Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2018

Another WhiskyFest is in the books, and although the lines for iconic bottles like Pappy van Winkle, Macallan No. 3 and No. 4, and Glenfiddich 30 Years Old (which those in the queue were surprised to find was not actually on hand when they got to the front of the line) were long, on the whole this year’s San Francisco installment of the show seemed a bit less crowded, a bit more manageable.

Whether that was due to the timing of the show (held in November for the first time in memory), the cost of tickets, or the workers striking at the venue, I couldn’t say. I can tell you however that with hundreds of bottlings available (nearly all of it finished in Port, it seemed), there was no shortage of things to try. I attempted to keep my focus narrow so my notes could be just a little more detailed this year. You tell me if I succeeded.

See you at next year’s fest!


Glen Moray 25 Years Old – 23 years in American oak, 2 years in Port. Great fruit-grain balance, sultry on the tongue, with a spicy finish. A-

Tomatin 36 Years Old – Old Tomatin can get a bit hoary, and the Cheerios on the palate here hint at that, but it comes across as a whisky rescued just in time, with notes of golden raisins offering a long, lush finish. A

The Balvenie Doublewood 17 Years Old – Raisiny and toasty, light on its feet. A-

The Balvenie Portwood 21 Years Old – More brooding, heavier wood influence (surprisingly), but nicely balanced. A-

Compass Box Delilah’s XXV – A lighter style whiskey made for the iconic Chicago bar; big sherry notes and youthful exuberance. Intended for “beer and a shot” consumption. A-

Compass Box Flaming Heart 6th Edition – Aggressively peaty, a bit doughy. B

Old Pulteney Huddart – An unpeated expression of Old Pulteney, finished in a barrel that formerly held peated whisky. Restrained and soft, but gently briny. B+

The BenRiach Temporis 21 Years Old – Smoky, then notes of applesauce and gentle fruit pours over the palate. A-

Bowmore 25 Years Old – A letdown, flabby and one-note, that note being aggressive smoke that has yet to temper after a quarter century. B

Laphroaig 25 Years Old – A massive contrast to the Bowmore: Light smoke melding with bold fruit in perfect balance. Unstoppable. A

Highland Park The Light – The successor to The Dark, and a massive win — the best HP in years. Sunny and bright, as the name implies, freshly fruity with notes of almond lingering. Gorgeous. A

The Glenrothes 18 Years Old – Part of the new non-vintage releases, not out in the U.S. yet. Incredibly dense, woody and mushroom-heavy. A bit baffling. B-


A.D. Laws Whiskey House Four Grain Bourbon Ruby Porto Finish – Not yet released. Grain-forward at first but bright with sweet cherry and raisin notes. Full review to come. B+

Endless West Glyph – Already infamous, this “molecular” whiskey is made with no distilling or aging at all. Chemicals are mixed up to mimic the spectrograph of a spirit, and then it’s bottled. Crazy stuff, very candylike, with buttery popcorn notes and a weird fruit element that’s tough to place. Full review forthcoming. C+

Sonoma Distilling Cherrywood Rye – A whiskey we’re well acquainted with, but tonight it’s tasting boldly youthful and a bit undercooked. Notes of burlap sack and mushroom dominate. B-

Charbay Spicy Bastard – This is an as-yet-unreleased version of Charbay’s hoppy R5 finished in Cabernet Port barrels. Here the hops are tempered, with some sweet-and-sour notes popping brightly. Lots of fun, unique. A-

Weller CYPB (Craft Your Perfect Bourbon) – When Buffalo Trace polled drinkers about their perfect whiskey online, this is what they picked: An oldish wheated bourbon that Buffalo Trace has packaged up as CYPB. It’s good stuff; creamy, with ample vanilla and maple syrup notes, and a lengthy finish of sugar cookies. A-

Hillrock Estate Cabernet-Finished Solera Aged Bourbon – Lightly grainy, with pretty fruit, berry, and wine notes. Well integrated. A-

Other Stuff

Kavalan Cask Strength Port Finish – Very sweet, boldly fruity with raisin notes, almost brandylike. B+

Kavalan Vinho Barrique – Loaded with acetone. Pungent and off-putting. Bad batch or what? C-

Nikka From the Barrel – I couldn’t resist, still one of the best of the night — chewy, richly nutty, with lots of coconut character. A

Writers Tears Irish Whiskey – Still a classic. Easy, gorgeous, with loads of vanilla and caramel. A

Writers Tears Red Head Irish Whiskey – A sherried version of the above, not available in the U.S. Very sharp, without the easygoing body of the original; pungent, with notes of thyme and rosemary. B+

Other Stuff

Tapatio Excelencia Gran Reserva Extra Anejo Tequila – Charbay’s monster-aged tequila (5 years in oak, then 10 years resting) is a pepper bomb, intense, crazy with oak, and a bit overblown. B

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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