The Malt Advocate's Chicago WhiskeyFest was last night at the Hyatt Regency. This is the fourth year for the event and it really seems to be taking on a life of its own, with related events taking place at local bars and retailers, and private events put on by producers for customers and press, such as the Bulleit event I described elsewhere. In the past (this is the fourth year) I have not spent much time in the seminars but this year I attended two, one by Mark Brown of Buffalo Trace, the other by Fred Noe of Jim Beam. Both filled their rooms to overflowing.
In these seminars now, it is typical to provide the audience with something to taste. At Freddy's show, he went through the Small Batch Collection, starting with Basil Hayden and working up to Booker's in order of proof. I haven't seen him present before and he's very good, very funny. As good as Booker was at that sort of thing, Freddy is more of a showman.
Of course I've tasted all of the Small Batch bourbons before, but there was a treat. Fred passed around a bottle of white dog. I think the intention was to have a smell but, hey, I had an empty glass so I tried some. It was really quite good, although it never ceases to amaze me how different white dog tastes from mature bourbon, it changes so much in the barrel.
At Mark Brown's presentation he gave us a chance to try three "experiments" the distillery has underway in its quest for the "perfect bourbon." All three were the standard Buffalo Trace mash bill. The variations were in the barrels and aging practices. The first had been aged in a #7 char barrel, which is supposed to be impossible. The typical barrel inside is burned for less than a minute. This one was burned for almost 4 minutes. Ultimately, though, the whiskey that resulted wasn't very interesting. The second experiment was a "double wood" bourbon. After being aged for several years in a new, charred oak barrel it was transferred to a second new, charred oak barrel and aged for several more, 11 years in all. It was interesting and not unpleasant, although it tasted like a trick. It almost tasted like two competing whiskies laid on top of each other. Finally, the third experiment was bourbon aged in new, charred French oak. The difference compared to American oak was striking. The whiskey was much spicier, white pepper spicy, very flavorful and complex but with few candy notes. Inevitably the question was asked, "can it still be called bourbon?" The answer is that the regulations say "new charred oak." They specify neither white oak nor American oak.
Finally, in the main hall itself all of the usual suspects were there, along with a couple of surprises. I teased Chris Morris that he should have had some of the 4-grain for us to taste. He didn't, but he confirmed that it is coming and they're just waiting for a name. Suntory was there for the first time, obviously trying to get some play from the success of "Lost in Translation." I tried their 12 year old. It was scotch-like, light, but not offensive.
For anyone who might be concerned, I took a cab home.