On August 19, 2022, Los Angeles Magazine hosted a whiskey tasting festival, at The Bloc in downtown L.A. Here is our review.
Photo: The entrance to the Los Angeles Magazine Whiskey Festival in downtown L.A. at The Bloc. Credit: Colonel Bourbon.
The familiar and the new
As you walk into the event at The Bloc, you see Maker's Mark on the left. The brand is one of our favorite wheated bourbons, and our feet hightailed toward the booth, like a horse knowing where home is.
The Maker's Mark booth featured their 46, again one of our everyday favorites. A mocked-up bar displayed the square-shouldered bottle, the familiar, traditional bottle 46 is now sold in. They did have a couple of the curvy 46 bottles, which are being discontinued.
We admit we went back to this booth a few times, especially at the end of the night, to grab more shots of 46. We even tried their cocktail, the Paper Plane, a sweet-flavored concoction, which kinda grew on us, even though we generally prefer to stay neat. The recipe:
"Bright and balanced with just a kiss of bitterness from the Amaro and Aperol® liqueurs, this elegant riff on the whisky sour sails to delicious, new heights.
- 1 part Maker’s Mark Bourbon
- 1 part Aperol®
- 1 part Amaro Nonino Quintessentia®
- 1 part fresh lemon juice
- Lemon zest or twist for garnish"
We admit we were hoping for a few more selections from Maker's Mark to sip -- perhaps a cask strength, if not any limit editions -- but we were grateful for the 46 :)
And we don't blame them for sticking to the main whiskeys -- or in their case, whiskies. At a time when bourbon and other whiskeys have made a comeback, with Hollywood's Don Draper (Mad Men) making the liquor hip again in the City of Angels, that does not necessary equate to the patrons being focused on master distilling.
Also, points for having small sipping cups, unlike many others at the event. Upon entering the festival, folks picked up a plastic low ball glass to take around to each booth. The residue, we imagined, might have resulted in the nose of a very interesting infinity bottle.
PIctured: The Maker"s Mark booth, with the square-shouldered 46 stacked up, at the LA magazine Whiskey Festival.
Four Roses also provided cups, and they had a variety of pours to taste, four or five as we recall, including a single barrel and a small batch. We tried those two.
Blanton's chose to offer their whiskey as part of a Limoncello-type lemon cocktail. Tasty, refreshing.
We didn't see any Scotch or Irish whiskey at the festival, although we may have missed it, in which case we apologize. As the evening progressed our navigation skills became, as one might expect, impaired. But we did come across two Japanese whiskies.
Kujira Ryukyu and Shinobu whisky were in the house. Historically, Japanese whisky was distilled beginning around the 1870s. These whisky distillers took their lessons from Scotch.
Kujira describes their pour: "Kumesen Syuzo Distilling Co. of Okinawa, Japan began distilling in 1952. Kujira Single Grain 20 year is 100% Japanese with rice from a single distillery, produced in small batches with the same ingredients and centuries old tradition that make Japanese whisky special."
If you haven't had whisky distilled from rice, put it on your to-do list. As one of our buddies described: "The whisky introduces itself as nice and friendly when first tasted, then proceeds to kick your butt with love."
We don't know for sure but we think Kujira and Shinobu were being represented in the same booth by a rep/wholesaler.
As Flaviar describes:
"On the North side of Japan near Niigata, the Shinobu Distillery sits just about 300 yards from the Sea of Japan. Entrepreneur Ken Usami has been brewing Niigata Beer in this idyllic location for more than twenty years. And he was the first person to be licensed to distill whisky in the entire prefecture in 2017. Ever since, he has been sourcing premium Spirits and finishing them in rare, Mizunara oak.
Old Hillside Bourbon Company
We were impressed by this company. Their love of bourbon was pretty clear. They stood outside their booth, mingling with folks , talking about their pours. Since they were busy that night, we subsequently looked up some more info. This caught our eye:
"Their story began at Hillside High School in Durham, their Alma Mater, and where the gentlemen first met. Through their new business, Old Hillside Bourbon Company, they are dedicated to paying homage to their origins with the logo and branding. They aim to be a brand that reminds their customers of the richness and value of honoring their collective history and heritage."
Nearest Green/Uncle Nearest
"...affectionately nicknamed Uncle Nearest by his friends and family in Lynchburg Tennessee, is the world's first known African American Master distiller. Nearest is credited with helping perfect the globally recognized Lincoln County Process."
-- Excerpt from brochure provided
The L.A. Festival featured several new distillers, providing some exciting breadth to the whisk(e)y world. 4.8
Photo: The DJ at the Los Angeles Magazine Whiskey Festival in 2022. The evening started with the hip and the pop but homage was made to songs like "Tennessee Whiskey."
Later in the evening, the sounds of "Tennessee Whiskey" filled the air on the summer night:
"You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskeyYou're as sweet as strawberry wineYou're as warm as a glass of brandyAnd honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time"
That song, covered most recently by Chris Stapleton, was written by Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove. We recently wrote an article about the Dean Dillon on documentary, aptly named Tennessee Whiskey.
Pictured: Broken Barrel Whiskey Company, Los Angeles based.
The festival had a cigar booth, where you could get a hand-rolled cigar. The line was a bit too long so we didn't partake. We tried to find the name of the company afterwards but no luck. (If you represent the company and see this, let us know.)
We enjoyed our evening at The Bloc, an open-air urban center in downtown Los Angeles, connecting the finance, fashion, jewelry, and theater districts of the city. Hollywood's embrace of bourbon and other whiskey/whisky has been part of the rediscovery of America's spirit, which fell out of favor in the late 1960s, early 1970s.
There is a scene in an episode of Columbo TV series, "Dead Weight" filmed in 1972. The famous detective played by Peter Falk in his rumpled coat is investigating a murder. The killer is an Admiral (Eddie Albert) who is wooing the witness to the murder, in an effort to thwart any testimony. The mother of the young woman being courted imagines the wealth that awaits her daughter, and her. She says: "Today bourbon, tomorrow Champagne." At the time, in 1971, bourbon was a bottom-shelf liquor, unloved by all (except maybe Japan.)
For the record, there was no Champagne at this sold out festival, although there was some tasty spring water called Mountain Valley.
A video from the 2016 festival in Los Angeles:
(Published by ColonelBourbontshirts.com.)