Whisky Live, like Heaven on earth. With booze.

Dateline: New York, New York, Chelsea Piers, Pier 60 – April, 7 2010

Whisky Live.  A rare opportunity to taste new whiskies, talk with the brand professionals and master distillers and a chance to take a Masterclass or two to better understand your favorite whisky(ies) or discover new ones in a very fun and educational way.

As I mentioned, an event such as Whisky Live is a truly rare experience.  One I could not, NOT take advantage of.  Just so you know, I do work a full time job.  Monday – Friday, 8-5 plus travel.  I am not a whisky blogger by trade, just an amateur whiskyphile who likes to type.  So to go to an event such as this means I have to take a half day off of work.  What a day to take a half day from work though!  Here it was, early spring.  The tree buds are starting to pop with leaves, flowers and the like.  Flowers are popping, birds are singing and it’s 89deg Fahrenheit outside!  This day was blessed and simply meant to be.

I went down with my friend, co-author and whisky society buddy, John.  This was a much needed event for John as well because merely two days later he would be traveling to Saudi Arabia to help open a hospital (How cool is that!?  What a mitzvah).  No whisky in the Arab world so I think he needed to get it in while he could.  Additionally, both John and I keep Kosher for Passover so for the 8 days leading up to Whisky Live, neither John nor I had had a drop of whisky.  We were itching, to say the least.

We took the train out of New Haven, CT which took us to Grand Central Station and got in to New York at about 4:45pm.  It being such a beautiful day, we decided to walk the 45+ minutes to Chelsea Piers.  We got to the event at exactly 5:30 and man-o-man, was I sweating!  Thank G-d for deodorant!

I had never been to a Whisky Live event, only Whisky Fest (last November in NYC) so I did not know what to expect.  I am happy to say that Whisky Live was quite different from Whisky Fest.  Please understand, I am not knocking Whisky Fest at all.  I love-love-loved Whisky Fest and all it had to offer.  I’m glad the two events are so very different as you get a chance to have two quite unique experiences both with the same backbone; that being whisk(e)y.  It’s like a crazy-mix-em-up.

By the time we got to Chelsea Piers, John and I could have drank about 5 gallons of water between the two of us.  So, we started off with water and decided to get the lay of the land.  The event took up about two large ball rooms and an enclosed balcony.  There was lots of food and water everywhere (thankfully).  In the larger ball room sat all of the whisky booths.  The layout was great.  Easy to navigate, simple to traverse.  There was a good host of exhibitors from distilleries to independent bottlers to top shelf liquor stores (no booze was sold at the event, the stores just had booths there and lists of whiskies that they sold in their stores).  For a full list of exhibitors, click here.

In my professional life, I work lots of trade shows – a few every year – and one thing that remains a constant are what I lovingly refer to as “The Booth babes” (or as some of my co-workers like to call them, “Booth Bimbos”).  As we walked the floor we found our way to the Oban booth and WOW, they had a handful of these “Booth Babes” (like 7 or 8 ) standing there to bring in the dudes.  Booth babes I am impervious to, Oban I am not.

Oban was having micro classes/tasting events behind a fun tented little area.  Entrance in to these made you feel like you had gotten an “in” to something very fun and extremely exclusive.  Well, while it was not exclusive (you just had to wait your turn to get in) it was quite fun and very informative!  Our host, a Brand Ambassador by the name of Ari (an nice Hebrew name if you ask me!), was great.  Funny, smart and informative.  He took us through a brief history of the distillery & town in which Oban sits as well as a great trip through 3 fine Obans – 14yr, Distillers Edition and their 18yr expression.

After this, John and I wandered over to the food to A) eat dinner and B) prepare ourselves for the amount of whisky we would surely be imbibing.

