This year marked my 2nd visit to the San Diego Spirits Festival. There were more than 30 liquor brands represented, from the biggest (Diageo) to the smallest (a vodka made from sweet potatoes that’s fantastic). There was a lady doing acrobatics on a length of silk slung over one of the ceiling beams, burlesque dancers and a couple of Brazilian-costumed dancers thrown in for good measure. Someone mentioned there was a camel burger on offer, I had a taco from a local restaurant and a lovely lady was handing out bags of kettle corn from a table…that she was wearing as she walked around the floor. Oh – and whiskey. How could I forget that?
There were tables set up all around the Port Pavilion, that you could wander around sip and chat up the brand ambassadors or in some cases, the ladies and gentlemen that actually make the tasty liquors on display. Snake Oil Cocktail Co., a local company that helps design drink menus and cocktail pairings for restaurants, showcased the talents of their mixologists with a tasty craft cocktail menu. We wandered up to the bar and played a round of Stump the Mixologist – which we lost, and that was a good thing! I asked for a whiskey cocktail (shocking, I know), that was more savory than sweet. Wild Turkey 101 paired with sage and citrus and topped with tonic was delightful. The second drink we called was whiskey paired with lavender – which ended up being two types of fresh raspberries muddled with lavender, Wild Turkey 101, topped with tonic – another tasty libation.
While the festival was heavily skewed toward vodka and tequila (I will say Don Julio 1942 is worth a try, even if you don’t like tequila – I don’t typically like it, but 1942 is worth it), there were some notable whiskies being poured this weekend.
Usquaebach Scotch was on-hand, with three of their whiskies: Special Reserve, 15 year old blended malt whisky and “Old-Rare Flagon”, that comes in a cool stone jug. Usquaebach (Oos-Ke-Bah) is derived from Uisge Beatha, the Gaelic term for “water of life”, or what we now know as Scotch (I know more than one person that would agree that Scotch is the water of life!) Not a super peaty Scotch, I’d say the 15 year was the best, a full-bodied whiskey, a little sweet, with a little peat. Prices for the three range from $30-$120 a bottle.
Short Mountain Distillery was an unexpected surprise. There’s a fair amount of moonshine on the market these days, which distillers sell while they wait for their aged whiskey to be ready, with the big names competing by offering their unaged whiskey. Both the straight Tennessee moonshine and the Apple Pie moonshine were very drinkable. The straight clocks in at 105 proof, which can be harsh in an unaged product. This shine had a little bite and a great flavor – I was surprised when I was told it was 105. The apple pie tasted – like an actual apple pie! Somehow they even managed to get a little hint of the butter piecrust, with the sweet apples. It’s one of the best apple anythings I’ve had! Binny’s Beverages should ship it to you. Apple’s $30 a bottle, the straight ‘shine is $40 – quite a deal!
Brown-Forman brought some of the best of their portfolio, several expressions of Woodford Reserve, Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Canadian Mist. You can never go wrong with any of the Woodford line – they had Distiller’s Reserve and Double Oaked, along with the Reserve. Priced between $30-$65 a bottle, you’re getting a smooth, easy drinking bourbon no matter what your budget. Old Forester is also a smooth bourbon, coming in at the lower end of the price range. Canadian Mist is also a decent choice, and the most budget-friendly, at $16-$20 a bottle.
Article by: Jeanne Runkle
Photo Credit: Longshots Photography