It was with a sense of great excitement that I made my way towards my first ever whisky show recently, when I attended the London Whisky Exchange Whisky Show. The day started well, when I met my fellow London Whisky Club members, Conor and Frankie, at the very front of the queue outside the Old Billingsgate venue in London, after Conor had efficiently arrived before anyone else. That’s dedication for you. Other LWC members that attended that day were Jason and Shiv, and James and Jez had been to the show over the weekend.
The day I attended was the Monday. The trade day. This meant that the crowds were slightly less busy, and the distilleries were perhaps able to be slightly more relaxed, but it also meant that a lot of the ‘dream drams’ were running low. With that in mind, Conor and myself went straight to the Craigellachie stand, where we are able to try a dram of the Craigellachie 31. I had heard how amazing the 33 yr old was, but there wasn’t any of that left for sharing, but you can’t complain when the substitute is a 31 yr old Craigellachie! An incredible start to the day and we wondered how on earth we were going to follow that up.
As I mentioned, this was my first every whisky show, and I just started by wandering round like a kid in a candy shop. Pretty much every whisky brand and distillery you could think of was here. The range of whiskies available to drink was very impressive. Over 600 I believe. A huge number from Scotland of course but an impressive range of world whiskies represented too such as from Japan, India, USA, England, Wales, Ireland, Switzerland, Australia and many more.
One thing that struck me was the number of new or very young distilleries, and as you can imagine they were very eager to engage and chat. In particular I had a number of very interesting conversations with several new English distilleries such as Cotswolds, Lakes Distillery and The English Distillery. All of them doing some very interesting offerings and expressions. I had a long chat with the very friendly people from the Cotswolds distillery who let me taste their very distinctive and delicious new make spirit. I also had a good chat with the people representing Loch Lomond & Glen Scotia, and also with Starward from Australia. It was fascinating talking with Starward actually as I learnt a lot about how the whole process of maturation in Australia (as in other places such as India and the US) is radically different due to the heavier extremes of weather. Age is looked upon very differently there, compared to Scotland. Too many years in the cask means that the liquid becomes too woody. But as well as that, the angel’s share evaporation acts very differently and often the casks actually become stronger in ABV over time as the water evaporates rather than the alcohol. I hadn’t come across that yet in my whisky studies and it was good to learn these things first hand from someone from that region. Everyone was extremely friendly and there was a great atmosphere all round. And it wasn’t just sales staff that were down attending the show. There were several recognisable faces either working or walking around the show, who were freely available to talk to. Names such as Dave Broom the writer, Colin Dunn from Diageo, and I also got to shake hands with the owner of Kilchoman, Anthony Wills.
I spent a fair chunk of the day with fellow London Whisky Club member Shiv at the Diageo stand. He’s a big Talisker fan and we managed to taste the Talisker 40. How do you follow that up? Well by heading over for a Port Askaig 45 of course. Interestingly I think the highlight drink for us that day was actually a new Talisker 8. Lovely stuff. Just some of the other whiskies I tried, that might not have been mentioned above, included expressions from Kilchoman, Glen Scotia, Kavalan, Starward, Langatun, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain, The Balvenie, Compass Box, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and more.
One of the biggest challenges at a show like this is deciding what to prioritise in the short time you have there, whilst also not letting the whisky go to your head. There are spittoons everywhere you can discard any whisky that you don’t want and there is plenty of water too, to let you be sensible as you plough through the whisky tasting.
The bottom line is that during the day I did not have one bad whisky. On the contrary, they were all delicious, with some real standouts. One of the best parts of the show was a tiny little stand upstairs that had some special show bottlings. I spent quite a while there because they had such beauties as a Linkwood 27, Tamnavulin 25, Imperial 22, Benriach 28 and more.
To top the day off, when there was less than 2mins left before ‘last pour’ I popped round to the Bunnahabhain stand where they had about half a dram left of the Bunnahabhain Moine Bordeaux 62.6% and they let me finish it off direct from the bottle. A very cool, and delicious, way to the end the day.
All in all a fantastic event and one I will greatly look forward to next year. Well done to everyone from the Whisky Exchange who put the show on.