Monday, 8 April 2013

Whisky Live London 2013

I can't believe it that it's been one year since Kat and I attended our first Whisky show, Whisky Live London 2012. 

The year has flown by and we've attended quite a few since and met some great people along the way. We've also made some great friends on Twitter over the year and this years Whisky Live was going to be the event where we were going to meet many of them for the first time. With so many people to 'catch up' with we always knew it was going to be a two day event for us, and made plans right from the start.

We'd applied for tickets to the 'press' opening of the show on the Friday, which allowed us access from 3 o'clock, and knowing that a number of our Twitter pals were also attending decided that we should all meet up beforehand

We took the train down to London and scheduled it so we could meet up with Tom (@ifotou) of Tom's Whisky Reviews at Kings Cross and guide him across to the London HQ of the SMWS, stopping for lunch on-route and meeting Steve (@steveprentice) of Somerset Whisky before climbing the stairs at 19 Greville Street.

The SMWS lounge was already buzzing with whisky fuelled conversation from Dave (@whiskyrepublic) of The Whisky Dramalista, Jon (@LRWhisky) of Living Room WhiskyDanny (@DramStats) of DramstatsAndrew (@Ardbaggie), no blog, just an Ardbeg fanatic!  and Adrian (@mynameisgone) again no blog, just an ardent whisky enthusiast. They were already being entertained by Joe McGirr (@SMWSLondon) and the whisky was indeed flowing. 

Alwynne (@themisswhisky) of Miss Whisky arrived shortly after us and Joe served us three warm up drams, starting with a single grain whisky, the first bottling from a new distillery for the SMWS, G10.1 'Thanksgiving Dram' a 23 year old distilled on 31st August 1989 and just 280 bottles filled at 59.6%. I have been reliably informed that this is from the Strathclyde distillery.

Our lunch-time meeting was also set up for most of us to start swapping samples for the '12 Blends Challange', a 12 day blind tweet tasting featuring 12 blended whiskies starting on April 1st, you can follow the action on the #12blends hashtag on twitter.

Joe served us up two more drams while we were all getting acquainted with each other in 'real life'. First came 24.124 'Close to the Edge' a 23 Year Old from Macallan, bottled at 50.8% abv and our finale dram, and one of my whisky highlights of the day 127.31 'Right of Passage' 10 Year Old Port Charlotte bottled at 64.2% abv, and absolute peat monster!

With the show due to open at 1500 we all bade Joe farewell and made our way to Whisky Live, which once again was being held at The Honourable Artillery Company, half of us deciding to walk the short distance for some fresh air, the remainder, who were more organised than us with travel cards taking the tube.

Our first stop was to check-in at Balcones to catch up with Emily Harris and meet Chip Tate for the first time. We would be helping Chip and Emily out on the Saturday afternoon, and although we had been in touch electronically and recently tasted and reviewed the Balcones range, we were keen to get to finally meet Chip in person. We started our afternoon with Kat's favourite, Baby Blue which was followed by mine; True Blue 100  

We were then treated to a taste of Chip's new five year anniversary Straight Bourbon which was absolutely stunning. It certainly sounded as if Chip had had the planned right from the outset, a true artisan craft bourbon, made by himself from start to finish. This will be a single cask release and so the amount of bottle available will be very limited, and because Chip loves it so much, may be even more so if he takes his share first! We finished off our first meeting with a drop of their Rumble Cask Strength Reserve, something I had tried recently, but Kat had not, before moving on.

From Texas we moved back to Speyside and to The Glenlivet spending some time talking to International Brand Ambassador Ian Logan, who certainly has the best gig at Whisky Live London, spending all of his time sat in a comfortable leather armchair in the Glenlivet Lounge. Ian had the core range out for tasting, but we started our 'Glenlivet time' with some new make. I really like tasting a little new make, and this didn't disappoint with the notes of pineapple jam amongst the gristy cereal notes.

We went on to taste The Glenlivet XXV The premium expression in Glenlivet's range, (why not start at the top?) The 25 has been finished for a couple of years in Oloroso casks and was just magnificent. At around £190.00 a bottle it's beyond my budget, but we both agreed that this was very luxurious. 

We followed the XXV with The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive Another superb whisky which at around £100 could grace my shelves soon!

