We here at The Local Tourist really love whisky. REALLY. LOVE. WHISKY. We love it so much, we sent two writers to attend WhiskyX. Here, in their own words, is a summary of events that unfolded as the whisky flowed. We present TA Hensel and Bull Garrington:
TA: Imagine a room filled with great whisky from over 40 distilleries, a group of Chicago’s world-renowned chefs, hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars, interactive games, comfortable lounge areas, live music . . . and several hundred people having a rip-roaring great time.
That only begins to give you a taste of The WhiskyX Chicago – an immersive, whisky-centric event that rolled into Chicago for the first time on April 27 at The United Club at Soldier Field. Let’s hope it becomes an annual event, because this was one heck of a good time.
BG: There are certain inherent dangers when reporting events. There’s always the risk of losing one’s objectivity. There’s the pitfall of the press pass: the fragile verisimilitude of walking the same ground as actual VIPs, of eating their canapes, of drinking their valuable spirits, forgetting you’re a penniless reporter. There is the threat of disappointment when one find’s oneself embedded in circumstances which do not speak well to one’s preferences and realizing one bears the responsibility of one’s reader’s vicarious experience and so one must consume a victual that is clearly the abominable manifestation of a middling chef’s overreaching imagination.
Finally, there is the precariousness of abundance, of finding oneself assigned to cover something so deeply inside one’s wheelhouse, so perfectly tailored to one’s snobbish regard, so lavishly arranged to drive a reporter into rapture, to revel in song, to engage in what might best be described, if one was diplomatic, as ecstatic contortions.
And therefore I would like to apologize to the attendees of the WhiskyX event of 2018, a luxurious soirée sporting Chicago food trucks, a great band, Jimmy Bannos, more than 60 whiskeys, and free cigars from A J Fernandez. I was not (as some people may have intimated, loudly,) smoking a cigar and drinking Scotch while having a seizure. That is the dance of my people.
TA: The event started with food trucks lined up outside the entrance to the United Club. Throughout the evening, patrons could take a break from whisky and purchase from food trucks curated by Roaming Hunger, a company that schedules food trucks for events. Offerings included American Glory Food Truck, Bop Bar Truck, Chicago Lunchbox, Da Lobsta Food Truck, Izakaya Yume, La Cocinita Chicago, and Porkchop Chicago – all great comfort food to accompany the vast amount of whisky available at the tasting event.
The WhiskyX welcomed whisky aficionados and whisky rookies alike to taste their way through some amazing offerings to become acquainted with new and old, local and international whisky brands. Some of the brands featured at The WhiskyX Chicago included:
Aberlour; Ardbeg; Basil Hayden's; Bruichladdich; Bulleit Bourbon; Calumet Bourbon; Clyde May's; Compass Box; Crown Royal; Dewar's; Four Roses; Glenmorangie; Guinness; Highland Park; Jim Beam; Johnnie Walker; Knob Creek; Maker's Mark; The Macallan; Old Pulteney; Q Drinks; Scotch Malt Whisky Society; Speyburn; Stillhouse; Stranahan's; Teeling Whiskey; The Singleton; Tin Cup; Westland; WhistlePig; Wild Turkey; Wyoming Whiskey; and more.
BG: Prior to this unjournalistic display of camaraderie, I helped myself to all the joys a VIP pass can bring at Whisky X. I ate small plates of Tuna Tar Tar from the Slurping Turtle. I paid an exorbitant price for a serving of Lobster from Da Lobsta Food Truck (worth it).
And I drank whisky.
A lot of whisky.
I did this not to please my own deeply rooted and overwhelming love of amber spirits, no; I did it for the sake of great travel writing, for the sake of vicarious online tourism, I did it, dear reader, for you. Here are some of the more than 60 spirits showcased at the event.
TA: But wait . . . there’s more!
VIP guests had an hour to wander the event prior to general admission. During that hour, VIP guests had exclusive access to food from some of Chicago’s most renowned chefs including Chef Jimmy Bannos (Heaven On Seven), Chef Tadashi Nagura (Slurping Turtle), and Chefs Tony Mantuano, John Hogan, and Cedric Harden (River Roast).
