If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you already know that Thursday night was the Whisky Guild’s annual Whisky On The Hudson booze cruise. You also know that I forgot my ticket and had to wrangle a new one (which makes this the most expensive tasting event I’ve ever attended. Not the Guild’s fault, but there it is). Despite my ineptitude, Thursday turned out to be a really great night. I schmoozed with industry insiders, helped turn other attendees on to new things, and most importantly I learned a lot. I was even surprised a couple of times.
The boat was bigger this year, but the number of presenters was about the same, which made for a more comfortable socializing experience. The down side was that things looked a little sparse for a while. I decided to get the lay of the land first and to seek out some friends. First I headed to a part of the boat where Glenmorangie had set up a little jazz club, where you could taste the whole line (including many Ardbeg’s) and relax a bit. Of course, there was a mob around the Signet. Even though I love Glenmorangie, I was on a mission (I grabbed some of the new Ardbeg Supernova on the way out though). I didn’t want to be sidetracked. However, I am easily sidetracked.
I found a boat map to help look for the William Grant & Sons tables. I know I will find Dr. Whisky there. On my way, I get turned around and end up talking Rick Wasmund of Copper Fox Distillery in Virginia. Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky (hmm, he leaves out the ‘e’ even though it is an American Single Malt) is a pot stilled whisky that uses barley malted over apple and cherry wood. I tried it last year and was not impressed, but a trusted source said that they have improved the product, so I was willing to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised. You can taste the influence of the fruit woods, but it does not come off as overly fruity. It’s bold, round and balanced. To sweeten the deal, Rick was also pouring an aged rye (containing both rye and his proprietary malted barley) and white dog* of both whiskies. I’ve tried a lot of white dog in the past couple of months (it seems to be the it whisk(e)y these days). I have to say, these were my favorites. The malting process really smoothes out the rough edges commonly associated with white whisky. The most interesting thing Rick has to offer is a box set that contains two bottles of the white whisky and a miniature charred oak barrel. You can age your own whisky! He had a second fill barrel there with five month old whisky. It was different from the bottled stuff. The wood was really bold. This is a must have for any whisky nerd (like myself). Here’s the rub. Wasmund’s is only available in the D.C. area right now. They are working on getting New York distribution, but the rest of the country is still without fruit wood malted single malt.
Once again, I was off to find Dr. Whisky. He’s always good for a laugh and some quality information. In route, I caught a glimpse of a Jefferson’s Reserve bottle. “I wonder if they brought the Presidential Select,” I think to myself. It’s not on the table. I ask and they deliver. Trey Zoeller, V.P. of Bourbon Operations for Castle Brands, comes over and we start talking about this whisky from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery. This is one of Malt Advocate’s “Must Buy” bourbons (but you already knew that). It’s every thing John Hansell says it is (we’ll have a formal review someday). As Trey and I reminisce about dead distilleries (we agree that the Hirsch <Michter’s> 16yo is superior to the 20yo), he tells me that he has another batch of this Stitzel-Weller bourbon that he plans to release next year as Jefferson’s Presidential Select 18yo. I can’t wait.
Finally, I make it back to the Balvenie table where I find a bearded(!) Dr. Whisky pouring the entire Balvenie line. We have a chat and I try the new 17yo (Madeira cask). This is a good one folks. I was a little disappointed with the Rum cask 17yo from last year. The palate did not deliver on what the nose promised. The Madeira 17yo is just the opposite. The nose is a little weak and uninteresting, but it really delivers on flavor. Later, I came back and tried the 21yo. A very fine dram indeed.
Much of the remainder of the night was a flurry of schmoozing and tasting (I even ran into Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast). I reacquainted myself with the Glenlivet 15yo (aged in virgin charred Limousin oak). Limousin oak is used in Cognac barrels and is tricky to work with but it makes a damn fine whisky. The 15yo is the only Glenlivet to use Limousin oak casks. This specialty oak gives the whisky a richness and boldness that round out and compliment the sharp, fruity qualities common to Glenlivet. This is smoother and richer than the standard expression.
Dave Conroy of International Beverage Company, Inc., took me through his whiskies from Mull and Islay. I don’t remember ever trying Bunnahabhain before and I think I would remember an unpeated Islay. I liked it at every age. There is a sweetness and complexity that I associate more with the mainland. This is very approachable whisky. Dave also introduced me to Tobermory and Ledaig (both from the Isle of Mull). Really good stuff, the Ledaig especially is a must try for any peat lovers out there.
Other things that stood out for me that night were the Knappogue Castle 1995 Irish whisky, the Hibiki 12yo Blended Japanese whisky, Deanston 30yo, and Tuthilltown’s New York Whiskey. However, the topper had to be the tasting lab led by Master Ambassador for Laphroaig, Simon Brooking. We tasted peated barley, he lit a peat brick on fire, and each dram was accompanied by a song (or a joke) and a toast. Simon is a real showman. We tasted Ardmore 30yo (loved it), Laphroaig 10yo, Quarter Cask, 15yo, 18yo, and 25yo. I really like the Quarter Cask (and the 25yo of course). The 18yo is a new addition that will be replacing the 15yo. They are very different whiskies, so if you are a fan of the 15yo, stock up. Personally, I prefer the 15yo, but I seem to be among the minority in the critics’ circles. Maybe I’ll have to give it another go in a less overwhelming setting.
So, that was my Whisky on the Hudson experience. I’m already looking forward to next year. The Whisky Guild does several of these events around the country each year. You should check it out.
* “White dog” is a common term for whisky straight from the still (non-matured, no water added). I’m not sure if Wasmund’s non-matured whisky is unwatered or not, but it is pretty high proof.
Drink well. Drink responsibly.