Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review of The Whisky Attic, Las Vegas

I (hubby) was in Las Vegas for work last week. I did some research on local whiskey joints and discovered http://whiskyattic.com. It looked impressive so I booked a tasting and invited some coworkers. 

The Setting: The title “Whisky Attic” gave me the impression of a charming room in a quaint setting which was confirmed by the website photos. Well evidently the “Whisky Attic” recently moved and is no longer an attic. As a matter of fact it’s about the least charming place I’ve ever been. It’s a random office park 10 minutes off The Strip. You enter to a waiting room that could be an insurance office and then are led back to the tasting room.

The Tasting Room: You walk in and are surrounded by a vast and impressive collection of whiskey. The room seats about a dozen people and is surrounded by floor to ceiling shelves. They seem to be focused on independent bottlings and have great looking groups of Black Adder, Gordon MacPhail, Scotts, A.D. Rattray, and lots of other good looking indies. There is also a great lineup of Willett, a full collection of Parker’s Heritage Collection, a shelf of Van Winkle, and some other gems (Black Maple Hill 23, AH Hirsch 16, etc).

The Setup: We got there about 20 minutes late and I felt bad because there were three other guys who had also signed up for the tasting who’d had to wait for us. If any of them are reading this, apologies! Our bad… Ok so we get there and we are led into the tasting room. I look at my watch and it’s thirty minutes past the hour. Our guide now commences The Speech.

The Speech: Ok I don't want to reveal too much of their content here since that wouldn't be cool. But in essence the speech a rebuke of the traditional “look, smell, taste” approach to whiskey. There's nothing in it about how whiskey is made,  the differences between different types of whiskey, or the history of whiskey.  It's mostly a haphazard list of pop culture references about alcohol. The content is “disjointed” at best. If I’m being honest it’s like a poorly written fourth grade book report. We’re still not drinking. I look at my watch and it’s twenty minutes past the hour. The Speech has been going on for a full fifty minutes and we have not learned a single thing about whiskey nor had a sip.

The Tasting Method: At the end of the day, the only unique thing about this method is that you’re not supposed to smell the whiskey. They tell you to put it in your mouth for a long time and take small sips (common instructions you get at every whiskey tasting).  And that’s about it. The Speech teaches you nothing about how whiskey is made, what characteristics to look for in the tasting, the history of distilling, or really anything interesting that you’d want to learn about whiskey. He then makes us watch him take a sip of whiskey and demonstrates the technique of not smelling and slowly sipping it. (Yes, it’s now an hour in and we’re watching him drink whiskey in front of us. PURE PAIN.)

The Questions: Our guide then asks us all some questions: “What whiskies do you like?” I say that I like rye whiskey. He asks some other questions about whether we like sweet or spicy foods and stuff like that. These questions evidently are supposed to help him determine our tastes so that he can design a custom tasting for each of us.

The Tasting: We all get pretty much the same tasting, and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how we answered the questions. The first thing he pours for us is a vile thing that’s not whiskey and is some kind of peach liqueur. It’s the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted and ruins my palate for the rest of the night. After hearing this incredibly long story about how smelling whiskey ruins your palate, to have my whole mouth coated with disgusting peach syrup is unfathomable.

The next whiskies we get are standard mid-shelf type stuff. Dalmore 12, High West Campfire, Clynelish 14, stuff like that. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to why he’s pouring us these things. Despite my one stated preference he doesn’t pour me a rye, except for the blended rye that’s in Campfire. Don’t get me wrong there’s nothing particularly bad about any of these brands, but after hearing for an hour about this scientific method, there was absolutely no explanation about why he chose these whiskies for us, and none of them were at all in line with my tastes. Honestly I couldn’t taste anything after that nasty peach syrup.

Now we're on the final of the five whiskies of the tasting. This is when, in most tastings, they'll pull out one nice surprise like an older malt or a rare bourbon. For the home run, when I think that finally he’s going to break out one high-end whiskey for the closer, we get another liqueur! Half of us get an Irish Cream, and the other half get a sweet fruity whiskey liqueur. I get the fruity one.  It’s just as undrinkable as the peach swill.

The Collection: Ok, I’ve sat through all this and I’m trying not to be an asshole. I dragged my coworkers to this random out-of-the-way office park. We listened to a rambling nonsensical hour-long diatribe about cavemen and the horrors of nosing whiskey. We drank two glasses of swill and a few decent drams. But… I’m thinking… it’s ok because they sell all this amazing stuff by the glass! So we’ll sit here and have a few good whiskies and then go home. So we start going through the collection…

I quickly realize that the prices are off-the-wall insane. Eagle Rare 17: $170/glass! Parker’s Heritage Promise of Hope: $75/glass! Van Winkle 12 Year: $50/glass! All these prices are double what you’d pay in the most expensive bars in the world. Seriously I’ve been to whiskey bars all over the world and never seen prices this bad. Basically anything that you can’t buy on the shelf of the liquor store on the corner is so atrociously overpriced you would feel dirty ordering it. I wanted to buy something special for my guests just to make up for the tasting, but I got so frustrated asking the prices of the whiskey that I gave up and left.

Conclusion: I’ve probably been to fifty whiskey tastings. All kinds of different ones from industry events, to restaurants, to bars, to whiskey clubs, to private tastings. Some have been better than others in terms of the value of the whiskey and/or the educational content, but I’ve always come away with something. Sometimes I’ve found a new interesting brand that I’ve never tried before. Sometimes I pick up a little history or facts about production methods that I didn’t know. This was by far the most poorly planned and executed whiskey experience I’ve ever had. I kept looking for something redeeming about it and coming up empty. Then the truly outrageous prices just added insult to injury. 

I feel bad about being this negative. I love that people collect and share whiskey and try to do things like this. But honestly, please do yourself a favor and skip WhiskyAttic. It’s a huge disappointment and definitely not worth the trip. Sorry guys, but if we can prevent our readers from making the same mistake we did, we have to be honest here...