Every year on an evening in June, a few hundred Jews whisk themselves over to the the West Side of Manhattan, midway between the new Hudson Yards train station and the old Penn station, to partake in an event that has maintained a youthful energy to couple with a now-established credibility: the Whiskey Jewbilee.
The Jewbilee, now in its fifth year, is a catered event focused on fine spirits and cigars hosted by the Jewish Whiskey Company. This year’s Jewbilee, held for its third consecutive year in Midtown’s Studio 450, attracted roughly 450 whiskey enthusiasts.
“I walk the floor every year and and this show overall seemed to just have the greatest spirit.” said Joshua Hatton, the President and CEO of the Jewish Whiskey Company (pun intended).
As Shlomo Blashka, an exhibitor from the Royal Wine Corp., pointed out, there’s actually more to Jews and whiskey than most are likely aware. “Jews have been in involved with whiskey for hundreds of years,” said Blashka. “When Jews didn’t have access to wine because it had to be certified, they could drink whiskey.” While some Rabbis are now concerned that a whiskey can become contaminated and require a certification if it matures in a wine cask, the Jewish tradition of drinking whiskey stuck, he said.
Upon entering the event, attendees received a bag equipped with water, a glass and a pour list featuring nearly 250 different whiskeys. There were a wide variety of Kentucky bourbons, Tennessee whiskeys, Canadian ryes and of course, plenty of malt and blended Scotches.
While most of the distilleries represented were return exhibitors, Loch Lomond debuted at this year’s Jewbilee with its “signature” blended whiskey, along with a grain and 12-year-old single malt. Glen Scotia, or “Scotia,” made its first appearance at the Jewbilee as well, with their double cask and 15-year-old single malts. Hatton told the Jewish Week that many people were impressed that “there was a lot more variety this year.” There were 14 more varieties this year than last year, and 30 more than in 2014.
The attendees were almost as diverse as the whiskeys, a positive trend that Hatton hopes to see continue.
“We try to be as inclusive as possible” said Hatton, who was one of several showrunners at the Jewbilee. While the event still attracts many synagogue’s “men’s clubs,” it is hardly an all-male affair. This year, women accounted for a quarter of the attendees, said Hatton. Allison Patel, the founder and president of the French-based Brenne Whiskey, was encouraged to see that there are “more and more woman every year.”
For Hatton, inclusivity also means reaching out to whiskey enthusiasts outside the Jewish community. The event, which used to be hosted in a synagogue, has increased its number of non-Jewish attendees from about five percent in its first year to close to 30 percent this year, according to Hatton.
Jess Lomas, an exhibitor from Scotch Whiskey Auctions who is not Jewish, said she “loves” the annual Jewbilee. “I love New York, I love the Jewbilees and, most of all, I love your food. The bagels are outrageous,” she said, adorned in a kilt as she poured attendees fresh samples of the single malt Scotch Glenfiddich.
Whiskey enthusiasts drinking their whiskey on the balcony of Studio 450 in Manhattan. Josh Mendelowitz/JW
The evening also included a lavish spread of Glatt kosher food catered by the
gourmet chef Ari White, founder of the Wandering Que, with meats provided by Grow and Behold. Any whiskey enthusiasts who needed a break from the crowded main floor could escape to the top floor, which featured more whiskey, more nosh and more room. Adjacent to the top floor was a balcony that offered cigars, beers and a view. For those attendees that ventured up to the second floor, this was a chance to take a step outside, crack open a beer, smoke a cigar and look up at the heavenly skies resting above Hell’s Kitchen.