Just as Thanksgiving comes upon us every fourth Thursday of November, WhiskyFest, the triathlon of booze trade shows, open to both the trade and public, is the first Tuesday. I apologize in advance for lack of other images, as I was a tad, busy, as you will read.
Getting a ticket this year was a real nail-biter, seeing as my liquor peeps don't have as much to gain by my attendance as in years past when I was a spirits buyer. But one did thankfully come through, perhaps mostly due to my Patron Saint of Brown Spirits. Unfortunately, this was not a VIP ticket, which meant losing out on the first hour of the event, when all the high end drams are available to taste. The anchor was cast with my friends Stephanie and Leo at P.J. Clarke's (my first trip there, and I WILL be back!) for steak and fries right before the event. But once we arrived, I had to wave goodbye to my friends as I stood outside the ropes in the cattle pen, pathetically watching them enter the room like a Kindergartner abandoned by its parents on the first day. I vow next year to buy my own if no one gets me one in time.
I was furious to see that some people had gotten in at that time, only to take advantage of the outside bouffet table!! People, you could be tasting Trace Vintage Collection! Michter's 25 Year! Highland Park 30 Year! Dalmore King Alexander, Papy Van Winkle 23 Yr and countless other gems I am salivating to try and may not get to because they will be hidden from me in an hour. But no, you eat. Way to live up stereotype. You know who you are.
But my time finally did come. Registration. Wrist band. Let the bulls run!
What to drink first? So much build up, so much expectation. I was immediately greeted by my pal Dan Fisher, who had just purchased a VIP dram of Highland Park 1964 and was generous enough to offer a sip. A beautiful way to start. My favorite scotch flavors: a little briny, sea-salty, kelpy, then dark chocolate and yeast. Chocolate covered pretzels with smoke. Love at first sip. Next, my new tasting buddy, Rob (via Twitterati) and I headed to the Heaven Hill table. Met the man, Parker Beam again, he seemed to remember me, unless he was just being polite, which I'll take. I shook his weathered hand and was given a glass of the new Parker's Heritage release. Sharp pie spices, brown sugar, tempered by nuts and sherry. Gets better by the year, I say. Rob had the Evan Williams 2000, which I decided was the dram of the night. Yeasty, a bit like a sweet mash, cinnamon buns, balanced by salt and leather. Mmmmm. We then met up with Stephanie and off to Wild Turkey! Managed to elbow our way in and try the last drops of Tradition, which was also glorious. Pecan brittle, but not too sweet or syrupy, heather and hay.
From there it starts to get fuzzy. I know we made it to Michter's, where my pal Kenny informed me he had been holding a taste of the 25 Yr for me, but couldn't find me and let it go!!! Quel disappointment! Yep, gotta be a VIP next year. The Dalmore table yielded a taste of the King Alexander from Jura distiller Willie Tait. Gloriously mellow, but flavorful, nutty and deep. The 15 Year was pretty awesome too. I could spot my friend Dave, an excited, curious first timer who bought his ticket early on my suggestion. He weaved toward me and said, "You didn't warn me about the pacing!" He luckily had a couple more tastes in him and I steered him toward Andrew Gray of Bruichladdich (pronounced "Brook-lahddy") to taste some of the new finishes, and made sure he went to Wild Turkey. A very quick visit to the Maker's table, with John Henry making cocktails. I got a Mark and Stormy. Nice idea. But I needed this like Liberace needs a sequin.
It was time for Pappy. Pappy, ohhhh, my Pappy! Hello to Julian and right to the 20 Year. But hold on, Dave from Buffalo Trace is here. Would I like to taste the Vintage Collection I missed during VIP hour? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Ok, give me your glass. With half a dram of Pappy 20 left in it. Dave dives under the table. I take a long sip, tip the glass over the bucket, closed my eyes and let go. The shame. Where did my life take a turn that I dump a precious Pappy 20 to taste something else? But my palate and what was left of my sobriety thanked me. Rare, wheated William La Rue Weller softly kissed my throat and hot, tangy Sazerac 18 Year rye jolted me back. Oh yes.
My favorite moment of the night, among many, I spot Macallan master distiller John Ramsey, whom I had just met for the first time the day before at a special tasting at Astor. Wave hello and he warmly greets me and says my name without anyone prompting him!
The room is steaming, no air anywhere, but we keep going. A quick bite at the bouffet and suddenly it's 9:30. Last call! Scrambling for a final dram, I want to end on a high, sweet note. Highland Park is in its dregs and brand ambassador Martin is elsewhere. Glenrothes already packing up. Yamazaki too crowded. But score back at Heaven Hill! My own pour of Evan Williams 2000. As good as the beginning. A righteous way to end. A final gathering of various Twitter folks and friends. So good to meet you. So good to see you again. Lynnette with her Irish handcuffs, holding two early birthday drams in each fist. Most of us are surprisingly in command of our faculties. Maybe it was the steak. The descent down the escalator and in minutes Steph and I are back on the C train to Brooklyn. Another year gone by. My sticky souvenir glass for 2009 will be washed tomorrow, joining 2007 and 8 in my cabinet like long lost family. Thank you John Hansell and Malt Advocate for just being you.
Crap! Forgot to taste the Jefferson's Reserve!