Wherever my whisky life takes me, over land or sea or foam, the Midlands Whisky Festival will always hold a special place in my heart. Not only is it the first whisky festival I ever attended and the place where so much of my whisky education has taken place, but it also holds so many memories of good times and adventures with my friends. This year’s spring offering was arguably the best one yet, for many reasons, but mainly for a host of stunning drams at every turn. Below are my ten highlights, a list which took a lot of whittling down:
No. 10 – Deanston 40 Year Old.
When a £1000 40 year old comes in at number 10, you can begin to realise how good this event was. Even more ridiculous is the fact that I was given this dram in exchange for following their Twitter. Blogger’s blag? Right place, right time? Who gives a shit.
This dram is limited to only 480 bottles and finished in Oloroso sherry casks, two things that sounded like ‘special, special, special’ when translated into my language. However, it failed to stand up to other standard drams that I tried during the day, let alone the masterclass drams. Nevertheless, if someone bought me one as a present, I’d happily take it off their hands.
No. 9 – Planning.
Three days before the festival began, I received an email which stated all of the available drams, standard and dream. Whether the OCD influence of Rob W and Tom is beginning to rub off on me or not (I’m normally the ‘who cares?’ one), I’m not sure. What I do know is, I went to the festival armed with a plan! A hand-written, day divided into time slots – each with their own dram allocation, plan. I’ve never done this before, but it helped for two reasons: 1) My day was more organised, purposeful and I felt like I tried a lot more great whisky, and remembered it the next day, and 2) I was far less drunk than in previous years. I hereby swear to plan again.
No. 8 – Choice.
(Here comes the OCD again…) When I received the list, I marked all of my dream drams, then wrote a 1 (essential) and a 2 (would like to) next to each dram that took my fancy. I set a limit of 30 drams, including the 12 I had lined up in masterclasses. My 1s and 2s added up to 52…. There was so much choice at this festival. Not just plenty of choice, either, but a great choice of really great whisky. Drams which were dream drams at other festivals were standard drams here (OC3 Elements of Islay, for example). I’m already excited for the Autumn edition of the Midlands Whisky Festival.
No. 7 – Boutique-y Strathclyde 30 Year Old.
All grain whisky I have tried falls into two categories: overly sweet or tastes like licking damp wood. I’ve really wanted to find a grain whisky that I like for a while now, and this is it. My good friend Mike wanted an affordable 30 year old to buy for his brother’s 30th birthday, so we tried this and he bought one. For just over £100, this was a great buy. As you would expect with Boutique-y, the bottle looks great, the whisky takes great; if only it was 70cl!
No. 6 – Ardbeg 21.
The 10 is great. Uigeadail is one of my favourites. For me, other expressions I’ve tried have not lived up to the hype. Everyone seems to think they can do no wrong and every expression is seen as heaven’s nectar, but I just don’t think it’s all that. It’s alright. Credit to this 21 year old, though. It’s pretty special. Maybe the peat and buttery marzipan marriage enticed me more than anything I’ve tried of their’s before? This was a real gem though. More like this, please.
No. 5 – Boutique-y Glen Keith 24 Year Old.
What do Strathisla, Longmorn and Glen Keith have in common? They are three amazing products that blended into a shittier one. If I ever become a billionaire (ha!), I will buy Chivas, stop making sub-standard blends, and release only single malts. If you try this stunning expression from Boutique-y, you’ll understand. It’s so delicately floral, with subtle spice and nutty caramel. I’ve tried a few different drams from Glen Keith, normally independent bottlings, and they’ve all been amazing. This has joined that list.
No. 4 – Springbank 11 Year Old Local Barley.
My top three drams of last year were Glendronach Allardice, Lagavulin 18 Year Old Feis Ile and Springbank 16 Year Old Local Barley. I tried the latter at Whisky Birmingham 2016 and it blew my mind. When I heard about this year’s expression, I tried to buy a bottle, but failed miserably. So, when I saw that it was on the standard dram list, I made it my first dram of the day. Was it as good as the 16? Honestly, I don’t think you can compare the two. The 16 had a smoother, more complex palate, whereas the 11 is younger, bolder and packs more of a punch; think Dr Dre and Eminem, circa 2000.
Nevertheless, this is one of the best young whiskies I’ve ever tried, with a truly magical nose. If you get the chance, try it, before it enters the eternal auction loop.
No. 3 – Glenglassaugh 40 Year Old 1975 Rare Cask.
In January, I tried my first Glenglassaugh – an Octaves Peated. It was great. I was then told by Craig Mills that if I ever had the opportunity to try an old expression, I should. I saw the 40 year old on the dream dram list and made the decision to try it. When I walked to the stand, I saw this:
Look at the fucking colour of it!! I recently described myself as the Harvey Dent of whisky: sherry bomb to the left, peat fiend to the right. When I saw this, my left side fainted. Then I tried it. It was a true 5 out of 5. Everything I had hoped, and more. It was thick, stewed fruit, poured on dark chocolate cake, with treacle sauce and cream. Truly stunning.
No. 2 – Strathisla 50 Year Old 1957.
The other guys have already written about the Gordon and MacPhail masterclass: right whisky, wrong time etc. However, nothing could dim this shining light. I already mentioned my love for Strathisla and this was a once in a lifetime dram.
An overripe fruit bowl of a nose. Every sugary, soft fruit you can imagine. The palate with thick, sweet, dark honey and apricots. The finish was marmalade, long and sticky. Sometimes, you have to hold you hands up and say, “I know this is the pinnacle.” If only it had cherries in it….
No. 1 – Glenfarclas 40 Year Old 1976 Family Collector Series VI
I tried four 5 out of 5 whiskies at this festival (according to my notes….), but this was the one which sticks in my mind the most. For one reason: cherries. I love cherries, in any form. This dram was the one. My goal in life is to ensure that I have a bottle of this to open on my 40th birthday. I have 5 and a half years to save. Easy….
When the man who runs the distillery makes a whisky to celebrate his birthday, you know that it’s going to be great, and this is. The nose is ripe cherries and caramel. The palate is cherry bakewells with extra cherries. The finish is sweet, long and, you guessed it, more cherries. I know to some of you this sounds awful, but I don’t care. To me, it was perfection.