Now in it’s 5th year, WhiskyBirmingham, run by The Birmingham Whisky Club, is always going to be close to our hearts. As paid members of The Birmingham Whisky Club we’re big fans of Amy, Craig and Vicky and know they never disappoint.
Situated in Digbeth, a 10-15min walk from Birmingham New Street Station, The Bond is a fantastic venue with plenty of both outdoor and indoor space.
Upon entry we found 25+ exhibitors spread between 2 exhibition halls and an outdoor marquee, 2 food vendors situated in the courtyard with a covered outdoor seating area and a VIP room with some special drams and a seating area to take a break in.
As we walked in we were greeted by Amy, founder of the Birmingham Whisky Club, with a complimentary nosing glass, dream dram tokens and programme each.
We made a beeline for the coat racks before passing the VIP room and heading into the smaller exhibition hall.
Stands for Kilchoman, Glenfarclas, Murray McDavid and a few others were there.
While Tom and Rob perused Murray McDavid’s stand I headed for the gentleman from Glenfarclas, eager to start my day with an old favourite.
Glenfarclas had brought all of their standard age statement expressions from the 30 year old down and only the 30 was a dream dram.
I knew what I was getting and dove straight into the 25 year old. The perfect beginning. Hugely sherried, yet gentle and soft at the same time.
Dram in hand I headed back over to the guys to see what Murray McDavid had brought along.
Tom had already alluded to their dream dram a day or two before and I already knew I would be partaking: a Bowmore 26 Year Old finished in a Chateau Latour Wine Cask.
I finished my Glenfarclas and gave both my glass and mouth a quick swish out with water. I then started with the mystery malt on offer, a Diun Laoch 11 year old before handing over a token and sampling the Bowmore.
It was special.
Wine cask finishes generally always surprise me, either for good or bad. This was a good surprise.
As we were all fairly familiar with the offerings of the other stands in the smaller hall we headed outside and into the marquee next.
Heading towards the Port Askaig and Elements of Islay stand, manned by the always friendly Mariella, I stopped off at Kneal’s Chocolates, manned by the proprietor himself, Neil Hughes.
I tried a few chocolates, including the Penderyn whisky festival exclusive, and had a good chat with Neil himself. He came across as a lovely guy, passionate about what he does and making some fantastic chocolates.
I caught up with the guys at the Askaig stand and after having a good chat we started sampling the drams including the fantastic Port Askaig 19 year old (smooth, well-balanced and complex) which we managed to try before anyone realised it was meant to be a dream dram.
I left the guys and moved down to one of my personal favourites, Nikka.
Already fairly familiar with their bottlings, this was more of an indulgence than anything and I enjoyed a few drops with the guy who I’m kind of familiar with from other festivals and always have a chat with but am yet to remember his name. I tried one expression that was new to me, the Coffey Grain Whisky (light, sweet and intriguing) and to be honest preferred it to the Coffey Malt, which is something I’m still kind of surprised about.
We reconvened and made our way into the main hall to be greeted with a familiar site – Colin Dunn.
Anyone who has been to a few whisky festivals in the UK will probably have met Colin at some time or another; the fantastically fun and passionate brand ambassador for Diageo. This time he was manning a Talisker only stand. We had a chat and tried the Port Ruighe and the Distillers’ Edition (which was amazing) and watched as Colin guided people through tasting their chosen Talisker dram, asked them to close their eyes to savour it and proceeded to pull out a megaphone and startle the bollocks off them. As I said, he’s a bit of a character.
While in the main hall we experienced the amazing Longmorn 25 (sugary, caramelised fruit and honey) at the Boutiquey stand, got to grips with some fantastic Glengoyne expressions and I finally found a few Highland Parks I enjoyed (specifically Dark Origins: Full sherry nose, full peat palate – like two different drams) along with a quick chat with Craig about Ardmore.
We made our way to the smaller hall again to grab a drop (and a couple more on the way) to accompany our cigars.
Glenfarclas 21 year old went lovely with my Romeo y Julieta No. 2 and even better with the bit of Tom’s Cohiba I tried.
The clock had escaped us and Tom was due in a masterclass.
Rob and I took the opportunity to hit the pizza stall in the courtyard, Peel & Stone. The queue was around 20 minutes and we chatted with a couple of other attendees as we waited, but good god was it worth the wait. After watching our food made, cooked and then covered in hot sauce we rtired to the VIP room to take a pew.
