Top 5 Whiskies at Whiskyfest SF 2015

My 7th year attending Whiskyfest San Francisco (also held in Chicago and NYC annually) and like any other year, the event held many revisits of favorite whiskies (here are last year’s standouts), from Scotland, Japan, Ireland, Canada and the US in the massive underground ballrooms of the SF Marriott Marquis. Between re-tasting greats like Aberlour’s A’bunadh and Hibiki’s gorgeous 21 year old whisky, there were a few rare or new standouts.

Over the years, most whiskies are revisits for me but here are 5 notable new tastes from this year’s Whiskyfest:

Russell's Reserve

Russell’s Reserve

1. Rye Whiskey: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Rye

Legendary, father-son duo of Jimmy and Eddie Russell were in attendance again — as they are every year at SF Whiskyfest — leading a seminar and pouring their latest 17 year Wild Turkey Master’s Keep. But they also had a secret stash of 1998 Russell’s Reserve, a robust, spicy beauty of a rye whiskey (thank you, Eddie!)

2. Scotch: Glenfarclas 1984 and 1974

As they do each year, Glenfarclas shares rare family casks during Whiskyfest’s VIP hour. This year it was 1984, 1974 and 1964 bottlings. While each was a treat, the 1974 called to me with its sherry casks notes of raisins and figs balanced by bright citrus. The light, golden 1984 takes a very different turn with more tropical, pear, green notes and a drier, bourbon cask finish. Both are worthy examples of Glenfarclas’ range.
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3. Scotch: Bruichladdich’s Octomore 6.1

Just like last year, Bruichladdich’s more balanced Octomore 6.1 remains a peaty dream, as does their Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, exhibiting a briny, peppery glow alongside balanced peat. I swear, Bruichladdich is better than ever and in peak form.

4. Japanese Whisky: Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

Yes, I’ve had the Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky many a time. But this fall, their new release is the Coffey Malt Whisky, a 100% malt whisky distilled in Nikka’s two Coffey stills at their Miyagikyo distillery in Japan. Whispers of pepper and citrus/lemon temper notes of dried fruit and coffee. It’s wonderfully drinkable yet complex.

5. Irish Whiskey: The Irishman’s Writers Tears

The Irishman’s line of Irish whiskies — from a single malt to a 2014 cask strength whiskey — has been around since 2006 but had a rebrand in 2013. Like the great Irish whiskies, Writer’s Tears is a pot still whiskey. It is not a grain but a malt whiskey, tasting of silky citrus, allowing the malt and vanilla from oak to shine in sweet, honeyed fashion.