Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2018

Hey, look who’s not breaking his foot this year! Last year’s Whiskies of the World Expo was cut extremely short for me, but this year, safety was the name of the game. (Reminder: Don’t text while on the stairs, kids!)

I spent a lot more time than usual on American whiskeys this year, reflecting an amazing surge of craft distilleries appearing at WotW as well as a relative dearth of Scotch. That said, some of the Scottish drams I sampled were some of the best whiskies I’ve ever had — particularly Glencadam’s glorious 25 year old, to which I gave a spot rating of A+, thanks to its delightfully bright texture and fruit-forward palate. There was plenty of whiskey to like in America and beyond, too, but if I had to pick one product I’d like to sample in more depth, it’d have to be Healdsburg-based Alley 6’s bitters made from candy cap mushrooms they forage themselves on the Sonoma Coast.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow, as always.

Scotch

GlenDronach 12 Years Old – Bold sherry, nutty, with spice, but vegetal on the back end. B
GlenDronach 18 Years Old – Richer and better balanced, with big spices and some chocolate notes. A-
Ancnoc 24 Years Old
– A surprising amount of grain here for a 24 year old, with some orange peel notes; perfectly approachable but not overwhelming. B+
Balblair 1983
– Some smoke, barrel char, vanilla and chocolate. Nice balance. A
Glencadam 25 Years Old
– Bright and fresh, with a Sauternes character to it; some coconut, a little chewy; very lush and rounded. Best of show. A+
SIA Scotch Whisky – This has clearly been refined a bit over the years, now showing a youthful but silky caramel and vanilla notes; quite elegant for a blend. A-
The Exclusive Grain Cameronbridge 1992 25 Years Old
– One of the best single grains I’ve experienced in years; chocolate dominates, with a big sherry finish. A
The Exclusive Malts “An Orkney” 2000 17 Years Old
– I’m guessing Highland Park, then; traditionally built, but quite oaky. B+
The Macallan Edition No. 3
– A disappointment; a huge, bold body for Macallan, but surprisingly hot. B+
Highland Park Dark 
– HP in first-fill sherry barrels; the name is no lie, but the sherry takes it so far it ends up medicinal; overdone. B+
Highland Park Full Volume
– Chewy, with gunpowder and grain notes. A bit dull in the end. B
Alexander Murray Bunnahabhain 28 Years Old Cask Strength
– Lightly peated, with a solid Madeira note; gently floral. B+
Tobermory 21 Years Old Manzanilla Finish Cask Strength
– Blodly spice up front, but a bit raw and vegetal on the back end. B+
Deanston 20 Years Old Oloroso Finish Cask Strength
– Big grain base, with notes of cotton balls. B-
Ledaig 1996
– Punchy, with lingering grain and plenty of sweetness. B+

American

Belle Meade Mourvedre Cask Finish – A very rare offering that sold out in 2 days, it’s a beauty of a blend of wine and wood influence. A-
Belle Meade Imperial Stout “Black Belle” Finish – Bold and hoppy, notes of peanut butter, tons of fun. A
Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye
– Soothing menthol notes, but a little mushroomy funk. B+
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 2
– Wheated. Silky but rustic at times, with ample spice. A-
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 3
– High-rye. Youthful, some vegetal notes peeking through, showing promise. B+
Old Forester Statesman
– Special bottling for that Kingsman movie last year. Big chocolate notes dominate, with vanilla and clove. Classic Kentucky. B+
Amador Double Barrel Bourbon
– Quite sweet, with candied pecan notes, vanilla finish. A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Czar
– A burly whiskey made from imperial stout. Lots of smoke here, which would be fine but for the very green character. Overly malty and unbalanced. B-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Frambooze
– Racy berry notes in this whiskey, which is distilled from raspberry ale, plus notes of walnuts and dark chocolate. Lots of fun. A-
High West Bourye (2018)
– A classic whiskey, gorgeous with deep vanilla, spice, and chocolate notes. A
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4
– The deep raisin profile remains a classic, showcasing both power and grace. A-
Do Good Distillery California Bourbon
– Very rustic, gritty with pepper and raw grain. C+
Do Good Distillery Cherrywood Smoked Whiskey
– Pungent, mainly showcasing pet food notes. D
Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old
– Absolutely massive, with notes of minerals, orange marmalade, creme brulee, and milk chocolate. A-
Widow Jane Rye Oak & Apple Wood
– Youthful, the apple really shows itself. B
Alley 6 Single Malt Whiskey 
– Rustic, pungent, but showing promise. B
Alley 6 Rye Whiskey
– Pretty, quite floral. A-
Mosswood Corbeaux Barrel Bourbon 6 Years Old – A private bottling for a SF retailer; a rustic style whiskey. B
Mosswood Sour Ale Barrel
– An old favorite, gorgeous with apple spices and a delightful, deft balance. A

