On November 16, WhiskyFest New York celebrated two decades with two floors’ worth of scotch, bourbon, Irish whiskey, and more. The year’s most exciting whiskies were represented as well, with many of Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Top 20 available to taste. Among them was Whisky of the Year Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, which had just been announced that day, master distiller Denny Potter himself pouring it at the Heaven Hill table. For the thousands in attendance, WhiskyFest offered much to learn, taste, and come back for.
With whisky flowing, a tour of both floors provided a tour of the world as well. Distillers from as far afield as Taiwan, Japan and England poured alongside their Scottish, Irish, Canadian, and American brethren. Kavalan featured a range of its single malts, while Suntory brought out the big guns with Yamazaki 18 year old and Hibiki 17 year old, and also offered Toki Highballs on tap. England’s Cotswolds Distillery made its American debut with its barely-legal single malt, as well as its gin.
For bourbon, the Van Winkle table drew a steady crowd, with a literal velvet rope to keep the long line in order. Elsewhere, the Russell family—Jimmy, Eddie, Bruce, and Joann—was pouring a slew of Wild Turkey expressions, as well as their eponymous Russell’s Reserve bourbon and rye. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades, Whisky Advocate’s number three whisky of the year, was consumed in short order proving that WhiskyFest attendees know what’s good. And Heaven Hill’s table was consistently busy, with many people bypassing Elijah Craig 18 year old and 23 year old for the Barrel Proof.
Craft distillers were well-represented too, with many personally pouring their whiskeys, including Paul Hletko of FEW Spirits, Rob Dietrich of Stranahan’s, and Dave Pickerell of WhistlePig and Hillrock. Christopher Williams of Coppersea and Jared Himstedt of Balcones made their WhiskyFest debuts.
Not to be outdone, the Scots showed up in force. Simon Brooking, master ambassador with Laphroaig, pulled special bottles out of his famous green wellies. Meanwhile, Malcolm Waring, head distiller at Old Pulteney, donned his kilt for a rare New York appearance. Ardbeg and Jura both paired their single malts with a virtual reality experience, and all attendees were treated to a performance by New York Shields Pipes & Drums.
The evening’s seminars filled up quickly as eager pupils flocked to whisky class. Glenmorangie poured a number of rare single malts in its masterclass, including a comparison of its 2017 Astar, Whisky Advocate’s number 2 whisky of the year, to the original release from 2008. After the news about Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, attendees packed the room for “Make Your Own Elijah Craig Small Batch” with Denny Potter. And Fred and Freddie Noe of Jim Beam lead a deconstructed tasting of Freddie’s new whiskey, Little Book “The Easy”—number 11 in Whisky Advocate’s Top 20.
Though that’s a wrap on WhiskyFest for 2017, set your sights on next year’s events—tickets are already available for Chicago (March 23, 2018), Washington, D.C. (April 17, 2018), San Francisco (Nov. 2, 2018), and New York (Dec. 4, 2018). The fun kicks back off again March 23 in Chicago.