The annual WhiskyFest DC rolled into the Marriott Marquis on April 10. For the $250 price of admission, whisky aficionados and geeks sampled from more than 300 whiskies and other distilled spirits from around the world. For the intellectually minded, there were also lively and educational tasting seminars.
Among my favorite booths this year were Laphroaig and Bowmore Scotch whiskies, Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, Whistle Pig Rye Whiskey, Kavalan Taiwanese whisky, Knappogue Castle Irish whiskey and the Suntory Japanese whisky booth, which was pumping out their always enjoyable Toki whisky highballs all night.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Knappogue Castle 12 Years Old Marsala Cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey (46 percent abv; $90): Launched as a part of the Cask Finish Series, this Knappogue Castle is made exclusively from malted barley and finished in Marco de Bartoli Marsala casks. This is very smooth and nicely balanced with great depth and complexity. The palate is fruity with additional notes of black pepper, marshmallow, brown sugar, marzipan, vanilla and spicy oak. The finish is slightly clipped short, but it is delicious all around.
Kavalan, Ex-Bourbon Oak, Taiwanese Single Malt Whisky (46 percent abv; $130): Although this is just a diluted, if less expensive, version of their stellar soloist ex-Bourbon barrel release, this expression is awesome whisky with aromas and flavors of vanilla, nutmeg, banana, creamy barley, mango and citrus, white chocolate and fresh coconut, with a medium, rounded and somewhat fruity body and a long, complex and satisfying finish of spice and tropical fruits. This is amazingly good whisky.
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select Tennessee Whiskey (45 percent abv; $200): Although launched in the travel retail market back in 2012, this was only fairly-recently made available in the domestic market. Sure, this is an all-gimmick whiskey, and is shunned on sheer principle by many a whisky geek. But I’m just enough of an Ol’ Blue Eyes fan to give it a taste — though probably not enough of one to justify the ring-a-ding-ding required to purchase a bottle at full retail. (I’ve seen it cheaper than $200 online, so shop around.)
The idea behind the bottle is this: Frank Sinatra was a lifetime fan of Jack Daniels, so they designed a whiskey that would reflect the way Jack Daniels tasted back during the Rat Pack Era. The “secret” behind this whiskey is the use of what they call “Sinatra Barrels”: charred American oak barrels with concentric grooves scored from top to bottom that expose the fresh distillate to a greater surface area of both charred and virgin wood.
The whiskey is then aged and blended with regular Jack Daniel’s whiskey and bottled at the higher alcoholic proof (as it was back in Sinatra’s day). The net effect of all this behind-the-scenes tinkering is an awesome Jack Daniel’s whiskey that I only wish was significantly cheaper.
This presents with notes of honey, fresh apples and ripe peaches on the nose, while on the palate this sings with freshly made, rich and warming caramel, butterscotch, vanilla, orange zest and subtle though slightly peppery smokiness. The finish offers even more vanilla. So set ‘em up, Joe. L’chaim!
Send your wine and spirits questions to Joshua E. London at [email protected].