extravaganza!
Thank you again to Gabby Shayne of the Society for the complimentary admission, and thank you to all of the people working at the event for making us feel at home while we enjoyed some great whisky. Cheers to you all!
And for your viewing pleasure, here are some photos that I took during the event…
Categories: Booze Banter