Sometimes, it’s good to spread your wings. Most of my whisky friends live close to me and most of the tastings I go to are in Birmingham or Stourbridge. So, when I noticed Stoke Whisky Festival on the internet, I thought, “Hell, why not?”
An hour’s train journey with my two compadres took me to Stoke Town Hall, with the promise of ‘around 100 whiskies’ and a whisky masterclass with the infamous Colin Dunn.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve taken to planning my festival time a lot more. The festival was four hours long, so I’d planned for half the stands in the first hour, then the masterclass, followed by lunch and the the final half of the stands in the final hour. Unfortunately, Colin had injured himself the night before (falling over and injuring his already injured knee, whilst at a whisky tasting….), so the masterclass was cancelled. It was difficult to hide my disappointment, and my head was scrambled because my meticulous plans were now foiled. I needed to regroup, so I went straight for a whisky.
First stop was Bunnahabhain. Despite having the Moine Oloroso listed, and for sale in the festival shop, they didn’t have it on the stand. Second slap in the face in five minutes. Nevertheless, I got to try the new expression: Stiùireadair. Internet rumours suggest it will replace the 12 year old as the entry level, leading to a price rise – or even replace the 12 year old completely!!! I hope neither is the case, as it is simply an inferior product. The 12 year old is in my top five, pound for pound whiskies and to lose it would be a bad move – almost as bad as the colour co-ordinated rebranding that the distillery is going through at present. When your whisky is consistently good, why worry about the packaging?? Before moving on, I grabbed a Ledaig Marsala finish, which was a beautiful mix of salted caramel and smoke.
Next stop was That Boutique Whisky Company (well, it was Adnams, but their single malt was so bad….), which is always one of my favourite stands at any festival. This time, the range was pretty limited, with the two standout drams being the 23 year old blend (in my top 5 below) and the Secret Distillery 1 9 year old batch 2 (a Glenfarclas). I really liked the Secret Distillery expression, a real young sherry bomb. If it were priced a little better, I would have purchased one there and then.
Hunter Laing was stop three, and they had a varied range of First Editions and Old Malt Cask expressions.
The Arran 18 year old and Blair Athol 21 year old were both great drams, with contrasting characteristics. The sherried Blair Athol, with a palate of Nutella on malt loaf, just stuck its nose in front. They also had a stunning Craigellachie (see below). I find indie Craigellachies to be incredibly complex; drams to sit and think about, and this was no exception.
Final stop before lunch was Claxton’s, under the brilliant stewardship of family member Adrian Hoose. Feeling a little light headed by this point, there was simply too much to choose from, so I stuck to familiar friends:
a 19 year old Benrinnes, with all the familiar Benrinnes botanicals added to a vanilla bourbon influence and a stunning Bunnhabhain 14 year old (see below). After a good chat with Adrian, about whisky and garden sheds, he let us sample a now unavailable 19 year old Glenrothes. Indie sherried Glenrothes expressions are up there with my favourite sherried whiskies, right now, and this one was no exception. Christmas cake in a glass.
Determined to not end up like this guy:
we decided to head for lunch. A quick trip to the chippy later and we were back to finish off the second half of the stands.
From here on in, my notes become a little vague – resembling the squiggles of a slightly inebriated man. I tried some great Arran expressions, the standout being Amarone Cask Finish. I tried (again) a range of Glengoyne expressions, from 15 to 21, and the brilliant Cask Strength Batch 4 (see below). Final stop of the afternoon was Elements of Islay/Port Askaig, where I tried the Port Askaig 15 Sherry Cask, which I had been waiting eagerly to try and remember being immensely disappointed. I was really hoping this would compete with the Moine Oloroso, which is head and shoulders my favourite sherry/peat combo of the year so far, but it wasn’t even close.
All that was left to do now was collect a few samples of my favourite drinks of the day, to taste again whilst writing this, so I could actually remember them. Despite the early disappointment of the cancelled masterclass, Stoke Whisky Festival was a great day out and will be a definite addition to the calendar next year.
Top 5 Whiskies of the Festival:
Vanilla, pineapple, apricots and cream.
Nuts – pecans in caramel, thick and oily.
Warm and sweet, hot fudge sauce, long and lingering.
Sherry, but with a salty twang.
Apple and blackberry pie, with a salted caramel sauce.
Long, dry, mocha.
Toffee apples and orange marmalade.
Sesame Rivita and tomato relish.
Whisky 4: Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 4 58.8%
90s biscuit collections – fig rolls.
Chocolate covered raisins, candied oranges.
Cinnamon buns and white pepper.
Whisky 5: AR6 Elements of Islay 55.7%
Iodine and vanilla ice cream.
Portuguese custard tarts and peat.
Long, with BBQ fish and burnt charcoal.