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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest Washington DC 2019

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For a city that seems to always be in need of a stiff drink, WhiskyFest D.C. was a little less crowded than in previous years. Once again, there was no sign of Pappy van Winkle, but the BTAC offerings lasted well into the evening. As with most DC WhiskyFests, the seminars offered the biggest bang for your buck. The uniqueness award definitely went to Goose Island and Heaven Hill for their demonstration of how different Elijah Craig barrels influence Goose Island’s barrel-aged stout for their annual Bourbon County release. The Ultimate Lagavulin Seminar, however, took the prize for best presentation and pours. Ewan Morgan, Diageo’s National Program Director, paired an entertaining dose of Lagavulin history with a tasting of some true Islay unicorns for a barely sober audience. Here’s the rundown, as best I can recall. Until next year!

Scotch

Benriach Curiositas – Lightly smoky nose with plenty of heather and honey. The palate shows ashy smoke and fruit with chocolate moth balls on the finish. A-

Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 5 – Rich with the expected balance and complexity of the Tun releases. Lots of red fruit notes on this one, cherry and raspberry. A bit on the sweet side. A-

Arran Cask Finishes Amarone Wine Cask Finished – Floral and earthy on the nose. The palate is on the drier side for Arran and somewhat thin with red licorice and dark berry notes. B

Glendronch Allardice 18 Years Old – Juicy with a dark raisin nose and stewed red fruit palate. Long dark fruit finish. A great way to get your vitamins. A-

White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky (1961) – This Spanish export bottling (a handle, no less) had some of the famed Malt Mill whisky in its blend. The nose is light with minimal smoke while the palate is honeyed and malty with a unique creaminess. Still lush and vibrant after almost 60 years. A-

Lagavulin 16 Years Old Feis Ile Bottling 2017 – This very rare release was finished in Moscatel and bottled at 56.1 abv. The nose is beautifully balanced with red fruit and smoke. The palate is full of cocoa powder and beach campfire with a delicate, fruity finish. My favorite of the impressive Lagavulin offerings that evening. A

Lagavulin Distillers Edition (1995) – Double matured in Pedro Ximenez sherry, this one was somewhat hoarier than the Feis Ile bottling with more pronounced smoke and sherry sweetness. Still enjoyable, but not quite as dialed in. A-

Lagavulin Game of Thrones 9 Years Old – The nose is classic Lagavulin with smoke and ocean air, but the palate is bright and honeyed with sea salt, lemon, and an unusual bit of peanut brittle. B+

John Haig & Co. Ltd. Gold Label (1942) – Distilled in the 1930s, this is one of the oldest Scotches I’ve ever tasted. The smoke has almost completely disappeared on the nose, replaced with vanilla custard and earthy mushroom. The palate is thin with a distinct lavender note, which is apparently a common evolution for peat in really old Islay whiskies. Not my favorite dram of the night, but definitely the most memorable. B+

Irish

Tyrconnell Single Malt Madeira Cask Finish 15 Years Old – Plenty of sharp wine on the nose, but it’s tempered with honey and baking spice. The palate is surprisingly rich with minimal wine influence and more classic citrus. B+

Tyrconnell Single Malt Oloroso and Moscatel Finish 16 Years Old – A brand
new release. The nose is sultry with wine and candied almond while the palate shows old leather and a mix of citrus and red fruits. I still prefer the standard 16 year single malt, but this one is a fun variation. A-

Roe & Co. Irish Whiskey – A blended Irish whiskey from Diageo. There’s plenty of classic vanilla and lemon on the nose here and a bit of baked apple on the palate. On the whole, it’s rather standard stuff. B

American

Abraham Bowman Sweet XIV – This is one of the best smelling bourbons I’ve encountered in a while, with sweet oak, cinnamon stick, brown sugar, and candy apple. The palate is just as complex with fruit, clove, spice cabinet and a big tobacco finish. Tons of flavor. Standout American offering of the night. A

Elijah Craig Single Barrel 23 Years Old – The wood on this release is balanced well for the age, and it’s still bright despite the oak, showing fruits and baking spice. One of the best releases of this expression I’ve had. A

1792 Bottled-in-Bond – This one has more baking spice than the standard 1792 bourbon but also a lot more wood. The palate sees more of the same with a rather dusty, drying finish. B

Four Roses 130th Anniversary – Big and savory with salted caramel and dried coconut. A welcome departure from the sweeter fruit bombs I’ve come to expect from these releases. A-

Heaven’s Door 10 Years Old – Lots of wood up front in this Tennessee whiskey, but it softens to baking spice and fruit cake heading into the finish. B+

Little Book Blended Whiskey Chapter 2 – I had forgotten how big and rich this one turned out to be, full of candy bar sweetness and tropical fruit. Another favorite of the night. A

Old Ezra Barrel Strength Bourbon 7 Years Old – Packs so much more complexity than standard Old Ezra 101 with plenty of different fruit and spice cabinet notes. The finish is long and just as complex. Surprisingly good. A

Parker’s Heritage Collection Curacao Finished Bourbon – Still tasting like Heaven Hill’s attempt at a cocktail in a bottle. Lots of candy sweet orange notes that make it hard to find the bourbon underneath. B

Sagamore Spirit Port Finish Rye – Lots of rye bread and dark berry jam on the nose. The palate isn’t as sweet as I’d expected with plenty of dark fruit and baking spice. Yet another port-finished whiskey, but a really fun one. A-

Weller “Craft Your Perfect Bourbon” – The nose is fairly classic Weller with rich baking spice and oak, but the palate is thinner, uniquely fruity, and a little heavy on the wood. The finish is a return to Weller form but without much length to it. B+

Westland Peat Week (2019) – Beautiful smoke and delicate fruit throughout. So enjoyable I forgot to take many notes on it. Still, this one easily outshone many of the Islay Scotches that night. A

WhistlePig “The Boss Hog V: The Spirit of Mauve”– Lots of oak on the nose, but plenty of sweet maple and campfire smoke to keep it in check. The palate is sweet and spicy with cinnamon RedHots, orange marmalade, and barrel char. A-

WhistlePig Piggy Back – The newest from WhistlePig, this six year old sourced rye is bottled at 96.56 proof (the 0.56 a nod to the late Dave Pickerell’s birth year). The nose shows lots of lemon and clove-studded orange. The palate is classic spice and leather. A fine sipper but better cocktail companion, probably as intended. B+

Jim Beam Masterpiece – An oldie from 2013. The nose shows plenty of sherry with cherry cola and raisin. It’s rich on the palate with lots of juicy wine notes that battle a little with the bourbon heading into the finish. B+

Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Oat Grain Kentucky Bourbon – Sweet porridge nose with plenty of honey and brown sugar on the palate. Breakfast in a bottle but in a good way. B+

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Drew Beard

Drew Beard is Assistant Editor and Social Media Manager for Drinkhacker. He has studied and written about beer, whisk(e)y, and other spirits since he first started drinking them. A recovering Federal government employee of 10+ years, he is happy to have finally found a career where it is acceptable to drink on the job.

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