Japanese

Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt – A young malt, gentle but simple, florals and biscuits. B+
Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt 8 Years Old – Surprisingly a bit thin, though more well-rounded. B
Fukano 12 Years Old
– Heavy greenery notes, drinking overblown tonight. B

Other Stuff

Alley 6 86’d Candy Cap Bitters – Insane mushroom intensity, really beautiful stuff. A
Mosswood Night Rum Scotch Barrel
– This is a rum, finished in Ardbeg whisky barrels. What!? The combination of sweet and smoke is almost impossible to describe; working on a sample to paint a bigger picture of this madness. A-
Mosswood Sherry Barrel Irish Whiskey
– A 3 year old Cooley Irish, sherry finished in the U.S. Fairly classic. A-
Amrut Double Cask
– Port finished Amrut from India; peat overpowers the sweetness it wants to show off. B

Highlights from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2018

As the winter starts to thaw, a young man’s fancy turns to cheese. What could be better than an evening at the California Artisan Cheese Festival, particularly The Best Bite event, where cheese-centric foods are paraded alongside some of Marin and Sonoma County’s best beers, wines, and ciders.

This year’s event had plenty to enjoy, as always, and guests had to practically be rolled out at the end of the evening. Picking favorites was tough, though attendees are explicitly asked to vote for winning bites, with prizes awarded to cheesemakers and chefs. Some of my favorites included a concoction of Foggy Morning cheese with salmon and potato pancakes from Market Hall Foods Oakland, a pork belly pastrami on rye toast from Sonoma classic The Girl and the Fig, and Chef Jodie Rubin’s Moonside Creamery Starlight Blue on crostini with maitake mushrooms and crispy kale.

If I had to pick just one (straight, unadulterated) cheese to eat, it’d be Point Reyes’ Bay Blue, the creamiest but most flavor-packed blue cheese I think I’ve ever had.

As for the drink, some old favorites were out in force with new brews, including Lagunitas Brewing’s Sumpin’ Easy (a session version of Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’), and a Hazy IPA from Sierra Nevada. Seismic, North Coast, and Bear Republic all attended with classics well worth sipping on. As for wine, Fogline’s pinot noir remained my hands-down favorite in a field that saw more than its share of odd wines being served, such as Portuguese varietals being poured by the Monterey-based Pierce Ranch Vineyards.

I came hungry and thirsty, and left a happy, happy man. If you’re in the Marin/Sonoma area this time of the year come 2019, I highly recommend you join me at the event.

Early Bird Tickets Still Available for WhiskyFest DC, April 17

With the popularity of whisky showing no signs of letting up, the number of whisky festivals also continues to grow. Some of these are worth the price of admission while too many others are oversold and underperform on the quality of offerings. At the end of the day, how much moonshine or honey/apple/cinnamon-flavored whisky do you really want to try? Now in its 21st year (yes, the festival can legally attend itself!), WhiskyFest remains a great way to sample the largest variety of some of the best whiskies from around the world. Plus, it’s a great venue to meet other spirits enthusiasts and speak with some of the industry’s biggest names.

