Table Talk: Stephanie Moreno
In a new series here on the Mashbill, we’re speaking to our own Tasting Table - the skilled sources for every bottle review you see in Distiller. First up, we have Stephanie Moreno. A former spirits buyer for Astor Wines in NYC, she’s proven time and again to know more about world malts than we could ever hope to. Cheers!
Distiller: How long have you been in the spirits industry?
I’ve been in the spirits industry for a little over six years now with most of that time being the spirits buyer for Astor Wines & Spirits in New York City. I was one of their sales managers and took the reins of Spirits Buyer when my predecessor left. If there is anywhere in the world to become a spirits professional, it is at Astor. The culture there has always been one with a focus on staff education. We had master distillers, national brand ambassadors, and real authorities in the business visiting from around the world providing staff education (which of course involved tasting!). After I left Astor, I worked for various brands such as Compass Box Whisky and Rhum J.M. preaching to the public about those distillates . I was schooled by the best so it is my turn to teach.
I feel as if I’ve earned a masters degree on spirits, but the great thing is that there is always more to learn and that is so exciting!
D: When did you really start to delve more specifically into whiskey?
Growing up in Texas, I had always been drawn to tequila; that was my go-to spirit. I dabbled here and there in whiskey, but mostly it was a little Jameson or Jim Beam. It was fine, but I’d always go back to my tequila. And then I tried Yamazaki 12. Now here was something different! It was fruity, but not sticky sweet; smoky, but not in your face. There was something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, like incense or something and it had such an elegance to it; I just wanted to learn everything there was to know about how it was made.
D: Is there an inherent trait that draws you to whisk(e)y?
Maybe because it is a challenge. I don’t mean on a taste level, but on a knowledge level. Not only knowing what a whisky tastes like, but why it tastes the way it does. And Scotch especially seems like such a daunting subject, and it is, but in the best possible way. Maybe it is also because it’s not something one might expect for me to have any clue about. I have to admit, I enjoyed when my former sales associates would call for me because their customer wanted to speak to the “whiskey guy” to help them with their purchase; and then I would show up. The look on their face was priceless. It is nice that those perceptions about women drinking and knowing about whisky are slowly changing and I’m proud to be a part of it.
D: Any ‘dream’ bottles that you’d love to be able to taste some day?
Hmmmm. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve been fortunate to have tasted bottlings like the Bowmore 1964 Trilogy, and fifty year old Scotch whiskies and I didn’t have an out of body experience or anything which I was quite disappointed about. My dream would be to travel to Japan and taste the whisky bottlings from Suntory and Nikka that are not available in the US inside the beautiful bars of Tokyo and Kyoto.
D: There’s been a boom in world malt productions, is there something new hitting the market that you’re particularly interested in?
I’m very interested in trying the whiskies coming out of Australia like Lark and Sullivan’s Cove. I have no preconceived notion on what it will taste like and that is intriguing. Also, I’m hoping to taste Compass Box’s Peat Monster 10th Anniversary and The General. I am a big fan of John’s and his whiskies. And, though I’ve had it many times, I cannot wait to have the Green Spot Whiskey in the US!. The bottles I got last year on my trip to Ireland are long gone!
D: Current Favorite?
Highland Park 18 is one of my all time favorites. Like a little black dress, it is a classic and always in style. Nikka Single Malt Yoichi 15 Year has also been on my radar. There is a beautiful complexity to it and I find myself pondering about it and I then almost forget to take another sip.
D: Given that the costs of world malts can often be prohibitive, is there a more wallet-friendly bottle sitting at the top of your go-to list these days?
Come summer (which, for Texas, is next month), I’ll drink more Irish Whiskey with my go to as of late being Bushmills Black Bush. Both my trip last year to Ireland and my local 3000 miles away in NYC, The Dead Rabbit bar, have gotten me back into Irish Whiskey.
D: Anything else you’d like to add for those of us who are just beginning the whiskey journey?
Best advice for those that want to know more about whiskey is taste, taste, and keep tasting. Pretty soon, you will find yourself going down the rabbit hole, dram in hand.