Booze Banter

Event Review – 2013 Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza at The Union League, Center City Philadelphia


Booze Dancing Reserved

If I were to play word association with most people, the first word that would pop into their head when I say October would most likely be Halloween. Not so for yours truly! Whenever someone mentions the month of October, the first thing that pops into my head is WHISKY! If you’re a regular reader of our little blog, then you’ve probably read about our adventures at the 2013 Whisky Jewbilee, as well as our friend Aaron’s adventures at WhiskyFest New York and WhiskyLIVE LA. All three of these events took place in the month of October.

One event that I always look forward to is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Philadelphia Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza which usually takes place during the last week of October at The Union League. This year, the Philly Extravaganza took place on Friday, November 1st, and 2013 marks the 7th year in a row that we’ve attended this event. In addition to Limpd, The Wookie, The ROK, and I, we were also joined by our friends Bill, Rob, The Rick, and Pete.

Once again, rather than just give you my opinion of the event, I have enlisted the help of my friends and fellow attendees to tell you about all that went down at this year’s Extravaganza, because here at “It’s just the booze dancing…”, we’re all about a well balanced review…

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Rob

The Whiskies: This is a night that never disappoints! My favorite whisky collection was Glenmorange, and the most interesting whiskey collection was Abelour.

The Whisky Panel: While I certainly enjoyed the Whiskey Panel, I wish that the Brand Ambassadors would have been given the opportunity to speak more. The moderator took up a great deal of time. 

Food and Venue: The Union League is the perfect venue for this event and the food was very good, but I think they ran low on the turkey.

Possible Improvements: While I truly enjoyed the whisky selections at this year’s event, I couldn’t help noticing that there were several distilleries missing from prior years. Where was Diageo with their Classic Malt and Johnnie Walker offerings? And how about Laphroiag? They’re always there! I really missed asking Simon Brooking the annual “What’s in the boot?” question.

Final Comments: This is easily one of the the nicest group of attendees of any Whisky event anywhere and I think it’s obvious that the Booze Dancing crew are among this event’s most loyal patrons! This is the event at which I have the most laughs of the year. Truly enjoyable! 

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The Wookie

The Whiskies: I highly recommend an event like this if you are just getting into whisky and want to try a wide variety in one night. However, if you are a seasoned whisky drinker, this year you wouldn’t have seen anything too exciting. Highlights include some great selections from the SMWSA and the Classic Cask. While there were a lot of whiskies, it was disappointing to see so few distilleries represented. For an “Extravaganza”, I would expect the event to showcase new whiskies from around the world, or rare gems from Scottish Distilleries.

Food and Venue: The food was good, about what you expect for a buffet food service. Not the full power of what the Philadelphia Union League kitchen can produce, but not bad. I have always wondered why they don’t seek to create a menu paired more with the whisky, or that uses whisky as an ingredient (whisky sauces, salmon from Scotland, etc.). If you want to sell more whisky, use more whisky! The Union League is a great historic venue, but I prefer a more informal and open venue. Repeat events at the Union League give the event consistency, but something new would be a nice change of pace. The main room at the Union League can at times feel like a dark cave. A nice location open to the outdoors or with a great view would be awesome.

Service: The crowd was smaller than other years making it easy to get to every table. Pourers ranged from professionals who knew how to keep the whisky flowing AND educate the crowd, to those who were clearly just there for the night and didn’t know much about what they were pouring. Everyone was friendly and above or on par with other events that I have attended. Big kudos to the Society for adding Ricky Crawford to their team. The man is an encyclopedia of whisky knowledge, has ninja like pouring skills, and oodles of Scottish Charm!

Favorite Whisky of the Night: I loved some the Society’s single cask whiskies, but for me, the big surprise of the evening was the Ardbog from Ardbeg. Typically, peaty Ardbeg whiskies are not my favorite, but the Ardbog has just a hint of peat and is slightly sweet and salty. Great balance, and a little like the best that all Scotch whiskies have to offer blended into one expression.

Possible Improvements: Give Ricky Crawford the mic and let him speak to the masses, or let him host a “Master Class” type session featuring Society bottlings (something similar to the Macallan events that I have attended on numerous occasions). For me, the hardest part of buying Society releases is investing $100+ in something that you may or may not like the taste of. I would love to taste more of the Society’s single cask selections and would perhaps buy more.

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Bill

The Whiskies: My favorite whisky collection was Glenmorangie, and the most interesting whiskey collection was the Classic Cask.

The Whisky Panel: Unfortunately, the Whiskey Panel was dominated by the narrator who was unusually long winded this year which resulted in just a few questions being answered.

Food and VenueThe location is perfect! I love The Union League. Food was good as usual.

Possible Improvements: More reps to assist in pouring the whiskies, especially at the Classic Cask table which was constantly bottle necked.

