I have been to my share of drinks festivals. Friday night I experienced the gold standard, the eighth annual WhiskeyFest Chicago.
John Hansell and his team at the Malt Advocate run WhiskeyFest in New York, San Francisco and Chicago. Tickets for the events run $110 or $120 ($150 or $160 for VIP early admission) which might sound steep for an evening, but attendees get their money's worth. Distillers pour 200 quality whiskeys at the event, with more 18, 21, 25 and 30 year old whiskeys than you could hope to consume.
I enjoy festivals because of the opportunity to sample a wide range of products, while talking with people connected with the various brands. WhiskeyFest had all of this, along with educational seminars and gourmet food stations. The Chicago event was sold out, but it was not overly crowded. The venue, the Hyatt Regency along the Chicago River was a first class venue for the event. Pulling an event of this scope off well is no small achievement and the Malt Advocate folks do it right.
But how about the whiskey? Well here are 12 of my favorites from the evening:
Yamazaki 18 Year Old: Suntory has built an impressive single malt that is aged in 80 percent ex-sherry barrels, 10 percent ex-Bourbon and 10 percent new Japanese oak barrels. If you have never had a whisky from Japan, this is the one to try. Dark amber color and rich oak and vanilla notes.
Duncan Taylor Linlithgow 21 Year Old: Light golden color, this cask strength whisky opens to a wonderful lovely sweet and almond base Scotch when cut with a little water.
Isle of Jura 21 Year Old: Lovely copper color. Tons of flavor with nice peat base, touch of the sea and a tinge of fruity liveliness.
The Singleton: Made at the Auchroisk Distillery, this blonde Scotch is very smooth. Nice wood notes, touch of vanilla and a bit of spice.
Willett Bourbon: Rich dark amber color. Long, smooth flavor. Nice oak, vibrant vanilla with hints of earth and spice. Great sipping Bourbon.
Gordon & MacPhail Convalmore 1984: This 114.2 proof cask strength Speyside whisky is full and round. Clear signs of the sherry casks used to finish the drink in both the color and the flavor.
Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky: This whisky spent five to six years in Bourbon barrels and spent 12 months finish on ex-Madiera casks. There are sweet caramel notes and nice cigar notes.
Mackillop's Choice Caol Ila 1979: A fantastic rare glimpse back at an Islay malt. Nice sea salt influnce, faint but firm peat. Round and mature.
The Glen Rothes 1975: This 86 proof whisky is smooth and fruity. A hint of orange peel, almond and vanilla round out the flavor profile.
Balvenie 21 Year Old Sherry Cask: Nice oak and spice base, good level of tobacco and leather flavor.
Highland Park 30 Year Old: From the Orkney Islands, nice copper color and a range of flavors from cocoa to oak to citrus.
Templeton Rye: This new Iowa whiskey has a bootleg heritage that goes back nearly a century, including as a favorite recipe of the Al Capone gang. The four to five year old whiskey has some raw spicy edges and nice grain qualities. It will be interesting to see this one develop along with the other new American whiskeys arriving on the market.