Festivals. I know. It’s Friday night, and you’re tired. Tickets are expensive. Maybe it’s a glitzy marketing tool. Plus, there’s always a crowd.
However, there is a lot of fun to be had at events like Oct. 30’s Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival. More importantly, there’s opportunity to learn about and sample what’s on the market.
In set-up, this event at Rivers Casino was like a fancier version of a beer festival, sans the bluegrass and cargo shorts. The theme was the Roaring ’20s, complete with a live jazz band and people dressed in appropriate style. When copious amounts of hard liquor are being handed out, suggesting a fancy dress code is a subtle way to encourage people be on their most gracious behavior.
For the lay drinker and booze writer alike, this year’s Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival was an excellent foray into some delicious libations from Pennsylvania all the way to Japan.
The best feature of such events is the side-by-side tasting. More than 100 vendors turned out for the festival’s ninth year, presenting everything from Kentucky bourbon to elderflower liquor and mezcal. This year was the first to feature Japanese whiskeys, a market that’s been steadily growing in the States. Hibiki and Yamazaki whiskys (the Japanese, like the Scots, omit the “e”), made by Suntory Japanese Whisky, were the highlight of my new experiences for the evening. Both were much smoother than typical American bourbon, with a bit of sweetness and bite. The lightness on the palate would invite even the most inexperienced whiskey-drinkers to keep sipping.
A more familiar but welcome find was Art in the Age, a company based in Philadelphia whose botanical liquors (and exquisite marketing) can be found in your neighborhood state store. Just a sip of its (ginger) Snap liquor, based on the Pennsylvania Dutch recipe for ginger snaps, puts one in mind of the cozy side of winter to come.