WhiskyFest New York 2013 is over and done, and it sure left some great memories behind. There were great whiskies, the top figures in the industry, and a lot of very happy whisky drinkers. Some of them were lucky — or smart — enough to taste some extra special drams.
Ask the average WhiskyFest New York attendee why they go, and you’ll get answers like, “To try new whiskies,” or “to compare a lot of different whiskies.” Ask the average Whisky Advocate Blog reader why they go…and you’ll likely get an answer more along the lines of “To try the stuff I can’t find at the store.” You can buy a VIP ticket to get some of the special ones, or you can buy a ticket to the Day of Seminars.
This year’s VIP ticket got you the chance to try whiskies like Macallan 18 year old, Highland Park Loki, Glenrothes Vintage 1988, Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 year old, Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch #9, Glenfiddich Malt Master, Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, Distiller’s Editions from Lagavulin and Oban, Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, Aberlour a’bunadh, Glenlivet 21 year old, Danfield’s 10 and 21 year old, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength, George T. Stagg… Pre-fest planning is always a good idea, but plans often fell apart when folks saw the other great whiskies available; there were over 375 this time.
To get the really special stuff, the crazy rare stuff, you had to go to the Day of Seminars. The first two seminars were the kind of whisky amazement that just leaves you grinning, breathless, amazed. As we did last year, the first servings were rare whiskies. Dr. Nick Morgan of Diageo presented a Glenury Royal 23 year old, with a delightful short history of the demolished distillery. William Grant global ambassador Sam Simmons talked to us about a 23 year old Kininvie, distilled the very first day of operations at this rarely seen-as-single-malt distillery. Buffalo Trace head chemist Chris Fletcher led attendees on a tasting of the first bottling (done back in 2000) of Sazerac 18 year old rye. We wound up with a tasting of Stitzel-Weller bourbon — really, distilled in the final days of the distillery — and a comparison bottling of Bernheim, presented by Diageo’s Ewan Morgan.
For a break, attendees got to hear whiskey legend Jimmy Russell talking about his 59 years at Wild Turkey; some stories, some insights, and a few laughs. But even that came with a rare whiskey; a 12 year old, 49.5% bottling that was actually not the one he’d intended to sample! It was, naturally, a delicious bourbon; Jimmy Russell made it.
The second seminar wasn’t just rare, it was unique. We called it “12 in all the world,” and it presented four whiskies, selected and bottled specially for this event; the only twelve bottles of them in existence. Gerry Tosh sampled us on a 1968 Highland Park, vatted from four American oak sherry casks. Ann Miller led us on a tasting of a 21 year old cask strength, single cask Aberlour. Malt Master David Stewart brought us Balvenie “Offspring,” a blended malt pulled from three casks laid down in the birth years of his three children! Finally, Dr. Bill Lumsden presented a 1973 Ardbeg, aged in a bourbon cask. Four amazing whiskies, which you simply could not taste anywhere else in the world.
It was hardly downhill from there. We tasted Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2013 with living legend Jim McEwan, and sampled whisky and fine chocolate with John Glaser (Compass Box), Richard Paterson (Dalmore), and Dr. Bill Lumsden again (Glenmorangie this time), along with Ryan Cheney of Raaka Chocolate, and famed chef Daniel Boulud. Then we had a four-Talisker lunch with Dave Broom and Dr. Nick Morgan, including a rare taste of Talisker unaged spirit, followed by a panel on whisky trends, including Blue Hanger, Taketsuru Pure Malt 21 year old, Anchor Hotaling’s, and a Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection bottling (extra-seasoned staves).
Before we got to the final seminar of the day, the tasting of seven Whisky Advocate Award-winning whiskies led by the writers who’d chosen them, we had one more very special whiskey legend to honor. Heaven Hill master distiller emeritus Parker Beam came up, with his son, Craig, and joined Whisky Advocate publisher John Hansell on the stage. Parker, who has been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, has been bravely doing everything he can to raise awareness and money for research for the disease. He didn’t say a word this day, and John could barely speak himself.
Fellow Kentucky icons Jim Rutledge, Jimmy Russell, and Fred Noe joined them on stage for a toast with Master Distillers’ Unity, a bourbon blended by Parker and his son Craig from whiskeys from all seven major Kentucky distillers. This was the only public tasting of the bourbon (the only other two bottles were auctioned for $8,500 at Bonhams the next day, with all proceeds going to ALS research). It was a deeply emotional moment as everyone drank a toast to Parker Beam and his legacy of good bourbon and personal courage.
It was two great days of whiskies. For those two days, it was the best place in the world for a whisky lover to be.