Virginia Distillery: Yup

Continuing my foray through the recent Sarasota, Florida, Whiskey Obsession Festival tasting this afternoon with two expressions from the Virginia Distillery. (Excellent web site from which to get all the particulars.) Gabriel Urrutia, the Southeast Market Manager, generously filled my nip bottles to the brim. Thus affording me enough for several tastes.


Gabriel scores with this jacket



I went into this tasting totally blind.  I knew nothing of the distillery and chose it simply because I could try two different expressions. When trying whiskies new-to-me, I prefer to sample at least several expressions in order to get a feel for the product…  ‘cuz ya know, not all new whiskies are yummy.

Virginia DistilleryI tasted the Port Cask Finished Virginia-Highland first. Wow. This is a blended whisky at 46% alc. The web site states, “The Virginia-Highland Whisky series is made from 100% malted barley. The Virginia Distillery Company marries single malt whisky made on-site in Virginia with aged malt whisky from Scotland.” What I didn’t realize at the time of tasting is that this is the flagship whisky for the series.

Notes: The color is reflective of the port casks. It tastes like big alcohol at first, then rich with the port coming through, hints of chocolate and a deep flavor overall.

Westland Distillery has an intensive and comprehensive whisky wheel, which I used for this tasting.  Gourmand is the term I think best fits this Port Cask Whisky.

Welcome to the big leagues! I rate this expression a 3 out of 4 points. Buy this whisky.

The second taste was the blended Chardonnay Cask Finished Virginia-Highland Whisky at 46% alc. It is lighter in color and flavor. I got citrus and dough. On the Westland wheel I see it as Fruity. While the Port Cask pairs well with dark chocolate, the Chardonnay not-so-much. I hesitated but still rate is a 3- out of 4 points.

Next up will be two Balcones expressions straight outta Texas.

Tasting new whiskies is indeed an adventure. I raise a glass to adventures!



Whiskey Obsession: Heaven


Whiskey Obsession in Sarasota, Florida recently wrapped up its Sixth Annual Festival. The offering included four days of whiskey tasting, pairing, dinners, master classes, VIP tasting and an incredible general tasting. If only I could have attended all the sessions, but reality heartily laughs at my wishful thinking. I eagerly attended the VIP tasting and the general tasting on Friday the 13th. Hmm, Friday the 13th – I got nothin’. But whisky notes, I do have.


The Single Cask Nation shirt grabbed lots of attention. 


This year I brought some sample bottles with the hopes that a few of the pours would make their way in so I wouldn’t have a tired palate, and I could pick and choose how I wanted to taste and compare the whiskies. Seven expressions made their way home with me while I tasted six different expressions during the evening. I prefer to complete each taste and rarely sip and then pour out. Waste not want not.

This blog edition primarily focuses on the samples, which I tasted over the course of a few days.

Raj Sabharwal (2017 Global Whisky Ambassador, High Commended) was my first stop during the VIP session. I actually wanted to simply pull up a stool and stay planted for the evening. The selection was varied and deep, but knowing I had a specific quest in mind I limited myself to two pours to bring home.

After nosing the seven sample bottles, I decided to compare Raj’s English Whisky Company Single Cask Release – Peated, Jamaica Rum Cask Finish @ 57.8% alc. with the Bruichladdich Port Charlotte @ 57.8% alc.

I admit that I eyed the Port Charlotte early on during the tasting and knew that it would be my last pour of the night. I like to end the night with PEAT. Lucky me also secured a sample to take home.

The Port Charlotte has an oily nose that transforms to a smoky, earthy palate that lingers on the finish. When I tasted it at the event, I rated it a 4 (top score.) Would the 4 hold up after tasting the English Whisky?

The English I poured at home. It has a candy nose with a touch of buttered popcorn – the rum comes through on the nose. The palate was more of a hay then medicinal hit finishing with a pleasant earthiness.  I was quite pleasantly pleased with this whisky and gave it a solid 3 out of 4. After the English I went back to the Port Charlotte then back to the English again. The Port Charlotte lost ground and the English gained momentum during the comparison tasting. After much thought though the Port Charlotte still edges out the English…but not by much. Could be that I am partial to Bruichladdich whiskies!

Next comparison Virginia Distillery Company, Port Cask Finished, Highland Whisky and Virginia’s Chardonnay Cask, Highland Whisky….


Gabriel Urritia, Virginia Distillery Southeast Market Manager.


In the meantime, I raise a glass to the world of whisky and all its enthusiasts.


