Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our Review of the 2011 SMWS Extravaganza at the Taj Hotel in Boston

Sorry this took us so long.  Many things have been cooking back at the old MaltCave, and these various projects have divided our attention.  The result, it seems, is that we’re a little slower than we would be otherwise with respect to each and every one of them.  That said, this time around, we give our account of the SMWS Extravaganza held at the Taj Hotel in Boston in the form of a three part conversation, with Bill leading off the discussion.

Bill: I think it might be better named the SMWS X-travaganza, to evoke both the X-Files and the X-games. This, because these whisky evenings strike me as being simultaneously about what we don't know, and also about the limits of human endurance in a highly competitive setting.

John:  Couldn’t agree more.  This sentiment captures perfectly the tone and theme of the whole dad-burn thing.

I’m right there with both of you on this, though that last turn of phrase did make me worry that I may have inadvertently walked onto the set of Deliverance.

Bill:  Boy, you got a pretty mouth…sorry.  Moving on.  The pre-X-travaganza Whisky Panel, staffed by affable insiders Simon Brooking from Laphroaig, Kristina Sutter from Skyy, David Blackmore from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, Andrew Weir from Balvenie, 

Ewan Morgan from Diageo, Ross Hendry from BB&R and Glenrothes, Iain McCallum from Morrison Bowmore, Ricky Crawford from The Glenlivet, and Gardner Dunn from Suntory, took on a sheaf of audience-submitted written questions---a veritable open case probing the mysteries of the history, the ongoing creation, and the marketing and distribution of the Water of Life. I learned a lot; for example, it seems that the royal road to get a job in the whisky industry is to either be born in Scotland (fail, sadly, for me), or to work as a bartender in New York City. As usual, my juvenile deliquency vocational counselor gave me the wrong advice.

John:  In many respects the panel was the highlight of the evening.  Two things struck me:  First, the representatives spoke with great insight and expertise.  But the central message was one that empowered the audience to "have it your way," as the fast food chain encourages.  Rather than promote the exclusivity or inscrutability of fine whisky, the panelists sought to democratize it.  Second, the warmth and banter among the representatives of competing companies spoke volumes about the world of whisky.  It shows how the love of the water of life breaks down walls and joins people together.  One feels privileged to enjoy whisky in moments like these, as though one has discovered, if not the fountain of youth, at least a fountain that makes a life more worth living.      
Stephen:  (playing Socratic interlocutor) Yes, it seems so.  (then, decidedly not playing Socratic interlocutor) That is, as long as you’re not going to ask us to join hands and sing kumbayah or anything, John…

John:  [muffled imperative directed at Stephen to do something or other obscene with himself]    

Bill:  Carrying on:  Once the panel disavowed all knowledge of us, the usual hurly-burly began: A gazillion amazing things to try, and not enough time (or stamina) to get the job done. Memories that jut out like mountain peaks socked in by a low-lying ground fog: The Ardmore 30, my goodness, and Simon Brooking walking me and my friend MiniCooper John (shout out!  Holla!) up a vertical flight of Laphroaigs, each glass punctuated by a witty toast. The Scapa 16, which I managed to taste earlier in the evening than I did at my last X-travaganza. Jerry Zimmerman leading me through the Classic Cask's offerings, starting with the Ben Nevis, ambling through the Tomatin 16, and finally triggering the Double Barrel, that double-barreled shotgun wedding of the Highlands and the Islands, culminating, as usual, with the Classic Cask 35 year-old.  And finally, Noah Goldstein encouraging me to pound glassfuls of the Usquaebach 15 as if I were back in my rinky-dink honky-tonk in Hong Kong, playing quarters and skittles with the expats. Oh, and as always, Gabby Shayne was exceptionally gracious and looked maaahvelous

John: I went looking for the advertised Lagavulin 12, but learned it wasn't there; instead I "settled for" the Lagavulin Distiller's Edition.  And then, Ewan Morgan broke out the Glen Spey 21 year-old for us. So woody and delicious.  I also thoroughly enjoyed one or two of the SMWS drams on offer.  One was a Port Charlotte, and it was excellent.  I echo Bill's love for Scapa and Usquaebach.  I was also more selective than last year--I didn't try the beloved Laphroaig and only sipped one Ardmore--so I flew at higher altitude than Bill and with clearer skies.  I also enjoyed the lavish spread of food, by far the best food on offer at any of the whisky events we've tried.  And it was great, as always, seeing our good friend Joshua Hatton, President of the Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society, at the event.

