Ah, conventions. Gotta love ’em. I mean, who among us doesn’t enjoy spending a weekend inundated by comics, games, cosplay, and… alcohol? Yeah, you read that correctly. But while I could certainly understand a convention driving you to drink if you’re not comfortable with crowds, that’s not what I’m talking about here. In addition to the usual array of publishers, game developers, and artists, this year’s New York Comic Con also played host to both the scotch juggernaut Johnnie Walker, and to Silver Screen Bottling, purveyors of (among other things) the coveted James T. Kirk bourbon.
During the weekend of the convention, both companies hosted tasting events for what could best be described as nerdy tie-in spirits, and like any self-respecting writer/Millennial, I made sure to be first in line for each! Well, I exaggerate slightly on the subject of lines, because that proved to be the defining part of the Johnnie Walker experience. Whether that’s because there was genuinely more interest or they simply advertised more I couldn’t begin to guess. (I saw Johnnie Walker reps leafleting on the convention floor, but cannot say the same for Silver Screen. Though of course, the Javits Center is a big place, so who knows?) In any case, despite making sure that my schedule allowed me to leave the convention center with plenty of time to show up as the Johnnie Walker event kicked off in the off-site venue they had secured, I found myself spending nearly an hour in line. And good for them. They were there to promote their whiskey in what was billed as a “fan experience” and it’s fair to say they succeeded.
Now unlike me, you don’t have to wait an hour for the next part! Now, Johnnie Walker was there to show off a line of ‘Game of Thrones’ themed scotches, so you can imagine the sort of thing they had waiting for us inside. Guests who made it through the line were greeted by a striking set up. While the activities themselves were limited to a photo op and a whiskey sample, the entire space had been decorated to resemble the Wall, that mammoth structure of ice, stone, and magic that runs along the northern border the Seven Kingdoms. It was impressive with the room looking as though it had been carved out of ice, complete with fake snow and the occasional fog machine. In fact, in a larger venue, that sort of decoration would be perfect for a ‘Game of Thrones’-themed party. Despite all that, though, it was hard not to walk away with a distinct feeling of “I waited an hour for this?”
Silver Screen, by contrast, went all out. Not only did they keep the focus on their product (rather than the tie-in properties), they did so in an environment that was much more conducive to actually enjoying a drink. That is to say, this was a venue where you could walk in, pick your poison, wander over to the spread for some hor’s doeuvres, and mingle for a bit. Did it help that I was able to walk right in? Well, it certainly didn’t hurt! What unquestionably did help, was that Silver Screen had more options. Though they were unable (much to my disappointment as a fan of both whiskey and ‘Star Trek’) to supply any of their signature bourbon, there was plenty of Ten Forward Vodka on hand, as well as a supply of Augie’s Ale, a farmhouse ale inspired by ‘Fear the Walking Dead’.
But enough about the events. We all know why you clicked on this article. You want to know about the booze!
First up is Johnnie Walker. As I mentioned earlier, this was all to get eyes on their upcoming limited releases celebrating the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’. In addition to the White Walker blend, which was on offer at the convention (more on that later), the assortment will include eight single malts, each themed around a family or group depicted on the show. The full list follows, complete with the official tasting notes.
- House Tully (Singleton of Glendullan Select) – “Orange and clove open on the nose but on the palate, there’s red berry compote and vanilla cheesecake with a pronounced cereal spice finish.”
- House Stark (Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost) – “Honey and fresh fig develop on the palate followed by a delicious maltiness and rich fruit cake.”
- House Targaryen (Cardhu Gold Reserve) – “Baked apple with baking spices open on the first nosing then transforms on the palate into a rich caramel character with hints of clove, red apple, and a gentle nuttiness.”
- House Lannister (Lagavulin 9-Year-Old) – “Characteristic Lagavulin sweet smoke explodes on the nose with a little more brine than the other expressions, The Palate opens with smoked caramelized banana and heavy vanilla and burnt marshmallow which subside into a lightly dry, slightly salted caramel.”
- House Greyjoy (Talisker Select Reserve) – “Dry Sichuan peppery smoke and dark chocolate on the nose. On the palate, the salted caramel with chili flakes explode into smoky fruitcake of spice and the finish is long and complex with a lasting character of leather.”
- House Baratheon (Royal Lochnagar 12-Year-Old) – “Light notes of oak and sweet licorice that develops into a rich, creamy vanilla coffee and finishes with a mild nutmeg custard note.”
