Top 3 Whiskies at Whiskies of the World 2016

Post-sunset atop the SF Belle

Post-sunset atop the SF Belle

We just had another Whiskies of the World (WoW) on the San Francisco Belle, docked in the Bay and held on March 26 (last year and years prior here).

Although it is one of the big whisk(e)y events in the country (also held in San Jose, Atlanta, Houston, Austin), it remains more approachable than larger whisk(e)y events, more like a big party than a corporate tasting, with the added bonus of cigars on the deck.

This year’s weather was stunning… again. Lingering over a dram with a cigar on the deck as the sun set was sheer magic.

Arran Smugglers Illcit Stills Whisky

Arran Smugglers Illcit Stills Whisky

On the seminar side, held on an adjacent ferry boat or on the top deck of the SF Belle, I returned for the annual cigar and whiskies class. This year, it was Partagas cigars paired with Breckenridge Bourbon from Colorado and Kilchoman Scotch from Islay, Scotland.

It was particularly pleasurable experiencing Master of Whisky Stephen Wilson’s seminar on “The Art of Canadian Whisky” with some rare Crown Royal pours, like the lovely Northern Harvest Rye and hand-selected barrels, showcasing the finesse of the brand.

Most tastes are revisits for me each year — few are new — but here are 3 notable newcomers from this year’s WoW out of hundreds poured:

1. Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills

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The Arran Scotch line, from a small Scottish isle of the same name, is one I love more every time I taste through it, from their amarone to port cask-finished Scotches. This year’s VIP pour from Arran was special indeed: Arran Smugglers’ Illicit Stills is an elegant whisky with whispers of smoke and flowers, dried fruit and white pepper, unfolding with each sip and seamlessy harmonious.

2. Alexander Murray Speyside 40 yr

Age isn’t always better but in the case of this refined, 40 year old Scotch, it is. Going for $600 a bottle, it’s out of reach for many of us, so it was a joy to sample it — and a number of other Alexander Murray Scotches — with its balance of dried fruits, delicate smoke and floral notes.

Beginning Whiskies of the World atop the SF Belle - view of the Bay Bridge

Beginning Whiskies of the World atop the SF Belle – view of the Bay Bridge

3. Mosswood’s Amontillado Sherry Barrel Aged Whiskey

Mosswood Espresso (photo credit:

Mosswood Espresso (photo credit:

As Berkeley’s only whiskey producer, Mosswood is a local, Bay Area barreling and blending facility, experimenting with different casks for a corn-dominant whiskey base they (thankfully) are honest about selecting from Indiana on their site.

Their fascinating barrel experimentation includes California sour ale (aged in partnership with neighbor, Rare Barrel, which only produces sour beers) or espresso barrels.

While their umeshu (a Japanese liqueur made from the Japanese plum, ume) single barrel aged whiskey poured during VIP hour was interesting, I especially took to their drier Amontillado sherry barrel aged whiskey, the more complex and subtle of all the Mosswood pours this year.