The Pilgrimage to Whisky Fest 2011

The Pilgrimage started at HNL International Airport Gate 16, standby status. To my luck, I was the last person called for the last available seat on Delta Flight 1152. Flying standby was incredibly stressful especially when everything hinged on this one flight. Thank goodness! I was on my way to San Francisco.  All I could think about was my strategy on what table to hit first.

Whisky Fest 2011 did not disappoint. In attendance was my favorite Master of Whisky, Tom Turner with his lovely wife, Stephanie. The Third and Fourth Generation of Van Winkles were on hand answering questions from sloppy drunkards. It was entertaining to watch the stately Van Winkle handle the demanding questions. Not a ‘wrinkle’ under pressure. Kudos! Also representing their respected distilleries were Master Distillers from the Four Roses, Compass Box, Hudson, and Anchor.  After two hours of ‘sampling’ I’ve narrowed down my overall favorites and of course all of them are not available in Hawaii.

High West:  This was the first table I sampled. The most memorable whiskey by far was the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan.  Everyone around me raved over the 21 yr Rocky Mountain Rye, but I wanted more 36th’s deliciously rich, slightly spiced, velvety smooth barreled Manhattan.  High West was the first legalized distillery in the State of Utah in 2007.  Utah, known to be alcohol unfriendly, was ironic to insure it would be the last state to end Prohibition.   It was their crucial 36th Vote against the 19th Amendment, hence, the tribute to the Barreled Manhattan. How does a distillery opererating since 2007 have a 21 yr old rye? The Rocky Mountain Rye was a rye barreled in used American oak. These barrels were found in a Kentucky warehouse and were saved from being shipped off to be blended with Canadian whiskies.

Hudson:  Fond of it’s petit packaging, short from a full sized bottle but far from short on flavor.  Hudson brought five of their whiskies  and the one that stood out was the New York Corn Whiskey.  The sweet corn aromatics from this white whiskey was never ceasing.  I loved it.  Opened since 2001, Hudson became the first whiskey distillery in New York since Prohibition.

How do young distilleries compete with the demand for aged whiskies?  Many are using smaller casks to age the whiskey with enough wood influence to give the whiskey its depth of color and richness in flavor.  Hudson also uses sonic maturation to help vibrate the whiskey into the wood.  The whiskey spends less time in smaller 2 gallon barrels compared to years in a much larger 53 gallon barrel without sacrificing flavor and color.

Compass Box:  The only scotch to make my favorite list.  This year I did not concentrate much on the scotches but when I saw the Great King Street, I had to sample it.  Compass Box, known to have brought the ‘cool’ factor back into blended scotches,  also sampled their famous Peat Monster, Spice Tree, and Hedonism.  Great King Street is blend of 51% Lowland, 23% Northern Highland with malty/fruity notes, 18% Northern Highland with grassy/perfumed notes, and 8% Speyside.  Rich, toasty, with hints of vanilla.

Four Roses:  I really wish Four Roses were sold in Hawaii.  It is one of my favorite Kentucky bourbons.  What is so impressive about them is how they represent themselves at a tasting like Whisky Fest.  During the VIP hour,  Master Distiller, Jim Rutledge, ‘nosed’ some of our glasses to make sure we did not have scotch residuals and then rinsed it with a Four Roses bourbon prior to trying the 2011 Limited Edition Small Batch.  I love when people involved with the product they created want to you to experience it correct and untainted.

As much as I wanted to feature every distillery I tried,  these four distilleries made an impression on me with quality of product, packaging and a passion for why they were at WhiskyFest.   One day I hope to sell these great products in my store but for now I’ll just have to patron another establishment and sip on them sparingly.

Category : Reviews &Spirits Posted on October 7, 2011

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