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

By Boozedancing @boozedancing

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

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

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