WhiskyFest is all about enjoyment—drinking great whiskies, learning from the experts, even making new friends—and the 2019 WhiskyFest San Francisco is set to bring all of that and more. Attend one of the expert-led seminars, and spend some time enjoying experiences like the Bowmore Oyster Luge (trust us—it’s awesome) and the taste-focused Whisky 5, which helps you narrow in on different whisky flavors. And peruse the pour list ahead of time on our website or app.
Since there are more than 400 whiskies on offer, we recommend devising a loose strategy (here are some tips to help you do that) and making a short list of the pours you don’t want to miss. If you need some suggestions, Whisky Advocate’s editors have noted a few recommendations below.
If you don’t have your tickets yet, don’t wait to buy them: WhiskyFest is running a special promotion for VIP ticket holders through Sept. 27. Ten lucky VIPs will be treated to an exclusive whisky pour with Whisky Advocate’s editors 30 minutes before the doors open. This whisky won’t be available for the rest of the event, meaning you’ll be kicking the night off with something truly special. Get your tickets now!
Ready to familiarize yourself with single pot still Irish whiskey? This is one of the best examples around. Redbreast has never scored below 91 points in our Buying Guide, and the brand will be pouring its 12 year old, 12 year old Cask Strength, 15 year old, Lustau Edition, and 21 year old at WhiskyFest.
Maker’s Mark RC6
WhiskyFest is the perfect setting to try new whiskies, and Maker’s Mark is pouring its RC6, the first in an ongoing Wood Finished Series of various stave profiles. Enter a replica of the Maker’s 46 Cellar located in Loretto, Kentucky to compare this toasted stave-finished bourbon with Maker’s 46 and 46 Cask Strength, plus a host of different Private Select editions. If that’s not enough, chief distillery officer Rob Samuels will be leading a seminar at 7:45 on experimenting with wood finishing, with a focus on RC6.
Japanese whisky might seem hard to come by, but if you set your sights beyond age statements, you’ll find a host of options. Nikka offers a variety of styles, from grain to single malt to the 2018 Whisky of the Year, the blended Nikka From the Barrel. Get familiar with the entire range and learn why looking for names like Yoichi and Miyagikyo may be more fruitful than numbers like 12 and 18.
Johnnie Walker Game of Thrones Blends
Johnnie Walker launched the White Walker blend last year to celebrate the final season of Game of Thrones, and response was so great that the brand is adding even more Westeros-themed bottlings. All three whiskies—White Walker, Song of Ice, and Song of Fire—will be on hand at WhiskyFest, so prep your glasses for a battle of flavors and decide for yourself who should sit on the Iron Throne.
Sure, you probably know Woodford Reserve bourbon already, and maybe even Double Oaked. But when was the last time you tasted the distillery’s range of other whiskeys? Few producers create rye, malt, and wheat whiskeys under the same roof as bourbon, but Woodford is doing it, and how. Experience the entire range at WhiskyFest—you might just find a new favorite.
Tamdhu Distillery launched a 12 year old single malt last year, following it up this April with a 15 year old. You’ll get to try both at WhiskyFest, along with batch 004 of the distillery’s Batch Strength release (Batch 002 was No. 8 in our 2017 Top 20). See for yourself why this is one of Speyside’s most underappreciated distilleries and perhaps your next favorite single malt Scotch. Learn more about Tamdhu and sherry cask aging during the 7:45 seminar led by Ian MacLeod international brand ambassador Gordon Dundas.
This Louisville distillery made a big splash when it released its 2 year old rye in 2017, which netted the No.-15 spot in that year’s Top 20. Just a couple of months ago, Peerless launched its bourbon at 4 years old, adding another data point in its track record of quality. (Look for a full review in the Fall issue of Whisky Advocate.)
With its inventive blends and penchant for storytelling, the Compass Box table is always a worthwhile visit at any WhiskyFest. Sample across their range, from the blended grain Hedonism to the blended malt Spice Tree, but be sure to finish with Peat Monster, which just unveiled a new recipe featuring Caol Ila and Laphroaig, along with 1% Compass Box’s custom blended malt finished in toasted French oak casks. Founder and whiskymaker John Glaser will even walk you through a selection of Compass Box whiskies himself during his seminar at 7:45.
Old Ezra 7 year old
We love barrel-proof bourbon for all kinds of reasons, but especially because it often represents a great deal—more alcohol (aka flavor) for your money. This 7 year old example from the Ezra Brooks brand is no exception, scoring 93 points in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide and costing just $40 on the shelf. Get a taste for yourself at WhiskyFest.
Dave Pickerell Whiskeys: Hillrock Estate, WhistlePig, Blackened
Legendary master distiller Dave Pickerell passed away just before WhiskyFest San Francisco in November 2018, and many folks honored him with toasts and raised glasses that evening. This year, we invite WhiskyFest attendees to again remember Pickerell by tasting some of the whiskeys he created, such as those from Hillrock Estate, WhistlePig, and Blackened, his final collaboration with Metallica.
Many of Scotland’s distilleries make both peated and non-peated whiskies, and comparing them side by side can be an eye-opening experience. BenRiach offers options at several ages, including 10 and 21 years old, and you’ll have the chance to sample all of them at WhiskyFest. (Curious to know more about how such different flavors can come from one distillery? Check out this video where BenRiach master blender Rachel Barrie explains it all.)
In addition to the Pickerell-influenced whiskeys above, there are many more craft distilleries represented at WhiskyFest San Francisco, offering some of the most interesting and innovative pours around. Don’t miss your chance to try Texas’ Balcones, Woodinville from Washington, Chicago’s FEW Spirits, Stranahan’s and A.D. Laws from Denver, and many more, including Old Elk, Belle Meade, Sagamore Spirit, and Widow Jane. Plus hometown heroes Old Potrero and J.H. Cutter, made by Hotaling & Co. (formerly Anchor Distilling) will be holding it down all night.