For only the third year, WhiskyFest will make a stop on April 17th at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C., a town perpetually in need of a stiff drink. The pour list for the festival is impressive and gets longer by the day (while everyone else is waiting in line for last year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, I for one will be having some Laphroaig 30 Year with a side of Parker’s Heritage.) WhiskyFest seminars are also some of the most interesting of any spirits festival with some of the best industry names on hand to help you embrace your inner whisky geek. I’m particularly looking forward to making my own Elijah Craig blend with Heaven Hill Master Distiller Denny Potter and Brand Ambassador Bernie Lubbers. Denny has a real knack for explaining the unique aspects of distilling to even the most scientifically-challenged (and somewhat inebriated) audiences. And Bernie has a bottled-in-bond tattoo covering his entire right arm, so you know he takes his bourbon seriously.

Tickets for WhiskyFest DC are still on sale at Early Bird pricing! The VIP ticket provides an additional hour of sampling where you can discover some true unicorns; most exhibitors showcase a special bottle (sometimes literally just one) only for that hour. It makes an already expensive ticket even pricier, but you can make your money back with just a few of these ultra rare pours. Whether you splurge for the VIP hour or not, it’s a big show with a lot of great bottles so have a plan, and please don’t waste all of your time in the line for Pappy Van Winkle! See you there!

Get 20% Off at WhiskyLIVE DC 2018, March 2

I said this in 2017 (it’s maybe even truer a year later), but I’m pretty sure anyone within a 100-mile radius of the White House could use a drink or seven right about now. Why not join me, and hundreds of other DC-area whisk(e)y fans, at WhiskyLIVE DC this Friday, March 2?

This annual, internationally renowned whiskey tasting event will take place in our nation’s capital at the Fairmont Hotel in Georgetown, 2401 M St. NW, on March 2 from 6:00 to 9:30 PM. The show continues a 15 year tradition of sharing unlimited samples of hundreds of the world’s best whiskeys, along with the stories behind them as told by master distillers, brand ambassadors, and industry experts. They’ll be pouring internationally recognized brands such as Michter’s, Elijah Craig, Russell’s Reserve, Glenmorangie, Talisker, Yamazaki, and Highland Park along with dozens of spirits from craft distilleries, including Barrell Craft Spirits, Westland Distillery, WhistlePig and the region’s own Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. Products from non-traditional whiskey producing countries like India, Spain, and Australia will also be available for sipping. If straight whiskey isn’t quite your thing (or your date’s), the legendary Jack Rose Dining Saloon will be on hand to pour their favorite whiskey-inspired cocktails.

As with previous years, WhiskyLIVE is not just a chance to drink a lot of different whiskey. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about a lot of different whiskey with some of the industry’s most well known distillers, brand ambassadors, and journalists. For those looking to really brush up on their whiskey knowledge, you can attend an hour-long master class on non-age statement whiskeys or an hour-long guided tasting of select single malts from around the world.

Use promo code WLDC20 for 20% off WhiskyLIVE DC tickets (only valid on new purchases through the website link above)! I think I just gave you an excuse to splurge on the VIP ticket. See you there!

Get 25% Off at Saturday’s Whisky LIVE DC 2017

I’m pretty sure anyone within a 100-mile radius of the White House could use a drink or seven right about now. Why not join me and hundreds of other DC-area whiskey fans at Whisky LIVE DC this Saturday, March 11?

This annual, internationally renowned whisky tasting event will take place in our nation’s capital at the Grand Hyatt Washington, 1000 H St. NW, on March 11 from 5:30 to 9:30. The show continues a decade-plus tradition of sharing unlimted samples of 200 of the world’s best whiskies, along with the stories behind them as told by master distillers, brand ambassadors and industry experts. They’ll be pouring internationally recognized brands such as Dalwhinnie, Glenmorangie, Elijah Craig, Oban, Talisker, Yamazaki, Russell’s Reserve, and Lagavulin along with dozens of spirits from boutique distilleries, including Few Spirits, Sonoma County Distilling, Usquaebach and the region’s own Catoctin Creek and Virginia Distillery Company. Products from non-traditional whisky producing countries like India and Spain will also be on display. If straight whiskey isn’t quite your thing, several area bars, including Service Bar and the legendary Jack Rose Dining Saloon, will be making whiskey cocktails. A bourbon-infused dinner buffet and live entertainment will also be provided.

