The Water of Life Charity Whisky Event is a favorite, and not just because I count the organizer, Dr. Matthew Lurin, as a friend, nor because I have attended every one of the three iterations of the event. It’s a favorite because it’s a charity event, with all proceeds going to the GIST Cancer Awareness Foundation (GCAF). It’s also a favorite because it has a unique format that turns out to be more wishful thinking than reality–and that’s a good thing. The speed dating format is certainly unique, in that it moves attendees to different tables after a set period of time, preventing the onslaught of people at any one table and allowing an intimate setting in which one can talk with a brand ambassador and one’s table-mates. I say it was more wishful thinking than reality because attendees do not follow the program too carefully and eventually get around to the tables they want to visit. But the speed dating decorum tends to hold even when this happens: attendees politely move to a new table, usually joining a new group, and they sit and engage in conversation about the whole lineup of whiskies (instead of, among other things, sticking their glasses out and demanding the oldest thing the brand person has). They also engage each other: each year, I have made new whisky friends at The Water of Life during the main part of the event. For this reason, The Water of Life provides one of the more pleasant experiences available in any whisky event.
Another standout feature of the event is the raffle. I donated a bottle (a now hard-to-find “Undisclosed Islay” from Single Cask Nation), as did many, many others, and the final set of offerings were impressive. This year, I did not buy a ticket, as I’m moving out of the country soon and need to be getting rid of bottles rather than adding new ones, but my buddy Kurt Maitland came away with the new Octomore. Despite needing to lighten my overall whisky load, I came away feeling quite jealous.
Last year’s event was in the Midtown Loft, with a lovely rooftop deck. This year’s event was in the IAC lobby, a much larger space with its own outdoor garden, albeit on the first floor. I missed the rooftop deck of the Midtown Loft at this year’s event, but I enjoyed the added room to move around in the main area of the IAC lobby, and I loved that the food area was separate from the space where the speed dating happened. And I should note that the food was excellent–arguably a bit better than the year before, when it was delicious, beautifully presented fare.
I missed the masterclass and the mixed drink offerings, which were offered in what was later the food area, largely because I got distracted talking to friends, like Joe Hyman of Skinner Auctions, who opened a Johnnie Walker Red circa 1910 with a rare downward-sloping label (it was difficult for me to get a great read on it, perhaps because age had really taken the edge off of it, but maybe that was just me) and a Johnnie Walker Black from the 1950’s (I found this one amazing–incredibly flavorful and complex). The video boards were also a bit distracting, just because they were a pretty wild addition to the event. Along one entire wall of the area devoted to speed dating were video boards that ran nearly floor to ceiling and featured content corresponding to the tables located in front of each board (see pic above). Pretty schnazzy stuff.
There were too many whisky highlights to cover adequately, but the Oishi Brandy Cask was an early revelation, not least because it’s made from rice. Also, Spike McClure dropped some great knowledge on all of us at the Diageo table (featuring Oban 18, Talisker 18, and Lagavulin 8, among other luminaries)–I love learning new tidbits about whiskies I thought I knew well. I also enjoyed getting reacquainted with the Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Year Old–and meeting Morgan and Victoria at the Vision Wine & Spirits table (left). The Deanston 20 Year Old was another revelation: I had not been impressed by other Deanstons I’d had, but the 20 is really something. Finally, new friend Leonardo Comercio from PM Spirits had a stunner Amrut Single Malt Rye and a killer 20 Year Old Caperdonich from Duncan Taylor. He was a good sport about the Grouchos as well (see below).
Overall, it was another wonderful event. Matt Lurin puts on a fantastic event, and if you’re looking for one with a charitable heart and that lets you have more space and time with brand folks, next year you should plan to attend this one.