On November 9, thousands of people packed into the New York Marriott Marquis to experience WhiskyFest, the annual get-together of the world’s biggest and best whisk(e)y producers via the good folks at Whisky Advocate. The great thing about WhiskyFest, now in its 25th year, is how many rare and distillery exclusives you’ll get access to, particularly during the VIP hour. It’s also the rare spirits event where you’re almost guaranteed to talk to the lead distiller, blender or other whisky higher-ups from the brands, as opposed to a hired rep (you’ll even run into a few owners).
We obviously couldn’t try all the expressions from the dozens of participating distilleries, which covered a nice range of American, Irish, Japanese and Scotch whisky. But we did find a few things we enjoyed that we wouldn’t normally find in our local store — and we even found a few local and smaller brands we’ll certainly seek out.
Below, a quick list of the top five discoveries from the 2023 WhiskyFest New York. Note, we’re not going to mention some of the more obvious whisk(e)y names here — we narrowed the list below to expressions we’d never tried before.
Based in Fort Collins, CO, Old Elk is headed up by Master Distiller Greg Metze, a 40-plus-year vet of the whiskey world. Old Elk has mastered the “wheated” whiskey and bourbon category in its relatively short lifespan. Here, they’ve added some extra maturation to their straight bourbon via additional aging in sherry, Armagnac, Port and Cognac casks, introducing more dark fruit and tobacco notes.
I’m very familiar with the peaty expressions from these Scotch provocateurs, but I’d never tried one at cask strength. Bottled at 56.7% ABV, this blend features the expected smoky and fruity barbecue notes but with an added layer of vanilla and cinnamon (most likely the result of finishing some of the whiskies in seasoned virgin American oak barrels). Note: don’t do what I did and drink this early in the evening unless you want to blow out your palate for the next half hour.
While the Powerscourt Distillery outside of Dublin has started releasing its own distillate under the Fercullen name (which is new to the United States), this aged expression is sourced. It’s a 15-year-old single-grain Irish whiskey matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and married with a selection of second-fill Madeira cask finishes. It features notes of vanilla, chocolate, dried fruit, wood spice and even a bit of buttered popcorn.
An Islay distillery known for its smoky and peaty expressions (and its association with Nick Offerman), this special edition features their 16-year-old whisky with a second maturation in Sherry-seasoned casks. Those smoky and maritime notes now feature a nice balance of sweetness.
Finally, a local(ish) pick. Little Rest is an American Single Malt hailing from Tenmile Distillery in Wassaic, NY. It’s one of the very few whiskies made in the United States by a Scottish Master Distiller, Shane Fraser (note: they say “only” but we say few because Kentucky Owl is another).
First, we’re cheating with the photo because we wanted to get a shot of William H. Macy into the article (you can see the bottle here). We’re fans of Woody Creek, a Colorado distillery that includes heavy involvement from the Fargo actor. While our favorite is their high-rye bourbon, this limited edition 10-year-old, bottled-in-bond rye features notes of clove, cinnamon, orange peel, dried fruits, baking spices and a little nuttiness.
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