Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota was on my “must do” list this spring. The brainchild of Turner C. Moore and hosted at Michael’s on East, it satiates my want of whisky exploration while away from my New England turf. I have attended three of the four years it has been operating. This year marked a distinct change from the previous festivals – specifically the grand tasting. The crowds were larger, younger, there were more women in attendance, and most obvious was the increase in the number of American products. Whiskey production on a smaller less corporate scale is back in full swing and I believe bringing in the younger drinkers. My goal at the festival, as always, is to first try single malts that have alluded me in the past and/or new to the U.S. market. Then, if time and the capacity to actually handle any more alcohol, I would move to American products. I never made it to the Americans – perhaps next year I should change my focus and start local.
This year I pre-read the list of 200 whiskies to be presented and narrowed the field down to 30 potentials, including whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, France, Japan, Canada and the U.S. Being realistic, I knew that by the end of the evening at most 20 would be tasted. I had to be sure to make a concerted effort to sip and spit. Sometimes, that is terribly difficult! At every festival we have all seen what happens then enthusiasm for sipping results in complete drunkenness. What a waste of good whiskies. For me, the final count was 17. Too many to write about this week!
My Top 3 are very different from each other, both in taste, region, age. I surprised myself when I went back to review my notes at how these three stood out in the crowd.
My number 3 choice: Single Cask Nation (SCN) Glen Elgin 18 YO 2nd fill Bourbon Hogshead
After meeting Joshua Hatton at the 2015 Obsession Festival, I became intrigued with his Jewish Whisky Company’s membership business plan. His offerings last year completely amazed me, his excitement for his products was contagious. I visited his web site and was completely drawn in. I now have at least a half dozen of his bottles in my scotch cabinet. Hell, I even bought the SCN work shirt!
This festival I sampled three of this bottles, all of which received strong scores, but the Glen Elgin, a Speyside whisky, stood out. The nose was light and the first impression on the palate was light as well. Quickly the palate had a burst of floral and a hint of spice. SCN web site states, “This cask bottling, distilled in November of 1995, spent 18 years maturing in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead. It was bottled at a natural cask strength of 54.9% ABV in March of 2014. Cask #1661 yielded 277 bottles.” I give this a 3- out of a score of 4. I will be purchasing a bottle. Note: Joshua will make an appearance on my 10-4-10 interview series sometime in the next few months.
My number 2 choice: Aberlour A’bunadh, Batch 52
What can I say? The A’bunadh series continues to grab my attention with its big alcohol content – this one at 60.5% cask strength. It wallops with a massive sherry bomb and hints of chocolate. I give this a solid 3 score. A bottle will grace my scotch cabinet.
My number 1 choice of the evening: Kilchoman 2008 special release.
Back in September of 2009 I was visiting Islay not long after the inaugural release of Kilchoman’s first whisky. None were to be found on the island except behind the bar of the local establishment. I asked if I could buy the bottle? Bartender laughed. So crafty me, bought some shots and asked him to pour the shots in a water bottle that I was carrying (minus the water, naturally.) I brought that bottle of Kilchoman home with me – a perfect souvenir, long since emptied. As you can imagine, I now have a soft spot for all that is Kilchoman.
Ryan Kohl, District Manager of the Southeast Region of ImpEX Beverages, energetically manned the pours this year. As a side note: Ryan said to watch for Kilchoman’s Sanaig. this new expression has just launched.
The Kilchoman 2008, a 7 YO, bottled at 46%, doesn’t overwhelm, the taste is smooth with some tropical fruit that blends nicely with the peat that lingers and whispers Islay. This is a perfect dram to enjoy on a quiet evening. I score it a 4-. Must hunt down a bottle!
The remaining 14 whiskies that I sampled at the festival will make an appearance in the near future. The scoring for these bottles range from a 2+ to a 3-. Most are middle of the road, which is not a bad thing, but doesn’t hold enough of my attention to warrant purchasing a bottle. Drink, probably, but only if someone else is pouring.
I raise a glass to the opportunity to attend whisky festivals. Thanks Turner for Whiskey Obsession Sarasota – see you next year.