The annual event gives amateurs and professionals alike a chance to sip whiskies side by side.
Text and photo by Leo B. Carter
The second annual Whiskies of the World Expo hosted by Twin Liquors at the Austin Music Hall on Oct. 2 was a chance for both amateurs and seasoned experts alike to sample more than 200 varieties of whiskey. From ryes to single malts, the exhibition showcased traditions from all corners of the whiskey-producing world. It was a night of responsible consumption, gourmet finger foods and lessons on one of the world’s most prized drinks.
Whiskey drinking doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and to say that it is an acquired taste is an understatement. But to those who put in the effort and time, each variety and even each individual barrel is a memorable experience.
Edward Adams of Talisker Distillery told ATX Man, “I drank Johnny Walker every day until I learned to like the flavors.”
Even for an expert, it takes conditioning, and the learning curve is steep.
As an amateur appreciator of single malts, this correspondent asked for a few tips on how to really taste the whiskies. First, after nosing the whiskey deeply, take just a small sip, enough to coat the tongue and the palate. Do not swallow it immediately. Instead, hold it and slosh it around in your mouth a bit.
“In Scotland, they say one second for every year that it’s aged,” Adams explains in a mock Scottish accent.
Holding it on your palate allows the fumes from the alcohol to dissipate a bit, making it easier to savor the rich and complex bouquet. Adams says adding roughly 10 to 20 percent distilled, room-temperature water also allows the flavors to open up a bit more.
“The great thing about whiskey is that you use more than your sense of taste,” Adams says.
Smell, appearance and the texture all play equally important roles in defining the character of a whiskey.
Throughout the event, there were master classes offering in-depth looks at the process of production and the complexities of appreciation taught by expert distillers. From Balcones Distillery in Waco, Master Distiller Chip Tate walked attendees through the chemistry and psychology of taste and what makes up the flavors of whiskey. He gave samples of unfinished whiskies from each leg in the process, explaining how the sugar profile in specific species of oak can vary the taste in the final product.
The explanations of the biochemistry of wood varieties and the balance of different flavor-producing chemicals called esters was presented by Ardbeg’s Bill Lumsden, who caught himself pontificating and excused himself.
“Again, I got a bit wanky here,” he says.
Lumsden, a perfectionist and purist to the core, handpicks the oak trees for his barrels before they are even harvested. There was no denying though that no one could have left these classes without a headful of interesting, if esoteric, knowledge.
For those who thought whiskies were strictly a UK and Bourbon-region tradition, a number of young local Texas distilleries were present to prove that this geographical hegemony is ending. Mark McDavid from Ranger Creek Distillery told us a little about what makes them different.
“We use all local ingredients,” he says, from Texas-grown corn, to more unorthodox choices like mesquite, “which gives us that smoky and very familiar local flavor.”
They even produce a whiskey distilled from beer. Just under 3 years old, these mad scientist distillers waste no time in pushing the traditionally rigid envelope of whiskey production.
Critic’s picks for this years Whiskies of the World:
• Talisker 18-year: A complex, confident, well-rounded single malt whose flavor evolves from a sweet stone fruit and maple onset, which is quickly overtaken by a strong spiciness that finishes in an oaky smokiness. This whiskey shows you the character and maturity you can only find in a batch that’s reached voting age.
• Angel’s Envy Rye: A much softer, smoother take on an American rye whiskey, finished in rum barrels that produce its dark color and rich caramel flavor that softens the rye spice.
• Ranger Creek La Bestia Defavorable: Definitely wins out in the originality category. Being un-aged and distilled from their Belgian white ale, it breaks a list of rules about what makes whiskey whiskey, but its unique fig and apricot nose, soft white pepper spice and sugary finish win La Bestia a spot on the list. As Distiller Mark McDavid says, it “showcase[s]the relationship between beer and whiskey.”
• Ardbeg Uigeadail: You’d never think you’d catch yourself enjoying the taste of rich honey and charred cigar tobacco. This full-bodied scotch is finished in sherry casks. Its sweet, preserved fruit notes and deep smoky spice battle ferociously for your taste buds in this all-out flavor war. In the words of Master Distiller Bill Lumsden, it’s “not my breakfast whiskey.”
Find out where the expo goes next: whiskiesoftheworld.com/eventsanddinners.