This was very much at the forefront of our minds when creating Whisky Show: Old & Rare, an event that connects whisky enthusiasts from around the world. It brings together those keen to taste and to learn about older styles of whisky and people who have worked with, understood and collected these bottles for many years.
To better understand whisky, it is important to frame it in relation to its past; to understand how it went from an illicit cottage industry to something global and immense. From this perspective, you can also better understand its future. We can discern, and even influence, where it might be going as a product.
Whisky Show: Old & Rare rightly gets acclaim for making available some astonishing, yet often very expensive, rarities. However, one of the most important aspects of the show is the wealth of great older official single malts and old blends available to taste for £2-10 per 1cl. These present a cornucopia of information and experience, illustrating how and why whisky tasted differently in the past. You don’t need to break the bank to come away from Old & Rare with great memories and new perspectives on the flavours and history of your favourite drink. I’ve lost count of the number of astonishing whiskies I’ve seen available at the £5 mark in the past three years since the first show.
Today it is possible to read many articles about the changed nature of whisky production. The shift from less efficient ex-brewing yeasts towards the far more brutal distilling yeast; the ascendancy of far more active wood; the decline of on-site floor maltings; the move from direct coal-firing and worm-tub condensing to indirect steam and shell-and-tube condensing. These are all well described academically and out there to be researched. However, the flip side of this coin is actually tasting the results of these historic changes. This is very much at the heart of Old & Rare: making accessible as many of these older bottlings as possible. Giving voice to and evidence of the historical record of past changes that made these flavours.
Not all are sublime. Old bottlings can exhibit many unusual characteristics and technical flaws, and generally exist outside of most contemporary flavour boundaries. However, while the whiskies of the past were more variable, for every low there were many more sublime highs of exquisite quality and flavour characteristics which are largely vanished from modern whisky production: waxiness, tropical fruit, minerality and the dry, herbal, heathery earthiness of deep-cut peat. There’s an abundance of lost flavours on offer at Old & Rare. If nothing else, we do this festival for the sheer pleasure and joy of celebrating these lost styles and flavours, all in a relaxing space with friends old and new from around the world.
Whisky Show: Old & Rare takes place from 29 February-1 March 2020
One Great George Street, London, SW1P 3AA.
Tickets available here.