It came as a bit of a surprise when I received an invitation for this year’s Whisky Show organized by The Whisky Exchange at Vinopolis in London. Even though it was not quite easy to fit this into my schedule, I decided to accept anyway.
In 2009 and 2010 TWE had organized a Whisky Show in conjunction with GW Publishing, but this year they decided to do it on their own. The show took place on 7th and 8th October 2011 at Vinopolis in Southwark, close to London Bridge Station and right next to their shop. I visited on Friday the 7th. Vinopolis is basically a commerical wine education centre offering guided tours and tastings, but The Whisky Exchange has found shelter here too under the brick arches of a former railway viaduct.
But before we enter the show itself, the neighbourhood deserves a special mention. Right next is the amazing Borough Market, offering a wide range of British and international delicacies of the highest quality, and nearby the reconstructed Golden Hinde of Sir Francis Drake adds a bit of harbour atmosphere.
The show itself was located in two big rooms containing the stands of the whisky producers. The upstairs featured a ‘Show Brasserie’ offering a selection of dishes created by Martine Nouet and an area dedicated to whisky and food pairing (again conceived by Martine Nouet), whisky cocktails and an SMWS lounge.
Tickets were priced at £95 which is not exactly cheap, but the concept of the show made it possible to get your money’s worth. Two food courses were included in the ticket price as well as two tokens for ‘Dream Drams’ with a retail price of £1000 per bottle or more. And many stands had bottles in the three digit price range available for free pour. But with pours being limited to only 1cl careful planning ahead still is needed to get the most out the entrance fee whilst staying reasonably inebriated. A range of high profile masterlasses rounded off the programme, but these had to be booked separately and were priced between £25 and £55.
Events like this are of course always opportunities to meet all kinds of whisky people for a chat. From those I had not met before I would like to point out Jamie Milne of Glenfiddich, Ian Logan of Chivas, Richard Paterson of Whyte & Mackay (whose radiant personality caused our chat to be promptly interrupted by the interview request of a television team…), Martine Nouet and Ingvar Ronde.
Most of the well-known industry names were present, sometimes with impressive selections. Diageo and Pernod Ricard had the biggest stands, others were a bit more modest. I noticed Bruichladdich was missing, and even though Glenmorangie had their own stand, the presence of Ardbeg was basically limited to their wellie-clad wheelbarrow girls serving Ten and honey.
The Whisky Exchange had a small stand of their own, and the drams on offer here from their own bottlings turned out to be probably the highest quality free pour selection of the show. I tried an amazing 18 yo Bowmore, a no less amazing sherried Port Ellen and an absolutely stunning 46 yo Lochside that in fact was my best dram of the show.
Back to back with TWE was Adelphi who engaged in a ‘Battle of the Lochsides’ as they too had a 46 yo on offer. My tokens were spent on the Glenfarclas Family Cask 1961 Release VII (sublime taste but veeery woody) and a Springbank 1968 from Ian McLeod. I can’t possibly list all drams I had, but two notable ones were the Laphroaig 25 yo and the Jameson Vintage Reserve.
Overall the show was organized very well and professionally. Ticket management was perfect, so the place was always well filled but never crowded. Water was supplied in abundance by a sponsor, and all stands offered palate-neutralizing oatcakes. I only would have liked some more possibilities to sit down and relax or chat. The wall benches of the upstairs lounge were not all that comfortable, and the Brasserie area with its large round tables somewhow felt as if it was not part of the show, it had a somewhat clinical atmosphere not really enticing to stay longer than needed for enjoying Martine’s excellent food.
Disclosure notice: The show was free for me, all travel and accomodation expenses were paid by myself.