Malt Musings: Scattershot Thoughts From Bristol Whisky Festival 2015

Bristol Whisky Festival Colston hall 2015

So, we had another Whisky Festival in Bristol recently. The second one in Colston Hall over three years. It felt slightly smaller than the first year, only using one floor whilst the first event used some of the available space upstairs. It still had a good collection of displays, and a very packed atmosphere. Not quite enough to do a full article on, but I thought it would be worth typing up a few musings.

• The exhibitors were excellent, happily telling you all about the spirit, chatting, adding details and recommending items to try based on your preference. I did hear a few people complain that this meant that they had to queue for a long time to get served while they waited for the person to stop chatting. I didn’t run into this problem myself – then again I was perfectly happy to just lean in as they were talking, tap the bottle I was interested in, and let them pour a measure without breaking the flow of their conversation. This may be a British being too polite problem.

• I’m still a bit torn on the whole buy tokens for rare whisky thing. You didn’t even get a single token this year with the ticket, unlike previous festivals. It does mean that they can bring in rare whiskies which would otherwise not be cost effective for a smaller festival. On the other hand, some of the “rare” whisk than needed a token didn’t quite seem worth the slot. I did a quick mental calculation and worked out the £2.50 a token Highland Park 18 (with a standard measure of 10ml) would possibly be cheaper just to grab a measure at the local Brewdogs which had it available, and without needing a thirty quid ticket. I think that some distributors were putting too many whiskies in the token range that didn’t really deserve it. Others, like a 25 year Springbank, or a historical recreated whisky seemed much more worthwhile. Something special. Overall the selection available was pretty good.

• I finally found a Penderyn that agrees with me. Generally the Welsh whisky doesn’t really appeal to me, but on trying a few side by side I found that, for me at least, it just seems the heavier finishes seem to hurt it. The Madeira standard bottling isn’t my scene, and the sherry finish didn’t quite excite. The pure bourbon aged Myth expression though actually was quite nice, the unusual feel of Penderyn matching with lighter fruity notes.

• The camaraderie feel of the show was excellent – I bumped into old friends, contacts and caught up – but also ended up randomly chatting with several groups – everyone joined in a love of whisky and overall it felt much more social than the equivalent beer festivals I have been to. To everyone I spoke to, you were all great and helped make the show feel special. thank you to you all.

• The Ardbeg stand had an unusual wee gadget. The haar. Basically, as shown below, a carafe that uses ultrasonic vibrations to turn the whisky to mist. It was a fun experience, and also allowed a lot of the more subtle flavours of Ardbeg to come out which would normally be hidden behind the huge peat including real sweet peppermint cream flavour. Wonder what other whiskies would taste like in it?

Ardbeg Haar

• Oh, and the humour award of the day goes to the person who served me Laphroaig select. When I asked what it was like, he said that since I loved 10 year and quarter cask I would probably find it like lemonade in comparison – and later when I extended my hand and asked to have some lemonade please he happily poured a small measure, whilst other in the crowd looked on bemused. Well, I was amused anyway.