Bay Area whisky lovers had a very good weekend: on Friday, October 6th, WhiskyFest San Francisco brought hundreds of whiskies from around the world to San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis.
As usual, eager bourbon lovers flocked to the Old Rip Van Winkle table early on, where Julian and Preston Van Winkle were personally serving up Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old and 12 year old, as well as the Pappy Van Winkle 15 and 20 year old bourbons. (VIP ticket holders got a chance to try the elusive Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old.) The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection also drew a crowd, as did Elijah Craig 18 year old and 23 year old, poured by Heaven Hill master distiller Denny Potter himself. And three generations of Russells—Jimmy, Eddie, and Bruce—showed off Wild Turkey’s best pours.
Numerous scotch tables offered a huge variety of styles and selections. Peatheads enjoyed the brand new Ardbeg An Oa, as well as Lagavulin 16 year old, Ledaig 18 year old, Bruichladdich Octomore, and a huge array of selections from Laphroaig. Macallan poured its exclusive Rare Cask expression all night, as well as the new Edition No. 3 for VIPs. Some lesser-known distilleries pulled out all the stops to show whisky drinkers what they could do, and newly minted fans raved about Deanston 20 year old and Benromach 35 year old.
A slew of new releases made their WhiskyFest debut at San Francisco, including Highland Park Magnus and Full Volume (for VIPs), Speyburn 15 year old, Kentucky Peerless straight rye, Yellowstone Limited Edition 2017 bourbon, and Stranahan’s Sherry Cask. WhistlePig master distiller Dave Pickerell was also on hand to pour the Vermont distillery’s new Boss Hog: The Black Prince rye. And for those curious about how whisky is made, Sazerac introduced what will someday be its first Tennessee whiskey brand. Distiller Allisa Henley was on hand to pour the as-yet-unnamed distillery’s new-make spirit before and after charcoal filtering, as well as a whiskey fresh out of the barrel after just a few months. It’s a promising start.
Irish whiskey lovers enjoyed offerings from Redbreast, West Cork, Teeling, Bushmills, and Jameson, while fans of world whiskies geeked out over offerings from Yamazaki and Nikka in Japan, Kavalan from Taiwan, and Brenne from France. Craft lovers enjoyed whiskeys from an array of far-flung distilleries like FEW Spirits of Illinois, New Holland of Michigan, Westland from Seattle, and hometown hero Sonoma County Distilling Co., which poured a range of locally made bourbons and ryes—as well as a unique rye infused with black truffles during VIP hour.
San Francisco is a highly educated city, so it’s no surprise that the seminars at WhiskyFest were a big hit. Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe guided eager bourbon lovers through a tasting that included the acclaimed Booker’s rye and the brand new Basil Hayden’s Dark rye, while Denny Potter led a hands-on seminar that taught fans how to blend their own version of Elijah Craig Small Batch. Dr. Bill Lumsden did double duty, hosting one seminar to introduce Ardbeg An Oa and another on Glenmorangie and the art of finishing whiskies. Dr. Don Livermore introduced his new Canadian whisky flavor wheel, while Westland’s Matt Hofmann made a case for the new category of American single malt whiskey.
It was an extremely satisfying evening for whisky lovers, but if you’re on the East Coast, don’t feel too bad about missing out—WhiskyFest New York is less than a month away, and tickets are still available.