“Your journey starts here……”. Well, it had in fact started at Tonbridge on a train that didn’t really seem to have much interest in getting to where it was meant to be but that may have been more to do with my impatience rather than the service, but I’ll leave that to the reader discretion. Whisky awaited.
It is often said that I have a charmed life and being invited to the London Whisky weekender tasting event with over 100 whiskies to sample certainly backed up that often said claim.
I love whisky, straight up or with mixers but always on the rocks and preferably in a glass (hey I’m not the crazy man of rock that I used to be) so I was looking forward to my afternoon, to say the least. But the same could not be said for my chosen drinking partner, Stuart, my co-worker, fellow tailor and namesake.
Stuart does not love whisky but gamely came along to see if trying the ‘real deal’ would convert him. To be honest I was thinking of Stuart more as my ‘canary in a mine’ sort of drinking partner if he tried it and crashed and burned I might give that one a miss. Back to the journey.
After a slightly damp stroll to the Oval, we signed in and headed to the promised land. We were both given our “take home” tasting glass which sat neatly in hand due to its rounded bottom, rather like a weeble, designed to wobble and not fall down, fingers crossed I could do the same. Along with the glass, we were issued tokens which could be used to purchase ‘under the counter drams’, more tokens could, of course, be purchased if we felt the need. Our trusty (and informative) booklet in hand we headed into the rather noisy but jolly crowd, that looked a bit like this..
The booklet explained that the hall was set out in sections that rather cleverly blended into each other (can you see what they did there) with different flavours/tones, smokey, fruity, mild, I’m sure you get the idea. We opted for Mild to ease ourselves into the afternoon and headed off to our chosen starter, Glenlivet. Now I quite clearly remember saying to the nice chap behind the counter, “We’ve just arrived and we are looking to start with something light, what would you recommend?”
To which he replied, “Well you can’t get better than the Glenlivet single malt, aged for 18 years”
“I’ll try that then”. I nodded at Stu, he agreed.
Perhaps I mumbled, maybe I accidentally said
“Please give us something very strong which will instantly put my canary friend in a whisky stupor?”
Either way, we didn’t ease ourselves in very gently. Don’t get me wrong, the Glenlivet was very nice, full of fire that left a rather nice tingle on the front of the tongue and radiated a warmth through your chest, but it is most definitely not a whisky to ease you into an afternoon. Stuart was making a face which could have won him a national title for gurning and mine was a slight gurn with a hint of surprise.
We were polite “Yum” Said I, “urghhfffppp” said the canary.
At this moment a rather wonderful guardian Angel who we later found out was called Rufus whispered in my ear “Make sure you try the Chivas Regal, it’s amazing, my favourite, if you drink nothing else try that”. So, I did. Now, this Whisky is aged in Japanese Oak casks that can cost up to £5,000 each and they give the whisky a very distinctive taste and colour.
I was promised hints of coconut and a milder experience and boy, it really delivered. Rufus had just shown me the way to the whisky of the day, in fact maybe my favourite ever, even Stuart fared well with this one. Happy, we said farewell to Rufus and moved on.
We slowly made our way around the hall, which was easier said than done, the place was packed and swaying slightly but we managed and trying whiskeys en route. The Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whisky and the Scottish Malt Whisky Society Complete Nirvana, a snip at £350 a bottle, both stood out from the pack for me (I gave over one of my tokens for the last).
We took a quick detour to the Gin section too, not just whiskeys you see, and had a taste of some Raspberry Unicorn Tears, yep you did read that, which I am sure is very nice if you like Gin, and it was at this point when, as if by magic Mr Benn stylie, Rufus appeared again. “Head to the Murry McDavid stand, it’s rather good Sir”. He said, even sounding like the shopkeeper from Mr Benn but that might have been because of the Fez and waistcoat.
So off we went, and he was right once again. We tried two, our last of the day, the 1986 Glen Moray single Malt and Stuart’s personal favourite of the day, fanfare please, the 2002 Bowmore, a very peaty dram, earthy and full of smokiness that sat lightly on the tongue. An excellent tipple to finish a rather well spent afternoon.
We headed outside to fresh air, just as time was called on the afternoon session and rather luckily landed at the front of the queue for the Mother Flipper burger stand, where two rather excellent candied bacon cheeseburgers with all the salad helped to soak up a little of the whisky excesses.
Our journey was complete, well except for the rather laborious train journey back to Tunbridge Wells followed by a bus trip to Uckfield but again I’m being picky.
The Whisky Weekender is a great event, no trouble, nice people (mostly), the whisky on offer is superb and you won’t find choice like it anywhere else but and there is a but, you have got to love your whisky. Something I am sure you all already knew. But what did I learn on my journey? Well, I still love Whisky, Stuart still does not. Japanese Oak is expensive, but it helps create an excellent whisky and when I say I am not drunk at all, my wife is quite right in saying that I am in fact quite drunk.