Whiskies of the World Expo – San Jose – 2014 Wrap-up

This week I had the pleasure of attending my first Whiskies of the World expo, at the auxiliary location in downtown San Jose (at the new San Pedro Square Market). This was my first Whiskies of the World event, and my second-ever whisky show. The ticket was $65, and I paid extra to attend a seminar given by David Perkins of High West Distillers. This was the auxiliary (read: overflow) event for the main San Francisco Whiskies of the World, which is both larger and more expensive. However, this one was a 20-minute VTA ride from my house, so… sold.

I consider the night to be a success. Registration was smooth, and there were no delays or embarrassing omissions on the part of the show staff. My seminar ended just before the main tasting even (8 to 10 pm, the second session), so I didn’t lose any tasting time by attending the seminar. David Perkins was funny and informative, although he’s a little scattered and talks fast enough that he skims over details or forgets to explain some things. He did a quick chocolate-and-whisky pairing that was awesome, I got to try a sample of heads and tails from the stills at High West – very cool! Also – squee! – David Perkins said he’s seen my blog. *gush*

The show was attended by some standard names – Diageo, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Marker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Aberlour, etc. There were also some big names in craft – High West, Corsair, a few independents – Gordon and MacPhail, small craft producers, and smaller single-malt scotches like Benromach, Ardmore, Longmorn, and Scapa. There were also a few bottom-shelf blends and some flavored whiskies that I strenuously avoided.

The tasting glass was a miniature snifter. I would have far preferred a copita or Glencairn, but it sufficed. The food was quite excellent – a really nice array of finger-foods carefully chosen to not conflict with whisky. Chicken sausages, goat cheese tartlets, salmon nigiri sushi, hand-tossed cheese pizzas, veggie spring rolls, etc. They did not provide a bag to carry loot, unfortunately, but there was ample bottled water to stave off dehydration and rinse out the glass between pours.

Only one table ran out of whisky to pour (at least that I noticed): Isle of Arran had only the 10 year left at the end of the night. Here are some highlights from my barely-intelligible audio notes from the show, stream-of-consciousness style. Read them at your own risk.

Corsair Quinoa Whisky was interesting – herbal and nutty and distinctly different. Nothing else tastes quite like quinoa whisky, for better or for worse. Corsair Triple Smoke was a little like the California peat that Lost Spirits uses, even though Corsair sources its peated malt from Scotland. Low Gap 2 year-old is nice, fruity, fresh, and not overly young-tasting. Aberlour A’Bunadh batch 46 – Spicy, caramel, less fruity than previous batches, not as much red fruit. Sweet. Strong butterscotch – almost cloying. Distinctly less red fruits than previous batches. A little more like oxidized/marsala wine. I wouldn’t buy it over previous batches. Brenne French malt whisky – really interesting, aged in wet cognac casks. Intense grape quality. Light body, but really nice fruit – distinct grape. Gordon and MacPhail Mortlach 15 year was Awesome, and my favorite pour of the night – Mortlach has great sherried malt. I need to find more! Benromach Organic – 9 year – straightforward virgin oak – cinnamon, vanilla, – nice but light. High West BouRye – nice blend, right balance of sweetness/spice without overwhelming rye character. I really need to get some High West reviews on this site [Update: The first!]. A new blended Irish whisky called “2 Gingers” didn’t have much nose. They were showing it mixed in cocktails, which says something. Some hay on the nose, some vanilla. Very “smooth” I suppose, easy to drink. I wouldn’t buy a bottle to sip, but might be worth it for mixing. Laphroaig 18 year – Not a big nose. Nice undercurrent of fresh hay and fresh baked bread. Muted on the palate. Some sweetness on the finish. I wouldn’t compare it to other 18 year old malts – tastes more like a 14 y/o. Basil Hayden Bourbon – Thin, light, no bourbon body whatsoever. I can’t think of a reason to drink it… maybe for mixing. Maybe. Jim Bean 12 year signature craft – surprisingly good for $33, Good fruit on the nose, nice follow-through. Knob Creek Single Barrel – good, quintessential Knob Creek, lots of cherry. Knob Creek Rye – Good, eucalyptus note that you don’t usually get from mainstream rye. Glenmorangie 18 – Lots of nice – fresh – banana, freshly peeled. Good, standard ex-bourbon. Nice and complete. Some tropical fruit – kiwi, coconut flesh. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition – Really nice, PX sherry compliments the Lagavulin peat well. Dalwhinnie 15 – surprisingly nice, lots of citrus, lemon peel. Better than last time I tried it. Worth another look. Dalwhinnie Distiller’s Edition – Sherry totally overwhelmed it. I wouldn’t buy it.

Phew! That’s it for this year. Look for an upcoming blog post on whether you should consider going to a whisky show, yourself. Cheers!

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  • Just wondering if you really meant “wet” cognac casks when talking about the 2 Gingers whiskey. That is a term I am not familiar with. If that is what you meant, could you explain what wet casks are, and what they do for the whisky?

    • Hi Rodl, the “wet” comment applied to the Brenne french whisky, which is aged in cognac casks. The distributor rep I spoke to called them wet… I’m guessing he meant they had just been emptied (not scraped, toasted, or candled), and thus had more residual spirit in them than your standard re-used cask, which has spent time drying out before sale or travel, or simply been broken down and reassembled after travel. I’m not sure if that makes any difference, but the Brenne was sure fruity!

  • Hey scotchnoob,

    Was the G&M Mortlach their semi-standard 15 yr/43% abv bottling? I’ve been considering putting one of those away to survive the potential lean times for independent bottlers when Diageo gets cooking on their “brand improvement,” but haven’t read much in the way of reviews of it so far.

    • Yes, it was 15 year and I think it was 43% ABV (I didn’t check the bottle). It was a sherry bomb for sure, and definitely one of my favorites from the show. I actually wish I’d gone back for another taste. 😉

      • Hey scotchnoob,

        Sorry for the reply several months later, but I finally opened this baby up. It is absolutely delicious. I’m getting Christmas spices and some mild traditional sweet sherry notes, but there is no cloying sweetness. There’s a savory element that really ties it all together. The best I can compare it to is a more savory GlenDronach 12. You hit the head on the nail with this one, and I’ll be grabbing another bottle or two for later.


        • Thanks for the note Eric. Crazy coincidence – I just picked up a bottle of this as well, from Caskers. It’s just as good as I remember, and a fair price for independent sherried Mortlach. I’m sure I’ll get around to a real review here eventually. 🙂

  • Nathan, i have an axe to grind with Perkins. If you talk to him again please ask him to respond to my emails asking for the percentages of 2yr and 16yr ryes in the HW double rye bottlings. Im guessing its a teaspoon full of 16 yr ala the amount of 25yr talisker in talisker storm. Tia.