Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2019

Another year is in the books for San Francisco WhiskyFest, a typically packed event with hundreds of whiskeys to explore… plus, for those confused on where they are, libations from The Mocktail Project. My dance card was full of whiskies from around the world, with highlights to be found in just about every region. My favorite – by a wide margin – was a completely unexpected 17 year old Irish whiskey from Glendalough which spent 4 of those 17 years in Japanese Mizunara oak casks. Quite a surprise and one I hope to sample again soon.

Tasting notes on all spirits sampled follow. I’m already ready for 2020!


Arran 18 Years Old – Classic, heavily sherried whiskey. Nougat and granary notes in equal proportions. Heavy finish. B+

The Benriach 21 Years Old – A beautiful bourbon barrel-aged single malt. Some tannins from red wine finishing. Chewy, long finish. A-

The Benriach Curiositas 30 Years Old – Some virgin oak here. Surprisingly heavy on the peat for a whiskey that’s spent 30 years in cask. Weirdly winey. B

Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair – NAS. Fruity but quite bready. Ample spice. Doughy on the finish. B

Compass Box Affinity – A literal blend of 62% whisky and 38% Calvados. Baffling and surprising, a cocktail in a bottle. Overwhelming apple notes, with ample baking spice. Lots of layers here. (That’s John Glaser at right!) A-

Compass Box The Circle – Youthful whisky, sunny and bright – by design. Lots of fresh citrus here. Really engaging, hard to put down. A

Compass Box No Name 2 – Massive peat, blended mainly from sherried Caol Ila. Surprisingly straightforward for Compass Box. A-

Dewar’s Double Double 27 Years Old – Quite salty, with a big wine note. Earthy and mushroomy edge. Lush but not overwhelming. B+

Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old – Fresh with modest sherry influence. Subdued granary notes. B+

The GlenDronach 21 Years Old – So overloaded with PX and oloroso sherry it mainly tastes like… sherry. Unctuous, with notes of figs and dried herbs, some leather. A

Old Pulteney 25 Years Old – Gorgeous maritime character. Salty with well-integrated peat. Soothing and supple. A

Tobermory 21 Years Old – Hugely grain-heavy, very chewy cereal character. Raw. A shocker. B-


J.P. Wiser’s Canadian Whisky 23 Years Old Cask Strength – Blazing hot. Maple syrup, Bit-O-Honey, and red pepper… then notes of dill. Wild and a little weird. B+


Glendalough Irish Whiskey Double Barrel – Ripe and fruity, chewy grains. Big banana note. B

Glendalough Irish Whiskey 13 Years Old Mizunara Finish – What a delight, combining light Irish with heavy Japanese oak. Toasty nougat notes and a wonderful earthiness. A

Glendalough Irish Whiskey Single Malt 17 Years Old – 13 years in bourbon barrels, then 4 years in Mizunara oak. A revelation. Cloves, roasted nuts, and tiki-like tropical hints. Deep raisin character emerges on the finish. A+

Glendalough Irish Whiskey Single Malt 25 Years Old – Aged in PX and oloroso sherry casks. Ultra rich. Figs and dried fruits galore, lightly leathery. Big sherry punch on the back end. A

Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old Marsala Cask Finish – Hope you like Marsala, because this whiskey is oozing it from its pores. Incredibly intense wine flavor, though not wholly off-putting. B-


Blanton’s Single Barrel Original – Lots of buttered popcorn and spice. Caramel soothes the finish. B+

Blanton’s Single Barrel Gold Edition – Chewy, with notes of Butterfinger candy and loads of soothing brown sugar. A big step up from the standard Blanton’s. A

Maker’s Mark RC6 – The new release, aged in barrels with 18 months of seasoning. Dark chocolate, cinnamon apple notes dominate. A bit tough on the finish, though. A-

Widow Jane The Vaults – A marriage of 14 year old (and older) whiskeys. Smoky, sausage gumbo and intense leather notes. Lots of spice. Unending finish. A-


Nikka From the Barrel – Glorious as always. Quite sweet, with a big maple component and some coconut. Massively complex. A

Hibiki 17 Years Old – Strong peach notes, but otherwise drinking tight tonight. Mothballs on the finish. Surprisingly flat. B

The Yamazaki 18 Years Old – Iconic. Bold nougat and malted milk notes. Honey, banana, fresh donuts. Lovely. A-


Argonaut Premium California Brandy The Claim – Argonaut is a Gallo product made from wines they’ve been distilling and aging for decades. The Claim is the oldest expression, with an average age of 19 years old. Buttery body, with notes of lavender, tea leaf, and incense. Surprisingly delightful. Watch for more coverage of Argonaut in coming weeks. A-

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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