Appetite: WhiskyFest 2010 highlights, part one

Meet Your Maker... hanging out with whisk(e)y master distillers

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"[Whisky] feels appropriately intellectual: a drink you can wrestle with, linger over, and appreciate with all its nooks and crannies." - Victoria Moore, How to Drink

WhiskyFest turns into Whisky Week with many of the world's great master distillers and brand ambassadors in town from the reaches of Scotland and Kentucky for a tasting event of nearly 300 whiskies. I had the privilege of meeting with seven different distillers - some met with me over coffee or lunch, others at intimate gatherings. Impressed by the wide range of approaches, styles and personalities, I could easily write an article about each one and their respective distilleries. I will share highlights, this time with Scotch master, Richard Paterson, from a Charbay whiskey dinner, and tastes from the event. Part two will be conversations with bourbon and rye distillers.

10/8 LUNCH WITH RICHARD PATERSONRichard Paterson, known as "the nose" for his impeccable nose and taste, has been Whyte & Mackay's master blender for decades. He's one of the world's leading scotch experts, author of the book Goodness Nose (which I savored as "homework" all through Whisky Week). To be part of one his seminars (such as at WhiskyFest Friday night), is to be bombarded with dates, history, uproarious expertise, irreverence, drama, laughter. When one lucky member of the class samples Dalmore Sirius (which has sold at up to $60,000 a bottle!), Paterson sets off a mini-rocket filled with confetti. Fireworks. Revelation. Kind of like tasting it myself...

I had the privilege of an intimate three hour lunch over food and the Dalmore line with Paterson at Wayfare Tavern. We covered the range from 12 year to King Alexander III scotches (which I first had at Whiskies of the World). The chocolate, marzipan, tropical fruit of King Alexander III remains a Dalmore highlight for me. It's the only single malt in the world finished in six different woods (Port, Bordeaux Cabernet Sauvignon, Marsala, Madeira, Matusalem sherry, small batch Knob Creek bourbon barrels). Dalmore's Gran Reserva stood out more the second and third time I sampled it with spiced marmalade, crushed almonds, and sherry notes from the 60% Oloroso sherry casks it's aged in.

Get Richard started on wood and he says, "The wood is, as far as I'm concerned, the be all, end all." With a devotion to fine sherry casks (like Gonzales Byass), a key source of Dalmore's elegant taste profile, they also use a generous amount of American white oak, bourbon casks from Heaven Hill and Jim Beam, which enriches the profile further.

A favorite, which I would happily sip on its own, isn't bottled: the unaged distillate or, whisky base. It's amazing how much you can tell of a spirit's quality by its foundation. I was pleasantly assaulted with an array of tastes from spice and earth to lemongrass in the clear, strong distillate. I finished every drop.

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