E-pistle 2007/023 – Whiskyfest New York 2006

By Louis Perlman, USA

Whiskyfest New York took place on Monday November 6th, 2006 at the Marriot Marquis hotel. It is always a great event, but unfortunately, I started to feel a bit drowsy at my desk by early afternoon. NOT a good thing to happen right before consuming many drams, and a trip to the vending machine for a sugar-and caffeine boost didn’t help that much.

Despite taking precautions such as making sure I ate plenty of food and avoiding high octane drams, the alcohol got to me early. I have notes for a few drams I don’t remember sampling, and a few other single malts registered absolutely nothing. So while the number of drams I can confidently report on probably isn’t as high as in past years, I still managed to come away with a reasonable productive evening. The highlight  was getting to meet Ulf Buxrud in person, and going home with an autographed copy of his Rare Malts book. The book is spectacular, with meticulous attention to detail, and worthy of prime real estate on any coffee table. (This is no book review 😉 Without any further delay, here is my dram report of those that I got a reasonable impression of:

BenRiach 12yo (46%, OB)
BenRiach 16yo (46%, OB)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas (46%, OB)
BenRiach 21yo Authenticus (46%, OB)
This was the first time I got around to trying the new BenRiach releases. The 12 year old is all bourbon cask, and the older versions also include first fill and refill sherry casks. I liked the 12, it was a pleasant lighter dram, with some pear notes. The Curiositas worked well too, with the peat not overwhelming the basic character. In the $50-60 range, they are not huge bargains, but decent values, as prices have risen a bit recently with the weak dollar and high energy costs. I wasn’t getting much of a read on the older versions, except that the Authenticus is  mellower than the Curiositas. It is pricey though, in the low three figure range.

Compass Box NAS ‘Oak Cross’ (43%, OB)
Compass Box NAS ‘Flaming Heart’ (48.9%, OB)
The big news is the Oak Cross, which replaces the ill-fated Spice Tree. This time, some of the malts are finished in barrels of American oak staves, with French oak ends for additional spiciness. The malts are middle of the road Speysides, no peat or sherry, and the results is quite pleasant. Best of all, it goes for $40, so a good choice for general purpose dramming. When I mentioned to John Glaser that the Eleuthra is still my favorite CBW, he brought out a bottle of the Flaming Heart, sold only in Europe and a few other markets. Similar to the Eleuthra, but the non-peated malts, Clynelisha and Longmorn, also have spent some time in French oak. Even though there is twice as much Caol Ila as in the Eleuthra (40% vs 20%), the Flaming Heart, is a bit mellower. Too bad the Flaming Heart is not imported into the US, it would make a nice companion to the Eleuthra in my cabinet.

Glenfiddich 21yo (40%, OB)
At long last, the politically incorrect (in the US) rum cask finished bottling makes its appearance over here.
However, it seems to be mostly a gimmick. The rum influence is quite apparent, but I prefer the 15 year old Solera Reserve, which I think is a real sleeper. Worse yet is the $120 price tag, I can think of many things I would rather have for that much money.

Macallan 15yo 1991 (46%, Hart Brothers for Park Avenue Liquors, Rum cask)
Springbank 12yo (46%, Hart Brothers for Park Avenue Liquors, Port wood finished)
These are both Park Avenue Liquors exclusive bottlings. The Springbank is medium gold in color, so the port cask must have been a refill. Indeed, it tastes pretty much like what would be expected from a 12 year old Springbank. The price is $85, not too bad, except that the 12 year old Bourbon wood expression costs about the same, and is bottled at cask strength.
The Macallan actually was very similar to the Springer, but costs a whopping $115.

Longrow 10yo (46%, OB)
Longrow 14yo (46%, OB)
Hazleburn 8yo (46%, OB)
This was on of the tables I visited later in the evening, so I wasn’t going for any subtleties. The 1995 Longrow is similar to the previous releases, and the 14 year old was definitely more laid back. Sorry if that’s the best I could come up with, promise to do better the next time. About all I could tell about the triple distilled Hazleburn is that is indeed a lighter, smoother dram.

Macallan 16yo 1989 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
Glenlivet 27yo 1979 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
Caol Ila 1979 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
The Mackillops Choice line offers good values, and this year was no exception.
While they are all bottled at 43%, there are plenty of times that it is nice to have a dram without having to worry about the effects of higher proof. The Macallan is bourbon casked, and shows the distillery character without the sherry influence. In the $60 range, a far better choice for SMS lovers without fat wallets, that the Hart Brothers version described above. The Glenlivet was about you’d expect, and the Caol Ila still had plenty of punch left on the other side of twenty years (I neglected to write down the age, and couldn’t find this bottle on the internet).

