WhiskyFest 2009; Joaquin Simo & Toby Maloney at Cantina; Wine & Spirits Top 100 Event

“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy.” – Frank Sinatra


It’s a special night (10/21) at Cantina (a worthy destination any night) when New York City’s Joaquin Simo, of Death & Co, and Toby Maloney (formerly of Milk & Honey, now running culinary cocktail bars around the country, including Chicago’s one-and-only Violet Hour) guest bartend. All tattoos and friendliness, these guys are cool – and awe-inspiringly adept behind the bar (behold the energy with which Toby shakes a cocktail or the deft discreetness dealt in Joaquin’s lighting of citrus peel). I put full reign in their hands and they delivered every time. Joaquin did his own variation of a bourbon cocktail using Old Overholt Rye instead with Aperol, Peychaud’s bitters, Yellow Chartreuse. Smooth, balanced, sexy. I truly loved his Oaxacan Old Fashioned, a Death & Co staple  with El Tesoro Reposado tequila, a smoky tinge from Los Amantes Joven mezcal, amber agave nectar and Angostura bitters. Toby stopped the show using one of my favorites, Zacapa Rum, with Green Chartruese, lemon, egg white, Angostura, dash of Peychaud’s on top and a Campari rinse. Hello!


Levels of wine tasting at SF Design Center for Wine & Spirits Top 100

Levels of wine tasting at SF Design Center for Wine & Spirits Top 100

• A New Zealand 2006 Rippon Riesling paired just right with seafood courses at Fleur de Lys: floral and crisp with a slightly viscous texture, it maintains a proper balance of sweet and dry.

•  Wine & Spirits Top 100 event was a swank affair, jazz band, striking atrium, tasty bites from some of SF’s best restaurants and eateries… I couldn’t begin to pick a best out of 100 award-winning beauties from around the world. There was quite a line-up of champagnes and sparklers, wines from Portugal, Chile, Greece, and, of course, Italy, France, California. I immediately took to Australian Penfolds Shiraz and Riesling, Chilean Concha y Toro’s Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere, a 2005 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet, and a 2000 Vilmart Champagne Brut Coeur de Cuvee Premier Cru.


My first Whiskyfest was a memorable experience. Only held in Chicago, New York and SF annually, it’s a sea of whiskies from around the globe in SF Marriott ballrooms, with distillers and staff from various countries flying out to serve you unlimited tastes (oh, so dangerous). Yes, you must pace yourself, fill up on the buffet of roast beef, pastas and such, and plan strategically from the long list of vendors. Though pricey ($110 a ticket or $150 for VIP hour), out the many events I attend in a year, I find this is one worth saving up for, particularly if you love the brown spirit.

The Renaissance Man samples cocktails from Rickhouse & Bourbon & Branch bartenders

The Renaissance Man samples cocktails from Rickhouse & Bourbon & Branch bartenders

One of the joys of the night was Steve Beal’s Classic Malts class (all classes included with ticket price – line up a little early to secure a seat). Graciously leading us through various regions of Scotland, Steve used photos and stories of the history and production of some key scotches (including distiller’s editions of Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Oban, Lagavulin, Cragganmore, Talisker)… with little glasses of each as we journeyed along.

It is impossible to name favorites so I will list at least a few highlights beyond the more-affordable greats like Oban, multiple years of Caol Ila, and ever-reliable Lagavulin (I enjoyed trying the Distiller’s Edition: super peaty, with notes of brine, sherry wood). Highland Park’s dark 30-year wowed… but the boozy 25-year was not too shabby either. Glenrothes 1975 was a bright blend of fruit and spice, while the 1979 equally delighted. I’d happily imbibe Pappy Van Winkle’s smooth 23 and 20 year bourbons again. Parker’s Heritage 27 year is brilliant – so much going on. See if Malt Advocate’s description doesn’t make you salivate.

And this is just for starters… get thee to next year’s Whiskyfest.