Whisky, which comprises many styles, aging processes and calls many places around the world home, brings together experienced brown-spirit connoisseurs and whisky newbies to passionately revel in its nuanced tastes.
Myriad whiskies is exactly what the 12th annual Chicago WhiskyFest is about: an event sponsored by spirits magazine Whisky Advocate that offers more than 250 whiskies from around the world and takes over Chicago’s city center, as well as outlying regions, on Friday, March 23.
“There’s a lot of other bourbon events going at the time (of the WhiskyFest),” Don Westhoff, general manager of The Glenview House, explains, but not so many whisky dinners are happening.
For the first year, Glenview House in the North Shore neighborhood of Chicago is showing off its collection of more than 100 whiskies by taking advantage of the week leading up to WhiskyFest by offering 12 whisky flights ranging from $4.50 to $11.50 March 19–22.
The whisky flights, however, merely are a tease to the main event: Glenview House’s whisky dinner. Sponsored by Four Roses Bourbon, the four-course dinner, held March 21, is $50 per guest.
Westhoff’s passion for the brown spirit inspired him to create a whisky dinner to highlight the flavors of bourbons, complementing various dishes from Chef Grant Slauterbeck.
WhiskyFest allows Westhoff and his team to convert whisky novices to true fans.
One of the greatest joys is finding a new spirit someone has never heard of or tried before, he says. “Even whisky drinkers will have wine or beer (with their food) and not think that a brown spirit can go with some of their food,” Westhoff adds.
A Community Event
Chicago is one of WhiskyFest's three destinations, which also include New York City and San Francisco, that host the whisky event throughout the year.
“Everyone that sells whisky gets involved to do something (for the event),” Westhoff says. “They have embraced whisky week in Chicago. The whisky community enjoys the fest and everything about it.”
Additionally, Whisky Advocate helps promote the event, and Westhoff was eager to participate. “It’s a great event, and they’re able to help promote it.”
Westoff says there are a lot of tastings but very few dinners the general public can attend, which makes a trip to Glenview House a unique experience.
Food for Thought
For Westhoff, becoming part of WhiskyFest wasn’t only about creating a community atmosphere but also about showing off Glenview House’s collection of more than 100 whiskies as well as the chef's culinary skills.
“The menu is fantastic,” Westhoff says. Coming up with a menu involved initial tastings that pulled out the flavors of the different Four Roses Bourbon varieties that will be served with each course.
Four Roses is a sweeter bourbon that attracts many different palates, and brand ambassador Al Young is attending the event to educate guests on each of the bourbons offered at the event: Four Roses Yellow Label, Four Roses Single Barrel, Four Roses Small Batch and Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch.
“The test reaction (of the dinner courses) has been remarkable. You can take simple foods and really pull out their flavors with the (bourbon) pairings,” he says. “It gives a new taste profile.”
The menu plays on that Kentucky theme. The first course is a hot brown duck with a smoked breast and house-cured prosciutto, which is served with a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Martini (made with caramelized pear, Meyer lemon, tangerine and bourbon cherry).
The second course of lobster “burgoo,” scallops and laughing bird shrimp is a classic Southern stew and highlights the Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.
“A lot of the brown spirits go fantastic with seafood,” Westhoff remarks.
Chicken liver fried rib eye is served as the third course and paired with Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. Finally, diners will nosh on a dessert course of six spiced stack cakes made with bourbon caramel, macerated apples, pomegranate glaze, passion fruit and heavy coconut whipped cream, finished with the Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon.
Westhoff hopes that WhiskyFest and his inspired whisky dinner will attract new customers as well as more press to the restaurant, which is 20 minutes outside of downtown Chicago.
“We want to bring that experience to the dinner public,” Westhoff notes. “I’m very fortunate that I can sit with Al Young or master distillers of scotches and whiskies when they’re in town. It’s a great opportunity for me, and I love sharing that experience with others.”