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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.
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).
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.