While it often plays host to conferences and conventions in DC, on October 26, the JW Marriott across from the White House welcomed a different kind of celebration. Whiskey vendors from all over the country and the world were brought together with Washington drinkers for the ultimate scotch and bourbon tasting.
The Whiskey Extravaganza, founded in 2000, travels each year to major U.S. cities, hosting tasting sessions and masterclasses geared toward the novice and the expert alike. Nearly 50 vendors gather at each event, offering a variety of their scotches and bourbons along with a helpful expert guidance for choosing the best taste for you.
Vendors were well versed in the histories, processes, and tastes of all their options, expertly suggesting choices based on just a few comments from the tasters. “I have the perfect scotch for you,” the representative from Auchentoshan told me. Immediately offended — I had told him nothing of my preferences and assumed he would hand me something light and fruity because of my age and gender — I was humbled as I tried the scotch that he poured.
As I walked past the Old Forrester booth, I heard the representative mention they had designed a bourbon specifically for the new film, “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” the British spy flick starring Colin Firth and Channing Tatum. That predictably piqued my interest, so he ran through the selection they had, from a very smooth 90 proof option through to an overwhelming 115 proof that successfully cleared my sinuses for a month.
Food options to soak up all the alcohol lined what little space remained by the walls (kosher options were available by pre-ordering), and specialty cocktails were featured as well. Insider tip: LaPhroaig, ginger, honey, and lemon, called a Penicillin, make a pretty perfect combination.
The top recommendation of the night definitely came as a surprise: Widow Jane Whiskey — distilled from a rye mash, American oak and apple wood-aged. The 91 proof Bourbon from the New York-based distillery actually does have a remarkably noticeable apple taste.
The evening was an extraordinary opportunity to sample and learn, giving regular drinkers and teetotalers alike the chance to work out what they should order at their next happy hour or bust out at their next kiddush club gathering.
By Miriam Cleeman
Miriam Cleeman works in film and video production at Crystal City Entertainment in Silver Spring, Maryland, and Sparks Next in Brooklyn, New York.