BG: I attended the event with the noted author of The Beat Cop’s Guide, Lt. David Haynes, a public servant of unfailing repute who has never allowed a drop of whiskey to soil his delicate palate, but who knows a thing or two about Chicago food and fine tobacco. Unfortunately, we missed Heaven on Seventh’s food, served by none other than Chef Jimmy Bannos. However, we found ourselves out on the deck at Soldier Field after plowing through a significant volume of spirits, at Diesel Cigars' table lighting one of their new bourbon barrel aged cigars called, "Whisky Row". Bracing in the bitter cold, smoking with Bannos where we learned he often takes his out of town guests to Gene and Jude’s, for which I will never forgive him.
TA: Throughout the evening, The WhiskyX offered guests the chance to not only enjoy amazing spirits and food, but also a variety of lifestyle experiences. Shaves and haircuts were offered by nationally renowned Blind Barber. Scattered throughout the event were comfortable lounge areas with couches, chairs, and ottomans where guests could relax and perhaps join in a communal game of Jenga.
No whisky tasting is complete without the most classic of all pairings – whisky and cigars. Sponsored by Rabbit Hole Distillery, the event offered complimentary hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars from AJ Fernandez with a dedicated outdoor space for cigar smokers to sip, smoke, and mingle.
As if all of that wasn’t enough – the evening ended with a live concert from The Mowgli’s. This American indie-folk band hails from California, via the Midwest, making music that melds rock ‘n’ roll with folk-tinged electronica, similar to the likes of Grouplove, Fun and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Their music involves influence and writing from all of the band’s six total members – allowing for the influence of multiple decades and genres of music. From Sixties-infused jangly folk/pop to the groovy Seventies to the 80’s inspired sounds you can find in their music, The Mowgli’s sound is vibrant and unique. This group is just getting started and guests at The WhiskyX Chicago had a chance to hear them before the rest of the world catches on to just how great they are.
BG: Below is a mere sampling of the extraordinary whiskies offered at the 2018 event, all of which I sampled, repeatedly, for the sake of journalism.
A note on spelling: whisky is from Scotland, whiskey is from anywhere else.
A remarkable cask-strength whiskey.
Nose: spicy with top notes of vanilla and oak, roasted pecans, a deep character of Sherry.
Flavor: Oranges, but also red fruit, ginger, and spices. Dark chocolate. Full-bodied and creamy.
Finish: Loud, pervasive, and intense. Bittersweet.
10-year-old Kentucky Bourbon
Nose: Oak and vanilla, similar to the esters in the bouquet of old books.
Flavor: Mild spice and wood, very balanced.
Finish: Warm, caramel flavor across the entire palate, hardly lingering.
The Laddie Eight
Nose: bright fruit, strong apricot, lavender when warmed.
Palate: Intense pepper retreats from lemon, honey, toffee and a buttery texture.
Finish: A long tail of vanilla and honey, oak, and wood. Like an old book left on a table in your youth.
Blended Malt Scotch
Nose: Like someone set Scotland on fire.
Palate: Island of Islay top notes, like a Peat pie, with notes of charcoal and your grandfather’s pipe drawer; like Nick Offerman tapped me on the shoulder and said Son, this is what Scotch tastes like. Then punched me in the face. And I liked it.
Finish: I’m not finished.
Cooper & Thief
Red Wine Blend
(Red wine aged in bourbon barrels)
Nose: I mean, it’s wine, right? It smelled like wine but like wine had drank a glass of bourbon. I didn’t realize it was wine at first and I was like, dude is this wine? And he was like, oh yeah, man. And I was like Oh my god. It’s so good.
Palate: It’s so good.
Finish: I don’t . . . it's so good
Kentucky Straight Rye
Nose: Bold whisky in the front, with a spicy whisky explosion of explosions on the back end of whisky and burned sugar and more whisky.
Palate: Raw. American. Horse races. Don Draper.
Finish: Ok, ok. Don’t rush me—I’m working here . . .
Alabama Style Whisky
Nose: I swear to—I swear to—Listen to me, Listen. Shh. I swear to God there’s apples in AP PULLS I said apples in this whiksy.
Palate: Hot and sugary and kind of sneaky like I just stole a pie off a windowsill in Montgomery. You ever been to Alabama? ‘s beautiful. Beautiful. I was born there. Roll Todd. Tad. TIDE! Roll Tide!
Finish: Hold my bourbon . . .