My first adventure took me to St. Louis, Missouri, home of "Whiskey in the Winter", a large whiskey tasting event at the Hyatt Regency Downtown. It was no coincidence, my hotel looked directly over the Gateway Arch, and I could not help but draw some parallels into my current situation. The Gateway Arch was built in the early 1960's as St Louis was the gateway to the West back when Manifest Destiny was it its peak. While some of my travels will take me West, I still draw in the same level of wonderment and adventure our earlier settlers must have had has the pushed into a new frontier. Partner, I can relate.
My first stop was to meet the Diageo team at The Preston (http://theprestonstl.com) in the Chase Park Plaza Building near Forest Park in the trendy Central West End. There I met up with the team, Dacia, Mark, and Dave at the bar. You know you work in the right industry, when you just feel at home with great people, and really look forward to going back and picking up where we left off. I am so appreciative for the connections this business can bring you.
As for the drinks, they were crafted this evening by Sasha Alms, be sure to see the photo of the menu. Nothing crazy this evening, as I have a fairly strict 3 drinks and out policy, but watching Sasha work was just pure joy. He moved like an ice skater behind the bar, but every engagement he had with a guest was genuine, and every classic he made me this evening (starting with a Bulleit Rye Old Fashioned) was well balanced and of great execution. What ended my evening was OBAN 14 on a piece cylindrical ice. That whiskey always brings out notes of crème brulee, bananas, and awesomeness. It’s a toss-up between that an Dalwhinnie as to which I enjoy more. I love a strong ice program, especially when its used correctly in the right drinks. I would be remised if I didn’t mention how ridiculous the food was, as each dish was more creative than the next, and each one was done to perfection. We essentially ate 75% of the appetizer menu, but it was more than enough for the group.
One thing I can say about bartending, is that I have done it (not professionally), I can train to it, one day I would like to do it more, but in the interim, I love watching people who excel at their craft, master it in front of me. I look at food and cocktail menus like I do albums and songs. I think each is an expression of something the chef or bartender wants you to experience. Sasha was a joy to get to know and watch him work. I was luckily able to catch up with him the next evening as well at the Whiskey event.
Upon leaving The Preston, we snuck over to Gamlin Whiskey House (http://gamlinwhiskeyhouse.com) for a nightcap, where I watched IU beat the Jayhawks. I cheered loudly most the evening, forgetting I was close enough proximity to Kansas, to have some alum there. I got some looks. Surprisingly, I was being encouraged by one, larger guy also cheering for IU. He came over and introduced himself, his name was Lance Lynn (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_Lynn). To save you the click, he’s a starting pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, but also from Brownsburg, Indiana, where he and Drew Storen (for local Indiana folks, the son of broadcaster Mark Patrick) both came through and eventually are now both in the MLB as pitchers. Great guy, good conversation, and hope to run into him again back home for a drink. You just can’t make this stuff up.
Day two consisted of a tasting event at a Total Wine store in the Western St. Louis suburbs, and you never know how these things are going to go. Sometimes you stand for 3 hours and talk to two people. Not the case this time, I had multiple audiences where I was able to discuss the history, production, and appreciation of whiskey and distilled spirits. The thing that interests me most are the folks you think would the least interested are the most interested. Case in point, a 78 year old grandmother waxing poetic on her favorite whiskies and which ones she hides from family when they come over. I find that everyone likes to talk about drinks and what they like, and I am more than willing to engage people in that conversation.
Lastly, we came back to set up for the big event, Whiskey in the Winter. They showcased 380+ whiskies and saw more than 1,600 people this year, not including the 150-200 people working that were also inside the room. I was pouring at the Adult table, as we have 4 single malt whiskies, some Johnnie Walker, and all the Bulleit. I like these events where people get a sense of discovery, particularly with Lagavulin 16. It’s a straight up campfire punch to your mouth, but it is just so damn good. It has just enough sweet to make you appreciate it, and similar Islay malts on the market are just over-peated. It’s enough to make Ron Swanson cry. I think everyone came back for a second dram all night.
I presented a 30 minutes workshop on Whisk(e)y from Around the World, and I found out quickly, that 30 minutes will never be enough to talk about one country let alone the world. What a great, engaged, thoughtful crowd, and I felt terrible I could not get out all the great stories related to whiskey and its history in so many places around the world. We did get to drink some wonderful whiskies such as Talisker 10, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, Bulleit Bourbon, and Johnnie Walker Double Black. All things I have in the cabinet at home. I always encourage consumers to contact me, as they help make my career choice so enjoyable, and I like building new ambassadors for our brands.
One of my favorite parts this evening was running into my buddy, Brent Joseph, (https://www.bourbonbanter.com/author/bjhawk4ku/) in St. Louis of all places. Brent is from Indy, and writes for a great Bourbon blog (https://www.bourbonbanter.com), and he and I have shared a few of those together over the last year! I would have loved to met him out, but after completing tear down, I was able to sleep for 3 hours prior to my 4am wake up call. I stayed up to watch the Chappelle/Tribe Called Quest SNL. So good. Next stop was for personal reasons to NYC to watch my local soccer team (Indy Eleven) play in the finals only to lose in penalty kicks. Never needed bourbon more than in that moment.