Whisky events come in all shapes and sizes, from small “private” tastings arranged by enthusiasts to huge events in massive venues such as the London Whisky Show put on by The Whisky Exchange. In between we have club events and more local festivals. It can be tricky to know if an event is worth attending before you go and well worth asking around to find out peoples’ opinions.
Some events are very commercial; these are often put on by events management companies and comprise the most mainstream of brands. Others, like the London Whisky Show, are huge affairs requiring some careful planning and organisation to get the most out of the experience, and to avoid leaving and finding out you missed something epic. Other shows such as Milan or Whiskybase are much more international affairs. The Old and Rare events are for the extreme whisky geeks, who will happily budget for these expensive events to compare and contrast some legendary unicorn whisky which is rarely seen, let alone available to taste.
I recently attended the inaugural Kendal Whisky Festival which ran between 3rd and 4th December. I’d travelled about four and a half hours to get there so made a weekend of it, staying locally and exploring some of the surrounding area.
The show was created by Phil Walker and Dave Pennington. I had met Phil through a mutual friend and online at the informal Bunnahabhain vpub zooms. I had heard the New Union bar in Kendal (that Phil runs) has a good selection of whisky, and the event fell close to my birthday, so everything seemed to come together.
The event was principally sponsored by Mackmyra distillery, who also put on an exclusive festival bottling. I tried this at the event but, sadly, it was an extremely limited release and had almost sold out. I think I had perhaps the last sample available, so do not have full notes to write up. This release was matured in a single bourbon quarter cask; I would say it was the tastiest Mackmyra I’ve come across, with the spirit unhindered by the creative cask weirdness the distillery is known for.
For an inaugural show the event was well attended by the industry with teams from Smokehead, Douglas Laing, Glenfiddich, Glengoyne, Speyside Distillery, Tamdhu, The Lakes, Laings Rum, Nikka, Waterford, Elixir, Kavalan, Michter’s, New York, Clonakilty, Port Askaig, Amrut, The English Whisky Co, Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Tobermory, Lindores, Jameson, The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Chivas, Balcones, Absolo, Morris Australian Single Malt, Uncle Nearest, Paul John, Wolfburn, Glen Scotia, Arran, Loch Lomond, Annadale Distillery, Kingsbarns, Cardrona, Eden Mill and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.
I would say these are all names that you would most likely come across at local whisky shows near to you, that in themselves might not prompt a trip as long as mine. However, there are a few things that set Kendal show apart and give me great hopes for the future. Firstly, the setting of the Lake District is beautiful and dramatic, which makes for great pre-whisky walks… but bring a raincoat.
The region’s culinary credentials are growing in no small part thanks to Simon Rogan. Phil Walker had recommended I visit the Henrock restaurant near Windemere and it certainly did not disappoint. As for the show itself: the vendors had mostly brought along a few treats for those who showed sufficient interest, and under the table drams elevated this from the more basic shows. There is always a plethora of new releases in the run up to Christmas, of which many were available to sample. Kendal itself is a small town and with the New Union offering both great service and an interesting whisky it became the default aprés-show venue for everyone. These factors combined to give a fantastic community feel to the event which I very much enjoyed.
In the end I didn’t make a plan to target particular distilleries, but instead I ran into Tom Jacklin who is a grand master of the whisky show. You can find him on Instagram at @whisky_shorts. Tom visited 50 distilleries this year, so he has all the patter. It was excellent to meet Tom in person and he showed me the ropes of negotiating whisky stands and finding out about the best drams to sample on the night. I certainly had a fantastic time and would recommend readers to seek out whisky shows near them, or other events further afield as a great way of exploring whisky.
I have selected 4 drams that stood out to me on the night, of which I was generously provided samples to write up some proper notes. These were not necessarily the best, and certainly there were many, many, more available that I did not get a chance to try, but these were drams that interested and surprised me.
Lindores Abbey Distillery The Casks of Lindores – Review
This batch release aims to represent the bourbon cask element within the signature single malt reviewed here and features the good old “hand selected” bourbon casks. This stood out to me as a fan of good bourbon matured whisky and a clean representation of the Lindores Abbey Spirit. 49.4% ABV. £55.
On the nose: Bright and fresh white fruits, grated ginger, pressed apple juice, a little bread dough, a slight prickle of malty spirit, slightly musty.
In the mouth: New make, porridge, wash, then hard white fruits, unripe pear, granny smith apples, white chocolate, a little mint, menthol, and oaky to finish. The finish is short, leaving a tingle of spirit on the tongue.
A significant step up on the inaugural release and some great casks brining along the spirit. Beyond its years? Perhaps a bit too far to say that, but a great drinker for its age.
Power’s Single Pot Still Irish Whisky Aged 12 Years – Review
I selected this because, although I have not delved particularly deeply into Irish Malt Whisky, the fruity triple distilled bourbon casks are a style that has worked really well for me in the past. This Powers whisky has a complex back story related to lost distilleries etc., but in reality it’s another brand distilled at the Middleton distillery. 46% ABV. £52. Image courtesy of Power’s
On the nose: Malty, hay, apricots and vanilla cream, orange sherbet, orange wine, pineapple, spun sugar, dry and dusty.
In the mouth: Balanced fruit, creamy mouthfeel, quite fiery and spicy on the middle palate with cask and spirit pepperiness working together, before dropping away and leaving more of the fruit and a rich fruity finish.
Not chill filtered but certainly a splash of colour added to this. I like the fruity nature of it and the orange notes. It’s fair value for money and a lovely everyday sipper.
Loch Lomond 12 Years Old – Review
This represents the first age statement of Loch Lomond after the NAS Original. It is presented at the same age as the Inchmurrin, which is a light fruity style and Inchmoan, which is peated distillate. Unlike the latter two, which are single distillate streams, the 12 is blend of distillates aged in bourbon, re-fill sherry and re-charred casks representing the skill of the master blender. 46% ABV. £35.
On the nose: Smooth sherry and gentle peat, rich dessert syrup, raspberries, gummy strawberries, dried ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon. Slightly ashy with a hint of leather.
In the mouth: Smooth and juicy, gentle wood spices, mesquite chilli, smooth and fruity again on the finish with some peat spice and cask giving a remarkably length of spirit for a whisky of this price.
One of the earlier drams I tried on the evening, and it certainly took me by surprise. There is a lot going on here. I am pleased that at the time of writing these notes I am still really salivating over this. I could compare this to McNair’s Lum Reek 12 year old blend at over £50, perhaps, to help demonstrate the value for money here. It says “Perfectly Balanced” on the bottle and it’s certainly a session whisky.
Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old Cask Strength – Review
I was very keen to try this as the Bunnahabhain 12 year old at 46% reviewed here is great. Could Bunnahabhain offer something really worth twice the money for a 9% more ABV? 55.1% ABV. £75.
On the nose: Rich sherry, oloroso casks bring sweetness but also depth with leather sofas, cigars, dates, baked figs with honey.
In the mouth: Big, sweet, then salty, dry baking spices, some white pepper, dried fruits again, more aged leather, some boot polish, a bit more salt on the dry oaky slightly bitter finish.
This is a big crowd pleaser of a sherry bomb, perhaps more simple than the core range 12 at 46%, but well executed and tasty. This resembles some sherried single casks that have been released by independent bottlers at a fraction of the price and certainly puts pressure on the ultra-premium priced warehouse 9 single casks.
Event photography reproduced with permission by Ian Wood Photography.