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WhiskyFest New York 2012

So there we were, 9:15 a.m. on the first Seminar Saturday at WhiskyFest New York 2012, looking at Whisky Advocate auction expert Jonny McCormick and a panel of Scotch whisky luminaries up on stage…while the staff at the Marriott Marquis Times Square poured hundreds of tastes of Glenmorangie 1963, The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1983 Vintage, The Balvenie Islay Cask, Brora 30 Year Old, and Gold Bowmore. Not a bad way to start the day!

WhiskyFest New York 2012 was a celebration of fifteen years of the world’s first whisky festival to feature the people who actually make the spirit: the master distillers and blenders. To mark the anniversary, the festival was expanded from a one evening show to two evenings of the grand tasting event, with an additional six hours of master class-level seminars during the day between. One attendee called Seminar Saturday “the high point of my whisky life to date.”

“After fifteen years of WhiskyFest New York events, all sell-outs,” said Whisky Advocate publisher and editor John Hansell, “we felt that it was time to expand the event to an entire weekend.” The expansion included the extra night of tasting, a total of 339 whiskies (plus a few other top-notch spirits and beers), and the day of seminars, all featuring whiskies from around the world.

Friday night’s grand tasting boasted more producer booths than ever before, pouring Scotch, bourbon, rye, Canadian, Irish, and Japanese whiskies. Craft distillers from France, Tasmania, India, Sweden, and America were also well-represented. “I learned a lot about whisky that I never thought I needed to know,” said attendee Patty Merritt, “and now have a few favorites—thanks to the fest!”

That opening seminar was “Whisky Collecting and Auctions.” Jonny McCormick had done some number-crunching and let attendees know that if they’d bought a bottle of each whisky they’d just tasted, it would have set them back about $10,000. “We’ve just poured over $100,000 worth of whisky in 45 minutes,” he announced at the seminar’s end.

Bowmore’s master of malts, Iain McCallum, brought it into perspective, noting that, “Yes, it’s collectible; yes, it’s investable; but it’s whisky. It’s a luxury product: enjoy it.” The following seminars—on the latest trends in Scottish, Irish, and American whiskeys—emphasized that enjoyment, noting how distillers were creating new spirits that were both delicious and innovative. Each seminar was a discussion hosted by one of Whisky Advocate’s top writers, questioning a panel of industry luminaries: esteemed distillers, experienced master blenders, and the rising stars of the whisky business.

Photo credit: Joan McGinley

Attendees also tasted three special debut whiskies. The first was a limited edition “New York Blend” of Compass Box’s Great King Street, presented by company founder John Glaser. “As a whisky maker, as a blender, which I am, this is the fun stuff,” he said. “This is what I live for.” It was made even more special when cocktail historian David Wondrich and his team of mixologists used the whisky to make hundreds of fresh Morning Glory Fizzes; a wonderfully reviving whisky cocktail.
Two other debut whiskies came from the A. Smith Bowman and Midleton distilleries. Bowman distiller Truman Cox said he enjoyed making his Virginia port-finished bourbon specifically for WhiskyFest New York: “It was fun, local, collaborative, and it tastes great.” Legendary Midleton distiller Barry Crockett fell ill (he’s recovering nicely), so distillery representative Patrick Caulfield ably stood in for him, presenting the U.S. debut of Barry Crockett Legacy.

Photo credit: Ivan Navarro

There was a break midday for a Lagavulin lunch with four of the Islay distillery’s whiskies affably presented by Diageo’s head of whisky outreach, Dr. Nick Morgan. The daytime session wound up with a writers’ panel presenting six of the most recent Whisky Advocate Award-winning whiskies, and the writers’ reasons for their selection. The warmed-up crowd had fun with the animated and passionate panel, then left the room for a few hours’ rest before the Saturday grand tasting.

Saturday night’s grand tasting—hosted and poured by the same people who had worked Friday night (and some during the seminars as well)—was, if anything, up a notch on energy from the night before, an excited group on both sides of the tasting tables. Distillers repeatedly noted that once again, the attendees’ level of experience and enjoyment had set new heights.

Distillers rubbed elbows with drinkers, laughter rang through the room, and there was a lot of appreciative nodding going on as new whiskies were tasted. The Broadway Ballroom was loud, happy, and filled with the stars of the industry. As Jason Johnstone-Yellin of Single Cask Nation—an exhibitor at the tasting sessions, but just another happy guest at the seminars—put it, “WhiskyFest NYC is a whisky rock show!”

Photographs by Michael Gross, except where noted.

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