While Richard was at the Single Malt and Scotch Whisky Extravaganza in Atlanta, I was at the 2010 Bourbon and Bacon Expo at Astor Wines in New York City. Last year the festival got some rather mixed reviews, so I was hoping the folks at Astor would use the criticism to make the event a little better. There were plenty of changes, but I can’t say that it was all for the better.
There was plenty of good whiskey to drink (though nothing as premium as the Parker’s Heritage 27yo they were pouring last year). There were nine tables pouring whiskey and/or cocktails, plus the additional cocktail pour in the classroom.
Hirsch was there pouring three of the A.H. Hirsch Selection whiskeys. The Buffalo Trace table was pouring Eagle Rare 10 and the standard Buffalo Trace. Maker’s Mark was pouring some bacon infused cocktails at the lounge bar, while bacon infused Old Fashions were served in the classroom (featuring Four Roses Yellow Label). Although none of the Tuthilltown team was in attendance, cocktail-crafters/mixologists were pouring white dog Sazeracs made with locally produced ingredients including Edward III Manhattan Absinthe and Hudson New York Corn Whisky (both distilled at Tuthilltown), yum. Other pours included Heaven Hill, Michter’s, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Black Maple Hill. Bacon presenters included Carlton Farms, The Breslin, Swiss Meat & Sausage Co., Broadbent’s, Flying Pigs Farm, D’Artagnan, Black Pig Meat Co., and Nueske’s.
This year the Expo was cheaper and the space was bigger, two big pluses in my book. Astor center recently opened a lounge area with seating and a bar. We showed up as the doors opened. As people spread out and took advantage of the new layout, things felt less cramped than last year. By the time we left, the entire space had filled to the same overcrowding that many of these events fall prey to.
Although one of the complaints from last year’s event was a lack of organization, this year was worse. Like last year, there were whiskey tables and bacon tables. There were no pairings as the marketing for the event suggested. The whiskey tables had brand ambassadors leading the gathering masses through a selection of whiskeys while the bacon tables consisted of a descriptive title card and a platter of bacon cut into bite-sized chunks. Since we showed up early, we managed to try all the porky offerings. When we left, some 1.5 hours into the 3hour event, all the trays were empty and had been that way for at least 20 minutes.
At last year’s event, there was a charming hostess with a microphone that made sure everyone knew what was going on and where to go for classes and presentations. There were no such announcements this time. I wonder how many attendees even made it back to the classroom for the bacon-infused Old Fashions. The marketing for the event mentioned a class on how to perform a bacon infusion, but if this happened, my party and I missed it. When we went back for our Old Fashions there were very few people in the classroom. If people didn’t know about it, they really missed out. It’s like a country breakfast in a glass.
Now, on to what is important, the whiskey. With so few whiskeys available, I was able to hit up every table without much risk of palate fatigue. It’s all about pacing and knowing when to spit/dump. The pours were rather generous, so people had to show some restraint. The whiskey highlights for me included the Heaven Hill table. I finally gave Evan Williams (the standard black label) a try. Since a few unfortunate incidents, I have been gun shy when it comes to alcohol that you can purchase in a large plastic jug. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s the same mash bill as the more premium Elijah Craig, but spends less time in oak. This gives it a much sweeter character without a lot of woody notes, definitely a worthy entry level or even every day dram. While the Evan Williams is good, I am quite partial to the Elijah Craig 12yo. At the Expo, they were pouring the EC 12 and 18 side by side. I have to say, the 12 is my preference. Something about the mash bill makes this whiskey take on oak really quickly. That extra six years is overkill for my palate. The Evan Williams Single Barrel (2000 I believe) was also on hand and quite good.
The Hirsch table was interesting. With all the original Michter’s whiskey gone forever, Hirsch is bottling Hirsch Selection, a collection of whiskeys from across the U.S. bottled exclusively under the Hirsch name. The Small Batch Bourbon from Kentucky that was sweet with a nice black pepper bite to it. The aged (3yo?) Small Batch Corn Whiskey tasted like corn whiskey. There was nothing really outstanding about it, but nothing unpleasant either. It’s milder than some corn whiskeys but also less cereal in nature. The 20yo American Whiskey is purported to be distilled in Illinois. Since the only whiskey distillery that I know of in Illinois closed in the late 70’s, I wonder where this actually came from. It certainly tastes like it could be from the Hiram Walker distillery, but that would make the spirit over thirty years old, unless it’s been sitting in a bottle in a warehouse for 12 years. Maybe I’ll reach out to my contact at Preiss Imports and see if he will give me more information.
One of the whiskeys I was eager to try was the Black Maple Hill Small Batch Bourbon. I don’t know much about this label, but it has always intrigued me. The rep at the table was not very talkative. I really wish there had been water at this table (it was the only table without a carafe). This is high proof bourbon and without water, the alcohol really dominates both the nose and palate. I probably should have sought out some water, but the aloof rep was not very inspiring.
That’s about it for my whiskey highlights, although I should mention that I decided I like the Four Roses Small Batch over the Single Barrel. The bacon highlights for me were the Applewood-Smoked, Peppered Bacon from Neuske’s and the Wild Boar Bacon from D’Artagnan. A couple of the folks in my party really enjoyed the Flying Pigs Farm Heritage Breed Bacon. I really missed RUB’s pork belly from last year. I still dream about that stuff.
Ultimately, I enjoyed myself and felt like I got my money’s worth. They still have some stuff to work on though. It would be nice to see reps at the bacon tables and have at least one table that offers specific pairings of the whiskeys and bacons on hand. Clearly the teaching kitchen in Astor Center cannot handle the needs of this event. I’m not sure how they could solve that problem, but it needs to be solved if they intend to continue this event. Did I enjoy my self? Yes. Will I go next year? Probably. However, if the event is just like this year, I probably won’t go a fourth time.