Stephen:  Agreed on all fronts.  Alan, Gabby, and all people Shayne were their usual magnanimous and utterly hospitable selves.  And I should note that the food was also laid out better than last year's event and was much more easily accessible.  The SMWS Port Charlotte was a highlight for me, too, as was revisiting the Loch Chaim with Jerry Zimmerman, and having a couple of Glenrothes with Iain McCallum (standing in for Ross Hendry at the time).   It was also great to meet Andrew Weir and to catch up with David Blackmore and once again try to slake my insatiable thirst for the Glenmo 18.  And I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kim from VisitScotland and the amazing haberdashery she contributed to our photo spread. 

Bill:  Ah yes, the haberdashery: utterly unforgettable and a welcome addition to the Groucho Marx glasses.  A year ago, à la the X-Files, several hours vanished between the time we staggered out of the Taj and the time we arrived at our downscale imposterish hotel, which was one mile away. This time, although I beileve I recall everything correctly, at a certain point, as I usually do, I fell asleep. This time, though, as I usually don't, I woke up in a chicken-wire mesh cage in Stephen's ferret farm, with 15 or so of them curled up around me, including a few that had slithered inside my shirt and up my trouser legs. I need to work on my stamina.

Stephen:  You have a way with the little guys, Bill, you really do.  You should consider a sideline of ferret husbandry, if not herding.  I am still disappointed that the conference I attended in Scotland wasn’t more worthwhile, especially given that it covered both activities.  Such a great idea, such poor execution…

John:  Did they have any sessions on tying wee lassos for use in herding them?

Stephen:  Shut up, John.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Federal Wine & Spirits' Masterclass and Free Tastings with Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan!

Join all three of us at The Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston on Friday, October 28th for tastings and a masterclass with Bruichladdich's Jim McEwan!  The masterclass is $110 and at 7:30, but there are two free tastings with Jim before that, at 4:30 and 6:00!  
Jim McEwan is an icon in the whisky industry--and for good reason.  See Stephen's write-up on his visit to Bruichladdich for more of his personal impressions of the man.  If you're in the Boston area, you don't want to miss this...
Contact Joe from Federal Wine & Spirits in Boston for more info:

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Ron de Jeremy Rum--reviewed on Malt Gone Wild!

[This is one Master of Malt sent us just to review for them (see our Disclaimer here).  However, after seeing this review, they may rethink sending us any more...]    

Tasting notes: 

Please visit our adult-only site, Malt Gone Wild (

And be careful.


*--Master of Malt   (Ron de Jeremy Rum)
Check out other Master of Malt Drinks by the Dram here
Check out Master of Malt's Facebook page here and their Twitter feed here.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stephen's first WhiskyFest: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

     WhiskyFest San Francisco was my first WhiskyFest, and alas, I attended it without John and Bill.  But it was, in a word, a monster.  You don’t just have to be strategic in attacking it, you have to be disciplined.  And in many ways.
      First of all, the VIP hour that precedes the bustling city center that is the regular part of the event includes a number of special VIP pours at a number of booths.  The problem is that they can play out rather quickly, so you have to choose wisely, Grasshopper, and choose well.  My clearest memory of that particular hour was marveling at the wicked long line at the Glenrothes, then losing my nosing glass, then begging for a replacement, only to be denied flatly at every turn (though to be fair, that rule is made clear on the site).  When I returned to the main hall with a white wine glass (looking like a tool), the sound of crickets and disappointed stragglers could be heard at the Glenrothes table, as the VIP pours were long gone.  However, another point of the VIP hour is to give the VIPs more ready access to the whisky folks behind the tables, and this I managed to take advantage of while laying down a base layer of food.  And I should add that the food was quite good and quite plentiful.
     Second of all, there were seminars going on throughout the main part of the event, so once again, you must choose wisely, Grasshopper, and use the weight of your opponent against him.  (OK, not sure what that had to do with deciding to hit a seminar…got carried away, I guess).  Overall, I was more interested in taking in the main floor experience, so I opted to attend only one seminar. I chose the one starring our friend, Gable Erenzo from Hudson along with Mitch Bechard from Glenfiddich.  It was entitled, From Dufftown to Tuthhilltown, a Journey with Glenfiddich and Hudson, and it featured 8 drams, 4 from each distillery, including new make spirit from each.  Gable and Mitch did a great job of

