Finally: another whisky fair! Earlier this month, the prestigious Alsterhaus in Hamburg held its annual Whisky Weeks again. Whereas the multi-day festival was quite the event in the past, it only happened in a very reduced form in 2020 due to the unsteady corona situation. Thanks to the first successes of the vaccination campaign, however, happenings like these have now become possible again – at least when they follow the so-called “2G” rule (which requires every participant to show either a vaccination certificate or a recovery attestation before they start drinking). At Whisky Weeks 2021, the respective procedure was pretty easy: You go to a booth, you show the required document, you take off your face mask, you enjoy a free dram or more.
I went there two times in total. During both of my visits, I started my dramming journey at the booth of Pernod Ricard. There, the French spirits giant showcased select expressions from its figurehead Scotch distilleries The Glenlivet and Aberlour. From the the first-mentioned unit near Ballindalloch, I had the fruity, spicy, and gallant 18 Years Old – a lovely starter! From the second-named site near Dufftown and Rothes, I had a trio of Double Cask Matured whiskies aged twelve, fourteen, and sixteen years. Even though they all had a very moderate ABV of 40 per cent, they were richly flavored and full-bodied. The 12 Years Old was honeysweet and mildly spiced; the 14 Years Old was intense with plum, citrus, and dark chocolate; and the 16 Years Old was elegant with orange zest and subtle oak. Classy stuff, the ‘Livet as well as the ‘Lours!
Another Scotch distillery with whom I spent some serious quality time at Whisky Weeks was Bladnoch. I first became a real fan of this long-serving Lowlands unit in March 2019. Back then, Bladnoch’s importer Vibrant Stills invited me to an exclusive tasting with the distillery’s owner David Prior. In the course of the event, I got to taste a great assortment of Bladnoch drams; and I also got a glimpse at the distillery’s most past as well as an outlook on its bright future. At the booth at Alsterhaus, me and the other visitors could choose between three different expressions: the discontinued 10 Years Old and 17 Years Old plus the new Vinaya. The first two are made from spirit distilled under the old ownership, whereas the latter is the first Bladnoch release that also includes some spirit made after the reopening of the gates. Vinaya, which is created by master blender Dr. Nick Savage (formerly of The Macallan), shows the path that Bladnoch will follow in the future: elegant, light, rich, and floral with an invigorating citrus spritz. I really enjoyed it! In the end, however, I took home a bottle of the 17 Years Old; after all, that one is no longer in production and hence it will disappear from the market soon. So I figured it wise to grab a bottle for a special price at Alsterhaus.
Besides Scotch, whisky made in Germany was the second spirit category I delved deeper into. At the Slyrs stand I tried three different expressions with cask finishes: the Rum Finishing, the Port Finishing, and the Pedro Ximenez Finishing. In each case, the extra-maturation was more on the subtle side, adding pin-pointed taste nuances to the whisky rather than in-your-face flavor avalanches. I appreciated all three whiskies a lot, with the delicately spiced PX bottling taking the top position in my internal ranking. It offered a very nice assortments of darker notes, including raisin, cocoa, and dry fruit.
While I already had touchpoints with all of the afore-mentioned names before, Freud Whisky was a new brand I discovered at Whisky Weeks. This recently launched product is born and bred at Brennerei Ziegler with a unique cask combination: after an initial maturation in ex-bourbon casks and chestnut barrels, it gets finished in vessels that previously contained Ziegler’s signature spirit Alte Zwetschge (“Old Plum”) – a barrel-aged, premium-quality plum brandy. Freud Whisky is exclusively available at Alsterhaus and its Berlin-based sister store KaDeWe. It comes in a simple bottle with a yellow label; and it is great! When I savored it neat, I made out all kinds of autumnly and winterly aromas (oranges, plums, spices, herbs, wood). When I drank it as a mixer named “Freud Archy”, I found that it harmonized wonderfully with the other ingredients, namely apple juice, lemon juice, chai syrup, and ginger beer. Good stuff … and very versatile, too!
As you might suggest, I had a lot of fun at this year’s Whisky Weeks at Alsterhaus. It felt awesome to experience a bit of festival flair again after more than one and a half years of corona-caused hiatus. Even though the line-up of exhibitors was still a little smaller than it was in the pre-pandemic years, there were lots of fine drops to try – and they were all poured to the guests for free! Organizer Holger and his team did an excellent job planning and running this pretty little festival in these improving, but still complicated times. I am happy that I managed to visit Whisky Weeks this year; and I hope I will be able to do so again next year, too.