There are a lot of whisky events out there, patronized by a lot of people who, when confronted with a room full of alcohol, simply forget the meaning of the word restraint. These people can often be found in the restrooms about an hour into said events, returning their bounty in singular form to the closest porcelain repository. That's fancy-speak for "puking their guts up because they drank too much whisky too fast."
And that's one reason I like the Whisky Extravaganza, presented by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and coming to Washington DC, Seattle, Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale before year's end (and plenty of other cities in 2015). It's a little more under the radar than other high-profile boozefests like WhiskyFest and WhiskyLive, so you won't get as many of the puking class attending, but it still has a room full of top-notch whiskies for the sampling.
Which ones, you ask? Well, you'll get various expressions of well-known single malts like The Balvenie and Ardbeg. You'll find blends from Usquaebach to Monkey Shoulder to The Famous Grouse. You'll get to sample lesser-known single malts like Craigellachie, Glenglassaugh and Benromach. Interested in international whiskies? The Extravaganza will feature Nikka from Japan, Kavalan from Taiwan, and even American malts like Westland and Hudson (click here for a more complete list).
But I think the coolest part of the Whisky Extravaganza is getting to sample the mystery single malts poured by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. Why the mystery? Because part of the SMWSA's raison d'etre is to get their members to appreciate whisky for what's in the bottle rather than the label on the bottle. So join the Society and every month or two you'll be able to buy incredibly limited edition bottlings -- all limited to a single barrel -- from more than 100 distilleries all over Scotland. Each bottle comes complete with technical details like age, region and proof, as well as ridiculously detailed tasting notes that border on the comical. Here's an example: "Gentle, unassuming nose - slight suggestions of scorched wood and small insinuations of acidity - but mainly a sweetie shop (vanilla, Turkish Delight, strawberry fondant) in a park (meadowsweet, laurel, gorse, wood sap, flowers). The palate held a happy balance of sweet (chocolate-coated raisins, iced vanilla sponge-cake) and bitter (lemon, lime, pear, damson)...." And so on. In short, you get everything you'd want to know about the whisky... except for the name of the distillery. Which I think is both really cool and a lot of fun.
Oh, and did I mention the smorgasbord of food and complimentary cigar? Well I'm mentioning it now.
Tickets for the remaining 2014 events are available here. No matter how educated you are -- or think you are -- about Scotch whisky, you're guaranteed to leave the Whisky Extravaganza knowing more than when you walked in. But for heaven's sake, pace yourself. Eat some food, drink lots of water, and don't feel compelled to try every single brand there. Great whisky deserves better than to be regurgitated in a public restroom.