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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Mar. 22, 2016 6 years ago

Obsessed: Sarasota's Whiskey Obsession Festival

Turner Moore has turned his infatuation with whiskey into one of the biggest whiskey festivals in the country.
by: Nick Friedman Managing Editor of Arts and Culture

Turner Moore almost named his event Whiskey Passion. He’ll be the first to tell you, however, it simply wouldn’t have been accurate.

“I’m obsessed,” he says. “There’s no other way to put it. Passion isn’t nearly strong enough of a word — I had to name it Whiskey Obsession.”

Moore founded the annual event in 2013, out of a desire to share his love for the spirit with Sarasota. But before that, his journey toward whiskey obsession began the same way it does for many others: in college.

“While I was in school in Virginia, we drank a lot of cheap bourbon,” he says. “It was definitely quantity over quality. After I graduated, a few of my friends introduced me to Glenlivet and a few other single-malt Scotches, and I loved it. There’s no other spirit that’s as complex and diverse.”

Whiskey Obsession Festival

That was the mid ’90s. “Like” would still be the most suitable word for his relationship with the libation. By the mid 2000s, however, he says he was well on his way to full-blown obsession.

He spent his free time attending the country’s most reputable whiskey festivals, expanding his knowledge and mingling with industry experts. The only problem? The only other event in the state was three hours away, in Fort Lauderdale.

Jack Daniel's spokesman Michael J. Ring

In 2012, Moore approached Phil Mancini, co-proprietor of Michael’s on East, and suggested hosting a local festival. Mancini loved the idea, and six months later, Moore hosted the inaugural Whiskey Obsession Festival, using the knowledge and industry contacts he’d amassed over the years to present a grand tasting featuring 27 tables, 15 distillers and ambassadors and 174 whiskeys.

Today, the festival is one of the largest whiskey events in the country, in terms of industry participation. The three-day event features a dance party, an interactive panel discussion, master classes, 52 vendors and 250 whiskies from Japan, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, France and the United States.

Not only is the event an opportunity for local enthusiasts to meet industry experts and sample hard-to-find products, and for novices to learn more about the drink, but Moore also says it goes a little deeper than that.

“People tease me when I say this,” he says. “But I think whiskey is the perfect representation of all the best elements of our civilization. It’s the culmination of hundreds of years of technological advances and the cross-cultural pollination of ideas, resulting in this incredibly complex spirit. I don’t consider myself a whiskey expert — I’m a whiskey evangelist.”

Turner Moore started the Whiskey Obsession Festival four years ago.

Whiskeys For All Walks

This year's festival will feature an interactive panel discussion. Courtesy photo.

There are two types of people in the world: those who love whiskey, and those who don’t know it yet. This complex, golden liquid is one of the most misunderstood spirits in the game. Festival founder and organizer Turner Moore offers his advice for finding the perfect whiskey for anyone — from novice to connoisseur.

  • Easy-Drinking: “Irish whiskeys tend to be lighter and smoother, because they’re triple-distilled. This is a good starting point for people, because the flavors are complex, but they won’t take your head off. Japanese whiskeys are similar, but they’re so popular, they can be hard to find. There are a few single malts, such as Glenmorangie, that are lighter, and blends, like Johnnie Walker, are popular for a reason.”
  • “Bourbons are another good starting point. They’re generally sweeter, and they have notes that are familiar to drinkers from cooking, such as vanilla. The barrel has a lot to do with this, too — 70% of the flavor comes from the type of wood the barrel is made from and how long it’s aged inside.”
  • Midrange: “Some good examples of middle-of-the-road whiskeys are Macallan, Glendronach and Glenfiddich. These might have more of a bite, and they often contain more Christmas-like flavors — things like nutmeg, cinnamon and clove. It’s also not uncommon for them to add dried or stewed fruits.”
  • Bold: “A good example of a really bold American whiskey is Balcones, from Texas. It will really knock your socks off — it’s like they bottled wild Texas. These types of single malts will even have meat flavors show up. Rye whiskey is also a lot spicier. This is also where you’ll find single-malt scotches with peaty, smoky and earthy flavors. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but as far as range and depth goes, there’s nothing like it.”
  • “There’s been an increase in popularity for bold flavors in America. After prohibition, American’s were leery of bold flavors, because a lot of homemade whiskey during the time was strong and not always safe to drink. Now, we want that boldness. Our palates have evolved across the board — we want the hoppiest beers and the boldest whiskeys.”


Blending In: How to Sound Like You Know What You’re Talking About at a Whiskey Festival

We get it. Being surrounded by a roomful of whiskey experts can be a bit daunting for a newcomer. We’ve put together a quick list of terms to help you fool even the snobbiest of connoisseurs.


  • Whisk(e)y: Cereal grains, mashed, fermented, distilled and aged in an oak barrel. The “e” is generally present when the country of origin contains an “e,” such as the United States, or Ireland. All bourbon is whiskey. All Scotch is whisky. Not all whisky is Scotch. Got it?
  • Bourbon: Bourbon can be produced anywhere in the United States, if it’s made from at least 51% corn, distilled to a strength of no more than 80% ABV and casked at a strength not exceeding 62.5% ABV.
  • American Whiskey: Whiskey produced in the US that is not bourbon, rye or single malt.
  • Single Malt: Whiskey from one distillery, made from malted barley.
  • Rye: Whiskey made from at least 51% rye grains, characterized by intense, spicy flavors, including pepper, nuts, tobacco, clove and mint. Currently enjoying a renaissance, due to increased market demand for bold flavors.
  • Scotch: Whisky distilled in Scotland and aged for a minimum or three years and one day.
  • Blended Whiskey: Whiskey from multiple distilleries and/or whiskey made from multiple grains.
  • Malt: Malted (germinated) barley, or the whisky produced by malted barley
  • Triple Distilled: Many Irish whiskeys do this, removing more chemical compounds than double distillation to create a lighter, smoother spirit.
  • Pot Still: Traditional copper still for making whiskey, usually onion shaped with a long neck to capture vapors. Pot stills are run in single batches, unlike commercial “patent” or “Coffey” stills, which run continuously.
  • New Make Spirit: Clear distillate straight out of the still, a.k.a. moonshine. It can’t be called whiskey until it’s been in an oak barrel for a couple of years.
  • Distillation: Alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so alcohol vapors can be captured in a still and condensed back into liquid form for consumption.
  • Proof: In the U.S., proof is twice the ABV, so 43% ABV is 86 proof.

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