The best part of trying different brands of alcohol at trade shows is that it gives you a chance to taste things you normally might not try.
The first time I learned that tequila can be its own drink was from a guy at a trade show. I actually spoke with him this week, but failed to get his name. He’s been hawking tequila for decades and was on his third or fourth brand. This year he was repping for Blue Nectar Tequila and, as I tasted the tequilas in turn, each was better than the last. Served in a small plastic cup and ounce at a time, I was able to just let the alcohol sit on my tongue as the flavors filled my head. You’ve gotta love an alcohol that’s so good it doesn’t burn.
I was standing around with some guys from Guidos Burritos, a local string of Mexican places that, I imagine, always is in the market for tequila. We were there for different reasons. Some people come to the show to for all the free alcohol and food, the pens and giveaways. Sunday morning can be littered with old people on some sort of scavenger hunt only they seem to understand. You see them proceeding down the aisle, throwing fistfuls of candy, stickers and business cards into one of the two or three free branded bags they scavenged as well.
For industry people, it’s like an annual reunion. They check in with friends and customers (Frusomers? Custofriends?), tie one on a bit and get to show off their brand or make decisions about what they’ll be serving in the coming months.
When I was a reporter, this was my favorite holiday. I would come to the show, get absolutely hammered and sleep it off in my car. Then I’d head back to the office and file my story late Monday evening. Over the years I have learned to pace myself and I’ve also improved my palate. Now I just want to try things that I haven’t had before to see if they are worth it. I am no Guidos Burritos, but I do spend a fair amount of money on alcohol over the course of the year. It’s during this show that I get a sense of liquors I haven’t tried before. I turn it into kind of my new liquor buying guide for the year.
Dad’s Hat is unforgivably bad (an aside)
Last week we had a conversation on the one of my podcasts surrounding whiskey and particularly bourbon. The upshot was that, with the rise of craft bourbons it is easy to get cheated. The same has been true of craft beer, but with craft beer you might get cheated out of, say $10 or so. Craft whiskey will cost you $40 at least.
I so was inspired by the podcast that I wrote about having nice, grownup cocktail parties. Then I attended one and, in a pride-goeth-before-the-fall kinda way, said I’d bring the rye for Manhattans. For long and boring reasons I didn’t stop at my regular place and get the (absolutely always reliable) Bulliet Rye. Instead, I ran into the Pitt Stop (sponsor of the Happy Hour Todcast) liquor store and was confronted by a bunch of ryes many of which I either hated, never had seen or felt prohibitively expensive. I grabbed the Dad’s Hat because it had won an award. It was fucking awful. It was peaty and super-complex and sweet with maybe a chocolate-cherry nose. If you are the type (and I know many of you are) who tries to hide their liquor in Coca-Cola, ginger ale or some other flavored soda, I’m sure it is fine. If you like flavored whiskeys, I’m sure it is fine. But I feel like if a rye can’t stand naked it is fucking worthless. Make a super-oaky bourbon.
The 2017 tasting guide in brief
When I saw the Dad’s Hat sign during my Sunday wanderings (this is a two day event) I felt so distressed and humiliated (the whiskey just had embarrassed me the night before, so the wound was still fresh) that I didn’t even bother having any liquor to taste at all. Instead, I waited for Monday afternoon and entered the room from a different perspective so I didn’t get all enervated again.
I fortified myself with some West Cork Irish Whiskey, which I can highly recommend. It had enough spice to be a little different but unlike the Dad’s Hat, (can you tell I’m still a little pissed?), it wasn’t so unique that it was unidentifiable as Irish whiskey.
Across the aisle, I took a (very tentative) sip of the FEW rye, which absolutely was delightful, if a little pricey. The FEW gin just was OK. It’s infused with Earl Grey and was a tad sweet for me, but well-made all the same. Craft distillers can hide imperfections in aggressive flavoring. This wasn’t the case, just an aesthetic choice that some people like and others like less so. It was a fine mixing gin, as long as you’re not mixing it with dry vermouth and a couple olives.
I also make an effort to taste the cheaper stuff to compare it to the cheap stuff I buy now. I started with Bird Dog, which I always have avoided since that whiskey appears to lean so hard on its flavored line. The bourbon-flavored bourbon was perfectly acceptable for a sawbuck whiskey, but it was really hard to watch the super-cute sales ladies mixing blueberry (blackberry? who knows?) whiskey with coffee. It just felt wrong.
The other find was a cheap tequila called Lunazul. I only tasted the Reposado (the yellow one) because that’s the one I’m most likely to buy. I feel like price and taste wise, it was also fine. If the Blue Nectar is $60 and the Lunazul is $20, the former is the bargain, unless you don’t have $60 to spend on tequila. If you’re going to get a shooting (rather than sipping) tequila, this is as well as I think you can expect to do
Finally I tried the Seacrets six-year bourbon (which was disarmingly good) but will get its own feature in the next few weeks on my OceanCity.com page.