My quest to sample as wide a variety of whiskies from as many different countries as possible took me to Whisky Birmingham.
Now in it’s 5th year – the show is organised by The Birmingham Whisky Club – and despite only being a short 45 minute flight from Dublin, there is a different array of whisky brands,styles & ranges on offer on the UK market in contrast to Ireland – which made the journey worthwhile for me.
I wasn’t disappointed!
From the first stall to the last – there were simply so many new expressions for me to sample – I just couldn’t get round them all.
There were a couple of stalls from importers & distributors who had very fine arrays of not-your-usual-whiskies which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Jon & Mike put together a display of some of their favourite whiskies for sampling & sharing along with other fellow enthusiasts. Fantastic.
Several Scottish blenders & bottlers had wonderful displays. A sprinkling of American brands graced the floor together with some familiar Irish faces too!
Held in the wonderfully historic setting of The Bond in Digbeth on the Grand Union Canal & only a short walk from the transport hub of Birmingham’s Bullring. It’s a marvelous venue for such a friendly and relaxed show.
A very welcome feature was the VIP Lounge staffed by the helpful & informative Andy. It was like a little oasis of calm to sit down & relax, chat or take in the aromas & flavours of a choice selection of whiskies.
There comes a point in the proceedings however when you know you are getting close to the edge!
Thankfully there were water coolers dotted around the venue to keep you hydrated – and a couple of street food vendors in the outside area where I enjoyed a tasty pizza.
Masterclasses are another way to slow down the pace as well as gaining some whisky knowledge from experts in the field. If I’d done my homework better the Cheese & Whisky Pairing class would have been my choice. As it was I contented myself with a selection box of satisfyingly rich tasting cheese & crackers from the stall to twin my whiskies with.
Talking of favourites.
I always like to to come away with my dram of the day!
They say that travels broadens the mind – but in my case it tantalizes the taste buds with the promise of experiencing new whiskey expressions not normally available at home.
My trans Europe jaunt certainly lived up to my expectations – with many a new dram sampled – and a few surprises and helpful tips along the way!
First port of call was my former home for 20 years – London – for the afore-blogged wedding. Having left over a decade ago it was a welcome return but at times I felt like a tourist – so much had changed and I was seeing it with fresh eyes.
A certain Pukka Boy has opened a few establishments around town and it was to one of those I ventured to meet up with my better half and a few of her cousins at a reunion gathering. The meal had ended by the time I arrived so drinks were ordered and as is my custom – I eyed the bar for a suitable tasting experience. Spotting a bottle of Sazerac Rye hidden behind a big branded blend – I sat down to chat and savour the warm rye flavour profile.
The rye didn’t disappoint with it’s full flavour opening up in the mouth with a very welcome spicy tinge. I got chatting away on whiskey matters – as you do – favourite drams – the rise of Irish Whiskey and so on – so when another round was required what else could I go for but a glass of the old reliable Green Spot.
Meaty beaty big and bouncy is an apt way to sum up this whiskey – like the Who’s album it’s an old classic – worthy of listening to whilst tasting this historic dram which is still independently bottled by Mitchell & Sons – the way all whiskey was sold at one time. I didn’t taste his food – but the whiskey at the bar was certainly pukka!
Second port of call the day after the wedding was The Whisky Exchange shop at Vinopolis near London Bridge. As I’ve used their excellent online service on a number of occasions – mainly for UK based relatives at Xmas and birthdays – I thought it about time to pay their shop a visit.
My goal was a bottle of One – a blend using spirit from the recent batch of new distilleries opening in Scotland, England, Ireland (presumably Northern Ireland in this case) and Wales – which appealed to my theme of getting a bottle of home produced whiskey from each country I visit – but;
Whiskey Tip No. 1 Pre-order your purchases before visiting the shop as despite carrying a bewildering array of whiskies – this is only a fraction of the vast stock they hold at he online warehouse in West London.
Aha! I didn’t – so I then spent ages trying to figure out what to buy from the tantalising display on offer.
Eventually I decided on Wemyss Malt Spice King as these whisky blenders have just built a new distillery in Kingsbarns where many moons ago before the distillery was even thought about – before the golf course was even built – and before my brother acquired an american accent – he celebrated his engagement to his US girlfriend by holding a rather chilly party on the lovely beach there whilst they were both students in Edinburgh.
Luckily this dram warms you with it’s malty aroma, smooth yet spicy taste and long lasting glow. Lovely. I’ll have to pay a visit and try out the other expressions based on this experience.
My last day in London consisted of packing up before catching the train to mainland Europe. There was a brief stop in the Betjeman Arms at St Pancreas Station to sample a Canadian Club with some olives and bread before our departure.
This is a lovely spot to enjoy the fabulous architecture, sculptures and general hustle ‘n’ bustle of train travel in a relaxed atmosphere – as well as enjoying the unexpectedly good aroma and taste of this entry level blend from Canadian whiskey giants Hiram Walker but now part of Japanese giants Suntory – maybe it’s because it’s aged for 6 years together with a rye content – but I found it very tasty indeed! Must try it out again soon.
And so into Europe on the train. What a lovely way to travel. No complicated check in – no luggage restrictions – plenty of legroom and the ability to walk around. That walking around led me to the bar where my visions of varied whiskies from around Europe were quickly and decidedly dashed by the single Jack Daniels miniature on offer. Now I know JD is a phenomenally popular drink – but it’s not mine;
Whiskey Tip No 2 As the Stones sang – “You can’t always get what you want” – so carry a suitable miniature – or better still a hip flask filled with your favourite tipple for those occasions when scarcity, unavailability or simply poor choice denies you the experience of enjoying a good relaxing dram whilst travelling.
Sadly the miniatures I’d bought at The Whisky Exchange were buried at the bottom of my luggage so i’d to wait until our arrival at the apartment in Aachen before having the opportunity of being able to sit down and relax.
Being at a late hour – I rushed out to grab a curry before the restaurants closed and enjoyed a small Black Bottle whisky to wash it down.
The slight peatiness and smooth tasting blend complemented the spicy curry which marked our move from familiar places to the excitement of new sights, sounds and smell of the Benelux area of mainland Europe.