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Cigars to be included in Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Tasting

Dale Markham is turning this year's Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Festival into a speakeasy.

"It's part of the history of whiskey, something we've always tried to look at," says Markham, general manager of the festival. The speakeasy will set up next to the main entrance of Friday's event at Heinz Field. "The place will have the music of the Prohibition, and people will be dressed up from that era. We're hoping people get into the spirit of things."

This is the fourth year for the festival, which features more than 100 whiskeys, spirits and cordials. Besides lines of tables offering tastings, there will be demonstrations by mixologists, and plentiful platters of a wide variety of food to provide substance to absorb alcohol.

Besides the speakeasy, being put together by the Illinois-based Beam Global Spirits and Wine, the festival will offer a cigar-tasting Wednesday and Thursday at Executive Cigars in the North Side.

A $125 ticket, Markham says, provides two tastings -- one of the two cigar tastings at Executive Cigars and Friday's spirits tasting at Heinz Field.

The cigar-tasting will operate in much the same way as the fine-spirits tasting, says Andrew Lee, owner of Executive Cigars.

"We are trying to show what kind of cigar to have with that whiskey," Lee says. "There is a chemistry involved. You don't want to smoke a bold cigar with a mild whiskey. It's like having a drink after dinner and then taking a bite of chocolate. It changes everything."

He says cigar-smoking and the enjoyment of fine spirits are similar in the way they involve the slow savoring of tastes. Being able to roll around the smoke of a fine tobacco involves the same sort of sensory skills used in holding a sip of oak-barreled whiskey in the mouth.

"Cigar-smoking is synonymous with success," he says. "We want to foster that idea."

Amy Sutton, state broker for Beam Global, makers of Jim Beam, Canadian Club and Laphroig scotch, says the speakeasy is offering learning linked to entertainment. The speakeasy is being made in conjunction with the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," an original drama about the Prohibition era in Atlantic City, she says.

The 20-foot-square speakeasy will be the festival's site for Canadian Club tasting and be set up with liquor barrels and poker tables.

This year's festival already is looking successful, Markham says. Event planners have sold more than 100 tickets over the festival's highest attendance -- 830 in 2008.

"If we have the kind of day-of sale we have been getting," he says, "we're talking about 1,100 people there."

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh Whiskey & Fine Spirits Tasting

When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Friday

Admission: $95, $85 in advance

Where: West Club Lounge, Heinz Field, North Side

Details: 412-281-2681

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