- House Tyrell (Clynelish Reserve) – “Bursting with fresh tropical fruits like papaya and mango that subsides into a creamy vanilla character. The finish is slightly maritime in quality with a delicate floral note.”
- The Night’s Watch (Oban Bay Reserve) – “Rich notes of cherry pie and candied orange peel open up on the palate that drifts into a wonderful creme caramel and a wisp of charred oak.”
Which brings us to White Walker. Available now in an eye-catching bottle labeled with thermochromic ink (in plain, non-Vulcan English, it changes color to reveal an alternate design when you freeze it), it stands in contrast to the other eight whiskeys as the sole blend of the bunch. A blend of single malts from Cardhu and Clynelish, the tasting notes describe “notes of caramelized sugar and vanilla, fresh red berries with a touch of orchard fruit.” But maybe you find that a bit obtuse, in which case perhaps my somewhat less practiced palate can be of assistance. My immediate impression was that White Walker is markedly less smoky than Johnnie Walker’s signature Black Label blend. There were definite hints of vanilla, though it wasn’t as prominent as the fruity notes, which to me read more citrusy than what the tasting notes describe.
On to Silver Screen Bottling! Speaking for myself, this was the more interesting of the two from the outset. Much as I like scotch (and Johnnie Walker in particular, for that matter), Silver Screen’s approach to their product is what sets them apart. While co-promotions happen fairly regularly (with the Johnnie Walker varieties detailed above being a prime example), Silver Screen comes at things differently, from a perspective that could almost be described as “in universe,” either reproducing a particular drink (as is the case with Augie’s Ale) or devising a spirit as a way of paying tribute to a character (as in the case of James T. Kirk bourbon).
Silver Screen was also a bit more robust in terms of what they had on hand for the convention, though as I mentioned earlier, they unfortunately weren’t able to bring any of the James T. Kirk bourbon. As was explained to me by CEO Brett Thomason, the issue is that they simply can’t keep the stuff in stock. While they’d hoped to have some available for NYCC, a combination of order volume and distillery delays meant that it simply wasn’t to be. The downside of a great idea, I suppose.
Also on offer, though not available at NYCC (inviting the cross-franchise question of “Why is the rum gone?”) is Nuka Dark rum. Dubbed “the most refreshing way to unwind,” this one is inspired by the Fallout games, And if Silver Screen’s other offerings are anything to go by, you may want to track this one down while you still can, especially with ‘Fallout 76’ due to launch in a matter of weeks. Plus, it comes in what is easily the coolest bottle of the bunch.
So what was there? The featured beverages at the tasting were Ten Forward Vodka and Augie’s Ale. We’ll start with the vodka, because… Well, because I feel like it! Named for the crew lounge on the Enterprise-D, Ten Forward vodka is distilled six times from American grain and filtered through hardwood charcoal. And then there’s the bottle. The label and logo were designed by none other than Mike Okuda, one of the people who defined the look of ‘Star Trek’ for a generation. As extra miles go, I’d say that’s a good one.
As for the vodka itself, I should note that they were not serving shots of it, so I can only judge it in the context of a cocktail. Though having said that, vodka – when it’s done right – is basically flavorless, so I’m not sure that would make much difference anyway. That being the case, what I can tell you is that this was the best vodka martini I’ve ever had, so if nothing else it goes pairs fantastically with vermouth!
Also, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the original stocks of Ten Forward vodka were sent into space, and a small portion of that boldly going beverage is blended into every bottle. Does it make any quantifiable difference to the flavor or overall quality of the spirit? Almost certainly not. But that doesn’t make it any less cool!
As for Augie’s Ale, what we have here is a farmhouse ale inspired by Jim’s efforts on ‘Fear the Walking Dead’ and developed in association with AMC and Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, North Carolina. And it’s a surprisingly good pint for a post-apocalyptic brew! It’s a crisp, refreshing beer with fruity notes (Silver Screen’s tasting notes describe “flavors and aromas of grapefruit, blood orange, and agave”). It’s also smooth and not the least bit hoppy, which will be music to your ears if, like me, you’ve long since gotten bored of the seemingly omnipresent IPA.
There you have it. If you couldn’t be at either event, I hope I’ve done a good enough job bringing you up to speed. Or at the very least, given you some inspiration, either for your next trip to the liquor store or for your holiday shopping.
Drink up and drink responsibly!