(PITTSBURGH, Pa)- On October 29, 2012, guests came out to experience the 6th Annual Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival at the Rivers Casino. Formerly held at Heinz Field, this was the first year the event took place at a new location. Long lines kept the drinks flowing, the house was full, and overall, the event was a fabulous experience for all who attended.
The New York Times recently featured an article about how people's need to be well-versed in art or literature has been replaced by a new need to be well-versed in food. Knowing about famous artists has grown to become irrelevant, but knowing about fine dining, how to cook a piece of meat to perfection, staying up to date on what the best restaurants are in your city, and how to pair food with the perfect cocktail or drink, is what people are considering "taste" in today's culture. Being a foodie is what defines how cultured you are.
On a rather unusual beautiful late October evening, I put on a fancy dress and ventured down to the Rivers Casino to try whiskey. In hindsight, this beautiful weather could only be described as the "calm before the frankenstorm." Unlike many other attendees, I was going in with a media pass, which meant that unlike many of the other attendees, I had to take notes. It always puts me in a state of mild anxiety when I attend events as media, because I know that I am at work. I am there to write an article about what everyone else is doing for a relaxing night off of work.
With that in mind, I went into the event not knowing what to expect. I'm not one to drink whiskey as a normal activity, especially high end whiskey. It seems a little improbable to invest a large amount of money in a bottle of something if I don't know for certain that I will enjoy it. But, the opportunity was right in front of me and as a foodie, I knew I should take advantage of tasting these different whiskeys. I knew I should take advantage of discovering new ways to make cocktails. If not for my own sake, then for the sake of future guests at future parties I may hold.
The first brand of whiskey that caught my eye was Hudson Whiskey, which had the most lively young man 'repping' them. With perhaps an Irish accent (the most fitting accent of the evening, I might add), he described the whiskey as "unapologetic", which drew me right in. Certainly, I want a liquor that is unapologetic. I took a mini-sip and was surprised at how multifaceted the taste was, as compared to a sip of liquor which normally might be so overpowering that you feel miserably intoxicated or sick to your stomach immediately (comparable to say, a cheap shot of vodka at your local bar.) (Note: if that comparison didn't give away that I am no connoisseur of whiskey, I'm not sure how else I can put it.)
Wigle Whiskey was one of the brands suggested to us to keep in mind when walking around because it is a Pennsylvania-made whiskey, however, they were instantly out of samples (before the event was even a half hour in.) Perhaps, it was because it was the table closest to the entrance of the event or perhaps, it was because it was the best whiskey you will ever taste. Another media outlet who managed to get a sample or who has tried Wigle in another setting will be able to tell you. I hear Whirl did a review of the event, as well. Try them.
Another eye-catching brand was a company with a very unusual take on vodka, appropriately and creatively named Oddka. They offered unique flavors, like Salty Caramel Popcorn and Fresh Cut Grass (which tastes very similar to a shot of wheatgrass.) It was a treat to find out things like this are available on the market. The Oddka table was one of the first tables I visited, so this turned my night of work into a night of discovering new things. Not only were their flavors inviting, their "booth" (or designated area) was creative. They had an actual bar, with a bartender.
Crown Royale had a suite, complete with a bar, swanky couches, and hors d'oeuvres. I'm not one to normally drink Crown Royale, but their presentation was the best of the night.
Your usual suspects were in attendance, as well, like Tito's Vodka, Grey Goose, Three Olives (which had the most crowded table- mainly because of their "Fruit Loops and Milk" cocktail), Maker's Mark, and even Jack Daniels. Although I was hesitant to try Jack Daniels because I thought surely somewhere along the line, I had tasted it before, I was surprised to find out they now have a Tennessee Honey flavor. This is the brand's first flavor variation and you definitely taste fresh honey in every sip.
Tito's Vodka offered one of the evening's best cocktail recipes, a jalapeno cocktail, adorned with a fresh jalapeno pepper. Normally, I am not one for anything spicy, but there was something about this drink that I would definitely love to have again (and serve at holiday parties.) The jalapeno acted as a garnish, as well as a stirrer. We were instructed that the more you stirred your drink, the more spicy it would become.
The "talk of the party", however, was the "Fruit Loops Cereal Shot" made with Three Olives "Loopy" flavor. This particular shot looked like a cup of milk, with a handful of Fruit Loops floating on top (and was essentially just that.) Everyone had one or wanted to try one. (I didn't try it because the thought of mixing milk and vodka makes me a little ill, but from what I heard from other guests, it was a clever new spin on a vodka shot.)
The Rivers Casino Buffet was open to guests for the evening. When I attended the wine festival last May, the food was a little more limited and it was easy to notice that guests seemed a little more wobbly by the end of the night. Even aside from the well being of the guests, the buffet at the Rivers Casino is one of the few buffets in the Pittsburgh area worth going to. (They have a great Sunday Brunch.) Being well-fed allowed guests, maybe just me, to taste the various liquors a little easier, without becoming immediately weighed down or intoxicated.
The Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival is definitely an event I would recommend to anyone with a love of entertaining, a love of food, or simply a love of an evening cocktail. It is an experience that will make you more equipped to walk into a liquor store or more equipped to throw together a unique cocktail in the comfort of your own home. Kudos to the team who put this fabulous event together!
If you attended, post your comments or photos below!
Sarah Davis is a distinguished journalist, motivational writer, and founder of Style & Wisdom. She has a firm grasp on pop culture, celebrity news/style, and self improvement. She believes that Style & Wisdom is an inspirational take on pop culture; a place where you can find inspiration, and a healthy escape. Bored with most self-help blogs, she created Style & Wisdom to be a combination of the things every woman searches for on the internet: self improvement, style, and a little celebrity news. She's interviewed celebrities, actors, authors, charity founders, dancers, fashion designers, artists, and anyone who offers the world a little inspiration. Style & Wisdom was founded in 2011 and has continued to grow daily.
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Image Credits: Pittsburgh City Paper, Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival, Oddka Vodka