When Jay and I first saw Whisky Birmingham advertised on Twitter we decided to give it a try, as we’d enjoyed beer festivals, gin tasting, wine tasting and tea tasting events, but had next to no experience of whisky. We’d made an effort to try some unfamiliar brands late last year, but it was a bit like feeling our way around in the dark as we completely unfamiliar with the myriad varieties of whisky now on the market, so when this event was advertised we booked our tickets. In addition to the main event, we were also pleased to see an introductory tasting workshop scheduled to begin a half hour before the doors opened, so booked in for that too.
The weather was certainly on our side. It was a bright sunny spring day, which suited the canal side venue perfectly, and there was also a pleasant courtyard separating the two rooms where the tastings were taking place.
We arrived quite early, so enjoyed a coffee in the Bond Café before heading off to register and join the workshop. Upon registering we were given a programme, whisky glass, a dream dram token to pay for a rare, expensive whisky, and bottle of water to drink in between the separate whisky tastings.
The programme was colourful and professionally put together, with a floor plan showing which exhibitors were located where, but as newcomers, we would have found tasting notes and details of each distillery helpful. What I did like though were the notes on Birmingham’s whisky heroes. This was a very nice touch.
We would have loved a branded glass as a memento of our first whisky festival, but that’s only a very minor quibble, and we still have a nice whisky glass each.
The workshop was very busy, and I think all of the places had been filled. We found this session extremely useful and we glad that we’d booked onto it. We would certainly recommend it to other whisky novices. Subjects covered, in a packed half hour, included how whisky is made, how it is classified, and the significance and effects of colour, consistency, aroma, taste and finish. We also learned about the whisky producing regions of Scotland, and found out that there are roughly 5-6000 different types of whiskies produced across 31 countries.
A key aspect of the workshop was the chance to put our newly acquired knowledge into practice by sampling two well-known whiskies: The Glenlivet 12 and Jura 10. It was at this point that we noticed the difference in styles. The Glenlivet had a familiar delicate yet fiery taste while the Jura was smoother and a little sweeter but with a slightly earthy finish.
With the first two whiskies tasted and distinctions identified, we moved into the tasting rooms.
I’ll write our whisky selections up in the order that we sampled them, with links to each distillery..One thing I have noticed about whiskies is that the tasting notes are quite comprehensive so I’ll just include my own summaries, and if these spark any interest, the full tasting notes can be accessed via the web sites. The other thing to mention is that measures were tasting sample sized rather than usual ‘singles’ or ‘doubles’..
*Dream Dram* Balblair ‘83
Dee said: Mid gold colour, medium fruity aroma, strong and fruity taste with a lingering warmth.
Distillery: Old Pulteney
Dee said: Very dry aroma and taste. Didn’t linger.
Dee said: Very light gold in colour, lovely earthy and smoky aroma. Strong tasting, very upfront drink without an aftertaste. Liked this very much
Dee said: Amber coloured, as the name would suggest. Dry and slightly smoky aroma, but less so than the Torfa. Smooth textured with a slightly earthy aftertaste
4: 1792 Ridgmont Reserve
Distillery: Barton 1792
Dee said: A bourbon with a coppery colour and sharp, almost malty aroma and taste. Lingered long on the palate.
5: The Corriemhor
Distillery: Fox Fitzgerald
Dee said: Burnished gold in colour, strong and quite bitter aroma. Intense tasting but no discernable flavours. Said to be a good pairing for a Cuban cigar.
6: Paul John Peated
Distillery: Paul John
Dee said: A single malt from India. Amber in colour with a strong heady aroma and the slightest hint of smokiness. Rich, fruity flavours up front with a real kick. A bit of an earthier, smoky aftertaste. Very good.
Distillery: Chivas Regal
Dee said: Mid gold in colour and a strong, fruity aroma with a hint of blackcurrant. Lovely smooth texture that glided down. Dry, subtle aftertaste.
8: Port Charlotte
Dee said: Light gold in colour, with a rich, peaty aroma. Dry and slightly smoky with a feint sweetness.
