The Malta Whisky Fair returned to The Phoenicia in mid-November turning the hotel’s Grand Ballroom into a den of complex and aromatic whiskies to enjoy. Organisers, Franks Gentlemen’s Essentials, in the fair form of twins Andrew and Claire Abela, introduced us to various experts on a busy Saturday night, including three Whisky Brand Ambassadors, people who live and breathe whisky, and who helped visitors to appreciate the whisky and their connection to the distilleries.
Our first stop was with Deborah Stewart, a new recruit to the international sales team at Glenfarclas. Deborah has been working in the whisky industry for half her life, most recently in Switzerland. Glenfarclas is a family-owned distillery founded 153 years ago by George Grant. They produce Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky using time-honoured traditions and the finest European Oak Sherry Casks. Glenfarclas is renowned for its range of aged expressions, from the delicate Speyside flavours of the 10 year old to the deep richness of the 25 year old and beyond.
Deborah encouraged us to explore the subtle differences between a number of expressions as well as explaining that the distillery has a store of some 70,000 casks, some of which date back to the early 1950’s. Deborah doesn’t believe much in tasting notes, her philosophy being you smell what you smell and taste what you taste. A refreshing natural approach to what are sometimes bewildering layers of depth in some distillery tasting notes. Glenfarclas is a mighty whisky, full of dry spicy flavours, and a long finish.
We then met with Ronan Currie, a man from Campbeltown who undertook the role of promoting Springbank’s wares around the world. Springbank is unique in Scotland, being the only distillery to carry out 100% of the production process at the distillery. There is also a unique two-and-a-half-times distillation process married to carefully chosen ingredients and the 10 year old Spingbank is one of the best in the world, having carried home the top prize at the World Whisky Awards a couple of years back. Blended from a mixture of sherry and bourbon casks, the resulting range of aromas and flavours is quite unlike anything else in the world of whisky. With a touch of peat, salt and heather, this is Scotland in a glass, briny, full of character, as rugged as the Kintyre peninsula, which was once home to 34 distilleries, and is now supporting just 3. What they lack in numbers they make up for with a mature and expert approach to their craft. Longrow is Springbank’s peated malt range and proof that the mainland can concoct rich smokey goodness that can compete with anything on Islay.
Finally, we came to have a chat with Nicola Riske, Brand Ambassador for the Macallan. We have met Nicola before, this time around she’s moved her approach into top gear and delivered a masterclass that was memorable for its passion, storytelling, and interaction with a packed audience. Nicola talks a lot of wood, casks are the heart and soul of Macallan, which begin as little acorns and take over 70 years to grow in their natural habitat of North America, drenched in sunshine until the oak trees reach full and majestic maturity.
Many of the beguiling flavours bestowed on a whisky come from the choice of barrel, and it is this attention to the casks that identifies Macallan as one of the finest whiskies in the world. Nicola runs us through a tasting starting with her “anytivo”, 12 year old Macallan which she contends makes the best ‘Old Fashioned’. Next up is Macallan Sienna, 100% first fill, digestive, rich dry fruits and orange marmalade on the nose, rich and chewy on the palate, Nicola says it’s heaven with dark chocolate. Then we’re on to Macallan triple cask, a “whisky to share special moments” she says. Indeed, we have shared a very special moment in the life of the whisky industry, which makes its way each year to The Phoenicia for a wonderful peek into the lives of these exquisite luxury products.
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