I’m not much of a sports fan, but I do love auto racing, so whenever I approach an event like WhiskyLIVE, I try to formulate a “race strategy” beforehand, and then try my best to stick to that “race strategy” (this helps to avoid those “I’m never drinking again!” moments). Since we decided to arrive in New York by early afternoon for some pre-game activities, and since WhiskyLIVE would be from 5PM to 10PM, my initial plan was to think “24 hour of Le Mans“, i.e. it’s a long race, so pace yourself and try not to burn out too quickly. While I managed to stick to that strategy for about an hour or two, the rest of the day felt more like an F1 race, and the final laps (from 8:30 to 10PM) were like Kimi Raikkonen at Spa-Francorchamp going flat out and ignoring orders from the Pit Wall (no lifting off the throttle through Eau Rouge!). In my head, it sounded something like this…
Pit Wall to Kimi: “Kimi! Save your tires! Cut back on the RPMs! Conserve some fuel for the final laps!”
Kimi back to the Pit Wall: “I’m three seconds down. I can win this! Just let me race!”
Am I exaggerating? Perhaps a tiny bit, but the point is that I had every intention of taking it easy, i.e. to stop drinking by 9:00 so that I wouldn’t fall asleep on the train ride home, but sometimes, momentum gets the best of you.
Nailing Down The Details
As is usually the case, there was a slight change in plans before we even got started. Limpd was supposed to join me for this mid-week excursion to NYC, but due to a sudden illness, he wasn’t able to make it. Thankfully, Limpd hates to see tickets to go to waste, so he offered up his VIP ticket to our friend Miracle Max.
Max didn’t need much convincing to join me, so once I knew that all systems were go, I emailed a couple of people that I’ve been trying to get together with for quite some time (Joshua Feldman aka The Coopered Tot, Allison Patel aka The Whisky Woman, and Susannah Skiver Barton of the What Tastes Good blog) to arrange a meet and greet. As luck would have it, all three would be at the event, so it was decided that we would meet Josh at The Morgan Library for a quick tour and a couple of pre-event drams, and we would meet Allison and Susannah at the Chelsea Piers during the actual event.
Pre Event Action
1PM to 2PM – As far as I’m concerned, no visit to Midtown Manhattan is complete without a visit to Keen’s Steakhouse, so that’s where we decided to have lunch before meeting up with Josh. I had a cheeseburger and fries along with an Anchor Steam beer, and Max had a hamburger and fries along with a Leffe Blond. After looking over the massive whisky list, Max decided that he would also have a Bowmore 15 to go with his meal. He asked if I wanted to join him, but since I was trying to stick with my initial strategy, I declined. Once we finished our meal, we moved on to our meeting with Josh at The Morgan Library.
2PM to 2:15PM – On our way to The Morgan Library, I noticed that we were walking past The Ginger Man. The Ginger Man specializes in Craft Beer, and since I had heard many great things about the place from our good friend The Alemonger, I just had to pop in for a look around (we’ll refer to this stop as The Ginger Man Chicane). Once again, in an attempt to stick with my Le Mans strategy, I declined a drink, and in just a few minutes, we were back on course.
2:15PM to 4:15PM – As promised, Josh met us at the side entrance to The Morgan Library. After a brief tour of the main building and a short history lesson, Josh led us to a private room where he had arranged for us to have a little whisky tasting. Although this was in direct conflict with my Le Mans strategy, there was no way that I could refuse Josh’s offer since I knew that he would have some special whiskies lined up for this tasting. I quickly learned that Josh is not only incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgable about his whisky, but he is also incredibly generous. For our mini tasting session, he poured us some samples of a 23 Year Old Port Ellen and a 37 Year Old Glen Grant (both were single cask, independent bottlings, and both are incredibly rare), and since the main event was fast approaching, we didn’t waste our time trying to pick them apart. Instead, the three of us just talked and enjoyed our delicious drams.
