The Whisky Exchange blog was busier than ever in 2016, with so much happening in the drinks world to talk about, from shock EU rulings to legendary masterclasses and cool cocktail trends. Here are some of our favourite stories, tastings and discoveries from last year.
Three events got a big response on our blog in 2016. The first was the shock news that all spirits, including whisky, would be required by law to carry an age statement by 2017. The EU legislation required distillers to declare all ingredients and additives on the label, as well as the exact age of all whiskies in years and months. In addition, ‘caramel supervisors’ would be deployed at every whisky distillery to ensure fair play. Reaction to the news, which was broken by The Whisky Exchange on 1 April, included:
‘Glad to see the end of NAS bottlings!’
‘About time; transparency and provenance are key’
‘This could get quite interesting’
On with the show
In October, the 2016 Whisky Exchange Whisky Show returned to Old Billingsgate with a fantastic line-up of whiskies, food pairings and Dream Drams. Yet again, the masterclasses didn’t disappoint, with some of the most famous names in the business showcasing rare drams.
The highlight was Three Masters of Whisky featuring Shinji Fukuyo of Suntory, Bill Lumsden from Ardbeg/Glenmorangie, and Alan Winchester of The Glenlivet. Each of them brought three whiskies they had been involved in making, with some ultra-rare blends and vattings, including a Suntory blend from Shinji with some 1960s’ Yamazaki distillate, eliciting gasps from the audience.
We were first with the full winners’ list from the new edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in November. First prize went to Booker’s Rye 13 Year Old, described by Jim as having a ‘brain-draining, mind-blowing’ nose with a finish of ‘amazing depth’, scoring it 97.5/100 points. Glen Grant 18 Year Old took the runners-up spot – the first time a Scotch whisky had made Jim’s World Whiskies of the Year shortlist since 2014 – and William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot.2015) came third.
Vermouth on the rise
Vermouth is well known among the bartending world as a magical way to transform your long drinks and cocktails, as well as being delicious in its own right, and it’s great to see it being enjoyed by a wider audience. We did our bit with a guide to vermouth and tasting notes on some of our favourites, and we also held an event in May in which a number of producers came to our London shop to show vermouth’s versatility.
2016 saw some great tastings at our Covent Garden shop. On the whisky side, Colin Dunn showcased the latest batch of Diageo Special Releases; Stewart Buchanan hosted an excellent eight-strong tasting of Speyside favourite Benriach; Arran’s Louisa Young gave us a taste of island life; and in November, our first women-only whisky masterclass was a huge success.
From the spirits world, Plantation Rum’s Alexandre Gabriel showed off the blender’s art; Rich Hamer from Sipsmith and Fliss Gransden from Belsazar Vermouth demonstrated modern takes on the Martini; and we also held a popular Growers’ Champagne tasting hosted by our very own Dawn Davies MW.
Cocktails are cool again, something we’re happy to celebrate on the blog with the help of Jane from uber-cool website DrinkUp.London. She gave the lowdown on aperitivo drinks and where to enjoy them, and also chose her pick of Cognac and Armagnac cocktails, while Billy gave a rundown of his favourite things to drink at a barbecue.
Roving Rocky – his top trips of 2016
1. Once again, 2016 was a year of visiting new distilleries and, in two cases, new countries. First up in February was snowy Norway to see the home of Linie Aquavit, the caraway spirit which is finished in sherry casks then sent on a voyage around the world to soften the flavour. I tried both the normal bottling and some spirit that had only been aged at the distillery, and the well-travelled version was indeed smooth and rounder.
2. Next on my list was a trip to Midleton in Ireland for the launch of Jameson’s The Whiskey Makers series. The range contains whiskies designed by head blender Billy Leighton, head distiller Brian Nation and head cooper Ger Buckley, with each showing off one area of the process. I’d been to the town before, but I’d waited almost a decade to see inside the distillery and it didn’t disappoint. If you like Irish whiskey, this is a must visit.
3. The year ended with a trip to Taiwan to see Kavalan. It was my first visit to Asia and was unlike anywhere I had visited before: the size of the distillery, the beauty of the location and the friendliness of the people is unrivalled – it’s a country I’ll be heading back to. When a distillery is owned by a conglomerate, the little things can get lost, but the attention to detail is impressive, and it’s the first time I’ve seen beauty products stocked in a distillery shop!
Thank you to everyone who takes the time to read our blog, post comments and give feedback. We’re always delighted to hear from you, and we look forward to keeping you entertained in 2017.
Tagged Ardbeg, Belsazar, Booker's, Glen Grant, Glenmorangie, Jameson's, kavalan, Linie, Midleton, sipsmith, Special Re, Suntory, The Glenlivet, William Larue Weller