Oct 192018
 

The Whisky Show 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of the iconic London event.

The theme of this year’s Show was ‘The Future of Whisky’, and if there’s one definitive glimpse I can offer you on the future of whisky, it’s this: Expensive.  (At least until the next whisky loch, slowly distilling as we speak).

In the first Whisky Show I attended, in 2014, the yearly Karuizawa edition was sold for £380, the most expensive ‘dream dram’ was 3 tokens (£30) and the stellar Colin Dunn ‘Aurora Brorealis’ masterclass was £60. Fast forward five shows, and you can get the yearly Karuizawa for £6000, the most expensive ‘dream dram’ is 14 tokens (£140) and Colin’s Port Ellen masterclass at the Show was £200. This is also plainly evident visiting the “new distillery” section on the second floor. Bimber (you’ve never heard of them, have you? Bimber is a London whisky distillery distilling anything distillable, including whisky) is pre-selling their cask experiments (Port, virgin oak, bourbon and sherry), attaining “whisky” status in 2019, for £250 a bottle. And that’s only one example.

Photo Credit: whiskyshow.com

Another interesting feature of this year’s show is the inclusion of a “guest spirit”, rum. This too, I think, foretells the future of whisky, as whisky prices skyrocket, whisky drinkers are looking for “malternatives”, and Rum (as well as Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados) are natural choices, although prices in those categories are steadily creeping up.

I felt that this year’s masterclasses were somewhat less attractive than previous years’, but that may just be my own subjective feeling. I attended two of them. The first was Sukhinder Singh going up against Luca Gargano of Velier in a Rum vs. Whisky showdown. There were three rounds: A single malt/rum, showcase blend and favorite distillery. A seventh dram, the Longroni was a blend of Longrow and Caroni, which could truly be made to work with a bit more work on the blending.

Photo by Malt and Oak

Of the six drams offered in the three rounds, the rum beat out the whisky hands down. And it’s not for lack of trying by the whisky. This isn’t true across the whole category, of course, but the rums presented definitely held their own against the whiskies. I do think that the masterclass missed in one main point. The two giants of the spirit were very busy trying to prove their drink was the best, and better than the other (of course, that was all in good spirit and in a friendly manner), but they didn’t address the more salient points pertaining to their views on the future of the category, regulation and market pricing. I did find it very interesting to see what each of them thought was the shining example of each of the categories. Another takeaway from the masterclass is to get a bottle of that Elements of Islay Peat & Sherry, that’s fantastic stuff.

The second masterclass I took was the Future Masters of Whisky. In this masterclass, Aimée Gibson from Diageo, Brendan McCarron from LVMH’s Ardbeg and Glenmorangie together with Whyte & Mackay’s Gregg Glass brought three drams each to share with us.

Photo Credit: Whisky Show

The difference in the three whisky makers approach is stunning, and is a great story. Gregg is so far to the left of the rules, that he seems almost an anarchist. He’d do away with the SWA regulations in a heartbeat.  Aimée is true innovator, pushing the limits within the bounds of the rules, whereas Brendan is an arch-conservative, perhaps a reactionary, believing that we haven’t even begun to exhaust the space within the current regulations, let alone a need to expand or do away with them.

As such, the offerings each brought to share, being asked for their favorite whisky, a whisky they’re really proud of, and a dram they’ve prepared for this masterclass, were very telling:

Photo: Malt and Oak

The three favorites were: Cardhu 18 for Aimée, Fettercairn 40 for Gregg (!) and a bottle of the next Glenmorangie Grand Vintage release, the 1991 for Brendan. Brendan said his favorite is actually Glenmorangie 10, but he couldn’t bring it to the masterclass, but that’s his favorite. For pride Aimée brought an experiment she’s doing with blended whisky in rum casks (that was really too young to bottle), Gregg brought Project G5, which is a Highland malt sitting in a cask made from a fallen Scottish Oak tree. Brendan’s pride was the Glenmorangie 19, his creation, which is simply his beloved 10 years old ex bourbon casks, saved from Dr. Bill Lumsden’s hands (and innovative casks) and bottled at 19. I have to admit that it’s excellent, you should pick one up the next time you’re traveling.

The third dram was something they made especially for the Show. Aimée blended the Johnny Walker Private Collection 2017, which she worked on with Dr. Jim Beveridge, with previous editions of the Private Collection. Brendan brought a 19 year old single cask from Ardbeg drawn for the masterclass, and Gregg brought an unidentified Eau de Vie he had sitting in a small cask on his kitchen counter. The connection to a whisky masterclass? Hey, it’s distilled….

