Taking place bi-annually at the gargantuan BorderShop in Puttgarden on the peninsula of Fehmarn, Scandlines’ Whisky & Festival is easily one of my favorite drink and spirit fairs out there. The location is mindboggling, the atmosphere is fantastic and the prices are unbelievable – where else do you get a full dram of Royal Salute Destiny 38yo for 5 Euros, Hakushu 18yo for 4 Euros or Bruichladdich 1990 Sherry Cask for 3 Euros? Sure, some people might find it a bit unfortunate that there is rarely ever an independent bottling to be found among the many original expressions and travel retail editions on offer. But for me this has never been an issue. Cause at the end of the day, a great whisky is a great whisky. And thus I value a good estate bottling from a merited distillery just as much as I appreciate a nice single cask release from an esteemed indie bottler.
Besides being able to try so many exquisite sips, meeting all kinds of wonderful people is another thing I really enjoy at an event such as Whisky & Festival. This time, I was particularly happy to see Douglas Laing’s Brand Ambassador Jan again, whom I first met in person at that very place a year ago and who has become a friend over the past 12 months. But I also made new acquaintances, such as Lukas and Samuel from Germany (who run a great online mag called Alkoblog), Hans-Henrik from Denmark (who owns the world’s biggest Glenfiddich collection) or David from the Sweden (who travels the world spreading the gospel of Highland Park and Macallan in his capacity as Brand Ambassador at The Edrington Group).
How much fun it is to hear David talk whisky, I learned in the course of the one-hour Highland Park and Macallan masterclass that was part of Whisky & Festival’s supporting programme on Saturday. The event started a little later than planned, because the BorderShop team first had to carry additional tables and chairs into the tasting room – apparently, quite a few drammers were looking forward to David’s presentation that day. We started with the first four expressions of Highland Park’s Warrior Series, going by the names of Svein, Einar, Harald and Sigurd. Bearing the aliases of actual viking chiefs that ruled the Orkney isles many hundreds of years ago, each of these pours is said to reflect the character of the Northman it was named after. The further we proceeded in the clan hierarchy (starting with Svein and ending with Sigurd), the older the distillate got and the stronger the sherry influence on the liquid became. I really enjoyed my encounter with all of these legendary Northmen, with Harald probably being the one I liked best. From history we then switched over to mythology. The Voyage Of The Raven, whose moniker is a tribute to the two black birds sitting on the all-father Odin’s shoulders, is one of the most recent additions to Highland Park’s travel retail range. A bit darker and peatier than the distillery’s usual bottlings, this smoke, spice and sherry-laden sip is one of David’s absolute faves; and I can certainly understand why!
After that quintet of Highland Parks, we let the tasting come to an end with two Macallans, namely the Select Oak and the Whisky Maker’s Edition. The first was so smooth and easily drinkable that David suggested there must be a hole in the bottom of the bottle – it is the only reasonable explanation, he joked, for the whisky disappearing that quickly. The second pour demanded a little more time. Deep, complex and with a strong sherry influence, the Whisky Maker’s Edition gives an impressive display of why the name Macallan has such an excellent ring. While we really learned a lot about the drams in our glasses and the distilleries behind them – did you know, for example, that Edrington Group imports an unbelievable 90 per cent of all sherry casks used in the Scottish whisky industry? – David’s masterclass never felt like “being back in school”. The tone was informal, the mood was cheerful and the funny remarks he made along the way more than once let the packed room resound with laughter. I truly had an amazing time at the tasting and I am sure not a single one of the attendees would beg to differ on that.
After seven whiskies that were matured or finished in sherry casks to different extents, I spent the remainder of the festival focusing on peat. Among others, my last bunch of drams included the 25-year-old expression by Laphroaig, the Explorer’s Edition of Big Peat and a vintage Bowmore distilled in 1988. Although I got to try a pretty fair share of exquisite sips throughout the day, the BorderShop still houses an infinity of bottlings I did not yet have in the glass. Thankfully, I only need to wait half a year until I can return to Whisky & Festival and continue where I left off.
The line-up of the masterclass:
Highland Park Svein (Single Malt / Islands / NAS / 40% / ~35.00 Euro)
Highland Park Einar (Single Malt / Islands / NAS / 40% / ~43.00 Euro)
Highland Park Harald (Single Malt / Islands / NAS / 40% / ~50.00 Euro)
Highland Park Sigurd (Single Malt / Islands / NAS / 40% / ~120.00 Euro)
Highland Park Voyage Of The Raven (Single Malt / Islands / NAS / 41.3% / ~65.00 Euro)
Macallan Select Oak (Single Malt / Highlands / NAS / 40% / ~50.00 Euro)
Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition (Single Malt / Highlands / NAS / 42.8% / ~90.00 Euro)
BorderShop: http://www.puttgarden.border-shop.dk (Location)
BorderShop on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bordershop (Location)
Scandlines: https://www.scandlines.com (Organizer)
Highland Park: http://www.highlandparkwhisky.com/ (Distillery)
Macallan: http://www.themacallan.com/ (Distillery)