WhiskyFest Chicago 2016 Highlights

IMG_5113(2)It was a busy night in the city. I waited 45 minutes for an Uber taxi downtown and was almost tempted to take an UberX.  But of all the amazing places you could be in Chicago on March 18th, WhiskyFest 2016 at the Hyatt Regency on Wacker was the grandaddy of them all.

Because of my Uber-fueled tardiness, by the time I arrived, the VIP event was well under way and the chances of getting sips of some of the more exclusive whiskies dwindled, but I did manage to squeeze in a few tasty drams.

While photos of the whiskies themselves were often difficult (compounded by the fact my camera wasn’t cooperating), I was able to document many of the whiskies on display at the event.

Click NEXT to see some of the highlights of Whisky Advocate’s WhiskyFest Chicago 2016.

(All photos copyright of

Beam Suntory

2016-03-18 17.53.59Beam Suntory had a really great looking set of booths where they showed off their Jim Beam, Knob Creek, and Maker’s Mark brands.

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It’s interesting to watch the growth of rye unfold. Beam provided its rye whiskies with their own display. I enjoyed the Knob Creek rye.

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Suntory still makes one of the best whiskies around and the WhiskyFest crowd knew this, taking plenty of opportunities to try out the spirit.

High West

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The High West booth was popular throughout the show. The Bourye is my favorite of their spirits.

Amador Whiskey Co.

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Amador and its new double barrel bourbon were well represented at the show.

Old Rip Van Winkle

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Preston and father Julian Van Winkle manned the Pappy booth and shared their very limited spirit with admirers. The Pappy line was 30-40 people deep all night long, just as Julian had predicted in an email to us earlier in the week.

My friend Sreek is about to be poured some of the little remaining 23yr vintage in this photo.

Yes, those two very serious-looking gentlemen flanking the table are security guards. In case you haven’t heard, Pappy is kind of a big deal.
George Dickel

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Dickel had a great looking display, made out of pallets. The gents manning the booth were cheery and accommodating and offered their No. 12, No. 8, White Whiskey, Rye, and Barrel Select.

Dickel was also one of the only spirit makers to offer a mixed drink option. Call it whatever you want, but after tasting 30-40 straight whiskies, for me it was a welcome and delicious reprieve!

Bulleit2016-03-18 17.56.51

Bulleit’s display was understated, but one of my favorites. Bulleit offered their bourbon, rye, and 10yr bourbon.

Coppersea Distilling2016-03-18 17.57.13

Coppersea was one of the newer and smaller distillers at the show. Their booth was busy most of the evening. I spent some time speaking with CEO Michael Kinstlick who brought me up to speed on the history of Coppersea. My friends meanwhile spent some time speaking with Chief Distiller, Christopher Briar Williams, who took a great deal of time explaining the whiskies of which he’s so proud.

Coppersea offered Raw Rye, Corn Whisky, Excelsior Bourbon, Green Malt Barley, Green Malt Rye, and Pear Eau de Vie. The green malt rye whiskey takes the cake for the most unique tasting whiskey at the show, with hints of spice and grass.

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MGP recently released its Metze’s Select Indiana Straight Bourbon whiskey. It will be interesting to see if and how the release of this retail whiskey affects its relationship with the other brands who rely so heavily on MGP’s base spirits.
Western Spirits
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Western Spirits showed off their Calumet Farm Bourbon, Sam Houston Straight Whiskey, Lexington Bourbon, and Bird Dog Whiskey2016-03-18 17.58.02

Bird Dog Whiskey offers a variety of flavored whiskies. While I usually tend to stay away from flavored whiskies, I was feeling adventurous and tried the Peach version. It was tasty, but I think I’ll stick with more traditional whiskey for now.

Sazerac Brands
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Blanton’s is one of my favorite bourbons. I couldn’t help but try a few sips.

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Caribou Crossing is a great Canadian Whisky that surprisingly did not have much traffic during the show, despite its proximity to the Pappy.

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Buffalo Trace Distillery, which is responsible for some of the greatest bourbons today, was well represented at the show.

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Finally, Barton Distillery’s 1792 had a nice little display with plenty of traffic throughout the show.Four Roses
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Four Roses offered up their Single Barrel, Single Batch, Yellow Label, and Limited Edition bourbons.
Forty Creek Whisky

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Forty Creek makes a great relatively new Canadian Whisky and they brought their Barrel Select, Copper Pot, Double Barrel Reserve, and (highly touted) Confederation Oak to the event.

Russell’s Reserve2016-03-18 18.02.51

When the world’s longest tenured active master distiller Jimmy Russell of Wild Turkey pours you a dram of whiskey named after him while glowing with pride at the fact that he is here with the next two generations of Russells, you know you’re going to remember that sip for a long time. And, it was delicious.
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The Jack Daniel’s folks had a lot to talk about at WhiskyFest this year. They recently released their Jack Daniel’s Rye whiskey, and I have to say that it was one of the more memorable whiskies of the evening.
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Jack Daniel’s assistant master distiller, Chris Fletcher, proudly tended to and presented this impressive at-scale model of the Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg, TN distillery. Chris was very engaging and spared no detail explaining exactly how the whole system worked.2016-03-18 18.04.32

Master Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan was on tap to talk about Old Forester’s bourbon brands, which included 86 Proof, Signature, 100 Proof, 1870, 1897, and their Birthday Bourbon.2016-03-18 18.04.37

Woodford Reserve’s booth was busy all evening, and for good reason. Master Distiller Chris Morris has helped keep the brand front and center with his variations and small batch “experiments.” We can’t wait to see what’s next.

Pernot Ricard

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Pernot Ricard showed off its three Canadian Whiskies: Pike Creek, Lot 40, and Wiser’s.
3 Badge
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3 Badge showed off its Bib & Tucker bourbon and award-winning Masterson’s Rye.

WhistlePig2016-03-18 18.06.462016-03-18 18.06.55

WhistlePig was very popular during the show. The team highlighted their 10yr, 12yr, and 15yr (soon to be released) rye whiskies. The 15yr was exceptionally good.
Few Spirits
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Paul Hletko and his Few Spirits team offered tastes of their acclaimed bourbon, rye, barrel gin, and American gin, which was probably the best sip of straight gin I’ve tasted to date.

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Michter’s was busy enough that I wasn’t easily able to grab a taste during the show (though I’ve enjoyed their products many times in the past). They showcased their Bourbon, 10yr Bourbon, Rye, American Whiskey, Sour Mash, and Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon.
Proximo Spirits
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Tincup, founded by Stranahan’s co-founder Jess Graber (left), was at the show to provide tastes of its American Whiskey.
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Stranahan’s brought its original Colorado Whiskey, along with its Snowflake and Diamond Peak variations. All were very tasty.

And that’s a wrap! To make sure you don’t miss next year’s Chicago, D.C., New York, or San Francisco events, follow WhiskyFest on Facebook, and visit their site to stay updated.