Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Whiskey Wednesday: WhiskyLive LA

Last Tuesday night, whiskey lovers from across the Southland converged on the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for a four and a half hour tasting extravaganza. To the strains of the inevitable bagpipe and drum corps, we sampled Scotch, Bourbon, Irish and Japanese whiskies (as well as some beer and rum), took classes, and talked to knowledgeable brand representatives from all over the whiskey world.

WhiskyLive, sponsored by Whisky Magazine, is one of two major international tasting events (the other being Malt Advocate Magazine's WhiskyFest), and this was the first time that either festival was held in the LA area.

I sampled 28 whiskies through the evening and there were many highlights. The Suntory Company was there with samples of two whiskies that will be new to the US this fall: The Hibiki, a very pleasant blend, and the exceptional Yamazaki 1984, a vintage single malt distilled in Orwell's favorite year. The beauty of whiskey festivals is that you often get to taste whiskies that don't make it to market, and Suntory had a large collection of these, including the component whiskies that go into its Hibiki blend and whiskies aged in different types of barrels that go into its Yamazaki single malt. The brand representative also told me that there are "discussions" about bringing Suntory's other malt, Hakushu, to the US.

I attended two of the five "master classes" that were offered. Maker's Mark, like Suntory, offered versions of their whisky which are not available to the public, including the unaged, new make spirit, a one year old version and a nine year old version, which they referred to as "overaged." The point of the lesson was supposed to be that by ageing Maker's for five to seven years, they arrive at the perfect point of maturation. Frankly, I preferred the "overaged" version. (I'll finally do a Maker's post sometime this fall).

Highland Park's master class allowed me to taste most of the line of one of my favorite single malts side by side: the 10, 15, 18 and 25 year olds as well as the luscious 30 year old. The Highland Park program was more stand up comedy routine than traditional whiskey education, and brand ambassador Martin Daraz had us all in stitches. Even as much of a whiskey geek as I am, at hour three of the festival, I think people were happier to laugh a bit than to hear a long lecture about kilns and malting.

The Scott's Selection table was another highlight. The brand representative for this independent bottler was particularly knowledgeable (not all brand reps can hold their own with a crowd of intense whiskey geeks) and was pouring a fabulous variety of well-aged whiskies, including a 38 year old Longmorn and a 45 year old North of Scotland single grain whisky (an older version of the whisky I reviewed at 42 years).

Oh, and the picture at top of the page (i.e. the bottles, not the bagpipes) shows the table sponsored by the LA Scotch Club, who weren't pouring drinks but were showing off their impressive collection...membership apparently has its privileges.

While the event was well attended, it was not overly crowded and there was easy access to all of the libations. The vibe was friendly and casual, and the drinking was responsible.

We in LA owe many thanks to the good folks at Whisky Magazine for bringing WhiskyLive to Los Angeles, and here's hoping that they make it a regular event.

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