husband, father, whisky lover, blogger, freelance whisky writer, and head of the New Jersey Whiskey Society & leading the USBG NJ efforts...currently the New Jersey Whisky Ambassador for Diageo & therefore leave the recent writing duties to guest bloggers, primarily that Bourbon loving fella named Gerard

average Joes on a whisky journey...all views are our own

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Whisky Fest NYC 2013 - Part Two - The Surprises

Some people love surprises, others loathe them.

For me, it depends on the situation…Surprise traffic on the Highway? (BAD surprise) Surprise Gift? (GOOD surprise)

It’s like the love/hate relationship I had as a kid with my school bus driver.  I hated her on the way to school, and loved her on the way home.

In Phase Two of my 2013 Whisky Fest NYC summary I’m going to take a quick look at a few of the good surprises that popped up.

One was the quality of the people there, from the famous to the not-so-famous, everyone was pleasant and kind, which is a moderate surprise. (well, at least out here on the East Coast where we are all rushed & ragged and generally impatient)

The remainder came from the booths.  Anyone that has ever been to a tasting of this size knows that occasionally there may be something special tucked away.  Something that is not poured for everyone, and certainly something that did not make it to the formal ‘pour list’.

There were some cool and exciting ones, like the Laphroaig 25 YR getting pulled out of a boot.  Or, the way the Four Roses booth volunteered to ‘get that scotch flavor’ out of your glass by rinsing glasses with carafes full of bourbon!  So much fun!

There were also some disappointments…some items that were on the pour list that never made it to the show.  (I'm looking at you BenRiach 1976 Port Pipe...heart broken here...)

But let’s take a look at the whisky related surprises and expressions that were not on the pour list that you could find if you looked hard enough around the Grand Ballroom:

A yummy little bugga...
High West:  Bug Juice

High West had a pretty cool table, with a wide array of options to choose from.  The staff was helpful and fun, and one of the nifty surprises was a simply labeled bottle called ‘Bug Juice’.  Technically, this beauty is their Rendezvous Rye aged for an additional 5 months in Port Barrels…boy it turned out nicely.  One of my unexpected favorites of the evening.

Breckenridge Distillery:  Single Malt     

Already being a fan of Breckenridge Distillery Bourbon, I was eager to try this one out.  It was actually a bit creamier and tastier than I thought it would be.  Frankly, I think it may need a tiny bit more time in the cask, but overall it is hard not to be impressed by its potential.  I can’t wait to try the official release in the future.

Blue Hanger:  7th Release

While I had not tried previous releases, when I noticed this puppy sitting so discreetly at the end of a table I felt compelled to try it out.  Needless to say, I was not disappointed.  The gentleman there was not only helpful, he actually had the recipe written out on scrap paper to remember it!  His secret is safe with me, but whatever he is putting in here is good!

 Samaroli:  Tomintoul Distilled 1967

This had to be the most perfumed whisky I had the whole evening, despite being roughly 44 years old.  That nose just towered over many others.  It could literally be a scent worn by women across the globe.  The palate didn’t disappoint either, rich spices balanced out the light and delicate freshness of fruit, complex and bursting with flavors.  The fruit notes were pear-like, but think older pear (stewed), similar to some older Glenfiddich expressions.  May have been top 5 of the night!  Outstanding. 

Widow Jane:  High Rye, Wapsie Valley Corn, Bloody Butcher Bourbon

This one is a three-fer.  I met with Distiller Matt of Widow Jane to discuss a few things they have been working on at the distillery.  Three tiny bottles were the surprise for this booth!  The High Rye was spicy and tasty, while the Wapsie whiskey reminded me quite a bit of Hudson.  But, the Bloody Butcher may have been the best of the three as it just had that special something to edge the other two out.
Single CaskNation:  Whisky Jewbilee 15 YR Bourbon (Heaven Hill)

Seth and Josh were rocking their booth with their fine array of core expressions.  The key surprise here was a bourbon made especially for their absolutely fantastic WhiskyJewbilee event held earlier in the week.  This special festival bottling is of a single barrel from Heaven Hill distilleries and is a 15 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon from a high-rye mash bill, bottled at 122.6 proof (61.3% ABV). The barrel rendered fewer than 100 bottles, so I am humbled to have been able to enjoy it.  This one was a great selection as there was a layer of delicate char that appeared mid-palate that really took this one to the next level for me.  A lovely surprise indeed.

Next, I'm excited to tackle my favorite drams of the night post...coming soon...
All in all, these selections were pleasant surprises in what was already an incredible evening.  Any chance you get to seek out something unique or special like this, it is worth a try…especially at Whisky Fest!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Whisky Fest NYC 2013 - Part One - The People

Just as every whisky has its own personality, there are people behind them with just as much character.

This three-part write up on the epic adventure that is the New York City Whisky Fest will begin with the people.  I have received a bunch of requests about some of the cool whiskeys & my thoughts on them, and we will get to that, but for now let us focus on one of my favorite parts of whisky…sharing it with people.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Saturday Grand Tasting this year, and enjoyed it to its fullest.  The attendance was excellent, and I got to meet many fantastic people throughout the night.  I was honored to rub Noses with Richard Paterson, meet the legendary David Stewart of Balvenie, chat Canadian whiskey with Davin de Kergommeaux and a great many others.

