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  1. #1
    Connoisseur
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    Jan 2013
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    San Diego, CA
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    577

    WhiskyFest San Francisco

    It's coming up in a few days, and I can't wait! It'll be my first time attending. I only have a regular admission ticket but I'm still figuring it'll be a great time.

    What can I expect from the night, for those that have attended in the past? Are there ample samples to go around? I'm making a list of stuff I'd like to try but wonder if I'll have an opportunity to try them all, time permitting, or if lines get crazy and I should focus on a select few, and just take whatever else I can get? Are the seminars worth the time? I'm relatively new to the whisky scene so it'd be tough for any of them to NOT be informative, but I also don't really feel like sitting through a glorified sales pitch for a product.

    Any tips you might be able to give would also be appreciated.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Connoisseur
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    Indianapolis, IN
    Posts
    853

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    IMHO, the secret to enjoying a mass whisky tasting like WhiskyFest is:

    1) Set reasonable expectations. Since you have a GA ticket, you won't have access to the VIP pours (if there is a VIP that you might like to try, you might want to go to that table first and if they still have some available they MIGHT give a post (most do not, but I have seen it done in the first few minutes of the GA session). Also, decide in advance, and stick to it, the number of items you want to taste in an hour. If you choose too many, you can easily find yourself quickly intoxicated (and don't realize it). A good friend and fellow SB'er sat his goal as 37 pours during a 3 1/2 hour tasting......he didn't make it through and was definitely feeling the effects.

    2) As a follow-on to the above....PACE yourself and drink plenty of water. While you probably want to taste the "rarer" pours early to ensure they are available...most pours will be available all night....don't drink everything the first hour.

    3) Seminars - If you ignore the above, seminars are a good way to slow down a little, but not feel like your wasting the event. I have been to several WhiskyFest seminars and have not felt deprived. Generally you will taste 4-6 items during the seminar and hopefully at least 1 item is something not available on the floor (e.g. an item from the VIP session, a non-released item such as their white dog, or a barrel sample of a future release). WARNING - the slow down effect is lost if you sit by someone (ie, my wife) who only takes a small sip and you, not wanting to see good whisky wasted also consume their pours.....I really don't remember much after that seminar, but my wife loves to tell tales about what happened later that night.

    4) Take a break and eat - WA puts out a great spread and remember ..... chocolate goes great with whisky.

    So after a lot of pontificating, what I really recommend is:

    1 - Pick out the 20 items you most want to try....order favorites/rarest/most curious first (you will suffer pallet fatigue) - do this in advance and locate them on the map you will probably get

    2 - Identify the seminar that most interests you and plan to attend it. If there is a 2nd one you want to do, identify it, but plan on reducing the number of tastings you do on the floor.

    3 - Taste the first 6-7 on your list....then take a little break and eat something....hopefully you will meet some folks who like to talk whisky while they eat (Last time I was at NY WhiskyFest I had the pleasure of talking with Harvey Fry a while)...its not just the whisky...socializing is also fun

    3 - Do another 6-7 tastings

    4- Work your seminar(s) in as they occur

    5 - Take another 10-15 minute break for a little more food and talk

    6 - Finish up with the other tastings on you list and if you have time (and semi-sobriety) have a few more

    7 - Don't be afraid to go off-plan when someone asks if you have tasted "Item whatever" that they tried and it was fantastic...I've stumbled onto some great pours that I have never heard of before this way.

    8 - FINAL NOTE: Have fun and don't worry about missing anything (you can't try everything)....just taste, talk and enjoy
    Last edited by TomH; 09-24-2013 at 13:23.

  3. #3
    Connoisseur
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    Jan 2013
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    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Wow, great insight... thanks!

  4. #4
    Advanced Taster
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    Apr 2013
    Location
    Rhode Island
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    232

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Great list by @tomh - I'd add these to it. I like to walk around and talk to tables. Especially in the first hour - in fact I rarely taste anything in my first hour. I've been offered some really good pours from under tables once ambassadors realized I was serious and not just trying to vacuum up "free" whisky. I'd bring a notebook (small reporter style that you can hold in one hand) to take notes - you'd be amazed at how quickly drams blur together. And finally do not be afraid to use the dump bucket. It's painful but the only way to taste 10, 15, or 20 drams over the course of an evening is not to finish everything you are poured. I've also gotten very good at asking for just a small taste. Okay here are a few more - If you've found a wonderful dram and had a very good conversation with a brand - I like to have that be my final dram of the night and sometimes ambassadors will pour you a very generous "taste" at last call. Also it goes without saying plan on taking taxis, public transportation or having a designated driver or spending the night in a hotel. Be safe. Have fun. Let us know your favorites.

  5. #5
    Advanced Taster
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    Apr 2013
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    Rhode Island
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    232

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    I forgot to add. Definitely take at least one seminar or master class. Diageo's are usually quite worth it. As are the Glenlivet. Or really anybody's. I find the opportunity to taste across a brand or distillery in a quiet setting well worth the additional cost.

