With round about a dozen exhibitors, Kiel Whisky Fair is one of the smallest dramming events I visit each year. But it is also one of the best. The quality of the exhibiting companies is very high, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed and the location, though well filled, is never over-crowded. Plus, attending the exhibition marks a good opportunity for me to pay my former hometown of Kiel another visit.
Last weekend, I took course for Kiel Whisky Fair for the third time. I had such a blast there in 2017 and 2018 that I could not help but come back. The first booth I targeted belonged to Vibrant Stills. After greeting their managing director Didi, I started with the light, fruity and mildly maritime Wolfburn 375 – a small batch release matured in experimental 100 litre casks from Woodford Reserve. A lovely opener. Later, I returned to Vibrant Stills to focus on another brand from their portfolio – Kilchoman. Islay’s farm distillery has been a fave of mine for years. Both the new 100% Islay (which marks Kilchoman’s least peaty expression) and the hot STR Cask Matured (which aged exclusively in shaved, toasted and re-charred red wine barrels) blew me away. Of the latter, I took a full bottle home. I will be happy to introduce it to you in more detail in the next days.
Only a few steps further, I said hello to Penderyn’s recently appointed brand ambassador Bastian. At the stand of the Welsh distillery’s importer Schlumberger, he treated the visitors to delicious Penderyn drams. Since I had tried quite a few of their whiskies at tastings and fairs in the last weeks, I did not go for another Penderyn though. Instead, I asked Bastian for a glass of Macallan 7yo that was bottled for the Italian market in the 1990s. This young but rich sherry bomb was full of banana, blueberries and nougat as well as purple winegums and tropic fruits. It faded smoothly and left me craving for more.
The next booth was a must-see for me. Whenever they are around, I spend a significant amount of time with Bremer Spirituosen Contor. While chatting to the fine folks manning in the stand, I tried numerous Douglas Laing expressions. My highlight was an extraordinary grain whisky of awe-inspiring age, namely a Caledoninan 42yo from the XOP range. This luxury drop opened with a sweet and sour nose full of juicy oranges, chewy fudge and rich wood. The caramel palate had cereals, spices, banana milk and Werther’s Original drops. In the fresh and medium-long finish, I made out more fudge as well as soft licorice and a bit of mint. I absolutely loved the whisky’s character and complexity!
As always when you are having fun, time went by much too quickly. Prior to the fair, I had planned to leave at five o’clock to catch an early train home. Entangled in conversations and entranced by the wonderful whiskies on tap, I ended up staying till the lights went out at seven. In addition to the booths mentioned before, I also stopped by at various other the stands. For example, I had my first-ever touch point with The Single Cask at the table of Gradl’s Whiskyfässla and a nice re-encounter with Claxton’s at the stall of Pinkernells Whisky Market. From the former, a powerful Aultmore 8yo with a PX finish left the biggest impression on me. From the latter, I was especially fond of a stunning Caol Ila 7yo from a refill hogshead. Another stunner was the Bladnoch 26yo from Cadenhead’s, which my pal Malte (who runs the highly recommandable Malte Talks Malts blog) poured me at the booth of Paul’s Prime. This dignifiedly matured Lowlander was soft and subtle in character, yet bursting with fruit and flavor! If I had to pick my top three whiskies of the day, it would surely get a mention.
Those fancying a guided degustation could also participate in various tastings, all of which cost as little as 15 bucks. The selection ranged from a Springbank masterclass to a Penderyn flight to a journey ’round the whisk(e)y world with stops in Ireland (Writer’s Tears), India (Paul John), Switzerland (Säntis Malt) and other countries. Since I met a friend at the fair, whom I had not seen in quite some time, I decided to not book a tasting this time. Instead, we went from stand to stand together, catching up over all kinds of cracking drams. We had a ton of fun and we will surely be back next year!