Arguably Scotland’s biggest whisky festival, the Whisky Fringe is held annually during the midst of the Edinburgh festival season. The month of August in the capital is a heady mix of arts, comedy, music and seemingly anything else that you can entice onto a stage and sell tickets for.
Madness doesn’t even cover the avalanche of possibilities that you can indulge yourself with on an almost 24/7 basis, long as you’re armed with a fat wallet and cans of Red Bull. Many locals move out, as the city apartments become a temporary hall of residence for tourists across the world. Whisky becomes a perfect tonic and memento to take home – if you can stomach some of the ridiculous tourist prices demanded around the Royal Mile. I’m surprised Adam hasn’t made it up yet to tread the boards, lap up the atmosphere and have a dram that I’d gladly purchase.
The Whisky Fringe itself is held over three days and sells out in a matter of minutes, thus sparking chatter amongst friends for a spare ticket or a potential swap. It never fails to materialise, and eventually, everyone seems to get what they want. My own enjoyment of the event ran out a couple of years ago after seeing it treated like a cheap session, hearing those standing in the queue behind me planning how many drams they could neck within the session period. The Fringe isn’t alone in this regard, as I find many festivals sacrifice time and space for a high footfall and revenue. On my whisky journey nowadays, I want to have the opportunity to chat with the brand ambassador; this isn’t possible in such environs.
So, then, you ask: what do I want from a whisky festival? Well, firstly, the word “festival” suggests more than just pouring liquid down your throat. It implies a varied experience and delight on the senses. I’m not looking for Glastonbury in whisky form, but I am looking to break away from the usual stalls, and to have a “try before you buy” ethic. These events have their place and time, clearly, but do you want to repeat these annually until your liver cries out in horror, or you resort to Adam’s advice, and use the spittoons?
I’d like live music, good food and the ability to retreat from the floor and just relax with a dram or with friends. This heady mix already exists to a certain extent with the Whiskybase Gathering held annually in Rotterdam. Perhaps an informal area is best, one where ambassadors can appear, and just talk about whisky and field questions. Encouraging that interaction and exchange of information that is missing at many festivals nowadays could be wondrous. Perhaps I’m not alone in thinking “what next” for the whisky festival format, and how can it retain some sense of viability.
More experienced and travelled readers might be thinking of Maltstock for the above, and I get that to a certain extent. I’m just looking for something a little more comfortable and accessible in my older years.
Fringe attendees this year were asked to select their favourite from three samples on offer at the Berry Bros. stand, and the winner was this 11-year-old Glen Elgin—a distillery you don’t see too often. A typical Diageo workhorse situated on the outskirts of Elgin, I’d rate it as one of the better Speyside bulk producers. I’ve found Glen Elgin drams to offer a touch of class beyond the typical approachable regional characteristics. A crying shame that Diageo seem content to let things be and chuck money at Mortlach (once again) when they already have a bona fide contender.
I’m pleased a lesser distillery, so to speak, emerged as the competition winner—especially one that shuns the sherry bias and peat emphasis we see so much of nowadays. We often forget that ex-bourbon whiskies are the best host to display the distillery characteristics, and haven’t been bludgeoned by a seasoned cask.
This Glen Elgin resided in a first-fill bourbon hogshead from 2008, before it was bottled at 11 years of age. Cask #805336 produced an unspecified outturn at a strength of 56.6%. A bottle of this will set you back £64.95 and is exclusive to Royal Mile Whiskies – commission feel link. My thanks to the staff for a wee sample and the opportunity to try the winning entry.
Berry Bros. Glen Elgin 2008 – review
Color: a light haze.
On the nose: creamy with fresh pears and apples, gooseberries and lemon pips. A fresh vanilla with a little mustiness alongside sweet cinnamon and a floral elegance to it with an enjoyable minerality and sense of balance. Adding water brings out a mango greenness and sparking water mineral aspect with some light brown sugar.
In the mouth: limes and green apples, plus more of those gooseberries. A youthful and spirity whisky with more Speyside fruits and pear drops, which needs a splash of water to bring out more of a gentle fruitiness.
Solid with flashes of promise. There is plenty to take in and appreciate. Nicely constructed and delivered, there is a sense of safety, but also give this a few more years in the cask; then, the potential is there.
The Glen Elgin certainly benefits from time and being left in the glass to open up along with a splash of water. I’m still surprised how many people don’t try a drop of water with their whisky. I’m not preaching, as you can drink it with Irn Bru, for all I care in reality. Yet there is a tangible benefit to trying water, especially at the cask strength end of the spectrum.
Pricing has been on my mindset with this bottling. It is just 11 years old and is reaching towards £70 – I’d much prefer nearer £50 – yet, on the other, hand how many Glen Elgins do you see escaping the Diageo fortress nowadays?