One of the staff asked me what the biggest surprise was at this year’s Whiskies of the World San Francisco. “That it was actually happening” was my response.
WotW marked the first time in nearly two years that I’d attended a spirits event of any substance, and while it was wonderful to stroll the booths along the ground floor of San Francisco’s Pier 27, it’s clear that we have yet to “return to normal,” and probably won’t for the foreseeable future. The usual crowds were absent, as were many of the big brands you’d normally find at these events. No big buffet with a carving station to fill your belly from. Instead, food trucks parked outside passed small plates to famished drinkers who descended upon the trays like locusts as soon as someone would walk in the door from outside.
But hey, it was a whiskey event, and attendees like me were clearly willing to put up with some hiccups in order to sample the latest releases from a curious collection of old-guard classics, craft distilleries, and — oddly — a surprising number of rum operations. I certainly had no trouble filling the time I spent here on a nice September evening in the city, finding plenty of old favorites and new spirits to sip on.
As always, brief notes for everything tasted follow.
Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2021
Edradour 9 Years Old Marsala Cask (Whisky Shop Exclusive) – straight-up Marsala notes, big with oxidized wine, rec currents, and spice; too much. B
Linkwood 11 Years Old Bourbon Cask (Whisky Shop Exclusive) – Malty, chewy, with maple notes on the back end. A-
The GlenAllachie 15 Years Old – big and malty, stone fruit, cherries. A-
The ImpEx Collection Blend 1980 40 Years Old – the showstopper of the night, a single cask blend of various Edrington malts, all casked and aged together; gorgeous with pretty sherry, rich fruit, and nougat; hard to put down, but this isn’t one they’re going to pour endlessly. A+
Black Bull 12 Years Old Blended Scotch – nutty, ample vanilla, a great value offering at about 30 bucks a bottle. B+
Duncan Taylor 12 Years Old Blend (Total Wine Exclusive) – straightforward, easygoing, with lengthy cereal elements. B+
Duncan Taylor Dimensions Dalmore 2002, 15 Years Old Cask 10802053 – lots of oak here, surprisingly; tannic and bitter on the finish; doesn’t evoke Dalmore really. B
Rare Auld Grain Cambus 1991 26 Years Old Cask 1179891 – a surprise; great depth but gentle and sweet, with sesame seed and golden syrup evident. A-
Highland Park 18 Years Old – a classic, peatier today than I remembered though; seductive, toasted wood notes, malt, caramel in a powerful mix. A-
Highland Park Cask Strength Release 2 – beefy, sharp with citrus, spice, and some tea elements; quite warming; full review to come. A
Tottori Japanese Whisky Blended – Pretty but simple; nougat heavy. B
Tottori Japanese Whisky Bourbon Barrel – Bolder and more aggressive; some clear peanut notes. B+
The Shin Japanese Malt Whisky 15 Years Old – soft, heavy with notes of apples, lingering oak. A-
10th Street California Coast – a mildly peated expression from San Jose’s 10th Street; sweet sesame, mild smoke, floral notes. A-
Barber Lee Heirloom Bourbon – 1 1/2 to 2 years old; heavy with corn, toasty, almost smoky, lingering mushroom note. B-
Virginia Distilling Courage & Conviction Cuvée Cask Whisky – well-integrated flavors, including gentle wood, wine notes, and sweet fruit on the finish. A-
Virginia Distilling VHW Port Cask Finished Whisky – a bit gritty, with big Port-driven raisin elements; fun. B+
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye – a cask strength monster, boldly sweetened, but tough with funky hemp notes. B-
Santa Teresa 1796 – gentle, sweet, well-fruited, with mild spice notes. A-
Diplomatico Single Vintage 2005 – big and winey, quite sweet, with deep oak notes and light tobacco elements. A-
Diplomatico The Distillery Collection #1 Batch Kettle Rum – a series of rums each from a different type of still (with plenty of other variables in the mix); this maple-heavy bottling offers a big wine element. A-
Diplomatico The Distillery Collection #2 Barbet Rum – much heavier on the wood; bolder but quite young; less balanced. B+
Diplomatico The Distillery Collection #3 Pot Still Rum – excellent; balanced fruit, oak, caramel notes; lots to love here. A