I admit: When we attended Whisky Live 2018, I had minimal expectations. True, there would be beautiful powerhouse whisky brands we’ve come to love over the years, which I’ve written about in a number of articles (clearly, I love my whisky).
Disclaimer: I’m not in any way, shape, or form saying that there’s anything wrong with the powerhouse whisky brands. One can never go wrong with Ardbeg, Highland, Johnnie Walker, Dewar’s, Aberlour, Chivas, Glen Moray…
Here are, however, my personal highlights of Whisky Live 2018:
Thirdy Ramirez of Enderun Colleges (Apprentice/Mentee) and Lennon Aguilar of Discovery Primea for Kavalan Whisky by Grand Cru winning the Whisky Live 2018 Bartending and Cocktail Competition
First of all, phew! That was a mouthful.
Second of all, being affiliated with the school (and having had award-winning, talented, and brilliant Lennon as a student during one of our WSET classes) gave me an insider’s look into the superhuman effort the students poured into the competition. Thirdy has developed a reputation for himself initially in the coffee industry for being meticulous and, well, good. I was glad to see him shine in a different field, for which he showed great promise. He’s definitely someone to watch out for.
That said, their winning cocktail was called Good Times Bubble Milk Tea. It made use of Kavalan Classic, oolong tea, arnibal, whole milk, and get this: Arnibal Tapioca. That’s right, stuff that people typically find in Asian bubble tea. It was completely unorthodox in terms of ingredients and methodology.
Was it good? If the lines during the evening were any indication (Lennon and I swear we’ve never seen a line for cocktails in previous Whisky Live events), then I’d say it was delicious.
The Kooky People in The Balvenie Booth
I remembered having had some of the best Balvenie-soaked conversations with the brand’s Southeast Asia Ambassador (and if someone sees him in person, they have to ask him about his experience being an “ambassador” in the Philippines) Neil Strachan.
This was why I made it a point to make a beeline for his booth where I found…
…Connor McGregor having a fistfight with Wonder Woman.
I thought, “Was I looking at things with whisky goggles?”
I took photos, checked my phone, and sure enough, I was able to assure myself that I wasn’t seeing things.
Knowing how Neil was, I thought it was a fitting way to arrive in his booth.
After having caught up with each other’s lives, he introduced me to THE Ian McDonald, Head Cooper of The Balvenie. Having worked in that capacity (note: a cooper is a person whose job is to make and/or repair wooden barrels for wines and spirits) for almost 50 years, he is nothing short of a legend (he can apparently differentiate European from American oak by feel). Having shaken his hand was such an honour (it felt like I was touching years of Balvenie history).
Getting Acquainted with Mars Distillery
One of the things I learned from Francis Hasegawa from the first Whisky Live was that a key philosophy in Japanese whisky is keeping sushi pairing in mind, which is why Japanese whiskies are often delicately flavoured.
This was the reason I was curious to try whisky from Mars Shinshu Distillery. The Mars Maltage “Cosmo” is a must-try, and their intricately packaged 51% ABV Komagatake was definitely something I’d consider adding to my collection. It’s perfect if I were in the mood for a whisky that’s mild on the palate.
When I posted a photo of the Penderyn line on the blog’s Facebook account, i was asked how I found it. After all, Welsh whisky is quite a rare find, and apparently minimally produced. I found it an exercise in restraint… It wasn’t the boldest whisky out there, but it certainly was a must-try. Their Peated style wasn’t heavily done, so it was a great way for whisky newbies to familiarise themselves with smoky flavours without being overwhelmed by the Islay greats. I also liked their award-winning beautifully golden Madeira whose colour was achieved by ageing in Bourbon and Madeira casks.
I’ve never had craft whiskey from Chicago, so I was curious as to what Koval was like. Their Bourbon was lovely and well balanced (not overwhelmingly sweet like some bourbons I’ve tried), and their Rye was something I imagined myself using for a Manhattan. Their Four Grain was off the charts. It’s a good drink for people who prefer a well-balanced whiskey (with its equal parts character and delicate texture).
Personally, I much prefer the Millet. I’ve never had whiskey made from Millet before (Millet is apparently an agricultural product normally used to feed birds), and I fell very much in love with its earthy character. I think it’s a whiskey I’d have with an aficionado because I feel the spirit merits an intellectual conversation.
Friends from Whisky Society of Manila, Philippines
Speaking of conversations, I was happy to see two of my favourite people who are fixtures in local whisky events: Leonard de Guzman and Frank Kona Shrope of the Whisky Society of Manila, Philippines. I always love hanging out with them because of their wealth of whisky knowledge and their ability to converse in an entertaining, no-frills, and matter-of-fact way about all things alcohol.
I have fond memories of these boys gentlemen during the first Whisky Live when, after most activities were done, they invited me to join their (slightly drunken) podcast with different brand ambassadors. Admittedly, by the time we got to the last one, we were so tired and sloshed that we were making comments about Andy Williams’ (Brand Ambassador of Glengoyne) kilt (all in good fun, we promise!).
This was why I found it only fitting to see them man the Bruichladdich booth. If there’s anybody that could talk about the difference of the Port Charlotte and Classic Bruichladdich variants (and find a person’s preference), it would be these two.
Up Close and Personal with Rare Bottles
My colleague, Bel Castro (Assistant Dean, College of Hospitality Management, Enderun Colleges) showed me a rare bottle of Kavalan from one of their first bottlings (gasp!). My friend, Chester Cabrera, showed me a 27-year-old Tweeddale bottle.
The Auchentoshan Taste Experiment
I first met Gabriel Carlos, Assistant Manager to award-winning Manhattan Bar in Singapore (#1 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars and #3 in World’s 50 Best Bars) during the Michter’s event earlier this year. Amiable, talented, and proudly pinoy, Gab is one of my favorite mixologists on earth.
I found it excellent that they chose him (and his equally talented colleague Philip Bischoff) to come up with out-of-this-world cocktails (in funky formats, like syringes and laboratory flasks) using Auchentoshan Whisky that cater to a person’s flavor preference: Nutty, Fruity, and Spicy. They were also guest bartenders that night for Shangri-La at the Fort’s newest speakeasy, The Back Room.
Whisky Ice Cream
Bono Gelato’s creation for Whisky Live was what I imagined an Islay whisky and a vanilla ice cream’s love child would be. It was mind-bogglingly yummy, refreshing, and was the perfect palate cleanser after the huge whiskies we’ve had during the evening.
The Proudly Pinoy Archipelago
Speaking of being proudly pinoy, I was blown away by the new, locally distilled Archipelago spirits line. Distilled in small batches with copper stills (guaranteeing a more characterful spirit), the gins were made using local botanicals (such as calamansi, Benguet pine, sampaguita, and Philippine mangoes), and the vodka was naturally filtered from our Taal and Mayon volcanoes. I loved the Lava Vodka because the distillers managed to create an ideal, textbook vodka from our very own shores. Full Circle Craft Distillers is definitely something to watch out for.
Speaking of watching out, I can’t wait until next year’s Whisky Live for even more amazing whisky (and spirit) finds. Cheers!