The masterclass was a fabulous glimpse into the next generation of whisky maker’s outlook.

The rest of my first day at the Show looked like this:

 

 

The second day was about leisurely tasting drams, spending some time with friends from around the world, and taking time to talk to exhibitors at the stands:

And then have a few more drams:

The trade day, Monday, was about spending even more time with people from the whisky industry, and in rum, while sipping some glorious drams:

Next year’s Show comes out on The Jewish New Year holiday, so my whereabouts remain to be seen, but I’ll conclude this year’s Show recap with tasting notes on the three ‘Future of Whisky’ bottlings for the Show:

Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange

Invergordon 44, ‘Future of Whisky – The Future’, Whisky Show 10th Anniversary Bottling (51.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold with a very thin necklace.

Nose: Vanilla with a bit of varnish, allspice and some fresh plum and yellow pears. It hints at some pickle brine. A drop of water makes the honey jump out.

Palate: Creamy and sweet, with varnish and pencil shavings and a hit of pine and butterscotch candy, with a pleasant pepper.

Linger: Sweet corn and varnish, pomelo rind, light pepper and some grapefruit zest in a medium finish.

Conclusion

Excellent older grain whisky, for lovers of the genre.

 

 

 

Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange

Ben Nevis 21, ‘Future of Whisky – Past Future’, Whisky Show 10th Anniversary Bottling, Sherry Butt, 144 Bottles (47.5% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Amber, sturdy necklace letting off thin legs.

Nose: Damp white raisins, green and farmy. Open fields with trampled grass or leaves. Granny Smith apples, pears, cherries, hints of nutmeg and allspice. There’s something dirty therelike the tractor pulling a cart of apples, and the exhaust mixing with the apple scent.

Palate: Very fruity, with baked apples and sweet white wind, running into poached pears. After some time, it’s as dirty as a good campbeltown whisky, with the samy farmy qualities.

Linger: Green and dry, with a light spice and a fruity residue. The sweetness remains in the mouth, but the whole linger is concentrated mostly in the mouth.

Conclusion

This is a showcase Ben Nevis.

A sherry butt yielding only 144 bottles is a bit weird, don’t you think?

 

 

Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange

Ledaig 12, ‘Future of Whisky – Present Future’, Whisky Show 10th Anniversary Bottling Sherry Butt, 636 Bottles (58.4% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Mahogany, thick and viscous.

Nose: Ground cayenne pepper going on meat roasting over a fire pit. Smoky vanilla, with a very ‘Ladaigy’ dry peat. A sweet saltiness, seaweed, canned spinach and salty strawberries and cherries. There’s malt in the background, with capers and smoked fish (would saying kippers and capers be too much?), and some straight up wood smoke, and the vanilla that just sits there.

Palate: thick and full, syrupy and ashy, almost oily with a serious sweetness and a spiciness. The ash and tar are very present, with a mouthwatering beefy feel to it.

Linger: Salty and sweet, the coast is playing full out with the sherry here. The peat is very ashy. The top of the throat gets some sweetness and the gullet gets the spice.

Conclusion

There’s a lot more of the spirit here than in some of the other Ledaigs in sherry that have graced our glasses over the past 5 years.
It’s the youngest of the trilogy, but the best of them is the Ledaig.

 

 

Oct 122015
 

Yes, I traveled to London again this year to take part in The Whisky Exchange’s annual Whisky Show. I flew to the UK on Tuesday, and spent three days up in Scotland (full posts on my distillery visits and my lovely afternoon at Douglas Laing, as well as my October Outturn tasting at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith to follow).

Last year was already somewhat cramped at Vinopolis for the number of people attending The Whisky Show, so the show this year sported a new venue, Old Billingsgate Market, just across the London Bridge from Vinopolis, on the north bank of the Themes. The Old Billingsgate used to be London’s fish market in Victorian times and served as the fish market until 1982. Today it serves as a venue for award dinners, conferences, exhibitions , fashion shows and parties, and as home to TWE Whisky show.

Photo Credit: mby.com

Photo Credit: mby.com

Saturday is the fullest day of the show, and was an early sellout in previous years. This year, there were tickets available (so obviously there was a larger capacity) and despite there being quite a large number of people at the venue, it was only felt when you wanted to take your lunch. Most importantly, the entire show was held on one level, with masterclasses taking place in two adjoining rooms in the mezzanine. At Vinopolis, the show was held in various rooms, nooks and crannies all over the building, and missing things was really easy. Not anymore, though. There was also a TWE popup shop at the venue, basically carrying the bottles featured at the show, and when the last bottle of the Ledaig 9 year old I had my eye on was snatched up by my friend and fellow blogger Ben Cops, of the excellent Ben’s Whisky Blog (where you can get the monthly preview of the SMWS outturn, a must read in my opinion), I had the store reserve me one at TWE in vinopolis, and picked it up on my way home, just an easy walk across the London Bridge and through the Borough Market.

