It was another great year of whiskey, whisky and beyond (Cognac, gin, beer, etc.) at WhiskyFest San Francisco on October 3rd at the SF Marriott Marquis – a massive whisk(e)y tasting event featuring distillers and brand ambassadors from around the world, held only in SF, NY and Chicago annually.
This year, here were my top 8 tastes, mostly from new releases.
1. Charbay Whiskey Release III from the Pilsner Collection
Marko Karakasevic has done it again with his stunning, complex Release III whiskey, in keeping with Release I and II, longtime favorites and game-changing American whiskies for me years ago. It is another (pricey) rarity — as is his incredible aged sipping rum, out later this fall.
2. Bowmore 23 year
Bowmore 15 year Darkest has long been one of my favorite Islay (read: peaty, smoky) whiskies, gorgeous in its balance and sophistication. The 23 year Bowmore keeps right in line with the distillery’s excellent line of Scotch, this one aged 23 years and finished in port butts for 6 months.
3. Wild Turkey Diamond
Though released in August, this special whiskey just arrived in San Francisco post-Whiskyfest, with only 11,000 cases worldwide. The man, the legend, Jimmy Russell, was at Whiskyfest SF again this year with his son and master distiller Eddie, who poured this special anniversary whiskey for us. It is a blend of 13 to 16 year old whiskeys from hand-selected barrels chosen by Eddie. It’s elegant, bright with fruit, subtly sweet, with caramel bourbon notes and gentle spice. It’s a beauty and a special tribute to Jimmy’s decades of distilling.
4. Bruichladdich’s Octomore 6.1
Octomore releases are always fascinating each year, if not a push to the extremes of peat. This year’s Octomore 6.1 surprised me. I taste each edition annually and found this one more balanced than in years past. There’s a subtlety to the 6.1 that undergirds all that peat. A standout I’d like to revisit.
5. Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy
Named after the master distiller at New Midleton, a beautiful distillery I visited in 2011 (home to production of Jameson, Redbreast, Green and Yellow Spot and numerous Irish whiskies), Barry Crockett Legacy is a limited release each year since 2011 and this year was a lovely edition, showing off the nuances of Irish whiskey with notes of bright peach contrasting with whispers of hay, citrus and toffee.
6. Tullibardine 25 year
This malt-forward Scotch line tends to be pretty soft across the board but each iteration gains complexity aged in different casks and wine barrels (like the interesting Sauternes-aged Scotch). Tullibardine 25 year is aged in ex-Jim Beam and Heaven Hill barrels, then in Burgundy Pinot Noir casks, finished in Pedro Ximenez (PX) and Oloroso sherry casks for 18 months. Those layers unfold as one sips, from sherry spice to vanilla and caramel notes of the bourbon casks.
7. 40 Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve
We don’t get enough of the better Canadian whiskies imported, it’s true. So it’s nice when we do and Forty Creek is one such producer, thanks to winemaker-distiller John Hall. 40 Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve is double barrel aged, with vanilla, nutty notes and a long finish, while the new Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve exhibits rye spice but is smooth and rounded from the wine barrels it is aged in.
**Photos from brand websites.**