Throughout 2016 my blog will feature interviews with ten people closely involved with the world of whisk(e)y. Not all will be “famous” but all will be true enthusiasts with passion and insights that add to our knowledge and foster our enthusiasm for the ultimate spirit.
1. How or why did your whisk(e)y interest begin?
I went to college in Virginia and we tended to drink a fair amount of bourbon, with quantity rather than quality as the goal. A few years graduation, friends introduced me to Oban and Glenlivet and I started to develop an appreciation for fine whiskies which continues to grow. Aside maybe from wine, there’s no other drink in the world that is as simple, pure, yet complex. A great whiskey needs nothing except an occasional drop of water, and the range of flavors especially in single malt scotch is unmatched.
2. Do you now or did you have a whisk(e)y mentor? If so describe your mentor’s role.
Not per se, but attending as many tastings and festivals as possible over the years has been very meaningful because it’s allowed me to connect with fellow enthusiasts as well as a huge number of industry professionals, including many iconic distillers and global brand ambassadors. Magazines like Whisky and Whisky Advocate are great sources of current market trends. There are some great books out there too.
3. If you are put on the spot, like you are now, what would be your three go to whiskies and why?
This is a familiar question, and not easily answered. First, I really appreciate the range of world whiskies. I wish we could see more from Tasmania and other parts of Australia available here in the U.S., as well as bottlings from Sweden. I love Japanese and Irish whiskies, and American rye. But if I could only have three bottles forever, I think no whiskies have the depth and continuum of flavors and aromas that exist in single malt scotch. So I’d take one deep sherry bomb like Macallan, Aberlour, or Glendronach. I’d have one peaty monster like Ardbeg, Lagavulin, or Laphroaig, and one more delicate spirit like Glenmorangie, Balvenie, or Bunnahabhain. Or better yet, all of the above.
4. What do you think about the “no age statement” trend?
The industry is a victim of its own success and popularity. I buy certain NAS whiskies, Aberlour A’bunadh for example and Ardbeg Corryvreckan and I think as long as the product is good, why not? But the key is that the price should be reasonable. Sadly, the price for some 18, 21 year and older whiskies has gone up 50% or more in the last few years, and the trend is dragging up prices the in the lower end of the market too.
(Linda)Yes, both are always tucked nicely in my scotch cabinet. Robust flavors, each with its own distinct flavor profile, that never disappoint.
5. Do you have a whisk(e)y collection? Whether yes or no, why and what is the focus?
Hmmm. This is a very good question.
6. Do you follow any specific whisky experts or authors or bloggers or tweeters? Tell me a bit about some of them and why you follow them.
I’m a member of a few online whiskey groups where people share tasting notes and news, but I think one of the best, most entertaining and thoughtful whiskey journalists is Mark Gillespie and Whiskycast. He’s everywhere covering the whole world of whiskey all the time. He’s a great host and interviewer with incredible access.
7. What was the impetus for starting a whisk(e)y festival in Sarasota?
By 2012 I had attended the Kentucky Bourbon Ball, New York Whisky Fest and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza near Ft Lauderdale and I was constantly searching the internet for other whiskey events, especially in Florida. Since we have multiple wine events in Sarasota like Forks and Corks, Florida Winefest, and Wine, Women, and Shoes, I decided we needed a whiskey festival at home too. Using all the contacts I had made at those other events, I got commitments from brands and distributors, as well as a few ambassadors and distillers, and I held the first Whiskey Obsession Festival in April 2013. We had thirty one vendor tables and around 175 whiskies. By comparison, this year we’ll have forty nine vendor tables and 250 whiskies, plus many more industry dignitaries leading master classes, the panel discussion, and a cigar pairing. I’ve now been two several dozen whiskey festivals around the country and have only seen a similar industry presence in Las Vegas and New York; Whiskey Obsession has become a first class festival and one of the biggest in the Southeast United States. I’ve got great relationships with the brands, they really support the event and value connecting with this market. Plus being in Florida in the spring isn’t bad either.
8. What are some of the more interesting surprises that you have experienced during the festival – for example: the whisk(e)y ambassadors, and the patrons of the whisk(e)y courses, and the patrons actual grand tasting night?
Fortunately we’ve never had any negative surprises. I hire a variety of police, security, and staff to make the evening safe and enjoyable for guests. I strongly encourage guests to take a friend and Uber. I spend four months working on the event so at the panel and grand tasting, I can actually relax and have fun. I’ve got a few key helpers who have worked with me before so for me the festival is like throwing the world’s best party. It’s just that before and after it I’m exhausted.
9. Have you considered leading a festival in other regions of Florida?
There’s a new whiskey festival in Orlando that’s having its second annual event a couple of weeks after Whiskey Obsession (I hope to attend their Pappy Van Winkle class). And there’s a craft spirits festival with a related whiskey event in Miami also in its second year, plus the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Extravaganza near Ft Lauderdale. So, our state is well covered at the moment. Fortunately for me, Whiskey Obsession has a few unique features: on site package sales with bottle signings, classes and panel discussion led by dozens of distillers and ambassadors, and a very broad range of spirits from Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, France, and the United States, including a bunch of small craft distillers. Few other events across the country have the people, product, or experiences we have at Whiskey Obsession. And none of them are in beautiful Sarasota!
10. What advice would you give to someone who is a complete whisk(e)y novice and is going to attend the 2016 Whiskey Obsession Festival?
Bring friends and book your hotel rooms now! If time permits, arrive Wednesday March 30 and join us for the whiskey dance party with special musical guest Brothertiger. Thursday night is the fantastic Panel of Whiskey Experts with eight distillers and ambassadors presenting sixteen whiskies in a unique interactive tasting and discussion. The main event is Friday and with so many whiskies, it’s helpful to have a plan. All the whiskies will be published on the website www.whiskeyobsessionfestival.com a few weeks ahead of time. Don’t try stuff you already drink at home, walk around a bit and try a few that catch your eye, and talk to all of the people working the event – they live and breathe these products every day. The event is three hours for general admission guests and four hours for VIP guests so there’s plenty of time to go back and sample. Drink a few sips of water every time you rinse your glass and enjoy the wonderful buffet. Many guests take notes so they can remember what they liked and didn’t, and all the selections are printed in our program. And if there’s a line at a table, maybe there’s a reason and they’ve got something really good!
Check out the Whisk(e)y Obsession videos, photos, website and like it on Facebook. Grab a few friends and join us at the 2016 Festival. March 30-April 1.