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Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival draws connoisseurs

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By Kate Guerriero
Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009

A crowd of more than 1,000 connoisseurs came ready to put another week spent dancing the salary samba on the rocks during the Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival at the West Club Lounge of Heinz Field on Friday night, where a line of downtownies and subourbanites seemingly stretched halfway into the North Side about 15 minutes before the doors even opened.

Choosing from a liquid rainbow of elixirs that included rums, vodkas, gins, scotch and whiskeys, there were a few labels that caught our attention straight up, including a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey (boasting the apropos tagline of Tastes Like Heaven, Burns Like Hell) and a 140-proof bottle of George T. Stagg bourbon that undoubtedly would have kept us busy pondering the Seven Wonders of the World had we even dared.

"No chugging it! Just sipping!" laughed operations manager Max Miller .

Having previously earned a reputation as being a snifter for the stiff upper lips, the top brass made it their mission to appeal to a wider demographic, specifically targeting the Gen-Xers and social sceners. Judging by the crowd that ran the gamut from flannel to high falootin, it goes without saying that this easily could be considered mission, accomplished.

"It was a little stale when we first did it, but this year, we tried to appeal to the younger crowd. Encouraging drinking responsibly, of course!" explained GM Dale Markham .

And remain responsible and respectable the vast majority did; so much so that 90 minutes and a few taste tests in, and we were beginning to wonder when the suits were going to at least loosen up their ties.

"It's only 8 o'clock! Come back and check with us in thirty minutes!" Jeff Harrison joked.

Getting into the spirit of things to raise vital funds for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society were MS chapter vice prexy Anne Mageras ; festival prez Ed Harrell ; Fred Booker Noe III (great grandson of Jim Beam); Bobby "G" Gleason (holds the Guinness Book of World Records for 253 cocktails made in 60 minutes); Bernie Lubbers; Ricky Crawford (in from Scotland); John Vickers-Smith; Ken McCrory; Bob McCrory; Victoria Berdnik and Bob Haggerty; Tina Scalese; Jackie Hucko; Brian Supler; Dave Cohen; Jeff and Becky Mancuso; Shelly Hoyt and J ohn Sidani; Tony Ciotti; Mike Connley; Jamie Seabrook; David Armstrong; Morgan McCollum; Sheila Sulkowski; Lauren DiMara; Eric Boduch; Jeff Butler; Joe Benik; Dan Ryan; Al Isiminger; Rick and Ron DeShantz; Emily and Matt Costigan; Ryan Corbett; Julie Kresen; Geoff Barnes; Christian Lockerman; Jennifer Neelan; Natalie Sweeney; Kyle Gloff ; and Brett Unangst .

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