I’ve spent the past week at a cocktail convention and would like to share a bit about what I’ve tasted and learned. First off, Tales of the Cocktail is a cocktail festival held in New Orleans that brings spirits professionals, bartenders, and enthusiasts from around the world to discuss, showcase, and educate what is happening in the spirits and bartending communities. Cocktails, obviously, are sampled and examined, but highlighting the spirits themselves which are the building blocks of a great cocktail was my focus. Of course, this meant I sought out all things whisk(e)y.
Seminars that fell under the whisky umbrella were :
“A Barrel Love Affair”. This was an in depth discussion of the interaction of wood and spirits, and why we use oak in the first place. The panel included Brad Boswell, President and 4th generation cooper of the Independent Stave Co.; Jose “Pepe” Hermosillo, founding partner of Casa Noble tequila; Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador for Ardmore and Laphroaig single malt whiskies; and Chip Tate, founder and distiller of Balcones Distilling Co. We also had the opportunity to taste new make, barrel proof Laphroaig and new make Balcones single malt and compare them with their aged bottlings. The seminar was incredibly informative and we all got to geek out on the beauty of the barrel and how much we owe to it for the flavor of our favorite types of spirits.
In “Worm Tub Tales: Deep Diving Into Malt”, Dave Broom, whisky writer and educator, led a discussion involving single malt distilleries that still utilize the worm tub (wooden vessels that contain a coiled copper tube filled with cold water used to condense alcohol vapor into back into liquid form). We tasted prototype whiskies that will never see the market from Macduff, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, and Aultmore. What a treat!
“The Blind Truth About Aging Whisky” was a seminar in which we tasted whiskies blind while discussing wood aging, particularly with regards to rejuvenated barrels. Again on the panel was Dave Broom; Ewan Morgan, whisky educator for Diageo; Dr. Nicolas Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach for Diageo; and Gregor Cattanach, National Master of Whisky for DIageo North America. A flavor graph (hey, we know something about that!) was used to place the whiskies on a grid depending on how delicate, smoky, rich, and light the whiskies were and then marked how fruity, herbal, spicy they were. Whiskies sampled included Haig Club Single Grain Whisky, Caol Ila Moch Single Malt, Dufftown 4 Year Single Malt, Talisker 57 North, and Cardhu Sherry Butt 30 Year Single Malt.
There were many Tasting Rooms where I had the chance to taste a host of new products. Some of highlights include:
Girvan, a single grain whiskey that is finally being bottled by William Grant & Sons instead of just being used for their blended whiskies. There are three products: Patent Still No 4 Apps, Patent Still 25 year, and a Patent Still 30 year. All should be hitting the US market in September of this year.
Westland Distillery in Seattle have released some single barrel bottlings. I got to taste 4 different casks, two peated and two unpeated. Some use different yeast strains, some play with different wine barrel finishes, the proof varies, and char levels vary. All are unique and wonderful; a trip to their distillery is the best way to get to try and buy as quantities are very limited. The estimated retail price ranges from $70-75.
I also tried a couple of blended malt whiskies from Berry Bros & Rudd called Blue Hanger - their 7th and 10th Limited Releases. The moniker comes from a gentleman named William Hanger, the 3rd Lord Coleraine. He was an esteemed customer of Berry Bros. & Rudd during the late 18th century and was well-known for the remarkable blue clothes he wore. Thus, he was referred to as “Blue Hanger”.
Crown Royal has released a new product celebrating the 75th anniversary of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s inaugural visit to Canada. The bottling, Crown Royal Monarch, will retail for around $50 and is quite a value. The makeup of the whisky is similar to the signature Crown Royal Deluxe bottling, but has a higher percentage of rye.
Heaven Hill is about to release the latest Parker’s Heritage bottling; this time they are focusing on wheat, with Parker’s Wheat Whiskey - a 13 year old whiskey. Think of this as the older, bolder brother of the Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. It uses the oldest stock of Bernheim available and is bottled at 67.5% abv. This will retail for around $90.
I also had a chance to hit many of the local bars, but one that was a standout was Barrel Proof NOLA, located in the Lower Garden District. Amanda, one of our fellow tasting table experts, and I kicked back one afternoon and geeked out on the selection and curation of their whisk(e)y list. Tullibardine Aged Oak, Black Maple Hill Rye, Old Grand Dad 80 proof, and Old Charter 8 Year were some of what we sampled. Reviews will, of course, be forthcoming.
In her own words - “Attending a cocktail convention in New Orleans in the middle of summer is a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”