WhiskyFest Recap, San Francisco

Last week WhiskyFest blew through SF, leaving behind a trail of dead. Joking aside (though seriously, the stuff will slay you after a few hours if you don’t force yourself to dump after tasting), there were more than 200 whiskeys to sample from all over the world, many master distillers on hand to talk about their products, and, well, a lot of those profusely sweating guys who always seem to show up to beer and spirits festivals. I concentrated on the domestic offerings, leaving the many great Scotches and other imports for next time.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Death’s Door Spirits: Out of Wisconsin, this small-batch distiller is named after the passage between Washington Island and the Door County Peninsula. It uses organic grains, and makes a “white” whiskey. The perfectly clear spirit is made by double distilling, resting the booze for three weeks, then popping it in oak barrels for less than 72 hours. It picks up some whiskey flavors, and even has a sweet suggestion of reposado tequila. Would be fun to experiment with in cocktails that call for gin, or to make something odd like a white Manhattan. They were also pouring a very good, creamy, almost buttery gin, with lots of botanicals but no overwhelming juniper bitterness.

High West Distillery: First off, you have to give some props to these people for not only starting a distillery in Utah, but also starting a ski-in distillery and pub. More importantly, they are selling some very good ryes. Since the company is only a few years old, High West’s own stuff is still aging. In the meantime, it’s been blending other distilleries’ booze to great success. I liked the Rendezvous Rye, a blend of a 6-year-old, 95 percent rye and a 16-year-old, 80 percent rye. It’s strong and spicy, with some vanilla in there. It’s not chill-filtered—a process many distillers put their whiskeys through to remove oils that will make the whiskey appear cloudy when it’s cold. Skipping the step leaves a little more texture in the Rendezvous and flavor in the finish.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey: Stranahan’s is a great microdistillery in Denver. Its Colorado Whiskey is aged in charred American white oak whiskey barrels, and contains both floral Scotch qualities and some of the brown-sugary spiciness of bourbon, with some hints of smoky, leathery, earthy funk in there too from, well, who knows. Like High West’s Rendezvous Rye, this is not chill-filtered. Don’t be scared off by the 94 proofage—it’s fiery to be sure, but still totally sippable.