Those who have known me for more than a day will know that I have three main interests. Food, Whisky and Bruce Springsteen (not in that order, it’s like being asked to pick your favourite child. Well, actually, maybe not. Personally, I’ve always suspected all parents could easily pick their favourite). So last week, I, along with whisky companion Rich, headed down to Brighton for a whisky festival. For those unfamiliar, a whisky festival is the most important and best of all festivals. For a flat fee (usually about £25) you are given a tasting glass a bottle of water, a pipette (the only pretentious element of the event I promise) and access to a room filled with whisky suppliers who will supply you with as many different whiskies as you can bear for the following 5 hours.
I was slightly concerned about going to the brighton festival that some producers wouldn’t be there, (such as nectar of the gods producer Ardbeg), given it’s a relatively small festival. However, I think in hindsight this was actually a good thing (especially since I’m going to the London one next month anyway...) as it meant that I was more inclined to go to some of the smaller producers who I might not normally notice.
Based on previous experience, over the course of the train journey to brighton I ate a loaf of bread in what turned out to be a vain attempt to combat the inherent dangers of a whisky festival. I shall aim for two loaves at the London festival. Rich casually ate one slice of bread, insisting that he had eaten a large breakfast. Fool.
We slightly misjudged how busy it would be and ended up second in the queue to get in to the venue. Convenient, but it also makes you reconsider the fact that you’ve taken a train all the way to Brighton to drink whisky and wonder if you have a problem. Something to ponder over a whisky perhaps.... Luckily, we were soon let in and forgot all about such things.
I won’t bother to go through all the whiskies we tried as there were far too many, and to be perfectly honest, after a point I fail to remember them. However, definitely worthy of mention is Scapa. The distillery that produces it is one of the smallest in Scotland, and is located on the Orkney mainland, the 16 year expression of the whisky being their primary product now. It is worth seeking out though as it’s incredibly distinctive. Very fresh tasting, light and slightly sweet. I’m always on the look-out for whiskies that I think can be matched well with food, something I think tends to be rather difficult given the strength of flavour of even completely unpeated, light whiskies. But I definitely think Scapa would match very well to a fish course, something I’ll have to get round to trying (so if anyone wants to appear at my house with a bottle of Scapa, I’ll happily cook you some fish to go with it).
One fascinating thing that attending a whisky festival allows is trying whiskies very close to each other in a range that you might not usually bother to do. For example, trying 12 and 13 year versions of the same whisky is a great way to begin to understand just how significant even one extra year in a cask can be, and not always in a positive way.
If you are at all interested in whisky, or even if you’re not, I would definitely recommend the festivals http://www.thewhiskylounge.com/ . As well as the opportunity to try dozens of whiskies, you can learn an awful lot too. The people that the companies send are very knowledgeable about their products and I found were able to answer pretty much anything you cared to ask about the whiskies they had to try on their stall.
Anyway, come 5 o’clock, with a vague awareness that we were in Brighton and had to get back to London, I think Rich and I were quite proud that besides temporarily falling asleep on the beach and missing our train, we managed to return to London relatively unscathed.
Hopefully in the next day or two I’ll post a few observations/notes on the new Arzak restaurant in London (Ametsa) that I ate at last week, and after that keep relatively up to date on some notes from Tante Marie Culinary Academy where I’m starting next week.