The WhiskyX is a series of whiskey-tasting events that began in Brooklyn and has expanded across the country, transforming what has generally been a snooty old-boys' club into a "cool vibe." The event merges whiskey discovery with a more up-to-date atmosphere and food trucks, custom jean fittings, on-site haircuts and cutting-edge bands from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys to Drive-By Truckers.
Brian Murphy, of iGo Marketing & Entertainment, is a co-founder of the WhiskyX, a series he calls "different than the typical whiskey festival, which is basically guys in their fifties, a little bit more staid."
Murphy and his WhiskyX colleague Colin Baugh, of Emblem PR, spoke with Westword by phone recently to explain just how different their event is, and what Denver can expect when WhiskyX rolls into Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum on Friday, October 18, with musical guest St. Paul and the Broken Bones.
Westword: When was the first WhiskyX? How did it get off the ground?
Brian Murphy: We did two test events in 2017 where we had Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, and then we were actually in Denver with Drive-By Truckers. This will be the third one in Denver. I think what we've learned is that we can create an interesting platform that people are interested in, to engage whiskey and appeal to a younger audience, and women as well. We’re at almost half women at every event.
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Take away any intimidation about [having] to be a whiskey expert. We try to combine different elements. We try to feature sixty or so core whiskeys that are each kind of distinctive and interesting — obviously from a quality standpoint, as well. We feel it’s a way to learn about whiskey versus being overwhelmed by it, so we’ll have top-five Scotches, bourbons, rye whiskey, etc., and we’ll mix that up with other things. There’s a little game lounge. In Denver, for instance, we have a company called Blue Delta, where supposedly you can get fit for the most custom-tailored jeans in the world. We’ll have four or five different experiences; for instance, you can get a free haircut; you can get a free beard trim. We have a cigar lounge. We’ll have eight or ten of Denver’s best food trucks there, as well, so it makes for a nice night.
It's surprising that for $85 you get the whiskey tasting, you get to see St. Paul and the Broken Bones, and then you actually get a bottle of whiskey and three whiskey samples mailed to you.
Murphy: This event, actually, Flaviar is doing it. Flaviar is also a platform for discovery, and they’ll send you — in this case — three different whiskeys and then a bottle of your choice. So we got together with them, and it’s an incredible offer. You won’t get that in any other event in the country.
Colin Baugh: You also won’t get this crowd. I’ve worked with whiskey-tasting events, and I’ve certainly attended them, and this crowd doesn’t look like anything that you would see. You go to these tastings and — let’s just call it what it is: a bunch of old white men walking around with snifters, trying to outsmart the brand reps. There are no women. The bands are, like, guys that they got who usually play weddings and bar mitzvahs. And it’s in, like, a hotel hospitality suite, basically. It’s sad. It’s just completely different.
So whose idea was it to have music be such a big part of this? And who curates the bands?
Murphy: We work with a few different groups, including C3, part of Live Nation, but we also developed a relationship with St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who have played a number of WhiskyX events. We feel like, in a lot of ways, they’re almost the perfect fit for this event. You could say they’re new, in a way, but they’ve been around for a few years. They’ve got their own voice; they’re very instinctive; they have an interesting kind of blend, if you will, of musical choices with what Paul and the guys do. I think they enjoy the event as much as we enjoy having them.
So we try to come up with something that plays into the discovery element itself. You’re going to discover whiskey that nine times out of ten you haven’t heard of before and you definitely haven’t tried. So that’s fun and interesting. Plus, maybe you’ve never heard of Blue Delta jeans, either. We want to do the same thing with the music. You know, [St. Paul and the Broken Bones] is critically acclaimed; you know ’em, but maybe some of your friends don’t know ’em. We try to get that component woven into the event itself.
Combining a band like that, that's fun and wild, with the freedom to taste sixty whiskeys: Is there a crazy atmosphere? Are there fights? Puking?
Murphy: No. We don’t do that.
Baugh: Oh, no!
Murphy: Most of the people there are between thirty and forty. It’s kind of a cool crowd. Most people are there to taste. Nobody gets drunk. We keep an eye on that, but it’s not really an issue.
Colin: When I went to my first WhiskyX, in L.A. — like I told you, I’ve worked and attended these kinds of events, and it’s not even close. Everything about these events is different, including the actual behavior of the crowd versus what expectations may be. These are people who are used to going out on a regular basis, so they know how to comport themselves. I was shocked.
Bryan: You know what? it’s not a party — it’s just a good vibe.
Colin: And it’s like that in multiple markets. That was the thing where I was, like, “Well, maybe it’s just L.A." Then I went to the Brooklyn one. Same cool vibe.
So you’ve transported what's usually been old guys in cardigans to the hipster market, and the response has been good.
Murphy: Exactly. It really was built for the new whiskey drinker. Maybe you’re drinking bourbon or Scotch, but you’re kinda just getting into it, so it’s really for that type of person, who wants to learn more in a more inspiring environment. It’s a little bit more of an exciting thing. The other thing that we’re going to be doing in the future, in Denver, is we’re going to be doing more year-round events where you can come and learn about Irish whiskey or Scotch. I think the opportunity to discover whiskeys and then continue that journey is something that we’re really excited about, and we’re really excited to be working with Flaviar, because it’s, like, “Discover the whiskeys, but then you can discover them at home, too.” We’re kind of getting full circle.
And for each event, do you also have a focus on local whiskeys?
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Murphy: Yeah, we try to merge them in. We’re still working on building up the event and what we do. So we have sixty [whiskeys], and it’s not a cheap event to put on. We do try to work local whiskeys in, and we have worked with the distillers' association, and of course in Denver we have Stranahan’s, which was purchased by Proximo [in 2010]. In the past, we’ve featured five or six local Colorado whiskeys, and we’ll do the same this year.
Have you thought of doing a WhiskyX festival that includes a whole bunch of bands?
Bryan: Yeah, we have. What’s interesting is that after we’ve gone through two years and ten events, learning about what people want, what we can do better, those types of things, that’s one of the things on our radar that we’re developing: coming up with different experiences. One of the experiences is potentially a musical festival with whiskey really embedded in it.
The WhiskyX with St. Paul and the Broken Bones takes place from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday, October 18, at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, at 7711 East Academy Boulevard. Tickets are $50 to $300 and available at TheWhiskyX.com.