Meet Your Maker... hanging out with whisk(e)y master distillers
Certainly a pinnacle is reached with the Sirius. The rare opportunity to sample highly aged spirits just a handful times (like two 1800s cognacs in New Orleans or Highland Park's 40 and 42 year scotches) has opened doors of flavor I could not dream up - this scotch transported me to regions beyond. There are only 12 bottles of Sirius in existence, a '51 vintage with a blend of Dalmore scotches from 1868, 1878, 1926, 1939. History courses through each drop, while Paterson's expert blending skills are illuminated here. Rich chocolate earth gives way to licorice and a bonfire smokiness. I count myself lucky.
To drink with Paterson is to learn how to properly nose a glass, how to hold whisky in your mouth for maximum taste (from many seconds, up to 2-3 minutes). One learns how the dreaded phylloxera aphid (which wreaks havoc on vines) inadvertently aided whisky's growth by making dominant cognac in short supply, creating demand for other drink (read chapter seven in Paterson's book). But he doesn't just talk aphids, he brings visuals: big, plastic bugs to illustrate whisky's unexpected "friend".
Quirky and colorful, whisky comes to life through Paterson's interpretation. Intelligent and challenging though the whisky world can be, Paterson retains the intellect but makes it approachable, fun. A Paterson course in whisky education should be mandatory for all would-be and already-avid drinkers.
TASTES - As usual, VIP hour is the time for the rare, the old, the latest, though it was more packed than ever with a mad rush waiting at the door at opening time. This meant less opportunity to chat with distillers and hear about what you were tasting. A lot can happen in a year and the number of whiskies I've had since the last WhiskyFest meant this year was a lot of re-tasting and confirming favorites. Of the whiskies I had not tried, there weren't a slew of stand-outs.
One that jumped out was a special unlisted, under-the-table pour of George T. Stagg bourbon. Toasty, charred oak warms, rounded out by a raisin-vanilla sweetness. Out of many over-hyped whiskies in the 20-40 year range during VIP hour, Bowmore's 25 year stood out with a robust profile of salty brine and baked pear sweetness. Glenfarclas 40 year made a statement with tobacco, elegant tannins, orange. But it was many of my usual favorites that remained at the top, including Highland Park's 30 year, Pappy Van Winkle's 20 and 23 year bourbons, Parker's Heritage 27 year bourbon, and Charbay's incomparable Release II 1999 Pilsner whiskey. It was good to see Wes and Lincoln Henderson (of Woodford Reserve fame) with their new, port barrel-finished Angel's Envy bourbon - I sampled an early version from Wes way back in December. Also on the non-whisky tip, I was happy as ever to sip a couple Germain-Robin beauties, including their complex Varietal Grappa, and oaky Coast Road Reserve brandy.