• cthulhu303 over 4 years ago

    Completely unaware it was taking place as late as a week before, then got a chance to buy half-price tickets the day before. It was within walking distance, so it seemed rude not to seize the opportunity. There were free tickets on offer later on, but they involved travelling to a venue on the Friday night, which was not an option anyway.
    To the Artillery we went, then. No queue, no real control either -- the guy at the entrance vaguely checked my confirmation email on my phone, then we were in. Not too crowded at 12:45.

    First stop: the SMWS.
    We have missed the early-bird preview tasting a couple of days ago and are very curious to know what is in the April outturn. No chance: nothing from the new outturn is on offer. The girl is excited about the "new" Rosebank (and rightly so), but we have a couple of bottles already. No one seems to know what is coming up. We settle for a Littlemill, which we have had before (and own), yet have not had in a while. Still good. Grassier than in my memory.

    Second stop: Diageo.
    Not much, really: only their entry-level fodder. I try the Singleton of Dufftown out of curiosity and as a first Dufftown: meh.
    The guy behind the counter has us sign up for the newsletter: the idea is to give us a card so we can access the Friends of the Classic Malts room upstairs.

    Third stop: Berry Brothers.
    I have visited their shop a week ago, so am sort of looking forward to trying more of their new bottlings. Disappointingly, out of ten bottles, seven or eight are from Islay. Talk about variety.
    I try their Girvan cask 35732, which is merely good. Mine is a lot better. With water, it becomes smoother and more agreeable.
    noizaddict goes for a Cragganmore 2000: meh. Not terrible, yet the Adelphi we tried recently was ten times better.

    While there, the Cadenhead guy and I exchange a hello: he is on the phone, then I never have a chance to talk to him again. Bah.

    Next stop: The Whisky Exchange.
    Nothing special: only a shop stall is there, no tasting. Sukhinder goes from stall to stall, presumably in search of the ultimate Whisky Live dram. O tells me about A's new status (best wishes -- how the hell did that happen?) and that he has not had anything yet. We decide to go upstairs together.

    Friends of the Classic Malts:
    There we are, with access to six drams between the two of us (O is working, so he can get anything he wants).
    Colin Dunn is in full one-man-show mode (does he ever get out of it?), amusing the attendance with many an anecdote. noiz has a Rosebank 21, of course: honeysuckle, barley, condom lubricant, fresh grain.
    Between Port Dundas 20, Dufftown 18, Talisker 25, 30, Caol Ila and Lagavulin 12 everyone is attracted to the Taliskers. Unsurprisingly. Good thing there is no Brora or Port Ellen. :-)
    I go for a Dufftown again: more sherried and ten times better than the 12 (obviously). Fuller and more refined, with vanilla and chocolate cake.
    Then I settle for a Port Dundas to accompany my lunch: varnish. Wood. Nice. Quite similar to my 17 year-old, in fact, even a little less to my taste. Good: it means I will not buy one.

    Lunch in the great hall is welcome. The room itself is as formal and full of pomp as Vinopolis was informal and working class. Very different aspects of a bygone era, both enjoyable. The food is ok, though the peas are undercooked (English style, innit) and the meringue dessert is really not all that.

    After lunch, we decide to go for another at FotCM before the bottles are empty.
    noizaddict goes for the same Rosebank (you know, just to be sure). I have no idea what to take and ask Colin for advice, based on what I have had and what I do not want to try: he pours me the Caol Ila, which I finally notice is unpeated (and goes into JW Black). I find it very peppery and interesting enough.
    I jokingly ask if he has any Manager's Dram, this time, but he does not, naturally. He goes on to talk a bit about the Sherried Heaven master class in October. I ask him how he comes up with his hilarious one-liners when noizaddict inquires whether he remembers the obnoxious American guy at that particular tasting. Colin says he does and he got in trouble for how he dealt with the situation, because some blogger reported the "incident", not understanding it was all in good humour...
    It turns out I am that blogger.
    Initially, I am flattered someone as established and well-respected as Mr. Dunn has read my drivel. Then I am confused about the aftermath: I really thought I made it clear the whole episode had been in good spirit (if a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course). If someone read it as a nasty come-back from Colin to a lost soul, or a mockery, then it is a misunderstanding.
    In any case, I am happy it gave us an opportunity to spend a few moments with the lovely character.

    Back downstairs, we stop at Compass Box for a dram of the Artist's Blend, that everyone still calls Great King Street. noiz likes it enough, I believe.

    The cocktail bar is our following destination. No idea what noiz has. I pass and head to the Whisky Mag stand:
    Imperial 10: vanilla, goodness, great. I prefer mine, therefore refrain from buying this one, though.

    The SMWS staff is free-ish, we chat a little. Still no useful information regarding the new outturn (a Caol Ila, a Laphroaig, ... as every month!) Argh.

    Next stop: Bowmore.
    Tempest Batch 3: very nice and lemony. Looking forward to trying it with the first batches.
    Quick discussion about how the old Darkest was a million times better than the current one: "the recipe has not changed, it is the same." Yeah, right. That is why they now print the age on the label, I am sure.

    Diageo again:
    Cragganmore Double Matured: never had that one before. It is OK, cannot really taste it. Surely, the FotCM I had last week was better, as was last month's Adelphi.

    At last. The guy from the shop is not there to talk about the recent Lochside, but I will try something all the same. They do not seem to have any Cadenhead bottling, only Springbank. Having never had a Hazelburn before, I correct that with their 12 year-old, which is good. Hazelnut? Probably name suggestion.

    The clock is ticking and we have plans. We decide to take a final stop at FotCM to try... the Rosebank again.
    Donald Coleville is now at the door -- I have never met him before, but funnily got his newsletter the day before and recognise him. They are about to close; he allows me in. Just about. By the time I am near the bottles, they do not serve anymore. I am pissed off. Donald will not take bribes either. Ah, well.

    Final stop: Diageo again.
    Dunn is now downstairs and as alarmed as we are by the overcrowding in the FotCM room. I fetch him a dram of Bowmore Tempest, then bid good bye and off we go.

    Conclusion: meh.
    The biggest, most important festival of the year everywhere in the world is now the least interesting and the most mainstream (which go hand in hand). Not one exhibitor seemed to have anything really out of the ordinary to offer -- only entry-level stuff. Sure, Ardbeg Ten and Dalwhinnie Double Matured are good drams; simply, we seem to have outgrown those many years ago. No need to go to a festival to try them: they are available at the supermarket. As much as I understand the motive (present whisky to novice consumers), it seems obvious we are not the targetted market anymore. Well glad we did not go the last five or six editions, then.
    It was not exactly cheap. Half the price of the Whisky Show, yet the offer was far less interesting. Also, the drinks were served in exchange of vouchers, which is a system I am not familiar or comfortable with. There were definitely enough for us, though I can see it being potentially frustrating, in theory -- the people at the stalls told us we could have as many as we want, though they had to be seen cashing the coupons every now and then. Not every stand really operated the system very carefully. :)
    Relatively few independent bottlers were present, and those who were all have a shop in London, so we knew their range too.
    Most importantly, more and more have given up sending real whisky people and reckon it is sufficient to place a few good looking girls and suited boys to man the counter. I personally find it a bit insulting: what? is whisky tasting now akin to going down the local on a Saturday night to have a drink and chat up the overly made-up cutie in the mini-skirt?

    Good thing it was half-price and close by.

    Having said that, it was still bags of fun. Had a chance to try some lesser accessible Diageo bottlings and spend a lot of time socialising.

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