OK, so I just got back from the SMWSA's 16th Annual Extravaganza and wanted to update the blog with some quick impressions. I'll follow-up later with some actual tasting note and maybe a few more thoughts, but I wanted to get my first impressions down before my memory fades too quickly. Besides, it might take me some while to read the scribbles that pass for notes...
The event was wonderful. It was a little less crowded than in years past, but the folks in attendance were, as always, uniformly a great bunch of people -- well mannered, jovial, friendly and serious about their drams and about drinking whisky with their friends.
The evening started with a Whisky 101 symposium of sorts. Alan Shayne, the SMWSA's president, opened with some introductory material and then passed the mic on to Simon Brookings of Jim Beam Global, representing Laphroaig and Ardmore. Simon is one of the best at this sort of gathering -- funny, informative, and great at drawing folks in to what makes the malts he represents so special. Simon warmed up the crowd perfectly. Next up was the guy from Diageo, whose name I have already forgotten -- which is a shame because he was a very nice guy. He's not as polished as Simon and isn't Scottish, making the kilt thing a tad more ridiculous than it already is.
Next up was the Chivas Bros guy (representing The Glenlivet) -- he was great too. Then LVMH's David Blackmore from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg -- another old hand at this who also knocked the ball out of the park. Then Sam Simmons, aka Dr. Whisky, spoke briefly but informatively on behalf of the Balvenie and Glenfiddich, adding a slightly contemplative though wholly welcome note about the Scottish-ness of the whiskies. Sky Liquors was also ably represented by another two guys whose names escape me.
Whisky-wise, there were more expressions (i.e., different individual bottles) than last year, but not much that was wholly new. Disappointingly, The Dalmore seemed not to have shown -- at least I somehow missed their table if they were there. I was particularly hoping to taste the new Gran Reserva. Oh well.
There was some definite standout whiskies of the evening. AGAIN, this is just off-the-cuff impressions; real substantive tasting notes will follow in a future post:
Laphroaig -- well the entire line-up is brilliant, obviously, but the 18 was special -- super complex, earthy, sweet, deliciously muted smoke-bomb with layer after lay of flavor; the final outing of the 15, which hasn't been available near me for a little while now, was also noteworthy.
Ardbeg -- ditto about its lineup being being brilliant! The standouts, however, were the Airigh Nam Beist 1990 (a massivly smoky, yet wonderfully delicate and involved dram) and the Corryvreckan (another whopper that kinds of beats wildly about you and then calms down towards near docility as the flavors and characteristics dance before you) .
The Ardmore Traditional Cask was very, very interesting! the sweetnees seemed slightly unmoored and the caramel splashed about a tad, but all to my general liking.
The Douglas Laing "Premier Barrel" bottling of 25 year old Glenburgie was outstanding!
Balvenie -- the 17 year old Madeira Cask was particularly nice.
The Glenmorangie Astar and the "Extremely Rare 18 Year Old" were both terrific.
The Highland Park -- again, mostly brilliant. The 30 year old is a super-standout!
The Scapa 16 year old was great.
The SMWS's own bottlings were great this year (as always). The 9 year old 48.17 from Balmenach had some real power, while the 26 year old 49.10 from St. Magdalene had real finesse -- a really lovely dram.
The 11 year old 121.30 Ise of Arran malt was a bit rough and ready, but overall very nice.
The 17 year old 93.36 from Glen Scotia was great -- a bit atypical of Glen Scotia, but not in a bad way (less fishy).
The 11 year old 33.77 from Ardbeg was out of this world good!
I'm a little too tired and way too happy to keep this straight now, so more in the (hopefully) near future.