WhiskyLIVE USA, the fabulous salute to a marvelous drink, rolled into Washington, DC this past week. A month previous, WhiskyLIVE USA was in New York, and come June it will land in Louisville, Kentucky. The event was spawned by the U.K.’s Whisky magazine, which hosts WhiskyLIVE tastings around the world.
What is this booze bash? Well, it’s simple: you bought a ticket, and for three and half hours you got to amble about the cavernous Grand Hyatt with glass in hand soaking up the manifold marvels of our Whiskey World.
And what a big world it is. There were Scotch and Canadian whiskies, and American and Irish whiskeys. Japanese whisky, which is a lot like Scotch, was present, as were various craft distillers, like Wasmund’s of Virginia. In short, if it is brown, high-proof, made from grain, and barrel-aged—it was there. Altogether, there were 200 different whiskeys and whiskies to sample, including rare oldies like Glenfarclas 25-Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon, which is a whopping 109 proof.
Mercifully, there were three buffets heaped with steak and other good eats, and plenty of water stations.
And one also could feed one’s brain. Lew Bryson, an expert on whiskey and beer, was there to sign copies of his Tasting Whiskey: An Insider’s Guide to the Unique Pleasures of the World’s Finest Spirits, and answered questions. In addition, there were “master classes” in whiskey. One explained how different barrels produce different flavors. Another course taught how blending different whiskeys can produce a drink more sophisticated than a single malt. A third was an exercise in palate training—Gardner Dunn, a brand ambassador for Beam Suntory, led students through a tasting of hard-to-find barrel proof (not watered down) bourbons.
Whiskey is booming these days, as the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States has reported. Attending WhiskyLIVE USA, it is easy to see why. As a category of drink, whiskey is incredibly dynamic. New products are coming to market constantly. Three products that caught my eye (and mouth) are Whistle Pig 12-year old rye, Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon, and Catoctin Creek Kings Mountain American Malt Whisky. Each whiskey features innovations in production. The Whistle Pig is a combination of ryes aged in Madeira, Sauternes, and Port wine barrels. The Michter’s bourbon went through the usual aging in new charred casks, then was aged a month longer in a barrel whose inside had not been burnt. And the Catoctin Creek whisky was produced by distilling a Scotch ale from Heritage Brewing Company. The result is a delicious spirit that carries brew notes.
Twenty years ago, products like these were not on the market. So the Whiskey World is not only large, it is growing. Lucky us.
Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and the author of Whiskey: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of AlcoholReviews.com and a frequent contributor to The American Spectator’s Saloon Series, a cultural investigation of the modern cocktail.