Appetite: Highlights from the Single Malt Extravaganza

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I wasn't sure what to expect at Tuesday night's Single Malt Extravaganza at the Intercontinental Hotel, with the welcome giveaway of Romeo y Julieta and Monte Cristo cigars as take-home treats. Despite the lack of rare pours and the absence of master distillers -- like the experience at Whiskyfest or Whiskies of the World Expo, you also (thankfully) get civilized, minimal crowds at Single Malt Extravaganza. I was able to flow, take my time with sips, and cover the whole room easily in two hours.

Although most pours were merely re-visits for me, as there wasn't a lot I hadn't tasted before, there were a couple special pours that truly wowed.

The highlight came in the members-only line of whiskies from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (the co-host of the event along with Robb Report). Mostly from single casks and at cask strength, the rare bottlings are truly unique. I was relishing all five they had on offer this event. Cask No. 123.5 is an 8yr Southwest Highlands scotch described as "feisty but fun". I loved the heavy marmalade, cinnamon toast overtones, rounded out with salty caramel and rich woods. But the one I couldn't stop thinking about and returned to during the evening was Cask No. 25.51. A Lowlands malt described as "cherry lips and bitter nuts", this bright wonder unfolds with passion fruit, spiced honey, and layers of aromatic rose petals. A hint of smoke, grass and tobacco round out cherry, banana leaf notes. I've never tasted a scotch like it and could sip it all night. Though they recommended a splash of water since it's cask strength, I preferred it neat. I like the Society's playful bottling descriptors (like "Gateway to Narnia" or "Apples and Hallowe'en") and singular taste profiles. It's tempting to become a member.

Spirit Imports/Classic Cask has not much more than 200 bottles left in the world of a brilliant 35-yr Classic Cask Rare Scotch Whisky. I lingered over this beauty awhile. A special millennium release in 2000, it blends 30 different scotches, aged 25 years each, then aged together for another 10 years. While the nose is rich with a buttery sherry from the Oloroso sherry casks it was aged in, the taste covers the gamut from rich butterscotch and oak, to dark chocolate and almonds.

Balvenie's 21yr PortWood is an ideal after dinner imbibement. Fruity and dry on the nose, it tastes like a Highlands single malt until you get to the long finish of spiced vanilla and nuts, reminiscent of a cognac.

Value sip of the night was Glen Garioch, a small distiller from Eastern Highlands, whose Founder's Reserve whisky retails around $45 and their 12yr around $60. The first is young, not a showstopper, but fruity with tart green apple and rhubarb, finished with butter cream. The latter hints of floral pears, sweet malt and banana with plenty of oaky notes.

 

--Subscribe to Virgina's twice monthly newsletter, The Perfect Spot: www.theperfectspotsf.com

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