Almost 500 strong turned out for the Scotch Malt Whiskey Society of America's 12th annual "Single Malt Scotch Whiskey Extravaganza" held Friday, April 1, at Seattle's tony Rainier Club. Attendees had traveled from far and wide; as men in kilts sampled scotch in oversized snifters they brought themselves, others debated the relative merits of Speyside versus Loch Indaal. Marketers and brand ambassadors called the Seattle tasting the best of the 11 the group holds annually. Yet no one could decide if the level of enthusiasm was due to the fact that Seattle plays host to very few spirits tastings, or if this city's wealthy are particularly partial to indulging their affluence. Another plausible explanation for the local popularity of scotch: The weather in Seattle is similar to that of Scotland. "It's dark, rainy, and cold here a lot of the time. You don't want to drink anything else," said Scott Harriage, a physician from Olympia attending the event. Some said the enthusiastic reception for a tasting of almost 70 Scotches is because the Seattle market is notably dry of the good stuff. "This is the only time they get to taste this stuff since everything has to be special ordered," said one marketer who asked not to be identified. "Whiskies take a long time to get to the Northwest, so there's always a real thirst for new things," said Mark Izatt, brand manager for The Macallan. But many attendees were obviously there just because they love scotch. "There's just nothing that tastes better than this," said Ken McKenzie, a shop foreman for the Port of Seattle, while swirling his wee dram. "It's the world standard of brown spirits," said Seth Howard, the owner of Pioneer Square's Collins Pub. Although almost everyone agrees that scotch has traditionally appealed to a male base, only one was willing to hazard a guess why. "The taste of Scotch is difficult for the feminine palate to grasp up front," he said (off the record). Liza B. Zimmerman has written for Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, and Time Out New York. She comes to the Northwest from a job as managing editor of Market Watch, a national, trade publication covering wine, spirits and beer.