The Midlands Whisky Fest! in Stratford had been in our diaries for some time, and it was with a great sense of excitment and expectation that we set off for our second experience of the event run by the Whisky Lounge and Vinology!
The last time we were in Stratford together, we took part in April’s Stratford Half Marathon, the wettest and windiest 13.2 miles we have ever ran; it was with the same ethos of preparation that we readied ourselves for a marathon of whisky tasting yesterday!
We started with a hearty breakfast, packed our bags with bottled water, notepads and pens, and planned how we would attack the event. There were to be some 16 exhibitors, with around 160 whiskies on offer; we would be spoilt for choice! We were also hoping to meet and spend some time with fellow bloggers and industry ambassadors.
Our first port of call was to see John McCheyne, brand ambassador for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, who Jon had met the previous evening during the SMWS Preview night. Jon had had the luxury of trying four amazing whiskies from the SMWS range, including a 15 yo Caol Ila, the delicious and smoky ‘Rennies by a Smoky Fire’ (!) 53.160, and spent a good hour and a half with the engaging and enthusiastic John Mc. While we shared a superbly figgy Glen Moray 10, we also finally met Dave Worthington of @WhiskyDiscovery fame and his daughter, Kat Presley. We’ve been conversing with Dave via twitter for some time, and have always been keen to read his latest blog posts, so it was great to meet him in the person and share a few of his latest discoveries live! We also met up with Amy Seton of the Birmingham Whisky Tasting Club, aka @TheWhiskyMiss.Our next stop was to the Inverhouse Distilleries stand, featuring Balblair, anCnoc and Old Pultney, which was manned by Lucas Dynowiak from the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. We had the Old Pultney 21 on our wish list for the day, especially as it was crowned ‘World Whisky of the Year’ by Jim Murray in the Whisky Bible 2012. We will review properly in the coming weeks, but we also tried the sweet and honied Old Pultney 17 , and the Balblairs 1978 and 2001. The 2001 was fruity, light and smooth; a great sharing whisky for summer camping and is now in the LivingRoom Whisky cabinet!
Then, the main event, a masterclass with the brilliant and charismatic reserve brands ambassador for Diageo, Colin Dunn. We’re big fans of Colin, who for me, is a blend of 90s children’s TV legend Johnny Ball and Hollywood maverick Jack Nicholson; entertainer, teacher, enthusiast, and brilliantly unpredictable. Colin is a fantastic story teller who brought the eclectic collection of whisky before us to life with tales of his 1960s childhood experiences in Cornwall and his extensive knowledge of smells and tastes of global cuisine. His masterclass was entitled ‘The Magnificent Seven’ and, oh boy! Was it ever!
First we were treated to the Cardhu 12, a long, peppery, sweet dram, which gave scents of chocolate, raisin and honey on the nose and pinging pear and apple sharpeness on the palate. Enjoyable, one for a warm summer’s evening over ice.
Next was a whisky that was also a pre-Fest must try, the Talisker 57 North. This was at a cask strength of 57.1% and was named after the distillery’s latitudinal postition. The creamy vanilla and smoky sea salt on the nose does nothing to prepare you for the palate to come! It’s fiery hot chilli and pepper! Outstanding! This quickly became one of my favourites of the day. Colin, a lover of matching whisky and food, suggested oysters, sushi or Roqcuefort cheese with the Talisker 57. This will definitely be on my ‘birthday wish list’!
The smoky, sherried Singleton 15 was the next of the ‘7’. This was fruity and rich, with fig roll, raisin, honey and dark chocolate nosing predominantly.
Then onto the Oban 1995 Distiller’s Edition which had been finished in Fino Sherry casks. On the nose was sweet citrus, with fresh Seville oranges and lemon and later some dark chocolate and salt appeared too. To taste, this was light and creamy, with more lemon, orange and salt. Colin recommended this dram lightly chilled and who are we to argue!
With Colin, we also tried a sweet and fruity Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition, a beautiful Caol Ila 12, the whisky that ignited this passion for me in the first place and a Special Release of the Laguvulin 12, which was big, peaty and sweet – everything you would want from a Lagavulin.
A masterclass with Colin Dunn has been a memorable and enjoyable experience twice now, and Jon hopes to catch up with him again on Islay, at the Feis Isle next week!
We were back in the main room with half an hour or so before a masterclass with Whisky Lounge Founder and whisky evangelist Eddie Ludlow, so we headed over to the Berry Brothers and Rudd stand to try a 2000 MacDuff recommended by their whisky ambassador Rob Whitehead via the twittersphere. It was dark in colour, with white chocolate, white fish and smoke on the nose. It had a cloying, sticky palate with licorice, chocolate and smoke. Lovely, a good recommendation! We also tried their creamy 1982 Inchgower 29, which had notes of oak, pear and lemon.
Later, we had a chat with Andrew Nelstrop, Managing Director of the English Whisky Company over a glass of their St George’s Diamond Jubilee Commemorative Whisky release. It was delightfully balanced, sweetly honeied, floral and fruity.
We were then onto our second masterclass of the day! We were treated to a session with Eddie Ludlow, founder of TWL, featuring their own Whisky Lounge Cask 3 Series. Of these, one of our favourites was a 21 year old Bunnahabain, bottled from a single Olorosso sherry cask this year. It was a wonderful dark reddish hue, with sherry, brown sugar and leather on the nose. The palate was rich, meaty and sticky with hints of truffle, blackcurrant and sulphur. Although the finish was surprisingly short, again it was rich with dark chocolate. After several other stunning drams, we headed back into the main room for our last few stops as the end of the event quietly crept up on us.
While Jon was back at the SMWS stand, I had a quick chat with Ashok Chokalingam, International Sales ambassador for Amrut Distilleries over a glass of the highly rated Fusion. A new one for me which I found incrdibly pleasing, it was spicy, fruity and wonderfully long, with oak, nut and smoke coming through in the finish!
All in all, we had a brilliant time at the Midlands Whisky Fest! Another highly successful event by the Whisky Lounge. It was great to meet some fantastic people, and to share in our common passion for whisky. I’m sure we’ll be there again next year! Coming?!