It was already the 9th edition of Maltstock, but it was the first time for me. And truth be told, I was a little sceptical and didn’t feel like going. Not because it isn’t a good festival – I’ve heard nothing but good stories about it. But it was cold, raining cats and dogs outside, and knowing it was somewhere in the woods, partially outside, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. In Dutch we would say that “I saw a lot of bears on the road”, which meant that I expected the worst.
For the people who aren’t familiar with Maltstock, it’s a Dutch festival held at a former scouting place nearby Nijmegen. It’s an all-inclusive weekend with many interesting masterclasses, good food. There is a campfire tasting, a midnight cafe and people can sleep at one of the dorms or, if you like a more private place to sleep, in the smaller cabins. I like it even more private, with my own shower and a good bed, so I booked a bed & breakfast nearby (you will get a reduction of your ticket if that is your choice).
Maltstock, day 1
After checking in at our B&B, we walked to the location where Maltstock is actually held. It’s a nice walk through the beautiful wooded area, a nature reserve with several fens. It was a quiet walk.
The doors opened at 4pm and I had my first masterclass at 6pm. So there was plenty of time to have a look around and meet some people. The heart of Maltstock are the big tables outside (fortunately covered, as it was still raining heavily). Everyone brings a bottle of whisky, which will then be placed on these tables. And you can taste whatever you like. It’s the place where everyone gathered, which made it a good starting point as well.
New bottles were added throughout the weekend, some were gone in a blink of an eye and some were never opened. It was a wide variety of bottles that stood on that table. Ranging from Cockburn from the Czech Republic to a 32 year old Caol Ila from Cadenhead. You can imagine many conversations have arisen here.
After saying hello to a few people, and drinking the nice welcome dram, it was already time for my first event: The Loch Lomond tasting. Originally it was to be held by Donald Maclennan, but he had to be replaced by Callum Fraser from Glen Scotia. Initially, it was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I was hoping to try some other whiskies from the Loch Lomond Group, instead of the standard releases (Double Cask, 15 year old, Victoriana). But there was a great single cask as well, and although most of the whiskies didn’t knock me off my socks, Callum appeared to be a great storyteller. Which made it all worthwhile.
After grabbing a few slices of pizza, I found my way back to the centre to share and taste some drams with old and new friends. A great and relaxed first day at Maltstock.
Maltstock, day 2
While everybody was starting with the detox tour – a tour through the forest with a couple of drams underway – I was still enjoying a good breakfast at our nice and quiet B&B. But I had to be quick, as my first masterclass would start at 12pm already! A Chichibu tasting with Yumi Yoshikawa (brand ambassador) and Tatsuya Minagawa (owner of the Highlander Inn). Which also happened to be my first choice of the masterclasses I wanted to attend.
It was a very surprising tasting with two fantastic hosts. They are well-matched, both entertaining, and Tatsuya’s jokes worked really well without becoming an act. Tatsuya is not able to bring Yumi of her game, as she knows perfectly to respond to his unexpected moves. It was also quite educational, but still with a sense of humour. Looking at the whiskies being poured, they were all single casks, with the one matured in a Mizunara cask as my favourite. The last one of the bunch will be bottled for the Highlander Inn, somewhere around the beginning of 2018.
After a quick lunch, I was already on my way to the next tasting. Hosted by Joshua Hatton, co-owner of Single Cask Nation. An American independent bottler, owned by the Jewish Whisky Company. The company works with a subscription system, very similar to the SMWS. Joshua presented six whiskies to us. The first four were quite nice, but the surprise element came with the last two whiskies. Both were tasted blind and that was not without a reason. The first of the two appeared to be English whiskies, but the last one was a 2 year old whiskey from the Westland Distillery. Fun to see that almost nobody guessed where it came from or how old it was. And I have to admit, it had a really good taste for such a young whiskey (mostly bananas and chocolate). A distillery to keep an eye on.
I still don’t know how I managed it all, but there was another tasting to go to: The Elements of Islay. Mariella Romano did a great job here. With her Italian roots and vast knowledge of Islay whiskies, she managed to host a very interactive tasting. The tasting also consisted of 6 drams, with a Bowmore that definitely was my favourite! It was a good tasting, but a bit too much on one day for me as I wasn’t really focused anymore.
Lucky for us, after the tasting, there was a nice bbq – and the food was really welcome now! So I ate some food, had a few cups of tea, and went for the highlight of Maltstock: the campfire tasting. This year hosted by Mark Watt and Cameron McGeachy from Cadenhead. Mark, still walking in his shorts while everybody was wearing warm clothes, clearly enjoyed his time at Maltstock. He was sharp and on fire! I honestly don’t know what to write about it, but it was the best and funniest tasting I have ever experienced in my life. Was it informative? Not at all! But there were some great stories shared, as well as some wonderful whiskies. Oh, and the Caroni rum wasn’t too shabby either. Let’s just say: what happens at the Maltstock campfire stays at the Maltstock campfire? I think that would be best for everyone.
After the campfire, we shared a few more drams, talked about the awesome day, but it was time to go now. I’ve seen everything I wanted to see, my own bottle that I’d brought was empty and all stories were told. It was 3 in the morning and, tired but satisfied, we said goodbye.
The next morning I woke up a little fuzzy-headed and realised that it wasn’t that bad at all. Yeah the fuzzy head maybe, but I managed to survive Maltstock and I wouldn’t want to miss it for the world. The organisation did a great job here. All the people, the drams, the location and the relaxed vibe made this an edition of Maltstock to remember. Yes, you are going home like a well-trained alcoholic, but it is all worth it.
See you next year, Maltstock!