In as readable and lucid format as possible, here are some tasting notes from the February 18th event.
Visit One: Buffalo Trace
Buffalo Trace is one of the oldest active distilleries in the United States and has been producing a wide range of whiskey for some time. They took particular note in the program to mention the aging done in their "century old warehouses." The different buildings and different floors lead to different flavors in their inventory allowing them to take a linger, Magellan-like journey through the full spectrum of whiskeys. Out of the antique collection-home to famous whiskeys like the Pappy Van Winkle and the George T Stagg-we tried the William Larue Weller bourbon-bottled at a barrel strength 107 proof and aged for at least seven years. A gorgeous opening for the evening with the elegant, high-soprano note finish we expect from Buffalo Trace.
Visit Two: Phillips Distilling Company
Phillips Distilling is a large producer in Minnesota that has had spectacular success with the colorful UV vodka lines but was present this evening to celebrate their Prairie Organic Vodka. They note that they're a fifth-generation family-owned company working with a co-op of 900 farmers for their grain. Every aspect of Prairie's production is bent upon a quality product that recycles and re-uses leftover corn cobs to create energy for their own distillery. "This brand symbolizes a meaningful departure from the business practices of yesterday," claims the Dean Phillips, the current CEO of the company. And meanwhile, for those UV fans out there, expect a new launch soon of Coconut UV, which will come in an opaque white.
Visit Three: 45th Parallel Spirits
From the distillery huddled near the halfway point between equator and north pole, 45th Parallel Spirit is a small-craft distiller that uses a time-consuming, traditional process in the crafting of its spirit. 45th Parallel's vodka, which is derived from grain source from a single farm, ended up being one of specific favorites of the night-a remarkable achievement given the quality of the field. Its vodka is beautiful, clean, and almost sweet. The makers should be very, very proud.
Rest Stop: Referent Horseradish Vodka
Rest stop? Right next door to 45th Parallel we ran into something we never thought to see: a horseradish infused vodka. Referent Vodka gets its vodka base from 45th Parallel-a fine source as we had observed only seconds before-and infused it with an essence of horseradish. It was designed specifically with Bloody Marys in mind and indeed there was Bloody Mary mix available right at the booth. We were expecting a blast of wasabi-like heat but, gamely trying it, we were pleasantly surprised at how reduced the heat was while maintaining the sharpness of the horseradish. For those who enjoy punctuating their mornings with Bloody Marys, we can certainly give this a recommendation.
Visit Four: Temperance Distilling Company
Temperance Distilling makes the Travis Hasse (pronounced "Hoss' - ee") pie liqueurs from the "Drink Pie" people. They started out with a family recipe for apple pie liqueur and followed it right up with cherry pie liqueur. Coming right on the heels of a horseradish vodka, what could be better than pie? We were split: one of us liked the cherry and the other liked the apple. "Everyone's all over," agreed the representative. "Some people like one and some the other." She particular recommended the cherry pie liqueur in 7-Up. As a dessert drink, we found these spirits to be pleasant and not overly cloying and sweet. They indeed smelled exactly like pie. It was early... perhaps later in the evening, the Referent people had convinced the Temperance people to craft a horseradish pie liqueur.
Visit Five: Rogue Spirits
Rogue Spirits has come right out and announced that they want their spirits line to be as heavily decorated with awards as their spectacular line of beers. We've already become familiar with their San Francisco Winning Rogue Spruce Gin, so we went right for a product we haven't been able to try before: Dead Guy Whiskey. This is a sprit that comes from their beloved Dead Guy Ale and has been "re-purposed" for whiskey. They distill the whiskey and follow it up with a brief aging in oak. They recommend it in a classic Manhattan cocktail calling it the "Dead-Hattan." We found this an extraordinarily different whiskey: sharp and spicy that we would indeed love to try in a Manhattan. For those looking for a departure from the norm, this whiskey brings in a whole series of notes that traditional whiskeys have never seen and probably wouldn't believe if they did see it.
Visit Six: Solas Distillery
The Twilight Saga. This was founder and distiller Zac Triemert, newly returned from Scotland having achieved a masters degree in distilling. He has launched Joss Vodka, a wheat-based vodka from a still specially designed by Zac himself to deliver a pure and clean vodka. We loved the vodka. This was a vodka we felt could as easily stand on its own in a glass from the freezer as it could sliding easily and elegantly into a variety of cocktails. For a new distiller in a company that's the first in Nebraska since Prohibition, Joss Vodka stands as an extraordinary accomplishment. And yeah, that's a little envy you detect from guys probably a decade-and-a-half older.
Visit Seven: Amalgamated Brewing
Amalgamated Brewing out of Missouri was present representing their national launch of 85 Lashes Rum, a rum we found to have a rich and creamy taste with the oak immeasurably softening the rum. We believe it would be a stunning addition to traditional rum and tropical cocktails. It has a unique aging process of adding oak "spirals" (wood chips, as far as we could tell) to promote greater contact between wood and spirit. We also, happily, learned the identify of the model on the 85 Lashes label: Stacy.
Visit Eight: Austin Nichols and Brown Forman Products
One of the great things about this event was that just about every table had the actual distiller or some other highly knowledgeable person making great conversation and talking in enthusiastic detail. At this table of clashing competitors, we ran into one of the exceptions, which was a great shame because Austin Nichols is particularly doing some great stuff with their Russell's Reserve products. At this booth, in high contrast to every other table, were four young (attractive) women with friendly but plastic smiles who, for all we could tell after a few questions, didn't know a thing on earth about whiskey or about the companies that they were representing. It was by far the emptiest table and many of these whiskeys didn't deserve that treatment. Of course, maybe (no matter how unthinkable) these girls just didn't like us. But then in our favor, it was the shortest conversation of the night among anybody we rubbed elbows with. In fact, we had more interesting conversations with the catering staff at the Edgewater. We did get a taste of the very fine Russell's Reserve 10yr Bourbon.
Visit Nine: Tuthilltown Spirits
Tuthilltown Spirits is from upstate New York and, in a credit to that state's moxie, has brashly launched with a full line of whiskeys-all kinds of whiskeys-each committed to local, New York grain with the exception of the barley that comes from Canada. We tried their Baby Bourbon and their 4 Grain Whiskey. These whiskeys had a toothsome, loyal taste to their grains that are strikingly herbal compared to other whiskeys we've tried.
Visit Ten: Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Stranahan's is a great story of a two whiskey enthusiasts meeting over a barn fire in Colorado. They were unable to save the barn but have since become partners and launched a whiskey that is matured in the high altitude with controlled humidity and temperature to assist the aging. When we tried it, we found it to have a high, spicy note. Additionally, the whiskey had an ineffable, near-mystical arid quality that's a tribute to the Rocky Mountains.
Visit Eleven: Koval Distillery
Koval is a newer distillery in Illinois that shamelessly launched with a huge line of both un-aged whiskeys and boutique liqueurs. Everything they do is 100% organic and a tribute to modern, progressive grains and herbs. If organic isn't enough, they're also certified kosher. For this night, they were one of the busiest tables in the busy atmosphere of the Celebration pouring some of the most exotic spirits available. We tried the un-aged Raksi millet-a popular grain in Russia but one used for birdseed in the United States-having an amazingly earthy taste, the un-aged oat whiskey, which reminded us as much as creamy oatmeal cereal over breakfast as whiskey, and the rose hip liqueur, with a tart, savory flavor that still managed to be light enough to skip effortlessly over the palate and would probably be phenomenal in any number of cocktails.
Continue the journey to part II of the Celebration...