Wednesday, October 24, 2007

One Dram at a Time

Last night, Karen surprised me with a fabulous early birthday present: tickets to the First Annual San Francisco Whisky Fest hosted by Malt Advocate magazine. We met up after work yesterday evening at the Hyatt Regency, site of this tasting event, and headed into the main ballroom where more than 200 of the world's finest single malt and blended whiskies were waiting for us to sample. Whiskies of all kind from around the world were present at this event. There were Canadian and Irish whiskeys, Japanese single malts, and Kentucky bourbons distributed among the 70 or so booths at the gala. For me, however, the highlight of the evening were the Scotch whiskies, which were well-represented at this event.

As we walked around the ballroom, it was difficult to figure out where to start, but after a few minutes of wandering, we ran into the table for Highland Park, a single malt label that I had been looking to try for some time. Not only did I get a chance to try to 12 year old bottling, I also was able to sample 15, 18, 25, and 30 year old versions of this fine liquor. The gentleman pouring the drams for us at the Highland Park table was very friendly and happy to answer our many questions. This was our experience all evening: many knowledgeable and nice people who were more than pleased to serve us their version of the distilled beverage and share their extensive knowledge about this famous liquor. Over the course of the evening, we took the opportunity to sample the whisky from many different distilleries, including Talisker, Oban, and Dalwhinnie. We also sampled some blended whiskies, such as The Famous Grouse, and a Japanese whiskey, Suntory of Lost in Translation fame. Karen and I also sampled some of my favorite Scotch, The Macallan. We capped off our evening with a tasting of various bottlings of Glenfarclas.

At each booth, we had the opportunity to try multiple offerings from each distillery, including some 30 year old whiskies and a few 110+ proof cask strength ones as well. I learned that I'm not a fan of full cask strength whisky, but I also realized that just a tiny bit of water opened the liquor enough to enjoy the complex flavors. Even though each pour was quite small, the total amount that we consumed added up, so we took several breaks from imbibing to eat some pasta, roast beef, and crudite in the adjacent ballroom.

Interspersed throughout the evening were a number of breakout lectures on whiskies, on topics ranging from "The Art of Japanese Whisky" to "Scotch... or... Bourbon?" and "Deconstructing Glenfiddich 21 Caribbean Run Finish". We decided to check out the lecture "Chocolate and Scotch Pairing", also known as "The Fruit of the Gods meets the Water of Life". Our session was sponsored by the maker of Laphroaig and The Dalmore single malt whiskies and Bay Area chocolatier, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. The session was hosted by Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador for the two aforementioned distilleries. Simon delivered a very engaging and entertaining lecture about the making of Scotch whisky, which contrasted markedly with the far less energetic presentation given by his chocolate making counterpart. It was interesting to see the parallels between the making of Scotch whisky and chocolate, and even more intriguing to try various types of Scotch paired up against specific kinds of chocolate. Some of the pairings worked better than others, but all of them were palatable.

All in all, I had a really fun evening enjoying some whisky with my sweetie. It was a great birthday surprise and an event that I hope to attend again next year. (Hint, hint.)