Recapping WhiskyFest Chicago (Day One) – The Whiskey Affair at Untitled

Recapping WhiskyFest Chicago (Day One) – The Whiskey Affair at Untitled

I have been fortunate enough to attend some really great whiskey, particularly bourbon related events in the past.  I’ve been to two Pappy For Your Pappy tasting dinners with the Van Winkle family at Buffalo Trace, two Bourbon Classics in Louisville, and the The Great Kentucky Bourbon Tasting & Gala™at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, among other great events.  But, as a Christmas gift from my wife, this was the year we went for the granddaddy of them all – WhiskyFest in Chicago.

WhiskyFest is sponsored by the Whisky Advocate magazine, and boasts a staggering number of brands and makes.  Because it includes not only Bourbon and Rye but also Scotch, Irish, Japanese, Flavored and Tennessee (as well as a few beers, wines, gins and rums), it has a far wider range than those Bourbon only events.  This year there were 133 Brands, with 355 individual bottlings.

But that is all for part two.

One of the great things about WhiskyFest is the large number of whiskey-related events that take place all over Chicago the week of.  There are tastings, ‘Meet the Distiller’ events, brand unveilings and many others.  We decided to head to Chicago a day early and take in one of the events – the 4th Annual Whiskey Affair at Untitled.  We were not disappointed.

Untitled Whiskey Affair

Untitled is a “Supper Club” in Chicago’s Near North Side with the “speakeasy” vibe that is very much in trend these days.  Their website encourages a rather formal dress code (no jeans, no athletic shoes), but that was no problem.  Upon entering and going down the main staircase (underneath a particularly impressive liquor collection), we checked in with our pre-purchased tickets.  The event was $50 each – certainly not a bad price – and we were there before the tasting opened, so we took in the sights and sounds of the rather expansive place.  The lighting was dim and there was music overhead, but most notable were the intimate booths and benches around.  It has a very cool atmosphere – but this is a bourbon blog, not a Yelp review, so I will move on.

When we checked in, we were given Glencairn glasses, a lanyard and (I believe) 20 tickets.  The instructions were given as well – each ticket is for a tasting, hand it to the pourer upon your sample.  At 7:00 the doors to several more rooms opened, and we headed in.

The list of whiskies at the Whiskey Affair was impressive.  The major players were there with nicely set up booths – Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Jack Daniels and so on – but there were also many whiskey makers not represented at WhiskyFest proper the next night like Journeyman, Belle Meade and Dad’s Hat.  Smooth Ambler was there, although not at WhiskyFest, and offered tastes of their new Contradiction (a blend of wheat and rye bourbons) which proved very interesting and enjoyable.

We moved from booth to booth, trying new items and old favorites.  To be honest, the only booth requiring us to drop in our tickets was Maker’s Mark, who were offering pours of their regular, 46 and Cask Strength bourbons.  The rest were happy to pour away, and talk about their product.

We spent several hours moving around and talking to brand reps while weaving in and out of the diverse and often very well-dressed crowd (there were more women drinking whiskey at the much much smaller Whiskey Affair than the entire WhiskyFest the next night).  The drinks were almost exclusively bourbon and rye – there were a few scotches and irish whiskeys, but they were in the minority – and when the event ended, there were a few that had peaked my interest, namely:

  • WhistlePig Old World, a 12 year rye that has been finished in assorted wine casks, giving it a nice smooth roundness
  • Smooth Ambler Contradiction, the aforementioned wheat and rye blend, that had both opening sweetness and a peppery finish
  • Jack Daniels Single Barrel, Barrel Proof, yes, JD has put out a barrel proof and I thought it was fantastic

When the Whiskey Affair ended, Untitled had an aerialist/burlesque show that we probably would have stuck around and enjoyed thoroughly.  But after sampling a couple dozen whiskies, and with the big event the next day, we headed back to the hotel to recharge our batteries for WhiskyFest itself.  Kudo’s to Untitled, they threw a fantastic event, and I am very much looking forward to stopping in for dinner when I am in Chicago next!

…and that will come in part two!

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Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

And so it was that I found myself on the highway for a weekend of travel to the our-burbs of Philadelphia and back, to venture to that most strange of environments: my wife’s high school class reunion.  Not just any reunion either, but her sixteenth class reunion (her class did not have the more traditional ten or even fifteen year event).  A night of merriment with strangers whose sole connection is the tenuous relationship they have had with my spouse so long ago that had a child been born on the day of their last commiseration, said kid would be preparing for college themselves.  And atop that, it was on the night of game two of the ALDS is which the Tigers were playing the perpetually underdog Oakland A’s.  If ever there was cause for bourbon, this may be it.

Much to my surprise, this is not how events went down.  The reunion itself was quite pleasant and low-key, and I was introduced to several wonderful people I may not otherwise have met.  I found myself engaged in conversation with some truly interesting individuals, whose acquaintance I am pleased to have made.  Most importantly, my wife enjoyed herself thoroughly, and got to see many old friends.  And as a bonus,the event was at a sports bar, so I still got to see the game, even though a 1-0 loss was hardly what I wished for.

On the way back on Sunday, we stopped at a Pennsylvania liquor store, to pick up some new spirits.  One that caught my eye was the Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 Year, from West Virginia. A quick bit of research online told me that initial reviews were good, and that it would make a good Sunday drinker.  I picked up a bottle, and rambled on.

We headed west to visit with my mother-in-law in southern Pennsylvania, bottle in tow, and took a scenic drive through the Pennsylvania countryside.  The sky was blue and the day was a beaut.  When we finally arrived at her house, we gathered with more family in anticipation of a well-cooked meal, and broke open the bourbon.  Myself, Jen, her mother, her aunt and her grandmother (!) all poured a glass of the Smooth Ambler.  We were pleased.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year

My take: The Smooth Ambler 7 year has a punch right out of the bottle.  At 99 proof, that is to be expected – the nose has some serious first-take burn.  Then, the alcohol gave way to earth tones, particularly rye, as well as cinnamon, nuts, oak and even a bit of mint.

The taste was loud and proud.  It starts with sweet spots of honey, charred sugar and caramel, and transitions to a pepper and apple rye.  And there’s that mint again.

The finish is long and hinted of coffee and more pepper.  Finally, a cinnamon and oak wash come over, as the finish dissipates.

This is a nice bourbon.  I enjoyed the rye characteristics, but I’ll admit it had a bit too much spice for my taste profile.  My wife, however, really liked it, as did my in-laws.  Therefore, my rating…

Dan scale (1-10): 8.4