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Whiskey festival will celebrate the '60s with 'Mad Men' theme

Dale Markham thinks the Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival has moved way beyond its early efforts to take away the stigma of the love of spirits.

But he is not about to relax in his efforts to provide an entertaining evening.

Friday's event, sponsored by Pittsburgh Wine Festival LLC, will have a tasting of an $1,800-a-bottle cognac and feature the debut of two whiskeys new to the area.

Markham hopes the East Field Club Lounge at Heinz Field on the North Shore will be filled with guests celebrating the martini-lunch spirit of the '60s, in the "Mad Men" theme of the event.

"Now, it is time to have fun with it," he says, in reference to the act-like-it's-the-'60s theme. "Remember those days and have a good time."

Markham says he was looking for a way to add artificial cigarette smoke to make the hall as cloudy as it would have been then, but the room's smoke detectors disallowed it. The atmosphere will have to be conveyed by the skinny-tie dress of guests and the music that will be played.

He is pleased at the reaction to the sold-out festival, which is attended by more that 1,300 people and features about 250 individual products.

"It's about as big at it can get," he says.

Over the years, Markham has found an interest in spirits other than whiskies, which opens the door to the tasting of the Remy Martin Louis XIII Grande Champagne Cognac. Markham believes it will be a tasty temptation to raise money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The first 100 arrivals at the festival will get a card about the tasting. Of those, 20 will be gold cards that will get bearers into the tasting. Five other gold cards will be raffled for entries costing $10, or three for $20.

All of that money and revenue from silent auctions will go to the local chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

While cognac, vodka and other spirits are featured at the event, whiskies still are the centerpiece of the title, and Markham pays attention to them.

This year will see the official debut of Angel's Envy, a creation of master distiller Lincoln Henderson from Kentucky. He was here last year previewing the bourbon, but this year, he arrives to mark its acceptance for sale by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. It is available in nine states.

Henderson, 73, of Lexington, Ky., is a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame and for 40 years worked for Brown-Forman Corp., where he developed or helped to make classics such as Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, Gentleman Jack and Woodford Reserve.

He was working for Japan's Suntory distillery when his son, Wes, approached him seven years ago with the idea of creating his own bourbon.

The younger Henderson arranged the financial backing, and they began work on the process.

It is something of a dream come true for him to be able to concoct his own drink, free from corporate demands, Lincoln Henderson says.

He says there are chemical reasons behind the mild taste he has developed for Angel's Envy, but the biggest reason, perhaps, is that it is aged in port barrels from Portugal.

The process of creating an aged whiskey is a long one. It has to sit in its keg for four years or more to create its color and taste. But a more important challenge still is brewing the whiskey, which officially premiered in March.

"The biggest test is the acceptance of the public," Henderson says.

The festival also will welcome Tullamore Dew 10, a new-to-Pennsylvania whiskey from Ireland.

Markham had hoped the whiskey festival would see the unveiling of Wigle Whiskey, the rye-and-wheat drink being produced by Mark Meyer and his son, Eric, in a new distillery in the Strip District.

The Meyers hope to open their site for tours and tastings in early December. That goal is keeping them so busy, they can't take time to visit the festival.

"The whiskey festival is a great event," Eric Meyers says, "and we look forward to being active participants next year, and many years after."

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Additional Information:

Pittsburgh Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday

Admission: $100

Where: East Field Club Lounge, Heinz Field, North Shore

Details: 412-281-2681 or website

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