Awards & Events

Class acts

The Masterclasses gave visitors the chance to explore the world of whisky more fully. Brigid James picks some highlights
By Brigid James
We were only there for one thing: to meet the ‘godfather of bourbon’, living legend and third generation master distiller Jimmy Russell.Detailing some of the finer points of production, Jimmy explained that Wild Turkey is distilled at low proof to conserve flavours – meaning higher production costs but better flavour. And Jimmy refuses point blank to use genetically-modified grain. He explained that the white oak used for the barrels comes from Arkansas, Missouri and east Kentucky – due to its good fibre and coarseness. The oaks are felled between 40 and 100 years old.The class undertook a vertical tasting comprising new make, 2, 4, 6 and 8 year olds, followed by Wild Turkey 101 rye. The sweet vanilla and caramel tastes were ever more clearly defined moving up the tasting, topped off with the complex, unusual, bold 101 rye.And the icing on the cake was a gift for each audience member of a bottle of Wild Turkey 8-Year-Old signed by Jimmy – a precious and unique souvenir given by a unique man.The Classic Malts class, led by Jim Beveridge and Kenny Gray, showcased exceptional aged malts that have survived into old age mainly through luck, having been intended for blending purposes, but passed over due to a period of overproduction in the 1970s. Jim and Kenny explained the history of the whiskies and their distilleries whilst guiding participants through a remarkable tasting.The first sample, a Port Ellen 24-year-old, was fresh, minty, salty, with smokiness and a honey sweetness on the palate. The Dalwhinnie 39-year-old had kept its character remarkably well for an old whisky, and was not too woody and very lively. A sweet but salty Oban 32-year-old was followed by a powerful Lagavulin 25- year-old, the oldest whisky to be released from this distillery in 25 years.The audience was horrified to hear that this cask had probably been intended for use in White Horse blended whisky.The Talisker 20-year-old was all the more unusual for having been matured in a sherry cask.Brand ambassador Jens Tholstrup promised the audience a tasting of the more unusual products from William Grant & Sons. This included the spicy, buttery Havana Reserve 21-year-old, matured using barrels selected from a small Cuban rum distillery.Class participants were the first members of the general public to taste the oaky, fruity Glenfiddich 1973, and The Balvenie 1972 was a sweeter, peatier and quite woody dram.Grain whisky tends to be regarded as unexciting, but not so the Girvan tasted in this class: the vanilla, toffee and fruit notes made for a delicious tasting experience.Another bonus was the unusual Caoran (‘peat ember’) Reserve – Glenfiddich matured in ex-Islay barrels to replicate the taste of 1940s/’50s Glenfiddich, when peat was used in the furnaces due to coal shortages. The fruity, peaty whisky is only available in Britain due to limited stocks.The Edradour/Signatory class was presented by Andrew Symington, in blue distillery boiler suit, and Edradour‘s distillery manager, ‘retired’ Iain Henderson.More unusual whiskies tasted included a Laphroaig 1990 port wood finish, which had picked up pink grapefruit shade after only four months in port pipes, a 1978 Port Ellen port wood finish, a 1969 Springbank and Andrew’s first offering from his new distillery: an Edradour 10-year-old.