We attended the always brilliant Whisky Live this year. From rare Irish single malts to unusual cask finish Scotch whiskies and very old Tormore, here’s a rundown of some show’s highlights.
Last Friday, we attended this annual event in London, which allows attendees to talk directly with whiskey makers and sample unlimited expressions (responsibly, naturally). We’re going to focus on what we loved about the show and happily, there was plenty worth making a note of.
Whisky Live London 2023 review
First up was some classic Scotch to whet our appetite with a visit to the Glen Grant stand. We tasted Glen Grant 15 Year Old Batch Strength to start as we meant to go on, enjoying its sweet and rich medley of stone fruit, marmalade, gingerbread, and toffee. But what really got us excited is the upcoming release that is Glen Grant 21 Year Old. Matured predominantly in bourbon casks, with less than 10% oloroso, that cask influence is measured well and let all those delicate sparkling Glen Grant fruits shine with richer malty caramel, oily orange, and barley husk elements providing ample backbone. We’ll have some soon, so keep an eye out. It’s worth the hype.
We also visited the Wild Turkey stand, already a whiskey we love, so we decided to try Wild Turkey Longbranch. There will be no more Matthew McConaughey involvement soon (the contract is up) but the whiskey is still alright, alright, alright. The brand went left field with this one, using charcoal made of both Kentucky white oak and Texas mesquite to filter the liquid to honour the True Detective star. I’m told it’s less Lincoln County Process and more like steeping the whiskey and wood in a giant teabag and letting all the flavours mingle. I liked how it didn’t dampen the bolder elements of Wild Turkey but added a sweet, BBQ flavour among notes of black tea, fresh apple, and root beer. Really interesting stuff.
Wine cask finishes were well represented across the show, with Tamnavulin Red Wine Cask Edition demonstrating how to do it right. The cask influence is beautiful here, allowing enough of the distillery’s light, cereal notes to shine while adding peaches, marzipan, ginger, and a gorgeous, creamy strawberry finish. Elsewhere, vintage Glen Moray from 2010 finished in Amarone casks was another show highlight, a deep, rewarding dram full of chocolate cherry, stewed plum, and aromatic spice. Usually, we commend Glen Moray for its range of bargain bottlings that allow people to enter the world of single malt, but it’s worth remembering the brand can flex its more premium muscles too.
Independent bottlers and underrated distilleries
Speaking of which, the Murray McDavid stand was in stonking good form as usual. Frankly, I could have featured any one of about five drams here, but I don’t have all day and some of them are now sold out so it just seems cruel extolling their virtues. We do have some Tormore 26 Year Old 1995 – Mission Gold left, which is crazy because this is gorgeous stuff. Distilled in 1995, it saw 26 years of maturation in total, initially filled into hogshead casks before being re-racked into both oloroso and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks to bring orange chocolate, dried fruit, old malt, and sweet spice in a refined sipper.
Independent bottlers were very well represented in general. Mossburn is another astonishing consistent provider of great whisky. The upcoming Benrinnes 14 Year Old 2008 vintage (not sure I’d share a drop with a gun to my head) is a fine example of this. As is Monologue’s Chapter 7 series. A tasty Orkney 16 Year Old 2006 (cask 63) was Orkney whisky all over, full of ashen rock pools and bright fruit heightened by the slick sweetness of the bourbon cask maturation. The standout though was Blair Athol 12 Year Old 2009 (cask 301068). It’s a brand that always delivers, but usually in sherry casks. Here, we tasted BA from a bourbon cask, which showcased the distillery profile of red fruit, coffee fudge, dried mango, and vanilla beautifully. Presenting distillery character this nakedly and competently is something good independent bottlers do well, so it was promising stuff from a brand that’s increasingly making a mark.
Speaking of underrated distilleries, Glencadam 15 Year Old is an orchard of a dram with a medley of ripe, supple fruitiness, supplemented by classic vanilla, coconut, and toffee bourbon influence that adds depth without getting in the way of all that fruit. Sister distillery Tomintoul then provided the delightful 14 Year Old 2008 White Port Cask Finish. This is a distillery with a reputation for creating a gentle dram, but this is an example of how to bring a new element without smashing your style into pieces. Tannic fruit (apple and grape skins), creamy mocha, rich vanilla… each demonstrating there’s depth in the delicate.
What’s to come
Arguably the most impressive stand, however, was Echlinville Distillery. It’s Dunville’s whiskey brand, currently sourced from one of Ireland’s coolest distilleries (we’re told to expect distillery-made whiskey this year and we can’t wait), provided a masterclass in big, impactful first-fill cask finishing. The Palo Cortado 10 Year Old is full of tropical fruit and an aromatic musty spice that gently moves throughout, tannic apple skins, cinder toffee, and stewed blackcurrant. The showstopper was the Palo Cortado 21 Year Old version, Ireland’s Best Whiskey at the 2022 Irish Whiskey Awards and the beneficiary of a huge seven-year cask finish. It delivers heaps of marmalade, burnt caramel, apple juice, sticky fruits, chewy nuttiness, and rich spice shine in a spectacular dram. Add water and watch those dark fruits soar. When these arrive on our virtual shelves make sure you don’t miss out. For now, the Very Rare is a more than able substitute thanks to its exclusive PX sherry maturation.
Clan Colla also represented Ireland well with a whiskey finished in Panamanian rum casks that had a beautiful creamy sweetness and all the tropical flavours you want. Another to keep an eye on from a range that’s coming together nicely. As is the new Kentucky Owl Takumi Edition Bourbon. A taste of Kentucky by way of Japan, Nagahama Distillery’s master blender Yusuke Yusuke Yahisa’s influence is clear in a fascinatingly savoury dram full of brown bread with marmalade, as well as a caramel sweetness distinctive to bourbon, backed up by tangy fruit salad, candied orange, and a sweet and sour raspberry finish. Keep tabs on it as I don’t think it will last long once it arrives.
Overall, it was another great show. Whisky Live finds a really good balance of presenting exciting newcomers, old favourites, and everything in between without the event becoming an unwieldy mess. There’s a manageable amount of stands, food and water provided to encourage sensibleness (a much-underrated necessity of a good whisky show), and time to actually learn and share. I’m not sure there was anywhere else I could sample a peat/French oak cask combo from Adnams, the fruity explosion of Indri single malt Indian whisky, a trio of Tasmanian delights (Hobart, Spring Bay, and The Remnant, if we end up stocking these we’ll let you know), and all the new make under the sun from Holyrood (impressing, intriguing, and upsetting purists for a perfect hattrick) in one spot.
Unless you wanted to recreate the experience at home and place a huge whisky order in. Does anyone know of an award-winning online retailer that could assist with that?