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Los Angeles Whisky Live

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Written with Bobzilla

High-class imbibers were out in force for Whisky Live at the Santa Monica Civic Center last Monday. Whisky Live is an international tasting and sampling event, taking place "from London to Tokyo, Paris to Glasgow". Billed as “Southern California’s Finest Whisky Experience,” attendees had the opportunity to sample the wares of twenty-seven companies, some familiar (Glenlivet, Dewar's, Macallan), some (such as Japanese manufactureres Hibiki and Yamazaki) not even available on American shelves yet.

Masterclasses on the fine points of the brown spirits, a cigar bar from Taylor’s Tobacco House, a catered dinner and passed hors d'ouvres from Patina and the periodic explosion of bagpipes by the San Francisco Irish Pipe Band, sponsored by Bushmills, rounded out the festivities.

What we learned: It is very hard to make a bad whisky. Even if you use inferior barley, the distillation process removes all of the impurities. The peatiness or sweetness comes from the way the barley is malted. If it is malted over a peat fire, then it is peaty. That is most often done in the western isles like Islay. Then the cask takes over. With whisky, it's all about the maturation. Different oaks, sherry casks, whiskey casks, moving whisky from cask to cask, charring the wood in the cask... they do it all. That combination of how the barley is malted, the casks, the environment and length of time the whisky is aged determines the taste.

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American whiskey is mostly Rye or Bourbon. Rye is a small, slender grass. It's related to wheat, but it's its own grain. Rye whiskeys pride themselves on their rye to barley ratio. All Bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are Bourbon. In order for whiskey to be considered Bourbon, it must be made from rye, and "aged for a minimum of two years in new, white oak barrels that have been charred." You cannot add anything to the Bourbon. Traditionally, "real" Bourbon is only made in Kentucky, although technically it could be made anywhere.

The buzz at the Whisky Live event centered around the the chili-infised Bulleit Bourbon and the bacon whisky. While LAist was unable to cover the extensive floor and still stagger home, here are a few of our favorites from the approximately eighty-six brands on offer:

Bunnahabhain 12 and 18 - The bacon whisky! It was so exciting. They char the wood to get that flavor. Yum. The flavor comes from lightly peated barley and the local waters that run - under peat. Bunnahabhain, meaning rivermouth in Gaelic, has been around since 1881.

Connemara - Extremely smoky. The smokiest whiskey next to the bacon whisky. But very smooth. Ireland's lack of extreme temperatures makes for fine whiskey. I had to include this quote from their website "Astonishingly long finish with peat clinging to every crevice in the mouth". Mmmmm

Famous Grouse 18 - Blended from single malts by Highland Park and Macallan, this Scotch was one of the most balanced we experienced all night. The Grouse is a blend of single malts like Macallan and Highland Park.

Four Roses Single Barrel - extremely smooth for a Bourbon. In spite of being passed around a number of parent companies like Seagrams and Kirin, this Kentucky Bourbon has managed to remain is the number one selling Bourbon in Japan and Europe, They are now making a comeback in the United States. They produce ten different recipes and use two mashes and five different yeasts. The yeast helps counteract their high rye content. Plus the nice lady gave me a pretty rose.

Glenlivet Archive 21 Your standard quality Scottish whisky. The American oak imparts mandarin, vanilla, oak, rain. European oak aging makes it spicy. The 21 is aged in both, so you have some sweetness and some peppery elements.

Glenlivet Nadurra 16 - Nadurra means Natural in Gaelic, It is naturally chill filtered in cold spring water. It is extremely smoky for a Scottish whiskey. Very clean, easy to drink.

Isle Of Arran 10 Year - Exceptionally warming, like the sweaters that brought fame to the island, and sweet with hints of vanilla.

Highland Park 15 and 18 and 25 - [Bob's note] This had come highly recommended by my brother-in-law and did not disappoint. Wonderfully deep, rich mellow flavor from both the 15 (sweet) and the 18 (smoky without overwhelming the palate.). The flavor comes from a combination of Orkney peat smoke and Spanish sherry oak.

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Old Potrero Old-Style Rye - After a number of rich scotches in a row, this was revelatory and refreshing. Spicy and light-bodied, it cut through the buttery overload that had preceded it. It is made with 100% rye, whereas other ryes often mix in barley. The 90 proof aged in regular casks and 120 proof aged in charred casks. [Note from Elise - it was the only one that made me choke and I had to pour out the second one. Good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye]. Old Potrero is made by Anchor Steam, who thankfully brought beer.

Speyburn a traditional Speyside malt. It's an everyday whisky, grassy citrusy, and generally enjoyed over ice nice finish less robust than many of the others. A consistent, nice whisky that doesn’t try to be something more that it is not.

Tobermorey 15 year - It tasted exactly like butterscotch. Notes of fig, orange marmalade, sherry and toffee blended to make the perfect butterscotch whiskey.[Elise's note] This is the whiskey that turned me out. It is the whiskey that made me realize after years of turning it down around campfires, at wakes and Highland Games I might actually like the stuff]. This whiskey comes from the only single malt distillery on the Isle of Mull. It is made from unpeated malted barley, and un-chill filtered.

Yamazaki 12-Year - I can’t wait to see kilts make it into the uniform of Tokyo’s fruit people. Not dissimilar from the characteristics of Japanese beer, the single malt has a crisp, airy start with a hint of cherry that mellows to a creamy, warm finish. It is medium-bodied. One thing that distinguishes the Japanese whiskeys is lack of the peat flavor many other whiskies have.

You may have noticed there are no pictures of food, and no summaries of master classes. It was more like a pub crawl, a whisky drinking marathon. By the end of the event, even some of the reps were slurring their words. At least there was no singing, which is usually what happens when the whisky is poured so freely.

Why Whiskey" has an "E"