Upon arrival at the lovely Marriot Marquis on Broadway, it looks like any other hotel.  But, a quick trip up an escalator or two and you begin to realize that you are in a first class establishment.  Tier upon tier of large scale event halls and gorgeously decorated details helped you let go of the hustle and bustle screaming outside in the heart of NYC.

After check-in, many of us were anxious and waiting for the moment to be allowed into the event.  There we were, lined up like extremely classy and thirsty race horses.  Once the very muscular guard gave us the blessing, the flow of everyone into the event was calm & controlled but giddy & excited all at the same time. 

There was a buzz.

Heading straight up the middle, my eyes immediately caught a familiar face in a suit:
Enjoying some Dalmore with The Nose

Turning to the right, anxious to try the latest Batch #9 of The Balvenie Tun 1401, I couldn’t believe who was there!

David Stewart of Balvenie created things that made me fall in love with Scotch!

Later on, I had a near embarrassing situation when a lovely lady became part of a conversation a bit late and overheard some questionable words.  Well, what could’ve been an awkward moment in a food line revealed itself to be a blessing in disguise!  It turned out to be the whisky fabric weaver Johanne McInnis herself! (known on Twitter as  @whiskylassie)  Let me just say that she not only handled the ensuing conversation with humor, she handled it with a rare quality these days…grace.

We wound up chatting with Davin de Kergommeaux and had a few laughs:

Honored to enjoy the Whisky Fabric love in person

In my recent craft whiskey journey, one of my favorite surprises has been FEW Spirits.  I really enjoyed their Bourbon, Rye & Single Malt and will be featuring them in an upcoming post, but it was great to meet the engaging Winston Evans, he is just as bold as the whiskey in his hand! (in a good way):
Winston has a contagious personality

Again, these photos are just the tip of the iceberg for this event.  Plenty of great folks that I met and chatted whisky with that are not pictured.  I got to pick Dave Pickerell’s brain at the Hillrock booth, I got to meet the Distiller at the Nikka table while falling in love with Taketsura & Yoichi which was super cool.  Chatted with Matt of Widow Jane and got to try some unique things he’s working on.  Plus I got to drink some ‘Bug Juice’ with David Perkins of High West.

All in all, Whisky Advocate does a phenomenal job and if you can make it next year, I highly recommend it.  The people at this event are outstanding and truly passionate about the water of life.  It was joy to spend time with everyone.

Jeez Joe, that’s great and all that you met some people, but this is Whisky Fest…how about the juice?

Ah yes…the next post will focus on just that…before I hand out my ‘Whisky Fest Favorite Drams’ of the event type of post, I’ll start it off with my ‘Whisky Fest Pleasant Surprises’ write up.

After all, almost every booth has some type of surprise...

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Widow Jane 7YR Straight Bourbon

I touched upon the notion of romanticism & whiskey in a previous post.
From the Widow Jane website:

The water used to create this product comes from the Widow Jane mine in Rosendale, New York. Rosendale Limestone possesses an even higher ratio of beneficial minerals than that found in Kentucky and its sparkling waters are as pure as its namesake, the Widow Jane. The greatest structures in New York are from the gargantuan caissons that allowed the Brooklyn Bridge to soar, to the Statue of Liberty’s 27,000 ton pedestal, to the Empire State Building itself are all held fast and strong by that Rosendale stone.

A combination of unfiltered 91 proof Bourbon and highly mineralized water can lead to a very slight cloudiness (calcium) in the bottle which appears when agitated. It is yet another attractive part of this package. Widow Jane Whiskey is a true New York City whiskey, evocative of both the rock that created the foundation for this city of skyscrapers and the forward looking, DIY spirit that has made Brooklyn the center of a new artisanal food and beverage movement.
Pretty cool stuff.  Now, it is worth noting that the juice itself comes from Kentucky (please correct me if I am wrong).  But, the water used to bring the whiskey down to proof is an important step in the process.   That is where this wonderful Rosedale, NY water comes into play.  While from a technical standpoint I could see the limestone water holding more value in the beginning of the creation of this whiskey as limestone water definitely effects fermentations providing nutrients for yeast and changing some congener chemistry.  But, I could also see dissolved calcium reacting and forming soaps with various congeners and fusel oils changing the filtration process when used in cutting proof.  In fact, the Widow Jane water is so heavily mineralized that I have seen some Widow Jane bottles left to sit that actually formed calcium snow at the bottom. 
I unfortunately missed out on the 5 year old version of Widow Jane’s previous release, but I am super giddy to have received a sample of their 7 year version for review here.  (thanks so much to the fine folks at Cacao Prieto for the sample)
Tasting Notes:

Appearance:  Dark Copper

Nose:  Loads of vanilla & well balanced Charred Oak

Palate:  Baking spices and caramel, cinnamon, slight fruity note which could either be cherries or oranges
Finish:  Coca-Cola, Long, warming and delicious!


Cacao Prieto is the company behind this outstanding product and I have to give them credit.  They are mostly known as a fantastic chocolate manufacturer and producers of cacao liqueur and rum.  Their reputation of utilizing the upmost care and consideration of fine details has not been lost in their whiskey endeavor…it reflects a high-end approach.  I’d give it a little time to open up, and maybe even a drop of water if you wish.  But, believe me it will be worth the wait.  This is an excellent Bourbon that I could enjoy anytime, regardless of where it came from or what it was cut with...fantastic.

Score: 90