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American Craft Whiskies: A Virtual Tasting Experience

What’s the difference between a whisky and a whiskey? Country of origin only: if it’s Scottish, Japanese, or Canadian, it’s a whisky. The majority of American distillers go with “whiskey.” But no matter how you choose to spell it, a guided whisky tasting is a fabulous activity for groups who appreciate the finer things in life.

I recently participated in a virtual American whisky tasting as a member of the Bay Area Travel Writers association. Sponsored by The Whisky Shop, 10th Street Distillery, and JVS Imports, the event was a lot of fun. It also made me feel more connected to my fellow writers — something I’ve missed during this time where we have to maintain physical distance and therefore aren’t gathering in person.

Here’s how it went down.

Event Preparation

One key tip for anyone organizing a virtual tasting is to allow plenty of preparation time. If you’re having kits shipped to participants, you or your supplier needs to make sure there’s enough time to compile and ship the ingredients. BATW was well-organized, with a registration cutoff date far enough in advance to avoid any shipping issues. It was a nice surprise to receive the tasting kit several weeks in advance of the event.

The whisky tasting kit included sample-size (50ml) bottles of:

  • 10th Street Distillery’s STR single malt, California Coast blend, and Cask 67 whiskies

  • Furthur Straight Bourbon and Straight Rye

On the day of the event, all I had to do was log into Zoom, and have the whiskies, a couple of glasses, and some water handy.

The History of Your Whisky

After a round of introductions, 10th Street Distillery Founder and CEO Virag Saksena shared his story. Saksena is a single malt aficionado who spent more than a decade as a successful software engineer and entrepreneur before shifting into distilling. His inspiration for getting into the business was realizing that “limited edition” meant that his favorite single malts were no longer available.

Saksena gave us a short virtual tour of the distillery, explaining the custom-made equipment and the similarities and differences between home brewing beer and distilling liquor, as we sampled drams of the 10th Street whiskies. (A dram is a small serving size, but there isn’t a standard measure, per se).

As an accompaniment to the tasting notes, we learned that while Saksena began with the classic Scotch flavor profile, he is now concentrating on developing single malts redolent of California terroir.

Then, we heard from Brian Ciske, owner of BC Merchants and the man behind the Furthur (no, that’s not a typo) brand. He is also a Keeper of the Quaich (pronounced like a cross between quick and quake), a by-invitation only honor reserved for individuals well-recognized for their knowledge of and efforts to promote Scotch.

Ciske told us that at a craft fair, his young son was entranced by a model of a brightly painted school bus. The toy was hand-painted and sold by Zane Kesey, son of novelist Ken Kesey. In 1964, Kesey and his band of “Merry Pranksters” drove around the U.S. in a psychedelic painted 1939 school bus that they called Furthur, documenting their travels on film. Ciske developed a friendship with Zane, and the idea for Furthur was born. Furthur Bourbon and Rye are distilled in Indiana, and bottled in Kentucky. Their labels feature a photo of the bus and evoke the psychedelic feel of the 60s. A portion of the proceeds from sales go towards restoring the original bus.

JVS Imports and ImpEx Beverages president Sam Filmus also lent his wisdom and insights to the discussions. All three presenters were open to answering questions throughout the event, on anything from how whisky is made to their own backgrounds.

How to Drink Whisk(e)y

According to our experts, whisky can be sipped, enjoyed with a splash of water (still or sparkling), or served on the rocks. There is no “right” way to drink it — it’s all about what you like best.

For tasting, it’s best to start with a small sip, swirling it around in your mouth. If you inhale too deeply or swallow too fast, you’re likely to get the burning taste of alcohol without picking up the flavor. Then, try adding a little water to see how the flavor opens up.

How Did They Taste?

  • 10th Street’s California Coast blend ($39.99 at The Whisky Shop) is light, flavorful, and approachable (ignore the tasting notes referencing notes of modeling clay, cocoa puffs, red pu’erh tea, glazed donuts, and lime altoid sours unless you want to go down a rabbit hole of tasting).

  • The non-peated 10th Street American Single Malt STR ($61.99 at The Whisky Shop) (which stands for the type of casks the whisky is matured in: shaved, toasted, and re-charred) marries Scotch techniques with American. It took Double Gold medals in the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition.

  • My favorite of the three 10th Street samples was the Cask No. 67 ($61.99) — a peated, smoky-tasting single-barrel single malt exclusively sold by The Whisky Shop.

  • Furthur Straight Rye ($39.99 at The Whisky Shop) has strong notes of dill in its flavor (and would pair nicely with lox), while Furthur Straight Bourbon ($39.99 at The Whisky Shop) is sweet and sippable. I’d drink it neat or in an Old Fashioned.

Want to Host Your Own Tasting Event?

JVS Imports can organize a tasting for up to 25 people. You can choose from a world tour of whiskies or a specific brand, or any other type of theme of interest to you. Filmus’ team will invite brand ambassadors, distillery owners, and/or master distillers to virtually present their brands for the scheduled tasting event.

All your group needs to do is purchase the bottles that are being tasted (Filmus says that one bottle will usually accommodate 25 people). JVS Imports has found that a selection of five one-ounce samples is optimal.

Another option is to purchase the kits from a local retailer with a relationship with JVS (like The Whisky Shop).

For more information, contact Sam Filmus at

If you liked this post, check out my follow-up on a cocktail making class sponsored by the same groups!


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