Thank you very much to Whiskies of the World for the opportunity to attend the 2012 Expo as press.
I think I said it in last year’s re-cap of this event, but it bears repeating; having a large-scale whisky event on an elegant, docked riverboat is a much nicer setting than a sterile hotel conference room. Not that I don’t enjoy large-scale whisky events in sterile hotel conference rooms…I do and as often as I can at that, but I enjoy the setting for Whiskies of the World that much more because it’s on the restored decks of the San Francisco Belle. I will say that, thanks to some high winds and undulating seas this year, there was a bit more boat-y action if you know what I mean. Though nary a drop of whisky had touched my glass, I was staggering around like drunken sailor on shore leave…only I wasn’t drunk, I’m no sailor, and I was on the water. Whatever, you get my point, lack of sea legs is a small price to pay for an event held at such a venue. The 2012 version of Whiskies of the World was another great time, two decks filled with whiskies of all kinds from pretty much all over the world (great to see Australia’s Lark there!) not to mention the great folks who make and/or represent them. Like 2011′s edition, the two decks of whisk(e)y and whisk(e)y related products were sandwiched between the top-deck where cigars were being puffed and the puffers were enjoying the view and some light rain, and the lower deck where the seminars and master-classes were held and where the buffet was served. Also like last year, I chose to bypass the seminars and instead wander the decks, lurching from booth to booth like the aforementioned drunken sailor. In hindsight, this may have been a mistake as there were several seminars that I would’ve gladly attended, however there were enough interesting whiskies and companies on the floor that I wanted to visit that I opted for that path instead. Once again, the show was sold out, I believe, and therefore crowded but not excessively so. There was never too much of a wait at the booths and plenty of room to maneuver once away from them. If you’re looking for less crowds and more one on one time with the ambassadors and reps, I would recommend the VIP ticket. Along with a more laid-back pace and more access, there were some great whiskies being poured in that first hour.
Now then…the highlights from the evening, in no particular order:
- Old Pulteney 30 Year Old. A great, complex, character-filled whisky from Scotland’s northernmost mainland distillery. The more I try from this distillery, the more I am impressed.
- Samaroli 1980 Caol Ila and 1967 Tomintoul. It’s always a treat to try expressions from this Italian independent bottler because A) you don’t see their stuff around too much, and B) it’s very very…very expensive. The 31 year old Caol Ila was a softly sweet, wood-spiced version of one of my favorite Islay malts while the 44 year old Tomintoul was rich, heavily spiced, poched pear beauty of a old gentle Speysider.
- Chieftain’s 16 Year Old Mortlach and 21 Year Old Glenturret. Last year, Chieftain’s 15 Year Old Mortlach was one of my faves of 2011, and from the taste I had of this 16 year old selection, I’d say they have another winner on their hands. The same can be said for the spiced complexity of the Glenturret. It was a pleasure to raise a glass with Impex’s Ed Kohl and congratulate him in person on recently being named a Keeper of the Quaich.
- Amrut Kadambam. It was also an unexpected pleasure to meet Raj of Purple Valley Imports in person and an unexpected treat to try this very limited release from India’s Amrut. In Tamil, the word kadhambam means “mixture”, which is exactly what the maturation process for this one was. Initially aged in Oloroso butts, then moved to ex-Bangalore Blue brandy casks (Bangalore Blue is another name for the Isabella grape which is not a varietal native to India but one used extensively because of its ability to thrive in a tropical environment). Lastly, the spirit was moved into ex-rum casks for a bit before bottling. The result of this unique combination was quite fruity while still retaining that dry Amrut spiciness.
- Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph 1991. I’ve not delved into the world of Glenlivet much so it was nice to take a lap through their range and finish with this excellent 18 year old vintage expression from their Nadurra series. Glenlivet used only malt from the Triumph strain of barley for this expression, Triumph being somewhat under-used in whisky-making these days because of poor yield compared to the Optic and Chariot strains.
- Glenmorangie Artein. Yet another delicious experiment from Dr. Bill Lumsden. Artein has been aged in Sassicaia casks from Italian “Super Tuscan” producer, Tenuta San Guido. I thought the Artein was delicious and had unique minerality I don’t usually associate with Glenmorangie.
- St. George Spirits…I seem to always include them in these lists, don’t I? Well, there’s good reason for that, along with Anchor Distilling, they’re pioneers, they’re my hometown distillers, they’re awesome people, and they make great booze. This year, along with their excellent Single Malt Whisky (Lot 11), they had on hand a cask strength, single barrel expression of their single malt and their single malt white dog as well. The cask strength version definitely added some ooomph to what is usually a delicious, though easy-going, smooth malt. The white dog was surprisingly drinkable and enjoyable. I usually find new make spirits interesting in an “academic” way, but not necessarily something I’d want to drink everyday. St. George’s white dog was crisp, flavorful, and fairly satisfying on its own, a testament to their expertise.