4:15PM to 5:15PM – As soon as we finished up our tasting, the three of us shared a cab to the Chelsea Piers which is where WhiskyLIVE was scheduled to take place. Josh would be pouring for Gordon & MacPhail during the event, so he went in to set up while Max and I waited for the official start.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
5:15PM to 6PM - Although I wasn’t too impressed with the choice of venue at first (walking through a huge parking lot to get to the main entrance wasn’t very pleasant), I completely understood why they picked this location when we entered the main room, because once the sun started to set, the views of the Hudson River and North Jersey were spectacular.
One more thing happened when we entered the main room and took a quick walk around: my Le Mans strategy went right out the window!
Our first stop would be the Single Cask Nation table where we spent a few minutes talking with our friend Joshua Hatton and his business partner Seth Klaskin. Much like Josh Feldman, Josh Hatton and Seth Klaskin are super knowledgable and super enthusiastic about their whisky. They are also really good guys, so we chatted a bit and sampled their current offerings: an Isle of Arran Pinot Cask, a Kilchoman, and a Benriach. Fantastic stuff all around!
As we started walking towards the front of the room, I spotted Allison Patel of Brenne French Single Malt Whisky. There was quite a bit of activity when we arrived, so it took a minute or two before I could say hello. While we waited, we looked around to see what all of the other tables were pouring. Once we finally got to meet, we chatted briefly and Allison immediately poured us some Brenne (we tried samples from two different cask bottlings). Since there was a flurry of activity, we didn’t linger very long and decided to stop back later. We tried to say hello to Chip Tate from Balcones (his table was right next to the Brenne table), but since it was incredibly busy, we decided to stop back later.
This is where we start to pick up the pace…
Right next to Balcones was Corsair Distillery where we managed to try their Triple Smoke and Quinoa expressions.
Right after that, we turned around and walked over to Redemption Distillery. Since their regular line-up gets fair to middling reviews, I wasn’t particularly motivated to try their whiskies, but as I was looking over the selections, I noticed a bottle with a hand written label. It turns out that it was a 16 year old Rye whiskey, so I just had to try it.
6PM to 8:00PM – Since we hadn’t eaten in a few hours, and since there were four hours left in the event, Max and I decided to take advantage of the slightly smaller VIP crowd and worked our way to the back of the room for some dinner. On our way to the buffet, we ran into Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast. During our brief conversation, he invited us to take part in a WhiskyCast Virtual Tasting at around 8PM. We of course accepted his offer, and since I knew that Susannah would be arriving shortly, I asked Mark if she could join the tasting panel as well. He said yes immediately, which resulted in the following string of text messages between Susannah and myself…
G-LO: You’re on a virtual tasting panel with Gillespie.
Susannah: What’s that now?
G-LO: WhiskyCast Virtual tasting panel with Mark Gillespie if you want.
Susannah: Um yeah!! What do I need to do/where/when?
G-LO: Just be here. He’s gonna do it at 8. I’ll be worthless, but whatever. Mark is a great guy.
Susannah: Lol. Awesome. I’m waiting for a crosstown bus but I should be there soon.
Now that the the Virtual Tasting was all set, Max and I resumed our stroll to the buffet, but stopped at the Glen Garioch and Suntory tables for some quick whisky samples. Given the size of the crowd that they were expecting, I was very impressed with the quantity and quality of the buffet. Flank steak, chicken, several pasta dishes, roasted vegetables, salad, and an assortment of cheeses and flat breads were on offer. There was also a band playing, so that added even more to the already festive mood (Max also started throwing out the occasional bird call, but that’s a story for a completely different blog post).
Once we were done eating, we spent some time talking to the gentleman that was pouring for Catoctin Creek Distillery. He told us a bit about the whisky and then spent some time telling us about his work in the whisky industry and all of the different events that he’s attended over the years.
At around 6:45, Susannah sent me a text to let me know that she arrived. We met up with her at the Suntory table, and after some quick introductions (she was there with a friend, but I can’t remember her name), we walked over to the Purple Valley Imports table where Raj Sabarwhal was pouring Sullivans Cove, Amrut, English Whisky Company, Still Waters, Black Adder and Glenglassaugh. I’ve been going back and forth with Raj via the interwebz for quite some time, so it was great to finally meet him. While we were there, I tried the Sullivans Cove Double Cask and the Amrut Intermediate Sherry.