Bunnanabain 28yo 1977 (48.1%, Scott’s Selection)
And now the best for last. Scott’s Selection has always had a dozen or so bottlings from their extensive range, but this year there were just two, the very nice Glen Elgin 1980 24yo that I tried last year, and the Bunny. In the past, I have never really locked in with Bunnahabain malts, but this time it was a different story. There was a nice maltiness, and the whisky has really stood up well over 28 years. The going price is around $150, obviously not cheap, but very competitive for anything this age. If you’ve got friends who go for Chivas Regal Royal Salute, offer them a dram of this 🙂
Charity table samples:

A recent feature of Whiskyfest is the charity table. It consists of high end bottles donated by the distilleries and importers, and also by John Hansel himself. The cost is $20 per dram, except for the Dalmore 50 year Old, and Johnnie Walker Blue Anniversary, which were $60 (too rich for my wallet). These were also brought home, for obvious reasons.

Bowmore 37yo 1968 (43.4%, OB) – donated by the importer
This was very close to the hart Brothers Bowmore of similar age that I sampled in California last summer. Lots of fruit, and very little peat, but a really good example of very old whisky. I can’t say that any single bottle of whisky is $1000, but this is as ‘worth it’ as any.
I would put down $200 however, for the Hart Brother bottle.

Springbank 21yo 1980 (54.1%, OB) – from John Hansel’s private collection
A single sherry cask Springer, with a bit less complexity than the standard 21 year old,.
But pretty much ANY 21 year old Springbank is a fine dram.
Samples of note that I took home:

Ardbeg 16yo ‘Airigh Naim Beist’ (46%, OB, aka ‘The Beast’)
At long last, an older Ardbeg distilled after the distillery reopened. While I certainly enjoy the 10 year old, it seems that it is more of a ‘stealth monster’, with the iodine at the leading edge, and the peat a bit behind. With the extra years under its belt, the Beist is a much better balanced dram, with the proper weight and clear family resemblance to the older expressions from the seventies. There is only one catch, LMVH obviously knows that they have a good thing on their hands, as the price tag is around $110.

Bruichladdich 14yo ‘Turnberry Links’ (46%, OB)
This is the fourth in the Links series. I seem to remember the previous three all being 14 year old refill sherry cask expressions (the links, bad pun, on the distillery web site are broken), but the Turnberry is from a bourbon cask, with both sherry and port cask finishing. While I am generally not a fan of creative finishing, it seems to work nicely here. with some extra frutiness compared to the Augusta Links that I have at home. One observation here, Bruichladdich obviously has to manage the maturing stock that existed when the distillery was acquired by Murray McDavid. As such, there are obviously going to be gaps in the product line. This is probably the reason for all of the finishing they are doing, and if a particular expression appeals to you, better pick it up right away, since there may not be something similar available down the road.

Glenmorangie 15yo (43%, OB)
This is another one of those malts that I have managed too overlook thru the years, so I made sure that I got a decent size sample.
As it turns out, the 15 does a nice job of splitting the difference between the 10 and 18. It preserves the spicy tang on the 10, and also shows a softer side from the 18. At around $60, a decent value in today’s marketplace, with the 18 in the $100 range nowadays.

Old Forester Birthday 2006  (48%, Bourbon)
This is last year’s edition, with an extra year of aging. The spiciness from the rye is restrained a bit, but there is still plenty of kick.
If you like this style of bourbon, it’s a good value at under $40.

George T. Stagg  (70.3%, Bourbon)
This was a VERY small sample, but my impression is that this latest release has some floral notes, replacing the tobacco and leather of the last version that I tried.
George Dickel Barrel Select – the case of the clueless reps

George Dickel is the ‘other Tennessee Whiskey’.
For the uninitiated (to the bourbon world), Tennessee whiskey differs from bourbon in that it is charcoal filtered prior to being poured into the barrel. The best known, and only other brand of Tennessee whiskey is Jack Daniels, of course. George Dickel uses activated charcoal for a mellower profile, and the current line has three expressions. These are Old Number 8, Superior Number 12, and Barrel Select, which strangely, contain whiskey that is 8 -10, 10-12 and twelve years old respectively. #8 is currently restricted in most markets, due to gaps in production in the nineties. The cover story the the Q4 2006 Malt Advocate is a feature about the distillery. While this may not be of the greatest interest to the Malt Maniacs readership, I am mentioning it as a prelude to what I am labeling a ‘disastrous demo’.

