Whisky Birmingham: the first big whisky event in my calendar this year. Despite drinking whisky for a few years now, last year was my first time at Whisky Birmingham. Not only did I love it enough to return this year (despite being “hungover as fuck”, as Tomasz reminded me on Saturday), but it also convinced my to join The Birmingham Whisky Club and take whisky a lot more seriously. Needless to say, I had another great time this year. So, obligatory waffle over; here are my top ten highlights of this year’s festival:
No. 10 – Organisation.
I fucking hate a queue. Everyone does. So when you arrive at a venue, in your big coat, during an unexpected March mini-heatwave, you want to be in and settled as soon as possible. Entry into the venue took all of five minutes. Time was allocated pre-opening for people to enter, before the festival opened. This staggered opening clearly worked and, coupled with a quick scan of a QR code, I was in and on my first dram in a flash. Great work, Amy et al.
No. 9 – Venue.
When you’re out of your big coat and the March mini-heatwave is in full swing, you can’t beat The Bond. I’ve been here a few times and I love the place. Spreading everyone out over a number of different rooms, with the added addition of the marquee, gave the festival a much more relaxed feel – particularly during the first hour of V.I.P./member time. Furthermore, who doesn’t want to be sat on a haystack, smoking a Montecristo, drinking a 25 year old Glengoyne, in the sunshine?
No. 8 – Boutique-y.
I love everything about this independent bottler. Their brand ambassadors are awesome and their whisky is always as great as it is obscure. You always know, whatever line-up they bring, that you’re going to try something great, and have some great whisky banter. Their current Longmorn offering was in attendance on Saturday and it was a real treat. While I’m not as big a fan of this distillery as t’other Rob, I really enjoyed this dram.
No. 7 – After Party.
Every festival we ever go to, we finish up believing we’ve not drunk enough and in desperate need to go elsewhere. This year, the hassle was taken out of our hands with the Whisky Birmingham after party at The Anchor in Digbeth. Curry, beer and great times with fellow club members Dave and Jason. A fitting end to a great day.
No. 6 – Colin Dunn.
There are times in your life when you meet men who you want to be when you grow up. Jay Pritchett. ‘Red’ Forman. Larry David. Colin Dunn. Every tasting or festival I’ve seen him perform at (because he does perform; there’s no other way to describe it), he’s just fascinating to watch. Last April, at the Friday night session of a different whisky festival, Colin performed his (what I now know to be infamous) Talisker 57 Degrees North trick on my friend. He instantly went to the Whisky Exchange stall and bought a bottle. When I arrived at the Diageo stand on Saturday, Colin had three innocent men totally transfixed by the same trick. He gave me a telling wink. Legend.
No. 5 – Peel & Stone.
You cannot drink whisky for six hours without eating. My preference: carbs. My Peel & Stone pizza was truly something else. Anchovy oil + hot sauce = taste sensation.
No. 4 – V.I.P./Members Room.
Sometimes, you need five minutes. So, when you have to take five minutes, why not take it in a small, quiet room, with like-minded whisky fans and five great drams for when you’ve cleared your head? This was a great edition to the festival this year. Furthermore, while hiding away and catching my second wind, I also had chance to catch up with fellow Irish blogger Whisky Nut – a great guy with an immense knowledge of all things whisky. I thoroughly recommend checking out his blog and, If you’re reading this Whisky Nut, I totally intend to take you up on your offer to take me round some great Dublin bars before the year’s out.
No. 3 – Elements of Islay.
If you want great whisky banter, great Islay whisky and passion and knowledge about a brand, visit Mariella. I’m yet to try an Elements of Islay or Port Askaig dram that I didn’t like. Mariella treated us to some great whiskies this time round. The Lg6 was a young Lagavulin which tasted like no other Lagavulin I’ve tried. This should make me hate it, but I loved it. Port Askaig 19 was awesome. I’d previously tried a 16 and 17 year old, both of which were subtle, sweet and smokey – a great package in my eyes. The 19 was a continuation of this theme and really had me hooked. A purchase is on the cards. Then, upon returning to the stand later in the day, I was treated to two further drams: Port Askaig 30 and Oc3. The 30 year old should have blown me away, but if I’m honest, the 19 was better. The Octomore was an incredible beast. Supposedly containing whisky from ex-wine casks, it really had a fruity depth which I’d not gotten from any Octomores I’d tried previoulsy. A wonderful treat. Thanks, Mariella!
No. 2 – Highland Laird.
For me, the highlight of any whisky festival is coming across a stand you’ve never seen before, totally buying in to what they’re about, and finding their whisky incredible. Highland Laird were the surprise package of Whisky Birmingham. Family members of the company on the stand, who are knowledgeable and passionate about the brand, really helps to create an experience. Then, they provide you with a single cask Port Charlotte which was complex and ticked all of my boxes and a Glenturret which had more honey than Winnie the Pooh! To top it all off, three of their bottles were sub-60 quid. Great value.
No. 1 – Octomore OBA
It’s a whisky festival, so a whisky should be number 1, right? What a whisky. The Oc3 was great, but this was whisky on a different level. Apparently, it’s sold out everywhere (3000 bottles, available for April pre-order, gone already…) If you get a chance to try this, take it with both hands. Despite their ‘most peated ever’ claim, I didn’t get that from this dram. What I got was smoke, caramel, rich stewed fruits, honey, the most magical slice of cake you’ve ever tried, with Islay icing. I shared my dream dram of this with a total stranger, because I was so desperate to let someone else try it, so I could talk to them about how amazing it was. I do this quite a lot, so if you’re at a festival, come and find me.