After leaving The Glenlivet we bumped into Billy Abbott (@cowfish) from The Whisky Exchange who had a mystery dram for us to taste, well we had to have a go! We both agreed that it was a young whisky, and that we both thought we had tasted it before. We filled in our entries, both going for something different and convinced we were right (we were about tasting it before, but that's where it ended!)

Making our way down the aisle we spot Stefanie Holt from El Dorado Rum. We first met Stef at The Midlands Whisky Festival last September where she persuaded me to try some rum at a whisky show! Stef then sent us three vintage Eldoro Rums for us to try which you can read about here. I tried their 8 Year Old Rum, before moving across to Penderyn to re-acquaint myself with their Sherrywood, as I was convinced that Billy's mystery dram could be this.

Master Blender Angela D'Orazio sharing something special with Kat
While I was sipping Penderyn, Kat had made her way over to Mackmyra and was chatting to their award winning Master Blender, the lovely Angela D'Orazio while sipping Brukswhisky, (Kat's entry for Billy's Mystery Dram) I joined in with a dram for myself, and ticked off another one on my 101 list. While enjoying Brukswhisky, 'The Swedish Whisky', we met Andy Watts (@ThreeshipsSA) from the James Sedgewick Distillery (Three Ships Whisky) of South Africa. We went to try the recently released Mackmyra white dog 'Vit Hund' which comes packaged in a brown paper bag, which we followed with a Special 06 the 6th release in Mackmyra's Special range, inspired by summer meadows, is delicately fruity and floral, using a combination of bourbon and sherry casks for maturation.

We'd heard a few words of praise for Kavalan whisky from Taiwan, so headed off to them next, meeting the quieter half of Whisky Israel, Richard Barr (@BarrRichard) who took us through a flight of Kavalan whiskies, starting at their entry level Single Malt, and running up through their single cask Solist series up to King Car Whisky. To be fair we weren't fully convinced on all of them, some had a great nose, but lacked something on the taste  and some the other way around. The Vino Barrique cask Solist and King Car Whisky were the best of the five, but would like another chance of tasting these in more relaxed surroundings.

We then ran over to see Cat Spencer (@MasterofMaltCat) at the Master of Malt's That Boutique-y Whisky Company and sampled their Clynelish Batch #2 and Macallan Batch #3 single malts before finding our way to the SMWS where I had a fantastic Laphroaig to finish my show off.

So that was the end of Day 1! We had arrived at a little after three o'clock that afternoon and were there until 10 o'clock, never has seven hours gone so quickly. It was great to meet so many people who we've been conversing with through Twitter, Facebook and our blog, and thanks to everyone that stopped us to say hello - really appreciated!

However we certainly thought the show wasn't as big as last years show. Perhaps it was because we had become used to whisky shows and wern't in awe as we were on our first time. There were lots of people missing, no one from the largest producer of Scotch Whisky, Diageo, no Glenfiddich, no Balvenie and many other big names. However, the show was very well attended, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

We had booked rooms in the Travellodge across the road, and we retired early in order to be at our peak for our first whisky gig, helping Chip and Emily spread the Balcones love during the Saturday show!

Day 2

Last years show was bathed in warm sunshine, and we were in short sleeves, we woke on Saturday to icy winds blowing sleet and snow around! After making full use of the buffet breakfast, at least three times, we made our way over to to the show with our Olympic medal size exhibitor passes, met up with Chip and Emily and had a crash course in Balcones.

We learnt about the blue corn, the all important casks, and how the wood to manufacture the casks is all yard-aged (seasoned) and that the casks are to Balcones specification. Then Chip told us that one of the most asked questions at whisky shows was how old is this whisky? Balcones don't ordinarily make age statements, none of the seven we had tried mentioned an age anywhere on the label. Chip told us that the Balcones whiskies are released only when he is satisfied with the taste and nose profile, and will remain with no age statement (NAS). 

We had just four Balcones whisky on offer, the award winning Texas #1 Single Malt, and three additional award winning blue corn whiskies, Baby Blue, True Blue 100 and Brimstone, that was the order we would be persuading people to try them in too. Chip had is 'rock star' case with some other 'specials' in, but we'd leave that closed for Chip to decide when that would be opened and shared.