At this point, I visited the stand run by the Living Room Whisky bloggers (Click here to visit their blog), and asked for a recommendation of a smoky tasting whisky, which I had quickly found to be my preference. It wasn't Jay’s, but more on that later. The smoky whisky that was recommended to me was;
9: Great King Street Glasgow Blend
Distillery: Compass Box Whisky
Dee said: Light gold colour with a fainter smoky aroma than I was expecting. Taste though was dry, intense and slightly peppery.
Dee said: Wheat-like in colour, with a distinctly spicy aroma. Pronounced fruity taste up front, followed by a much drier, earthy aftertaste. A very good Welsh wysgi.
1: Classic Laddie
Jay said: “Recommended by the bloggers as a good entry level whisky. Had a slightly grassy, herbal taste”.
Jay said: “Blast of fruit cake on the nose. Spicy. Really liked this”.
*Dream Dram*: Tullibardine
Distillery: Malts of Scotland
Jay said: “Fruity, smooth, rich caramel aftertaste. Definitely worth handing that token over for”.
3: Ben Nevis
Distillery: Ben Nevis Distillery / Malts of Scotland
Jay said: “Seriously fruity aroma. Rich tasting”.
4: The One
Distillery: Lakes Distillery
Jay said: “Dry & peaty aroma and taste. Slightly smoky aftertaste. I’m not one for peaty or smoky whiskies, so I enlisted Dee to help me with this one”.
5: Few Rye Whiskey
Jay said: “I think it was the rye whiskey that I tried (I only wrote ‘Few’ in my notes) It had a floral nose and taste, and a smooth texture”.
6: Eagle Rare
Distillery: Buffalo Trace
Jay said: “I liked it. Fresh tasting”.
7: Monkey Shoulder
Distillery: Monkey Shoulder
Jay said: “Sweet taste. Plenty of heat, but quite smooth”.
Distillery: Compass Box Whisky
Jay said: “Vanilla and Coconut. Sweet first taste. Would love to try their Spice Tree whisky”.
9: The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
Jay said: “Sweet, slightly floral aroma. Smooth texture with a hint of almonds in the taste”.
10: Whisky Barrel Aged Spiced Orange Saison Beer
Brewery: Green Duck Beer Co.
Jay said: “I was given a raw sample of this beer to try first, which was a bit rough around the edges. The aged product was smooth and lush. Definite orange. Really interesting”.
The food stalls were all busy and it’s worth giving a mention to our chosen food vendor, the Soul Food Project, who served up a great Brazilian style Moqueca stew of vegetables in coconut milk, with a generous slice of great bread to mop up the sauce. We followed this with a big portion of bread pudding and all of this proved ideal for lining our stomachs to prepare us for the whisky tasting.
By 2.30pm, the venue was heaving, with queues at all the stands. With the beautiful sun and blue sky, there was still enough room to either stand or sit outside.
By about 3pm, supplies were starting to run a little low, with some of the stalls starting to pack up, so we decided that, after having sampled ten drinks each, plus the dream drams, that it would be a good time to select our favourites from the day.
For me it was the Torfa, with its pronounced smokiness and peaty taste. I’ll certainly be seeking out a bottle soon.
Jay’s favourite was the Penderyn Legend.
The picture below features our favourite whiskies: the Torfa on the left and the Legend on the right.
As we sat outside taking in the afternoon sun, we had a quick chat and decided that we weren’t done after all, so decided to have another sample or two.
My first was the Buffalo Trace Stagg Jr: An explosion of fruit in both aroma and taste. It was all upfront with no aftertaste but was a truly great whiskey.
Jay went for the Buffalo Trace own-named whiskey, which had a sweeter, smoother and slightly earthier feel.
My last was the Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye (Link to web site): Another rich, fruity drink with a strong, fiery aftertaste
Jay went for Smooth Ambler too, but the Old Scout Single Barrel, which was a bit more bitter tasting, with less aftertaste.
Our favourite whiskies of the day remained as they were , but we were glad we’d stayed that little bit longer.
We both enjoyed a great day’s introduction to the world of whisky. We’ve found our preferences from the different styles on offer, but still look forward to further explorations. In fact, we’ve already pencilled in the Stoke on Trent Whisky Festival in July.
Our closing words are to thank Birmingham Whisky Club for organising this great event. You now have two happy converts.
Reviewed by Dee, 8th March 2015