Today, we're doing something a bit different for Gezellig Hour - taking a little peek into the International Whisky Festival at Den Haag. Regular recipe sharing will resume next week :).
Now, I don't claim to be a whisk(e)y expert, but it is my favorite spirit and my thirst for knowledge on the subject runs deep. Pun intended. Part of me believes it's a recessive gene passed down from my father's side of the family - a long lineage of bourbon and Canadian Whisky sippers. But the other part of me feels this love was nurtured during infancy with my parents dabbing a bit on my gums to sooth the ache of emerging teeth. It's probably some combination of both because by the time I was in pre-school I was sneaking into the living room to lick the top of scotch decanter whenever opportunity struck (usually while my mom was napping). To be clear, I did not know scotch, or even the concept of alcohol for that matter, all I knew was that I was not allowed to touch that beautiful crystal sculpture let alone consume the spicy, leathery liquid. BUT I COULD NOT RESIST. To my family/family friends who drank scotch with my parents circa 1990, sorry for the contamination.
Ok, back to the Festival! It all started last month when my parents came to town and we spent an afternoon whisky tasting in Leiden at the North End. At some point, the proprietor, Martin, mentioned the upcoming festival. The words did not fully leave his lips before I perked up, and JP and my parents explained in harmony "YOU HAVE TO GO!". So we did.
Unfortunately, I did just a bit of overbooking that day and had people coming over in the evening to celebrate Friendsgiving. Suffice to say, our experience was a bit more rushed and "buttoned up" but it was still a pretty overwhelmingly wonderful experience.
The International Whisky Festival was created 15 years ago with the intention of familiarizing the general public with the "gods drink". Maybe that's why the event happens in a church. This is a three day event, with 5 different, 4-hour sessions.
For 45 Euros (75 for VIP) you get 4 hours of unlimited whisky tasting and the opportunity to chat with different distilleries and distributors. When you enter the festival, you receive a tasting glass. Carry this glass with you at all times, as it grants access to as many sips (or drams, as they say in Scotland) as you please. Walk the isles and stop for a dram and a chat when a brand catches your eye. I did not see an official vendor count, but I felt like there was around 50 separate booths. A good majority of the tastes are included in the ticket price but if you fancy something more on the exclusive end, festival money (also called drams) is available and required for such tastings.
I don't know what I was expecting but I was shocked with the volume of people inside the festival. For the first thirty minutes or so, I was a little overwhelmed with my lack of personal space and felt like an awkward teenager on day one of a new school. The fact that there were probably 30 men for every woman did not help with this either (single ladies are you reading this?). However, I quickly spotted the orange label of my favorite bourbon, Bulleit, asked for a dram and the familiar taste and friendly chat with the rep eased us in to the festival spirit.
We meandered around for about an hour and half stopping at booths when a familiar brand, beautiful branding, or friendly rep caught our attention. I didn't take notes, but from memory, I enjoyed tasting with Dalwhinnie (their Winter's Gold is lovely), Nomad (the Sherry Cask Finish is excellent and their rep was adorable), Singleton (15 year) and Balvenie. It was fun to mingle with American brands like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
I also had a nice conversation with Andrew Hart of Meadowside Blending - independent Father/Son bottlers based in Glasgow, Scotland. Listening to Andrew speak of his pride and passion in his pursuit of excellence in whisky was refreshing and inspiring, and after trying both the Royal Thistle and Sherry Cask from his arsenal, the commitment to excellence is obvious.
After our time with Meadowside Blending, it was time to catch the train back to Dordrecht. But it was sad to go!
If you have any interest in attending next year, tickets are already on sale. If you're at all inclined to learn more about whisky, it's well wort the trip.