The main whisky event in Denmark this Spring was the annual Danish whisky festival Whiskymessen. We (Danny and Martin) have attended since 2010 with a varying cast of thirsty mates and this year we turned up seven heads strong. As none of us were dramming rookies, we were wondering if the festival would offer something we had not tried before. Was it really worth going through the agonizing post-whisky festival hangovers once again?
Whiskymessen has been going on since 2001. In 2012 it moved from a sport arena in the city of Kolding to the larger exhibition center in nearby Fredericia. As the festival has grown steadily in popularity, so has the need for more room and more whisky serving stands. This year Whiskymessen occupied the largest of the halls in the exhibition center in an effort to make sure a couple of thousand predominantly middle aged men could take on an eight hour whisky binge without bumping too much into each other.
Despite this ambitious setting, 2014 was logistically the best year of Whiskymessen so far. Food and cash were readily available throughout the day and the large hall had been filled with stands offering whisky from a small army of brand representatives and volunteers. This was the first year it was possible get served at practically any stand without having to fight your way through a wall of seemingly paralyzed drunks, unable to make way after having their glasses filled.
As the previous years, we started the day with the thinking bourbon. It is the most interesting or expensive bourbon of the festival ordered straight on arrival, and something to enjoy while getting situated at the festival, locating interesting whiskies, scouting food stands and the general situation.
Getting an overview of the selection of several hundred whiskies this year proved quite challenging. The printable tasting catalog had been release a couple of days before the festival, but unfortunately it was not accurate with the selection at some of the stands.
An app had been launched the previous year for iPhone but was now also available for Android. Despite this make-over the app had still not been optimized for usage at the festival: It was possible to see and search an alphabetical list of all whiskies available as well as a map of the different stands. It was however not possible to see a list of what whiskies were available at the specific stands, so using the app had to be continually supplemented with the printed program. Unfortunately the app was not up to date either and had some differences with the printable catalog as well as reality.
The whiskies offered at the festival vary in price. From free to pricy. However, it is still possible to get a substantial amount of drams for free or just a few quid. Obviously most of the freebies are the basic and generic releases by the larger distilleries and blenders, but there are some interesting drams in between. Like the entire range of peated Tomintoul.
With Danny being addicted to Tomintoul’s smooth peaty Speyside spirits, it was mandatory we made way for the Tomintoul stand early on and tried the most recent release before it ran dry: The Old Ballantruan 10. Warming up with the heartbreakingly soft and tender Tomintoul With A Peaty Tang and then on with the fiercely tasteful yet well-rounded no age Old Ballantruan, which never fails to get the blood pumping. Following these two the Old Ballantruan 10 unfortunately fell flat on it’s stomach in an unimpressive aftertaste-missing pool of dissapointment.
Obviously we had not come just to get free booze. During the day we also dropped by Eksklusivbaren, which is a bar-like stand operated by Whisky.dk with more rare or high end whiskies available. Like the legendary Caol Ila 8 Unpeated 64.9% 2008 edition. An unpeated but otherwise full-bodied Islay beast, where the lack of peat paves the way for a fistful of Hebredian whisky badassery. For some of us this was the best dram of the day.
Another crucial part of whisky festival survival is food. As mentioned in another post, it is an essential part of whisky festival survival, and also serves as an occasion to plan the next moves.
This year it was handled by the exhibition center cafeteria. They did rather well by serving tasteful food in a hurry, but the selection of food was taken from the darker corners of traditional Danish cousine. There was also a BBQ, but it did not start until rather late in the afternoon which did not sit well with our tight schedule.
Danish whisky distilleries
After lunch we did a stint solely with Danish whisky. The three most prolific Danish whisky distilleries where there: Stauning, Braunstein and Fary Lochan. They were also joined by Trolden Distillery, who were offering some young cask samples.
Fary Lochan is based in Farre near Give, Jutland. They have recently launched a few limited releases of very young whisky, but have also almost from the start sold new make along with a selection of snaps (aquavit). Having previously tried both the 1st and 2nd edition unsmoked new make, we were curious about the further development of this forthcoming dark horse in Danish whisky.
At Whiskymessen we were offered their first release: The still unassuming 3 year old Fary Lochan Efterår 2013 Batch 1. We were also treated with the smoky 3 year old Fary Lochan Forår 2014 Batch 1. This surprisingly harsh dram is indeed made with smoked barley. But rather than peat smoking it they are burning stinging nettles. Rather rudimentary but also quite effective, this will sit well with the aquavit crowd.
Trolden Distillery is part of the Kolding-based brewery Trolden Bryghus. Both are run by Michael Svendsen who started distilling for a small whisky production in 2011. He has previously had a stand at Whiskymessen but this was the first year he had brought spirits along, which was a very pleasant surprise.