We wandered over to the Heaven Hill booth who had lots of great whiskeys to share (Rittenhouse Rye, Elijah Craig, Parker’s Heritage, etc…).  While yes, all of these whiskeys were great this (to me) paled in comparison to the fact that we had a chance to meet Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller, Craig Beam!  Salt of the earth type guy from Kentucky with the great thick-ass Kentucky accent to boot.  We also had an “It’s a small world after all” moment.  In talking with the Heaven Hill US Brand Ambassador, we found out that he has family right in Madison, CT (on a road which intersects with mine!!).  Jimmeny Cricket was right.

I also met with David Blackmore, the US brand ambassador for Glenmorangie/Ardbeg.  What a great guy; funny, humble.  I can say that he looks much better in a kilt that I ever will.  He clued me in to some fun news soon to be announced by Glenmorangie & Ardbeg but I promised, mums the word.  I will say that Glenmorangie/Ardbeg’s innovations and smarts never cease to amaze me.

Now, on to the Masterclass that John and I took: Glenmorangie/Ardbeg as lead by Annabel Meikle.

Annabel is quite the charmer, quite a teacher.  I am totally a teachers pet so I had to sit at the front of the class.  I wish I had brought an apple with me…  Oh well.  Annabel lead an hour long class which took us through a history of the distilleries and on a journey through six whiskies; four Glenmos, two Ardbegs.  We tasted: Glenmorangie Original, Quinta Ruban (port finish), Astar (Kick-ass Cask Strength, new wood Glenmo), Signet (Uber-boutique chocolate malt whisky) then for the Ardbegs we had the 10yr expression and the Airigh Nam Beist.  What a journey!  Somehow Annabel made the whiskies taste better than ever.  I don’t know how she did it but, I guess that’s why she does what she does.

One fun bit of knowledge I learned and can impart to you regarding the name “Glenmorangie” is that in Gaelic, it means “The Glen of Tranquility”.  Annabel went on to say that it actually meant “The Glen where you take your pets to rest” but that it just didn’t seem to take.  I’m sure that Annabel was joking.  Maybe not though…  Annabel?

After the class was done, we checked out the following booths (among many others but these stuck out in my mind): Makers Mark, Old Pultney/Balblair (if you haven’t yet tried Balblair – please check out something from their new range!  So worth it!  Here are my notes on the 1997 expression and the 1991 expression), Compass Box (Hedonism is a killer grain whisky, the peat monster isn’t too shabby either), Arran, Buffalo Trace and many, many more.  I wished the Balvenie was there but Dr. Whisky, I guess, had other priorities (dude just had a kid!).

Finally, 10:00 came around and the night had to end.  There was a train back to Connecticut with my name on it and I had to go to work the next day.  Ugh.  The Glenmo Masterclass, I have to say, really topped the night (you know I am a Glenmo devotee!).

Whisky Live was great in the sense that I had a chance to talk with and learn from each person behind the booths.  For a whisk(e)y dork like me, Whisky Live hit the spot and then some.  For the folks just getting into Whisk(e)y, a show like this would turn you into a whisk(e)y dork like me.

In sum, if you have not yet been to a Whisky Live event, PLEASE oh PLEASE, do yourself a favor and go.  There are events all around the world – here’s a full listing.  Is it a life changing event? No.  That’s what having kids is for.  Will it be one of the best night’s you’ve had in a long, long time?  Yes.  Go there, now.

George T Stagg 2008 70.9% ABV – Hot damn!

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – 70.9%ABV – 750ml bottle – $55-90 for the 2009 release | £95 | €107

There’s an old saying I once heard…  a saying that has stuck with me throughout most of my young adult and current years.  We all have these, right?  A saying or phrase; something that, in certain situations just comes to you right off the bat because when you first heard it, it struck a chord.  These sayings become a part of you for good or for ill.  That’s just how it is.

When I first sipped this bourbon, at 70.9% alcohol, without water, all I could say… all that would come forth from my mouth was:

“That’s hotter than a whore in heat!!”

And Man-o-Maneschewitz, if this stuff did not burn the top layer of skin off of the roof of my mouth – Whooo-eeee!

