The Great Whisky Boom of the 21st Century has brought with it a proliferation of spirited festivals from coast to coast. Not all of these booze confabs are created equal, of course. Some are held in massive convention halls, others in intimate bars or restaurants. Some attract big name distillers from across the globe, others are lucky to count a brand ambassador amongst them. Then there’s Nth—billing itself not as a mere festival so much as a ‘Whisky Experience.’ It’s not just effete marketing. This is truly the ultimate gathering for single malt connoisseurs. If you’ve been, you know. If you haven’t, here’s what you’re missing.
Held every spring in Las Vegas, Nth is the brainchild of Mahesh Patel, one of the world’s preeminent whisky collectors. His own personal vault holds upwards of 5,000 bottles, with a combined monetary value of over $10 million.
“I used to do a lot of private tastings and get-togethers with friends and collectors,” he remembers. “We would find a location and drink and share.” After two decades of forming relationships in the industry, Patel decided it was time for something a bit more organized — and formal.
The year was 2010, and the Wynn casino was just opening up its Encore resort on the Strip. “I loved the venue,” Patel recalls. “I chose this city for a reason: let’s bring everybody here to the world capital of entertainment.”
Unfortunately the eventual host wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, at first. The thought of a potentially rowdy booze fest wasn’t appealing to the Encore. Nor was that at all what Patel had in mind. It took him a year to convince the venue of his vision.
He sold them on a swanky affair; attendees in sport jackets and ties, nosing delicate pours in crystal Glencairns. The debut Nth had a guest roll of just over 100. Tickets started at around $500 a piece. A grand tasting was accompanied by several master classes, where the well- heeled could learn about luxury liquid from the esteemed folks who crafted it.
“It’s about knowledge and teaching,” Patel explains. “It’s not just about ‘pour me the most expensive whisky.’ [Attendees] understand what they’re getting—they’re getting a knowledge base. They’re getting a lot of one-to-one. That’s what sets us apart.”
Patel means no disrespect to the decidedly more pedestrian whisky festivals out there. He knows they serve a purpose within the industry—namely to expand interest within the general population. “But our idea, from day one, was to offer a luxury experience. Not just the spirits—but access to the whiskymakers.”
Access to helicopters doesn’t hurt either. “In year four , we did the world’s first whisky tasting at the base of the Grand Canyon,” he states with pride. “We took about 20 people — including Ian Millar of Glenfiddich — we flew eight helicopters and landed on separate plateaus, 100 feet above the [Colorado] river. It took about 5 months to get permissions from the National Park. The highlight was a pouring of the Glenfiddich 50. But we had a bunch of other old vintages as well.”
Although the grand tasting is just the baseline experience at Nth, it’s a hell of a place to start. Now capped at roughly 450 tickets, it fills out one of Encore’s larger ballrooms. In addition to unlimited pours from the predictable players (The Macallan, The Dalmore, Suntory, The Balvenie, etc), attendees are handed two ‘super pour’ vouchers — which can be redeemed at booths of their choosing. So if you’re digging the Gordon & MacPhail vibe, pass your ticket off to Stephen Rankin, Director of Prestige for the famed independent bottler, and he’ll reveal a 50 year old Caol Ila from behind the table. Prefer Orkney to Islay? Your token could earn you a robust 40-year-old liquid from Highland Park.
Maybe you don’t want single malt, at all. Patel doesn’t discriminate — he accommodates. “The last few years we’ve evolved,” he says. “It’s about luxury spirits; American whiskey, cognac, armagnac. It’s definitely [scotch] heavy, but it’s more generally about all brown spirits.” To wit, one of the largest activations at this year’s event was an elaborate seating hosted by Maker’s Mark.
To elevate yourself from luxury to royalty, you’ll need to cough up a whopping $2600 to take in the two-day High Roller Experience. It includes three master classes spread out over a weekend, along with an additional super pour tasting session.
This year’s highlights included a precious pour of The Macallan M Black (only 40 total bottles made it to the US, priced at $7,000 each), a yet-to-be-released Glenfiddich Rare Collection, distilled in 1975, and an exquisite 70-year-old Glen Grant from Gordon & MacPhail’s Private Collection. The ultra-aged spirit with bold umami undertones will be available later this year, retailing at $22,500. “We cap the High Roller to about 60 people,” Patel explains. “It needs to be kept to an exclusive clientele.”
But if that’s not exclusive enough…For $7,500 more you could have secured yourself a seat at a Las Vegas mob-themed dinner party where Patel broke out rarities from his own vault, including Prohibition-era whiskies. The intimate affair counted mayor Oscar Goodman as distinguished guest.
The Nth has morphed from singular event into a sort of luxury liquid-informed lifestyle across the globe. “We have a great core group of [enthusiasts] at this point,” observes Patel. “So we do things away from the show as well. I generally end up hosting things in New York, London, Scotland . We do different twists and turns all the time.” If past performance serves as indicator, you might want to keep your eye on him and his friends in the future. Book your travel plans accordingly. And have an empty dram in hand.