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Chicagoist at WhiskyFest

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Apr 7, 2008 6:00PM

2008_04_whiskyfest1.jpgAnother year, another WhiskyFest down in the books. Malt Advocate magazine's annual festival celebrating all there is to celebrate about whiskies was, by all notes, a rousing success. Many exhibitor booths were four-to-five deep with patrons and customers paying $110 a pop to sample whisky. This having been our third WhiskyFest, we had to look long and hard for some new brands.

One that stood out was Duncan Taylor & Co, Ltd., purveyors of some of the finest single malt and single grain scotches on the planet. At their booth attendees were treated to a serious crash course in single cask, non chillfiltered and non-colored scotches, all with steep price tags; their 20-year-old "Rare Auld" retails at around $120 a bottle. But damn if it wasn't tasty.

WhiskyFest was also bittersweet, as fans of whisky and industry professionals alike paid their respects to Diageo Master of Whisky Martin Duffy. Recently appointed the Bushmills Whisky Ambassador to Ireland, Duffy left for a two-year stay in Dublin yesterday where he's ostensibly supposed to "teach the Irish to drink." And good luck with that. Duffy was largely responsible for putting together the "Whisky Week" events leading up to the fest, and a roast in his honor Saturday night at Chief O'Neill's drew out co-workers and well-wishers. His efforts will be sorely missed.

There's more to WhiskyFest than just whisky. Other spirits and brews were represented.

2008_04_whiskyfest2.jpgNorth Shore Distillery had a major presence at WhiskyFest. Owners Derek and Sonja Kassebaum brought out their full line of gins, vodkas, and cordials. North Shore Aquavit is worth a look: teeming with caraway and anise, it has a wonderful mouthfeel.

The Kassebaums also were previewing their newest offerings, white and green absinthe (pictured), which Sonja Kassebaum said should be hitting local shelves in a couple weeks once the finished label art is ready. The 110 proof white absinthe has a sharp, herbal bite to it. the 124 proof green absinthe is, oddly, smoother than the white. It also has an amazing mouthfeel. With absinthe shaping up as the year's new hot spirit, this should sell well.

2008_04_whiskyfest3.jpgGreg Hall of Goose Island has been preaching the gospel of barrel aged beers to attendees the past few years at WhiskyFest. At his seminar Friday night, Hall unveiled Goose Island's newest barrel-aged beer. Slated for an autumn release, "Juliet" is brewed with 25 percent rye malt and aged for six months in Robert Craig cabernet casks. Augmented with brett yeast for a secondary fermentation and infused with marion berries, this is unlike anything Goose Island has ever brewed before. It has the weight and consistency of a hearty ale with the sour flavor of a lambic or fruit beer