The Country’s Most Exclusive Whisky Show

Recently I spent 24 hours in Las Vegas at the Universal Whisky Experience. I was invited down by the CEO of the event, Mahesh Patel, on an exploratory mission to check it out in the hopes that I’d be sufficiently enticed to invite our fine Wingtip members to join me at the event next year.

With that disclosure out of the way, I must say that enticed, I was.

Well, one more disclosure: I enjoyed a King Suite at the Encore hotel attached to the Wynn. All of the employees, from the croupier to the barista, offered up top flight service, knowledge, and smiles. Finally, I dabbled a wee bit at the craps table and came out ahead. But even without those rosy lenses, this whisky show easily topped the many whisky fests I’ve attend over the years.

As you enter the show, they give you a swag bag. This is standard fare, but the bag’s contents were not. First you get a cut crystal glencairn glass and three poker chips (one for a cigar, and two for premium pours). which were decided by the vendor, more on that later.

Unlike many large-scale tastings, there was no elbowing, no boot-fighting for a sip of whisky. You actually had time to talk to the experts about their brands–brand ambassadors like Johnny Mundell of Bowmore and Lorne Cousin of Balvenie. As opposed to the usual shills reading off a sales sheet, these guys know everything about their brands–go ahead and try to stump them with your toughest whisky trivia. The Dalmore booth actually featured their master distiller, the incomparable Richard Paterson. This, in itself, was worth the price of admission.

The show also maintained an exceptionally high standard in the quality of liquid gold being poured. Each booth was featuring the finest of their portfolios, including a few rare treats that were unavailable for purchase in the US.

Neyah White was pouring expressions from the Suntory portfolio that have not been state side yet, including Hibiki 17 and 21, and Hakashu 18 and 25–two of the best Japanese single malts I have had the pleasure of tasting. (Read more about Neyah White and his upcoming Wingtip visit here.)

William Grant and Sons presented a few whiskies that will be available later this year. A 12-year-old single cask and a 15-year-old sherry cask that were exceptional. (I’m looking forward to offering these gems at the club.) They also poured what many were calling the “best Glenfiddich” they’d ever had. It was a peated malt, with classic Glenfiddich characteristics overlaid with a nice bit of peat smoke throughout the entire dram.

The aforementioned Johnny Mundell, of Bowmore, also brought some standouts. The clear winner was a Bowmore 23 port wood whisky. This was big and sweet up front, with notes of raisins and dates on the finish, and the signature Bowmore peat smoke to round it out. It reminded me of smoky Christmas cake.

This show’s premium ticket offering includes a day of golf and private dinner with either a master of whisky, a brand ambassador, or a master distiller. I was not so fortunate to partake in this portion of the event, but from what I hear, there is no better time to learn from the undisputed experts of single malt whisky. When we book the event for our members next year, this will be a key component of the trip.

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Brian MacGregor

Wingtip Bar Director Brian MacGregor has tended bar in San Francisco for over nine years, learning his trade from such local legends as Jeff Hollinger, Jonny Raglin, and Thad Volger. Although he credits his cocktail crafting skills to these fine practitioners, he learned the art of hospitality at a very young age from his father, a career bartender in his childhood home of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Brian has, for three years, creating award-winning drinks and building an extensive collection of rare and fine spirits at some San Francisco’s most acclaimed bars and restaurants such as Jardiniere, Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen, and Absinthe Brasserie and Bar. Currently, Brian resides in San Francisco with his wife, Carey, a bartender herself, their two cats and their greyhound, Pooka.

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