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A new event in town: Whiskey on Ice

Posted on by Eric Burke

Sunday I attended Whiskey on Ice, the first whiskey festival to call the state of Minnesota home. The goal of the festival is admirable. Minnesota is seen as a small market for many whiskey companies. We don’t get what a lot of other states do. The premise was that if we had our very own whiskey festival, maybe companies outside of Canada would think about distributing their products to us. Now, I have no idea if it will help us get larger allocations of hard to find whiskeys, but I figure it can’t hurt. So now that my body has stopped punishing me for attending, let me tell you a little about my experience there. 

Whiskey on Ice was held in the Depot in downtown Minneapolis. The Depot is a combination hotel and ice rink/event center that is housed in a historic train depot. It is a beautiful space with high ceilings, ample underground parking and easy access to that all-important lifeblood of the economy: coffee. For this event, the fact that there are two hotels attached to it was a serious safety bonus.

The event featured five master classes and “the grand tasting.” If you wanted to spend the extra cash on it, there was also a VIP hour ahead of the tasting where you could taste even more whiskeys surrounded by fewer crowds. And of course there was whiskey. A lot of whiskey. I was told it was a fairly pedestrian pouring list, but I was satisfied. 

There were two concurrent sets of master classes. The first of which started at 1:30 pm. I attended one being held by High West’s head distiller. Ordinarily, 1:30 is a little early for me to be tasting whiskey so luckily it got into all sorts of sciency goodness that made me forget about how early it was. After the class was over, it was a half hour wait or so for the opening of the VIP session of the “Grand Tasting.”

The Whiskey on Ice Grand Tasting at the ice rink in The Depot, Minneapolis. Yes. In the winter you can skate here.

Bagpipes. Why does there always have to be fucking bagpipes?

This really was worth the price of admission. Tickets were limited to 150 and there were only about 60 or so tables so it was easy to find one where you could talk to the brand representative or in the case of the smaller distilleries, the owner or distiller. I was able to taste a few things that I really liked which I’d never purchase for myself due to a combination of price (Jack Daniels Sinatra), availability (Compass Box Hedonism Quindecimus) and rarity (Kilbeggan 18 year old). Of course just as valuable to me are the things that I tasted during this time that I didn’t like and now do not need to spend the money on (GlenDronach 21 year Parliament, Kavalan Vunho Barrique and the Hudson Whiskey range). 

Directly after the Grand Tasting VIP hour I attended the other of the master classes I attended. This was an entertaining look at the products of Jim Beam with American Whiskey Ambassador Adam Harris. Once again, we got to taste things that haven’t made it to Minnesota yet such as the Harvest Collection, Distiller’s Masterpiece and Old Tub. The Old Tub was brought along as a bit of fun since it is only available at the distillery. It also is either not very good or really suffered from being tasted last. The Harvest Collection I found a bit surprising. All of them were interesting though none were fantastic. And I was about to be fine with the fact that they weren’t available here. Then I decided to try an experiment. I mixed them all together. Now that I enjoyed. Either that or it benefited from being used to get the taste of Old Tub out of my mouth.

And after this class we wandered back into the tasting hall. This was a mistake. I met up with another local blogger and we sort of made the rounds. After a bit of time I found myself dumping less and less as I got more and more invested in the various conversations we were having…

And now we come to the part where I re-establish the fact that I am a big advocate for moderation in drinking. I highly advise it. And I can’t stress it enough: you do not want to be in the shape I was in after that festival. Next year, I’ll probably just skip the main tasting and only go to the VIP session and the classes. Also I’ll drink lots of water, eat the food and always, always remember to dump. Though my hotel got both channels, I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones or Mad Men from Sunday. Thank goodness for my DVR.


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