Participating in national whisky events is akin to being part of a theatrical production. Prestige hotels and unique venues become the theaters; whiskies from around the globe become the stars; brand ambassadors and spokespersons become the actors and supernumeraries; and whiskey connoisseurs and newbies alike become the audience.
WhiskyFest and Scotch Malt Whisky Society present major events in New York, Chicago and San Francisco. SMWS calls their events “Extravaganzas” and host additional events in cities, including Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Seattle. WhiskyLive presents their events in Boston, New York, Los Angeles, as well as Toronto, Canada and at Scottish Highland games in Illinois and California.
Hundreds of whiskies available for tasting at many dozens of tables require elegant and spacious rooms to coax the audience into the proper mood to explore new, rare, and entire ranges of product. Ballrooms at Hyatt Regency, Loews, and J. W. Marriott hotels are favorites, as well as such venerable venues as the Rainier Club in Seattle. Two of my favorite locations are Boston’s Park Plaza Castle and Lawrence Hall, in London. The Victorian-era Castle was completed in 1897 and served as an armory for Massachusetts’s First Corps of Cadets and is designated a National Historic Landmark. Lawrence Hall, within the Royal Horticultural Halls, is in the heart of London’s Westminster area. Many hours before show time, these cavernous spaces are abuzz with set-up, from simple draped tables, forests of pop-up display banners, and entire bars, complete with cocktail mixing stations with back bars, mood lighting, and flat screen televisions.
Presenting whiskies from around the world at the International Table at recent WhiskyLive shows has provided me the opportunity to discuss and serve products from India (Amrut), Australia (Sullivan’s Cove), England (English Whisky), Scotland (Glenglassaugh and Black Adder), and the United States (Balcones). Guests love experiencing these whiskies, some from small craft distillers, and all offering their own special twist, like including the charred wood “floaters” in Black Adder’s Raw Cask unfiltered Islay malt.
Another aspect of these spirited shows is a chance for guests to meet and talk with authors and published journalists from the world of whiskey. Robert Gard was recently on hand to discuss his book, “Distilling Rob – Manly Lies and Whisky Truths”. Rob’s engaging personality comes across both in person and in his book, using a metaphor of the whisky-making and maturation process as an analogy for how boys mature into men. Canadian author Davin de Kergommeaux is a certified sommelier and author of “Canadian Whisky – The Portable Expert”. We had a fascinating discussion about Nova Scotia’s Glenora, the oldest single malt distillery in Canada. The highlight of my brush with whisky-writing glitterati was during my work stint at WhiskyLive-London, when I had the distinct pleasure of spending a few minutes with the renowned Michael Jackson, who inscribed his “Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch” for me.
Camaraderie, audience rapport, and memories are what these events are all about. Just like the theater.