As always, full disclosure: Both Whiskies of the World and ImpEx Beverages were gracious enough to provide us with tickets for this event. Many thanks! Since both of us attended we each gave our own impressions of the event.
Although I don’t like to bring up the past, I think doing so in this context is a useful exercise. Last year’s Whiskies of the World (WoW) Expo was to be honest, a disappointment. It was the first WoW event for the new owners and unfortunately it showed. The biggest issue for me was the lack of space and crowds. The venue, the Nikko Hotel in San Francisco, simply wasn’t large enough for the number of people. However, over the course of the last year I was happy to hear about the owners’ commitment to learn from the mistakes made and to make the 2011 expo a great whisk(e)y event.
So I went into this year’s WoW with a cautious optimism that things were going to be better. This year saw WoW return to familiar territory, the San Francisco Belle Hornblower Yacht. I arrived with several of my friends at 4:45pm as the VIP ticket holders were going to be allowed in at 5:00pm. There was no confusion in the line and we moved smoothly onto the yacht. After boarding and picking up some of the free swag and tasting glass I headed out to find my predetermined targeted drams that I wanted to make sure that I tried. The first floor was where the food was being served and the second and third floors is where all of the whiskies were being served. The fourth floor was the deck of the yacht were you could enjoy a cigar and the fresh air. There were also several master classes available to attend to learn even more about some of the whiskies. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to any of them this time.
As I have mentioned before in my coverage of large whisky events, I go for the experience. I want to enjoy myself and not to have to worry about keeping track of each and every whisky I tired, let a lone take detailed tasting notes. This event didn’t have a largest or greatest selection of whiskies, but the pours available were still quite plentiful and impressive. With that being said, some of the new to me highlight whiskies that I tried:
Douglas 27 Year Port Ellen: Dead-on-Port Ellen flavors. It was a treat to be able to taste some Port Ellen again after a long, mostly financial based, hiatus. Nice to see a new line from the independent bottler Douglas Liang who also put out Old Malt Cask.
Douglas Fettercairn 9: The first time I tried a Fettercairn – a bit of an odd fellow with some green vegetation notes. Not what I would label a great whisky, more of an interesting, off the beaten path whisky.
Glenglassaugh: I tried the 26 year old and it was a well rounded experience. What was really interesting though was their new make spirit though. Getting the opportunity to try what comes off of the still before it is aged in a cask is a great experience.
Chieftan’s Single Cask 15 Year Old Mortlach: This yummy sherried whisky was graciously bottled at cask strength. The nose was beautiful and the palate didn’t disappoint. A strong candidate for my next splurge bottle of whisky.
Chieftan’s 1982 Teanninich: Again, bottled at cask strength. I have had a couple Teanninich expressions before, but the wonderful basket of fruits on the nose and the pallet really made this an enjoyable dram.
High West Silver Whiskey: A clear whiskey that is made from oats. I actually really enjoyed this whiskey and I didn’t think I was going to. It is great when I am surprised like that. The only thing was I felt like I was missing some raisins for my liquid oatmeal cookie.
St. George: our local distillery had a wide variety of expressions available to try. From gins to their own single malt whiskey. They also had, what I would say was the oddest tipple of the evening, a spirit that was derived from a wort composed of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale and IPA. It left me with an impression of an amped up hopped barley wine. Limited batches of this are supposed to be available later this year.
I am happy to say that there was plenty of room on the yacht and it was easy to access the booths for a pour. This provided ample opportunity to chat with the brand representatives as well as with some of the creators of the whiskies. I was able to have several good and informative chats during the evening. Good job WoW you redeemed yourself from last year and WoW 2011 was a success. I was able to take my time and try several amazing whiskies, speak with some very knowledgeable folks, and share the experience with some great friends. As always, the whisky you drink is only as good as the company you are sharing it with. - Chris
I spend a decent portion of last Saturday on a boat drinking whisky. Not a bad gig, all things considered. As long as I didn’t look out the window I was seldom reminded of the fact I was not on dry land. There was the occasional lurch, but that could have been the liquor kicking in. I had planned on getting in and out early but only succeeded partially. While I arrived early, was admitted early, and got down to tasting early, I ended up lingering for a respectable three hours.
I enjoyed more the a few good whiskies and conversations while avoiding more than a few questionable options. It was at a point early in the evening when tasting Glenglassaugh’s elder offering that I noticed a set of smaller, attractively squat bottles. These, it turned out, contained Glenglassaugh’s Clearac, Blushes,Fledgling and Peated. These are the underage expressions of Glenglassaugh’s fundamental spirit. Being a fan of experimentally young spirits, this was a treat. I am an inveterate imbiber of Ichiro’s New Born, Double Matured, and Heavily Peated, all of which never made it to the age of three. Having recently enjoyed a little of Yamazaki’s new make, it delighted me to get at some fresh expressions from Scotland. The Clearac, essentially Glenglassaugh without the pesky barrel maturing process, was appropriately colorless, with a bright nutty aspect and a clean, pear-sugar note. Good, clean fun. The Peated built upon this with a decent but not overly dramatic layer of its eponymously accurate name. The Fledgling has a short pit stop in ex-Bourbon casks. Unfortunately for me, my memory appears to have taken a brief pit stop as well when I tried this – as Mr. Reagan would say, “I don’t recall.” The Blushes is what I enjoyed the most. New spirit aged for a fleeting six months in red wine casks, this was an experiment that worked. The smooth, simple spirit took on a slightly lush character borrowing some of the redder tinges of the wine cask along with a respectable touch of wine-sourced berry notes. I hope other distilleries attempt this end run around the traditional concept of Scotch. It could make for more exciting possibilities in the whisky-but-not-scotch category.
That aside, it was a great night for adding to the glass collection (yes, I have a thing for glasses as well as bottles). In the glass swag-away category thanks go out to Crown Royal (useful tumbler), Maker’s Mark (sweet little patented-wax-dribble shot glass), and of course, the 2011 Whiskies of the World taster’s glass (pleasant stem affair). Not a bad trip for a boat that didn’t actually go anywhere. And yes, I did end up drinking a Maitai at some later point in the evening. - Nate