Report from Portland

I'm back from the Great American Distillers Festival in Portland, OR, and now that I'm over my jet-lag I thought I'd start writing about it a bit. First things first, there was some good whiskey at the festival that I hadn't had a chance to taste before. So without further ado, my top five whiskies from the weekend:

1. W.H. Harrison Indiana Straight Bourbon - As a bourbon fan, I had to tip my had to this brand new bourbon out of Indiana that just hit the market and also just hit the nail on the head as far as making a delicious sippin' bourbon. The 80 proof straight bourbon was good neat, but the Governor's Reserve Barrel Proof version, with a dash of water added, was amazing at 115 proof. Lots of rye spice and being named after a U.S. President made this my favorite whiskey of the festival.

2. WhistlePig Straight Rye - In a room full of unaged liquors and six-month-old whiskeys this 10 year old rye stood out like an AARP member at a freshman dorm party. Age can do amazing things to whiskey though, and in the case of WhistlePig, 10 years, 100% rye, and 100 proof tastes just right. There's been plenty of press about WhistlePig, so I'll let you read the backstory here. The takeaway is that this is a darn-good rye that won't be around forever given the limited quantities available, so get your hands on a bottle and enjoy it.

3. Roughstock Montana Whiskey - Like WhistlePig, this one has received a good amount of press in the whiskey world, as the first commercially produced whiskey out of Montana in a long time (ever?). It has a great Montana pedigree, being made from Montana grown and malted barley, and according to the distiller Montana's climate works wonders for aging whiskey more quickly than other places. They don't give an age statement on the bottle, but I'm told it hits the 2 year minimum for a straight whiskey in a mix of full-size and quarter-sized barrels - a nice balanced approach that I like in style and in flavor. Roughstock even has a little spiciness that you normally associate with rye, but the distiller said that flavor also came from the barrels and the unique aging environment of Montana.

4. Whipper Snapper Whiskey - As the tongue-in-cheek name implies this whiskey is a young one. A blend of 79% corn and 21% barley spirits with an average time-in-barrel of around one year. Even at a young age, this was my favorite of all the 'local' Washington & Oregon whiskeys I tasted over the weekend. It had a nice, drinkable flavor to it with plenty of grain taste shining through.

5. Baby Blue Corn Whiskey -This take on corn whiskey from Waco, Texas' Balcones Distillery rounds out my top five. I tasted it both straight and in a cocktail (The Curio Plum) made by Lara Nixon of Austin, TX. At first I thought it was a very well done white dog, but it turns out they do age it for a short time in small oak barrels. It's Texas' first legal whiskey since Prohibition and possibly the only whiskey in the world made from blue corn. It's certainly unique, but not a bad drink if you're looking for something different or something that screams Texas.

I also have to give honorable mentions to some other solid whiskeys I had a chance to taste such as Rogue's Dead Guy Whiskey, a mediocre whiskey given the price, but largely available nationwide, unlike many of these; Stone Barn Brandyworks Hard Eight Unoaked Rye which I'm pretty sure is sold out and is only available near Portland when it's not; and Downslope Distilling's Double Diamond Whiskey which is only available to the public at their Colorado distillery (if you're there try the rums too, they're the real stars).

In my next couple posts I'll clue you in on a few of the great non-whiskey drinks I tasted over the weekend and share a few cool cocktail recipes I picked up.