I'm on a quick trip to San Francisco to enjoy the bounty of WhiskyFest, which is--well, it's called WhiskyFest, which should give you a pretty good idea of what goes on. Think of a big hotel ballroom filled with tables stacked with bottles of whisky (the pour list topped 250, if you include the handful of rums and gins tossed into the mix), typically served either by guys in kilts, with rich Scottish accents, or by guys in jeans and boots, with thick Southern drawls.
This stylistic dichotomy was not lost on event organizers, who pulled together a recurring seminar-cum-riot called "Scotch...or...Bourbon?" featuring two of the more passionate advocates of each style of the spirit: Fred Noe, great-grandson of Jim Beam and representative of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection; and Richard Paterson, master blender for The Dalmore.
As one audience-member noted, if you'd asked central casting for a kilted Scotsman and a Kentucky moonshiner, the results couldn't have been more perfect. Noe is fond of chewing his vowels and fleshing out all the good ol' boy aspects of his bourbon heritage--"Drinking whiskey requires a glass, a bottle, and a mouth. You can sometimes do without the glass," he quipped--while Paterson bellowed in an exaggerated brogue, defending the honor of Scotch in an animated, hotel-contract-killing presentation that included flinging barley into the audience, dumping pitchers of water onto the floor, and tossing glasses of whisky over his shoulder.
While comedic flourishes kept the crowd happy, Noe and Paterson made a good argument: which whisky is more enjoyable, Scotch or bourbon (let's forget rye, Irish and Canadian whiskies for the moment)? And regardless of the style, how best to enjoy it? Paterson recommended trying the Dalmore Cigar Malt with a piece of Scharffenberger 70 percent cacao chocolate; it was a great pairing, but my bourbon-loving mouth preferred the fruitiness of the chocolate matched with the Booker's Bourbon instead.
How do you fit into this debate--do you prefer the smoky mystery of Scotch or the woody leather of bourbon?
About the author: Paul Clarke blogs about cocktails at The Cocktail Chronicles and writes regularly on spirits and cocktails for Imbibe magazine. He lives in Seattle, where he works as a writer and magazine editor.