The Queue © Malt and Oak

The Queue
© Malt and Oak

The Show days, begin, of course, with the Obligatory line (AKA queue), but this time, I got to the queue after meeting up for coffee with my friends from Denmark/Germany Torben and Maureen Ernlund, and we stood online together, which made queuing a lot more fun. Additionally, the queue ran rather quickly, and we were in within 12 minutes or so of the 11:30 opening. I had 45 minutes until my first masterclass, and spent them basically going around saying hello to a lot of familiar faces. I had just enough time to make one round, when the announcement for the first of my four masterclasses sounded. I’ll just mention that the show featured 588 different drams to try not counting the masterclass tastings (it’s actually a bit less on the floor, because of some duplicity. Take the cheese stand, for instance, which featured The Balvenie whisky, so the Balvenie 12, 17 and 21  were available from two stands, but you get the idea).

Full, but not crowded! © Malt and Oak

Full, but not crowded!
© Malt and Oak

As I mentioned, I took four masterclasses, each of which deserves, and will receive, an in depth write up with tasting notes, but this report would be incomplete without a quick rundown of them. I will say that getting tickets to the masterclasses is a nerve racking experience, as they go on sale at specific times, and the really interesting ones are sold out in minutes. Did I mention the nerves?

Anyway, The first masterclass was the Gordon and MacPhail Mortlach Generations, featuring alongside the 75 year old Mortlach Generations expression also a 12 year old from the 1960s, a Mortlach distilled in 1938, a stunning 1954 Mortlach which was delightfully waxy and beefy and the beautifully light and delicate 75 year old, distilled in 1939, so it’s actually not the oldest distillate on the table. That 75 year old is a whisky you would in no way associate with a whisky that old. You can even see the difference in colors between the 1954 (third bottle from left) and the Generations 75 (last bottle). Between Steven Rankin, fourth generation Urquhart and UK Sales Manager and Charlie MacLean, who shared a wealth of information on the distillery, this was a very informative and exciting masterclass. Having the perspective of tasting last year’s 1950s expressions, I came away with a strengthened sense of the depth and scope of G&M’s whisky, as well as the amount of care put into the stewardship of brand and the whisky.

Mortlach Masterclass © Malt and Oak

Mortlach Masterclass
© Malt and Oak

Mind you, by this point it’s two hours into the show, and I’ve had a stunning 1954 and an incredible 75 year old Mortlach, and I have an hour until my Laphroaig masterclass with John Campbell to celebrate 200 years of Laphroaig. So this is the perfect time for lunch at the show brasserie (the lamb was pretty good, thank you), but lines were a bit long, so it took time to get the food and get a seat, and by the time I was finished, I only had time to go down to the Douglas Laing stand and try the 15 year old Allt A’Bhainne in the Tokaji finish, a sister Tokaji cask to the Ben Nevis I tasted with Jan Beckers during my visit to Douglas Laing three days earlier. I enjoyed this expressions so much, I bought a bottle to take home with me.

Then came the Laphroaig masterclass. Now the advertisment for it listed four drams and a surprise, which I guessed would be the new Laphroaig 32. I was right. So the lineup here included the current 10 year old pitted against a 10 year old from the late 1970s, making it whisky that was distilled in the late 1960s. The new 15 year old (reviewed here in a head to head with the old 15 year old), the first bottling of the Laphroaig 30 (from 1997) and the new 32 year old, 50% of which fully matured in Oloroso sherry casks.

Laphroaig Masterclass © Malt and Oak

Laphroaig Masterclass
© Malt and Oak

My two favorite drams in this tasting were the old styled 1960s 10 year old and the 30 year old. I was in the minority though, as there was a large majority which liked the new 32 year old. One of the interesting things about the older version of the 10 year old is that there was no coherent wood policy at Laphroaig until the mid 1980s, so there’s no way to know what actually went into that bottle, but there are probably a range of ages in there, and some sherry matured whisky as well. It’s significantly less peated, and probably includes some of the unpeated whisky Laphroaig used to make around that time. Interestingly, the Laphroaig 30 we had was released in 1997, which makes the whisky in the 1960s bottle and in the 30 basically distilled around the same time. Flavor wise, that would definitely be supported. The new 32 year old is a different beast altogether, hitting more cerealy notes with more of the ash found in the modern Laphroaig expressions. Anybody who met John Campbell knows how nice and personable he is, and he offered all participants further pours of the whiskies and stood around to chat until we were asked to leave to make room for the preparations for the next masterclass.

