Last Thursday was the annual Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza in Santa Monica. As always, there were some good whiskies poured, particularly the Society's private label bottlings. I especially enjoyed their offerings of Glen Scotia and Rosebank, and I never miss a chance to sample some Highland Park 30 when it's on offer.
Most notable this year, however, was a panel discussion among brand representatives prior to the tasting. Hosted by the Society US President Alan Shayne, the panel featured Martin Daraz from Highland Park, Neyah White from Suntory, Robin Goupar from Skyy, Simon Brooking from Beam Global, Nicholas Pollacchi from Balvenie, Ricky Crawford from Glenlivet and Steve Beal and Ed Adams from Diageo. The hour long discussion was in Q&A format with questions from the 50 or so people in the audience. The discussion ran from basic tips to serious issues in the industry to more light hearted moments.
All of the brand representatives seemed to speak honestly and openly without a lot of salesmanship. I've seen Martin Daraz speak before; he's probably the funniest brand rep. I've ever heard, and if you have the chance to attend a class with him, you should.
On a more serious note, I was very impressed with Suntory's Neyah White, who showed an impressive grasp of Japanese history and its relation to that nation's whisky industry and made very thoughtful comments throughout the night. When asked about judging whiskies, for instance, he spoke of "emotional terroir," which I thought was a great way of describing the way in which environment, mood and other external factors affect the appreciation of whisky.
As regular readers know, one of my top whisky wishes is to get more Japanese whisky imported to the US. I've often asked Suntory representatives if they will ever send us whisky from their Hakushu distillery, and I usually get an ambiguous maybe, at best. When I submitted the question to the panel, White was straight forward, saying there simply isn't enough Hakushu to export, though he wished there was. I appreciate getting an honest answer on that one (and since I'm lucky enough to have some sources in Japan, I'm planning on reviewing the Hakushu 18 in the near future).
Another interesting tidbit that I'd never heard came out when someone asked about chill filtering, the controversial process that distilleries use to prevent whiskey from appearing cloudy at cooler temperatures which some claim inhibits flavor by filtering out oils containing flavor elements. Diageo's Steve Beal explained that prior to World War II, there was almost no chill filtering. After the war, Scotch became popular with Americans, but unlike the Scots, the Americans tended to drink it on the rocks which caused clouding. It was only then that the distilleries began large-scale chill filtering. Now, I haven't verified the story, but it would be interesting if all of this filtering was our fault. Perhaps we owe the world of whisky a collective apology (at least they can't blame us for caramel coloring).
The panel was a great way to begin the night, and I hope the Society will continue to sponsor it at its future Extravaganzas.