The George Dickel table was only pouring the #12 and Barrel Select.
By the time I wandered over, I couldn’t quite remember if the Barrel Select was the top or bottom of the line. But the two very nice ladies (who were NOT bimbos) staffing the table couldn’t tell me either. They didn’t even seem to be aware that there was a third version, or anything much else about the bottles they were pouring. There were copies of The Malt Advocate on the table, but it didn’t seem terribly polite to go pawing thru them, and it may have been embarrassing to the women once I did find out where exactly the barrel Select was in the product line. So I asked for a dram of whatever I was standing close to, and let it go at that.

Now for the moral of the lesson.
I understand that the distillery manager will not be available to attend every single whisk(e)y event in the world. In these days of corporate ownership, the person with that title may actually manage several distilleries, or have many other responsibilities, and can’t get away that easily. But certainly the importer or distributes should be able to find someone appropriate. These women were probably from the hotel’s conference staff pool. It would have been a good idea to have paid them for an extra hour to read the feature article about the distillery ahead of time. It’s happened to me a few times before at Whiskyfest that the person I asked a question to had to defer the question to someone more knowledgeable, but here, these wasn’t any such person around. BTW, I picked up a bottle of the Barrel Select since it is under $40. George Dickel is likely to appeal to SMS drinkers looking to branch out, with a lighter profile than it’s famous state-mate.
The Dewars ‘experience room’ – fun with blending

Dewars had a suite of sorts, and I wandered in just in time to participate in a blending seminar, run by brand ambassador Karen Fullerton (a poker game was also going on). The idea was to replicate the Dewars 12 year old blend. we were told that the 12 year old is made up of 75 % grain whisky, and malts from Speyside, Highlands, Islands, Lowlands, and Islay, all of which were provided. The distilleries were not identified. I ended up with only about 20% grain, and way too much Speyside and Islay. Then we were given a hip flask to take our creations home in.  Postscript. A couple of weeks later, I decided to fix up my personal blend. The first thing to do was to locate some of the missing components from my open stock. The grain whisky was easy, I used Compass Box Hedonism. There is some older (around 20 years) whisky in the hedonism, but that should only help, right? Then I spied the  Linlithgow 28yo 1975 (45%, Blackadder Raw Cask), This really should have been bottled quite a few years earlier, as it tastes like a generic Highland, with just a touch of Lowland left a the back of the palate. Perfect, then. After playing around a bit, I came pretty close to my recollection of the Dewars 12. But that just confirmed something I kinda already knew. The 12 is a pleasant blend, certainly on a par with or better than with entry level malts such as Speyburn, Deanston, or even the Dalmore 12 or youngest Glen Garrioch. But move up to a Glenmorangie 10, Macallan or Highland Park 12 and it’s no contest. Still, it is good to keep up with the decent blends, because there will be many a time an SMS lover will find him/erself somewhere (most likely someones house) where there might be one decent blend among a number of bottles of truly vile stuff.
Glenfarclas seminar with George Grant

This was the one seminar I attended.
It was very loose with audience participation encouraged, and there no geeky whisky making topics on the agenda. I actually managed to take legible notes, so here is a pretty good summary of what was going on; The distillery started to pay taxes in 1836. No idea when it was actually built. There is a picture dating from 1791. 32 employees are employed at the distillery, 106 at the bottling plant. Glenfarclas is family owned AND run. Glenfiddich and Springbank are either, but not both. Glenmorangie ‘sold out’ for 300M-500M GBP. Surely Glenfarclas would NEVER be tempted by that kind on money 🙂

George claims to have the best job in the world. He gets to sleep late, drink whisky, and talk about it.  I can’t argue with that logic.
His American wife complains about all the stuff she can’t get in the UK, so he spent $1700 at Toys/Babys R Us earlier that day. Has been in the US for 3 weeks. Went down to Kentucky (presumably to visit cask suppliers). Went to the Kentucky-Georgia football game, and was the only person in the stadium wearing a Georgia cap, which he was proudly wearing  (G is for George, Grant, Glenfaclas).
It probably helped that Kentucky won the game…

At that point we sampled the 12 year old, and then the 50 year old was poured from cask sample bottles. We were NOT supposed to wash out the glass after finishing the 12, in order to have the ‘Glenfarclas taste’ in the glass and our mouths. I took home my sample of the 50, in order to appreciate it while not being already under the influence. The 12 yo is export only, and the best GF, then comes the 50yo.  I’m not 100% sure about that.  A bottle of 50yo would be worth $6-10,000 if they ever bottled it. There was then a brief discussion comparing the respective aging processes of whisky and women. I’ll leave out the details. Glenfarclas does not finish, a not-to-be-named competitor will finish in a herring cask. The Angels take 6-7% each year. GF can produce 3 million liters per year, Glenmorangie churns out 10 million.
Sherry casks cost $1000, bourbon casks $50. Bourbon casks are only used for younger bottlings.

Pfffft… Slainte.