Final Comments: A big thank you to the lovely ladies that were pouring for Dewar’s. Not only were they incredibly friendly, they also made it extra special for Limpd’s Dad by joining him for dinner, and they were also kind enough to part with the elusive ice bucket which made for one very grateful Bucket Bill (my new nickname courtesy of the Ex Swag Master Rick). Can’t wait till next year!

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Limpd

The Whiskies: My most memorable whiskies of the night were the Aberfeldy 21, Ardbeg’s Ardbog, and the 40 year old from the Classic Cask.

Food and Venue: Still high quality, but it seems to be getting skimpier each year, i.e. no potatoes for the beef or turkey, no butter for the rolls. As far as the venue, I love the Union League – great service, great architecture, great location!

The Whisky Panel: I missed the panel this year; in prior years, I felt that the moderator talks a bit too much, and there should be more whisky during the panel.

The Pourers: You have one job: to pour the whisky. Carry on all of the conversation that you want but you need to pour the whisky. So you either hire a number of people to just pour while the Brand Ambassador carries the weight of the Q & A (Aberfeldy/Dewars & Glenlivet), or you hire a Brand Ambassador that can do two things at once (Ricky Crawford is THE Man!). I felt that The Balvenie table was a little slow, and the Classic Cask was just about at a standstill which was too bad as they both had an outstanding line-up, but it just simply took too long to get a pour.

The Service: The Union League’s service is always exceptional, the ambassadors are always great, and the Aberfeldy girls went above and beyond the call of duty by spending some time with my Pappy.

Possible Improvements: Something needs to be done about the date. Each year, the number of brands on offer dwindles. Can’t they pick a date that is a day before or a day after another event so that there might be more ambassadors in town (kind of like what the Jewish Whisky Company did when they scheduled their Whisky Jewbilee)? Here are just a few of the brands that were MIA from this year’s event: Johnnie Walker, the Classic Malts, Isle of Jura, Jameson, and Michael Collins. One brand that they really need to get for the Philly event is Compass Box.

Will you go back?: While we have definitely considered trying some of the other whisky events that happen in the NY/DC/Philly area, my situation is a little different because of Pappy. He really enjoys the night out and I get to spend a night drinking whisky with him (What could be better than that?). We’ve been to a number of great events at some great locales, but since they’ve been spread across a number of rooms, floors, etc., I’d be afraid an event at another venue might be too spread out for him to get the same level of satisfaction. As his mobility is limited, the event at the Union League is a great night out.

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The ROK

The Whiskies: Aberlour a’Bunadh Batch 45 was easily my favorite whisky of the night, while the Classic Casks had the most interesting and diversified table, i.e. they had everything from 15 year old to 40 year old whisky.

Food and Venue: The food lines can get long, but they keep it moving. I think they ran out of turkey early, but overall, the food was very good. The Union League is always a great location. It’s fun to get a bit dressed up to sip new and interesting whiskies. Overall, it was a great night!

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G-LO

The Whiskies: While there were definitely fewer distilleries in attendance at this year’s Philly Extravaganza, there were several whiskies that were true standouts. I particularly enjoyed the Ardbeg Ardbog, Aberlour A’bunadh, Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams and Malt Master’s Edition, Glenmorangie Signet, and several of the Classic Casks and Society bottlings.

Food and Venue: I have no complaints about the quality of the food, but I am almost positive that the selection has been dwindling every year, particularly with regards to the desserts. What happened to the mini Creme Brûlée??? As far as the venue, I love that the event is held at The Union League. Such a classy place! My only wish is that they lift the jacket requirement since given the time of year, it gets a bit stuffy and warm in there.

The Whisky Panel: I really enjoy listening to the Brand Ambassadors field questions from the attendees, but as others have stated, the moderator tends to dominate the conversation instead of just letting the Brand Ambassadors talk.

Possible Improvements: My number one recommendation would be to scrap the Whisky Panel and make it a three hour tasting. In lieu of the Whisky Panel, I agree with The Wookie about some sort of Master Class during the event. It would be great to have a small group session led by one of the Brand Ambassadors where we get to taste a new release or a limited edition bottling. As other have said, “Ricky is the Man!”, and he would totally rock something like that. Also, why not open the event up to Bourbon? It’s not like the event is exclusively Scotch whisky. There has been Irish and Japanese whisky in years past, as well as rum and liqueurs. Bring on the Bourbon!

Final Comments: Although I mentioned a few minor quibbles, I still love this event and look forward to attending it again next year. For me, this is one of the few opportunities during the year where we all manage to get together at the same place and at the same time. I mean, is there anything better than spending time with good friends and enjoying some great whisky together? I think not!

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Many thanks to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America for providing us with two complimentary passes to the event. We look forward to seeing you again next year!

But wait, there’s more…

For your viewing pleasure, below are a few photos from the event. Cheers!

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