The Travels of Whisky Intelligence
The planning to attend Whisky Fest ’10 in San Francisco commenced months and months ago with the on-line purchase of VIP tickets and the first surprise; tickets you printed on your own home printer. The Post Master General must be looking over his shoulder at the grim vision of vendor and customer making a joint motion of their collective hands sweeping the Postal Service into the dust bin of history. With Whisky Fest tickets safely in hand airline tickets were quickly booked and a phone call to the Marriott dealt with our accommodation.
Time to wait, damnit.
Fast forward to October 7th and we’re off to the airport for a painless hour and 40 minute direct flight into SFO; little turbulence and clear skies along the route, no problems with US Customs and Border Protection. Not a single question about the two bottles of Ardbeg for Tim Puett of the Ardbeg Project fame http://www.ardbegproject.com/ (however well within the duty allowance so no need for anybody to go all wobbly).
Two taxis later with a quick check in and pit stop at the Marriott and we’re in Elixir Lounge http://www.elixirsf.com/ meeting up with John Hansell, Amy Westlake and Joan McGinley (the producers of Whisky Fest) for a dram and a chat. Moments later in walks Lincoln and Wes Henderson proudly showing off their new project, Angels Envy http://www.angelsenvy.com/ Everybody eagerly crowded around to take in the design of the bottle and for a quick nose and taste of the whisky (the first brief impression is that it’s very nice but this is hardly a shock now is it?). After the dust settled there was a chance to share a drink with Lincoln and have a chat about whisky, politics and the state of the country. As usual with any whisky festival events, formal or informal, it’s always mildly hectic and never a complete opportunity to chat with everybody at length.
Along with meeting John, Amy and Joan there was also a chance to chat with William Smith of Treasure Island Distilling http://www.sfvodka.com/ DG Blackburn of the American Distilling Institute http://www.distilling.com/ and Mahesh Patel of Universal Whisky Experience http://universalwhiskyexperience.com/ (who is producing the first ultra luxurious whisky show in Wynn Resort in Las Vegas March 18-19th 2011). Hmmmm…another trip in the works for the Whisky Intelligence team?
At 6:30PM you could sense the agitation in the bar, hasty good byes and the Malt Advocate team went off for dinner and the remainder of us simultaneously found out that we were all going to the same Ardbeg tasting at The Barber Lounge http://www.barberlounge.com/ on Folsom Street. A hasty sorting of who was in which vehicle and we were off to the next event arriving with a few minutes to spare. As we stood in the line up we had the opportunity to look at the Ardbeg choppers. Nice, but they were green and black. Nobody was giving up their place in line to take a closer look however; after all we’re here for WHISKY. Lincoln Henderson did manage, without too much effort, to sweet talk his way onto the guest list much to our collective amusement.
At 7PM we were efficiently checked off the guest list and then up the stairs to the second floor where the lounge is located. Of course, it’s not a lounge but a barber shop nicely laid out with various Ardbeg at three stations the length of the venue. At the front of the lounge was a table groaning with appetizers and tucked in a corner half way to the back of the building was another table with lots of bottled water (water is critical to these events; you must stay hydrated).
To add to the whole atmosphere there were three barbers offering hot shaves and a masseuse offering neck massages.
Rachel Barrie, whisky maker for Glenmorangie & Ardbeg was also present. She was very approachable and willing to enthusiastically chat at length about all aspects of her job. She is naturally and deservedly proud of the various Ardbeg that she has created. AND she reads Whisky Intelligence! On hand for our sampling pleasure were Ardbeg 10, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Ardbeg Supernova SN 2010, Airigh Nam Beist 2008 and Ardbeg Rollercoaster (in a really big bottle) poured as a finale with great fan fare.
The whole event was well thought out and executed, it was obvious that they had not spared the expense; it was an unusual but effective method to show case Ardbeg.
After the event we said good night to our new friends and parted company. They went for a late supper at a nearby restaurant and we retired to the Marriott for the night, after all it had been a very long day.
Friday morning and it’s the big day! However before Whisky Fest there were a few chores, a quick visit to The Whisky Shop http://www.whiskyshopusa.com/ and to Cask http://www.caskstore.com/ for whisky shopping and browsing. Success! Shopping completed and well within our duty free allowance for the return portion of our trip. While we in shelf gazing in Cask Jimmy Russell came in to sign some bottles, we grasped the opportunity to introduce ourselves.
