Table Talk: Paul Belbusti

February 26, 2016

In our never-ending quest to bring some of the best and brightest to Distiller’s Tasting Table, we’ve been continually adding new members. One of our most recent additions is Paul Belbusti; a certified sommelier, spirits buyer and consultant, we hit him with the questions we ask of all members of the table.

How long have you been in the spirits industry?
On and off for about 15 years, starting from when I worked at my good friend’s family’s package store. Since then, I’ve bounced around and had a taste of several different facets of the industry. Sales, retail, restaurants, wholesale, importing, and now I’m focusing on writing about wine and spirits.

When did you really start to delve more specifically into whiskey?
When I was a Wine and Spirits consultant at Astor Wines and Spirits, I had the opportunity to taste things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to taste. I always loved whiskey, particularly Highland single malt Scotch. But when I had the opportunity to taste some things I (thought) wasn’t particularly interested in, like rye, Irish whiskey, unaged whiskey, etc, I realized I loved it all.

Is there an inherent trait that draws you to whiskey?
That there’s such a wide variety of influences that contribute to its complexity. Terrior of the mashbill, wood, abv, etc. These factors are present in other spirits, of course, but they seem to be most expressive in whiskey.

Any ‘dream’ bottles that you’d love to be able to taste some day?
This might be a cop-out answer, but I’ve had to opportunity to try some very rare and very old products, and I am thankful for that, but what it’s taught me is those moments are rarely as transcendent as I imagine they’d be. My favorite tasting moments are when I discover an honestly made, relatively affordable small batch, expressive product made with love. Fortunately there more and more of those experiences available to all of us. That’s my dream come true.

There’s been a boom in global whiskey production, is there something new hitting the market that you’re particularly interested in?
I know it’s not particularly popular among my colleagues, but there are some really exciting white whiskeys (aka white dogs, moonshines, unaged whiskeys, etc) on the market made by small batch producers that are really mashbill expressive and occasionally downright elegant. I think some careful producers are taking these products seriously and releasing whiskeys that are perfect for sipping. Some of these products are so flavorful, they’d be wonderful substitutes in gin cocktails, rather than neutral vodka.

Current Favorite?
I was pretty blown away by the Woodford Reserve Four Wood. It’s been on my mind ever since I last tasted it.

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?
For Scotch, I can’t think of a better value than Old Pulteney 12 Year.

Anything else you’d like to add for those of us who are just beginning the whiskey journey?
It’s the same advice I have for those in a wine or beer journey: Stop looking for the product that is the “biggest” or the “most.” More oak aging, higher alcohol, higher age statements, etc, does not mean better. Open your mind to something that maybe hasn’t been aged long, has an unusual mashbill, is surprisingly moderate in alcohol, is produced somewhere you wouldn’t expect. Look for something that fascinates and inspires you. Seek out unusual flavors.

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