This week saw the biggest whisky event in Israel, Whisky Live take place over two days. I was lucky enough to attend both days and had an absolute blast. I also really enjoyed the final day as it fell on my birthday and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate.
The venue this year was larger, and even though less importers chose to display their brands, the stands were larger and more impressive and they all brought brand ambassadors. This year also saw some stands that weren’t from importers with the major brands which was really awesome.
One of the things I was really glad to see this year was that some importers brought in new brands or bottlings, or really worked at showing off expressions that they’ve recently brought in. The brand ambassadors present were great too and I also noticed that the local staff at the stands this year were a lot more knowledgable about what they were pouring.
What was really great to see was the presence of two local distilleries, Milk & Honey, which is a full blown large scale distillery and the Golan Heights distillery which is a small craft distillery. Their whiskies are not aged yet as they both opened quite recently, but they had some other distillates on offer and some young whiskies (aged about a year) to show how they’re progressing, and they’re progressing well. It made me really happy to see just how much of the crowd were drawn to their stands.
Aside from the two local distilleries there were a few other stands that didn’t represent the importers and their brands. One stand had a producer of fermentation and distillation equipment. Aside from their still just adding a really showpiece to the hall, it goes to show the increased interest here in home brewing and distillation. They also had some distillates made by a home distiller that were quite good. There was another stand which had the festival bottlings (as with last year a 7 year old Craigellachie and 19 year old Tormore) as well as whisky magazine’s Orbital, an 8 year old blend of world whiskies, and a fairly large range of independently bottled malts from Wemyss, which is great because there aren’t really independent bottlings on the market here. So if people are aware of these things and how good they can be there might be an importer willing to bring them in.
And that point brings me to another non-importer stand, and a small mini-rant if you’d just bear with me for it. That stand belonged to the Whisky Bar & Museum, a hugely promising project by some local whisky freaks and long time bar industry professionals in Tel Aviv. The venue will be focused on whisky with a selection of well over a thousand bottlings from the most basic blends to ultra rare independent bottlings most of which they’ve had to bring in themselves as they’re not locally available.It’s set to open in the coming weeks. I’ll write a post about the venue itself in the coming days, but their stand was really something special. They’d brought in some very rare and interesting whiskies. This drew a massive crowd. Which is what my little rant is about.
Many of the local importers only bring in the absolute minimum of each distillery’s expressions. Without fail their repsonse to questions about bringing more in is the same. It goes along the lines of “The local market is only just getting interested in whisky and isn’t ready yet”. I think that this is the completely wrong approach. I think that a new whisky market wants options. People are starting to take an interest in what they’re drinking, and have the internet available to find out more information and want more stuff. Additionally if you give them a wide range of whiskies to try, and particularly good quality whiskies, they’ll find something they like and start broadening their tastes. The massive crowds drawn to the Whisky Bar & Museum’s stand just goes to prove this. Hopefully the importers took notice.
Back to talking about the show. I attended two masterclasses, one by Hamish Torrie brand ambassador from Glenmorangie, which included their usual range as well as the companta and signet, well played to them for that. The other was a Jura tasting, held by Idan Bavli from Y.D., the brand’s importer, because the brand ambassador couldn’t make it. Idan was very frank and open and talked not just about the whisky but the market here, and I must say Y.D. is doing a solid job, they bring in a lot of expressions and their prices are reasonable. The price asked for all the masterclasses was about the same as a beer at a local bar and well worth it.
I was also lucky enough to have had VIP tickets so I could access the VIP area. The VIP area had some really interesting bottles, stuff that isn’t available locally. Some of the highlights were a 22 year old Silver Seal bottling of Mortlach, a 2004 Sherry cask Bottling of Ledaig from The Ultimate and some blends from the 80’s and 90’s including a fantastic Black & White. The VIP area was also a great meeting point for the hardcore whisky geeks and I had a great time chatting to some of the people there.
All in all a fantastic festival. I can’t wait to attend next years and look forward to seeing the importers’ repsonse to such a positive and engaged crowd.