The Banff Whisky Experience
The Banff Whisky Experience is a conference and learning event hosted in one of the most picturesque places on the planet, Banff, Alberta, Canada. The event is broken down into 2 days:
Day 1 - North American Whisk(e)y
Day 2 - International Whisky
The day starts at the crack of noon, allowing guests to make their way from far off lands and destinations, or to recover from the day before. From noon until the evening tasting, you have your choice of masterclasses to attend which will cover topics from coopering, to deep knowledge of products from distillers like Wyoming Whiskey or The Glenlivet.
The following was the 2018 itinerary:
Dan and I signed up for a package deal to attend the event with our choice of 3 master classes to attend over the 2 days, 2 nights stay at the Banff Arts Center, Two Tastings, and invites to the after parties. This whole package cost us just over $1,000 CAD, which all in all I have to say was a great deal. So after getting our tickets, we ventured out and drove the 3 and a half hours from Sherwood Park to Banff.
Day 1 - North American
The State of American Bourbon & Whiskey with Sam Mead. This was a great class. We were able to sample a variety of Wyoming Whiskey, as well as a 2 bar and a 45 parallel. Sam did a great job walking us through each of the whiskey's, was able to enlighten us on Wyoming Whiskey and their history, annual yield, and the process of whiskey.
After indulging a bit to much in the class, Dan and I opted to go get a bite to eat at a local irish pub just down the road. Classic rookie mistake, partaking in the whisky pre-eating was not the best move so we needed to take things down a notch. By the way, St. James' Gate Olde Irish Pub: cobb loaf + lil'yorkies is probably the best appetizers I've had in a very long time, highly recommended!
Day 1 - Evening Tasting
That evening we arrived at 7:00pm on the nose, and were met with the live and jovial group from Gibson's Finest Canadian Whisky. Dan was wearing his favorite No99 Gretzky distillery shirt and was challenged to strip down and replace his shirt with a Gibson's, and from that point in the evening on, Dan was a Gibson's spokes person.
We sampled roughly 28 different whiskies that evening, and left with 3 big surprises from some Canadian Whiskies:
Last Mountain Distillery - Has a great Wheat Whisky, and Single Malt. Both were great! Sadly they could only sell in Saskatchewan so we look forward to them selling to us in Alberta soon!
Shelter Point Distillery - These folks make a damn fine dram. The flavor profile was fantastic, and I'd be challenged to find a better whisky through the evening.
Two Brewers - These folks really surprised us. Yukon based, which isn't were you'd think a distillery would be, but they've managed to turn their humble brewing company into a niche craft whisky distiller. Really impressive products.
Day 2 - Master Classes
I believe the comment we made to each other in the morning was "Ok, before we hit the tasting hall tonight, we best 1) eat, 2) take it easy during the day, and 3) don't let the rep's free pour.
We did the Small Batch and Single Cask master class in the morning , followed by The Glenlivet master class an hour after.
The Small Batch masterclass was interesting for a few reasons. First, it opened our eyes to a few definitions regarding what a small batch represents. Second, the challenge with creating the a good product from a small selection of casks. Finally, the fact that single cask runs are inconsistent from one batch to the next just by the nature of the process. We sampled 7 drams in this class, some from Wyoming, and others from Scottish distillers.
The Glenlivet class was what we had hoped it would be. Trying the variety of their products, a few new ones that are about to be released, and being able to stack the lineup against itself to determine what our favorites could be. Overall, not a bad class, good information, good presentation.
Day 2 - Evening Tasting
So the first obvious thing we noticed on day 2 was the number of people. They easily had double to triple the crowd. The floor was well setup, and the rep's were all very friendly and accomodating to questions and requests for samples. This evening we sampled at least 40 whiskies, much more controlled this evening, and also got to sample some rarer samples. The biggest surprises for this evening were:
Ardbeg - First let me say that this rep was a genuine treat to speak with. He was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the line and the flavor profiles of the products. In all, both of us are not big peat lovers, but he turned us around on a few of them.
Bunnahabhain - This is a classic Dan goes one way, and Chris goes the other. Dan fell in love with a few of these products, where as I really couldn't care for these.
Yamazakura - Great Japanese whisky. Surprisingly affordable, and had a very clean mouth feel to their products.
This was a great experience. I would encourage anyone who wants to host tasting, network with the industry, or expand your knowledge of Whisky products to attend this event. If I had to be critical of anything, it is that with the masterclasses, they all seemed very informal. What I mean by this is each of the classes we went to had the feel that they were just winging it as they went, and tried to make it more interactive, but this can be troublesome in a classroom setting were everyone is a stranger. Past that however, we still got a lot out of the classes, the vendors and reps were fantastic, the setting was nice, and overall conference was extremely well run. All in all, if you like/love whisk(e)y, you should be attending!