A Celebration of Whisky: A Counterpoint On Festivals

Whisky Shows and Beer Festivals can be a bit hit and miss, with my current view that they too often lean towards the miss category spelt out here.  However there is one show that has hit the mark every year, even if by that I mean only the two years its been going. The show is London’s Whisky Show.

Last years show came just after I had finished the aforementioned article and came as perfectly timed counterpoint. So what makes it so special?

Partly is the location, whilst not as amazing as the Guildhall last year the Brewery still lends a distinguished air to the proceedings, but that just sets the feel for the events within.

A good measure is the people you interact with, with ambassadors for their own whiskies lining many of the stands.  Notable on the Glendronach stand, you could enjoy good nature bantering between the different distilleries, tales of the years events, and information from the horses mouth on why they had chosen the given characteristics for their whisky.   A case in point being comparing the ABV on Dalmore and Glendronachs rare whisky – when I commented I preferred the Dalmores nose, but the body was much more silk like and yet flavoursome on the Glendronach he explained that they chose the slightly higher ABV (46%) which he feels they need at that age for the flavour to have the needed punch, but that the lighter ABV of the Dalmore lets the nose range far more.

This is what makes the show for me, a chance to get some of the history of the whisky and why it is made as it is, with laughter and larger than life characters that show great love for what they do.

Tellingly you are never treated like just another person in the queue, with the comparatively small crowd allowing plenty of time to talk, even at the busiest of stands.

Above that there was also enough little events to make it feels special.

For the tasters amongst us there was a chance to record a video tasting, a chance I only found out half way through the day, so I (wisely I believe) decided to spare you all my drunken ramblings.

Food and whisky pairing events went on throughout the day, with bombastic showmanship being shown by the Richard Paterson (Whyte and Mackays Master Blender) during the Dalmore and chocolate tasting we attended. At one point he showed his disdain for ice in whisky by throwing the entire lot with such force I feared he would crack the glass windows.

Richard Paterson was far from the only whisky celebrity there, with book signings, and to my surprise a meeting with Regis (of Regis Whisky Mad). A meeting that had particular meaning to me, as Regis’ 40 Year Springbank bottling was the first whisky of significant age I had got a chance to taste, back before I started with tasting notes. Regis agreed to a photo for the site as long as I mentioned his Whisky Kilt that he is sporting and can be found here ,which I found a more than reasonable proposition.

The food hall continued the trend, with fantastic whisky enhanced food and a decent guitarist singing whisky themed songs.  Everyone was sociable over the meal, comparing notes and preferred whisky.

Finally the interesting oddities added to the event as I was approached by a man from Ardaich who noticed me doing tasting notes. He showed me their water designed to enhance whisky tastings. At the show I tried using it as a palette refresher for which it worked marvellously, though my intent to try it with some of the cask strength whiskys at the show ended up yet another casualty of trying to fit everything into one day.

Finally on the whiskies themselves, (oh yes there was whisky). As well as the promised sample of an ultra rare whisky, the standard range, if you could call it that brought several very interesting ones to my eye.

Whilst I enjoy Glenmorangie, until today it never sparkled, but it seems they have some unusual bottlings available. The Signet with roasted chocolate malt and their peated Finealta have both made me re-examine this distillery with an eye for a bottle.

For the new distilleries, both the St Georges and Kilchoman distilleries showed interesting, yet youthful whiskies which look to be shaping up nicely.

The standout of the show had to be the (unfortunately not tasting noted, due to being sampled during the chocolate and whisky event) Dalmore King Alexander III which was astonishing in its range and depth of flavour and for my money outdid the 40 year.

So after I have finished raving, what was bad about the show?

Well, not very much. The food and whisky pairings could have done with a bit more time. It was noticeably (and acknowledged) rushed, which led to the only feeling of rushing a drink in the whole show. A pity as the event was great, but needed more time. Maybe if next year some more rooms were available to allow them to go longer.

I did hear from some of the ladies I talked to at the show that they were sometimes presumed to prefer stereotyped “lighter” mixes of whisky, which caused obvious annoyance to the veterans of the fine spirit.  All in all I got the impression that the show was far from hostile to women drinkers, but there were residual assumptions on just a couple of the stands which were not welcome.

Oh and I didn’t win any of the very rare samples in the competitions, very bad, evil :-).

So a few things to improve on, but this is still by far the best drinks related show I see, an event, a social occasion of high spirits, with impeccable quality of knowledge from the staff and fantastic quality in the drinks themselves.

(Thanks to everyone at the show and to Dylan Almond who provided all the photos above that are actually any good)