Monday, January 25, 2010

Whiskey night Sunday, Sunday, SUNDAY!!!

I got an invite from Skyy Spirits to come on down to The Back Room and meet some distillers for whiskey brands in their portfolio. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be going to an event on a Sunday when I knew I had to be in work early the next morning, however I reasoned, "Well, it's only a two-hour event. Even though it's starting at nine, it's supposed to end by 11. If I just go for a bit I can be home by midnight."

So I ask you, dear, reader, why was I at Nurse Bettie with Carmen Carroll, Jason Codd, Jonathan Forester, Abigail Gullo shooting pickle backs served to us by Moses Laboy? I mean, we just got out of a whiskey event for crying out loud. Who the does this kind of thing on a Sunday night?

To paraphrase a phrase so overused I really feel terrible even bringing it up again and I know this is going to be really groan-worthy, but: the alcohol industry is a hell of a drug.

As much as I treasured the last fleeting hours of the weekend, it seemed like a waste to lash myself to the mast of the comforts of my own home and resist the siren call of whiskey just because I didn't want to change out of my pajamas. And as I joked to Naren Young, whom I saw at the event when I finally did arrive there about an hour late, I'd kind of been decommissioned from scrabbling about events for too long. I thought whiskey would be a good way to get warmed up again.

As tucked away as The Back Room is in that New York-y speakeasy way, if this had actually been a party happening during Prohibition the place would've been raided within an hour of starting because I could smell all the liquor through the closed door...from about three feet away.

Now a tasting or industry meet and greet would probably makes one instantly think of rows and rows of stalls in a convention hall type setting, but the "bar collides with the library or drawing room of some landed gentry or the Drones Club" atmosphere of the Back Room was having none of that.

Instead, different brands reps were camped out, scattered around, mingling with everyone like your usual polite cocktail party. You didn't know who you were talking to from where until you sat down in a circle of chairs or accidentally bumped into somebody and noticed what bottles happened to be sitting on the table or in their hands.

That's how I found out I was sitting in front of Jimmy Russell, master distiller for Wild Turkey.

Mr. Russell obligingly posed for photos with people and chatted with everyone sitting around the table and poured them a nip from the different bottles sitting on the table. I'm not going to lie, Mr. Russell is everything you'd imagine a distiller from Kentucky to be and more. I just liked hearing him talk.

I also got to talk to Dennis Malcolm, master distiller and general manager of the Glen Grant Distillery Company. Besides patiently explaining and letting me try the Glen Grant 16-year-old single malt whisky, I also peppered him questions about the slightly (to me) nebulous nature of distribution. For one thing, the 16-year-old I was sipping on is just now available in the U.S.

So as I was asking Mr. Malcolm about different availabilities and whatnot, he mentioned that Glen Grant also produces a 5-year-old whiskey, only available in Italy. I asked him why that was, and according to Mr. Malcolm, that is because in the Italian market, clarity is highly prized, so the the clarity and color of the 5-year-old does really well. The more you know.

Auchentoshan's head distiller Jeremy Stephens told us what "Auchentoshan" means ("corner of the field," if you're curious and don't have Google handy), and it was kind of funny to have someone explaining their product to you, yet having it distinctly feel like you got pulled into a conversation at a friend's house party because you're all sitting on couches. Someone from Tullamore Dew slipped in a tray full of teacups to offer all of us a sip, setting off a playful "argument" about the merits of Scottish whisky and Irish whiskey.

The entire event was geared towards a sort of laid back, "come hang out, try out some of our stuff" feel. To highlight this, a table was set up where people could mix their own drinks and submit their recipe for a contest.

Abigail Gullo won, and I wish I could remember what was in the drink. My apologies to Abigail (let me know what was in it if you see this) but by that point in the evening, quite a few things in my brain had been compromised from concentrated drinking of brown liquor, which is exactly how you end up thinking that following people to a bar just a few feet away for some more drinks is a pretty good idea.

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