Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Makes The Water of Life Whisky Event Extraordinary?

Matt Lurin hosts The Water Of Life Event
What is the best whiskey event in the world?  Indeed, what makes a great whisky event?  Great whisky to be tasted, to be sure.  But comfort, decadence, and camaraderie have evolved, for me at least, to be almost as important.  I'm going to make the case that Matt Lurin's Water of Life just might be the ultimate whisky event.  I'm going to lay out my reasoning in detail and back it up with photos and descriptions of last year's astonishing event and details of this year's which continues a dramatic evolution towards whisky event greatness.  This event is going down May 18th 2017 and you'll want to attend and pony up for one of the VIP ticket options (and there are more than one).  Read on.
Malt Maniac Peter Silver gets the story from Raj Sabharwal on the VIP Terrace
Why go to a whisky event at all?  The usual answer is - to taste a widely among current offerings - learning a lot.  The other reason is to reconnect with friends - and make new ones. The classic format, which I associate with the parent of modern whisky events: WhiskyFest, involves a large bourse with many tables each devoted to a given distillery, brand, or distributor.  People crowd around - Glencairn glasses extended - vying for a pour.  Presenters run through their spiel quickly - stating the same thing over and over to a disorganized swirl of people.  Over the course of such an evening, you spend most of the time standing.  Most of the drams are drunk too quickly - and too soon after the pour, lacking time to open up.  You run into friends, connect, lose them again in the crowd, and if you're lucky to reconnect.  Most whisky events - even the best ones (like the extraordinary Whisky Jewbilee) - tend to run like this.  They often have VIP sessions which are classroom style with sit-down tastings - but they tend to be at the beginning which means cutting out of work early to make them a challenge.

Diageo rep and fount of human warmth,
Joe Gratkowski, pours the extraordinary
Lagavulin 8.
The Water of Life is inherently different, and the difference comes from the central mission which is charitable.  Matt Lurin, the whisky enthusiast doctor who created it, developed it for a cause: helping cure a rare form of stomach cancer (GIST - gastro-intestinal stromal tumors) by supporting The GIST Cancer Awareness Foundation.  Every attendee is helping this charitable cause and this higher calling imbues the evening with a sense of celebration and meaning.

The main event (the non VIP ticket) is a sit-down format 'speed-dating' type of event where you sit with small group of 4-5 people at a table and at intervals move to a new table.  At each, you sit down and have the whisky representative's undivided attention for a chunk of time.  This eliminates the crush and creates a more leisurely comfortable tasting session that fosters real conversation, whiskies opening up, and a feeling of luxury and ease.  There are hors d'oeuvres, dinner, and dessert and the option to buy an additional ticket for cigars and terrace access (normally a VIP only perk).

This year, Matt has something special planned with different focuses available for both the standard and the VIP tickets.  You can choose either "The American Whiskey Trail"(which debuted last year) which is about Bourbon and rye, or the "Island Getaway" which is about Islay Scotch.  You can also choose "A little bit of everything" which omits the specific focus.  You can specify Kosher or non-Kosher meals.  The food was excellent in 2015 and 2016.  VIP adds special pours, a beautiful cut crystal glass and that cigar terrace (which has special pours).

Rare Japanest from Flavien's
private collection in the ultra-VIP sessions
If you want to really experience what makes The Water of Life amazing you need an ultra VIP ticket - even more than at just about any other whisky event.  It comes back to the charity angle again.   This basis of the event in charity motivates presenters in a special way.  At the 2016 ultra VIP sessions, extraordinary people brought extraordinary drams.  A 50 year old Dalmore was served at the apex of an extraordinary flight.  Josh Hatton, impresario of The Jewish Whisky Company, Single Cask Nation, creator of the Whisky Jewbilee, and also brand ambassador for Impex, led a VIP session with the very cream of Impex's offerings.  The impresario behind New York's greatest whisky bars, The Brandy Library and Copper and Oak, Flavien Desoblin brought an astounding array of Japanese whiskies from his private collection - most of which I had never heard of or seen before.  They were incredibly delicious.  And, most amazingly of all from my perspective, was Joe Hyman's session which included a pre-Prohibition Belmont Bourbon - one of my unicorns, and medicinal pints, WWII era Scotches and Canadian whiskies and more.  You just don't see whiskies of this rarity and caliber at ordinary whisky events.  Unlike Germany's dusty smorgasbord Limberg where rare antiquities are on sale by the dram, to be had standing, these VIP sessions were included with the VIP ticket and were convivial, seated, leisurely, and extraordinary.  These VIP sessions came out of the love the NY whiskey community has for Matt Lurin and his cause.  It evokes generosity and people came with their A-game and it really showed.
The view from the cigar table at the 2016
Water Of Life VIP Terrace

For 2017 the Ultra-VIP ticket gets a whole second evening (May 17th) dedicated to those amazing pours. That way ultra VIP session attendees don't have miss time at the speed dating portion.  There is also a separate kick-off party on May 17th.  Get the details here:

Last year the VIP venue was gorgeous and the cigars were delicious.  I love that he has created a way for standard ticket holders to get access to this.

All this luxury and charity doesn't come cheap.  But this isn't a regular whisky event.  It's for a cause - and it's something special.  The standard tickets are $275 and the VIP tickets are $400.  Use this discount code to get $25 off standard tickets and $50 off VIP ones:  "gcaf2017"
Get tickets here:

Here are a few more photos of the 2016 event.  Notice the smiles.  The warmth and joy are real.  It was the best whisky event I went to in 2016 and may have been the best I have ever attended.  I'm excited to see Matt's assault of whisky event greatness continue to evolve in 2017.

Extraordinary pours courtesy of Raj Sabharwal
of Purple Valley Imports on the VIP Terrace

Steph Ridgeway spreads HP joy.
This was standard pour at WOL
but not at any other show.

Prohibition medicinal half pint and 1950s dusties at The Water Of Life ultra VIP
Yoni Miller, Ari Susskind, and Josh Feldman
Ari Susskind pours Tomatin, and also something dusty and special in his copper flask.