Whisky is one of the most complex drinks in the world. It can take years of sampling and exploring the best drams before settling on your signature drink. Though it may seem daunting, there is hope to help guide you on your quest.
Casual whiskey drinkers and enthusiasts bonded over a shared love of the spirit at The Whisky Extravaganza on Thursday night. The historic Millennium Biltmore in downtown LA played host to the event designed specifically for gaining appreciation of everything whisky-related. The extravaganza is distinguished in the whisky world as a must-attend event that has taken place annually in various major cities in the U.S. since 2000.
The Los Angeles event had three masterclasses that quickly filled up quickly by those eager to get enlightened by industry experts. Brand Ambassador Travis Tidwell’s “Beauty and the Beast” class took the participants on an intimate look into the malt whiskies from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. Those looking to learn about the relationship between whisky and the wood cask it matures in joined in “Maturity Not Age” hosted by Doug McIvor of the John Milroy Selection brand.
I attended “Every Whiskey Has a Story”, moderated by Kim Ohanneson, President of Women Who Whiskey L.A. which featured three ladies who are making headlines in the business. Each woman shared their story of how they got into the industry and what led them to their creations along with signature samples in Neat ultimate spirits glasses.
Carin Luna-Ostaseki of SIA Blended Scotch Whisky shared that she wasn’t always a fan of the drink. Not everyone starts off immediately with a taste for it, but that only means they haven’t fully ventured into a world filled with tradition and master craftsmanship. So Carin did a deep dive and came out with a love and passion that made her the first woman to create a brand of scotch. It’s no wonder SIA is a multi-award winner with its inviting aroma of vanilla on the nose and delicate finish.
Greenbar Distillery’s Litty Mathew described her journey from turning a hobby of making spirits at home that lead to establishing the first legal distillery in LA since prohibition. Making whiskey in California helped her to experiment with flavors, as local distillers are not tied to tradition as some of the more established areas in the market. The main flavor that peaked her interest was wood - especially the aroma of fresh cut wood. This became the driving force that created Slow Hand Six Woods Whiskey, a weathered and toasted 2-year old spirit rich in flavor with a maple dominated finish.
The final speaker was Joanne Haruta from Lost Spirits who described the different eras she went through that started with making absinthe. Experimentation of rum and whiskey was a large part of the journey that grew from a pre-prohibition log and copper still in Monterey, to a laboratory in Silicon Valley, and eventually to the Los Angeles distillery. She offered a sample of Abomination Sayers of the Law, which was one of my favorite tastings of the evening with its bold character of fire and peat.
Once the masterclasses were finished, it was time for the tasting. It didn’t matter your level of experience with the spirit or your flavor preference. There was a drink for everyone, even those claiming to have the most discernible of palates.
A crowd of gentlemen and ladies gathered with their glasses prepared for a full evening of exploration. Each vendor had a knowledgeable representative guiding the tastings and talking about their brand's signature whiskies along with new offerings.
Glenglassaugh offered samples of their peatyTorfa and sweet Benriach. Their Original 12 year had just the right notes of spice that complements the holiday drinking season.
Park City, Utah-based High West Whiskey showcased their portfolio ranging from the go-to American Prairie Bourbon to the complex Campfire with a blend of bourbon, rye and scotch.
Crowd favorite Glenmorangie had a variety of prized spirits to sample including their Extremely Rare 18 and limited edition Astar 2017. They also offered samples of their Original which is a perfect introduction for those looking to delve into scotch.
Another delightful tasting experience came from Ardbeg with its new An OA scotch filled with bold and smoky notes that made the mouth water for another sip.
Representatives of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society gave unique samples of spirits offered to those in the club. They explained how their distinctive labels focus on the flavor and the distillery of origin. This certainly made the tasting an experience to remember with bottle names such as Playful Mouth-Tingles, which was an apt title.
It was exciting and almost overwhelming to see the wide variety of vendors, but it was a treat to have so many in one place. The knowledge I gained and flavors I sampled expanded my palate more in one night than ever before. The Whisky Extravaganza is an adventure that can’t be missed. Check out their schedule to see when and where it’ll be next!