Armoury House - photo from 2011
Whisky Live returned to Armoury House the impressive venue of the Honourable Artillery Company, though the weather was a complete contrast to 2012's March heatwave - the snow was just about held at bay on Friday, but Saturday saw a cold queue very pleased to get into the show! Whisky Live has finally abandoned the use of vouchers for tastings in favour of gold vouchers for extra special whiskies, though there seemed to be a breakdown of communications with most exhibitors as the only whisky that I tasted that demanded a gold token was Bunnahabhain 25yo.
The highlights of the show for me were all about overseas contributions to Whisky, that's not to say that there wasn't some very good Scottish Whisky available - the second batch of the Shackleton whisky was impressive, as were some BBR bottles from Invergordon, Littlemill and Tormore; an interesting orange-nosed Clynelish from That Boutique-y Whisky Company; and the new Balvenie 12yo Single Barrel. I'm probably being unfair to the SMWS who were out in strength with the usual impressive line-up - and a new presentation - bottle necks tagged with a one word description of the type of whisky - Sweet, Coastal, Smoky etc. Having tasted most of this month's outturn already, I probably had less than 10 SMWS drams over the two days - more of my favourite two later.
Chip Tate, chief distiller of Balcones, the Texas craft whisky outfit made a return to Whisky Live London. I was not at all familiar with his whisky last year, but have tasted a lot since then and become quite a fan of their unique approach.Chip had with him a mobile whisky vault containing some specialities - a bottle from the only ever barrel of Bourbon distilled in Texas, the smoothest Bourbon I've ever tasted, despite a strength of 64% - hopefully he'll make some more! Brimstone Resurrection was another feature, plus the strange Rumble spirit - a distillation of honey, figs and sugar. as well as the more readily available range of Single Malt, Baby Blue, True Blue and Brimstone. Eddie and Amanda Ludlow were helping out on the stand on Friday and Eddie did an Q&A session with Chip in the food area. See also the Whisky Lounge Balcones Review by Joe Clark.
Penderyn made a rare Whisky Festival appearance, sharing stands with Kavalan, the Taiwanese whisky producer. They already shared Dr Jim Swan as a consultant, and Penderyn have now acquired UK distribution rights for Kavalan. I already have bottles of their Vinho Barrique and Bourbon cask strength Solist, and got another taste of the Sherry finish, but that wasn't as good to my palette. For the first day and a half the Fino finished Kavalan was apparently just for display purposes, but I happened to be in the right place at the time that Dr Swan felt it needed to be sampled. The gentle Fino Sherry cask suited Kavalan better than the standard sherry product, and was more reminiscent of the Bourbon finish, but it comes at a price (£200+). For a more reasonable price the King Car single malt is also well worth looking at. A peated Kavalan was also an interesting addition.
Diageo didn't have a stand this year, but that didn't stop Colin Dunn doing an on-stage presentation of Bushmills, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and Talisker Storm. Unfortunately, because of lengthy queues to get into the food area, I only got in on the tail end of this and there was only some Gold Label to taste.
Ian Logan was once again holding court on the Glenlivet balcony, though the tasting sessions seemed shorter than last year - there must be more Glenlivet Guardians than before! The whiskies, I tasted the 18yo, Nàdurra and 25yo were 't new to me, but as welcome as always.
Mackmyra had a considerable range of their whiskies, from the wonderfully packaged new make - featuring rubber band and brown paper - to a selection of their special releases. But no Skog! (see January blog).
None of the above is chronological, but the rum part of the story of Whisky Live starts on coming in from the snow on Saturday morning. Starting at SMWS, I didn't immediately realise that my first dram of the day would be rum, but when Sam suggested it, it seemed only logical to ease into things with an 81% abv R5.2 from Jamaica. Just about drinkable at the enormous cask strength, and I certainly don't think the tasting notes do it justice: "Very intense nose of paint stripper, nail varnish remover and copydex glue followed by a vinegar note, small pickled onions and finally battery acids which implies danger and the taste neat is exactly that!" With added water it turns into a very agreeable drink I later felt the need to buy a bottle.
Thence to El Dorado for rum from Guyana - the 15yo, though at only 43%, was my favourite, with some unexpected coconut and vanilla notes. Then back to Jamaica again for a tour of Appleton Estate including the amazing 30yo, positively ancient for a rum. Blended rums from Wild Geese were new to me entirely, but better than their whiskies, which I've not liked. The standard bottling is at a mere 37.5%, but the Premium is 40% and packaged as a bottle of rum should be - black bottle with crystal skull! I would have to say the contents didn't quite live up to the bottle, but not a bad drop - it's a blend of rums from Barbados, Guyana and Jamaica.And so to Ireland's newest distillery, Dingle - the most westerly in the British Isles. looking for Founding Fathers for their whisky, and while waiting for that to mature they're selling vodka and gin - the vodka was, just vodka, the gin on the other hand was well worth a mention - I'm no gin expert, but I could get to like that one. It seems, whisk(e)y distilleries are good at gin - Bruichladdich's Botanist, and Balmenach's Caorunn come to mind.
Finally, back to SMWS who are selling remaining bottles to members only, a final dram of G4.3 convinces me that I need a bottle of that as well as the R5.2 and time to head for home - at least it's stopped snowing.