Can you feel it? Can you smell it in the air? It’s that season where adults become bright-eyed and bushy-tailed like the happy-go-lucky children we once were. It’s that time of the year that transports us back to a world of innocence like no other. Yes, it’s WhiskyShow time. It does seem to come earlier and earlier every year, doesn’t it? I remember the days when the season came in the early winter when it was…cold…outside. But, boy, have times changed! So, on the 80° frozen tundra of Los Angeles, we happily welcomed WhiskyLive into town.
The lovely Missus and I attended this year’s version again in the Hyatt Regency on Avenue of the Stars (yes, we have a street named Avenue of the Stars) in Century City. DISCLAIMER: No movie stars were actually harmed in the making of this whisky event. As usual, the configuration of the ballroom changed to make one wonder (1) is this show getting smaller with less exhibitors or (2) do the organizers like moving the furniture around just to make the guests nuts?
Regardless of the ever-changing layout, the little-community-that-could-drink gathered in Century City to sample from various mega and not-so-mega distillers. This year featured many newbies to the festivities which is a good thing. Two California distilleries raised the eye and taste buds: Sweet Potato Spirits (Atwater, CA) and Sonoma County Distilling both from Northern California. Sweet Potato started distilling “the world’s first sweet potato” vodka from the sweet spuds on their farm and have recently added a tasty rye whiskey to their list of spirits. Master Distiller, David Souza, has taken the five generation business from farming to bottle in the nicest of small batch ways. Sonoma County Distilling also takes the local route to their 100% Rye whiskey and 2nd Chance Wheat whiskey. The rye was young and had a nice bite. California “Terroir” and the ingenuity of the Golden State was proudly on display at both booths.
Another newbie to the show was none other than that wacky Allison Patel and her French single malt whisky, Brenne. We’ve reported before about Ms. Patel’s flying hands, infectious personality and delectable whisky before. But it was fun to see her out of dreary old Manhattan (the NY one, not the tony, local Beach one). She was bubbly as ever from the Southern California sun, and was on the last stop of another frequent flyer cross country trek (boy, are her arms tired) that found her busy as ever at WhiskyLive with many folks happily experiencing Brenne for the first time.
And a whisky event in L.A. almost isn’t complete without the presence of the L.A. Scotch Club gang. Andy, Michael, and Co. have their own table of fun drams from their collection to taste. Easily a highlight of the evening was the 26 year old Bunnahabain that Andy poured with a big smile on his face. These kids put on the most unique whisky events and one can only imagine what shenanigans they are dreaming up next all in the name Whisky.
A very pleasant surprise was seeing, smelling and tasting Mahon Gin at the Purple Valley Imports booth. I’m no gin pro by any means but this spirit is mesmerizing to me. Made from an old family secret in Spain, Mahon has a delightful aroma that just fills the head with delicious smells and happy thoughts. It’s like one of those $25 organic candles that you regret buying at a street fair because it cost $25 but once you light it back home, you realize that you’re an idiot for ever buying a $5 candle at CVS. Cheers to PVI for finding another interesting and delicious offering from across the globe.
Stranahan’s from Denver was a very welcome newcomer. In the Rockies, Stranahan’s is legendary and Master Distillery, Rob Dietrich and his big sideburns, are rolling out their Colorado whiskey nationwide. Rob is an affable, motorcycle riding former music industry pro who was in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division and did two tours in Mogadishu, Somalia in the Black Hawk Down days. Making whiskey is easy by comparison to that. And now his concoction will be available most everywhere east and west of the Continental Divide. Every year, Stranahan’s releases a limited release expression called Snowflake that has taken on mythic stature in Denver. Only sold at the distillery on one specific day with a very small number of bottles available, Snowflake is Rob’s brainchild that literally comes from his kitchen table. He experiments with various casks to come up with something singularly unique and worthy of the Snowflake label. Last year’s Snowflake (all named after various Colorado peaks), Mount Silverheels, was finished in a merlot cask from Denver’s Balistreri Winery. “Unique tasting” would not do it justice. I was lucky enough to have a dram at The Buckhorn Exchange restaurant last winter. I can only hope to be so lucky on this year’s trip.
Going to these shows can easily become a trip to InebriationLand without some proper plan like “Don’t Try Everything.” A good corollary would be “don’t drink anything you own or have tasted before.” And the ultimate rule should be try only things you’ve never had before or are outside that little box you’re so comfortable in. Redbreast 21 was something I’ve wanted to taste for quite awhile. A year ago a bottle was $250 and now, $300+ is not unusual. Hey, I got bills to pay, Man! My kids need to eat once in awhile! But a semi-free taste? That I can swing, and happily did. Redbreast is a special dram in its younger versions and the 21 does not disappoint. I may have gone back for seconds but only my hairdresser knows for sure.
WhiskyLive is much like Los Angeles itself. It’s a melting pot of wise, old Scotch drinkers; young, long-bearded hipsters; Gen-XYZ’ers; beach bums; suits & ties, denim, boots, and faces of every color. It’s Los Angeles, pure and simple. We don’t get the large eastern seaboard shows, and maybe Whisky hasn’t taken off here for the same reason a pro football team hasn’t come back here. It’s a megametrosprawlopolis where on any given day you can go to the beach, mountains, desert, Filipino-Kosher dance club right after a foodtruckfestapalooza skateboard opera at the Hollywood Bowl. Plenty to do here and maybe we don’t have not enough people wanting another thing to do. Who knows? We could just be a lazy lot that doesn’t spend enough dinero on Whisky for the Industry to give us much more than a passing nod. Sadly, it’s pretty tough finding an Ardbeg, BenRiach, or Cragganmore in all but a few pubs here. Yes, we DO know our Whisky ABC’s, Industry wonks! So, bring your riches to us, and we will drink (and buy)!