Since Aaron of the Whisky Tribe was kind enough to help us with our Whisky Jewbilee review, as well as sharing his thoughts on WhiskyFest New York, we have extended him an invitation to become a regular blog contributor. For whatever reason (insanity perhaps?), he has accepted our offer, so please join us in welcoming Aaron to the “It’s just the booze dancing…” team!
For his first official post, Aaron will be sharing his experiences from yet another mammoth whisky event. This time around, he’ll be telling us about all that went down when he attended the 2013 Whisky Live event that took place in his native habitat, aka Los Angeles. Without further ado, here are Aaron’s thoughts on what looks like yet another outstanding, booze infused event…
Dateline: Los Angeles (add that click-ity click noise in your head to give you that old time newspaper-y feel or head over to the big brown radio in the living and stare at it intensely. What?! You don’t have one of those doghouse sized AM radios next to your 60″ LCD tv and Herman Miller recliner? For shame…)
WhiskyLive Los Angeles is probably on the medium size of whisky shows across our great planet. Not too big to get swallowed up by and not too small that you have to bring your own whisky. Though a show of pouring your own sounds like a marketing idea waiting to be hatched. Oh, wait, that would be called college, and already invented. I was lucky enough to coerce be accompanied by the lovely wife of 19 years as my date, on a weeknight, after a long day of work. The kids are virtually old enough to care of themselves, light their own matches, and load their own ammo, so it was DATE NIGHT! Shockingly Mrs. K agreed to go, having no idea what we’re heading to, as we schlepped through rush hour West LA traffic to the Century City Hyatt Regency. Nothing spells fun more than the 405 around 5:30 pm.
These things can either be extremely stuffy or rather casual, and WhiskyLive fell into the latter. No lines, easy access, all staff friendly and nice. Upon entering and seeing Mrs. K a bit overwhelmed by the ballroom of distillers (“Where the hell do you start? I’m following you.”), we headed to the buffet for some much needed foodities (yeah, I made it up; sue me.) whilst listening to the lounge-y live band playing nearby, perusing the list of exhibitors, and taking in the multi-dimensional demographic of attendees in the buffet area. Our great melting pot that is Los Angeles, is a throw-it-all-in-the-pot mix of people. All colors, ethnicities, shapes, and sizes are represented just about anywhere you go. Only in LA can you have punkers, Chicanos, Persians, suit & ties, cowboys, and the whitest of white bread all under one roof. Plus, for those that care, a fair amount of very beautiful women (hubba hubba!). And all for one good reason: Whisky!
And really that’s all you care about instead of my meandering musings, you single-celled life forms. It’s all about the whisky, isn’t it? Damn straight it is! Having been in New York City the previous week for Whisky Jewbilee and WhiskyFest, you’d think there was no more whisky to want to try. Nay, naysayers. There was aplenty, and having Mrs. K along for the ride was fun just to experience these whiskies, some of which were personal favorites, and the event through her eyes. Plus, we really need to get her out of the office.
First stop: Talisker. I had tried the new Storm the week before but wanted to sample it again. A biting, sea airy, smokey, salty dram that I liked even more the second time. But the 18 year old was even more inviting. I felt like the Gorton’s Fish Sticks dude after that one, all gallosh-y, bearded, and drenched.
Then it was over to Bulleit. I have a bit of a love for their Rye. You can’t beat it for the price ($20 or so at your BevWineCoSpiritsShop[pe]). It ain’t fancy, but it’s good. Just keep it on the shelf; you’ll be glad you did. And it was good to see Hollis Bulleit (daughter of the owner and sixth generation of the Bulleitt bourbon family. Click here to see her in action.) again who is the Carmen Miranda of the industry, my favorite square peg with her art background, and who is just funny as hell. Her tale of moving to a new place to live in LA was classic Hollis. Love that woman! And as a bonus, their 10 year bourbon isn’t a bad drink itself. Again, not fancy, but darn tasty. Lots of earthy tones in there for me.
Our favorite locale in the ballroom was the “independent” row back in the North Forty obscured by the big booths below in an oddly configured room that had two levels and an odd maze to get from Point A to Point D, and beyond. The boys and girls in the Indie Row complained a bit about the traffic flow which seemed a tad less but didn’t stop us from spending a good long time there. Me and Mrs. K like the off the beaten, poor lit track neighborhoods. She took a liking to the Tyrconnell Single Malt Port Cask. It did nose delightfully. I’m a peated Connemarra fan which was at the same table so it was nice to visit these Irish drams since we are long time mates. Next door was a wonderful table that included Blackadder (magnificently peaty) and the The English Whisky Company’s Peated Single Malt. Again, I had this last one in NY a few weeks ago courtesy Toronto’s Raj Sabharwal (@Whiskyraj) and was unexpectedly blown away by how much I liked it (once again). “English” in the name doesn’t exactly screech Great Whisky but who knew Texas would either (Editor’s note: Balcones was represented at the end of said table, and I forced restraint upon myself knowing I could have Balcones whenever and however I damn well wanted at home from my own stock, I thought proudly while staring stupidly at bottles of distilled spirits). I’ll be seeking out the EWC’s PSM soon for my shelf. Another highlight was the 1991 21 YO Bunnahabhain. The Winner!! Though this wasn’t a competition; it was an exhibition. A magnificent taste that seemed a bit more bold than its 52% ABV would suggest. But what heck do I know from ABV…Mrs. K is the chemical engineer.