presenting, and it was fascinating tasting Hudson’s bold, young American whiskies up against Glenfiddich’s subtle Scotch whiskies.  Truly, though, there were more great seminars on offer than one could do if one attended one in each time slot.  Of course, if one did that, one wouldn’t get out onto the main floor at all…
     Before going on to “Third…”, I’d like to add a brief 2(a) as a coda to “Second of all…”  One must have great discipline if one has been tasting on the main floor during Seminar time slot 1, only to attend a seminar in time slot 2 that puts 8 drams in front of him, which, during the presentation (which moves a little more slowly than he had on the main floor), are a little harder than usual to resist drinking in their totality.  [And yes, that sentence was intentionally constructed in that way so as to reflect the unenviable thought processes of the man behind the sentiment once he’d consumed those 8 drams (ok, he left some of the new make behind).]
    Third, there are some crazy exciting people to meet and equally exciting whiskies to taste, and it’s ridiculously difficult to choose whom to visit and what to make sure you taste.  The primary loci of my excitement were:  John Hansell, John Glaser and the new Compass Box Great King Street (and beautiful, but altogether too brief, reunions with the Compass Box Hedonism and Spice Tree), Scott Tallon and the new Bruichladdich “Laddie” 10, David Blackmore and the Glenmorangie 25, Lincoln Henderson and everything that is Angel’s Envy, and Dave Smith and the single cask amazingness the St. George folks in California have made by distilling Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and IPA.  The last one in particular was out of this world, especially for this Sierra Nevada lover. 
     So to sum up, the event was a monster, mostly because it presented monster choices, some of which I was up to, some of which I clearly was not.
     But then came the moment in the night when I felt that I’d finally arrived as a whisky
blogger/writer:  I found myself standing in a hotel room being undressed by a cute Scottish redhead with Tim and Dave from Malt Maniacs (and from PLOWED Society and from the LA Whisk(e)y Society, respectively),  Peter from The Casks,
Chris from the LA Whisk(e)y Society, Mikey from PLOWED, Chris from Whisky Wall, and Jason from Guid Scotch Drink (pictured to the right, rocking the after party).  Also in that room were at least twenty bottles of unbelievable whisky that some combination of the first few guys had brought with them and that they were generous enough to let the rest of us sample.  It was an incredible group of people to hang out with and the perfect experience to cap off my first WhiskyFest.


--Our thanks to John Hansell and Joan McGinley from The Whisky Advocate for the press pass to the event!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Nth 2012 Universal Whisky Experience (Vegas)-- and new Tasting Dinners elsewhere

It's whisky festival season here in the United States, and we're busy readying reports on WhiskyFest San Francisco and the SMWS Extravaganza in Boston.  But until we get those little nuggets polished to the appropriately high Malt Impostor sheen, here's one that hasn't happened yet, along with a series of upcoming tasting dinners put together by the Universal Whisky Experience, Dalmore and Sirius, the self-titled "Intrepid Whisky Purveyors" who remain shrouded in a hazy shadow of mystery (try clicking on their link).  See the image below for the flyer for the dinners.  You can find more information and sign up for the dinners here:

The Nth 2012 Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas promises to be a smörgåsbord of ultra-premium, high-end drams that will have much the same effect on you as would owning a Bentley or a Bugatti--mostly in terms of causing you embarrassment to have to discuss them while in the presence of the poor...or in the presence of those who express their ressentiment via class envy the sort of classism that assumes that all wealth and luxury is necessarily fraught with moral bankruptcy (the bad sort).  For this reason alone, we are intrigued, to say the least.  Plus, we are certain there's a cool math joke playing off of the "Nth" in the title:  we have Bill working on it and hope to have it appear in our next post on the show...  

We're working on having some Malt Impostor representation at the event this upcoming March and would love to hear from any of you fair readers who attended last year's event so we can have a better idea of just how ultimately debauch luxurious the event is.  We're also working on getting a promotional code that will give our readers a discount to the event.  Stay tuned here for more on that in coming days...