A quick summary as to what it was like without water (then I will continue my review with the addition of water, trying to bring it down to about 55% (a big thank you to Jeff, the Scotch Hobbyist, for his ABV calculator iPhone app!))

To nose it was like sniffing a sugar fire or perhaps a small burning pile of spiced gum drops.  To taste it was a bit different.  Yes, it burned like all hell but it was so lip smacking and sweet; quite spicy too – made me pucker.  Like a delicious cinnamon bun sitting atop a burning stern-o can.  The finish was L.O.N.G. Long! But full of ripe bananas (flambe perhaps??) and sugared vanilla and oak.

OK, now I must go on with the 55%ABV review.  It’s just way too hot to drink without water (go ahead, call me chicken, I don’t care).

On the nose Pipe tobacco and fresh grass, nutmeg, cinnamon and pizza spices (think oregano – so odd!), banana peel comes though, much easier to nose at this ABV.  I don’t want to stop nosing.  It’s both inspiring and imposing, pleasant and brash.

On the mouth Still hot.  Much hotter than the nose.  The palate flavors are a near mirror image of what I got on the nose.  How cool is that!?  There’s an addition of some citrus notes though and the banana is more prominent here.

Finish Lingering, all burny and stuff… lots of spice and the oregano comes back but it’s very sweet, not so savory.

In sum Holy Frijoles!  This is some good stuff that makes you slap your leg and say wow!  This is such an American drink.  In your face and unapologetic.  If I could put a name or personality to this drink it would be Eminem.  

This bourbon whiskey just doesn’t give a rat’s ass.  It is what it is.  If you like it, cool, then you get it and love it.  If it’s not up your alley, this whiskey will give you the finger and tell you to F### off.

Sorry for all the potty-words but, try this whiskey and you’ll see that you too will be swearing like the dickens and calling your mother names! (Mom, if you’re reading this, I never called you any bad names.  Promise.)

A special thanks goes out to JH for the sample!!

Lastly, in up-coming news

I will have two field trip posts going up with in the next two to three days!  One for Whisky Live NYC which I attended last week.  Another for a tour of a newer boutique whiskey distillery!!  Stay tuned!!

Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX (finally available outside of a Duty-Free Shop!)

Highlands region – 46%ABV – 750ml bottle – $65 | £58 | €68

I have few gripes when it comes to the wide world of whiskies.  To name the top 3:

Gripe #1 Cost.  Yes, I understand that Whisk(e)y is a luxury item but still…

Gripe #2 The issue of, or inability to import 70cl bottles into the US.  Why oh why wont the US allow these slightly smaller bottles into the US – we’re missing out on easy access to some fine-ass malts!

Gripe #3 Duty-Free Shop exclusive whiskies.  Limited editions I can understand.  Limited editions that you can only get in a Duty-Free Shop I can not.  Sorry, from a consumer’s standpoint (a consumer that rarely travels outside of the US) it does not make sense — at least give me (and the thousands of others non-world traveling consumers) a chance to buy these limited edition whiskies.

Well, Glenmorangie did just that.

The Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX started off as Duty-Free 1 litter exclusive bottle.  Being the Glenmo devotee that I am, I was upset right away.  It’s like Dad brought home a new game for my Commodore 64 but only let my older sister play (wow, there’s some fun familial issues coming out – as made up as they are).

Thankfully, Glenmorangie (for one reason or another) changed this approach and released a 750ml bottle to the general public.

So, what in the heck does “Sonnalta PX” mean?  Well, first off, the Sonnalta PX is a fine sherry cask finished whisky.  The “PX” stands for Pedro Ximinez.  If you do not know, Pedro Ximinez sherry is basically the chewiest, richest, most succulent sherry out there (imagine its influence on whisky!).  “Sonnalta”, in Gaelic, means “Liberal”.  In other words, there is a liberal, very generous amount of Pedro Ximinez sherry influence to the Glenmorangie.  Not sure about you but my mouth is watering just writing this review!

