It’s always hard to know just what to expect when you turn up at a whisky festival that you haven’t been to before. A couple of years ago, at my first experience of the Whisky Exchange Show, I was nervous that people wouldn’t be interested in answering my innumerable questions or might be too busy to chat. But, as it turned out, that show made me realise how welcoming the whisky world is to newbies.
And so, at the end of September, I found myself heading to Whisky Live Paris with more confidence than I did back in 2011, hopeful that I would find the same welcoming nature amongst exhibitors there that I did in London.
As it turns out, despite being on foreign shores, the folks at Whisky Live Paris were just as keen to talk about all their brilliant products as they are here in the UK. I shouldn’t have been surprised. There is a love of whisky (and spirits) that runs through the veins of anyone in this industry.
In a recent post – Whisky Live Paris Part 1 – I shared all the great whiskies I got the chance to sample before lunch at the show. In true French fashion, you see, I actually stopped for lunch (something you won’t find me doing normally). And so, after a break at the gorgeous next-door bistro, Terroir Parisien, it was time to head back in and explore some more.
I started my adventure this time on the fifth floor of Maison de la Mutualite, so I could check out the Compass Box experience and try a few new releases from the rebel blenders that I’m a big fan of. On hand was the inimitable founder John Glaser, and brand ambassadors Celine Tetu and Chris Maybin.
First up was Delilah’s, bottled for the whisky bar of the same name in Chicago at the end of August. John was given the brief by owner Mike Miller of creating a “Scotch whisky that thinks its a bourbon” for the well known bar. So he used a mix of Cameron Bridge, further matured in ex-bourbon barrels fitted with new French oak heads, and malt from Teaninich and Glen Elgin. On the nose it was slightly minty and fresh, with notes of fresh oak, cloves and vanilla, while the palate was spicy, sweet and herbal.
I then sampled the Peat Monster 10th anniversary edition. This was my favourite of the Compass Box bunch that day. For this special release of the Peat Monster, John bumped up the Laphroaig content, used some older Ardmore and a larger proportion (4% vs 1%) of Clynelish extra matured in French oak barrels. There was a great toffee and smoke note, almost like a Werther’s Original had been wrapped up in a peat blanket.
Finally, I headed into the theatre that had been set up where people got to try two special editions of Great King Street: smoke and sherry. Chris did a big speech (all in French, naturally) but I caught the main gist – choose whether you prefer the smoky or sherried version. Surprisingly (or, at least to me) I was more won over by the smoky one. I liked that the smoke was in a form that was gentle enough to not overwhelm, while still giving the dram a meaty quality that balanced out the sweeter notes of the more traditional Great King Street.
Next it was back downstairs to the Whiskies of the World room. I had been recommended by Darren Rook (of the London Distillery Company, who’d I’d run into on the stairs at the festival as he was there showing off Dodd’s Gin) to check out a small new single malt distillery called Puni, which was founded in 2010 in northern Italy. The company is currently bottling two versions of its spirit until it comes of age and becomes whisky, and I was curious to find out more.
The Puni Pure is basically a white dog style spirit – unaged spirit that’s been brought down in strength to 43% so as to not overwhelm. It was very light and fruity, with loads of grainy pear notes, suggesting the whisky will be a gentle beast when it’s released. The other product is the Puni Alba, also bottled at 43%. This has been aged in a mix of casks (90% ex-Marsala wine and 10% ex-Pinot Noir) for one year. The wine casks gave it a really thick, honeyed note – it was quite warm and (dare I say it?) sunny almost, with buttery popcorn notes. On the palate, more of the wine characteristic came through with notes of grapes and chocolate. It was interesting and, although very young, of course, and more like an eaux de vie, excellent to try spirit from an up and coming new producer. Oh, and isn’t the packaging beautiful? I thought so at least!
A few stands down from Puni was another one that fully piqued my interest: Hellyers Road Distillery, from Tasmania. There I met the GM, Mark Littler, and his team who took me through the range and company background. I’m going to do a separate post on these guys, coming up soon in the reviews section, so look out for that.
As the clock was ticking down on the day, I made a dash back into the main room to sample a single cask Yoichi from 1988 I’d heard great things about and wasn’t let down. On the nose I was treated to lovely sharp citrus notes, with marmalade and a dusty smoke, akin to something BBQd, while the palate was filled with loads of spicy rich notes, warm embery and heathery peat, black peppercorns and just a touch of vanilla sweetness.
After my quick pause at the Nikka stand, I ran downstairs to visit another of Darren’s recommendations: Nardini Grappa. I’d not really had it before so I was intrigued by the chance to do so, especially since Nardini has existed since 1779 in Bassano del Grappa in Northern Italy, and is still family owned.
As a bit more information, grappa is produced by taking the grape pomace (the stones, stems and skins post wine-making), fermenting it and double distilling it. It’s more complicated than that (especially as the stems and pips make methanol so distillers have to be very careful) but that’s the quick definition. Nardini freezes its grappa and adds a fossil shell flour to filter it. It goes into casks at a very high ABV (often 80%) and is matured for various lengths of time. My favourite was the 15 year old, which had beenmatured in Slavonian oak. It was complex and intriguing, with notes of tobacco, tea, orange blossoms, leather, orange cake and black licorice. Sharla Ault, who works with the distillery, told me it also pairs perfectly with cigars, something she attempted to demonstrate without actually lighting up!
Finally, it was time nearly to say au revoir to Whisky Live Paris. But not before one, last, final run upstairs to try and catch the final sitting at the Please Don’t Tell cocktail bar pop-up.
And I just barely made it in, but oh was it worth it. Inside the speakeasy style pop-up based on the bar of the same name in Manhattan, I met owner Jim Meehan and his team, who whipped up a Vitamin cocktail (Mackmyra Vit Hund, pear brandy, lemon juice, honey and sage) to help me ease into the end of the show. Just what a girl needed!
And so came the end of my Whisky Live Paris adventure. It was a show that surpassed expectations, shined a limelight on a load of producers I’d never come across before and did all of it in a beautiful, Parisien setting. C’était parfait!
Look out for my upcoming review of Hellyers Whisky and a look at the next big whisky show of the season: The Whisky Exchange show in London.