It’s not just a chance to drink a lot of different whiskey though, folks. It’s also a great opportunity to talk about a lot of different whiskey, and Whisky LIVE DC has some pretty impressive conversationalists on hand including some of your favorite whiskey writers and critics such as Lew Bryson, Michael Dietsch, Carlo DeVito, Fred Minnick, Heather Greene, and Phillip Greene. For those looking to really brush up on their whiskey knowledge, you can also choose to attend an hour-long tutored tasting guided by international whiskies experts, ambassadors, and master distillers. But if you really want to nerd out on whiskey, I suggest joining Jane Bowie, Maker’s Mark Tasting Manager and Manager of the Maker’s Select Program, as she discusses how to create a perfect version of Maker’s Mark using their five proprietary staves. I personally attended this seminar at the Bourbon Affair last year, and it was fantastic. It will be the first time this experience has been available outside Kentucky, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it included a tasting of the rare Maker’s Mark Private Select!

Use promo code WLDC25 for 25% off Whisky LIVE DC tickets (only valid on new purchases through this link). I think I just gave you an excuse to splurge on the VIP ticket! See you there! Say hi!

Happy 9th Birthday to Drinkhacker!

Wow, I almost missed it — we’re nine years old, today!

Thanks to all our fans and readers for keeping Drinkhacker going strong for all this time — we’re gunning to publish our 5000th post before our 10th birthday next year, and I’m hoping to come up with some amazing giveaways for you guys for being such loyal fans.

IF we were going to give away something boozy and cool, what would you want it to be? And don’t say Pappy.

WhiskyFest San Francisco Approaches: September 23

We’re just three weeks away from WhiskyFest San Francisco and it’s shaping up to have one of the best pour lists in years. Get your ticket now before they’re all gone!

WhiskyFest™ Returns to San Francisco for its 10th Annual Event

Whisky Advocate magazine is pleased to celebrate WhiskyFest’s 10th Annual event in San Francisco.

This year’s event will feature more than 375 whiskies for sampling, as well as brandy, tequila, rum, stout, and even a red wine blend that was aged in bourbon barrels. Scotch, Canadian, Irish, South African, Welsh, American, Indian, Taiwanese, and Japanese whiskies will all be well represented. The full pouring list is on our web site: http://whiskyadvocate.com/events/whiskyfest-san-francisco/whiskyfest-san-francisco-whisky-list/

There will also be 12 seminars, with tastings of their own, during the event, each is 45 minutes in length. The seminars will be presented by distillery managers, master blenders, master distillers, and well-versed brand ambassadors. The seminar schedule can be found here: http://whiskyadvocate.com/events/whiskyfest-san-francisco/whiskyfest-san-francisco-seminars/

Don’t miss out! Join in the fun, and plan to attend one of the greatest nights of the year for whisk(e)y lovers on September 23 at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. Tickets are still available, but they are very limited. Buy yours today: http://whiskyadvocatemagazine.com/whiskyfest-tickets/tickets-2016.html

Highlights from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2016

Recently I had the good fortune to attend one of the most entertaining events in this business: Petaluma’s annual “California Cheesin'” event, part of the annual California Artisan Cheese Festival, now in its 10th year.

This highlight offers regional (northern California) restaurants plus purveyors of wine, beer, and cider — and let’s you go to town on dozens of cheese-inspired small bites. Some two dozen restaurants and cheesemakers were on hand this evening along with another 20 or so beverage companies. The idea: Taste through everything and pronounce a winner amongst the restaurants at the end of the night, following the visitors’ votes. (Beverage companies don’t get prizes, sadly.)

My favorite bites came from Carneros Bistro, whose Red Hawk arancini are perennial festival winners; The Girl and The Fig’s ricotta sorbet mini-cones; and Rustic at Francis Ford Coppola Winery’s asparagus and morel risotto. But the restaurant that got my vote was from a food truck outfit called Croques & Toques, whose truffled cheese croquette as a delightfully sharp and savory dish. (Though one other voter wondered whether it was cheating to use truffles!)

On the wine and beer side, a number of standouts: Estate 1856’s Petit Verdot was fragrant and lively; Goldschmidt Vineyards Fidelity Zinfandel was racy with green olive overtones; and the soft Pinot Noir from Fogline Vineyards was an easy sipper. Favorite wine, however, had to go to Pennyroyal Farm and its lightly earthy Pinot Noir — I’ve passed this place many times en route to Mendocino and never even knew they produced wine at all.

