While I'm getting ready, I've discovered that a new Whisky Fellowship has set up in nearby Garforth, and is following me on twitter - sounds like something to check out, so I've signed up for their first meeting on Monday. Another follower of theirs is Strathearn Distillery - a new start up micro-distiller in Methven that I've not heard of before, seems they are building a distillery and hope to start production soon.
Arrive at O2 Academy 20 minutes before start - first in queue - only way to be sure of getting a few photos before the venue fills up. Joe is setting up the flags and I have time for breakfast - sandwich from Sainsbury's - and get organised for the show. By the time the doors open the queue has built up considerably.
Traditional start with Compass Box Hedonism, then off to see Andrew Nelstrop owner of the English Whisky Company, who hasn't been at a show so far this year. Chapter 6 the standard unpeated bottling is good, but the Rum finished Chapter 7 is exceptional for a 3yo, even allowing for faster maturation in Norfolk than Scotland. They also have a bottle of the Queen's 60th Jubilee limited edition - sold out on the distillery website. Good presentation - apart from the Royal tackiness, and a good dram. Andrew bemoans the fact that too many of these royal special editions get bought by collectors of royal memorabilia rather than true Whisky drinkers, but it does help him sell his whisky. Didn't try the peated Chapter 11, intending to return later once I was on peated whisky, but didn't make it back.
An early visit to Bowmore/Suntory as I've tended to leave them to then end in recent festivals, starting with the Japanese side of the table as still not wanting to get on to peated whisky just yet. Nothing too special about the Yamazaki 12yo Single Malt but the Hibiki blends work better - the 12yo is part matured in plum liqueur casks, and the 17yo leaves a good impression. Still avoiding peat, the Bowmore will have to wait, so Berry's Littlemill 1992, Braes of Glenlivet 1994 and Invergordon 1988 - always a selection of good whisky at BBR. This is Rocky's penultimate show with BBR before moving on to work for the Whisky Exchange.
Across to Diageo to see what they have to offer today - nothing too special above the counter, but some nice under the counter drams, though unfortunately I've already missed the Port Ellen 12th Release; however 35yo Brora is well worth 2 white tokens, this is from the era that both the distilleries (Brora and Clynelish) on the site were working in tandem. To add to the confusion, the original distillery on the site was originally called Clynelish, then re-named Brora after the new distillery was built. That's the official story, but Diageo have admitted at times that there may have been some confusion over what came from where. Generally, Brora was more heavily peated than Clynelish, so this probably is Brora - whatever, who cares it tastes good.
Feeling a little peckish, so the shortbread on offer with Dalwhinnie 15yo seems like a good idea - and they do go together very well.
The call of the peat can no longer be resisted, after dabbling with Brora. Eddie has put together a table of Islay whisky following his recent visit, including 3 of the 2013 Fèis Ìle releases Cairdeas Port Wood Edition from Laphroaig - the pinkest whisky I've ever seen; 12yo cask strength Lagavulin, and the already mentioned Ardbog. For now, I decided to kick off with a Laphroaig Triple Wood - it's a little less peaty than most Laphroaigs, but you still wouldn't mistake it for anything else. Eddie also has two BBR Bowmores 1989 and 1994 - the 1989 could certainly be mistaken for something else - a really lightly peated Bowmore, the 1994 is more typical. so then it seemed best to head for the official Bowmore range starting off with the 12yo, the 15yo Darkest and finally the Tempest 4th edition, which is less peaty than the previous 3 editions.
Now for the Balcones stand - I like Baby Blue and True Blue - the two blue corn whiskies, but Brimstone is still the pick of the bunch. There's something amazing about watching people take their first taste of Brimstone, as the liquid maple-smoked bacon hits the mark. It has to be a Marmite whisky, love it or hate it, but most people seem to love it.
I'd not been too impressed with Paul John before, but today for whatever reason, what I'd been drinking before maybe (I'm sure it wasn't straight after the Brimstone), I've had to reassess my view - I think I'm beginning to like it, though I don't see myself settling down with a bottle just yet.
Comparative tasting of the two Kilchoman expressions Machir Bay and Loch Gorm
again brings no clear favourite, I think I shall have to try both again.
It's now time for the blending workshop with Zoe. It becomes immediately apparent that there is a problem with the venue regarding workshops - they are held in the gallery, and it's difficult to hear what Zoe's saying - anyway there are 4 samples to blend - bourbon matured grain and malt; sherry matured malt and a peated bourbon malt and get talking to Kathy and Ken and the fourth person at the table whose name I can't remember. I end up just making two blends - a peated sherry, and the malt and grain bourbons - both taste good enough to not mix them up further. I also treated the table to a dram of High West Double Rye, which I had in the hip flask - I'd not noticed how orangey it was before.
A brief return to the floor of the festival before the next workshop - Scotland vs the World with Eddie - not a blind tasting this time, and the line up is good - KaVaLan SIngle Malt; Glenmorangie Astar; Tweeddale Blend 2nd Batch; Hibiki 17yo blend; Mackmyra Skog; SMWS Caol Ila 53.176. I'm a little hazy as to the popular vote outcome or even my own, but I think I went with the Skog. (I think Eddie must have a monopoly of all supplies of Skog in the UK, as I've never seen it anywhere else). Though there is still the problem of the acoustics, we can all gather in closer than with the blending workshop, but a better solution needs to be found for next year.
There's still time for a few more drams, and as far as I can remember these included Blanton's Single Barrel; the Adelphi 46yo Invergordon - a sherry matured Single Grain; Compass Box Great King Street - and of course the Ardbog.
And before the close the venue comes into its own with live music, and Eddie Ludlow taking to the stage to show off his other skills.
Photos are on Flickr at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/martynjenkins/sets/72157633872938125/
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