Whisky Live 2013: In which my inner fangirl emerges

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When I lived in Scotland, I knew how spoiled for choice I was when it came to Scotch whisky. Besides the wide array of exceptional (and affordable) drams that even the smallest bars offered, it seemed like every other week there was a tasting, festival, or other event centered around the water of life. I realized that coming back to New York would mean adjusting my expectations of variety and opportunity.

Even so, New York City is probably the best place in the country to be a whisky drinker. We have oodles of great whisky bars, from the high-end down to the cheap and cheerful, and—thanks to the largest port on the East Coast and a slew of excellent importers and distributors—pretty much any whisky available anywhere in the US is available here, too. On top of that, several national whisky festivals make stops here: WhiskyFest, the Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza, and WhiskyLive.

Walking into Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on Wednesday transported me back to happy memories of the Glasgow Whisky Festival, the Whisky Stramash, and the Whisky Fringe. Booth upon booth of delicious drams stretched before me, freely offering pours of old and new favorites. There was a healthy mix of Scottish, Irish, and American whiskies, as well as international whiskies from Japan, Australia, India, and Sweden.

The highlight of the evening, though, was the the people. I enjoyed running into friends from the NYC whisky community like Allison Patel, whose Brenne booth was mobbed the entire evening by ardent new fans, and Josh Feldman, pouring for Gordon & MacPhail and charming the whole room with his usual bonhomie. And I was elated to meet IRL Angelo (G-LO) and Max from It’s Just the Booze Dancing. Best of all, though, I got to meet two of my industry heroes. (Am I allowed to be that cheesy? This is my blog—heck yes!)

Max and G-LO

Max and G-LO

G-LO texted me while I was still on my way to say I’d been invited to join a Virtual Tasting panel by Mark Gillespie, whisky writer and the man behind the magic at WhiskyCast. If you aren’t familiar, WhiskyCast is a weekly podcast + app + website/community about—duh—whisky, and Mark is the genius/personality that makes it all go. His weekly episodes, which feature news from the whisky world and interviews with industry folks, are an audible treat that I usually save up for my Sunday morning walk to church (whisky being as reverent an experience for me as worship, dontchaknow).

I tell you what, when I read that text, I had a small panic attack on the M14 bus. I knew Mark was going to be at the event and had hoped to meet him there, even just to briefly shake his hand and tell him what a fan I am. Now I was not only meeting the man, but drinking with him—and the potential for any number of embarrassments reared its head. What if I hated the whisky? What if I couldn’t articulate what I tasted? What if I just sounded dumb (a genuine concern for me since the first time I heard my voice recorded)?

There was no reason to worry. Mark is as friendly and generous in person as he sounds like on the podcast. And the tasting was just like any other, plus microphones, so I felt relaxed and at ease throughout. Together with G-LO and Max, some friends of Mark’s, and Ian Chang, Master Distiller at Kavalan, we sampled four beautiful whiskies: the aforementioned Brenne, an Invergordon single grain from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Balcones Fifth Anniversary Texas Straight Bourbon, and Redbreast 12 yo Cask Strength. What a delight! It was like being back in Edinburgh, except this time I could blether about my thoughts to a much wider audience than just my husband. (Anyone who knows me can tell you that speaking my mind makes for a very gleeful Susannah indeed.)

With Mark Gillespie!

With Mark Gillespie!

Mark also shared a taste of Cleveland Whiskey which he reviewed a couple weeks ago on WhiskyCast. Dear God. The only thing I can compare it to is if you mixed paint thinner with dried blood in a rusty bucket. Nothing more need be said, amirite?

