We are at an impasse. Literally. The train doors will not open. Pressing the shiny green button is entirely futile, the doors remain firmly closed. Half of our train will soon be speeding towards sunny Wolverhampton. The other half will remain fixed in Milton Keynes. We are currently located in the half that is a train to no-where. No-one wants to remain fixed in Milton Keynes. Being a seasoned train traveler I know for a fact that if the button doesn’t work it’s a simple matter to pull the doors open. They’re designed for this. In fact, there may even be a sticker on the doors advising you to do so. I try to gently encourage my friend to push on, lest we be left behind in Milton Keynes. “Fear not fellow traveler, these doors are designed to open with the merest of pulls, we shall soon be merrily on our way down the carriage”. That is what I say in my head. What comes out is nearer “lloooooookkkkk, jusssssssssss force the faaaaaaaking thinnnnng”. Robin is not convinced. He decides we need instead to exit the train, and re-enter further down. Cue a trainspotting style dash down the platform, only very slowly, and very wobbly. To think, just a few hours earlier I’d been on a different train full of such excitement…
I don’t care about Brora 2.0 because brora is shit, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot with no taste buds drinking the kool aid because Serge told them to. However, Port Ellen, is good. Really good. I’ve been lucky enough to try various expressions over the years and whilst it’s not always great when it is on, it’s seriously good.
Diageo have decided to create a brand new distillery on Islay, call it “Port Ellen” and hope nobody notices that its a completely different distillery. Just calling something the same name doesn’t make it the same. Trying to emulate something else doesn’t make it the same. Nothing about “Port Ellen” will be the same. Presumably they’re keeping the maltings so it won’t even be in the same place! What. The. Fuck.
“Hi, we’re diageo, we’re going to do a cheap knock off of our own product and hope no-one notices”. Surely this is a fake whisky too far.
Champagne has Clos De Mesnil. Burgundy has Romanee Contee. Islay has Port Ellen. Bourbon has Pappy Van Winkle. Producers that are stars, released in very limited quantities with bottles on the secondary market that change hands for more money than any liquid really has a right to do. Supply and demand determines that to get hold of pappy you either need to be extremely rich, or extremely lucky. Even for those lucky enough to get hold of a bottle at retail price, I wonder how many hold their nerve and open it rather than flip it. Fair play to those who do open and share them, you are very much whiskies good guys and I salute you.
People who say “age is but a number”:
1) NAS supporters
Am I equating NAS supporters with sexual predators? Yes. Yes I am.
In the world of wine you have this weird concept of the biodynamic calendar. It’s utter bullshit, but there are people who earnestly believe that some days are fruit days, and some days are root days. They say that on root days, nothing tastes good. On fruit days, everything is better. I’ve been to wine tastings where (whilst I believe this theory is bullshit) I kinda understood it. Stuff that should have been amazing just wasn’t. Today, possibly, was one of those days.
Think of a whisky snob. For me it conjures up a stuffy, plummy voiced person, bespoke Saville row suit (more Gieves and Hawkes than Kilgour), lots of rules about how you have to do this or do that, they’d probably tell you that if you put ice in your whisky they’ll kill you. They’d probably do something stupid like throw whisky on the floor to “season the glass”. They’d be Robert Paterson. How is he not treated as the clown of whisky? The Ronald McDonald of Dalmore? He gave himself a nickname of “The nose” for God sake. What more does it take?!
It’s three am. Dressed in a bright white blazer I am dancing, alone, on stage, at my local goth/biker bar, to 90s rock legends hole. I guess sometimes you just really need to celebrate!
I have a picture on my phone. It’s of me in an unknown location, wearing an unknown person’s glasses, looking miserable for an unknown reason. This can only mean one thing… Birmingham whisky festival 2017!
I hate innocent smoothies. A multi million pound company, owned by coca cola, with more sugar than coke, wants to be my mate. It wants to talk to me in cutesy cool lanugage. It tells shit Dad jokes and they wore thin years ago. If it was a person it would, without doubt, be a knob. So botiquey whisky company tread a fine line with me. They have cool comic style labels. Some work better than others, but it’s certainly a welcome change from all the standard gumpf we’ve seen a million times. They bottle in 50cl bottles, which is controversial. They say that they bottle mostly in very small amounts and the smaller bottle size enables them to release more bottles. I can understand that, and whilst it doesn’t sit perfectly well with me, I guess I understand that rationale. They also claim that they reduce the price to make up for the missing 20cl. I’ve not done masses of research but a quick search shows that their prices for 50cl are pretty much exactly the same as other independent bottling companies charge for 70 cl (independent arran 19 – botiquey: £77, single cask: £78, hunter laing: £78). So either that claim is bollocks or at 70 cl they’d be circa 30% more expensive than other companies. Are they worth the extra? Let’s find out…
Whisky festivals are without a doubt one of my favourite places in the world. Like a wedding with an exceptionally well stocked open bar, everyone is going to have a
great time. I’ve been to a fair few, learned some lessons (mostly the hard way) and have some advice: prepare, take notes, know your limits, experiment and have an
1) Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Anticipation is always a large part of any great experience. Depending on the festival in question you could have an idea of the distilleries/bottlers attending
(likely), the dream drams on offer (hopefully), and maybe even a full list of everything on show (only happened once to me, but gave me some of the best days of geeky
whisky planning of my life!). Personally I like to research to the nth degree on everything I can find out. I would suggest you at least have an idea of some stalls
that you really want to visit, and maybe a few that you will avoid. If you want to get geeky, write them down (see item 3: take note) so you don’t get carried away and
forget. One of joys of the internet is you can research what everyone’s core offerings are, what their latest releases are and anything new and limited they might
I try to plan my first 10 drams to the letter, then hit them (especially the dream drams) with military like precission. This is when my palate is at its best, my
faculties are mostly intact, and I’ve got the most energy and interest. Once I’ve hit those first few I know I can sit back and relax, the formalities are done, and
its time to have fun. My second ten-fifteen tend to be a bit more experimental, distilleries I’ve not tried before, stuff that people are talking about/recommending,
old favourites to check the current release, looking for a surprise. Finally my final five tend to be anything goes. Bourbon, blends i’ve had before, flavoured things,
rum, gin, anything I’m not going to have to think about or analyse too much, just for the joy of it.
2) Know your limits Continue reading Tom’s Guide To Whisky Festival Winning