Awards & Events

Alive and kicking

Whisky enthusiasts came from far and wide to this year's sell-out Whisky Live, helping to make it the biggest and best yet. Dominic Roskrow looks back at the event, and over the page, Brigid James reviews some of the Masterclasses
By Dominic Roskrow
It’s Friday night in London, getting dark, and a queue snakes out from the venue, relaxed, happy and expectant. All that’s missing is a tout wandering along the line saying “Macallan Fine and Rare tickets; buy or sell.”Okay, it’s not quite the Rolling Stones, but right now, in this part of town, it’s the best show going. Whisky Live 2003 is alive and truly kicking.In the event, I don’t get in to The Macallan. The huge demand for one of the top Masterclasses of the two day whisky mega-fest means that on this occasion the press pass does not guarantee a fast-track to the front, and I make way for a couple of whisky-lovers who have travelled here
from northern Europe.But not before chatting to an overseas visitor who has spent his entire first day at Masterclasses and is planning his second day’s tastings. Today he has tasted virtually nothing in the main hall, he reveals, because he wants to make sure he has worked out the best route round for the following day.He brings out a hand-drawn floor-plan and points out the path he will trek. He will visit his favourite and third favourite together first of all, he reveals, because his second favourite is further down the room. If all goes to plan, he will have covered the lot by tea time on Saturday, and have time to return to his first loves. Or, he says conspiratorially, to slot in a visit to something he hadn’t planned for, but discovered during the day.With that, the doors open, the Macallan stampede starts, and I return to the main hall, where a rare Chivas is waiting. Hell, it’s 7.05pm and it’s been a long day … Whisky Live 2003 was a triumph. It picked up where last year’s event left off, stepped on the gas and shot onwards, selling out this year at the Royal Horticultural Halls in Victoria, London.And if ever there were a riposte to sceptical commentators who see whisky as part of a dying brown spirits market, it was here, during our two days of tasting the world’s finest whiskies/whiskeys.That the sector has a dynamic and vibrant underbelly, and is slowly but surely attracting a new generation of curious younger drinkers, particularly from mainland Europe, is there for anyone to see.Whisky Live 2003 was made up of two areas; the main tasting room, and the Masterclasses, held in a separate building.With some of the finest whiskies on the planet in the same room, visitors were free to wander with their complimentary tasting glass, and sample to their hearts’ content. It made for impressive viewing – a cross-section of the public having the chance to quiz the experts on their products in an environment that increasingly resembled a relaxed and friendly evening social.The amount of work that goes into such an event is truly staggering, but with the cream of Scotland, Ireland, Japan and Kentucky on show, nobody could fail to be impressed or to find something they enjoyed.Meanwhile, yours truly had come up with a cunning plan to further his limited but growing knowledge of whisky and appear to be working at the same time. I escorted a succession of journalists around the room, helping them to select drams that might appeal, and professionally ensuring that each sample was perfect by tasting a small amount myself.One such journalist, stung into action by Michael Jackson – who admitted that in another life he had once quite unbelievably muttered the words ‘I don’t like whisky’ – proceeded to overcome his own dislike of the drink.After just half an hour, he came away admitting that he had found three Scotch whiskies that he would be only too happy to sip in a social environment.Unsurprising, really; it was that sort of event.