It’s not often you get the opportunity…

Earlier this month I (Jason) had the chance to go to a slightly different kind of whisky festival – it was The Whisky Exchange’s “Old and Rare” show, held this year at One Great George Street in London (although in past years they’ve held it in Glasgow).

Geared at the more “serious” whisky enthusiast, the format of this show is that collecters from around the world come together with whiskies either “old” (i.e. distilled in the past) or “rare” (single cask & small-batch releases) and make them available by the 10mL pour for people to taste, in a lovely setting.

Given the nature of the whiskies concerned it’s not practical to dish them out for free, so you pay by the measure – and depending on what you want to taste there’s whiskies to try from £1 a measure to over £100, and anywhere in between.

I suppose there’s no better advertisement than to describe some of the whiskies I had the privilege of tasting:

Frankly, it’s ridiculous. To taste whiskies from the 1970s/60s is to gain a snapshot of the way whisky used to be made at the height of its popularity prior to the industry slump of the 1980s. A time when industry was at its peak and was rebuilding from the damage of war in the late 30s/early 40s.

To taste whisky made in the 30s/40s is to taste whisky made by people solely concerned with making it how whisky is made – not to maximise profits or to hit targets set by accountants.

Probably the revelation of the weekend for me was the chance to book on to a “masterclass” and taste a Talisker 10 year old – albeit a little different from the supermarket version we’re used to nowadays. This one was bottled circa 1905, and likely produced when Talisker used to still do triple distillation (like Auchentoshan and Hazelburn do today).

I tried a single malt – allegedly Glenlivet – bottled by M.E. Bellows & Sons of New York, distilled in the late 1800s… although sadly the bottle had sustained cork taint and the whole thing tasted primarily of wet cardboard & funk.

The *oldest* thing I tried was some Irish whiskey (or maybe moonshine) uncovered by the lads at Whisky Online Auctions found in a farm outbuilding, which they had analysed and whilst they couldn’t confirm exactly what kind of spirit it was, they know it was distilled some time between 1820 and 1860. Can you believe that?! I was tasting booze that was bottled when Brunel was a lad! Although there was no chance he would’ve been in the same room I was in (Institution of Civil Engineers) cos it weren’t built til 1911!


And the whisky I was most excited to try was the 1968 Bowmore (in this case bottled by Signatory) – bottled in 2000 at 32 years of age. Despite Islay producing the peaty powerhouse whiskies we know & love today, a lot of the spirit produced in the 1960s after 30+ years in the cask has produced a quite stunning “tropical fruit” character… and this Bowmore was an exquisite example, which I’d count as a highlight of my whisky tasting career.

If you’re at all interested in learning more about the history of whisky and distillation, and to sample drams from yesteryear (or, indeed, more recently – not that my photos do that side of it justice) then I can’t recommend The Whisky Show Old & Rare highly enough. Do be sure to save up a few quid though.

(I didn’t really even mention the 1954 Glen Grant, which seems a shame… but what can you do, eh?)