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WhiskyFest Chicago Offers A Few Surprises

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Apr 26, 2010 8:20PM

Like Dark Lord Day (more on that tomorrow), WhiskyFest can command its high ticket prices because it sells the sizzle. Like Dark Lord Day, the annual celebration of all things whiskey and more produced by Malt Advocate magazine is a sold out event that brings passionate people to the Hyatt Regency Chicago to sample from hundreds of whiskies.

Having been to multiple WhiskyFests, and having previously worked as a beverage manager, we've become jade by many of the booths and especially the seminars, which are nothing more than very informative advertisements for the marketing companies behind the brands. We prefer to walk around the tasting room, sampling from the smaller distilleries. If a larger distillery can throw us a curve, that's a bonus.

Following are our highlights from WhiskyFest Chicago

  1. Koval: Organic, kosher and local. The city's only boutique distillery just passed their one-year anniversary selling some of the finest white dog whiskies and liqueurs around. Co-owners Robert Birnecker and Sonat Birnecker Hart are getting ready to release their first line of barrel-aged whiskies this summer. Sonat Birnecker Hart said that they've aged their whiskies in new American oak. Summer is also the target for guided tours through the distillery.
  2. Heaven Hill: Master Distiller Craig Beam was chatting enthusiastically with guests about the $150 per bottle Parker's Reserve, a blended bourbon using barrels from each decade a member of the Beam family has been working at the distillery. They've been at Heaven Hill for 50 years. Starting with a 46-year-old bourbon, this is one smooth sipper.
  3. High West Distillery: This small distillery and saloon from Park City, Utah will be hitting Chicago in about a week with a Rendezvous (a blended rye); Bourye (a blend of two straight ryes and a straight bourbon); and a Silver 85 percent oak and 15 percent rye. The 80 proof white dog was the best of the three, with a pronounced sweetness.
  4. Makers Mark: Master Distiller Kevin Smith was pouring just enough of their new "46" brand to whet our appetite for its summer release. "46" is aged as a standard bourbon for six years. the bourbon is then emptied from the barrels, French oak staves are inserted into the barrels, and the bourbon is poured back in. The 94-proof "46" is teeming with the upfront spice and sweetness associated with French oak. Bartenders around the city are going to be playing with this all summer long.
  5. Amrut: Some of the most inventive beer, wine and spirits are coming from the Asian subcontinent. This Indian distillery had some of the youngest whiskies at the fest, but they were among the best we sampled. The flagship single malt was a sweet sip teeming with toasted nuts and vanilla, with a viscous mouthfeel. Amrut is another new entry to the American market; they've been in Chciago about a month. Expect to pay anywhere from $40-$70 per bottle.