Bringing together whisky and good friends

Anticipating the 2011 FNB Whisky Live Festival

Last year I experienced my first Whisky Live Festival in Johannesburg, and was blown away. As a first-timer, I found the sheer number of whiskies, stands and attendees astounding. Here were thousands of fellow whisky lovers, rubbing shoulders and engaging in our favourite pastime – discovering and drinking whisky with friends.

Want to find out more about the 2012 FNB Whisky Live Festival? Read these for more info from the folks who make the whiskies we love: John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky previews Whisky Live 2012 and Ian MacMillan of Burn Stewart Distillers previews Whisky Live 2012.

The tasting hall was massive, so it took a little while to orientate oneself and decide on the best way to work your way around the hall, but that’s exactly what we did. Our first stop, and undoubtedly my favourite stand of the evening had to be the Classic Malts one. A circular wooden bar, split into four quadrants of a flavour map – Delicate, Light, Smoky and Rich, with whiskies ranging from the light Clynelish 14 to the rich and smoky Lagavulin 16 (man oh man, do I love this whisky!). Each quadrant also showcased, under the glass bar counter, the flavours associated with the whiskies. The light section for example, had real honeycomb which Ryan duly sampled.

Whisky Live 2010 - Master distiller of Drayman's Single Malt Whisky - Moritz Kallmeyer - displays a dram of SA's first Single Malt made on the Highveld to festival goers

We then meandered through the rest of the hall, letting Ryan act as our guide as he had been to a couple of Whisky Live festivals before. It was amusing to see the demographic at the Johnny Walker stand. Here was a long queue of twenty-somethings looking for all intents and purposes as though they were lining up outside a nightclub. They must have stood in line for over 30 minutes at least – that was too much time standing still in my opinion when there were so many other whiskies out there waiting to be discovered.

Another stand that drew our attention was Glenmorangie, tucked away in a corner of the hall. With a big banner displaying the gorgeous Signet bottle, just beckoned from far away. Glenmorangie launched the Signet in South Africa at the festival and Ryan, Colin and myself made sure to have a dram, or three, of this wonderful whisky. I actually think that the Signet was the whisky that converted Colin. Sadly, at almost R2000 a bottle, we haven’t had it since.

Whisky Live 2010 - Master of the Quaich, Pierre Meintjes, takes visitors through a Bunnahabhain tasting

Aside from the whiskies, it was fun interacting with the people serving them too. The personnel manning the stands ranged in age and experience from the pretty, young girls and their practiced marketing speeches, to the grizzled veterans and master distillers. I remember asking one of the young lasses which whisky she enjoyed drinking to which I got a stammered, flustered reply: “I, I’m just a student!” And then there was the lady at the Bushmills stand (her name eludes me), who not only guided us through the entire range, but then gave us her personal Bushmills preference and suggestions of other whiskies to try whilst at the festival.

One of my highlights was meeting Gillian Macdonald (she was still Gillian Howell when I met her – congrats on getting married!), the master distiller at Penderyn – Wales’ only whisky. Having a Welsh father, it was great to try a whisky that I could claim to share some heritage with. Gillian was very approachable and knowledgeable and I’m very glad to hear she’s coming back to this year’s festival.

Whisky Live 2010 - Master distiller of Penderyn whisky, Gillian Macdonald (far right) tells visitors more about this fine Welsh whisky

So that was a bit of a look back at last year, what does the 2011 FNB Whisky Live Festival have in store for us and what am I looking forward to seeing this year?

I’ll be going on the last day of the festival, Friday the 11th which I happen to know is Karen Chaloner’s birthday too. For those that don’t know her, Karen is the co-founder of the FNB Whisky Live Festival, along with Sian Neubert. What a fantastic way to celebrate your birthday!

My evening will kick off with a workshop with none other than Dave Broom, international whisky writer and judge, who will be guiding us on a pilgrimage around Irish whiskey. It should be an informative and entertaining session. Dave, if you’re reading this, bring along some Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength – I would love to have a wee taste of that single pot still magic! Then a dive into the tasting hall to search out some gems. Whiskies that I definitely want to try include Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend, Kilchoman, Macallan, BenRaich and more. Unfortunately I don’t have a ticket giving me access to the Volvo Whisky Lifestyle Lounge otherwise I would be able to sample such fine whiskies as Sweden’s Mackmyra, Jura Prophecy, Balvenie 17 YO Peated Cask and Laphroaig 18 YO. Sigh! Hopefully next time…

While browsing through the Whisky Live website, I came across this snippet of info:

Quiet please For a grown-up ‘secret garden’ / ‘lion, witch and wardrobe’ experience, head for The Glenlivet Library, an exclusive members-only room at the Glenlivet distillery that will be recreated in the Johannesburg 2011 FNB Whisky Live Festival venue. Ian Logan, international brand ambassador for The Glenlivet, will be hosting exclusive whisky interactions with invited guests in the Library where they will sample special limited edition whiskies such as The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1983, The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1964, and The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1973. Glenlivet: a new kind of ‘sexy librarian’.

I want in! If anyone can tell me how to get an invite into the Glenlivet Library please, please, please let me know. That sounds simply amazing!

The evening doesn’t stop there folks – there are still all the private whisky tastings, the Macallan Aroma Zone, the Glen Grant Distillation Zone and more. Phew! So much to see and do, and only one night to do it in. I’ll have to speak very nicely to my wife next year and see if I can attend a couple nights at least.

Whisky Live 2010 - Relaxing in the Lexus Whisky Lifestyle Lounge

If you head on over to the FNB Whisky Live Festival website, you can get a full itinerary of the festival as well as a listing of whiskies that will be available in the hall, as well as more detailed information on the wonderful new experiences that the Whisky Live team will be showcasing this year.

To conclude, when it comes to value-for-money, you would be hard-pressed to find ANYTHING that comes close to the experience you get for just R190 (under £20). Access to over 180 whiskies, international whisky guests, distillers, independent bottlers, a host of workshops and more. I really hope my write-up has convinced you to get on over to the festival this year. If you do make it there look for the tall, dark haired, charming chap with a broad grin and a dram in his hand, and come on over and say hi!

Sláinte!

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