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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Excellent older grain whisky, for lovers of the genre.
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.
This is a showcase Ben Nevis.
A sherry butt yielding only 144 bottles is a bit weird, don’t you think?
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.
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.