Well the festival is over - I was looking so forward to it and all of a sudden, it's 5 days after
Of course, during was great! This was my second year and I have to say that overall the classes, speakers, and organization are absolutely first class! I will certainly be back next year for sure.
I signed up for the regular full meal deal (Friday night - 3 master classes and Saturday night Consumer Tasting - didn't do the VIP tasting nor the Winchester Distillery Visit) and have to say that I wasn't disappointed.
Friday night I attended the Murray McDavid tasting. Saturday involved three master classes and while I didn't exactly get every class that I wanted, I have to say that they were all excellent.
Douglas Laing was the first class that I had and I really wanted to take this one. In my opinion they are consistently the best independent bottler (well, at least I LIKE what they do) and this class was no disappointment (though I really like some G&M bottlings too). Of the six samples that we had in the class, I am probably going to purchase two of them (Laphroaig 18 and Port Ellen 25 year). The speaker was absolutely excellent: very casual, lots of fun and a great sense of humour. Perhaps the "coolest" whisky of the weekend was in this class - not one that i personally
would buy, but still fantastic. It was a 40 year old single grain
whisky (wheat) that was absolutely delicious.
My second class was Johnnie Walker. This I thought was going to be a bit of a dud because, well I know all the whiskies, drank stupid amounts of Red and Black when in University, didn't want to hear all the marketing hoop-la about the "citrus nose of the Red that leads into a toffee / chocolate smoky long lasting finish, blah, blah, blah" and all that other stuff. We all know what Red is for: mixing with coke and ginger ale and for getting college students drunk
Well, perhaps that's a bit harsh, but that was the attitude that I went in with - for better or for worse.
However, the speaker was a retired (I think) master distiller for Diageo. While his personality was a little "different" (perhaps overly formal, challenging and curt) he was obviously extremely knowledgeable about the industry. After about 20 minutes, I really started enjoying the class and his background into the industry. He also spoke in a way that allowed you to "read between the lines". I.e. he had to do the Diageo spiel, but at the same time wasn't going to insult our intelligence and try and tell us that the Red was an ultra-high quality product.
The whiskies were exactly how I remember them from past tastings: the "star" in the JW lineup is definitely the Gold. Not that I would ever spend money on it (would rather by a Laga 16 or two bottles of Lappy QC or Balvenie DW), but for me it's a quite enjoyable blended malt and at 40% of the cost of the Blue, the best "value" I guess (and I actually like it more than the Blue). The black is solid as well - a good one to have in the cupboard for those friends that come over and ask if they can put your "PC5 on the rocks".
The third class that I took was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society class. I took this last year and really enjoyed both the malts and the speaker who is very dynamic and a lot of fun. All the malts are cask strength of course and after last year, i learned my lesson and only fully drank the ones that I really liked. This allowed me to keep my palate working properly (unlike last year where it was trashed!) and really enjoy the rest of the evening. Unfortunately the province of BC's ass backwards liquor laws are so brutal that joining the SMWS would be a huge pain in the ass and while I'd seriously consider joining it, the BCLS would take all of that joy away
Still, I really enjoyed the class and will probably sign up for this one next year as well, because these guys are out there to find different and unique whiskies which makes them interesting.
After dinner with some friends from the West Coast Whisky Society (there were about a dozen or so of us over from Vancouver - perhaps WestVanDave will get some of his pictures up), we joined the Consumer tasting. The lineup to get our glass and stamp was out of the door of the hotel! Once into the Consumer tasting I took a new approach this year: network with the 15 - 20 other people that I knew and find out about all the super cool bottles that were under the tables or the more interesting ones that I didn't know about (as much as I love Ardbeg, I don't need to waste time tasting the TEN). A couple of these popped up early: friends who has been to the Dewar Rattray class had talked about two in particular that they liked; the Dewar Rattray highlight for me was a bottle of Inchgower that was excellent.
Other solid finds were the Yamazaki 18 (which I just love), some great BenRiachs including the Authenticus (the 21 year old peated is always a solid whisky and while generally available, very tasty) and a port finished 1975 that had an unbelievable nose on it. The taste ranked a solid mid-80s in my mind, but the nose was simply awesome - in the mid to high 90s. It was almost like nosing a bottle of Cointreau.
I had a chance to taste the Aberfeldy 12 which is as far as I know, unavailable in North America and for a "simply 12 year old" whisky, it was just excellent. It would be a perfect one to wean your blend loving friends onto single malts with.
After the consumer tasting I found myself upstairs with a dozen or so people in one of the hotel suites. Jim Murray was there so I tactlessly asked him to sign my copy of the 2008 Whisky Bible
which he happily did. I "paid him off" with a dram from the bottle of Laphroaig 30 that I had brought to the festival with me to share with friends. Hopefully next year, some others will bring fun and interesting bottles - I really love to share great whisky, but my bottle of lappy 30 was unopened Friday and by Sunday there were about 3 ounces left in it
Oh well! Whisky to me is about the experience and the friends that I know as well as ones that I've newly met are part of that experience, so it was the perfect venue to crack the L30
Next year I'll find something equally as fun to bring with me out there - better to drink it with friends than have is sitting collecting dust in the closet! Maybe I'll bring a bottle of Gin for Lawrence
Overall, a great festival, well organized by Lawrence, Carolyn, and co. and absolutely enjoyable.
I'll be back next year again