After going to WhiskyFest last year, I thought, “holy crap, malt overload…I don’t need to do that again for another 2 or 3 years.” Well, about 5 months later, where do I find myself? Yep, another big whisky show, this time around it was the Whiskies of the World Expo (let’s call it WoW, shall we?). To make matters worse, I’m already kind of looking forward to WhiskyFest in San Francisco this coming fall.
I might as well get to the highlights right off that bat. Here are a few standouts:
- Glenmorangie’s Extra Mature Range, La Santa, Nectar D’Or and Quinta Ruban 12 year olds were all excellent. Each was aged in sherry, sauternes, and port casks, respectively and differed greatly from one another. This is a really fine group of whiskies. I was really looking forward to trying the Sonnalta PX, but by the time I got there, the damn vultures had picked dry the bones of that one.
- The Ardbeg’s. 10yo, Uigeadail, Airigh Nam Beist…nothing that I hadn’t tried before but they were all still awesome.
- A trio of Mackillop’s Choice offerings were also notable: the 1980 Highland Park and cask strength 1990 Caol Ila in particular were fantastic, with the single cask 1985 Longmorn running a little behind…it tasted just a bit too woody.
- A real surprise was High West’s Silver Whiskey, which is an oat-based white dog. It had a very white grape grappa quality while also having a delicious oat-y, cracker-y bite. The most remarkable thing was its smoothness and richness…unexpected for an un-aged spirit.
And my favorites from the show, in no particular order:
- Aberlour A’Bunadh #28, 59.7%ABV. My god, what an absolute monster. This is the first A’Bunadh I’ve tried, but certainly not the last. Such huge sherry balanced with an almost savory tang, each sip was luxurious…I had to go back for seconds. Should’ve gone back for thirds.
- Yamazaki 18 Year Old. I’ve only tried a few Japanese single malts and this is by far the best. Strong, balanced, austere, and rich, everything you might expect from an great 18yo. Spicy fruit as well as a sort of faintly salty, floral qualityl. Extremely elegant.
- Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Year Old, aged for 15 years in American Oak and three in Oloroso, this one outshined it’s three excellent, special casked younger brothers. While perhaps not as original or complex, it was honey-smooth, balanced and had nice soft citrus tones.
- Templeton Rye was a surprise hit of the evening for me since rye is not my favorite. It’s 95% rye and 5% barley and aged for 4 -5 years. I was impressed with its complexity and richness, there’s a lot of rye here but it’s deliciously mellow, surrounded by cocoa tones and even has a bit of berry/cherry fruit to it.
There was a lot of good stuff at WoW, from all corners of the world (hence, the name, I guess. Gosh, I’m brilliant). It was great to see all the smaller craft distilleries pouring their wares to big crowds, it’s definitely an exciting time for boutique booze making. I ended the evening by attending the Craft Panel Discussion with Ralph Erenzo from Tuthilltown Spirits, Brian Ellison from Death’s Door Spirits, Scott Bush from Templeton Rye, and San Francisco’s own Fritz Maytag from Anchor Distilling.
It was great to hear these four discuss their individual paths to distilling and their thoughts on small craft distilleries, traditions and fighting the good fight against the big conglomerates. Mr. Erenzo and Mr. Ellison both came to distilling without any prior background in it, whereas Scott Bush’s family had been in the business going back well before prohibition. Mr. Maytag? Well, we all know that along with Anchor Disitlling, he’s the man behind Anchor Brewing, York Creek Vineyards , and some very excellent blue cheese. He is one of the elder statesmen of the American Craft Distilling movement. The common thread shared by all four is their respect for tradition as well as a willingness to flout it when necessary. Being smaller operations, they’re able to be flexible and adapt quickly in order to succeed.
Finally, a few thoughts on the event itself. Having now gone to 2 of these large shows, it’s impossible not to compare them. WhiskyFest impressed me not only with the amenities (Glencairn glass, Malt Advocate subscription) but also with the size of the event. There were A LOT of spirits there, but there was also a lot of room, it was crowded but not crushingly so and always relatively easy to walk up and taste. WoW did not go to such lengths with the amenities and certainly could’ve done with more length in the room…and width. It was really packed in there, a little too warm, and in general, kind of uncomfortable. My impression was that there were fewer things to taste, which is fine, but even so, the crowds were so dense I had to circle the room a few times to find booths I had missed. More than a few times, I had my glass bumped, and I’m sure I did some bumping of others as well. So, yeah…poor choice of room vs. the # of tickets sold. Tickets to these things are not cheap, so to be packed in like sardines just makes it feel like a thoughtless money grab on WoW’s part. Judging from comments heard all night, I’m not the only one who thought this, so hopefully the organizers will pay attention and next time treat us less like cattle with credit cards. On a positive note, The Bushmills Irish Pipers were pretty awesome.