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

An Impostor Abroad: Stephen visits The Balvenie

    After an amazing day in which I was fortunate enough to go on extensive tours of both Bruichladdich and Bowmore, I used the half day I had left on Islay to attend a standard, but nonetheless excellent, warehouse demonstration at Lagavulin (led by the fantastic Paul Paterson), collect my rent at Laphroaig, and finish with an amazing lunch at the café at Ardbeg.  Then I drove halfway back across the country to spend three days at a Ferret Herding and Husbandry conference (though to be perfectly honest, this one really stank).  After the conference, I found myself just outside of Dufftown in Speyside, strolling from the car park, along a walkway bordered by a field of barley, to The Balvenie Distillery.
  Once again, my tour was not typical in many respects, and I’ll save you the play-by-play.  But also once again, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my tour mates that day at Balvenie:  three Scottish brothers and their proud papa (I am missing or unsure of one or two of their names, so I’ll leave them out for now—thought if you gents read this, don’t hesitate to drop me a line and remind me so I can go back and insert your names in the place of this parenthetical and thereby give you a proper shout out).  They were all eager learners and were wonderfully friendly and fun the entire time.  (Oh, and I am sorry to report to you fellas that I have yet to try IRN-BRU.  But I will on my next trip to Scotland, which I hope will be soon…)
     On to highlights:
•    Balvenie grows and malts a percentage of its own barley on-site and burns a mixture of anthracite and peat in the kiln.
•    Balvenie is owned by William Grant & Sons, the largest family-owned Scotch whisky distiller.  Wm. Grant & Sons also owns Glenfiddich, whose distillery is located just down the street.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that The Balvenie is Glenfiddich’s lesser, younger sibling:  take tours of both distilleries, and you’ll know which one is more the real deal…

•    Balvenie helped popularize cask finishes, even if they don’t always refer to the process by that name.
•    A former fellow whisky blogger, Sam Simmons, is currently The Balvenie Global Brand Ambassador.  My thanks goes out to Sam for his help in arranging for me to meet with David.
•    The day I was there, the malting floor was being cleaned and the window frames painted in preparation for a dance for distillery employees.  This kind of thing seemed all too characteristic of the ethos of this family-owned distillery.
•    The Balvenie website features an extraordinary video series under the auspices of The Balvenie Whisky Academy.  You have to register to see the videos, but if you haven’t registered for Warehouse 24 yet, you need to ask yourself what in particular might be wrong with you.
     David Mair, The Balvenie Ambassador, welcomed me into the classy little reception area and tasting room adjacent to the shop, all a short stone’s throw from the distillery proper.  David is simultaneously easy-going and appropriately formal, but it doesn’t take long to see that he’s also incredibly bright and knows the industry backwards and forwards.  Despite that immense level of whisky learning and sophistication, David comes across as anything but intimidating.  It seems to me that David manages to make people feel so at ease around him in no small part because he’s a great listener as well as a tremendous whisky resource for visitors to the distillery.

   The warehouse part of the tour featured filling one’s own half-bottle from one of three casks (two of which were former bourbon and one former sherry) with a dog, as opposed to extracting the whisky from the barrel with a valinch.  Distillery stories of all sorts  adorned the tour, but especially the warehouse part (all expertly relayed by David), and gave it a local color, flavor, and history that other distilleries would do well to try to replicate.  Tasting the distinct whiskies that come together to make the Balvenie whiskies helped me appreciate much more than I had before the process of marrying different amounts of whisky aged in sherry butts and bourbon barrels.  
     The apogee of that appreciation was being able to follow viewing the actual Tun 1401 with then tasting the top-notch product that emerges from it.  This expert marrying is something Balvenie seems to focus on as much as any other distiller does, and that focus is reflected in the results.  Arranged in six glasses in the tasting room, I was surprised at how variable the Balvenie whiskies could be, even though each maintained a strong thread of Balvenie identity on the palate.  This aspect of the craft of whisky-making Balvenie is undoubtedly a crucial one, and one The Balvenie Distillery seems to have mastered.


Stay tuned for tasting notes on the Balvenie Tun 1401 in the coming days. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky 2011 Boston Extravaganza at the Taj Hotel

We'll be at the Taj in Boston on October 13th--will you?  If you're there, look for us:  we've decided against tuxedos this time around, but if you can identify us, you can have your picture taken with us in Groucho Marx glasses!  Hope to see you at the Taj!  If not, make it to an event near you!

Tickets to the Extravaganza in Boston and in the other cities listed on the flyer below are $120 each for Members and $135 each for Non-member guests.  If you are not a member, don't fret:  use the promotional code “TMI2011” (that's an acronym for The Malt Impostor, rather than Too Much Information) and you will receive your first two tickets at the Member price ($120 each).  Purchase tickets directly online:

or by calling (800) 990-1991.  Once again, use the special Malt Impostor promotional code “TMI2011” to receive your first two tickets at the Member rate.  Cheers!

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