Ah, The Whisky Exchange show…how I love thee, how do I count the ways? For weeks leading up to the show I was tweeting my excitement about it – sad, I know, but given it was bringing together folks from across the industry in a giant room featuring hundreds of whiskies in my home town, how could I not be jumpily eager for its arrival?
Last year’s show was the first big whisky event I had ever attended, so I was especially keen to go along again after this great year of whisky tasting and see what new whiskies I could learn about. My goal for the day was to try only whiskies that I hadn’t had before, a plan I stuck to bar when I retried the Glenfarclas 105 20-year old and The Balvenie Caribbean Cask.
The show took place at The Whisky Exchange’s shop headquarters – Vinopolis – near London Bridge. It occurred over a whole weekend but I went along to the trade and press day on the Monday with high hopes there would still be some whisky left.
On arrival, I sauntered over to say my hellos to Tim (of The Whisky Exchange) who poured me a lovely dram specially bottled for the show – the name of which, I DIDN’T WRITE DOWN! Not a good way to start, although I do recall the dram being delicious. Unfortunately, I found myself too busy chatting to first Tim, and then to Pierre and Jean-Luc of Connosr and Simon of Simply Whisky to get my pen and paper out. I did not make this mistake again however.
My first full-on flight tasting came at the Tomatin stand, where I sampled the Highlands-based company’s 12, 15, 18, 21, 30 and 40 year old drams. I will fully review these soon in a separate post, but my favourite was definitely the Tomatin 30 – it was a delightfully fresh dram for one of this age, filled with a crescendo of tropical fruit flavours, from pineapple to mango. It really stood out on the day for me.
Next I headed over to the Compass Box stand to catch up with Chris Maybin and Celine Tetu, the two effervescently friendly ambassadors for the London based blended whisky company. There I tried out the company’s latest release – the fourth edition of Flaming Heart – which is made from a blend of Clynelish and Islay malts. This is a beautifully balanced dram that pulls your tastebuds between the sweeter, highland malt and the power-house Islays. According to John Glaser – the company’s founder and whisky maker – this “…is a whisky born of fire, yet one with a big heart.” Big, bold and well worth trying if you see it around.
I continued my peaty journey by heading over to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s stand where I met with the company’s newly appointed Global Brand Ambassador – Georgie Bell – and picked up a 20-year old Laphroaig, also known as bottle 29.124, Pregnancy Tea Mix. This was a peaty party in the mouth, balanced out beautifully by a hint of sweeter almond and cherry goodness to stop it from overwhelming.
After a good jaunt around the bottom floor – where I also ran into Darren Rook of London Distillery Company, Mark Thomson of Dramatic Whisky, and Joe Clark of The Whisky Lounge and Pritesh Moody of LoveFoodLoveDrink who were manning the stand for the new Paul John whisky from India (a review of which will be going up this week on Miss Whisky) – I headed upstairs where loads of other companies were handing out mouthwatering drams. There I bumped into Andrew Forrester of The Balvenie, Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey, Cat Spencer of Master of Malt, Kirsty Chant of Chant Comms and an exhausted looking Billy Abbot of The Whisky Exchange, and had a wee sip of The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a pineappley, mangoey dram of goodness.
After much chatting, it was time to move on and I headed to the food pairing room next door, where I finally sampled the whiskies from Sweden’s Mackmyra distillery and met with master distiller Angela D’Orazio. A separate review of these whiskies and pairings will go live soon.
Next I sampled some quirky offerings from Monkey Shoulder, which was pairing fig and maple cooked bacon, and marshmallows, with its blended whisky. The bacon combo was lovely and robust, jumping and fizzing flavours on the palate. After a quick chat with Whisky Discovery’s Dave Worthington and his daughter Kat, I moved a few tables along and stopped for some of The Whisky Exchange’s Port Askaig, matched with a blue vein cheddar. The dram was gently smoky, with a hint of sea air and lemon on the nose, and a fruity, peachy smokines on the palate. Paired with the cheese, it brought out a creamy indulgence in the whisky that could make it drinkable for hours.
Heading back to the main room on the top floor, I popped by the Irish Distillers stand, where I met the lovely Meghan Kenny, a Jameson brand ambassador and yet another young woman making her mark in whisky. I also ran into Deirdre McBeth, Jameson’s brand assistant who spoke at the women’s only whisky panel I held with The Whisky Lounge earlier this year. Meghan took me through Yellow Spot to start – a big excitement for me as I already love Green Spot but hadn’t had the chance to try its newly released single pot still sibling. Made from a mix of Malaga sherry casks and bourbon barrels, this whiskey was like butter in the mouth – it was super creamy, with hints of almonds and grains. “Like a yummy breakfast meusli,” I wrote. Next I sampled the Redbreast 12 year old cask strength. Red Breast is already a big favourite of mine, but this new release pumps up the volume just that bit more. It was all about the almonds and citrus for me on the mouth. With water, it “softens to a pillowy state,” according to my notes, which were starting to get ardently poetic as I tried increasingly more samples. Both of these Irish Whiskeys are knock outs and I can only recommend that you give them a chance if you find them around.
Realising I had only an hour left of the show, I wobbled my way downstairs to the Number One Drinks stand so I could sample a range of Japanese whiskies. There I met the company’s team including Marcin Miller and Ed Bates, and fellow whisky bloggers Oliver Klimek of dramming.com and Jon Bryant of Living Room Whisky (who kindly provided many of the beautiful pics seen on this post). This was a very exciting stand for me. My favourite whisky of last year was the Chichibu the First, which I tried at the show. This year, I was determined to sample as many of the company’s whiskies as possible, and Jon and I did it justice! A separate post will follow shortly on all the amazing drams I tried, but in between chats with Eddie of The Whisky Lounge and Dominic Roskrow, I managed to try the Chichibu Floor Maltings, Karuizawa 48% and 55% whiskies, the Karuizawa 1982 and 1984, and the Karuizawa Noh. I was like a child at Christmas with these amazing drams – but more on that to come in a later post.
Finally, I grabbed a quick taste of the Ardmore 1982 (which tasted like “Hobnobs dipped in tea”) and ran upstairs to see Diageo’s Colin Dunn and sample two of this year’s Special Releases – the Brora 35 year old and the Port Ellen 32 year old. The former – made from a combination of whiskies from 1976 and 1977 aged in refill American oak casks – smelled of Australian soft licorice, nutmeg and sweet petrol (in a good way) and tasted gloriously creamy and soft until late in the sip when it went spicy on the palate. The latter, meanwhile, was incredibly drinkable even at 52.5%, which would be dangerous given it costs £600. It was citric but sweet, with notes of honey, oak and a tinge of smoke – a perfect dram to finish the day off on.
After saying goodbyes and having a quick chat with the lovely Amanda of The Whisky Lounge and catch up with The Whisky Exchange owner, Sukhinder Singh, on how he felt the day went, it was finally off home.
I was in awe of many of the whiskies tried that day. The standouts for me were the Tomatin 30-year old, Yellow Spot and Karuizawa 48%. And now I can only wait in anticipation for next year’s show!
A big thank you to Living Room Whisky’s Jon Bryant for providing photos for this post since I couldn’t manage to take notes, try whiskies, tweet and snap photos all at the same time!