WhiskyFest Chicago 2023
Hyatt Regency Chicago — Friday May 12, 2023
For the second year in a row, Whiskey Network Magazine was given VIP access for some unique coverage of Whisky Advocate Magazine’s WhiskyFest Chicago. Your humble Sippin’ with Stogies correspondent, along with trusted whiskey sidekick and photographer, James Archie, aka “Jimmy Snaps”, arrived the moment those venue doors opened to the heavens.
The early 5:30 PM VIP hour includes older or limited edition expressions and is well worth the $375. Gordon & MacPhail is definitely the table to visit during this hour, they always serve up the event’s oldest and highest ABV drams. General 6:30 PM admission to the event is only $295, but those older and limited dream bottles disappear from the tables once the VIP ends.
From this well established independent bottler, which ages spirits from different distilleries in their own Gordon & MacPhail casks, we tried a 57.9% ABV Glenrothes expression, that was aged from 1988 to 2021 (33 years) in a refill American hogshead cask. This dram was incredibly smoothed out with big bold flavors of tropical fruits, honey, and vanilla, with lingering pineapple on the finish.
Then we were presented with a 59% ABV dram from Highland Park, aged between 1995 and 2022 in a refill sherry butt. Deep tingly ginger and plum fruits that wake up the palate, while more tingly spice over citrus and toffee linger on the finish.
Also tried from the Gordon & Macphail table was a very limited and incredible 57.6% ABV Benromach, aged forty years in oak casks, as well as a unique 59.9% ABV Caol Ila, aged from 1997 to 2021 in a first fill sherry butt. This expression was very sweet and candy-like with the perfect mellow kiss of peat on the finish.
The event had noticeably fewer vendors than the previous year, so the event’s initial energy level was toned down, but we and the rest of the whisky crowd still turnt up! I discovered some new favorable whiskies worth mentioning, like Busker Single Pot Still, an Irish 44.3 % ABV dram. I got fresh, zesty, and creamy lemon honey over fresh cloves on the palate. This newer Irish expression is aged only four years in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and in my humble opinion, after immediate event comparison, has more character than the Redbreast 12.
Another discovered Irish brand, Fercullen 21 was incredible, and retails at only $200 U.S. Their Fercullen Small Batch, at only $35 U.S. is also a must have daily sipper. I definitely fell in love with both of these integrity Irish whiskey brands!
My personal favorite bottle of the event was the 48.3% ABV Morris Smoked Muscat Limited Edition Single Malt. This is a newer Australian brand that used award winning fortified Muscat barrels and heavily-charred oak for this complex, English pipe tobacco bomb flavored whisky. The depth of flavor and English pipe tobacco char finish on this whisky is incredible. I was also very impressed with Damien Vanier’s ability to introduce the new brand from down under, as well as his generous pours. Thank you!
Some honorable mentions include the 46.4% ABV Cold Cut Cold Brew Coffee Bourbon from FEW Spirits, a dark chocolate and coffee bomb bourbon, which I loved. Also, the Cask Strength Single Malt from Westward. Their Brand Ambassadors, Claire and Mike, were stunned when I called this whisky “liquid Cannabis in a whisky bottle”. Claire admitted the hash oil flavored whisky is commonly described as green and earthy by many. I highly recommend purchasing this unique dank bottle and exploring Westward’s entire line-up.
Finally, Matthew Jacquinot had incredible energy serving up some very balanced, buttery, and unique bourbons from the Holladay Distillery, aka McCormick Distilling Co. Be sure to give these Missouri pure limestone spring watered bourbons a try, you will love them!
We had a fantastic time at WhiskyFest Chicago 2023. The unlimited upscale food buffets balanced out all the amazing whisky sampling, and the comradery among the spiffed up sipping crowd, only solidified why this is one of the best whisky events in the world.
We missed out on the master classes, but it was great to share drams with Mike Miller, the owner of Delilah’s, Chicago’s BEST whiskey “dark bar.” Whisky connoisseur and local friend, Joe McEwan, helped guide us to some stellar whiskies. Chicagoan Michael Homeyer was a character dressed in his red Hugh Hefner jacket, while William Thornton (Zion, Illinois) and William Reaves (Baltimore, Maryland) explained how much they enjoyed sampling all of the different whiskies, during a brief Whiskey Network interview.
This was definitely one for the books and we hope to see you next year!
Thank you to our friends and family at Whisky Advocate Magazine, The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago, and Rosen Group’s Julia Forschino for setting us up for this incredible experience.
Be sure to grab tickets to their remainig 2023 WhiskyFests in San Francisco in October, New York in November, and Las Vegas in December, at WhiskyAdvocate.com/whiskyfest.com.
Enjoy our Whiskey Network Magazine recap video of the event: