If there’s one thing I hate, it’s standing in line and waiting, or as the British so aptly call it (and do it) “queuing”. Yet, I queued….and queued….and loved every minute of it.
The Whisky Show in London is a great reason to stand in a queue and I did so gladly despite the rain plaguing show queuers during two of the three days (the third day is a trade/press day). The two official days of the show are “regular” days, whereas the third day is the trade day, a far more relaxed day where bloggers, writers, mixologists and trade professionals can chat, mingle and taste whisky in a relaxed surrounding. This show is really the center of it all, with no small amount of “showing off” going on between the different exhibitors, bringing the best of the best in their bottlings as “dream drams”.
Another thing that must be said about the show is that it’s huge. There is no way one human can cover all the offerings, and you’re bound to miss some of the stuff you wanted to taste. It’s just part of the game. As the media parts of the show are covered very ablely by Billy Abbot (@cowfish), a full dram list is published 2-3 days prior to the show’s opening, but even the most meticulous planning can’t prepare you for the actual wealth of bottles being poured. You’re a little better off if you have a particular interest, like myself with malt, but not by much (unless it’s only grain whisky you covet, in which case you’re OK). Everybody is there, and if you take a couple of masterclasses, stop to actually chat with people and take some tasting notes, you’re not going to cover it all. In fact, I only tasted about 95 drams, out of the 512 on offer. Of those 95, I have tasting notes for 50, and actually think I did pretty well.
Why did I mention the Queue? For many of the show goers, this was but the first line they would stand in that morning as the first day of the show marked the exclusive release of two Karuizawa expressions (a 29 year old bourbon cask and a 30 year old sherry cask), and you could only get a bottle after you were admitted to the show. So people queued to get their wristband, nosing glass, token and lunch coupon, then ran back out and into The Whisky Exchange store to stand in another queue to buy a Karuizawa – limited to one bottle per person and all allocated bottles divided up to be sold both on the first and on the second day. To the best of my knowledge, both expressions were sold out. You can expect them to pop up at auctions starting next month. Gladly, for one dream dram token, you got to taste both the 29 and the 30 year old, and you can expect my tasting notes on them to follow.
Lunch was yet another queue, and I admittedly dropped the ball on that one, going a bit too late. By the time I got there, not all the dishes were still available, and the waiting was long, but the food was good. One piece of advice I have is this: come to the queue with your glass filled with a nice dram and enjoy it in the line. Your glass should be empty by the time you need it to imbibe water with your meal.
Day one started with a go around saying hello to friends and staff members from the different distilleries and independent bottlers, putting faces with names, and allowing them to do the same with mine, all the while tasting new expressions and taking notes. The highlight of the day was the Gordon and Macphail masterclass, in which Michael Urqhart’s retirement was celebrated as the third generation of Urqharts made way for the fourth. The third generation was comprised of four siblings, each of whom chose, together with their children who are continuing in the business, their favorite of the oldest casks around. They were bottled in beautiful decanters as the Private Collection Ultra Range, each cask yielding 55 to 69 bottles to be sold for £6,250 each. We tasted a 1953 Linkwood, 1952 Glenlivet, 1951 Mortlach and a 1957 Strathisla. The Linkwood was the star of the tasting, but the Strathisla was a fascinating dram with notes of horseradish. All will, of course, be reviewed in detail over the next few weeks.
Other notable drams of day one were the Balblair 1969, the Glenfarclas 31 year old Port Cask the Highland Park 21 and the 1993 New Zealand Whisky Collection single cask.
Day one ended mainly with a round of chatting as I still had those four drams on my palate. I figured tomorrow would be another day, and boy, what a day it was.
My report of day 2 will follow….