  6. #6
    Enthusiast
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    Sep 2012
    Location
    East Bay, CA
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    361

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    I'll be there too! Good advice here, thanks guys

  7. #7
    Connoisseur
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    Jan 2013
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    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Well, with a few days gone by and time to look over some notes that I took, I can easily say that WhiskyFest was a success and a great evening!

    I started things off with the Heaven Hill "Got Proof?" seminar, put on by Bernie Lubbers and Craig Beam... learned a lot and could've listened to them talk for hours. Got to try very healthy pours of PHC Promise of Hope, EC 12 Barrel Proof, JW Dant, and Fighting Cock (didn't particularly care for that one, only had a small sip). I turned to my brother-in-law and said that it used to be the 'official' whiskey of our college tailgates, and a moment later Craig Beam said it was great for getting smashed and riding your ATV. Ha!

    Some of my notes from the rest of the night were a great resource, others got a bit muddy towards the end of the night (some of my descriptions included "Yum!" and "that was good")... but some things I learned about my own preferences:

    - a lot of stuff in the $50-$60 range did not live up to expectations. Better than cheaper offerings? Sure, sometimes. Worth the price difference? Probably not. I'd rather ETL for $30 than Blanton's for $50+. Some of the stuff that I'd expected to blow my mind was stuff I'd toss if tasted blind.

    - You really don't have to spend much to get some high quality bourbon. I enjoyed the JW Dant, which Bernie said was the same as EW White Label, which I'm now looking for here in San Diego. I also enjoyed "Big House", which is a $20 bottle. I tried it on a whim on recommendation from someone standing next to me a table over from the Big House booth. Good stuff.

    - The advice here was dean on. Make note of what you want to try. There is plenty of time and you won't be able to get to it all, and if you do, you won't remember any of it. Although there were a lot of people there, the event was far from oversold and the venue is large enough to easily accommodate everyone. Kudos to the event organizers.

    - My least favorite pours were a lot of the scotches I'd tried. Spice Tree and Peat Monster from Compass Box were 'standouts' as something I didn't like. I found that I much preferred older scotches to younger, but didn't like any of them enough to ever want to spend a lot on a bottle. Wasn't a huge fan of the Pappy 12 Year or the Stagg Jr. Not sure if I just expected way too much or they just don't suit me... probably a little of both.

    - My absolute favorite pour of the night was the Parker Heritage Collection "Promise of Hope". It's absurdly limited per Bernie's info, but wow, it was good stuff! I found that I really liked anything with a higher corn content, in general. Big House, Basil Hayden's, etc. Whistle Pig was another pour that left a positive impression.

    - I wish the even was an hour or two longer, so I could take in another seminar. I was surprised at how down-to-earth a lot of the 'faces' of these brands are, and they all loved talking about their product. I mean, it should go without saying that they want you to buy what they're selling, but you got the impression that they were all deeply passionate about what they do.

    So... yeah. In the end, I had a great time and learned a lot. I was a little intimidated going in considering I'm relative new to the 'serious' bourbon scene. I've always enjoyed the stuff but have only recently started learning about the industry. No question was too stupid to ask, everything was happily answered. It was truly an even that could be appreciated by the newest of whiskey drinkers to the most seasoned connoisseurs. Very glad I went!

  8. #8
    Apprentice
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    Jun 2013
    Location
    SE Michigan (Wayne)
    Posts
    28

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Wow, great report of your evening and great advice from the previous posts. I've been wondering if attending is worthwhile and curious how the evening goes, so thanks to all! Definitely something to add to my "list".

  9. #9
    Disciple
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    May 2008
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    Chicagoland, Illinois
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    1,609

    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Quote Originally Posted by jwacky View Post
    - I found that I really liked anything with a higher corn content, in general. Big House, Basil Hayden's, etc. Whistle Pig was another pour that left a positive impression.
    Nice report J. I think you meant higher rye versus corn if your talking about BH (higher rye mash bill) and WP (which is all rye). And Big House is LDI/MGP make. Unfortunately Chicago WF again conflicts with Bardstown Sampler weekend in 2014. I should just make the trip to SF's...I wish.
    Thad

    BTOTY-2011

  10. #10
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    Re: WhiskyFest San Francisco

    Quote Originally Posted by T Comp View Post
    Nice report J. I think you meant higher rye versus corn if your talking about BH (higher rye mash bill) and WP (which is all rye). And Big House is LDI/MGP make. Unfortunately Chicago WF again conflicts with Bardstown Sampler weekend in 2014. I should just make the trip to SF's...I wish.
    It was a confusing sentence on my part. I found that I liked some of the bourbons with a more prominent presence of corn. In addition to that general statement, I liked Whistle Pig, etc.

    Part of my confusion is also not knowing what constitutes a "higher 'X' mash bill'. Could've sworn I read that Big House was 60% corn, which to me says 'majority corn'... but perhaps the 35% rye makes it a 'high rye' instead? Guess I need to attend another WhiskyFest to ask more questions

    I still have a LOT to learn obviously. Every time I was about to write off a rye bourbon (didn't particularly care for Bulleit Rye), I had one that I loved (Whistle Pig).

 

 

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