Taking place during another sauna-like summer in New Orleans, Tales of the Cocktail swept through the city like a cool breeze. The spirits industry gathered here in NOLA for a week of seminars, themed parties, and cocktails. Tales, under new ownership, seemed to put the focus on education and well-being. I’ll say this – I didn’t get a lot of the “let’s get trashed” vibe I typically see. Hell, even the William Grant & Sons Portfolio was alcohol-free. It’s refreshing, actually, and I hope Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s new mantra remains at its core in the future.
So, what kind of whiskey shenanigans did I get into this year?
My 2018 Tales experience began Tuesday night with a visit from Crown Royal National Brand Ambassador Stephen Wilson. Like Santa on Christmas Eve, Stephen arrived at my house bearing gifts – a couple of wonderful Crown Royal expressions to taste- Blenders’ Mash and the new 13-year-old Blenders’ Mash, part of their Noble Collection series. We documented the tasting on my Youtube channel.
Next on my schedule was a visit with Glenfiddich’s David Allardice. While sampling Glenfiddich Project XX and David’s contribution to that expression (a tasty first-fill bourbon cask), we had a laid back conversation about the Scotch industry. Specifically about age statements and the importance of blenders. David poured a bit of the newly announced Glenfiddich Fire & Cane, the latest entry of the brand’s Experimental series – a lightly peated whisky (a rarity for Glenfiddich) finished in rum casks.
Glenfiddich’s David Allardice showing off two of the whisky brand’s Experimental Series releases.
My Friday kicked off with a spirited chat with The Balvenie’s Jonathan Wingo at the famous Carousel Lounge at the Hotel Monteleone. Over a Vieux Carré and daiquiri, we circled geeky territory as the subject of whisky highballs came up. Jonathan mentioned the carbonation acts as a flavor delivery system, really bringing a whisky’s oils (flavor carriers) to the palate. We both agreed a highball is a more enjoyable summer cocktail than a mint julep. Now I want to make a whisky highball with The Balvenie 14-year-old Peat Week release.
New Orleans Bourbon Festival founders Tracy Napolitano & Barbara Hirsch-Napolitano deep into their Maker’s Mark Private Select pick for next year’s festival.
After that I was off to briefly take part in the Maker’s Mark Private Select pick for the New Orleans Bourbon Festival. Maker’s program is a great alternative to just picking a barrel, and it was great to see the unique process firsthand. Next year’s festival is going to feature a wide range of single barrel and unique picks made specifically for the event. More on that coming in a later post…
Wild Turkey Master Distiller Eddie Russell
Next on the agenda was the Wild Turkey Vault featuring a selection of vintage expressions! The promise of tasting special whiskey overshadowed the sweltering heat. Eddie and Bruce Russell were pouring in the back of Sylvain’s courtyard. I went for the new Wild Turkey Revival and Russell’s Reserve 2002.
Wild Turkey Revival is finished in sherry casks and proved to be a rich, dry-fruit laced expression of the bourbon. Russell’s Reserve 2002 is as special as the Russell’s Reserve 1998 release a few years ago – a potent blast of classic Wild Turkey flavor.
This is where I also ran into the inimitable Fred Minnick and Beam Suntory’s Adam Harris. It was also my face-to-face introduction to WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. I hope to see them in NOLA next March at New Orleans Bourbon Festival.
Rounding out my Friday night was a Brenne Whisky dinner with the wonderfully welcoming Allison Parc, founder of the French single malt brand. The intimate, friendly group of seven in attendance experienced a rollicking good conversation over the maritime delicacies of Pêche Restaurant.
Saturday saw my first and only Tales seminar this year – Irish Whiskey: What’s in Your Warehouse. It was moderated by Tullamore D.E.W. Ambassador Tim Herlihy and featured Teeling Whiskey’s Robert Caldwell, Walsh Whiskey Distillery’s Stuart Caffrey, Kilbeggan’s Michael Egan, and Midleton’s Jessamine McLellan. In addition to learning about the category (did you know Irish whiskey can be aged in any type of wood?), we got to taste some one-of-a-kind whiskies straight from the warehouses. Here’s what we tried, with my original notes (non-edited)
Teeling Whiskey – Plantation Rum collaboration.Finished in rum casks for about a year.Lots of malt, green banana, pineapple, other fresh tropical fruit and a touch of spice.46% abv
Walsh Whiskey Distillery – Writer’s Tears Copper Pot Deau XO Cognac 7-month finish. Honeyed fruit, pot still character, soft cognac character on the backend.
Tullamore D.E.W. – Single Malt.No release planned yet – still maturing.Malty.Vibrant.Rich.Warm finish.Could be very interesting once released.
Tullamore D.E.W. #2 – “when things go wrong”. Stout finish. Funky off note on nose.Overpowers whisky character.
Kilbeggan – Single Malt. – 7-yo in bourbon barrels.Bright citrus, malty, grapefruit,57(ish)% abv.
Midleton – single pot still trifecta. Component whiskies of upcoming release (Red Spot?)
- First-fill Bourbon cask. Lots of vanilla and floral, banana, toffee.Some spice.57.5% abv. Went into barrel in 2002.
- First fill Marsala Cask – slightly burnt; sweeter and savory palate; dried fruits; bitter, dry finish (American oak seasoned for two years) 58.3% (19yo)
- Oloroso sherry European oak seasoned for 2 years. Went into Cask in 2001 (17 yr). Beautiful, dark fruits.Large dark, dry sherry notes
Right after the outstanding seminar, Tim Herlihy and I talked about the explosion of the Irish whiskey category. As long as quality standards hold up among new and planned distilleries, the continued boom will be an exciting time. That’s especially true as it will allow more and more experiments in the category. We know experiments are hit or miss, but when distillers and blenders strike gold, it just means more interesting whiskey for us.
Finally, my Tales adventure came to a fitting end when whisky author and host of The Whisky Topic podcast Mark Bylok swung by the house to interview me for the podcast. I recounted my “whiskey journey” with a tasting of four delicious whiskies.
All in all, a very laid back Tales for me this year. Don’t conflate laid back with non-eventful. The folks I had the pleasure of talking whisk(e)y with shared lots of great stories, information, and a most welcome enthusiasm for the spirit. I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to chat with me, as well as the folks behind-the-scenes who worked to schedule everything. I look forward to next year.
By the way, keep an eye out in the near future for full reviews of the whiskies mentioned above.