Monday 7 March 2016

Malt Masters Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2016 review

Hot on the heels of the inaugural Hong Kong Whisky Festival came the Malt Masters HK Whisky Festival, which celebrated its third year in Hong Kong last weekend.

Re-locating from last year's event at PMQ, this year's festival saw an entire function floor of Conrad Hong Kong taken over by a mixture of booths, masterclass rooms, and a very special "Rare Whisky VIP Room", not to mention the pool-side whisky and cigar pairing classes.

The festival ran over both Saturday and Sunday, but actually kicked off on Friday with a fantastic poolside party featuring whisky, "sensory" pairing (with the talented Ewan Henderson of Scotch Broth Events), cocktails, cigars and even a whisky highball matched with fairy floss! Ian McKerrow (Malt Masters founder) introduced the festival and explained that the focus this year would be on both education and world whiskies. A quick look at the masterclass schedule, and the distilleries represented certainly echoed that claim.

Whilst the selection of drams wasn't quite as big as the HKWF, it was certainly well curated, with Scotland, Ireland, America, Japan, Wales and Sweden all well-represented. Making good use of the entire hotel floor, the festival split booths up into a number of individual and naturally-lit function rooms keeping the event from ever feeling too busy, despite the fact that there were actually a lot of people in attendance. 

All drams were included in the entry price ($600-$800HKD) and attendees were given a clever smartcard for bottle purchases (clever, although perhaps someone dangerous given the smartly-discounted prices on offer).

A few of the more interesting whiskies for us were the Mackmyra Vinterrok and Svensk Rök (both very popular amongst attendees), Wyoming Whisky (a sweet, easy-sipping Bourbon with no rye in the mashbill), and Arran, who had their usual huge selection on offer.

The masterclasses were many and varied - offering everything from molecular food pairing and whisky for beginners to masterclasses covering specific brands, and even a masterclass on whisky investing. The variety was clearly a hit with the crowd, with attendees constantly shuffling back and forth between classes and the booths. For next year's festival we may even consider attending both days - one to focus on the masterclasses, the other to focus on the rest of the festival.

One theme that ran through the day was "fun" - everyone we spoke to, everywhere you looked, people were having fun, catching up with old friends, or making new ones. Adding to the fun (in a responsible manner) was an Uber breathalyser called "Uber Safe". It was the first time we'd seen one of these at a whisky festival, but we'd like to see more! Even if some people (most?) used it as a form of competition amongst their mates, it still did a good job of reminding people how quickly their blood alcohol level can rise at events like these, and to never drive afterwards. The freebies on offer from Uber (battery packs, sunglasses, bottle openers) were a nice addition too.

At 1pm the Rare Whisky VIP Room opened (sponsored by Platinum Wines HK, founders of the first whisky investment fund), which provided guests with two additional complimentary drams (a 27yo Macallan independently bottled under the "Prometheus" label, and a 16yo 1987 Laphroaig), as well as the opportunity to purchase 20mL drams of some incredibly rare whiskies. We'll let the photos do most of the talking, but to name a few of the drams on offer:
  • 1984 single cask Karuizawa
  • 1973 Ardbeg 15yo bottled by Sestante
  • Highland Park 35yo
  • Various Single Cask Yamazakis
  • 1982 Port Ellen, Old Malt Cask Bottling, 18yo

After a few incredible drams, and a chat to David Robertson (former master distiller of The Macallan, founder of the Rare Whisky 101 and great bloke), who had some interesting insights into the world of investing, the rare whisky market, and the proliferation of fake whisky bottles, it was time to head out to the pool for our Cohiba & Glenlivet pairing masterclass.

With the sun shining and the temperature a beautiful low to mid 20s, the class was the perfect way to wind down our time at the festival. Presented by Darren Hosie of Pernod Ricard, the class offered no pretension, no complicated tastings, and plenty of fun. A selection of 5 drams (Glenlivet 12 Excellence, 15, 18, Nadurra and New Make Spirit), a cigar (Cohiba Siglo II), a brief introduction into the whisky, and that was it - time for guests to enjoy the whisky, decide on their own favourite pairing, and chat with fellow whisky lovers.

Perfect - just like our whole day at the festival really.

Martin. would like to thank Malt Masters HK for the invitation to the party, festival and Rare Whisky VIP Room.

1 comment: