Los Angeles Magazine hosted its first annual Whiskey Festival last Thursday at the La Brea Tar Pits, a pairing that inspired visions of party-goers trying to ride the giant mastodons, or waking up the morning after in a pile of black goo from which they cannot escape. We’ve all been there, right? But also, good whiskey is old, the older the better in general, and the animals on display at the Tar Pits Museum are REAL old, so maybe there is some symmetry there.
The scene was pretty genteel, with wonderfully high quality drams and cocktails flowing freely among the business-casual crowd. Food was provided in the form of a deli table in one hall, and as a mashed potato martini bar in another, as well as some passed plates of small hors d’ouerveres like tiny beef wellingtons and duck tacos. A band played cocktail jazz renditions of Taylor Swift and Maroon 5 songs. But the real attraction is in the name — whiskey. It’s fun to sample old, expensive spirits that would normally cost $20 or more just for a taste. And there was no shortage of those.
Some of the standouts we really enjoyed were: Macallan Rare Cask, with no stated year but said to be “priced between the 18 and the 21”, deliciously smooth and balanced; Highland Park’s magnificent 18 and its new Dark Origins, a rich, sweet 12 year made with “twice as many sherry fill casks” as usual; Glemorangie’s Nectar D’Or, another 12 year that is transferred from oak to Sauterne barrels during year ten, giving it a lovely, sweet dessert-wine quality; Ardbeg’s 10 year, a fine entry in the smoky-peaty family.
We were curious to sample some of the up and coming Craft Distilleries, but the ones we tried were not really up to the task of sipping straight, given the competition in the room. When you’re talking about a product where it can take ten or twenty years to figure out if you did a good job, or needed to make a small adjustment, the companies that have been doing it for centuries have a distinct advantage. But relative newcomer Bulleit still impressed with its Frontier Old-Fashioned, one bourbon cocktail that manages to complement the character of the whiskey rather than mask it. And Kikori raised an eyebrow with its entry, a very clean, classically Japanese approach to whiskey, no added smoke, but a hint of sake-like sweetness. An acquired taste, perhaps, but interesting.
Despite the sellout crowd, lines were manageable and the mood relaxed. Make sure to pick up tickets ahead of time for next year’s event, or else grow a set of saber teeth and try to blend in.