Out of my league in Whiskey Town

Alas, I am not only a Philistine of spirits but a lightweight as well. Manning the volunteer WORT-FM table at Thursday night’s “A Celebration of American Distillers,” a tasting with 30+ distillers at the Edgewater Hotel, I was given a shot glass I hardly used to the best of its ability. If I drink too many different whiskies, I forget what any of them taste like.

But my mouth still thinks about Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, the darling of the night. Made at the Lawrenceburg, Ky., by the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, it’s a 20-year-old bourbon with a hint of wheat in the mash and a dealbreaking price tag for the broke-ass likes of me. As a freeloader, I was grateful for a couple of thimblefuls. The mouth was so happy, I forswore the salmon puffs for at least ten minutes afterward to prolong the experience.

In fact, nearly everything was delicious. I also fondly recall Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, among others. As I look through my tasting notes, only one warded me off, a rye. “Tastes like … pickles???” I appear to have scrawled. It was only later that I realized I had in fact popped several cornichons a few moments beforehand.

Sometimes locals are only invited because they’re local, but Madison’s two stills shone. Yahara Bay Distillers‘ fennel-and-coriander dry gin … Spirits of Madison’s Old Sugar Factory Honey Liqueur was a surprise, complex but not at all cloying. There are just not enough grown-up honey drinks. It’s made with local honey from Oxford, Wisconsin, and owner Nathan Greenawalt just sold his first bottle last Sunday.

And that, dear friends, is all I can remember.

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