Top 10 Whiskey Experiences of 2018: Part Two

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written by Charles Grabitzky

2018 was a great year for whiskey travels, tastings and camaraderie. A lot was due to travels with Rascal + Thorn. And some came from the Saratoga Whiskey Club which is entering its 4th year as a club. Here is Part Two of my top 10 whiskey experiences from 2018:

Michters and Wilderness Trail Distillery Visits

The Rascal + Thorn Bourbon Trail Tour was very special last May. We did some very unique experiences and were co-led by Holly Seidewand, aka @herwhiskylove.

Two distilleries really stood out in terms of the experience and tour. Michter’s was phenomenal. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this private tour. They asked how much time we had and I mentioned a couple of hours and they said they needed more time than that! I liked hearing this and made some quick changes to our itinerary to make it work. They needed more time because they wanted this to be a great experience and tasting and it really was.

Pam Heilmann, master distiller, and Dan McKee took us around their facility which was massive and very well run.

In the warehouse, one of our guests was able to stencil a barrel and we also got to use the machine to empty a barrel. The tasting back in the boardroom upstairs was also a lot fun and a great overall experience!

The second distillery visit that really stood out was Wilderness Trail. They are fairly new and they really focus on yeast and fermentation. Pat Heist, the distiller, held a yeast workshop for us in his lab where he went over so many strains of yeast and how it all can make such a big difference. It was so fascinating and detailed! From petri dishes to charts and graphs, we were thoroughly taught about the whole process.

This was followed by a great tour of the distillery and a chance to sample some of their newly released spirit.

Two super visits on the Bourbon Trail.

Saratoga Whiskey Club Tastings

The Saratoga Whiskey Club has given all of its members new opportunities each year to taste great whiskey and to share in experiences. 2018 was the third year for the club and we had some fun times. Some tastings and experiences stand out more than others, but the ones from last year that really come forward were these.

In May we took part in the Drams4Fams initiative which was a fundraiser for Food Banks started by the Edmonton Scotch Club in Edmonton, Canada. We did our own version at Henry Street Taproom. Members donated bottles and paid an attendance fee. All proceeds went to charity and we all got to taste some really great whiskies.

At the end of April the club filled its first barrel of whisky at Albany Distilling. It was a well-attended day in Albany and we filled a 53-gallon barrel with a Rye recipe that the club voted on. We hope to do this more often. We had our first tasting at the Saratoga Race Course that was a lot of fun and our annual dinner was our largest to date.

The last tasting of the year was a “Luxury” tasting and included some very special whiskies. Overall, it was an incredible year which will make it that much harder to top in 2019! The camaraderie of the club is what makes it special and the new friendship and experiences that we share together.

New York City Whiskey Events

Towards the end of the year I was invited to two special New York City events which were so much fun. The first was a dinner and tasting provided by Holly Seidewand of Bacardi. It was the launch of the Craigellachie 33 year whisky and paired with a full nose-to-tail pork dinner. The group was fantastic, the food was very good, and the whisky was super. Definitely a special evening.

The second event was at the end of the year and was a Holiday Toast organized by Jas, aka @tonightspoison. It was held at Wheated, a great pizza restaurant in Brooklyn that has an incredible whisky selection. A large group of whisky people attended and it was great venue to toast the year and meet some new friends. I hope to get down to the city more often in 2019.

Mars Shinshu Distillery Visit

Before going to Mars Shinshu, I had no idea what to expect. I had tasted a couple of their expressions in the US, but not enough to get a good sense of their product. The distillery is located in a beautiful are in Japan back-dropped by an incredible mountain range.

We took the train from Kiyosato and walked to the distillery from the train station at Miyada. It was a long walk, but a beautiful day and the scenery was fantastic.

The distillery itself was fairly industrial. The warehouse was quite interesting, however, since the racks moved! Yes, they were on tracks and could be controlled with a push of a button. For a whisky nerd like me, I thought that was very cool.

We ended at the tasting bar where we got to sample some great releases and had the opportunity to buy a very special bottle, which doesn’t happen too often in Japan. It was also Veteran’s Day, and my father-in-law was there who is a vet. There was a toast to him in the tasting room that made the visit even more special. It was definitely not a distillery that I had high hopes for, but was I ever wrong. I really look forward to getting back to Mars this year.

Vendome Copper & Brassworks Tour

During the Bourbon Trail tour in May, we had another great non-distillery whiskey experience. We visited Vendome Copper & Brass Works, which is the most respected copper still maker in the United States.

I had always wanted to see their operation and it was great to visit with Mike Sherman and get a private tour for our group. He took us through all of the different areas of the facility and we were able to see some of the newer stills being made for distilleries this year.

It is a true art and skill to make solid stills that will last for many decades. It seemed that the employees really enjoyed working there and it was an experience I will never forget. I hope to visit Vendome again in the near future.

It was a great 2018 and I really look forward to all of the new whiskey memories that are to come this year in 2019. For Part One of this blog post, please go here: PART ONE