We went through the selection of three young spirits all matured in small casks to ensure maximum taste. Each of them were soft and silky despite the young age. One of them had been stored in a Danish Rondo wine cask, which worked particularly well. It was also possible to buy a 1 yo 20cl release titled Dragon Fire, which almost all of us ended up doing, effectively selling out this limited release.
Trolden Distillery is also working on a production of peated whisky. Generally we think it is an interesting and promising enterprise to follow.
No reason to hide the fact that Stauning Whisky is our favorite Danish distillery. Since last year master distiller Mogens Vesterby has retired but this has not dampened neither production nor ambition of this prolific West Jutlandian distillery.
As the other years we have met them on Whiskymessen, they have brought some pre-released or very recently released bottlings along. This year the 7th Edition Young Rye, Traditional 2nd Edition Olorosso sherry cask and the Traditional 2nd Edition PX sherry cask. Over the past year Stauning has released sherry cask maturations of both their peated and traditional editions, but sadly the peated editions were long gone by the time of the festival. Of the two traditional sherry cask releases it was a unanimous vote in favor of the Olorosso cask.
We have previously covered the good work of Stauning Whisky with our visit to the humble rural distillery and tasting of the now ridiculously sought-after Stauning Peated 1st Edition.
Talisker master class
In the early afternoon it was time for the Talisker Master Class. We have previously expressed concern about and advised caution against signing up for these events at whisky festivals. With the lowest common denominator setting the standard for jokes and anecdotes, they take up a lot of valuable tasting time and often do not deliver neither ample information, entertainment nor inspiration for the seasoned whisky enthusiast. Instead we generally advise raiding a stand of a particular brand rather than paying for their master class.
With one of our favorite distilleries doing one at the festival we were willing to give it another try nonetheless. This turned out to be a mistake. Despite our very low expectations this was still the low point of the day.
To an audience of some +50 eager whisky enthusiasts, the brand ambassador presented a slide show with the most basic info on the distillery along with a few nonsensical marketing slogans and the reading up of generic tasting notes. While encouraging the audience to ask questions, the lack of substantial answers seemed symptomatic for the event as such. When asked why Talisker did not release cask strength editions the short answer was that Talisker whiskies were supposed to be pleasant to drink.
A part from these issues the biggest problem was the selection, which meant anyone actively following Talisker were not presented anything new or special. The last dram was kept a secret till the end of tasting. Once again encouraged to participate by guessing what it was, a small ripple of enthusiasm crept across the audience. Unfortunately the answer was the Talisker 25: The last of the five whiskies that Talisker had also brought along at their own stand.
On a positive note; the price was fair for what we got, and we were also treated with a bit of Talisker chocolate cake.
By this the time whisky festival haze had started to set in, and we needed something to straighten us up. Luckily we had saved one of the best places for a last heroic stint.
Scottish Malt Whisky Society
Just like last year, the SMWS had brought enough personnel, bottles and furniture along to make a small festival in itself. It worked rather well and given the impressive overall quality of the many SMWS bottlings, it was understandably a place many festival goers spent a lot of time.
Rather than waiting for an available couch we stood in one end of the bar getting a good chat with Danish SMWS owner Terje Thesbjerg, whom we visited at his home base SMWS in Vejle a couple of years ago.
Our SMWS stint consisted of a good handful godly single cask whiskies of predominantly Islay origin. Mainly based on our own wishlists but also a couple on recommendation from Terje. We ended with the immaculate SMWS 127.39 Intensely Tasty, which is a fierce 11 yo Port Charlotte of a whooping 66.7% alc.
Danny vs. SMWS 127.39
Steffen Bräuner runs this nice and frequently updated whisky blog. Prior to the festival he had commented on our thinking bourbon recommendation in our whisky festival survival guide, saying he actually preferred bourbons at the end of long day of dramming rather than the beginning. Incidentally he was serving bourbon in the Whisky.dk stand, so after the SMWS 66.7% peat monster we thought it fitting to drop by and test his advice.
We went through a few of the most tasteful bourbons of the festival, and in all fairness it was possible to pick up a surprising amount of notes despite the scorched tongue and palate. Especially the Four Roses 125 year anniversary edition impressed. In general we do however not recommend exploring new expensive bourbons at the end of a busy day like this. There is simply too many impressions and complexities neither getting picked up nor registered by the human sensory apparatus.
While we have mentioned quite a few of the whiskies we tasted at Whiskymessen 2014, this is by no means a comprehensive list of everything, and naturally the day after this ordeal was not a pleasant one. So was it worth it?
Yes, we think so. But despite the exceptional handling of the logistics at Whiskymessen 2014, whisky festivals are still chaotic and disorganized events, where it is very much up to the visitors to find the surprising, interesting or fantastic drams and seek out the entertaining or inspirational moments. In general we think this is a good thing, and we are happy to report that these drams and moments are still there at Whiskymessen if you put the effort into it.
High lights this year: The selection at SMWS and Eksklusivbaren. Meeting with and tasting the fruits of the still fresh and fertile Danish whisky scene.
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