In one word? Awesome.
You want more than that you say?
It’s kind of hard to know where to begin. The events of the weekend before last have all converged into a bit of a blur. Not so much because of the alcohol, but rather the simply dizzying array of tastings, masterclasses, quizzes, meals and world-class whiskies which were thrust upon us over the course of the weekend… yet with all the activity, we came away feeling really rather impressed at just how relaxed and informal the weekend managed to be.
For those of you who have been to whisky shows before (especially in the UK), they tend to more closely resemble a pack of lions having at a fallen gazelle than a collection of friends sharing a few drams. This is perhaps understandable given the fact that but a few short hours are on offer to taste a plethora of whiskies, rather than the full weekend of Maltstock. It’s also worth noting that amongst a selection of whiskies that would make most grown men weep, not once did we see anyone who had taken it too far. Maybe this is a product of the continental attitude towards drinking (most attendees, despite speaking impeccable English, are from the continent), or maybe more due to the fact that there was no need for a mad ‘sprint to the finish’.
The weekend begun on Friday morning with a (very cheap) Sleazyjet flight over to Amsterdam. We spent the day seeing the sights (including the Bols Genever museum – well worthwhile, and the subject of a blog post coming soon), and then jumped on a double-decker train
that took us into the heart of Nijmegen. Maltstock is a 10 minute taxi ride outside Nijmegen in a very respectable holiday/camping/scount camp sort of place. All in all, the travel was less than £100 per person return, and the entrance to Maltstock itself (including breakfast both days, dinner both days and accommodation) was €150, or about £130 (at the time of posting).
On arrival at Maltstock, we were greeted by the organisational team, and shown to our room (two of us went, and we were lucky enough to get a room to ourselves – most people were in rooms of between 4 and 8). The Maltstock website, if anything downplays the sleeping facilities. The rooms were clean, and showers and toilets plentiful. We were expecting a much more ‘campsite’ sort of affair.
For most of the Friday evening people were arriving, and on doing so, deposited their ‘sharing whisky’ onto the central table in the courtyard outside. This is perhaps one of the most important parts of Maltstock, the ability to bring along the whiskies that you’re passionate about, and share them with others, but at the same time sample other people’s in some cases very rare) whiskies too. The approach to the sampling from the sharing table is very relaxed, and no real etiquette was neccesary. One thing that struck us about this was how little whisky people were pouring. On average, maybe 10ml was going into the sample glasses – testament to the relaxed and laid back attitude of the weekend.
The highlight of the first evening was the (brutal) whisky quiz. Comprised of 8 rounds of questions, and we’re not talking about ‘name 10 Ardbeg expressions’ kind of questions – try some of the following (without Googling):
- Who is this?
- A lot of distillery names have a Gaelic meaning. Which distillery translates into:
a. “Mouth of the Chattering burn”
b. “Valley of the wild geese”
c. “Ranged alongside a mill in a hollow in the ground”
- Which whisky fits the following description in the 2009 Whisky Bible? No minus points if you get the distillery right, a bonus point if you know which whisky.
nose (24,5) ohhhhhhh…arrrrrrrrhh…mmmmmmmmm… oh, the peat, the peat… yesssss…, oh my god… mmmmmm… ohhhhhhh
taste (24) first you get the smoky… oooohhhh… arrrrr… then the sweeter… mmmmmmmmmm… arrrrooooohhhh…
finish (24) it finishes with a more gentle arghoooo… mmmmmmm … ooooophhhhhh… arrrrrrr…..
balance (24) not many whiskies have a truly unmistakable nose… and…, but this……is……this…..mmmmmmmmm…, arrrrrrrhhh. Ohhhhhhhhhh…..61,6% (96,5 points)
How did the Master of Malt team do, I hear you ask? Not even in the top 3. Shocking.
The next morning, there was a cracking full Scottish breakfast courtesy of the Highlander Inn, and perhaps the best (and worst) idea we’ve heard this year, a specially developed ‘Breakfast Whisky’ courtesy of Compass box. There was even a video on constant loop just outside the breakfast room of John Glaser explaining how the whisky had come to be (remember Eleuthera? This is an old part cask that’s been maturing for a further 4 years).
We grabbed a bottle, so drams to follow soon. The video was fascinating, but had definite touches of Ghostbusters II about it. We digress.
After Breakfast, there was an absolutely stunning (world’s first) tasting of ten different white dogs and their respective matured counterparts from Four Roses conducted by Hans & Becky Offringa (AKA the Whiskey Couple). There will be a blog post on this in due course, so not to go too far into it here, suffice to say that the contrast between the different mashbills and yeast strains was a real eye-opener .
Next in the tastings line-up was a tasting of the full Amrut Range (including a new-make – a first for us) ably conducted as ever by Ashok Chokalingam, the only guy working for Amrut outside of India (for which read possibly the most successful per-capita salesman in the world of single malt whisky?). The level of information Ashok imparted in the hour-long tasting was absolutely vast, but the level of consumer knowledge in the room was so high that none was wasted or superfluous. We even managed to grab a quick 5 minutes with Ashok after the tasting to do an exclusive tasting note for us.
In the afternoon, there was plenty of time to peruse the (extensive) old and rare whisky collection brought along by Full Proof. A 1969 Millburn Rare Malts has to go down as one of our favourites, but the single cask Kilchoman wasn’t bad either. [Jealous much? – ed.]
In the afternoon, a ‘blend your own whisky’ session was run by Ronald Zwartepoorte - editor of Dutch Magazine, Whisky Passion. This was an interesting experience for all, and the air of competitiveness was apparent. No, we didn’t win, dammit… :-)
In the evening, a substantial barbecue, then an evening around the campfire accompanied by the sounds of *ahem* McHollander. Truly, this was a once in a lifetime experience. You haven’t lived until you’ve been serenaded by a Dutchman, in a kilt, singing Irish Folk songs in a heavy Dutch Accent. Strong Stuff indeed.
The next morning, we were back on our way up to Amsterdam, back on a plane, and home in time for Top Gear. Not too shabby.
To explain the way it all started, and a bit more about the concept, we grabbed the following video interview with Teun and Bob, founding organisers of Maltstock:
All in all then? An absolutely fantastic experience, and for less than £250 all-in, this is better than ‘not bad’, this is an absolute bargain, and for those of you keen to expand your tasting repertoire, and meet other like-minded whisky lovers, we genuinely can’t think of a better or more cost effective way. Maltstock 2011 is on 9-11 September 2011. Book now ladies and gents [insert link to maltstock 2011 booking page on their site]
Anything else to mention? Oh yes – Master of Malt will be running an exclusive ‘closed distilleries’ tasting next year, so when you book, be sure to mention that you want tickets for the tasting (no charge).
- The Chaps at Master of Malt -