We took a drop of the GlenGoyne Cask Strength that was on offer in the room and took our seat.
Hot sauce and cask strength whisky make for an intersting, unrelenting combo.
As we were eating we struck up a conversation with a gentleman sat accross the table from us, who it turned out was actually an Irish whiskey blogger, Whiskey Nut who had messaged us on Twitter about hooking up at some point at the festival. We had a good chat about the day we’d been having, the state of the industry and the some of the problems with the more mainstream whisky blogs. During this time I procured a sample or two more of the Penderyn Cask Strength, the Paul John Peated and another GlenGoyne Cask Strength for good measure.
Suitablly replenished, we headed back into the main hall to try to find Tom. After sampling a few more drams, including the extra special Octomore OBA (Smoky, peaty, fiery butter-bomb) and the phenomenal Glengoyne 25 year old (OAK & SHERRY!!!) we located Tom with a group of guys he had met in the masterclass.
We tried a couple more drams, but by this point our tastebuds were deserting us and we knew that before long our wits would go the same way so these last few had better be awesome.
We remembered Mariella at the Port Askaig stand having 2 final drams that we had to try. They were well worth it; a Bunnahabhain Magdalene 12 year old (soft, briny with vaguely a nod to peat smoke) and a ridiculous Port Askaig 30 year old (smooth as silk with perfect salty peat).
We finished up, sat in the courtyard with a few guys from the club having a good laugh and finishing our drops.
Rob went and grabbed us tickets to the official after-party at The Anchor pub round the corner where we nipped briefly for a cider or two, a bite to eat and had a catch-up with Vicky and her husband Dan.
We had an absolutely fantastic day and Whisky Birmingham easily compares with some of the other big whisky festivals around. The atmosphere was friendlier and more conversational than any other festival I’ve been to and it was run and organised impeccably.
If I absolutely had to critique anything it would just be that a couple of the vendors refused to pour at least 20 mins before they were due to, with open bottles being packed away at the time of asking; it’s a sentiment that was shared by a few people we spoke to at the after-party – and it was vendors that you wouldn’t necessarily have expected it from. It’s also a shame that Diageo didn’t send a few bottles from other distilleries and that Hotel Du Vin/SMWS was a no show.
I’m not surprised in the slightest that the day sold out and the waitlist had to be closed
As it was my first year and I can’t speak from experience I can only hypothesise that previous years must have been almost or as good as this year’s and once you’ve been once you’ll go every year you can – I know I will.
Dram Order & Ratings
N.B. All ratings out of 10 except for where obvious, which conform to my usual system.
Glenfarclas 25 Year Old – 8
Diun Laoch 11 Year Old Murray McDavid – 6
Bowmore 26 Year Old 1989 Chateau Latour Cask Finish Murray McDavid
Incredibly soft and balanced. Wispy almost. Sweetness obviously and a little hint of peat.
Big, yet, mellow peat coming through with hints of sweetness and salty seaweed.
A huge explosive finish. A crescendo after the restraint of earlier.
A lovely dram that required more detailed tasting but would please most wine cask sceptics any day.
Port Askaig 19 Year Old – 7
Port Askaig 100 Proof – 7
Elements of Islay LG6 – 6
Nikka Coffey Grain – 7
Nikka Pure Malt – 5
Talisker Port Ruighe – 6
Talisker Distillers Edition – 8
Longmorn 25 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company) – 9
Glengoyne 21 Year Old – 9
Glengoyne Cask Strength – 8
Highland Park Dark Origin – 8
Highland Park 18 Year Old – 6
Highland Park 21 Year Old – 8
Hibiki Harmony – 7
Ardmore Port Cask Finish – 7
Penderyn Celt – 5
Glenfarclas 21 Year Old – 7
Paul John Peated – 6
Penderyn Cask Strength – 4
Bruichladdich Octomore OBA – 9
Glengoyne 25 Year Old- 9
Elements of Islay OC3 – 7
Elements of Islay PA30 – 8
Elements of Islay MA1 – 7
Kilchoman Quarter Cask – 6
Kilchoman Cask Strength – 7
Tamdhu Cask Strength – 6
- That Boutiquey Whisky Company Longmorn 25 year Old
- Glengoyne 25 Year Old
- Bruichladdich Octomore OBA
- Elements of Islay PA30
- Talisker Distillers’ Edition
- Highland Park Dark Origin