Then off to the de Young Museum http://deyoung.famsf.org/ in Golden Gate Park for a quick bite of lunch (excellent Scottish Salmon from Loch Duart!), a tour of the upstairs gallery and then a 2PM viewing of “Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Beyond: Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay”. If you like art, this is a show to see, it was really very good. On our way the de Young we met Gordon Urquhart of Gordon & MacPhail in the lobby of the Marriott who commanded us to come to his table first at Whisky Fest. Advice not to be ignored!
Now back to the Marriott and time to prepare for Whisky Fest but first a quick stop over in Tim’s room for a mini dram or two from the 40 bottles he & Mikey Mad had lined up on the bar. Discipline must be maintained at all costs other wise Whisky Fest might be missed!
Finally! Whisky Fest 2010 San Francisco! At the reception we were speedily and efficiently checked in and given our Glencairns and goodie bags. A short wait and then promptly at 5:30PM the doors opened and we were in!
As previously directed we made a bee line to the Gordon & MacPhail booth with glasses out stretched; a Strathisla 1963; Whisky Fest is off to a great start! A trip across the room and we were rewarded with a Deanston 30yo and further booths produced Amrut Intermediate Sherry (& a chance to chat with the Purple Valley Imports team), Angels Envy, Glenfarclas 40yo (Hi George 7 thanks!). Tomatin 25yo and a quick hello to Douglas Campbell their master distiller, BenRiach 1995 and GlenDronach 1995 from Alistair Walker, a Kilkerran 8yo from Peter Currie, another Strathisla in the form of a 42yo Duncan Taylor Lonach from Euan Shand, Dalmore King Alexander from the master blender himself Richard Paterson, Aberfeldy 21 (a vague recollection of a collection of tall blondes pouring the sample – if you cannot send the brand ambassador or the distiller, send 6 blondes – however they did have the details of the whisky correct), an excellent Dewar Rattray 18yo Bowmore from Andrew Morrison, Glen Garioch Founders’ Reserve, Balvenie Peated Cask from Nicolas Pollacchi along with a few moments to share a few words.
Further meanderings led us to the Highland Park booth where we were rewarded with a generous pour of Highland Park 30, then back to Gordon & MacPhail for a Glen Grant 15 (their Glen Grant are always good) and a Caol Ila 1998, a bit of a ricochet to the next dram which was Ardmore 30 and Laphroaig 25 followed by a Bowmore Tempest. Then over to Canadian Club for a dram of the excellent 12yo and a visit with Dan Tullio and Tish Harcus.
It was time to take a break and to see if there was any chance of palate recovery which was experiencing some fatigue. A little snack from the food on offer, a chance to rinse the Glencairn and take a look at what had been missed; not much but so much more in point of fact. We’ve just scratched the surface but you can’t sample them all…but it’s fun trying.
At some point the end of the VIP hour was signaled by the arrival of the remainder of the ticket holders, however the room didn’t seem crowded. There was still lots of room, a few tables had a good crowd but this was simply not an issue; you just moved to another table and then eventually made your way back when the table was less occupied.
Where’s Tim? He must be in Rachel Barrie’s masterclass so a quick detour to the class and Tim generously poured a dollop for his glass; Ardbeg 1975 Cask #4698 +/- 34 years old. Cheers Tim, very nice of you.
Finally the last task at Whisky Fest; would the Guardians of The Glenlivet member card open the door to a fine dram at Whisky Fest? The moment of truth was at hand and The Glenlivet Brand Ambassador Rick Edwards took one look at the card and said “Ah ha! This entitles you a really special dram of Glenlivet!”
With that he handed over a bottle of the Glenlivet XXV and a really satisfyingly large pour was in the Glencairn glass. Thanks Rick! An excellent dram to end Whisky Fest with, it certainly was worth bringing the card along.
Shortly after leaving the Glenlivet table Whisky Fest in San Francisco came to a sad end, it had been a very enjoyable evening in every regard. The layout was excellent with lots of room in between the booths and a very good selection of whiskies from all over the world. The food was very good (with lots of it) and all the presenters were very friendly and approachable. All and all Whisky Intelligence gives Whisky Fest San Francisco a hearty endorsement, it’s well worth the time and money. The VIP ticket is also well worth the extra money (next year don’t even dwell on the extra cost, just do it!)
Thankfully the return home was uneventful with the exception of one small incident at #SFO, the Guardians of the Glenlivet membership card, made of heavy aluminum, set off the metal detectors and thus Whisky Intelligence earned a disapproving frown from the TSA representative.