On March 31, Beltramo’s Spirits Buyer, Rick C., and I ventured north into San Francisco and made our way (meandering all the while) to Pier 3 in the Fisherman’s Warf area. What we found waiting for us at our destination was a three-story Hornblower yacht. Turns out that inside the enormous ship was so much liquid gold that I’m surprised the thing could stay afloat. We had arrived at the 2012 Whiskies of the World Expo. We boarded the vessel along with other eager Whisk(e)y fans, grabbed our tasting/nosing glasses, and struck out in search of new Whisky frontiers.
We happily got to sample drams from every corner of the globe. There were of course items from as near as the city of San Francisco itself, like the folks from Anchor Distilling. I also appreciated that Anchor brought some beers from the brewery side of their operation. Of course, we also got to sample much more exotic fare, like Single Malt Whiskies from Tasmania and India, all of varying styles, proofs, and levels of smoky peatiness and sherried sweetness. Hailing from the other side of the world, the Amrut Fusion($63.99) from India was particularly superior and strong-flavored. I had previously only tried the regular Amrut ($49.99)expression, so I was anxious to try the Peated($59.99), the Fusion, and the Intermediate Sherry ($99.00). The normal Amrut has a light body with a sweet and slightly phenolic tone and flavors that are simultaneously nutty and fruity. The Fusion, which uses a combination of malt from Scotland as well as India, really ups the ante with more bold peat flavors. It’s definitely got more oomph in the smoke department, but the surprise is that the fruity notes also increase their presence. This is a World Whisky to check out, especially for those who haven’t yet dared to venture beyond the Whiskies that Scotland and America have to offer.
On the home front, the American distilleries had a lot to show for themselves too. Rick and I spent some time over at the Bulleit Bourbon station. While Rick hobnobbed with his friend, Tom Bulleit, and daughter, Hollis Bulleit, I was busy checking out the Bulleit Rye Whisky ($23.99) which has been a regular favorite of mine since its premier not too long ago. With 95% rye content in the mashbill and 90 proof strength, it has all that snappy spice and floral character that I want in a Rye. It’s great for cocktails or drinking neat, and the pourers at the Bulliet station were serving it up every which way.
Another great place to sip and sample was the table for High West Distillery out of Park City, Utah. It’s true, they make fantastic hooch in the state of Utah now, and High West keeps expanding their already strong lineup. Already well-versed in most of the High West products, the draws for Rick and I on this night were the two White Whiskeys they had on offer. They have some New Make that they’re distilling from oat, and they also have a White Rye. Both products were so great that we just added them at Beltramo’s. The Western Oat Whiskey has a mashbill of 85% oat and 15% barley, resulting in a drink that’s viscous, supple, and has a clean sweetness. Their OMG Pure Rye Whiskey has a dramatically different profile: it’s big and floral in the nose with flavors of stone fruits and herbs, and it has a very long finish. Unaged Ryes might possibly be cutting a category all their own. At any rate, both these White Whiskeys proved to be of much higher caliber than most New Make out there on the market.
And the Scotch. Oh, the Scotch! We found some truly great drams. We popped by the table for the newly reopened Glenglassaugh Distillery where they doled out samples of Whiskies from the distillery’s past and future. They had their 26 year old ($249.00) and their 37 year old (two of the best Whiskies of the night, for sure) as well as their three Unaged Whiskies (the Clearac ($27.49), Fledgling ($27.49), and Peated ($27.49)) that you can’t technically call “Scotch” because they don’t meet the age requirement, but they’re still mighty interesting AND available at Beltramo’s. They also unveiled the first true Single Malt from the distillery under its new operation, Glenglassaugh Revival. It still tasted young, so I’d like to see what this Scotch is like after a few more birthdays, but the Revival (much like their Unaged Whiskies) shows a lot of promise for the recently renovated distillery.
Rick and I found our way to the Classic Malts Selection table hosted by Diageo. They had a lot of the big names in Scotch, along with older expressions so that you could try Oban 14 ($59.98) alongside the 18 year old and the Distiller’s Edition ($99.99). This is where we found the Cragganmore 21 ($198.00). Rick called this little number “the belle of the ball.” While one might argue that this Cragganmore is far too robust to ever be referred to as a “belle,” it was undeniably fantastic and one of the best drinks we had at the Expo.
The boys at the Bruichladdich table were also great hosts and fun to talk to. Simon gave us the royal treatment as we sampled through the line, explaining everything from their production methods to the shape of their stills. We got to retry the Laddie Ten ($52.99), the Classic Laddie ($62.99), and the Bruichladdich Rocks ($39.99), and then we got to sip on a Bruichladdich Scotch that hasn’t yet made its way across the pond to America, the new batch of Bruichladdich Organic, which happened to be my favorite. Though from Islay, Bruichladdich proper is not peaty, not counting the Port Charlotte ($119.99) series and Octomore($134.99). Instead, the Scotch is salty-briny and acidic, making it literally a mouthwatering Whisky, and it has very elegant floral undertones tying everything together.
Kilchoman from Islay had a couple of its newer batches of Scotch at the Expo. From this younger distillery that regularly puts out vintage releases of their Whisky, we got to try the 2006 92 Proof release, their new Single Cask Sherry Finish 119.2 Proof, and their 100% Islay which is yet to be released stateside. I hope they send over another lot the 100% Islay soon because that was a real winner. And of course we had the unique chance to sample a number of rarities such as the Octomore Comus which is a peaty cask strength monster finished in Sauternes casks, while Rick from Glenlivet gave us a sneak of a rare vintage Nadurra 1991 that was stunning.
Another real draw for me at any tasting like this is the opportunity to try the varying selections presented by independent bottlers. For those not in the know, independent bottlers go into distilleries and, after much sampling and consideration, buy single casks to age and finish as they see fit. For Whisky lovers, this is fun because it means you can find rare, one-off bottlings of Scotches from all manner of different distilleries. Independent bottlers, Mackillop’s Choice, were in attendance at the Expo this year pouring a fine array.
There were also several non-Whisky tastes to be had. For one of the best, we headed back to the Bruichladdich table where they had The Botanist Gin ($34.99). That’s right, they’re making Gin on Islay and it’s superb. It has an intense juniper flavor, first-rate supporting herbal notes, and a crisp, clean bite. This Gin just begs to be thrown into a Martini. My other favorite drink of the night that wasn’t a Whisky was St. George Spirit’s Absinthe Verte ($59.98). Perhaps better known for their hard-to-find Single Malt and the line of Hangar One Vodkas, this distillery makes everything from Eau de Vies to Liqueurs, and I was happy to get the chance to try their Absinthe Verte. Our bartender served Rick and me the beverage in a tiny glass with a single ice cube. We each watched and sipped as the water released into the Absinthe, turning the liquid from a clear lime-herb green into a swirling, foggy, opaque swamp color. It was so strong and so good. As a fan of the flavor of black licorice, I was very satisfied.
We finished the evening by going up onto the upper deck to have a couple cigars. The night was dark and beautiful, and you could hear the low sound of the yacht scraping against the moorings. Things were a bit blustery up on the fourth story on the waterfront like we were, but that didn’t detract from the atmosphere. We smoked while we talked about our favorite Spirits of the Expo, finally away from the din of the crowd down below. It was a solid tasting. There was just one unresolved question on our minds: where were we going to go now to find a nice refreshing beer…
Neal F., Beltramo’s Spirits Staff