The thrill of taking part in an actual WhiskyCast (sort of) infused my evening with a happy glow. And the excitement wasn’t over! The other whisky luminary I’d hoped to meet was Davin de Kergommeaux, writer of Canadian Whisky and author of the book of the same name. Next month, I’ll be taking part in a series of mystery tastings based around Davin’s book and I’ve been getting a head start on reading and boy, am I learning A LOT. I know next to nothing about Canadian whisky and what I do know is, apparently, incorrect. This book reveals the truth behind common myths about Canadian whisky plus copious other information: the history of distilling in Canada, how Canadian stills work, flavor profiles found in Canadian whiskies, and more facts about grains and yeast than I ever thought I wanted to know. It’s awesome. I’m actually pulling out post-its on the subway to mark which passages I want to re-read and where I have questions.

At the end of the evening, I still hadn’t managed to track down Davin, but I knew he was there: a tell-tale stack of his books indicated that he’d come by before the night was over to pick them up. I waited around a bit and then spotted Peter Silver, who pointed Davin out just a few steps away. I bubbled over and introduced myself and shook hands and probably acted pretty foolish…But it was just the perfect end to the evening. Davin is so nice. I mean, nearly every whisky person is nice but he is absolutely the nicest because he’s Canadian. He signed my book and didn’t mind a bit how much I gushed. In all the excitement, I forgot to take a picture with him, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I was  grinning like a kid on Christmas.

I pretty much floated home, that’s how great an evening it was. Because of the time I spent doing the Virtual Tasting, I didn’t sample nearly as many whiskies as I’d have liked—but the trade-off was definitely worth it. There will be more whisky events this year (another is coming up in just a few days) but even if I don’t make it to the rest, Whisky Live 2013 has left me quite content for now.

A Glorious Rammy of Whisky

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Edinburgh Surgeons’ Hall Museum — don’t you wish your doctors’ office looked like this?

Last Saturday evening, I was privileged to take part in the first (of many more, I hope) Edinburgh Whisky Stramash. Arriving after a long, hot day of shopping with my mother-in-law, I was ready for some palate-tempting, thirst-quenching adult beverages. Luckily, I was not disappointed! Because it was crowded and there were many things to see and do, I neglected to take any tasting notes. I’m going to use this post just to remind myself of what I had and what I’d like to have again.

We got in line for cocktails straightaway, as there were only two bartenders slinging the Jura Superstition into surprisingly delicious mojitos and mules. Whilst waiting to get to the front, I snagged a few drams: Tobermory 15, Ledaig 10 (which is fast becoming one of my go-to whiskies), Glen Moray Classic and Glen Moray 16. Those were the first Glen Morays I’ve had and I definitely plan on having a larger dram of the 16 again.

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New life goal: whisky library.

Over at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I enjoyed a lively Bowmore 14 (Cask 3.188) and giggled when I saw 63.27. My husband had the 76.89, a fantastic Mortlach 16 sherry cask. Moving on the next tasting room, I had another first with Dewar’s 12, then enjoyed Aberfeldy 12, the ever-satisfying Amrut Single Cask and Amrut Fusion, a fantastic Clynelish 16 bottled by Robert Graham, Tobermory 14, two new (to me) Wemyss bottlings — Red Cream Berries and The Hive. Then a taste of Dunkeld Atholl Brose, which would be lovely with some ice cream. Don’t ask me why, but I went on to Benromach Peat Smoke and the Benromach Organic, followed by Kilkerran 2004 which was a fantastic dram to end the night.

If that looks like a lot of whisky — it is. Luckily they were serving pretty tiny drams and all the ones I listed I split with my husband. Sure, I was still pretty steamin’ by the end of the night but I expected nothing less at an event that bills itself as “a glorious rammy of whisky”.

I also want to give a shout out to my new friends at J.K.’s Scrumpy Cider, who were there with Thistly Cross and their bar full of delicious apple concoctions. There wasn’t actually any Scrumpy to hand, but they did offer great banter and a fantastic apple brandy from my home state of North Carolina. I’m going to have to hunt down their organic Michigan cider when I return to the US…

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We ended the evening with the final performance of the murder mystery — an excellent whodunnit, especially for people who are already drunk. They never did tell us who the killer was, though…My money’s on the wife. She looked like the only sober one there.