Wandering around we happily ran into Rob Gard (WhiskyGuyRob) who had his own table displaying his new book, Distilling Rob. We supported Rob on his quest to get his book published so it’s always fun to see him and his success, and eat his Halloween candy. I’d toss in a picture of Rob here but he’s probably sick of seeing himself posed behind a table with a bunch of books silently screaming, “Take the damn picture already!! I’m hear to sell books, damn it!). Actually, I can’t imagine him thinking that as he was as gracious as usual.
Another interesting stop was via France at the Amorik booth. Not having heard of this distillery and very much liking the dragon logo warranted a stop. Actually two. The first one tried was a Single Malt that may be one of the most subtle whiskies this imbiber has ever had. I lean HEAVILY towards PEATED drams so whenever I muster up the courage to try something completely out of my universe and from The Gamma Quadrant AND like it, it’s a rare day, I tell you. The Double Maturation was also good but I found the former much to my liking. We came back later after getting the skinny on something “under the table” – the cask strength version of the Single Malt. Now that was interesting. Subtle but with a can of whoop-ass added. Unfortunately, it’s being bogged down by the standard governmental bureaucratic dung governments are so good at.
There was also the High West American Prairie Reserve Straight Bourbon. Now, I speak often of the High West line to friends and foes, and this is one I had to try since I haven’t before for some reason I can’t figure out. For a nice blended bourbon, I found it solidly up to High West’s standards. Oak, vanilla, maybe even a little chocolate in there. Really enjoyable. Plus the bottle is all High West bumpy. Ok, I’m a tactile, touch feely guy. There, I said it. I barely respond to light but how things feel and taste perks me up like…(insert proper analogy here that you find humorous and save me the time of an obscure reference that one of us will have to google anyway to see if it really applies or is some dorky and ill-advised attempt to be some kind of Dick Cavett/Dennis Miller higher-than-thou snark just to show you that I’ve been around the block a few times, sister).
I could go on…wait, haven’t I already?…but if you’re still awake and haven’t climbed behind that big old radio in the living room to fall asleep from the warmth of the vacuum tubes, then keep reading; Laura Palmer’s killer is revealed shortly…
I write this on the way back from a trade show in my little industry of widgets. Trade shows in many ways are going the way of the AMC Pacer. That little thing called the InterconnectedNet seems to have pretty much killed many of them in many industries. I’ve been witnessing the slow death of ours for years. It’s an aging little world that hasn’t yet figured out how to join the rest of the century yet. At the same time as ours was another trade show in the hall next door. The two industries have a bit of crossover so there was no wall between and attendees could go to either. It was like Las Vegas versus Anytown, USA and not in a good way. The other show was glitzy, sexy, well lit, and high tech with energy abounding. Ours, well, sadly felt like a morgue. Black carpet, bad lighting and almost no life. We did get plenty of pretzels and candy though from the show’s organizers! It troubled me seeing the aisles full at the other “cooler” show and almost empty in ours. Is it the industry or the glitz that made it feel so different? Is it the chicken and egg thing? Or is it both?
I’ve been to three whisky events in the last few weeks which if you come right down to it really are trade shows, and each had exciting energy, great environments, and wonderful people from the attendees who love to experiment to the small business artisan folks to the multi-national conglomerate heavyweights and their bobbleheaded hired guns in low-cut dresses doing the pouring (by the way, I like bobbleheaded hired guns in low-cut dresses doing the pouring, in case some marketing guru thinks it’s a bad idea). And they had this wonderfully “hot”, buzzworthy product: Whisky!
Whisky, of course, is nothing new. It wasn’t invented by some kid on his iPad in his Mill Valley garage while playing World of Warcraft and drinking Dew (Mountain Dew, not Tullamore DEW), and hoping for the day his IPO comes sailing in via JP Morgan, and Starbucks has a Pumpkin Spice version for the holidays. No, whisky and its brethren are as old as the Gods. It just has way better marketing now, dude. Its essence will always be the same regardless of how it’s presented (sold) to the public. It’s classic, glitzy, sexy, and fun because it just is and because we like it that way. Old is new and new is old. Always has been and always will be. Whisky shows are a reflection of this. Fake log cabins, romantic and rugged Scottish coastlines, Vikings, exotic and ancient, fabled locales, old men and the sea, funny shaped glasses and funnier shaped ice cubes, whisky barrels as tables, accents hard to discern, “old” fonts, and embellished history (hello, Prohibition). And, oh yes, Whisky too.
See, we like the whole package (enchilada, here in Los Angeles, thank you) even though we may be afraid to admit it sometimes. We love the mythology, the urban legend, the truth and everything in between, Scully. We love the old bearded man on the label, as well as the unpronounceable distillery name. It’s all part of what makes up what’s in that weird shaped glass, and what we savor on our palates. It completes the circle for us: we need things in our life that have history, passion, good, evil, sweat, tears, joy and love. Whisky has it all.
So, as I leave my little dying trade show, I’m comforted that my industry still has some of those components and will be around a little bit longer and hopefully strive to evolve. Whisky has evolved as we know and we’re all better for it.