September 27, 2023 2:42 pm

Independent Spirits Expo Chicago

“I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal…people know me!”~Ron Burgundy (Anchorman)

On Monday October 10th, 2022, I attended the Independent Spirits Expo at the Hilton Hotel, downtown Chicago. This awesome sampling event featured over forty craft distilleries and contract brand owners. Checking in at the door was comical, as my ticket displayed the name Sabrina Crawford, a long time grammar school friend, who gifted me the electronic ticket, literally the day of the event. After a very unnatural look from the check-in staff member, I grabbed my mini “Indie Spirits Expo” glencairn, and immediately hit the floor. ‘Yes I’m very important, thank you very much!’


After a few investigative figure eights around the vendor tables, I landed on the Impex Beverages station to start sipping. I quickly worked my way through their Indri Indian Single Malt, English Filet Bay, Japanese Ohishi rice grain ex-brandy, and rice grain sherry cask expressions. Of these, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with Yorkshire’s Filet Bay STR Finish. This non-age stated ‘field to bottle’ single malt is aged in bourbon casks before being finished in shaved, toasted, and re-charred (STR) red wine barriques, from Spain’s Rioja vineyards. This fruity dram is perfectly oaked with nice floral notes over vanilla and orchard berries. Of course the table’s Glenallachie 15 was a slam dunk, and their floral Kilchoman Machir Bay Islay malt expression, was beautifully and classically peated. As a bonus, MacNair’s Lum Reek 12, Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, personally blended by the iconic Billy Walker, was spectacular. This superior blended dram, bottled at 46% ABV, combines unpeated Speyside and peated Islay single malts, aged in first fill bourbon, Pedro Ximénez, and red wine casks. On the palate, there are nice ripe fruit notes over heathery butterscotch, with the perfect kiss of peat on the finish.

Things quickly got out of control as I began navigating more of the venue’s enticing whiskies. Then there she was, Sabrina Crawford, in her yellow SpongeBob SquarePants, doing a hockey stick “slapshot” of F.E.W. bourbon.

F.E.W. is a local Evanston Illinois craft distillery that ironically pays homage to Prohibition party founder and temperance reformer, Francis Elizabeth Willard (F.E.W.).

Sabrina is a WBSE member, a foodie influencer, and digital creator known online as Planes & Plates. She explores all things related to food, spirits, and travel, while taking her followers on explorative journeys to cool restaurants, bars, and activities, in her hometown city of Chicago, and around the world.

Recently, Sabrina expanded to The Planes and Plates Kitchen, where she provides private chef and catering services. Specializing in everything from local favorites to international food, while catering to both meat lovers and vegetarians, Sabrina often creates cool dishes for her followers to see and try themselves.

Be sure to check her out and follow her on Instagram and TikTok @Planes_And_Plates.


Time to show Sabrina the ropes!

We continued to navigate the venue together, stopping at Sabrina’s favorite Uncle Nearest Bourbon table. My knowledge of Nearest Green as the first African-American Master Distiller, and description of his bourbons, as ‘American history in a bottle’, earned me a free Uncle Nearest hat. ‘Yes, I am a big deal, thank you very much!’

We were also impressed with Watershed Distillery’s four year old Bottled-In-Bond bourbon, as well as Middle West Spirit’s Sherry Cask-Finished Bourbon, Oloroso Wheat Whiskey, and Ported Pumpernickel Rye (‘punch you in the mouth’) Whiskey. Glen Moray Distillery’s Regional Brand Ambassador, DeAnna Powell, blew us away with a special thirty year old ‘Mastery’ dram. Local DeKalb Illinois “Seed to Spirit” Whiskey Acres Distillery Master Distiller, Robert Wallace, poured us their incredible maple syrup cask finished Artisan Series Bourbon. This was absolutely delicious and rich in maple syrup on the finish. Finally, Still Austin Whiskey Company’s Illinois State Manager, Eric Mersch, wowed us with their Still Austin Cask Strength Texas Bourbon. For you bourbon lovers, I recommend venturing outside of Kentucky, and getting after this incredible bottle!

Overall, this event is definitely worth attending, especially with its access to unique and locally handcrafted whiskies. There were plenty of perimeter watering stations with crackers, to help cleanse the palate and continue the fun. The whiskey crowd was mixed, casually dressed, and fully enjoying the golden moment! Don’t ask how I got home, but be sure to check out future Indie Spirits Expo events at

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."

George Bernard Shaw

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”

James Joyce

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