This is my third year going to the Stoke Whisky Festival https://stokewhiskyfestival.co.uk/ and each time it has improved, as the organisers MyWhiskyGuide and Neil Drowley have learned from experience. I’m going to front load this post and say, loved it, will be back next year!
How does it work? Once a year, they organizers take a lovely old building in Stoke, and get great whisky exhibitors to come in and share their wares. You pay a price to get into the festival, and that includes an etched tasting glass, a list of whiskys and stalls, and bottles of water. Once inside the festival, you can taste as many drams as you like. They also have themed Masterclasses to allow for a deep-dive on different styles of whisky.
The brand ambassadors manning the stalls were always very helpful. They were always very helpful and tried to guide you to the style of whisky that they thought you would like. If it was not too busy, they almost could give you a deep-dive on the different expressions and how to enjoy their whisky.
Here you can see the list of exhibitors – the list is really handy to help you to track which whiskies you enjoyed and add tasting notes. The only downside is that you need to remember to bring a pen (go me! brought enough for me and my friends) and be able to make sensible notes. Sometimes the list is not 100% accurate as some exhibitors bring more to the table than was expected, for example Arran had some of their Amerone cask whisky available.
You can also see that it wasn’t just whisky. There were liqueurs and many types of gin. There was a dedicated Sipsmith table, as well as gin offerings from Adnams and other people scattered throughout the hall.
There was an on-site shop with stock of most of the drinks available for taste. As it is a pop-up shop, there were limited stocks of each whisky, so if you love one, buy it quick! I left with a bottle of Tamdhu Cask Strength which I can’t wait to try again.
We booked onto the ‘Taste of Asia’ masterclass delivered by Stefanie Holt. I’ll be honest, neither of us were fans of Asian whisky, based on a disastrous purchase of The Yamazaki which I did not like at all. However, Stefanie really has changed that around for us, based on this tasting I’ll definitely try more.
The Masterclasses last for about an hour, and it’s a great opportunity to have a guided tasting in an unhurried comfortable environment. You also have a collaborative feeling, where you start chatting to the people on your table about how they are experiencing the whisky. We were sat near Steve James of the Rum Diaries Blog. Hearing how someone who is not a whisky drinker perceives the flavours also can give a new perspective.
The tasting included 5 whiskys from 3 different Asian distillaries
- Kavalan Classic (Taiwan)
- Nikka Miyagikyo (Japan)
- Nikka Yoichi (Japan)
- Amrut Fusion (India)
- Kavalan Solist (Taiwan)
The whisky were not ordered by region, but by flavour profile so we started with a very light Kavalan, and finished on a totally awesome, but strong in alcohol and flavour Kavalan Solist.
Stefanie provided context to the distilling process of these whiskies and how each distillery has taken a different approach. Kavalan with their hi-tech super fast adoption. The quest of the Japanese to find conditions that matched with the conditions in Scotland to produce whisky that had the characteristics of island styles or highland style. The difference in types of grain available to Indian whisky producers. There were maps and photos, and it was all very interactive.
I loved the Kavalan Solist, but my whisky budget didn’t stretch that far to buy a bottle. I’ve put it on my wish list though!
How was it in the end?
It was a great day out, and when I consider the quality of whisky I got to taste it was a brilliant opportunity to try things that I would never have bought over the counter in a bar as I tend to fall to my ‘tried and tested’ choices.
The location is only a short walk from Stoke railway station, so it’s very easy to get there on public transport from Stockport.