The Whisky Show is the event of the year for enthusiasts, professionals and trade buyers, bringing together some of the finest whiskies from around the world. But if you are not a keen whisky drinker, or haven't explored the options, then The Whisky Show is also the perfect place to discover some of the finest drams the world has to offer. There is no need to feel out of your depth, and there are no silly questions because the onus is on education and exploration, with exhibitors keen to share their knowledge and produce.
As a brandy lover, a rum enthusiast and a gin girl, when it comes to whisky, it is not often at the top of my list. And when we first started reviewing The Whisky Show a few years back, it was Andy who eagerly awaited the date, with me just tagging along for the company. I didn't expect to be converted or to discover brands and drams that I absolutely would give shelf room to, along with beer, gin and cheese!
Once we got to the show, the first stop this year was straight over to the Tomatin stand. In January we went on a tour of the distillery in Scotland. I poured my own bottle at the time to bring home, and only opened it last week. So with Tomatin still very much on our taste buds, we naturally wanted to see what they had to offer first. And I think we may have peaked way too early on this, because the Tomatin Limited Edition 1972 from the Warehouse 6 Collection is breathtaking. It comes with a substantial price tag in excess of £2000 but the taste is certainly a reflection on the price, and this is probably one of the most exceptional drams I have ever tried.
Following Tomatin, we were off to explore The Dalmore; the first whisky I found to my taste all those years ago at the first show we went to. The Dalmore 15 has a place in my drinks cabinet at home, and the Cigar would too if I still smoked. However, having tried the limited edition Quintessence, I believe my taste in whisky has expanded. The Quintessence combines whisky matured in bourbon casks, finished in five different types of Californian red-wine cask: Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Pinot Noir. At around £800+ it isn't cheap, but it is a drink to be savoured, respected and, most of all, enjoyed.
It is not often that Andy and I agree on whisky, as he likes the heavily peated options, while I go for sherry cask varieties. A few years ago on a visit to show we both found a balance in a Balvenie - but neither of us could remember which one. This year, thanks to Alwynne Gwilt (William Grant & Sons) we have discovered it is the Balvenie Doublewood 17. Another to add to the collection and a great choice for us as it means we get to share.
For a little creme bruleé in a glass I can completely recommend giving Brenne a try. This french single malt whisky is a fabulous options for anyone who still thinks that they don't like whisky, because it does a great job of impersonating a liqueur. It is smooth, can be taken straight and I really do think it is another favourite find - as I absolutely love creme bruleé! Black Bottle was a very affordable surprise, and not a bad choice if you are looking to dip in to a whisky when you are unsure of your taste. It won't break the bank, is inoffensive and makes it over ice, as a long drink, or in a cocktail.
The Octomore 8.3 is one of Bruichladdich's 'super heavily peated' whiskies, and brought a smile to Andy's face. He absolutely loves this and has a bottle of Octomore unopened from last year's show. The Nikka 12 is another of Andy's favourites, and since his bottle at home was approaching its last pour, he popped one in his bag from the shop on the way out at closing.
When it comes to spirit pairings you can get the most amazing results from flavours you would not select alone. Personally, blue cheese and Ardbeg would not be on my list to try individually, but in 2013 when they were paired together the result was eye-opening.
This year the surprise pairing again involved blue cheese, but this time it was paired with Ola Dubh beer, from Harviestoun Brewery. If I haven't said it enough already, blue cheese is a 'no-no' on its own for me, but when paired with the right product you really do have something noteworthy to appreciate. One we will be looking at for a future Discover Cacao chocolate pairing is the The Penderyn Portwood because again, it works! We were delighted to see Mikaela on the Cannon and Cannon stand. After sampling a meat mix we selected a bit of everything to take home, including Jerky, Bultong and Chorizo. This really is charcuterie at its best.
Along with food pairings, The Whisky Show also offers some additional spirits in to the mix. Nikka Coffey Gin has taken our top spot for gin so far this year, knocking Sipsmith off the leaderboard, and jumping ahead of the Six O'clock Brunel Edition. The Mikka gin works straight out of the bottle and when it goes on sale this coming Monday 9th it will be our must-have buy.
Hopefully we have encouraged you to be a bit more adventurous in exploring the world of whisky, even booking tickets for The Whisky Show in 2018. But if having tried you still believe there isn't a whisky for you, then take heart, for next weekend (14/15 Oct) brings not only The Chocolate Show to Olympia, but The RumFest UK to the ILEC Conference Centre. And there is still time to get tickets for both!