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Whisky Birmingham 2014

March 1, 2014

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I’ve been following The Birmingham Whisky Club’s events for some time but today was the first time I’d managed to get along to one – mainly due to it requiring a two-hour drive up the M40. The Club was started by Amy Seton, a friend of my daughter’s; hence my coming to hear of it. It’s grown into a big operation with regular events and today’s Festival was sold out with about 380 people attending.

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The venue was packed with people and stalls bringing together major distilleries and brand owners from all over the world – including Japan, which is now recognised as producing some great whisky (even if maybe the Scots might not agree!). For an entry fee of £25 this was a must-go-to event for all lovers and aficionados of whisky. With over 200 whiskies to choose from, including some exceptionally fine and rare ones, this was a fantastic opportunity to expand one’s knowledge and experience something different to one’s normal dram. On arrival you had to pay a £5 deposit for a whisky glass and were given a small bottle of water (Scottish, of course) so you could swill your glass clean between tastings. You were also given a ‘dream token’ that gave you a tasting of an extra special whisky of your choice. I headed first to a stall with BenRiach and GlenDronach whiskies.

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The first whisky I tasted was an 18 Years Aged GlenDronach, Allardice, which had been matured in premium oloroso sherry casks. It was quite sweet, fruity and spicy for a whisky but I really liked it. Later I tried the 16 years aged classic Speyside BenRiach, which was beautifully smooth. While at this stall a woman came and talked to the stall holder about their ‘dream token’ choice, a Glenglassaugh (that retails around £275) and how amazing it was, so I decided to go with that as my choice and it was really wonderful.

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There were loads of stalls and whiskies to choose from but I did purposely limit my choice. We’d arrived at midday and there’s only so much whisky I can happily consume during the day! I really love whisky – a love learned from my father who had a large collection of single malts – but I rarely drink spirits these days so had to pace myself. But for the more practised drinker this was whisky heaven. Stalls like Hard to Find Whisky were offering tastes of some whiskies you wouldn’t easily find elsewhere.

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There were a number of Masterclasses going on, for a extra £15 fee, with things like whisky and cheese matching, a beginners’ guide to whisky, and a cigar and whisky masterclass. I was given a ticket (as a blogger) to the Whisky and Chocolate Matching Masterclass. Now this is a pairing that doesn’t immediately spring to mind yet proved a wonderfully surprising and delightful one.

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We were given three whiskies ranging from a smooth classic single malt to one heavy on peat (which I’m not so keen on) and three different chocolates – all coming from Kneals Chocolates, a local artisan chocolate maker. We were also given some raw chocolate to taste (in the pot in photo above) that only served to prove that chocolate really does need some sugar! Raw, it’s not very pleasant. The first whisky – a complex and delicious blend – came with some Ghana chocolate that had a caramel flavour and raisin nose. The second whisky from Speyside didn’t have a strong nose but a full and good flavour which matched a 66% cocoa chocolate that had a passion fruit taste. The final peaty whisky from Taliskers came with a fantastic salty chocolate with butterscotch crunch and we were told how well dark chocolate and salt match. It was really interesting to learn how these whiskies and chocolates matched and complemented each other.

By the time this masterclass ended, I’d had rather a lot of whisky and nothing other than chocolate to eat. My daughter (who is not a whisky drinker and therefore completely sober) led me to Pop-Up Dosa, a fantastic Kerala cuisine street food stall, also run by some friends of hers. Nicola has been telling me for ages how great they are so I was really pleased to have an opportunity to try their food.

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Here we chose a Masala Dosa (a dosa is a kind of pancake) which came with a smoky lentil sauce, a fresh coconut, chilli, lime, coriander and mint chutney and a vegetable curry.

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It was all delicious and absolutely perfect on a sunny yet cold day in the courtyard. We were also given an extra dish of a kind of fishcake made with tapioca rather than potato to try and that was fabulous.

Next up whisky-wise was a special bloggers’ event. We met in a room – about a dozen of us – and were given a very special bottle of Glen Moray to taste.

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This 1960 vintage is quite rare – No.534 of a limited edition – and retails at about a staggering £549 a bottle.

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The was one very special dram! It really was quite smooth and wonderful and I simply had to finish my taste. Yet I also have to say that I’m not sure I could bring myself to spend that much on a bottle of whisky. But then I enjoy whisky but am not an aficionado. However, as you can see below, I certainly enjoyed my wee dram and it definitely put a smile on my face!!

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What a fantastic event it was. We left after about 3 hours but it was going on well into the evening. This was the second year the festival had run and it’s set to become a regular annual event, especially after its sell-out success this year. I’m sure I’ll want to go again next year and while I have the luck to have a daughter living in Birmingham to stay with, it’s really worth any serious whisky lover heading to Birmingham specially for the event. You’ll have a whole day of tasting fabulous, special and rare whiskies; some great food to eat alongside it, and it’s a really fun event. There was a good, friendly buzz and everyone was enjoying themselves. I found people were willing to talk and share as you stood at a stall tasting so it was a great social outing too.

To find out more and about other events, check out www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk

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