Friday 19 May 2017

Hong Kong Whisky Festival 2017 review

After the success of 2016's inaugural Hong Kong Whisky FestivalInterContinental Grand Stanford held their festival again this year, delivering an even bigger and better festival with even more masterclasses.

Held again over one day, the event brought together big brands and indies alike, and made the most of the (expansive) hotel space, taking over two floors, several function rooms and even a suite!

Arriving an hour or so after opening, I took a walk around to see what was what. The first thing that struck me was, even that early, it was already busy. The second thing that struck me was just how many, varied stands there were. Bars, shops, independent bottlers, major distilleries, major distributors, local distributors, were all well-represented, as were "world whiskies" from all over the globe. In fact, the festival brochure had an excellent article on "New World" whisky (although I might be a little biased, given I wrote it...)

The festival shop saw a big improvement on the prior year, with a lot more space and even more bottles available (including some long gone Indies like this Eiling Lim 27yo Irish).

As is always the case with these festivals, you end up chatting to and sharing a dram with all the wonderful people working there, and before you know it, 3 hours have passed. I'd barely gotten around to half the booths when my first masterclass came up - an Asta Morris class with founder Bert Bruyneel.

Sidenote: As evidence of the quality and quantity of masterclasses on offer throughout the day, I had to decide between this and an Adelphi masterclass, both on at the same time. The good people of Malt Maniacs & Friends suggested I go for the Asta Morris class, and I'm glad I did.

Held in conjunction with Whiskies and More (Asta Morris' HK distributor) and The Fine Spirits Society, the class saw us tasting 6 spirits blind. We knew what the spirits were (amongst them were an 14yo Ardmore, an aged gin, a 13yo Bowmore, a 5yo Chichibu, a 27yo Bunnahabhain and a 32yo 1979 Benriach - a cask which was saved by Bert from blending into Chivas), but not the order, which made for much fun and debate.

I'd heard a bit about this Bert "character" and it was all true. His class was exactly what I look for in a masterclass - great whiskies (tick), educational (tick), full of stories (tick), but most of all, FUN (tick tick). The hour flew by and by the end of it, we all felt like we'd had a heap of fun, enjoying a few casual drams, making new friends and listening to some hilarious stories. 

I guess what I'm saying is, if you get a chance to attend one of Bert's classes, take it!

After Bert's class, it was straight over to another function room for a Hunter Laing masterclass, with Andrew Laing, to explore "Where the flavours come from" with a variety of whiskies of different ages, provenance and cask types. Included in the lineup was a 19yo Longmorn, 8yo Craigellachie (showing some great natural colour due to its aging in a quarter cask), a 6yo Caol Ila and an 8yo Talisker.

After the two classes, it was time for a bit more of a walk around, a few more drams, and a delicious cocktail from Eddie Nara, to prepare myself for...

...a barrel making demonstration, in which I was to construct a whisky barrel with none other than The Balvenie's Head Cooper Ian Macdonald - a man who has been in the business for almost 50 years! Luckily, I'd managed to grab a few tips by watching Mr Nara do the same a few hours earlier.

After managing to bungle my way through making the barrel, I have to say - hats off to people who do this day-in, day-out for a living. It's not easy (even less so after a few drams), but it was a fun and rewarding experience (thanks to Ian for the expert tutoring and assistance)!

By this point, the show was wrapping up, but there was still one masterclass left to attend - this time focusing on some fairly rare (and expensive) blends.

Those blends of course, being four Johnnie Walker "Private Collection" releases, from 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014.

A 7pm timeslot after a long whisky festival is always going to see a few people worse for wear, but our host Stephen Notman (aka Mr Whisky China) pushed through, talking us through the history of blending and how the Private Collection series "rips up the philosophy of consistency in blending". He wasn't wrong - here were four very different (but all very enjoyable drams).

All were great, but the 2017's waxy apple nose and tropical and vanilla palate won me over as my favourite. A bit of Clynelish in there perhaps?

Between these festivals, the excellent Tiffany's New York Bar, and the many other whisky events/promotions throughout the year, InterContinental Grand Stanford have firmly established themselves as a Hong Kong whisky powerhouse over the past few years, and we have no doubt their upcoming World Whisky Day 2017 celebrations will only help cement that (unfortunately we won't be in HK to enjoy it...)

Martin. attended HKWF17 as a guest of InterContinental Grand Stanford.

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