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.