The Whisky Show 2012, Vinopolis, London

Presented by the Whisky Exchange, the Whisky Show is a vast gathering of distillers and whisky lovers from around the world. It’s held at Vinopolis in London, right next to the foodie heaven that is Borough Market. I met up with Glen (the ridiculously well-travelled other half of Malt) at this year’s show and I think it’s safe to say we had one heck of a time there.

It costs £100 to get in, but for that you get a Dream Dram (a glass of something very special – we chose a Port Ellen 32 Year Old), a tasting glass, a two-course lunch, and free samples of any whisky at the show. But it’s huge, and split across different halls and rooms of the very classy Vinopolis complex. There’s no way you can try all of the many hundreds of drams on offer. You have to deal with the fact that it’s not possible. (Though we saw one fellow try admirably to do so – he was sprawled out asleep on a pile of cushions at 4pm, but by 4.30pm he was right back at it.)

Exhibitors truly came from afar – from Taiwan to Texas – to showcase the finest and latest of their releases, and you could chat to representatives or distillers about anything. There were tasting masterclasses on the day and even a section that paired whiskies with different types of food including cockles and chocolate.

Let’s break this up into highlights for each of us:

Mark: World whiskies were the order of the day. I was most eager to visit the Number One Drinks Company stand, since I’m an admirer of many of the whiskies they’ve brought into the country, from Hanyu to Karuizawa and Chichibu. It was great to meet Marcin Miller, who was a terrific guy and so passionate about Japanese whisky. He had a secret weapon or two stashed under his stand: Chichibu The Peated and The Floor Malted were available, if you knew the secret handshake. These were incredible drams – The Peated especially was the sexiest thing in the whole building and made me go weak at the knees. These aren’t yet available in the UK (I think they’ll be coming off the boat soon) and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

On the subject of Japanese whiskies, there was also a stonkingly good Nikka Single Grain on the stand opposite, which will be available shortly as well – and it’s going to be very reasonably priced at around £40 I think. Also the Taiwanese whiskies, from Kavalan, were superb quality – a very good range all round. Finally, I was hugely impressed with the Mitchell & Son Yellow Spot Single Pot Still Irish whiskey, of which I bought a bottle and will review soon.

Glen: The four words of the day for me was “Young Whiskies — who knew?”. Mark finally got me to try some Japanese whisky — a whistle stop tour of the Floor Malted and Peated Chichibu that were stunning — and both bottled at 3 years. The Karuizawa Noh #7576 imported by Number One was also stunning — dark, rich, and mysterious, and at an equally stunning price. Irish Distillers were really on form with their new releases — the Jameson line-up is as always lovely, but actually remains better towards the lower end of the range — though the Powers John’s Lane Release was a lovely, peppery go-to whiskey representing a great value.

There were some fascinating things coming from America — corn, rye, and malt-based. Balcones had three all blue corn whiskies that need to be tasted to be appreciated — showing real craft and putting Waco on the map for something new — including a smoked corn whisky which we were assured “the liquid is smoked, not the malt”. Corsair is a distiller turning out a range of spirits, including some bold experimentation — their Rasputin Hopped Rye was one of the strangest, yet beguiling spirits I’ve had the chance to try.

I’m always keen to try pairing whisky and food — there was a booth pairing cockles with Kilchoman Islay whisky. What’s this, you say? Another Islay? A farm distillery, established in 2005 they’ve made a few young, but brilliant releases, which happen to go well with Cockles. I couldn’t get Mark to try it, but when I saw that their standard whisky was £39 a bottle, I picked it up. Look for a full review later, but they’re only distilling up to 100,000 litres a year, and every drop thus far — even at 4-6 years of age is a good one. Watch this distillery.

So there you have it – those really were just a few highlights, but there was so much more. A thoroughly enjoyable day. An overwhelming day, in fact, but well worth every penny. We urge you to go next year if you can make it to London. It might even be worth going for the whole weekend.

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