The 17th Annual Whisky Fest Chicago was held on Friday, March 18, 2016 at Hyatt Regency on Wacker. What is Whisky Fest, You ask? I am glad you asked!!! Well, it is the longest-running and best-attended whisky festival in the U.S.. It offers you the opportunity to taste from a selection of more than 300 whiskies from around the world and you can also learn more about whisky by attending the free seminars conducted by whisky experts. If you go next year, be sure to take some time to enjoy the never-ending gourmet buffet.
Upon entering the event, you are ushered to a line where you are given a Whisky Fest tote bag which is loaded with lots of goodies you can enjoy later and you are given a glass that you will use throughout the evening as you taste a wide selection of single malt, blended Scotch, Irish, bourbon, rye, Tennessee, Japanese, Canadian, and craft-distilled whiskies, all of which is assembled in one Grand Ballroom. High-end rum, cognac, beer and other spirits are available as well. So you say is that it, just tasting of various whisky?!?!? Well, no worries, there are also several signature cocktails to try if the straight no chaser is not your thing!
As I entered the Grand Ballroom with my Whisky app activated and my planned route I started out with a few of my favs based on the layout of the venue, I will only mention a few of my favs as mentioned early on there are over 300 to try and I am only trying to provide you with a brief overview!
First up…Woodford Reserve I visited them this past fall in Kentucky while I was on the Kentucky Bourbon Tour, they have a HUGE sprawling estate that is beautiful but truly has a corporate feel, ANYWHO… Back to Whisky, I do like their double oaked which uses a special finishing barrel. The process is also different. Before being placed into a finishing barrel, Woodford Reserve is proofed back down to 110 proof (the same proof level that it goes into the barrel at the beginning of its aging process) and then put into a special finishing barrel and re-aged for an additional six months to a year (depending on the barrel). The whiskey is then proofed down to 90.4 proof and bottled. The flavors here are immensely deep, rich, and lush. The finish is super long and thick without any harshness or burn.
Next up was the Suntory Japanese section I have attended the Women in Whisky events from time to time and on one occasion we were able to try the Hibiki which is truly pleasant on the palate! According to the Suntory website it is described as a symphony of at least 10 malt and grain whiskies, aged in five different types of casks, from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries. This delicate blend creates a oneness unfolding a full orchestra of flavours and aromas. It has a smooth finish that although is memorable does not linger.
Then there was Four Roses, another one that I was able to visit on my Kentucky Bourbon Tour, my favorite is the single barrel the flavor has a mild buttery character with a slight bite but smooth to the finish. It is interesting how you can take the exact same distillate but putting it in a different barrel can change the flavor so much. Some of it has to do with the location in the warehouse, but even if they’re side by side the mere fact they are in different barrels can have dramatic effects on the end product. The highlight of this part of the fest was that I was excited to see Mr. Al Young who I met years ago at a Four Roses brunch event here in Chicago.
Alrighty! Last BUT certainly not least is one of my fav’s that I will share with you from my evening at Whisky Fest 2016 is the crème de la crème, the bourbons of bourbons… Old Rip Van Winkle!!! We were able to try the 10, 15, 20 year and the Special Reserve because this is such a fav by bourbon drinkers and really hard to even purchase the line was long but moved fast and you had to get back in the line to try each different one! It was well worth it, not to mention the comradery shared chatting with other guests made for an enjoyable time. Of all of the 4 we were able to taste the 20 was my favorite among them all it is warned NOT to add water to any with the exception of the 10 year which should only be BUT a splash as it will taint the taste and quality of the bourbon and you surely do NOT want to do that!
This was my 2nd time attending the event, and I was not disappointed! I will say I am much more knowledgeable in bourbons and whiskey’s than I was when attending 3 years ago so I truly did enjoy it a bit more. Be on the lookout for Whisky Fest 2017, this is an event you do not want to miss, especially if you are a whisky or scotch drinker!