At this point, there was one hour left to the last pours of the day, and I headed down for some tastings. Some of my highlights of that afternoon include: Glenfarclas 1982 Family Casks at 53.8% ABV (Stunning!), the Glenglassaugh 1968 45 year old Sherry Finished at 44.3% ABV (Fabulous), and one I wasn’t expecting: The Oban Little Bay, which surprised me just how well it’s put together, not betraying it’s rather young age. Despite being NAS, the Little Bay is worth considering, especially if you have somewhat of a sweet tooth. I also tasted a few drams of Irish whiskey, hoping to find one I actually like. I’ll just say that the search continues!

Last pours were called, and we gathered our party of five for dinner. Amazingly, our British buddies were up for more drinking, so we actually headed out for a nightcap after dinner! A great time was had by all, and we were ready for day two, coming in the next post!

Ross, Torben, Maureen, Duane and your truly post dinner on the London Bridge! © Malt and Oak

Ross, Torben, Maureen, Duane and yours truly post dinner on the London Bridge!
© Malt and Oak

 

 

Oct 142014
 

If you think day three started with a queue, you’d be wrong…..Not that there wasn’t one, there was, and it was raining. But before that, we had a blogger get together at a coffee shop in Vinopolis. It was great to chat with fellow bloggers, and finally connect the actual people to their @twitter handles. They are really great guys, with a tremendous passion for whisky and a wealth of knowledge, and I’m proud to count them as friends.

Blogger Meeting

Blogger Meeting

The trade day of the Whisky Show is meant for trade professional and media to have time to exchange views, get up to date on the new happenings and new releases in the trade. There were also a couple of masterclasses, meant to introduce new whiskies, but for the most part, it really was a chance to calmly chat and taste some of the better offerings each distillery brought.

Before the Macallan masterclass led by David Miles (attended mainly for the bonus dram – the Fine Oak 21 which I have yet to taste), I went to say hello to the Maxxium people, and went to the masterclass clutching two 25 year old whiskies: A Laphroaig 25 and a Macallan Sherry Oak 25. The 1824 Series itself is not the epitome of whisky making, with the Sienna being the best of the bunch there, in my humble opinion. The Fine Oak 21, however, is really good.

There were a couple of hours until the Bruichladdich masterclass, and I used them to get to know the upper range of Glenglassaugh (the 40 year old, the vintage 1972 and the absolutely stunning 35 year old 1978 “Massandra Connection” Massandra Madiera finish), Glengoyne (the 35)  and the new Craigellechie 31, as well as the new and rather disappointing Mortlach 25.

It was then time for lunch and the presentation of the new “Islay Barley” expressions led by Bruichladdich’s Joanne Brown (@job_islay), an Islay native who’s uncle is the proprietor of Octomore Farms with a tasting that included the the Bruichladdich Scottish Barley (not lactic, and enjoyable, I was surprised!), the Islay Barley (some lactic notes, but not unbearably strong), the Black Art 04.1 1990 (which I reviewed last month, here) and then the two really new introductions: the Port Charlotte Islay Barley and the Octomore 06.3 which I already reviewed here.

IMG-20141006-WA0017

You can tell how much interest this masterclass commanded by the number of bloggers who took part in it (Here in a panoramic view to the left and right of me, sans Steve Rush who was sitting right next to me on the right):

By the time the masterclass was over, we were nearing the end of the show, and a final round of goodbys and last tastings was in order, and I started out with The Balvenie’s new Tun 1509, which replaced the acclaimed Tun 1401, and The upcoming Karuizawa 1981 (33 years old), a GlenDronach single cask (1995 PX cask) and the Old Particular Ardbeg 21, which was a very worthy dram to finish off the 2014 Whisky Show.

To complete my London Experience, my friend Richard Barr (@barrrichard) was in London, and we had a steak dinner and some smashing drams of the October outturn at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which merits its own report. I will, however share one small tip with you: 39.99!

To sum things up: The sheer concentration of whiskies, whisky people and special “one off” masterclasses makes this event the one to be at. I’ll be at the 2015 show, and hope to see you there  🙂

Oct 102014
 

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.

Day 1

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….