Archive for WhiskyFest

WhiskyFest San Francisco 2009

I got to experience a few new-ish Bruichladdich expressions that I have written about but never tasted. I have to say that I really loved the Resurrection 2001 dram. It was a well-balanced expression and I find the range of whiskies that Bruichladdich produces to be a continual source of amazement. This is the first (I think) product since the new owners acquired the distillery in 2001. The Port Charlotte range also dates from that time frame, and I’m not sure which came first.

I also had the 16yr “First Growth” Series – A and B. They are very different! The effect of the wood on the whiskies is very unique. I believe that all these started out as 16yrs in ex-Bourbon barrels and then were migrated to the appropriate ex-burgundy casks. These were not as fruity or sweet as Sherried whiskies, but were wonderful nonetheless. Sadly, the First Growth Series is a bit out of my price range, but I think I’ll be having a Resurrection 2001 (and a Port Charlotte PC7) before the year is out.

Finally, it was a pleasure to meet Andrew Gray, one of the principals at BDC. I’ve exchanged many emails with him in the past and it was nice to personally welcome him to my home town.


WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008 — The Final Word

Well, I’ve dragged this out long enough. As I said earlier, my priority at WhiskyFest was to hit the Bruichladdich booth and then I went to Highland Park (I did a vertical tasting of 12, 18 then 30; I wanted to taste the new 40, but it wasn’t on offer) and stopped to see my friends at the Beltramo’s booth. After that, I stopped at Ardbeg and tried the only expression I don’t own, the Airigh Nam Beist (Gaelic for “shelter of the beast”). So…I started on Islay and worked my way out. I was sad to note, when I did get “off the island,” that The Dalmore wasn’t present in their assigned booth. They are one of my favorite Highland distillers.

The standout product of the whole night, for me, was the “Sam Houston” small-batch bourbon from McLain and Kyne. This was buttery, spicy, and sweet. Excellent mouth feel and just overall a superb bourbon. Highly recommended! I also tasted, and really liked, the newly released Eagle Rare 17 bourbon from Buffalo Trace. Not only is it a fantastic bourbon, it’s a great price (well, prices are going up all over, so this might not be as true anymore as it was a year ago when I got a bottle of the Eagle Rare 10 for $29). BTW, if you’ve ever wondered about the origin of the name “Buffalo Trace,” there is an excellent wikipedia article about it.

Throughout the night (we were there for about 2.5 hours) we stopped at the following vendors: Zacapa Rum, Glenfarclas (I love the 105 degrees proof…smoothest whisky at 60% ABV you’ll ever try!), Compass Box (the new Peat Monster is much more well-balanced than its name would suggest; one downside: It’s sold in an impractically large 1.75 litre bottle that will definitely stand out on your whisky shelf!), Bowmore, The Glenrothes, Isle of Jura, Knappogue Castle, McLain and Kyne (where I tasted the Sam Houston), Canadian Club (they didn’t have the 30-year anniversary expression yet 😦 ), Bunnahabhain, Bushmills, Ardmore, Laphroaig, BenRiach, and The Macallan.

The event was definitely better than last year (not that last year’s was bad…): Better hotel, better food, better selection of vendors, and better attended. I have to assume they’ll be back in 2009 for the third annual WhiskyFest San Francisco. I can’t wait!

WhiskyFest San Francisco: Exclusive

As you can imagine by the title of my blog, I made a beeline for Bruichladdich’s table as soon as the doors opened for the WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008 VIP session. The Bruichladdich table wasn’t quite ready by the time the doors opened, so I tasted an independent bottling Bruichladdich 1993 (I think it was 14 years old) exclusive cask from K&L, who was situated in booth 5 (Bruichladdich was in booth 4). After a few minutes (the 1993 bottle was very good, btw…contact K&L for more details; they are in my blogroll), Bruichladdich was ready for customers and I was pretty much the first in line. I had a nice chat with a gentleman from one of their distributors, viz. Winebow, who I have since added to my blogroll.

I tasted two new expressions that are not yet available in the US. I know that Port Charlotte and Octomore generate lots of excitement, but I really enjoyed these two new expressions. These two are from what Bruichladdich is calling their “Italian Collection” and I have the product documentation to prove it (thanks to Scott from Winebow). The two expressions were both distilled in 1993 and aged for most of the subsequent 14-15 years in American Bourbon casks, then ACE’d in ex-wine cases, in one case Gaja Brunello, in the other Gaja Bolgheri.

What’up, ACE?

ACE is a Bruichladdich term: Additional Cask Evolution, describing a process in which they take a whisky that was mostly aged in one cask type (e.g., American Bourbon) and age it for a short time in a different type of cask (e.g., Oloroso Sherry). To quote Bruichladdich: “additional cask evolution (ACE) [is] the art of matching various characteristics of Bruichladdich vintages with alternative cask types and wood origins for greater complexity.”

At the Bruichladdich table I stuck to Bruichladdich products that I don’t own already, and those two were first on my list. They were also pouring the Torrey Pines 14-year-old from the Links series and several others including Port Charlotte 6-year-old Cuiart-Beatha and the new Rocks, Waves, Peat, all of which I have or have tasted already.

