Inhuman Swill : Spirits

Notes from under the table


I had intended to tweet live from WhiskyFest Chicago last week but was thwarted in my efforts because I couldn't get a signal in the underground ballroom at the Hyatt Regency. I did, however, faithfully take notes as I went. As I transcribe them, we'll be able to see together 1) how poor my whisky-tasting vocabulary is, and 2) how far downhill that vocabulary rolled as the evening progressed. Ready?

WhiskyFest Chicago, 4/1/09
TOMATIN 18yo sherry finish
delicious, light, a bit caramelly, bright bright finish on front of palate
ARDBEG Airigh Nam Beist
more refined than Uigeadail peaty but a bit lighter
ARDBEG Supernova
Holy peat, Batman! It's like a scouring pad made of peat! I loved it!
bursts in your mouth like a buckyball unfolding, nutty, strong flavor
SPRINGBANK 11yo madeira wood finish
very purple flavor, strong, delicious is that a winey taste?
very subtle sherry-ish flavor. Yum! Not fireworks-y. Caramel.
Peaty but tastes more watery than I like—no competition for the 27yo
Fantastic ryes interesting vodkas, peach vodka
CHARITY POUR—BALVENIE 1976 single cask
bright, in your face, caramel explosion
EADES blends—
Islay—Bowmore 60%, Caol Ila 40% Highland—Ben Nevis 85%, Clynelish 15% Speyside—Longmorn 50%, Glen Moray 50%
MICHAEL COLLINS Irish (peated)
BULLEIT bourbon
reg (10yo) cognac
By my count, that was a grand total of twenty pours. The biggest surprise of the evening to me was High West Distillery, whose booth I had to visit when I saw they were from Park City, Utah. Their Rendezvous blend was simply the best rye I've ever tasted. All in all, theirs was my most-sampled booth, with five pours. I wanted to try everything they make, even the vodkas, which were startlingly good and unvodkalike.

Another high point of the evening came early, at the Ardbeg booth. When I professed my adoration of their Uigeadail, they insisted I sneak back for a sample of their rare Supernova, of which they had only brought 500 ml. So peaty it just about knocked me flat, but fantastic.

I started off the evening on the wrong foot, confusing Tomatin and Tomintoul at the Tomatin booth. Now, come on, I know the difference, and I'm a fan of both the Tomatin 12yo and the Tomintoul 27yo. But for some reason I tried to impress the Tomatin folks by professing my love of their 27, which earned me a gentle yet still embarrassing correction.

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Old shoe week

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John eat BRAINS!
Going home to New York City is as comfortable as slipping on an old shoe. I flew there Tuesday afternoon with just a backpack and the parka on my back, and I was immediately at ease and confident in a way I don't yet feel in Chicago. The only bad part was that I was alone, since Laura was on a concurrent business trip to Rochester.

But I wasn't solitary for long. I took a cab from Laguardia to my borrowed apartment in Astoria, Queens, dumped off most of the contents of my pack, and headed into the city. After a quick stop at my old office, I met John Klima, in from Iowa way, at the Tor offices in the Flatiron Building. I acquired an advance copy of Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, I chatted with Patrick Nielsen Hayden for a minute or two, and John and I hauled his bags back to Astoria on the subway.

We had a full evening ahead, but before I tell you about it I have to back up several months and remind you of the segment of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" that Laura and I caught back in July:

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