Tasting Panel Thursday

My mouth is officially dried out and dead numb.  For more than three hours I sat with some of my booze world peers at an event put on by the Tasting Panel magazine called "Speed Tasting."  In this special event, I was invited to enjoy the whiskies of eleven different producers who were given fifteen minutes each to present their products to our panel.  Along with me were Heaven's Dog/Slanted Door bar manager Erik Adkins, Joie de Vivre director Matthew Stuhl, Bar Agricole stud Thad Vogler, and the Tasting Panel's own Merideth May and Deborah Parker Wong.  We were given sheets of paper to record our notes, which were collected at the end of the event to be published in a future edition of the periodical.  A neat little activity, I thought, but I got lucky with the single malt theme.  Poor David OG did the same thing in SoCal a while back, but I think he got stuck with vodka (hee hee).

First up on the list was Bushmill's, so we were greeted by Diageo's own Master of Whisky Steve Beal.  I was pretty excited actually because I had never tasted any of the aged expressions from Bushmill's.  We were given large pours of the 10 year, 15 year, and 21 year.  All were tasty and a great credit to the longevity of Irish single malts.  As if that weren't exciting enough, as soon as Steve's fifteen minutes were up we said hello to Chuck from Kilbeggan & Glenfarclas.

Chuck didn't come to play around with kid stuff - he brought the goods.  Right off the bat - Glenfarclas 40 - BAM!  Suck on that!  What a freakin' awesome way to spend an afternoon, I thought to myself.  The malt is a fantastic testimony to the quality of Glenfarclas.  The price of the 40 year, while still a whopping $450, is very managable compared to comparable expressions of a similar age.  No time to really sit back and enjoy it though because we're fifteen minutes from a whole new line up.  Next came Wemyss, then a new Irish indy bottling of Cooley called Michael Collins, the Laphroaig/Ardmore, Balvenie/Glenfiddich, and a whole slew of others.  Some of the reps were very knowledgable, some were a bit green, and some were there to sell a bit of snake oil.  My favorite part of the day was when one of the guys (representing a major blend) told us about Islay whiskies - apparently they are ALL incredibly medicinal, most people cannot handle them, and if you've had one, you've had them all.  I think the quote was something like, "if you've ever tasted Laphroaig, then you've had all of them - they're all one and the same."  Erik A and I smirked at each other and kept our mouths shut.

The two best whiskies of the day, however, came near the end and I'm surprised that I still had the stamina to decipher any significant flavor.  Glenmorangie brought out their soon-to-be-released Finealta, which is a light, honey and citrus-filled malt that is incredibly delicate - all nuance through and through.  Lumsden has really created a masterful malt that should follow the Flaming Heart as runner-up for "best whisky that no one but super geeks will appreciate."  Too gentle for most people, I think, but I really enjoyed it.  Right there with it was a cask strength expression of Arran aged in bourbon cask.  It was everything you wanted in a whisky - no frills or fancy enhancements.  Big power, dark chewy fruits, waxy textures, and a hot spicy finish.  Thad and I both thought it was the best we had tasted up to that point.

Finishing off the day was a fantastic little 98 Glenrothes, which I had tasted at Whiskyfest, but had absolutely no recollection of.  Bright fruits, honey tones, orange peel, baking spice, soft sweet finish.  Everything you want from the Roth.  Overall, I was a bit exhausted when we were through, but the experience was pleasant and my co-tasters were a blast to hang with.  I think I'm going back for another round in March when they do another Bay Area event, but we'll have to wait and see.

So now I'm home, sipping on some Marie & Fils 25 year old Pineau des Charentes from my man Nicolas Palazzi.  David OG and I just got off the phone and we're both so sprung over this stuff we're like two junior high girls talking about our new hot crush.  It's embarrassing, but what can you do but swoon in the presence of greatness?  Thanks to all of you who sent birthday greetings yesterday.  Very nice of all to do so.  I am wishing for a restful couple of days as I blow out the candles.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll