The Nth Universal Experience – Interviews from Both Sides of the Luxury Event

There’s a little something happening in Las Vegas on March 2nd and 3rd that you should know about.  There won’t be chips, tokens, cards, humorless dealers, obnoxious lines, or bikini optional pools.  There will however be some world class whisky, and I don’t say that lightly, because I know world class whisky (I know it more often than I get to taste it, unfortunately).  Mahesh Patel is on his second year of the Nth Universal Whisky Experience, the only luxury whisky tasting I know of.  Mahesh is a successful real estate developer also known as “the guy who bought that $150,000 bottle of Dalmore” and he’s put together quite a show.  I don’t really want to try to sell it here, that’s Mahesh’s job, but I will say that I didn’t go last year and I think I missed out.  One reason I’ve decided to attend this year is the stellar review a friend gave it in 2011.  Tim Puett is creator of The Ardbeg Project and a very well respected whisky resource.  When he told me what he tasted, I was convinced I needed to give it a try.

One thing I want to be careful about is transparency.  If you look at the front page you may notice an advertisement for Nth.  I assure you that nothing of that trickles down to me and I don’t have any financial benefit one way or another (and this interview was my idea.)  As for how I know Mahesh, he’s a swell guy and has reached out to many of the whisky clubs around the country, including myself.  Mahesh has made considerable efforts to get true whisky lovers on board.  It’s not about wealthy whisky lovers, it’s about serious whisky lovers, and I respect him for that.  Speaking of wealth, you’ll lose quite a bit.  It’s not cheap, and that’s a fact, but you get a great deal.  Buying a $30,000 car might make you pause, but what if it’s a Rolls Royce?  Worth it, right?

Mahesh and I have only spoken on the phone.  He’s is a good guy and I like him.  Does that affect my judgment on the Nth?  Yeah, probably.   The fact is that there just isn’t really anything equivalent.  Where else can you try gobs of four figure scotch?  I know for a fact that you can walk out the doors of Nth, sit on a barstool at Encore, and spend more on one dram of Macallan then you’ll spend on an Nth ticket that lets you experience dozens of the equivalent.

Honestly, I can’t predict the future so I don’t know for sure that the Nth is going to be all that we hoped for.  I don’t like to gamble if the odds aren’t in my favor.  When I go to Vegas on March 2nd I will be making exactly one bet… a ticket to Nth.

 

Interview with Tim Puett of The Ardbeg Project and 2011 Nth attendee.

Andy: Was Nth as fancy as you expected?

Tim Puett: Yes, it was fancier than other whisky events, and a lot less crowded.  Most people were in suits and very well dressed.  Jackets are required.

Andy: fancy ballroom?

Tim Puett: Yes, the rooms where the event was held were all decorated nice.

Andy: So you walk in, what do you have?  A Super Pour ticket and glass?

Tim Puett: I walk in, and the Ardbeg table was facing the front doors.  My first Super Pour was a 1974 Single Cask.

Andy: Nice.  Tickets?  Or does security stand over your shoulder counting your Super Pours?

Tim Puett: Mahesh (Patel) definitely doesn’t stand over your shoulder.  He and his wife were really gracious hosts, and they were very welcoming and all of the hosts at each distillery/whisky table were very friendly.

Andy: So there were tickets?

Tim Puett: Yes, when you signed in, you get your package and I had a Super Pour ticket plus a ticket to taste the 1966 Glenfarclas that he imported through Binny’s.   Also, the tables usually had a better selection of whisky than your normal whisky festival.

Andy: Did they skip the low end garbage?

Tim Puett: There was a wide selection of whisky, and definitely a step up from your standard whisky show in the US.

Andy: How long was the main event?

Tim Puett: It was about three hours.  Dinner was held just after the main show.  Definitely don’t have to rush through it, and there weren’t really any lines at each table… plenty of time to talk and sample.

Andy: Aside from the local brand ambassadors, how many VIPish guys (Master Distillers, upper level administrators) showed?

Tim Puett: Ian Millar, Glenfiddich master distiller, was pouring and talking with attendees.   Paul Skipworth, CFO (now CEO) of Glenmorangie PLC.  Richard Paterson from Whyte & Mackay, and many other Global Ambassadors.

Andy: Nice!  Go to any of the master classes?

Tim Puett: I went to four master classes the next day. They were all worth attendance as the whisky was top notch.  Glendronach poured the Grandeur and a 1972 Single Cask as well as 3-4 others.  Ardbeg poured another 1974 Single Cask, and Glenlivet poured the current Cellar Collection.

Andy: Were they pouring better stuff there, or was it just that the “lesson” was worth it?

Tim Puett: The lessons were great, but there was whisky offered that was high level.

Andy: Did you get one of those fancy cut Glencairns?

Tim Puett: Yes, you get a crystal cut Glencairn as part of your package… and a cigar.

Andy: Best thing you had at Nth?

Tim Puett: Although the Ardbeg Single Cask, Bowmore Gold, Glenfarclas 1966 and a few others were great, I remember the Glenfiddich 50 the most.  It was an awesome Glenfiddich.  One thing to remember…take it easy at the show on Friday night.  It was way too easy to finish everything poured, which led to a rough night, and an even tougher next morning.

Andy: Geez, Bowmore Gold is $5000.  Was that at a master class?

Tim Puett: The Bowmore Gold was at the show…a Super Pour.

Andy: Most expensive pour?

Tim Puett: Either that or the Glenfiddich.

Andy: Did you say once that the Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 70 made an appearance?

Tim Puett: It did make an appearance, but you had to be fast as it was offered at a small room just before the main show.  I didn’t get to try it, but if you got to the room, you could taste it.  I didn’t hear about the 70 year old until the room was already full.

Andy: Doh!   That’s where it helps to be smaller, like me, slipping through the cracks

Tim Puett: haha…exactly.

Andy: How big were the pours?

Tim Puett: The Bowmore Gold pour was huge, and the others were all respectable pours.  Nothing that made me say…hey…a little more please.

Andy: I’m looking at this year’s schedule.  They have events starting at 4: 15 in special rooms.  Is this the preshow stuff?

Tim Puett: Yes, I didn’t see that schedule last year, but there were a few things happening in smaller rooms that I was surprised to see.  I arrived Friday afternoon, and I didn’t get down to registration until about 5pm.  It was my fault for not checking for any pre-show events.  Sorry I don’t have more details of the exact whisky, but I do remember all those offered were very respectable at the tables.

Andy: How much $ do you think you consumed?

Tim Puett: As for $ value in whisky pours, easily over $1000 at the show, and probably over $2000 after counting the masterclasses.  Also, I can’t say enough about how easy it was to move around the show floor.  It wasn’t crowded at all, less than VIP at other events.  Everyone I talked to at tables knew whisky, which made the event all the better.

Andy: I’m trying to convince friends to go.  What would you say to them?

Tim Puett: Tell them Nth is worth the price…easily.

Interview with Mahesh Patel, the founder and host of the Nth

Andy: This is a LOT of hard work.  Why would you do this to yourself?

Mahesh: I’ve been a passionate whisky connoisseur for 25 years and have been to so many events worldwide and it’s gotten to the point where most events were the same old whiskies coming in and there wasn’t much on the premium to high-end side,  so I decided I wanted to create something that was really at the mid to top level.  That was my passion and motivation, I wanted to create the best whisky experience for people to enjoy.  A lot of these whiskies are not available to most people, and we can present these at our tasting for a reasonable price.  We’re doing two levels this year, a high roller level where we’re throwing in all the bells and whistles, but then the connoisseur package is a high level as well.

Andy: Tell me more about the high roller package.

Mahesh: We introduced the high roller package this year, it’s $2000.  There will be a special event called whisky speed dating especially for them where 5 brand ambassadors will be pouring something very special.  There are only 25 high roller tickets (now sold out.)  They start off with that experience, then they get to do all of the other activities that everyone else will do.  We have a lineup of  27 bottles of super pours.  Everyone coming to the show will get two super pour tokens, but the high rollers will get to try every single super pour.  Then on day 2 they have all of the master classes included for them, and then there is a special high roller dinner reception for them as well on Saturday.  This year they’ll be trying the Glenfiddich 50 year old which is a $20,000 bottle (in most places) as well as dinner at SW steakhouse.  They’ll also get a nice gift bag valued at over $300 with some nice whisky and glassware.

Andy: What special whiskies will there be this year?

Mahesh: If you go to the website, you can see the ones we’ve got up there.  The Gold Bowmore’s back, the Highland Park 40 is back.  We’ve got from my own premium whisky series a Dalmore 1967 cask strength whisky and a 1966 Fettercairn that only yielded 42 bottles.  We’ve got some interesting stuff coming from Samaroli.  Bruichladdich is bringing  in a very special bottle.  Glenlivet 1964 is coming.  Macallan has a 1960 vintage bottle and Glenfarclas has a 50 year old.  One last thing we’ve added is a Chieftain’s Springbank 40 year old.  We’ve got a couple of Port Ellens in there as well.

Andy: Tell us more about your new brand.

Mahesh: It’s called Sirius Intrepid Whisky Purveyors.  We’re coming out with for single cask whiskies this year, all 40-50 years old.  There will be two single malts and two single grains whiskies.  We have a 1967 Dalmore and a 1966 Fettercairn, as well as a North British 50 year old and a 1965 Carsebridge.

Andy: And we’ll be tasting them at the Nth?

Mahesh: Yes, and we’re going to be doing some more of our series of whisky dinners, this year even on the west coast (USA). We’ve partnered up with Dalmore.  There’ll be eight of their range as well as our four. Our bottles will only be available at select retailers, but will be available through UWE Concierge.

Andy: What does the companion ticket get you?

Mahesh: The companion ticket evolved from my own experience.  My wife is not really a whisky drinker, and a lot of the spouses at the events didn’t really get the full experience since they don’t drink whisky.  Here, they will get the full experience, including the special events and the dinner.  Even if they try a little whisky, there’s no problem there, but they will get to try some premium wines,  champagne, and  take home a champagne flute glass.

Andy: Tell us about those early tastings before the main event.

Mahesh: This year, we’ve done a preshow.  Last year when we did these events it pulled people away from the main show, so this year we’ve extended the hours of the show.  These special  hour long events  will start at 4:15 and everybody gets to choose one.  We have the Shackelton recreation.   Richard Patterson and Whyte and McKay recreated Mackinlay’s old brand, which was the whisky that was actually found in Ernest Shackleton’s Hut in the Antarctic.  Then we have Alec Bradley, a boutique brand of cigar that won the best cigar by Cigar Afficiaonado.  They’ll do a seminar on pairing a cigar with a good malt.  Number 3 is a subject close to my heart.  I’m into whisky collecting and investing.  Andy Simpson from Scotland will giving a presentation about how certain top-tier brands perform in whisky investing.

Andy: So do you just pick one and walk in?

Mahesh: No, on our ticketing page you’ll make your request since it is limited seating.  Everyone can go to them, even those with companion tickets.

Andy:  The master classes are purchased ahead of time?

Mahesh: Yes, on day two we have fifteen very good classes.  I feel  comfortable that they’ll sell out this year.  These are intimate, with about 20-25 people, so they’ll get to spend some quality time with the ambassadors.  Most of the whiskies being poured are a very good value for the ticket price.

Andy: There will be bottles that weren’t poured the day before?

Mahesh: That is correct.

Andy: What do you think the total value of the bottles at the show will be?

Mahesh: I did a little analysis of this.  I did it by “pour value”.  We estimate it at somewhere over 3 quarter of a million dollars.  And that’s assuming you could even find them somewhere else.

(Andy’s Note:  I believe “pour value”  is the bar price)

We also have a new service called UWE Concierge.  If there’s a bottle that you can’t find, send us an enquiry and we’ll find it for you on our retail or private collector networks.  We’ll have a concierge stand at the show, so everything you see will actually be able to be ordered.

Andy: Any interesting names going to be there?

Mahesh: Lot’s of interesting people.  Of course Mr. Patterson is going to be there, as is Dominic Roskrow.  We’ll have Jim Rutledge from Four Roses, Andy Simpson, Ian Logan from Glenlivet, the global brand ambassador.  He’ll be doing the master class which I highly recommend.  Ian Miller, will be there.  He’s the global brand ambassador for Glenfiddich.  Sam Simmons , the Whisky Doctor, will be there for Balvenie.  We have Dave Robinson from Whyte and MacKay, Michael Urquhart from Gordon & MacPhail, George Grant (Glenfarclas), Ian MacCallum from Morrison Bowmore.  There’s a few people.

Andy: One last question; ever come back from a tough day at work and think of cracking open that Trinitas?

Mahesh: (laughing) I got quite a few  good bottles, so I could crack them.  That’s the whole idea for this event, to present a lot of whisky at a high caliber.  Last year we had one of the Ardbeg double barrels and this year they’ll bring a similar vintage for a super pour.  We’ll have Gold Bowmore and all that sort of stuff.  Trinitas?  Well I have tried and enjoyed it.  Right now I don’t feel like cracking it open because I haven’t had a bad day yet.  I enjoy sharing and that’s why I created this event.  I just didn’t want to see the same old same old being presented all the time.

“The Audacity of Note” or “How I Will Review Whisky” – Whisky Notes Part 4

I’ll be doing a lot of reviews on Whisky.com so you’ll need to know where I stand. As I said before, there are a lot of rating systems out there, and I have to choose one.

The System

We’ll be using the A-F rating system here, and just like school, C is average, without merit or demerit (except for grad school.) Because I’m likely to review whiskies of significance, you’ll probably see a lot of reviews of B or more. If you’re like me, then you’re more interested in better whisky and that’s where we’ll focus. You may also notice that although a C isn’t bad, I might get a little bitter about it wasting my time and liver.

My Scale

As stated before there is a lot of number inflation with some of the more commercial reviews. I’m not going to get too critical about that since a lot of that is conformity with what has become a standard. For better or worse, my livelihood does not hinge on my whisky ratings, so I do as I want. Many whiskies that the pros rate in the “low 90s”, I will put in the “B” range. It’s not because I’m snootier or have more experience, it’s just MY own opinion on how I want to scale my ratings, and I do try to stay true to the spirit of the descriptors. It’s also nice to have a little breathing room in the A range for the truly great whiskies.

Categories

There’s the old adage, apples to apples, and oranges to oranges.  I hope I used the right fruit. Being VERY simplistic, there are two major types of whisk(e)y that have taken hold.  The first is the barley-centric old-world whisky that is found in Scotland, Ireland, Japan, and elsewhere.  The second type is the bourbon/rye whiskey that sprouted in the United States.  Because these are different animals, I tend to rate them according to their peers. BTW, some whiskies made in America are malted barley, and I will tend to group them with scotch and such.My Notes

I appreciate good long notes, and may get a little windy myself on occasion, but for Whisky.com, I’m going to try to be quick and opinionated.  Most readers just want to know whether a whisky is good or not, and I’ll make sure I deliver that.  “Hey, this is great!” is a good note; far better than just a list of obscure European jams.  I will say what comes to my mind, even if I’m describing how a whisky reminds me more of an experience than something that once landed on my tongue.  Anything that can put you in the moment I’m in when I taste the whisky is fair game for print.  My rating will be a final overall whisky experience.  I don’t parse and tally sub-scores because I consider it more of an art than science.  Of course the nose matters, the finish matters, and the mouthfeel matters, but I lump it all up into one big drinking experience.  Color… don’t give a rat’s ass.

Knowledge Bias:One tidbit I’ll always add is the knowledge I had about the whisky I reviewed.

• Blind:  The ultimate review.  Whisky is handed over in a glass with no information offered.  No bias is possible.  This is the best type of review.

• Semi-Blind:  The reviewer is offered a whisky and knows it is one of a limited number of possibilities but not specifically which one.

• Known:  The reviewer knows exactly what is being tasted.

Guest Reviewers:

I have numerous whisky drinking friends.  On occasion I will ask them for a review, often blind.  I won’t hold them to my notes standards but will ask them to consider the ratings guide.  The more notes, the clearer the picture.

Alrighty then, let’s get to my first review ever (here).  Remember what I’ve been saying for a few months about professional reviews?  Well I decided to take on the granddaddy review of them all, the 2012 Whisky Bible World Whisky of the Year, Old Pulteney 21, which wasn’t easy to find because it was the #$%#$ Whisky of the Year and was sold out.  My plan was to get as many BLIND reviews as possible.  Unfortunately I could only try it semi-blind because I didn’t have time to wait for a friend to surprise me.  I had never had Old Pulteney 21, and hadn’t had any OB Pulteney for many years, so semi-blind wasn’t a bad plan.  My friend, Fuji, poured 3 glasses, an Old Pulteney 21 and two other cask samples that I’d never tried.  Of course I attempted to guess which was the Pulteney… and got it wrong.  So here it is… the 2012 World Whisky of the Year:

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/semi-blind

• Nose: Freshly tanned leather

• Palate:  Starts dull, then quickly heads into a warm minty rubber.  Oily sawdust. Little else going   on.  B/B-

Old Pulteney 21 – Andy Smith/known (tasted while typing this)

• Nose:  Wow, there’s a lot of vapor.  Reminds me of the fake leather seats of my family’s 1977 Toyota Corona on a hot day.

• Palate:  Mint, but faint.  Carpentry.  There’s an oily or melted butter texture.  Balloon.  This is pleasant but a tad pedestrian.  The finish is bitter.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #1/Blind

• Nose:  Banana bread and sour cherries

• Palate:  Bitter cinnamon, anise seed, a little leathery warmth

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #2/Blind

• Nose:  Bubblegum, cherry, hint of soap.

• Palate:  Spicy up front.  Turns to a dry grassiness (heather?).  Reasonable finish.

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #3/Blind

• Nose: Initial heather with honey comb and malt. Plenty of floral with hint of lemon oil. B+

• Palate: Heavy and thick mouthfeel. Dense golden honey with light tobacco. Nice oak influence, grass and heather make for a solid balance. Long honeysuckle finish. “A dessert of honey” A-/B+

Old Pulteney 21 – Friend #4/Blind

• Nose:  Sweet fruits and flowers mixed with creamy malt.

• Palate:  Licorice, wax, and peppers.  Bit of citrus and saltiness on a medium finish.  B/B-

And there you have it, the 2012 World Whisky of the Year from a different perspective.  Did Jim Murray have it wrong when he gave it a 97.5 (his A or A+)?  Well, if he believes in what he wrote, then no, because it’s his opinion.  I’m comfortable taking his word on it.  I would, however, like to politely disagree, because in my humble opinion Old Pulteney 21 isn’t a winner… but we do like it.