Last night the Whisk(e)y Apostles re-united at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the 12th Annual New York Whisky Fest. Despite selling fewer tickets this year, it still seemed awfully crowded. We ran into some friends, saw some from a distance, and I’m sure we missed others entirely. We had a great time, but we hope you appreciate what hard work an event of this magnitude is for humble whisk(e)y writers such as ourselves.
The night started off with VIP hour. For the first time, there were published special VIP only pours. Before we just got to drink for an hour longer than everyone else. When we saw that The Dalmore was pouring the King Alexander III during the VIP hour, we made a b-line for the table. The King Alexander III is comprised of whiskies aged in six types of barrels. The results is a very rich and complex whisky that far out shines the rest of the Dalmore line (more on that later).
Bushmills‘ VIP pour was the 1608, a very fine dram indeed. However, both of us agreed that the 21yo to be superior (although Matt found it to be a slow opener). It delivered a complexity of character previously unseen in the Bushmill’s single malts.
Not to buck the established whiskirati, but both of us found the new Wild Turkey Tradition to be superior to the recent American Spirit bottling (but Matt never really took to the American Spirit).
Next up was a lovely pour of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. This was another high point of the VIP hour. It started with a lovely nose and followed all the way through as an all around great Irish whiskey experience. Highly recommended by both Apostles.
There were a few disappointments during the VIP hour. Tullamore Dew’s 10yo single malt, Bunnahabhain’s 25yo, and the Kilbeggan 15yo all were not bad but didn’t grab us as particularly special, although the Kilbeggan’s nose was unlike any Irish we’d ever smelled.
We rounded out the VIP hour with a stop at Pierre Ferrand’s booth. This was always Richard’s favorite cognac distiller but it was a new experience for Matt. In addition to their great standard offerings they were pouring their 45yo Abel and 75yo Ancestrale bottlings during the first hour. Both were magnificent to say the least. Unfortunately, we fear that Matt is now ruined on cognac with a new affinity for these exceptional and very old Grand Champagne bottlings. (And you thought all we drank was whisk(e)y!)
At the end of the VIP hour we tried to handled the overwhelming abundance of offerings with strategic planning but even for the experienced attendee Whisky Fest can be overwhelming. We’ll take you through the high points by group.
Most of our bourbon time was spent with Woodford, Heaven Hill, and Buffalo Trace. We got a nip of the new Master Distiller’s Seasoned Oak release from Woodford Reserve. It was unanimous that the Seasoned Oak is far superior to the most recent two releases but still doesn’t hold a candle to Four Grain releases of years past. Heaven Hill was offering the 27yo and Golden Anniversary bottlings of Parker’s Heritage Collection. Both are very good but Matt found the Golden Anniversary more complex while Richard thought the 27yo was the better of the two. Either way you really can’t go wrong. We ended bourbon for the evening by thoroughly harassing the Buffalo Trace representative. Threats were issued and promises were made. In the end there is a loose promise that we will see Buffalo Trace in Georgia by the end of next year. Richard finds it a travesty that Georgia is so close to Kentucky but can’t get any of Buffalo Trace’s standard release. We haven’t formally reviewed it but it is a personal best buy for both Apostles.
Next we move to our neighbor to the north. Seasoned readers of our site will know that we haven’t spoken too kindly regarding Canadian whiskies in the past. We were fortunate enough to have a very candid discussion with John Hall of Forty Creek about the current state of the Canadian whisky industry. He is great guy and always good to talk with. During the discussion he poured the Double Barrel Reserve release of Forty Creek, which is very nice. We also found out that there is the potential for a new release of the Port Wood that didn’t make it to the U.S. the last time it was made. This time, according to Mr. Hall, it will make it to the US market. We rounded out our Canadian experience by tried the Cask No. 16 from Crown Royal. What can we say? It was good! This is just more proof that Limousin oak can make anything taste great.
As with most of these events, Scotch seemed to dominate the floor. We were eager to try the new Dalmore range and were a little disappointed. The Dalmore has been an Apostle favorite in the past. The new line tasted flat. However, we didn’t make it over there until later in the evening. There is a great possibility that we were suffering from palate fatigue (not to mention the general distraction involved with these events). We agreed that it would be best to try these again under calmer circumstances before making any definitive statements.
We had a long chat with John MacDonald of Inver House (distillery manager for Balblair) about great whisky and sexy packaging. We started with AnCnoc, an interesting dram with the scent of a Speyside and the palate of a Highland. The 16yo particularly stands out. John’s baby, Balblair was poured as 1991 and 1997 vintages. Both were really exceptional and will be in the states January of 2010. When asked about a vintage model versus the age model, he said it was about quality. After tasting, we could not argue about the quality.
Other highlights in Scottish whisky included as short visit with Dr. Whisky at the Balvenie table, where we tried the 17yo Madeira Cask. This edition of the 17yo is a fine dram, a step up from last year’s Rum Cask, but still not as heavenly as the original Islay Cask. The Springbank table gave us some very lovely 18yo Springbank and some very promising 5yo “work in progress” Kilkerran. Ronnie Cox of The Glenrothes poured us some excellent whisky before being mobbed by Orthodox Jews. To our palates, the Alba Reserve is superior to the Select Reserve and the 1985 vintage is just swell. Perhaps the most colorful part of the night was the latest Compass Box offerings. John Glaser has re-introduced The Spice Tree and Orangerie to the line. The Spice Tree is going to once again be an Apostle favorite, while Mr. Glaser himself described the Orangerie as some “wacky shit.” We couldn’t agree more.
After hearing all the hype about Amrut whisky (not to mention the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth involved in getting it to the US), the Apostles were eager to try this Indian single malt. Matt had been taken in by the hype and was a little disappointed, while Richard’s ardent skepticism provided him with a pleasant surprise. In general, the entire line is overly sweet and a little unbalanced, it might benefit from a higher proof. The Fusion expression (a mixture of Indian barley and Scottish peated barley) is the most balanced and enjoyable of the line.
Finally, there were the American microdistillers, There were more this year than ever before. Finger Lakes Distilling in upstate New York brought Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey and McKenzie’s Rye. Glen Thunder can best be described as liquid corn bread in both nose and palate. McKenzie’s Rye is unlike any other American rye. The palate is heavy with ginger bread without any of the sticky sweetness of modern ryes. Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey continues to improve. It is very much a beer drinker’s dram (very malty). The much talked about High West Whiskeys brought their entire line. All were good, but the Rendezvous Rye stands above the rest. Lastly was Triple Eight Distillery’s Notch whiskey. We were like “how good can whiskey from Nantucket be?” The answer: pretty darn good. Made using their own bottle ready beer, it reminded us a little of Charbay Whiskey. However, at $888, it makes Charbay look like a steal.
Whisky Fest was a great event again this year. This is always a highlight of the U.S. whiskey calendar every year for twelve years running. We would like to thank everyone involved in making Whisky Fest work. The food was great and the atmosphere was friendlier than ever before. Thanks especially to John Hansell and his entire staff at Malt Advocate for organizing this event. We can’t wait until next year!
-Matt & Richard