As to my preference, I really liked the Brunello. It was outstanding…nice baking spices and a hint of peat in the finish, good dark fruits, and overall nice balance; 46% ABV (bottle strength*). I also tried the Infinity Second (52.5% ABV). Wow. Amazing. Scott says that the first one was better, and I’m on the lookout (like most things related to single-malts, preferences are subjective, and you can find reviewers who disagree with Scott and who liked the Infinity Second better than Infinity; I think in these situations it’s better to try for yourself!). In the Infinity Second I loved the caramel and vanilla mixed with the raisins and prunes and other dried fruits. It was very well done. Maybe it’s just the oncoming Autumn, but the “Christmas pudding” flavors really resonated with me last Friday.

* I think I have cracked the code on Bruichladdich’s labels: If they mention Islay spring water as an ingredient, they must be adding water, so therefore it can’t be cask strength. Bruichladdich’s preferred bottle strength is 46% ABV. With that said, it is possible for a cask, especially a very old cask, to have contents that prove out at less than 46% ABV, and in that case “cask strength” would be less than 46% ABV. If water was added, then the original strength must have been higher than 46% ABV.

In the next update from WhiskyFest I’ll try to summarize the many other things I tasted there.

WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008 – Context

Deb and I took Caltrain 261+ north from Menlo Park at 1619 PDT, and arrived on time at the San Francisco Caltrain station (at 4th and King) at 1703, and took a $10 cab ride to the downtown Marriott and were there by 1720.

Unfortunately, we got some nearly bad news on the train, just north of San Carlos, when Deb’s dad called to tell her that her grandmother was still in cardiac intensive care after her quadruple bypass 10 days ago. Please send your wishes to Deb’s grandmother…she needs all the positive energy that we can send to her. She’s a strong lady and was in good health going in to the surgery. If anyone can recover it’s her; she’s a Buffalo Bills fan.

In other weird news, one of my whisky buddies, Ken, had gotten halfway to San Francisco and realized he had forgotten his tickets. So he got there just before Deb and I here ready to leave. It would have been nice to have spent more time with him there but our hearts just weren’t in it.

I wish I could have concentrated better on my tasting, but as you can imagine, I was somewhat distracted due to the news about Deb’s grandmother. Deb was very upset but decided to go ahead with our attendance at the event. We tasted everything we wanted to taste and left at around 20:05 to catch the 20:30 southbound train. The next postings will be about what we tasted and who we met.

The next major whisky event in this area is the Whiskies of the World event in April. I will take a digital recorder with me to make sure I get detailed notes. Even if I’d had one yesterday, I might have been too out of it to ask sensible questions.

What I can tell you is that when I did ask questions about maturation or other “technical” questions, the marketing folks in the booths sometimes responded with, well, marketing-speak. That was rare, but annoying enough to mention here. I wish the vendors would send in their A-team (or if you are going to send a distributor, at least send someone who has actually visited your distillery in person!). Enough kvetching…on to the blow-by-blow account of what we tasted.

Say “Cheese”

Notes from WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008

At the inaugural WhiskyFest San Francisco [2007], my wife and I tried to clear our palates using bread, crackers and lots of water. It wasn’t completely effective, but it was better than nothing. Compared to this year, there was far less in the way of food last year. Of course, the point of the event is the whisky — that was true last year and it was even more true this year. But you can only drink so much whisky before you fry your palate. The olfactory and taste senses lose the ability to discern subtle aromas and flavors.

The difference between this year and last year was significant. For those “VIPs” arriving early (doors opened at 1730 PDT, and for that privilege you had to pay $30 more for your ticket), there was a nice spread of hors d’œuvre, including cheese and delicatessen meats and some hot hors d’œuvre. At 1830, when the doors opened “for real” (and the noise level in the room skyrocketed!), more food came out, including hot pasta, carved roast beast, and other things. And they had copious quantities of bottled water. In general, the food helped clear the palate, but the biggest discovery was that cheese was the best at this task. We both had the same reaction.

From a food perspective, and overall logistics, this year’s event was far superior and the cost was in-line with last year.

Side note: The ratio of men:women at the VIP session was probably 8:1 or 9:1. Is my wife really that unusual in her affection for fine whisky? If so, that’s just one more reason to consider myself lucky!

Drink Faster!!

I spoke to a distributor that was at the Bruichladdich table at WhiskyFest San Francisco and asked when I’d see the PC7, his opinion is that it won’t appear until the PC6 is nearly gone. So…drink faster, people!

This is being posted from my iPhone on Caltrain 192 heading home. Apologies for any typos and the lack of links.

More reports this weekend as I digest my notes.

Meetup at WhiskyFest San Francisco?

I’ll be there on 10/10/08 and I have my VIP tix (you pay a bit extra and get early entry).

Please leave a comment here if you want to arrange to meet. I’ll be twittering from the event so you’ll be able to find me there if you haven’t arranged anything in advance.