The show started at midday and as our first customers started coming we got into the swing of it, passing on as much of the information as we could remember from Chip when asked about the Texan whiskies. Kat and I have our own favourites from these four, Kat choosing the Baby Blue and True Blue 100 for me, so we were selling our favourites to the crowd.
Our first 'customers' with Chip, Kat and Emily
As the day wore on we got busier and busier! Chip and Emily were scheduled for a VIP tasting mid afternoon, so Kat and I were left alone to man the stand and pour the Balcones.

Both Kat and I have 'manned' show stands before, but this was our first whisky gig and it was none stop action all afternoon, with a crowd up to three deep at times, many coming over to tell us they have been recommended by a friend to taste one or other of the Balcones whisky.

I fairly certain that Brimstone was probably the most requested dram to try, mainly because it is so unique in it's approach to a smoky whisky. However, with our pitch, we persuaded most to start from the Single Malt and work their way towards Brimstone, and of course we were both extolling the virtues of our favourites.

When Chip and Emily were finished with their tasting they returned to take over from us and give us a short break to grab some food, and it was while sitting eating our late lunch Sam MacDonald (@dramforsam) from the SMWS and with bottle in hand, came and sat with us and a lunch time  dram was poured. SMWS 37.54 'A Contradictory Dram' a 27 Year Old from the Cragganmore Distillery bottled at 42.4% abv

With lunch finished we headed back to Balcones to help with the pouring right up until the end when last pours were called at 1645. All but the lunchtime dram from Sam were Balcones on the Sunday. I managed to have another taste of the 5 Year Anniversary Bourbon that Chip has been working on, it is due to be released very soon, but will be extremely limited. 

For my final dram of the day I tried some of the new Balcones Resurrection. I was holding back from trying this earlier as I wanted to retain my taste buds for the weekend! Chip talked us through it when we first met on the Friday afternoon. 

Brimstone Resurrection is a single cask release and the result of a near catastrophic mistake in a batch of Brimstone that went horribly wrong. They severely burnt the corn to the bottom of the still while distilling it, it was so badly burnt that hammer and chisels were required to clean the still afterwards!  Chip went on to tell us that they almost threw out the resulting distillate, but instead, he decided to put the whisky through a special smoking process to add additional layers of complexity. The result is this powerful, and probably never to be repeated Brimstone whisky, aptly named Resurrection

With the show over it was time to pack up the stand and take off for a post show beer at the nearest pub, before heading back home.

We'd like to say a huge thanks to Chip and Emily for letting us help out and to all the people that came by and said hello to us. We had a fantastic weekend, met so many of our 'imaginary friends' as my youngest calls our Twitter friends!

The full dram list with links as and when they are completed!

At SMWS London
  • Whisky Discovery #352 G10.1 'Thanksgiving Dram' 23 Year Old 59.6% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #353 24.124 'Close to the Edge' 23 Year Old 50.8% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #354 127.31 'Right of Passage' 10 Year Old 64.2% abv
At Whisky Live London 2013 - Day 1
  • Whisky Discovery #321 Balcones Baby Blue 46% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #348 Balcones True Blue 100 50% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #355 Balcones 5 Year Anniversary Bourbon
  • Whisky Discovery #347 Balcones Rumble Cask Strength Reserve 58.4% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #356 The Glenlivet New Make 63.5% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #357 The Glenlivet XXV 43% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #358 The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive 43% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #88 Auchentoshan Valinch 57.5% abv (The Whisky Exchange Mystery Dram)
  • Rum Discovery #5 Eldorado 5 Year Old 40% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #64 Penderyn Sherrywood 46% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #359 Mackmyra Brukswhisky 41.4% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #360 Mackmyra Vit Hund 46.1% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #361 Mackmyra Special 06 46.8% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #362 Kavalan Single Malt 40% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #363 Kavalan Single Malt Port Finish 40% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #364 Kavalan Solist Bourbon Cask 58.6% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #365 Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask 57.8% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #366 Kavalan King Car Whisky 46% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #367 Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique 58.4% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #368 Clynelish Batch #2 That Boutique-y Whisky Company 50.6% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #369 The Macallan Batch #3 That Boutique-y Whisky Company 43.4% abv
  • Whisky Discovery #370 SMWS 29.129 'Leather and Lime in a Smoky Room' 22 Year Old 55.1% abv
At Whisky Live London 2013 - Day 2

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