Just look at those chandeliers
  • Santina Croniser
  • Just look at those chandeliers.

After depositing my coat at the (apparently mandatory) coat check at the Union League Club on Thursday night, I walked toward the elevators, looking for signs pointing to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 21st annual Whisky Extravaganza. There were none, but I did see a white-haired gentleman wearing a kilt and asked him for directions, assuming he was an official part of the tasting. He wasn’t—but he was attending it, and we rode the elevator together to the sixth floor, where we exited into a sea of suit jackets.

I was grateful that my companion for the evening had noticed the dress code on the Whisky* Extravaganza website ahead of time: no jeans, jackets required for men. I’d never been to the Union League Club before and wasn’t familiar with its dress code, so I would most likely have showed up in jeans. And while I was still underdressed compared with everyone else there, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting kicked out. (Though I do wonder if I was the reason I overhead someone nearby ask, “Is this event open to the public?”)

The food, which included rack of lamb and ravioli with shrimp and lobster, was a step up from the cheese and crackers I see at most tastings (though we had cheese and crackers too—fancy ones at that). The whiskeys were heavily focused on single-malt scotches—about 50 distilleries, including nine Glen-somethings—with a few Japanese and domestic distilleries for good measure. And the crowd was heavily upper-crust, whiskey enthusiasts to be sure, but slightly less rabid than the type of people who mob the Pappy Van Winkle table at WhiskyFest, going through a bottle of the 23-year in four and a half minutes.

  • Santina Croniser
  • Ladyburn 41-year with Thing from the Addams Family

For example, two hours into the tasting I noticed a bottle with a “41” on it—as in, it had been aged for 41 years. It had clearly been popular so far, but there was still some left. The brand ambassador told me that the distillery, Ladyburn, had operated in Girvan, Scotland, for just under ten years before ceasing production in 1975. While it’s no longer distilling whiskey, the owner, William Grant & Sons, is still aging a very limited number of casks that were made during that time and releasing them occasionally. (The last release, in 2011, was of a 36-year-old cask from 1975.) This release is only 400 bottles total, of which the brand ambassador said that 100 would be released in the U.S., at a cost of about $2,000 per bottle. Whiskeys aged that long are often rendered unpleasantly woody from their time in casks (or so I’ve read), but this one was extraordinary. I picked up notes of blackberry, toffee, cigar smoke, and vanilla. Good luck finding it, though.

Another of my favorites of the evening was much more available and affordable (at $80 a bottle it’s not cheap, either, but single malts do tend to be pricey). Talisker Storm was developed, Diageo Master of Whisky Kyle McHugh told me, to be something you’d reach for on a chilly, stormy night. Released without an age statement, it’s comprised of Talisker single malts ranging in age from three to 25 years, landing at a price point just above the Talisker ten-year. I think just about any whiskey would be appropriate for drinking during stormy weather, but this one certainly fits the bill: slightly smoky, but beautifully balanced, it’s spicy, sweet, and smooth in equal proportions.

Clyde May’s Conecuh Ridge Whiskey was another one that stood out for me, because even though the brand rep had told me that it’s distilled with dried apples, I was unprepared for the clear notes of green apple on the nose. Given the smell, I expected it to taste like apple too, but the fruit fades into the background, leaving malt and caramel flavors to dominate. It’s based on the recipe that farmer and moonshiner Clyde May developed in the 1950s, which his son decided to revive legally after May’s death in 1990. The combination of the apple aroma and caramel flavor reminded me of a caramel apple (which tastes better than it sounds, since the whiskey isn’t sweet at all).

  • Santina Croniser
  • Whisky and chocolate

Other favorites from the evening, in alphabetical order:
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Bowmore 15-Year
Few Rye Whiskey
Glenfiddich Age of Discovery
Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt
Usquaebach Old Rare Blended Whisky
Westland American Single Malt

Near the end of the night I ran into the kilted gentleman I’d met earlier, who was on his way to try his luck at a table with a long line. If he had trouble, he said, hiking up his kilt a few inches, “I’ll show them my legs!”

* The Scottish spelling.

Julia Thiel writes about booze on Thursdays—and occasionally, on other days too.