Best beer: Lagunitas Equinox, a pale oat ale, offering the best of two distinctly different worlds of brewing.

As always, it was a fantastic event on a beautiful evening in Petaluma. I look forward to checking it out again in 2017!

Win Free VIP Tickets to the SF Craft Spirits Carnival!

carnival

What’s the best kind of carnival? A CRAFT SPIRITS CARNIVAL, that’s what!

People, we’ve got a huge treat for you — two pairs of VIP tickets to the San Francisco Craft Spirits Carnival this Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Tickets are good for both the wine and spirits portion of the show, but only on Sunday.)

The event takes place all weekend at Fort Mason. All told, this is $600 worth of tickets that we’re giving out!

All you have to do to register to win is like our Facebook page and leave a response for us (any response) on this post. We’ll pick two winners at random — each winner will get two tickets — and have the carnies themselves contact you for delivery. Winners will be selected on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Please only enter if you can legitimately attend.

Please please please check out the SF Craft Spirits Carnival website, and visit this page to buy tickets for Saturday or Sunday. You can go to just the spirits side of things, or do both spirits and wine. Wish I was going to be there! Have fun, you guys!

The fine print: Contests and giveaways are open only to readers age 21 and up with a U.S. mailing address. One prize per person per giveaway. We reserve the right to cancel any giveaway at our sole discretion. We are not responsible for lost, misdirected, or late entries. Not open to employees/contributors or immediate family members of Drinkhacker or Null Media employees/contributors, its affiliates, or advertising/promotion agencies and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees, and agents. This offer is void wherever prohibited or restricted by national, state, or any governmental laws. We are not responsible for late, lost, or damaged prize packages. We do not use your mailing address for any other purpose than sending prizes; addresses are not kept on file. One entry per contestant — your entry is good for the length of each giveaway. Duplicate entries will disqualify the entrant.

Upcoming: West of West Wine Festival

One of the most exciting regions in California wine is the rugged Sonoma coast, an area that overlooks the ocean and is blasted with frigid breezes… and where some of the best syrah, pinot noir, and chardonnay can be found growing. Major wine world names like DuMol, Peay, Flowers, and Evening Land call this region home — and they’ve got their own wine festival, too.

West of West is a traveling show that visits Chicago and New York, but also makes time for a stop right here in the Bay Area. The Sebastapol show arrives on the weekend of July 31-August 2, 2015, and tickets are now on sale for a weekend of seminars, fine dining, and — of course — wine tasting.

“All Access” weekend passes run $595, but tickets to the grand tastings (one each on Saturday and Sunday) can be purchased for as little as $100. If you’re a fan of these wines, don’t miss it!

westsonomacoast.com

Tastes from the California Artisan Cheese Festival 2015

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Cheese and wine (and beer) go hand in hand (in hand), so putting these together on a balmy March evening in Petaluma, California, made perfect sense to me. Recently I attended the California Artisan Cheese Festival‘s “Chef vs. Chef – The Best Bite” competition, where about 20 restaurants vied to woo the public each offering a dish created using a regional cheese. Just about everything cheesy was here, from simple cheese-on-cracker presentations to a homey presentation of beef cheek barbacoa with Cowgirl Creamery Wagon Wheel arepas. Cheesecake bites nestled in beside lobster poutine and salmon-goat cheese flatbreads.

What however to make of the elaborate ricotta, strawberry, and chocolate dessert… topped with crispy little fish? I can still taste this one, weeks later…

021My favorite nibble of the night had to go to John Ash & Co., which produced a delightful item: Willapa Hills mac ‘n’ cheese and Hobbs’ bacon stuffed inside a homemade pretzel roll with Willapa Hills Lilly Pad cheese sauce. Decadent? You better believe it. But inventive and delicious, too.

My top sips were from Bucher Winery (two great pinot noirs), Paul Mathew Vineyards (another pinot), and Sonoma Portworks in the wine world. As well, two beers stood out: Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Baeltane Brewing’s Saison.

Fun times all around! I look forward to checking it out again in 2016.

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