Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008

It’s official: WhiskyFest is awesome.

Bouncing around the dozens of booths and hundreds of spirits being poured was tons of fun: More intimate than the enormous wine events and studded with wall-to-wall kilts. My final tally: 24 whiskeys tasted (plus a rum and a gin). That’s more than I was expecting to sample, but as I rode home on the train I figured I could have consumed quite a bit more and almost turned around to go back for a couple more glasses. But the day after, I’m certainly glad for my temperance, as I’m no worse for wear following the experience.

I arrived at the event with 10 minutes to spare in the VIP hour and, sadly, managed to find none of the VIP-special whiskeys before the hour expired. I was just too overwhelmed by the myriad choices to be sampled to try to track down who was pouring what spirit at what poorly-marked booth. I went from corner to corner of the tasting room at least four times and, in the end, still never managed to find a couple of the distillery booths that I’d been hoping to sample from. But though numerous whiskeys were absent from the tasting floor that had been supposed to be there, even more were on tap that hadn’t been indicated in advance.

As is my custom, here are ratings and notes on each of the spirits tasted, but, again, bear in mind these are snap judgments based on minuscule samples. It’s much harder to fashion an opinion on a whiskey with just a couple of sips vs. a wine, which generally reveals more about its quality in a shorter amount of time. When I review whiskey for the site I’ll often taste it over the course of several hours, sometimes tasting it multiple times over the course of a few days before writing a review. In a broader tasting, I’d expect some of these ratings to swing considerably up or down. That said, there wasn’t a “bad” spirit I tried last night.

Spirits are in mostly alphabetic order below, not the order tasted. Read on for the highlights!

WhiskyFest 2008 Full Report

  • Ardbeg Uigeadail, B+ / overpowering, heavy on the smoke
  • Arran Bourbon Single Cask, B+ / interesting but out of balance
  • Balvenie 17 year SherryOak, B / now off the market
  • Balvenie 21 year PortWood, A- / much sweeter than the Sherry, very lush
  • Beltrano’s Cask Highland Park 19 year, B+ / a private bottling of Highland Park (you’ll see a number of these throughout the report, some very good)
  • Bruichladdich Links 15 year Torrey Pines, A / great combo of peat and sweetness, with a curious finish
  • Duncan Taylor 1970 Glen Grant 37 year, A / my last whisky of the night, a chocolate brown Scotch perfect as “dessert”
  • Elijah Craig 18 year Bourbon, A- / packs a spicy kick
  • Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin, B+ / really tough to taste a gin among two dozen whiskeys, not bad though
  • Glenfarclas 21 year, A- / with the 25 year, my favorite Scotches of the night
  • Glenfarclas 25 year, A / great vanilla and Sherry notes
  • Glenfiddich 18 year, A- / smoky sweet, nice balance
  • Glenfiddich 21 year, B+ / less impressive than the 18
  • Glengoyne 17 year, B+ / smoky nose gives way to smokeless flavor, very intriguing
  • The Glenlivet 21 year, A / a creamy vanilla monster
  • Gordon & MacPhail Port Ellen 25 year, B+ / full of phenol
  • Lagavulin 16 year, B+ / disappointing considering the reputation
  • Laphroaig 15 year, B+ / a surprisingly muted expression of Laphroaig, with a watery character compared to the norm
  • The Macallan 18 year Sherry Oak, A- / packed with Sherry flavor, classic Macallan
  • Rhum Clement X.O. Rhum Agricole, A- / sugary sweet and exotic, very interesting after lots of Scotch
  • Suntory Yamazaki 18 year, A- / very complex, really enjoyable
  • Tomintoul 27 year, A-
  • Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, A / best Bourbon of the night, a flavor bomb packed with spice and vanilla
  • Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, B+ / hotter than the 20 year, similar but with less flavor
  • Parker’s Heritage Collection Cask Strength Bourbon, B / a 10-year bourbon poured by Parker himself, amazingly hot
  • Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year Single Barrel Bourbon, B+ / reportedly the oldest single-barrel bourbon on the market, really smooth

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content creation company.

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