You could see them lining up around the corner of Elverton Street before the doors had even began to creak open for the 11am start time on Saturday. The sun was shining, people were jolly and inside the Royal Horticultural Halls, dozens of whisky industry members mulled about putting the last touches to the event’s set up. A palpable excitement and nervousness reigned, the air static with electric energy.
“Open the doors,” declared Amanda Ludlow, co-founder of the Whisky Lounge.
And so they streamed in. And so marked the triumphant second day of the Whisky Lounge London festival.
On Friday night, a few hundred people also came into the glass domed hall, but with the rain that evening, it really felt like things were shining on Saturday morning as the rays of light filtered through the hall and sparked off the dozens of sumptuous whisky bottles.
As hundreds of people came to experience superb whisky from exhibitors like The Balvenie, Compass Box, Berry Bros and Rudd, Bowmore, The Glenlivet, Jameson and many, many others, I tried to quell nerves for my afternoon sessions on Women & Whisky, featuring women from the whisky industry sharing their favourite drams and views on how the world of whisky is changing and developing.
In the first session, I was joined by a stellar line up: Cat Spencer, head of marketing for Master of Malt, Kirstie McCallum, Global Brands’ Ambassador for Burn Stewart, and Celine Tetu, brand ambassador with Compass Box. As we sipped a cool dram of Master of Malt‘s pre-mix Old-Fashioned (brought in by Cat) attendees questioned the ladies as to their view on everything from how they got involved in the whisky industry to what is the best way to drink a dram. What every speaker agreed on was the fact whisky should be about how you like it. Cat also commented that there can sometimes be a slightly exclusive boundary to entering the world of whisky, which can put consumers off, and she hopes this will change for the future. Celine, meanwhile, said the whisky world is actually extremely friendly and all everyone involved wants is for the consumer to give it a go and find the way they enjoy drinking it – whether neat, on ice, with water or a mixer. She also added she’s been impressed with the cocktail culture here in London which is bringing whisky to a wider audience.
As she presented the Compass Box Hedonism, Celine also explained in full length the differences between grain and single malt whiskies to a receptive audience. Kirstie, meanwhile, spoke of her years in the industry and how she is glad to see an opening up of the industry to both more females and a younger consumer. The 15-year old Isle of Mull Tobermory she presented ended things off with a bang – the whisky (which I’d not had a chance to try yet) is finished off in Olorosso Sherry casks and, while I’m not a massive fan of sherried whiskies, this one is just beautiful: creamily sweet, with big bites of plummy fruits and a hint of saltiness which cleanses the palate before the next sip. A delicious end to an exciting first women & whisky seminar!
Before the next session I was lucky enough to wander around and try some incredible whiskies. My favourite of the festival was the Longmorn 16, another jewel of a dram that was new to me. The majority of Longmorn’s production ends up in blends (it’s a part of the Pernod Ricard group) but the single malt was gorgeous. Coming in at 48% it is a fully-rounded whisky, with surprisingly fresh and crisp yet sweet notes at the start (apples dipped in caramel) and a working of the palate from front to back with notes of lemon, brown sugar, vanilla and grass.
As the first session ended and the hundreds of (now even jollier) attendees exited, there was just enough time for the Whisky Lounge team to reset the glasses and get ready for the next crowds, which were eager to get in as the typical April weather began once more to spout rain, rain and more rain!
That evening, in the second of the Women & Whisky panels I was joined by another fabulous group of ladies, including: Helen Stewart, UK Brand Manager of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; Rachel MacNeill, owner of Wild & Magic Islay and Whisky for Girls; and, Deirdra McBeth, UK Brand Assistant for Jameson. The attendees were comprised of a mixed group of beginners to more seasoned whisky enthusiasts, but what was most interesting to see was just how willing everyone was to get into the discussions and try the whiskies. It helped that there was a great cast of, not only speakers, but whiskies too, with the Redbreast 12, the new Bruichladdich Black Art and the SMWS 41.45 (Audrey Heburn in a ball gown) all in the line-up. The latter was my favourite (it probably helps that Audrey Hepburn is an idol of mine) but I wasn’t alone, with one woman saying it was “perfect” and another chap adding it “was something else”. Unfortunately, it is no longer available to buy, but if you spot this incredibly classy, 25-year old Dailuaine whisky on the shelf at your local SMWS, try it! Over a relaxed hour of drams and questions, we finished of the session as the sun came back out, shining a bright light on the end of the day.
At the end of it all, 1,800 people (55% of which were under 30) came through the doors of the Royal Horticultural Hall over the Friday and Saturday. Of those, 80% had never been to a whisky festival before but 99% have said they will come back. And if that’s not “bringing whisky to the people” then I don’t know what is!
Miss Whisky would like to thank all the people that supported her in the first women & whisky panels, all the exhibitors that brought dozens of great drams and, of course, Amanda, Eddie and the team of the Whisky Lounge for showing London just how great whisky really is. And, if you missed out but want to see it in action, check out their video of the show here. Until next time…happy dramming!
Thanks to Simon Hanna of Image Revolver for providing photos. For more information on the Whisky Lounge and to check out its upcoming events, head to: www.thewhiskylounge.com