May 18, 2017 was the third Water of Life event held by Matthew J Lurin MD MBA FACEP CPE in New York City’s architectural beauty, the IAC Lobby. A pretty quick train ride from Brooklyn got me to the Chelsea section of Manhattan, where this amazing location was situated between Chelsea piers and the High Line. The early evening time was a perfect start for this event in that glass structure, and the spring sunset was shining throughout the lobby.
Arriving promptly at 5:30, I saw that there were VIP and Ultra-VIP events in progress. I saw a Bruichladdich talk and slideshow on one side of the lobby, while another group was led through a tasting of a rare selection of whisky. Further in the lobby was an outdoor courtyard, where Dalmore was preparing their Cigar Malt paired with cigars for the later hours. The musicians, Bluewater, were also setting up for our listening pleasure during the dining and cigar hours. It was easy to see by this point already, that this was a huge event, with planning on many levels.
After an introduction and welcome from Matthew, the “speed dating” began. Guests would be able to sit down, at an individual table of their choice, to meet with a whisky celebrity. This included people such as Brand Ambassadors, Regional Representatives, Company Founders, Distillers.
I took a quick lap around the lobby of tables, and decided on my first whisky- Brenne. I have been reading about it for some time, but never seemed to come across the opportunity to taste it. I approached the rep to start our session, and it was none other than Allison Parc– the Founder and owner of Brenne Whisky! I immediately recognized her as the recipient of the Icons of Whisky’s 2017 World Whisky Ambassador of the Year award. I couldn’t believe it; I was getting a personal account of the Brenne story, while tasting Brenne whisky, from Allison! This, I believed, was what Matthew wanted all of his guests to experience– a personal introduction to top spirits from the people that know them best.
My next table wasn’t with a company founder or head distiller, but a celebrity to me nonetheless. Westland’s Eastern Sales representative Chris Riesbeck! Again, this was someone I immediately recognized, from web sites and a few personal emails about my inquiries into Westland whisky. A gentleman pulled up a chair next to me and asked if he could join the session that was about to begin. I recognized the Aussie accent, and the gentleman– it was Denver Cramer of Denver & Liely glassware! He reached in his bag and pulled out one of his own whiskey glasses and sat down for a tour of the Westland lineup. I really couldn’t believe what I was experiencing.
Chris led us on the interesting process that takes place to create the wonderful and tasty Westland whisky. He showed us samples of the different barley that Westland use to make their spirits. Chris explained the thinking behind Westland choices in grains, and told us about their “Thoughtfully Made” mantra. Chris poured us some of the Westland sherry edition while he explained the barrel process to us. There was also a single cask bottle that Chris shared with us that had hand written label, “Smokey Beast.” You bet your whisky we asked him for a pour of that!
That smoke got my taste buds in the mood for some Islay goodness. Good thing for me, Bruichladdich was set up right next to Westland. On the table was the familiar teal bottled Scottish Barley, the Islay Barley 2009, and the Port Charlotte release. Brand Ambassador Jason Cousins hooked me up even more by pulling out some Octomore and Black Arts from under the table! We exchanged information and discussed a future Bruichladdich event, possibly in connection with the LaddieMP6 series. Astonishing.
An announcement was made that the dinner buffet would now be open. I made my way, back to the other side of the lobby, where a gourmet dinner buffet awaited. This wasn’t like other events, where I would scrounge around for a small piece of real estate to lay my plate on and gorge myself on appetizers. This was perfectly chosen dishes of chicken, pasta, salad, and even crab cakes, that was just the right amount to satisfy one’s appetite in between whisky courses. And there were plenty of tables in the dining area to sit and eat with friends, instead of the usual site of eating over a paper plate (or garage can!) Many participants took advantage of the outdoor courtyard to eat, and enjoy a cigar while Bluewater played music for us to enjoy. It was incredible to finish a great meal, enjoy a cigar, drink a pour of Dalmore, and listen to live music AS an intermission to a whisky tasting!
Back to the whiskey side, I had to make my way to an old favorite: Balcones. Brand Ambassador Winston Edwards was seated at the table, with the unmistakable Balcones lineup. We exchanged salutations and as he poured me some Baby Blue, Head Distiller Jared Himstedt sat down at the table with us. This event was like the the All-Star game of Whisky! Balcones would not be outdone by everyone else, so they too had a bonus bottle: Texas Single Malt finished in their own Texas Rum casks. Winston told me about the debate with Jared about whether or not the cask was ready. (I was with Jared, I felt it could use a little more time in the barrel.) I bid them goodbye as I was on to a few more dates before the end of the night.
Kilchoman was a whisky I have never tasted, so I decided to see if I could find out what all the hype was about. I have read about them all over, and heard many good things about their company and whisky. So their table was next! I sat down with a polite and knowledgeable man who identified himself as a rep. I didn’t think the distiller for every company would make it, but he seemed to know a lot about the whisky. He poured the Machir Bay and Sanaig, while answering all of my questions about the company. I was impressed to say the least. I noted that I needed to seek out some of their other releases to try.
“Are you still with me?”, he asked? “Sure,” I replied. “Actually, I have my own company at the table next to us. Let’s move over there and I can pour some for you.”
This would be my last speed date. I was getting to the end of my line, but I had to see and taste what this knowledgeable gentleman was going to pour for me. “My company is called Single Cask Nation,” he proclaimed. It was Joshua Hatton, one of the two partners that own Single Cask Nation. A few other participants joined us as he explained the club, how it works, and how casks are selected for their bottlings. We started with a Girvan and I was instantly hooked! We tasted several more bottles, from various distilleries, each one highlighting characteristics from where they originated. Every time the other guests and I tried a different bottle, we all agreed they were whisky we would want to drink again.
That would end my whisky tasting for the evening. In no way was I able to get to all of the brands I thought I would, but at the same time, I had the feeling of getting much more than I expected. This event wasn’t about consuming the most amount of alcohol, or meeting the most reps as fast as possible. This event was about truly tasting whisky, with important people from the brands, and learning more about the products we love. I walked away with an increased appreciation for the whisky I enjoy, and new knowledge about whisky to explore. If you can only make it to one whisky event a year, for real whisky aficionados, Water Of Life is the one to attend.