By Rupert Wheeler

Spring Has Sprung

Mad as a March hare
March has been and gone and with one thing or another I spent most of the month out of the office. It all started with the Whiskies and Spirits Conference held at the Waldorf which got of to a cracking early start at 9am going through until 5pm. A good sized audience gathered to hear some very interesting speakers. This was followed in the evening with the presentation of the World Whiskies Awards (WWA) and where we also inducted two more whisky greats into our Hall of Fame; namely Bill Lark and Seiichi Koshimizu. What really impressed me, was not only had both travelled vast distances to be there on the night, but that on both occasions there was a standing ovation from the very enthusiastic audience. What a tribute to both men. I met up with Bill and his family the next day and they had all thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Once the awards had finished there was no slacking and the next day the team were setting up Whisky Live at the Honourable Artillery Company in the city of London. This is the second time I have attended this show and it never ceases to amaze me how many people attend and how responsible all the visitors are; especially considering the vast amounts of free whisky there is to be had. This year on the Whisky Magazine stand (brand new and greatly admired I hasten to add) we were offering free samples of most of the category winners in the WWA. These went down a storm and we intend to continue this at next years show. I really enjoyed meeting so many visitors and discussing their particular likes and dislikes of both the magazine and the whiskies we had on offer. It's really good to meet readers face to face and I look forward to meeting more of you next year.

With the show finishing on Saturday afternoon, it was all hands to the pump to break down Whisky Live before I flew off to Kentucky on the Sunday.

Somewhat of a different experience to my trip travelling back from Bangalore in business class (I was upgraded from economy at no extra cost I hasten to add). This time it was economy and good grief there was not much leg room. After the most comprehensive security I have ever encountered (in Chicago airport) including finger prints taken on all ten fingers, a full face camera shot, a body search and my suitcase rummaged through, I made it to Louisville late on Sunday evening. Without my suitcase, but that's another story suffice to say it did turn up.

The first two days were spent at Brown-Forman. Having been shown round a very impressive headquarters we were taken to the Brown-Forman cooperage which was one of the most extraordinary sights I have ever seen. It was akin to a scene out of Victorian times. Huge mechanical belts, masses of steam and vast amounts of flamage accosted you as we were taken into the works. The noise was deafening and even with ear plugs I have no idea how anyone can converse or work under such conditions. I took several videos which you can see on our website. With the statistic that in the region of 2,000 barrels are produced here each day it goes to show how much bourbon is being produced. Also one day when these barrels have been used they will be on their way to Scotland.

On the following day we were taken to Woodford Reserve where Chris Morris, master distiller, took us on a most comprehensive tour of the distillery which culminated in us tasting over six expressions along with a food pairing class.

With only three days remaining I went on a whistle stop tour of as many Bourbon distilleries I could take in and was blown away with the huge enthusiasm everyone had for Bourbon. I was also very aware of how important it is for distilleries to open up to visitors. At Heaven Hill they have been forced, due to sheer numbers, to double the size of their visitor centre.

Which neatly brings me on to what's in this issue. Visitor centres are very important to many distilleries in the UK and in this issue we have produced an eight page special on The Speyside Whisky Festival when a large number of distilleries open their doors for this festival only.

I hope you have time to get up there between 30 April-4 May 2015.