Ah Whiskey Live Dublin: I find it hard to know who I feel more sorry for – me or the vendors. They have to stand there for hours, pouring dram after dram for tedious bore after tedious bore, smiling and nodding as people like me refuse to take ‘NAS’ for an answer. It must be a gruelling hell for them.
And then there is my sympathy for myself – a middle aged man cheerfully going to a whiskey event in the middle of the day, droning on and on at salespeople about barrel types and trying to get them to tell you which distillery their product may or may not have come from, as I slowly come undone from all the whiskey they keep plying me with just to shut me up. We are locked together in our immortal struggle, nerds and reps wrapped in the tentacles of marketing, hacking away with question after question about what it is that actually makes the product different.
To most sane people, the grilling of reps at these events must look like a scene from ComicCon, as two Worfs argue in Klingon about whose costume is canon. And yet, Irish Whiskey Live is like Christmas for the whiskey geek, a day to meet fellow enthusiasts and try some great whiskey.
Being a hardcore whiskey nerd can be a solitary affair – I imagine it’s not dissimilar to being really, really, really into SeaQuest DSV or Monk: It is a niche fandom. You’d think that being a delicious substance that also gets you hammered would be enough, but no. Not many people get the bug that turns them into some tweed-clad beast, a distillery-obsessed Silas Marner, filling rooms of their house with bottle after bottle of rare expressions. But I got the bug, and now I have turned into a full blown Patient Zero, skipping about the Printworks of Dublin Castle like the monkey from Outbreak, toxic with enthusiasm for whiskey, breathing boring sentences into the faces of all.
I’ve gone the last three years – the first year on my Toblerone, the second year with my brother in law, and this time with my biological paternal half sister who I’ve only met a handful of times. Yes, that sentence asks more questions than it answers, but the explanation is as long and meandering as a particularly shitty piece of whiskey marketing narrative, so I will skip it. Suffice to say that like the best drams, I am a complex spirit.
This year was the busiest I have seen. In fact, it was too busy. The place was packed, leading one whiskey blogger I met to suggest that they should go back to having a session for trade (and hardcore geeks) and another for The Normals.
My own feeling was that it could definitely go across two days – perhaps two longer days, rather than two sessions each day. It’d be great to see a 1pm – 6pm, two-day event, as in the last three years I have never managed to hit more than about 40% of the stalls. And this year there were more and more stalls, more and more whiskeys, more and more questions, and even more reps to bore.
Also: Allow the stands to sell bottlings. I have no idea about the logistics of this, not to mind the legality, but I’ve been to town-hall whisky fairs in Scotland where you can pick up bottles of the drams on offer – sometimes rare, sometimes cheap, sometimes just really good whisky that is a nice memento of a good day out. Obviously this might be a slight conflict of interest with the event organisers, the Celtic Whiskey Shop, but even if they set up a stand selling some of the bottlings, it would be an added bonus.
So this year was my most inefficient, in terms of drams and chats. A few newcomers did stand out – Tipperary, Boann and the hedgerow gin from Blackwater. All three are brands I admire with an interesting story, so to see them pushing ahead and working towards whiskey production is great. Same goes for Spade and Bushel from Connaught – you’d easily forget they are there, as the media seems to forget that there are distilleries beyond Dublin, but they are quietly working away way out west.
And so to Teeling, who recently took the surprising stand of sort-of endorsing the Repeal The Eighth movement. Brands don’t usually get political – it’s too divisive and can drive customers away. But Teeling are bucking that trend and taking a stand. I was bemused to see some tweets about the move, as people who never drank whiskey declared they would now never drink one particular whiskey.
Such a shame, as it might chill the fuckers out. Ah well, more for us.
At the IDL stand I spoke to one rep about their recent purchase of a neighbouring farm. He called it a strategic investment with no firm plans for it. In fact, it is a massive slice of land adjacent to their own site, and it comes with zoning for industrial development and a planned access road. They cannot fulfil the demand there is for their whiskeys as it stands, so I would imagine they will be putting in some serious plans for those lands in the next 12 months. They have more than enough space (and options for more) in the Dungourney woods, and while they have another three stills coming in from Rothes next year, I would imagine there are already plans being drawn up for another production facility.
I failed to ask any of the UK vendors how they felt about Brexit, or ‘The Great British Fuck Off’ as it is also known. I’ve done well out of it so far; in the immediate aftermath of the vote my shopping with Master Of Malt was never such good value, as the pound took a dive. It’s also interesting to note that the head of the SWA, which backed Remain, has since left to work with Boris Johnson. As will be the case here in the next five to ten years, the export markets are key to survival – and maintaining the easiest, most cost effective route to them is vital. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next.
I also spoke to Sean from Dingle Distillery about the sad passing of Oliver Hughes, and what a pity it is that he isn’t here to see them readying their product for market. I also tried a drop of their own whiskey for the first time (I had maturing spirit there two years ago and was very impressed) and really liked it. Young, obviously, but just really different to almost everything else I had that day. I look forward to getting my hands on a bottle so I can properly sample some of Oliver’s great legacy.
This year’s Irish Whiskey Live was bigger and better than ever, and hopefully it will spread across two days at some point in the next few years. There were more stands, more people, and an incredible buzz – in all, it was what the Klingon people would describe as ‘Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam’ – a good day to die.