From there we moved on to try some Lark Tasmanian Single Malt, Parker Heritage Collection, Bruichladdich Botanist Gin (we’ll call this an Amuse Bouche. Quite nice!), Oban 18 and Oban Distiller’s Edition, and the Crown Royal XR.
It was at this point that I remembered passing Jimmy Russell at the Wild Turkey table on our way to the buffet. Since we were working our way back to the front to see what Josh, Josh, and Allison were up to, we made a quick pit stop for a sample of the Russell’s Reserve. How could we possibly pass up the opportunity to try the Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel AND have it poured for us by Jimmy himself?
Since the crew was busy working the room and pouring whisky, Max and I tried again to meet Chip Tate of Balcones. He was busy talking with Gillespie, so I tried to figure out if they were pouring the new Balcones 5th Anniversary Bourbon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sweet talk my way to a Bourbon sample, but as Mark was leaving the area to hunt down some whiskies for the Virtual Tasting, I suggested that he ask Chip for a sample of the 5th Anniversary Bourbon. Chip agreed to Mark’s request and I just smiled. I guess it pays to know a guy.
Full Throttle To The Finish Line!
8PM to 11PM – A little after 8PM, we returned to the back of the room for the WhiskyCasy Virtual Tasting. In addition to Max, Susannah, and myself, Mark invited three other people to join us (Ian Chang of Kavalan Distillery, and a woman that used to work with Mark along with her husband). We sampled Brenne French Single Malt Whisky, the Balcones 5th Anniversary Bourbon, an Invergordon Single Grain from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and the cask strength version of the Redbreast 12. Much like my last two Virtual Tasting experiences, Mark moves quickly through the nosing/tasting/scoring process while still managing to keep it fun and educational. I am really curious to hear how it all came out because the whisky was really starting to kick in mid way through the tasting. I wonder how much editing Mark will have to do to make me sound ok. I guess we’ll know soon enough.
Once the tasting panel disbanded, Max and I worked our way back to the front of the room to say our final goodbyes to Josh, Josh, Allison, and Susannah.
Since it was essentially last call, we also made a stop or two along the way. As we approached the High West table, we decided to make a quick stop so that we could try out their Campfire and BouRye expressions. When we arrived at the Brenne/Balcones area, I took the opportunity to finally say hello to Chip Tate. While we were talking, he asked if I’d like to try a Brimstone Cask 1200 aka “The Burned Barrel”. I of course said yes, and am so glad that I did. My only regret is that I didn’t try this earlier in the night so that I could truly appreciate it.
After saying goodbye to everyone and thanking them for making it a truly memorable night, Max and I walked back to Penn Station for the train ride home. On the way back, we passed a man walking his dog. I am almost positive that the man walking his dog was Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, The Station Agent, and Elf! Pretty cool right?
In case you couldn’t tell, I had an absolutely fantastic time at WhiskyLIVE NYC! While I don’t have a final count, I probably sampled 25 to 30 different spirits. Getting to try a plethora of exceptional whiskies in one day is always a fantastic experience, but as I’ve mentioned in other event reviews (i.e. The Brewer’s Plate, the SMWSA Extravaganzas, etc.), it’s the opportunity to talk with some incredibly knowledgeable and genuinely kind people that makes these events truly special.
During our wee dramming session at The Morgan Library, Josh said something that really stuck with me. While I can’t remember his exact words, he said something like this:
A great whisky isn’t something that you keep locked away in a cabinet or that you drink by yourself. It should be opened and shared with friends. It should put a smile on their faces and make them feel proud that they were able to share in the experience together.
I’m sure I screwed up the quote, but that’s how I remember it, and I think it says a lot about Josh and all of the wonderful people that we encountered that day, i.e. whisky is a wonderful thing, but without people to share it with, it’s just another drink.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s event!