So, should we taste it?  Let’s go!

On the nose Wow, a sherry finish done oh so right!  Banana peels & cinnamon, Banana chips, candied oranges (strange, even orange Jujubees, sort of a soapy quality but good), The nose really reminds me of the palate on the Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey with all of the yummy banana-i-ness to it.  a very un-Glenmorangie nose.  Wait, I sniffed after typing that and I take it back, notes from The Original Ten Years are popping through honey, apples.  It’s all hiding there waiting to sneak up on you!

PalateFantastic mouth feel!  Oh, G-d, that’s just so chewy…  Like salted taffy or caramel.  Nuts and root veggies, a touch of chocolate here (sort of like chocolate shavings if you’ve ever had them, a very different taste than a chunk of chocolate), wine soaked raisins

FinishQuite long.  Chocolate covered leather (oh, so slight with the leather quality), raisins and fresh fruits.  Huh, slight nutty oak after about 45 seconds or so.

In sum These tasting notes are from the last 5cl or so of my bottle.  What’s strange is, when I first got the bottle my initial reactions to the whisky was that it was a **great** sherried Glenmorangie.  The good news is, that still rings true.  What’s different is that now, as I take my last sip, the spiciness is reminding of a grain whisky.  I know this is a true malt whisky but it’s as if there’s slight grain influence (rye perhaps?).  I’m sure it’s all in my head.  Perhaps it’s just that the warm spring has arrived, maybe my brain is looking for it.  Who knows.

I did love this malt, much more than the Glenmorangie Lasanta Sherry Cask (of course, I’ve liked most malts more than the Lasanta).  Not trying to rub salt in the wound I left from my review of the Lasanta.  Forget what I said about the Lasanta — these aren’t the droids you’re looking for…

Balblair 1991

Highlands – 43%ABV – 750ml (New to the US Market!) –  $124 | Can’t find a source in the UK| €92

“Oh no there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues” – said some guy who obviously never had a Balblair!

If you’re not very familiar with my blog, let me give you the quick, Reader’s Digest version of what I try to do here (other than simply review whiskies): My goal is to try and categorize whiskies by how they would pair with the season we’re in or the mood you’re in.  (E.G. If you looked in the Moods & Seasons section in the top navigation bar of this site,  you may  find that in Cold Winter I might suggest you try some Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist because of the peat and pure body warming effects of that fine whisky.  If it’s a Hot August Night (G-d, I love Neil Diamond!), or the Summertime, you’d find (among other whiskies) the Balblair 1997)

So, in carrying on with this mentality, I will tell you straight away that this Balblair 1991 is quite the Summertime dram.  While it’s only April here in Connecticut, we’ve been enjoying temps of between 70-90deg Fahrenheit – that’s summertime in my eyes regardless of what month it is.

So sit back, relax and enjoy, vicariously through my following review, the newest 18yr Balblair expression – 1991 (then go out and buy a bottle or, read my review of the Balblair 1997 expression and buy that bottle.  Both worth their weight in whisky)

On the noseMuch more buttery than the 1997, the tropical notes are there for sure but there’s something a bit vegetal about the nose (carrot juice?) and quite creamy, strawberries & cream – hints of fresh lemon, freshly mown lawn

PalateNice attack (at 43%, it bites a bit more than I had expected), citrus infused butterscotch, a bit sporty and signs of youthfulness (tastes younger than the 18yrs that it is but, in a good way – nice vibrancy)

Finish Long-esque with some nice vanilla and honey (actually, more like vanilla yogurt with honey, that’s more like it)

In sum Another great summertime dram from the good folks at Balblair.  This one is very different from the 1997 expression but still quite refreshing.  The extra 6yrs added a nice level of smooth, creamy warmth to it (while still keeping it’s youth; it’s young in spirit I suppose).