Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest 2012

Saturday May 19th 2012, 12.00pm The Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street

Following the great time Kat and I had at the London Fest we were keen to attend another event, and checking out The Whisky Lounge’s schedule we noticed there was one not too far away from us in Stratford upon Avon. Unfortunately getting to Stratford upon Avon using public transport from Bedford, although possible would have meant some serious planning, and probably an overnight stay, or two if we went by coach. We needed to persuade my lovely wife to come up with us and drive us home afterwards!

With the persuading done, we set off early and managed to find an all-day parking slot not too far away from the venue and arrived promptly at the Shakespeare Centre for midday. Amanda had our names on the guest list, and we went straight over to say hi to Joe from The Whisky Lounge and then onto the SMWS stand to say hello to John McCheyne and Sam, before finding somewhere warm and quiet for my wife to sit while we enjoyed the show.

As with the last event we attended, Sam poured us our first dram of the day, an SMWS 2.81, a fifteen year old Glenlivet at 59.9% abv, after enjoying this we followed it up with a second SMWS bottling, 66.35, a nine year old from the Ardmore distillery at 58.2% abv. It was probably not the best idea to start a whisky show with two cask strength whiskies and so now needed some time to relax our palates before looking around the rest of the show!

Mike Jon(@LRWhisky) and Kat

Fortunately while starting to recover from the first two drams Mike and Jon from Living Room Whisky arrived and we introduced ourselves. We ‘know’ Mike and Jon from Twitter (@LRWhisky) and their website but had never met in person, so it was great to finally catch up. Check out their website – it’s very professional, (but then they have a neighbour who is clever at that stuff!) Another Twitter acquaintance Amy Seaton (@thewhiskymiss) arrived while we were chatting to Mike and Jon and with introductions done it was time to taste some whisky

We all went our separate ways for a while, looking for that something special. I went straight over to The English Whisky Co. to have a quick chat with Andrew Nelstrop. I wanted to try the recent limited edition bottling for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The English Whisky Co’s St. Georges Distillery is the first (and currently only) distillery I have visited. It is a fabulous day out and I’m planning a return visit very soon.

Andrew Nelstop with a stand full of English Whisky
From there I moved across to the Amrut stand. I just missed the Indian whisky at the last event, as we got to the stand Ashok was busy packing up, so this time I wasn’t going to miss out of trying some of this well received whisky. Kat was already ahead of me and was halfway through the range when I got to the stand. I managed to try the first two expressions, The Amrut Single Malt standard and cask strength variants, before being called for the first ‘Masterclass ‘ of the afternoon.

The charming Ashok Chokalingam from Amrut Distilleries
The Magnificent Seven Master Class
Colin Dunn, Diageo Whisky Ambassador supremo was running ‘The Magnificent 7’ Masterclass, and he had chosen seven different expressions from the Diageo range. We had met Colin at the Whisky Live Festival back in April, and we bumped into him very briefly at the end of the Whisky Lounge Fest last month in London.

I had never been to a Masterclass before, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it really was great fun and if you ever get the opportunity to drink whisky with Colin – do not turn it down, you will be thoroughly entertained! It was certainly the highlight of the show for me!

The Magnificent Seven
  • Cardhu 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt 40% abv
  • The Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt 40% abv 
  • Oban 1996 Distillers Edition Highland Single Malt 43% abv
  • Cragganmore 1997 Distillers Edition Speyside Single Malt 40% abv
  • Talisker 57º North NAS Island Single Malt 57.1% abv
  • The Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt 40% abv
  • Caol Ila 12 Year Old Islay Single Malt 43% abv
  • Lagavulin 12 Year Old Islay Single Malt 57.5% abv
We sat down at one of the tables at the back and Kat and I were joined Mike and Jon from Living Room Whisky. The tables were set out with the seven whiskies laid out on a tasting mat and were not identified at all.

After some brief introductions Colin took us through the range in his inimitable style.We started off nosing the #1 (bottom left), and to demonstrate the difference between the various whiskies we compared with the nose of #7 (the one on it's own at the back).

The Magnificent 7 in glasses
After comparing the differences we went onto taste #1 which we learned was the Cardhu 12 Year Old, and also learned that 95% of the whisky distilled at the Cardhu distillery goes into Johnnie Walker Black Label.

Not one to follow convention, Colin took us through the rest of the malts out of sequence. From Cardhu we went onto #5 and Talisker 57º North, then #2 and Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year old, picking out the various 'elements' that made up the nose of each. 

We then compared #3 and #4, both Distillers Edition expressions with one being from Oban and the other Craggenmore, before finishing off with some magnificent Isla drams from Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

The passionate and highly entertaining Colin Dunn

We decided that we ought to go and get some lunch after the Masterclass as it was now getting on for half past two. We went and found my wife, who had been looked after very well by the Shakespeare Centre staff, and popped out into Henly Street for a quick bite to eat, and were joined by Amy (@thewhiskymiss) for this brief interlude. The very well organised team at The Whisky Lounge had negotiated a 15% discount at the restaurant opposite The Shakespeare Centre, so minimal time was lost in finding a place to eat!

Returning to the show I headed straight back to see Ashok, and to continue through the Amrut range that was on display for the day, starting with the Sherry Cask and finishing off with the really quite delicious Fusion.

Knowing that I missed Berry Bros & Rudd at the last show, I thought I’d better pay them a visit and met Rocky who took me through a few of the wares they had out for sampling. I stayed for just three of their whiskies, although they had a great deal more to offer, just so many whiskies, but not enough time. I started with a 22 year old single grain whisky from the Girvan distillery, this was followed by a really splendid Speyside Reserve a blended malt whisky and for my final dram I went for the Inchgower 1982 another Speyside malt.

Spotting Balbair Whisky I was keen to try their ’89 vintage as I have a bottle of this on my shelf that I haven’t yet opened. This was the third and final release of this vintage as there was little left now. While there I also sampled the ’78 and the ‘01 vintages, but Jon slipped me a glass of 20 Year Old Caol Ila he had brought from the last masterclass he had just attended, and so this was squeezed in between the '78 and the ,01 Balblairs

With time rapidly approaching 1630 I decided I really ought to join the SMWS and made my way back to their stand. John quickly signed me up, and there was an additional bonus bottle for signing up at the show to add to the membership pack. We celebrated my membership with a couple of other club bottlings, firstly SMWS 29.115 and then SMWS 104.13.

The awesome SMWS joining pack

‘Last Pours’ were just about to be announced, and seeing the Glenfarclas stand adjacent to the SMWS stand, with a bottle of their '105' taking centre stage (it’s been on my list for a while now) I rushed over to charge my glass.

All in all, another fantastic experience, a superb venue, well organised and once again, we met some wonderful people from both behind and in front of the stands.

A final HUGE thanks to Amanda, Eddie and Joe of The Whisky Lounge for the invitation and for organising events like this, for John and Sam of the Single Malt Whisky Society for being their usual hospitable selves, for Colin Dunn who taught me a thing to two at my first whisky masterclass, and to everyone we met at the show.

For more information checkout the following websites: and

The full dram list with links to separate blog posts (as they are finished):

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