Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2011

WhiskyFest remains the whiskey enthusiast’s festival to beat. With hundreds of whiskeys, it is a mad dash for all sorts of great stuff — if only you can find it in the scattered auditorium and muscle your way to the front of the line. Don’t worry, you can do it, and even though the 2011 installment of this awesome event had more than its share of no-shows from the advance whisky list — Isle of Jura Shackleton, Tomatin 30 Year Old, Pierre Ferrand Ancestrale Cognac, the entire Usquaebach table — there were so many amazing whiskeys here it is hard to complain.

Favorites were unilaterally from the private bottling companies, including Duncan Taylor’s killer 36 Year Old Lonach Blend, Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old — all that time in ex-sherry butts — and maybe by new favorite whisky ever, Samaroli Evolution 2011. Notes on all of these follow, plus comments (however brief) on everything else I sampled during the evening.

Thanks again to Whisky Advocate (nee Malt Advocate) for putting on such a terrific show (and inviting me).


Samaroli Evolution 2011 / A+ / this Rome-based private whisky bottler was a fave at the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and this bottling was a revelation; a vatting of whisky stocks dating back to 1957, it is incredibly supple, complex, and impossible to put down

Samaroli Glenlivet Top Class 1977 / A- / amazing elegance

Samaroli Linkwood Top Class 1983 / B+ / bit tougher

Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / B+ / rich and chewy

Samaroli Highland Park 1989 / B+ / has an edge to it

Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / B+ / surprising sweetness

Auchentoshan Valinch / B / hard finish

Auchentoshan Bordeaux 1999 / B+ / sweetness up front leads to a rough finish

Auchentoshan 21 Year Old / B+ / my fave of the Auch line, better balance

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve / B

Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage / B / big nougat notes lead to a strange, funky finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt 25 Year Old / B+ / almost American in styling, sweet finish

Tomatin Highland Single Malt Decades / A- / a vatting of 5 decades’ worth of whisky; complex and lots of fun

Isle of Jura Superstition / A- / nice balance with the peat here

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old / B / big grain notes, exotic

Laphroaig Triple Wood / B+ / finished in sherry, which adds just a touch of citrus to standard Laphroaig’s peat and iodine; interesting but could go farther

Gordon & MacPhail Benromach 10 Year Old / B / young but charming

Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila Port Finish 10 Year Old / B+ / nice mix of smoke and sweet, needs more aging

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Year Old / A-

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 21 Years Old / A / spends all 21 years in sherry casks, an amazing whisky, deep and rich (by far the darkest Scotch I saw all night)

Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 30 Years Old / B+ / a bit over the hill, wood-wise

Compass Box Great King Street / A- / a masterful blended whisky

Springbank 14 Year Old Manzanilla Cask / B+ / big olive notes

Springbank 18 Year Old / B+ / not feeling it tonight; too much of a coal character

Kilkerran WIP 3rd Release / B+ / like Kilbeggan, Kilkerran is doing releases as its whisky ages; at 3 years old it is young but exciting, lots of promise ahead

Duncan Taylor Banff 35 Year Rich and Rare / A / amazing fruit and wood here, lovely finish

Duncan Taylor Lonach Blend 36 Year / A / cinnamon and apple pie, all sorts of fun

GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament / B+ / curious wood and spice notes

GlenDronach 15 Year Old 1995 Pedro Ximenez Cask #2045 / B

Macallan 18 Year Old / A-

Highland Park 25 Year Old / A- / musky finish

Bruichladdich Black Art 2 / B+ / finish delves deep into grain character

Bruichladdich Octomore 3/152 / A- / the new “most peated” whisky in the world, actually quite pleasant and not the bowl-you-over dram I was expecting; more like a barbecue than a smoke bomb

Ardbeg Corryvreckan / A

Ardbeg Alligator / A- / Ardbeg’s latest, aged in ultra-charred oak barrels; the wood really does battle with the peat here, giving it a curious but less enthralling character, I think


Redbreast 12 Years Old / B+ / really woody kick; the reputation exceeds the whisky

Redbreast 15 Years Old / B+ / not terribly different

United States

Bardstown Riverboat Rye Whiskey / B / a younger version of Redemption Rye

Bardstown Temptation Bourbon / A- / good sweetness, balance

Bardstown Barrel Proof High Rye Bourbon / A / intensely rye-focused, and intensely alcoholic; not released (the company is hoping for 2012)

Koval Lion’s Pride Spelt Whiskey / B+ / aged 2 years; not bad, lots of grain character

Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old / A- / love the rye kick; probably better since it was poured by Jimmy Russell himself (picture below!)

George Dickel Barrel Select / A- / nice rye going on here

Not Whiskey

Frapin Cognac VS / A- / 4 years old; surprisingly clean for a $49 Cognac

Frapin Cognaac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A- / big nose on it, great citrus and sherry finish

Frapin Cognac  VIP XO / A- / quite similar to the Fontpinot

Frapin Cognac Extra / A / 75 years old, extremely complex, mellow, and lingering

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Selection des Anges / A- / beautiful, smooth

Pierre Ferrand Cognac Cigare / A / not smoky, and in fact not as big a body as you’d expect with a name like that; very well crafted and lush; drink with or without a cigar

Tequila Corrido Extra Anejo Barrel #2 / A / a killer, and the only tequila here; lovely chocolate finish

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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