Festival merges whiskey, lifestyle

| Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2008

Dale Markham is moving the Pittsburgh Whiskey Tasting Festival into a lifestyle far removed from the headaches of evenings better forgotten.

It is a lifestyle of sips, no gulps; of expensive cars, watches and jewelry.

"We think these lifestyles all go together," says the general manager of the Pittsburgh Wine Festival, which is presenting the Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival for the second year.

It will be held Friday in the East Club Lounge at Heinz Field on the North Shore, moving to the other side of the football field from last year's West Club Lounge.

"I think the view of the city we will have this year just can't be beat," says Max Miller, operation manager of Raise Your Spirits, a group from Pine that is assembling this "experiential marketplace for spirits," as he puts it.

Raise Your Spirits, which also has offices in Atlanta and Las Vegas, puts together tastings of various sizes for individual and corporate clients.

The festival features hundreds of tasting tables at which guests can get samples of the products of about 170 distillers of fine spirits. The lounge also features plenty of food to help clear the palates and provide substance for the stomachs of the tasters.

Half-price tickets are offered to designated drivers, and cabs and limousine services will be offered outside for those staying safe.

The festival is produced by the wine festival group, and sponsored by the state Liquor Control Board and Comcast to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The liquor control board will have a marketplace area where the spirits can be bought.

This year's event will differ in two main ways from the 2007 premiere. The initial event was centered on whiskeys, ryes and vodkas that were meant to be sampled "neat," that is, without any blends or water.

This year, Markham points out, a variety of cocktails will be offered, allowing the mix of whiskey, gin, vodka, tequila, rum or brandy blended with fruit juices or other liquors.

"There is a growing sophistication of cocktails," Markham says, pointing out there will be a cocktail competition. "That means the same kind of appreciation for them is emerging on the palate."

A focus on the lifestyle of those who enjoy that drink is the other major change.

Last year's festival centered on the history of whiskeys and ryes in Western Pennsylvania, where the first test of federal taxing ability emerged at the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.

This year, Miller says, the lifestyles of whiskey and spirits aficionados will be the focus.

"The vendors will still do a fine job explaining the histories of their products," he says, "but we think there are some things that go together well with spirits."

Guests can let their tastes examine:

• A Vodka and Rocks display from Orr's Fine Jewelers in Squirrel Hill and Sewickley where vodka tasting will be blended with examination of diamonds and jewelry.

• A Whiskey and Watches area, also from Orr's, that will be a display of timepieces from companies such as Rolex, Breitling, Cartier and others.

• A new Porsche 911, which starts at $75.600, provided by Auto Palace in Shadyside.

"We feel there is a clientele there that likes and appreciates all of these things," says Debbie Probst, dealership coordinator from Auto Palace.

Duane McConeghy, manager of Orr's Squirrel Hill store, agrees, and suggests a love of fine spirits shows the kind of taste that would lead to a love of watches.

The diamonds and timepieces, starting at about $1,000, will be for sale at the event, he says.

On the less-expensive side, Miller points out, guests will be able to test their golf skills at a driving simulator and another form of driving in an interactive racing game.

Additional Information:

Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival

When: 6-8 p.m. Friday

Admission: $85 in advance, $95 at the door

Where: East Club Lounge, Heinz Field, North Shore

Details: 412-281-8864 or Web site

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