People ask me all the time: do you think you’ll ever go back to Canada?
Now, I don’t think – or, at least I hope – they’re not saying this because they want to rid me from British shores. It tends to be asked with the addition of: “But Canada is so beautiful; why would you want to be over here?” The grass is always greener, isn’t it?
The truth is, of course, I don’t know if I might go back. I came over for a year and it’s now been six. But what I do know is that having come from outside of Europe, I am able to recognise more of the positives of being over here. Cheese, for instance…oh the cheese. There is so much of it here! Oh, and the whisky – that main thing I love in the old food and drink department. And, of course, there’s the ability to travel to other countries so easily.
This last thing is just what I was thinking in July, when I sat very briefly at a cafe in Paris, waiting for a connection at Montparnasse station, having just arrived from London on Eurostar. Travel in Europe is so easy when you come from a North American perspective. As I sat there drinking my overpriced but lovely cafe creme, I had one thought: ‘I have to come back for Whisky Live Paris.’
And so, that’s just what I did. Having only had the experience of whisky festivals in the UK, I thought it was about time I leave familiar shores and see what things were like on the other side of the Channel. I’d always heard great things about this particular show and as it was the 10th anniversary, I knew it was going to be especially good. Plus, it was an excuse to head to Paris, which I have come to love during many trips over these past few years.
I arrived in time for the trade show on the Monday – it was a grey, autumny day, which made it perfect for imbibing whisky.
Inside, I was not disappointed. The show was spread out over three floors, with the main whisky stands in various alcoves throughout the the building’s third floor; food and drink pairing, masterclass theatres and the Please Don’t Tell cocktail bar on the fifth floor; and a massive hall on the lower ground floor with spirits from around the world. Très impressionnant!
My first stop was to the Berry Bros & Rudd stand as I happened to see Ronnie Cox – the company’s brands heritage director – at the stand. There I sampled the gentle single cask 1992 Glenlossie, filled with creamy peach and apricot notes with a dash of green grass. I was also then introduced to Francesco Binetti from Italian independent bottlers, Samaroli, which was the stand beside Berrys’.
Now, I’d never heard of Samaroli and this is a key example of why I wanted to go to a different show, because the great thing about the world of whisky is in discovering new and interesting things.
As background, the Samaroli brand has been around since 1968 when Silvano Samaroli began buying casks of and bottling Scotch whiskies. The company is based in Rome and Francesco – a former energy, oil and telecommunications specialist – became involved in the business as its sales manager in 2009.
The company also bottles single cask rums but it was the whiskies I was interested in and Francesco got straight to the point, leading me through the various drams on offer. What is interesting, especially, about Samaroli is that rather than simply buying casks and bottling them when they feel the whiskies are ready, the team actually re-casks their stock (often in new American oak casks they buy from a cooperage in France) making for a very intriguing selection. They also try to allow the whiskies to come down to 48% or 49% naturally, so as to not water down the whisky too substantially. “We try to respect the soul of the spirit by only adding a small amount of water,” said Francesco.
Of the selections I tried that day many stood out – in fact, as a whole, the whiskies on the Samaroli stand were my favourite of the fest – but one that absolutely blew my mind was a Highland Park 21 year old, which had initially spent five years in an ex-bourbon american oak cask, before being transferred into a virgin American oak cask for the remainder of its days. On the nose, it was incredibly creamy and very fresh – not only for its age but for a Highland Park. And then the palate – wow! Bursting with melons, cream, a hint of peppery peat and a bit of fresh Victorian sponge it was magical.
After spending nearly an hour on the Samaroli stand, it was time to dash elsewhere. Next up was a visit to the Number One Drinks stand, where I knew Marcin Miller and Ed Bates would be chatting away to the Japanese whisky loving visitors.
Premiering at Whisky Live Paris was the new Spirit of Asama – discussed in this recent post on Number One here – that had aged for an extra 12 months in ex-sherry casks. This was a big, bold, bursting whisky: there was a huge first note of sherry on the nose, that eased out into more delicate dashes of cherries and strawberries, while the palate was a well-balanced dram with a creamy mouthfeel, before a bit of nutmeg spice, bright oranges and lovely gentle vanilla.
While there, I also caught up with La Cave de Cobalt blogger, Franck Debernardi, and The Whisky Exchange’s Enrico Gaddoni and sampled the Kariuzawa 1980, cask #4556, which was actually too enjoyable to make notes on – instead, I just relaxed into the atmosphere and the dram! I also tried the lovely Chichibu Chibidaru, but I’ll wax lyrical on that in my TWE Whisky Show review instead!
After a quick dash by the Glenfarclas stand to try a gloriously big, rich, floral yet buttery and almondy 25 year old quarter cask edition, it was off to the Arran stand where I sampled a wonderful single cask, Arran 16 year old, bottled at 57% exclusively for La Maison du Whisky – filled with dark raisins and butter on the nose, it had a savoury sweet quality to the palate, akin to when you put pancakes and maple syrup with really salty bacon.
After all that tasting it was time for lunch. Luckily for me, an award winning bistro – Terroir Parisien – was in the same building so, in true French style, I headed out of the show for a proper break from tasting.
In Part 2 of my review, I head back to the Show post-lunch and discover a very intriguing project from Compass Box, sample some white dog from a new Italian whisky producer, learn more about dairy farms and whisky in Tasmania and depart from my whisky mantra to try some grappa and cocktails.