So all that’s left is the aptly-named Grand Tasting, the centerpiece of the festival weekend held on the Saturday evening. Unlike the Vancouver whisky and beer show Hopscotch, you pay a larger upfront fee but all the drinks are free after that. It’s wise to pace yourself, take advantage of the free food and water, and do a lap of the halls first to decide what you can’t live without. Remember the normal golden rules of whisky tasting too – don’t ruin your palate by diving straight into a cask-strength Ardbeg early on in the night, for instance!
Another good tip is to listen closely in any masterclass you attend, as you might hear about some of the special under-the-table offerings. An alternative way to hear about them is to strike up conversations with any exhibitors you recognize around the hotel before the tasting. Failing that, lurk about your target distillery table until someone more clued-in than yourself gets his special dram, hold your glass out and hope for the best!
There were some good drams to be had this year for those in the know – Laphroaig had their 18 year and Triple Wood inside large boots, and Glenfarclas had a bottle of their 40-year-old, though sadly I didn’t find out about this one until it was too late. Next time, George!
So to my personal highlights of the Grand Tasting event:
- Clan Denny’s Islay blend was superb; not too heavy on the peat, but smoky and creamy, lovely.
- Springbank’s Rundlets and Kilderkins, which I cover in Part 3 here.
- Laphroaig’s aforementioned 18-year-old, which is balanced and delicious.
- The Nikka 21 Taketsuru, a huge Japanese blended malt (which until recently was called a vatted malt… it’s hard to keep up sometimes!)
- The Glendronach 12, which is a wonderful example of an affordable sherried Speyside made the right way – non-chill filtered, no caramel added for colour. Rich and complex flavour and as I said, wonderfully affordable!
- Some of the Canadian Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s bottlings… so good. Please come to BC, SMWS.ca; we’re waiting.
- Bruichladdich had lots of expressions at their table. I really liked the Laddie Classic, an unpeated malt matured in ex-bourbon casks. Lots of vanilla and spice, really good.
- On the bourbon side, I didn’t find anything particularly unusual but Buffalo Trace were represented with their indomitable Eagle Rare.
And so an absolutely fantastic festival came to an end. We left with memories of great conversations and of course great whisky. We got lucky the next day and made it out on the 9am ferry to the mainland, which turned out to be the last one that day before the wind forced the cancellation of the remaining schedule. This fortunate event seemed perfectly in step with the rest of our festival experience. See you next year, Victoria!