Whisky Live 2013
Ah, spring. Warmer breezes, lighter jackets, chirping birdies, green buds emerging... In the first days of early April, New York City had none of those things, with winter’s chill still holding on for dear life. Though one thing we could count on, the annual dram extravaganza that is Whisky Live NYC!
Held once again this year at Pier 60 Chelsea Piers, this gathering had some variations from past outings. Noticeable was the considerable absence of mostly corporate brands, with more craft and smaller production distilleries showing their noteworthy offerings. There was a much larger percentage of women in attendance, in trade and media, but also as educated consumers. Another difference? The people who poured the spirits were predominantly involved directly with the products - only a tiny fraction of well-meaning temp pourers in lowcut, miniscule black dresses, who can’t answer off-script questions, working the booths. Maybe spirits companies are finally realizing they have a mixed core audience now. Whisk(e)y is not just for rich white men. Progress!
As always, it was a mix of traditional dynasties side by side with the modern renegades. In some cases, the traditional dynasties were even re-packaged by the modern renegades. That’s the great thing about whisk(e)y - it’s dependable, but never predictable. Some of the standouts:
Balcones Distilling True Blue Corn Whisky: Master Distiller Chip Tate is a prime example of this old meets new approach, based out of Waco, Texas. Having closely studied and honed the methods used throughout Scotland and bourbon country, he creates products in the style of these whiskies, but with his distinct, only-in-Texas flare in use of ingredients and flavor profile. True Blue is a cask strength corn whisky made from a Hopi blue corn meal known as Atole. The blue corn adds more of an earthy note to the usual, nutty, sweet cereal flavors of corn whiskies. There’s a cocoa richness that rounds out the spicy finish, with the heat of the 61.8% alcohol somehow barely noticeable. This was one of the drams I wanted to savor at the end of the night. This whisky was also a medalist at the 2011 NY International Spirits Competition. Also look out for the True Blue 100 Proof version.
Masters of Malt/That Boutique-y Whisky Company - Invergordon and Caperdonich: Pow! Zap! Zing! Ahhhh! No, those aren’t just descriptors of the whisky here. That Boutique-y Whisky Company is an independent Scotch purveyor, with comic book-style labels! Drinking and collecting whisky is supposed to be fun, remember? But they’re about more than mere eye-catching graphics. These guys really seem to have a palate for choosing great casks. There are selections from distilleries as diverse as Macallan, Clynelish, Benriach, Deanston, Auchentoshan, Tobermory and Aberfeldy, to name a few. The two main standouts on offer at their booth at Whisky Live were Invergordon and Caperdonich.
The Invergordon, from the Highlands, is a single grain malt with deep, dried fruit (mission fig and date) flavors, with sesame toast, clove and black pepper heat toward the finish. It’s a whisky that’s a little perplexing, giving the palate a lot to focus on, and fun to drink. Illustration is their signature Coffey still.
Caperdonich, which officially closed in 1902 but became part of Glen Grant (sometimes known as Glen Grant #2) and continued on nearly in secret and by many owners since, is a rare find, finally ceasing production in 2002. Sometimes tasting those time-travel ghost distillery malts makes one realize they closed for a reason. But this one is a crying shame. Soft as a bunny’s tuchas, ever so slightly floral, with pear and stone fruit flavors, finishing with just the perfect touch of toffee and charcoal smokiness. Bottle illustration depicts the removal of the pipe that once ran between Caperdonich and Glen Grant, which locals supposedly pilfered from back in the day.
Both of these are insane values, considering their rarity in the marketplace. Just do it. Two bottles. Drink one, keep one.
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky: Though it makes the point of calling itself a “single malt” (because technically, it is), the comparisons to Scotch or Japanese whisky should stop right there. Because Brenne indeed is its own distinct je ne sais whisky. It’s produced in Cognac, France from organic malted barley and natural spring water from Charente, and aged in new French limousin barrels for a minimum of six years (as opposed to the typical used American oak or Sherry barrels most common with single malts.) The effect is exquisite - luscious fruit flavors consist of dark plum with bananas, mango and pear. Vanilla, dulce de leche, macadamia nut, bittersweet chocolate and a slight pepperiness round it out. Ooh la la!
Koval Lion’s Pride 47th Ward: Named for the distillery’s Ravenswood neighborhood in Chicago, this limited edition four grain (oat, rye, wheat and malted barley) whiskey is very worth seeking out. Toasty and soothing, there’s a satisfying honey nut Cheerios feel to it. Like most of their products, it’s got some texture and a long, malty finish, though this one has more spice and overall complexity on the back palate.
Dry Fly Distilling Port Finish Wheat Whiskey: You’re right. Fortified wine cask finishes seldom work. It’s an old trick that distilleries use to hide imperfections and weird aromas, with a finish often so strong it completely overpowers the whiskey, like dousing it in cheap aftershave. However, in this instance, it’s a power used for good instead of evil. The trick is to start with a quality product, which they’ve done with their Washington Wheat Whiskey. But the other trick is not to use too much of a good thing, which they have also done, using ex-huckleberry port casks from their neighbors at Townsend Winery. It’s an intentionally sweet whiskey, something that would pair well with desserts and creamy cheeses, but there’s a pleasant berry acidity to it that keeps the sweetness in check and allows the natural flavors of the whiskey to shine through.