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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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!