Water of Life - The Whisky Show
Sir Stamford Circular Quay
May 15, 2021
Whisky aficionados on terra australis had been waiting with bated breath for the return of The Whisky Show, which after a hiatus in 2020 almost fell prey to yet another bout of COVID related restrictions. With last minute adjustments to the mode of the festival, what eventuated was the first major face-to-face whisky festival worldwide in 2021.
Needless to say, the sessions on 14 / 15 May sold out quickly in advance as seasoned aficionados as well as the uninitiated could not wait to relish in the giddy thrill of finding open bottles of their drams as well as experiencing new drops for the first time around.
For the uninitiated, The Whisky Show is one of the best organised and curated events on terra australis courtesy of liquor luminary David Ligoff and his Alchemist Events team. Its tenth incarnation was a well-orchestrated tour de force of an event, which offered the opportunity to sample over one hundred whiskies from forty-two brands in three dedicated themed rooms at the Sir Stamford Plaza at Sydney’s iconic Circular Quay.
Sounds like a whisk(e)y lovers’ Disneyland? Glad you got the idea.
The fact that the event had to be conducted in line with COVID-safe procedures, i.e., samples had to enjoyed in a seated manner, added an engaging appeal to the proceedings as one had ample opportunity to engage with the respective distillers, brand ambassadors and master blenders to learn more about the libations straight from the source.
2021 saw a larger focus on Australian craft-distilled whiskies and it was fantastic to reconnect not only with distillers whose emissions we have previously covered, but sampling from brand-new ones that only recently established themselves on the firmament of whisky distilleries.
It was astonishing to see and taste how much the Aussie whisky scene has grown in recent years - not merely in terms of numbers and idiosyncratic variants but specifically when it comes to the calibre of quality. It was fantastic to meet the people behind Chief's Son, Gospel, Old Pulteney, Remnant and Shene,
The visit to the Australian room of The Whisky Show culminated with a mandatory check-in with Archie Rose for a dram of their Single Malt, which based on a six-malt mash bill offered a complex flavour profile that integrates both sweet and savoury components due to maturation in both charred and toasted Australian apera, ex-bourbon and the distillery’s own air dried ex-rye casks.
With the elegant finish reminiscent of espresso notes still reverberating, I tried one of Archie Rose’s new Bottled Cocktails from their Future Classics Range. With a Shakespearean dark and stormy theme, The Tempest marries pineapple and passionfruit flavours with spicy, limy highlights. Being normally not the biggest fan of ready-to-pour cocktails, this extremely more-ish one will find its way into my collection.
Archie Rose’s whisky releases tend to sell out fairly quickly, which is not further wondrous given the quality of their expressions. It was nice to get again a taste of their sold-out malted Rye Whisky again, which was a distinctive release for the distillery as it pushed the boundaries in what was thought to be possible in terms of layered, complex rye whiskies.
A personal highlight of the day was the opportunity to finally sample Archie Rose’s much fabled about and scarce as hen’s teeth Ironbark Smoked Rye Malt expression, which upon release was sold out within minutes.
Drawn from seven casks as the fifth release under the Archie Rose Concepts label, this experimental drop features smoked water created by melting huge blocks of ice in a wood-fired oven, using sustainably sourced NSW ironbark. Clocking in at a comparatively lower ABV of 40%, the limelight is on the layered, subtly smoky flavours, which evoked on Pavlovian response from me.
In addition to a dedicated room for Australian whiskies, the main hall played host to Scotch, Irish and British whisky brands, with a number of brands proffering samples of some exclusive rarer age statements alongside their core range offering, e.g., a wonderful twenty-three-year-old expression of
Highlights of the main hall included The Whisky Show’s exclusive BenRiach bottling, which sees the distillery incarnate with new branding and label.
Limited to 310 bottles and weighing in at 53% ABV, this Australia exclusive release tickled the nostrils with nutty, chocolatey toffee aromas, which seamlessly transitioned to vanilla fudge on the top of the mouth, culminating in a crescendo of sweet sharpness and an elongated raisiny finish.
My personal favourite discovery within the confines of the main hall was what emanated from a collaboration between the owner of the Highland Inn Tatsuya Minagawa, Kelvin Low of The Elysian Whisky Bar and Chris Ross of The Whisky List, i.e., the 23-Y-O Water of Life expression. With a cask specifically chosen for the fourth anniversaries of both The Whisky List and The Elysian Whisky Bar in early 2021, the expression is a delicious blend from three main single malt distilleries of the William Grant & Sons portfolio.
Being a peat head, I was excited to finally taste the first release of The Character of Islay Whisky Company, i.e., Aerolite Lyndsay, which is an anagram of :”Ten Year Old Islay”.
Distilled at an undisclosed distillery, the quintessential coastal iodine and mineral aromas give a hint of the source, which with the flavour melange of briny, tarry, lemony sweetness and the minty, ashy oak finish would have me guess that it is excellent Caol Ila expression. Definitely an interesting drop, which inspired me to tap into an exclusive Firkin Caol Ila bottling later that night.
The third room was split between brands representing US whiskey, with a focus on bourbons and ryes, plus some newer Japanese whisky brands thrown in for good measure and even an expression from the new world on pour.
What makes The Whisky Show an outstanding event is the dedicated app, which was developed in partnership with the fine gentlemen from The Whisky List. With regular updates for each instalment of The Whisky Show, new features saw the added ability to record tasting notes for each sampled dram along with videos, ratings and a convenient Click and Collect ecommerce capability, adding a virtual layer to the overall experience and the opportunity to have your purchase waiting as you exited through the popup whisky store.
Going from strength to strength each year and offering new options, The Whisky Show also offered virtual tasting kits and a livestream being broadcast simultaneously to the physical event, enabling whisky lovers to enjoy drams in the comfort of their own home without missing out on the experience.
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