Whiskey Obsession: 12 Tastes


Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota celebrated its 5th anniversary this past week. It did not disappoint with more than 250 whiskies on hand for tasting. Turner C. Moore the founder and visionary for the festival has expanded the offerings each year. This year there were tasting lunches, dinners, panel discussions, a bartender academy and several VIP master classes. The number of American bourbon and rye distilleries at the Grand Tasting has been steadily growing – and trying desperately to call my name. Maybe next year I will switch to these rising stars. Truly there was something for everyone.

I also appreciate the effort to remind tasters to bring a designated driver companion, use cab or limo services or stay at local hotels. To keep everyone hydrated and tummies satiated, plenty of fabulous food flowed all evening long from the host site – Michael’s on East. Class production all around!


Past experience guided my planning…where to begin so as to come out the other side coherent. Before purchasing my ticket, I started with reviewing the general admission list and compared it to the VIP early admission list.  Single Malt scotch is my preferred drink and the VIP list called my name. My goal was to taste only whiskies that I have never experienced. I highlighted ten single malts, to start the night off, then added a few from the general list.

I arranged for a ride to and from, gathered my list and five empty sample bottles. Not sure if I would be able to use the sample bottles, I kept them in my Whiskey Obsession bag.

At the end of the evening, I had tasted twelve whiskies – more than enough for my palate to handle. During each taste I took a few notes, had a brief conversation with the folks behind the bottle and managed to bottle five samples. Yet, since then I have circled around my notes and the samples. For the first time in a while I tasted mostly impressive whiskies with no particular standing above or way below the crowd. While several of the tastings did reinforce my penchant for peat, my usual 1 to 4 ranking seemed to be out of place. What a dilemma – drinking damn good whisky!


The weaker tastes, but by no means terrible:

  • AnCnoc 24 YO, a Highland from Knockdhu: A bit “tinee” on the spice. Just not much there to pull me in.
  • Singleton 18 YO, a Speyside from Dufftown: Very light, a hint of spice. Nothing there for me, a peat freak.


Most interesting tastes and better than expected:

  • Kozuba Limited Edition Single Malt – Prologue, made in St. Petersburg, Florida. What is that on the nose, is it off? No, it is birch, not peat but birch smoke. The taste is birch and spice. Fascinating. I plan on visiting the distillery soon as it is in the general area; blog to follow.
  • Bastille 1789 French Single Malt Whisky – I didn’t expect to like this edition. It’s different mind you than Scotch Whisky, but intriguing.


Whisper that these are special, no hitting you over the head:

  • Glencadam 25 YO, Highland: Light dances with dark cherry spreading across the mouth. Distilled at a 30 degree angle. What?
  • Glengoyne 25 YO,  Highland: Sherry bomb. The poster claims “Worth the Wait”…slowly distilled 12-15 liters per minute as opposed to the average 5 liters per.

Quick kick, share with friends:

  • Douglas Laing Rock Oyster, Blended Island Malt: All that it claims – sea and salt.
  • Glenmorangie Bacalta, Highland, this year’s annual edition: Surprise, but not really, I tend to enjoy the yearly editions. I tasted after the Glencadam and the madeira notes jumped right out. Yum.

Stands out on its own, a hidden gem:

  • John Milroy, Bunnahabhain 25 YO: Spicy, rich, hint of Islay peat. Damn good! (website is under re-construction)


I’m in my comfort zone; I need my peat!:

  • Lagavulin Islay 12 YO, 200th Anniversary Edition: OK, I’ve tried this bottle, but by the mid point of the tasting I yearned for peat to sooth my soul. Geez.
  • Douglas Laing Big Peat, Islay Blended Single Malt: The name says it all. My first impression on the nose and palate was Ardbeg 10 YO.


Now that I have only ever so slightly reviewed the twelve whiskies, it’s time for me to commit to my number one choice. My top three – Glengoyne 25, John Milroy Bunnahabhain 25, and simply because the Lagavulin Anniversary 12. From sherry bomb, to hints of peat, to the big boy.  I purchased the Lagavulin to keep in Florida and will seek out the other two upon returning North. And if anyone wants to gift me a bottle…….

See, that’s what happens to me when surrounded by such interesting and diverse whisky… selecting a favorite ends up being three! Guess I’ll keep on drinking and searching for the next wow factor…all while re-training my palate and my expanding my repertoire of adjectives.


I raise a glass to Turner C. Moore and his festival – I am obsessed with it.  Save the date people, April 11-14, 2018, Whiskey Obsession returns for its Sixth Annual Event.






10-4-10: Interview with Turner C. Moore

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.

Turner C. Moore is the force behind the hugely successful Whiskey Obsession Festival in Sarasota, Florida.  I have attended this festival the past two years and will certainly be present this year.  As far as I am concerned, it is a must attend event this spring.

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 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.

Many thanks to Turner for his thoughtful and informative answers. I raise a glass! See you at Whiskey Obsession Festival.