The 2019 Victoria Whisky Festival marked my fifth consecutive year embraced within the warming confines of the Hotel Grand Pacific in beautiful downtown Victoria, British Columbia to mark Western Canada’s premier annual whisky extravaganza. Year one saw me sent on a work assignment to attend a Compass Box Blending Masterclass hosted by none other than Compass Box head honcho John Glaser. Year two I worked a table dispensing Scotch Malt Whisky Society drams and lowdown at the always lively and raucous Consumer Tasting. Year three I oversaw the formation of the first ever Strath Ale Wine & Spirit Merchants Whisky Pop-up Shop at the event (a decidedly Herculean multi-month task that also coincided with the planning of my wedding). Year four, my first attending the VWF as merely an independent whisky journalist, was well documented on this very blog.
Year five, absent from work obligations or any of the silly drama and bureaucratic shenanigans of last year’s infamous raids, was perhaps the first time I’ve ever felt truly relaxed and undistracted at the Festival. At last able to focus on the simple joys of tasting and discussing a broad variety of world class whiskies from home and abroad with friends, associates, and whisky celebrities alike, my appreciation for the Victoria Whisky Festival reached new heights in 2019.
Choosing to attend only one day of the four day Festival, Mrs. Whiskymafia and I decided to maximize our brief attendance window with a Masterclass each during the day, followed by the Consumer Tasting in the evening. With my good lady wife attending a reportedly excellent Nikka Masterclass in a suite upstairs, I began my day at the festival perusing the wares at what should in all honestly be named the Pat Dunlop Memorial Strath Whisky Pop-Up Shop in the hotel lobby. I must say I was in awe of the breadth of the selection, with several fascinating new releases of both independent and official bottlings on display. Taking some time to chat with the friendly and helpful sales staff (one of whom was my dear friend Emily, current co-host of the Victoria’s monthly SMWS Outturns), I awaited both the return of my wife, and the start of an Ardbeg Masterclass I was set to attend downstairs. Several friends and well-wishers stopped by to say hello, including Shelter Point Distillery distiller Leon Webb, fresh off a stunning seven medal win at the 2019 Canadian Whisky Awards.
After trading notes with my suitably glowing spouse, I made my way to the downstairs Courtyard Room of the hotel, and was once again flanked by more friendly and familiar faces than I could shake a stick at. The Ardbeg Masterclass commenced at once, and was ably hosted by Bry Simpson (filling in for the absent Ruaraidh MacIntyre), an Ardbeg brand ambassador hailing from Scotland and now based in Toronto. A true whisky nerd first and foremost, Bry’s candor, self deprecating humour, and obviously genuine passion for whisky was an enormous breath of fresh of air from the standard issue Brand Ambassador claptrap. The lineup of whiskies was similarly refreshing, with some interesting additions to the stable led by the (comparatively) light and easy An Oa, and closed out by the absolutely staggering Twenty Something – 22 Year Old, a whisky experience so delightful I genuinely couldn’t shake the smile it put on my face for the remainder of the day.
After reconvening with Mrs. Whiskymafia, and later a pair of trusty malt mates Tyler and the aforementioned Emily for a delicious and fortifying meal of cheeseburgers and fries, we headed headlong into the fray of the Consumer Tasting. Two ballrooms packed with nearly two hundred whiskies to sample to your heart’s content for three hours. Things get decidedly blurry at this point, so I’ll conclude with a few quick notes:
- We were joined in our Consumer Tasting travels by my fellow Union Club bartender Kayla, a relative whisky novice. Undaunted by her lack of experience, she charged in with admirable enthusiasm and fervor, sampling a wide swath of whiskies from the four corners of the globe, and finding some real gems that spoke to her along the way. Truly a heartwarming spectacle.
- Whisky celebrities on hand included Whiskycast’s Mark Gillespie, Canadian whisky titans Davin De Kergommeaux and Dr. Don Livermore, Westland’s co-founder and master distiller (and my doppelganger) Matt Hofmann, and even lamentable internet sensation foodquig AKA the guy who’s wife left him in the middle of a YouTube review of Laproaig 10.
- Some top whisky sample highlights included the new GlenAllachie 25 Year, the Canadian Whisky Awards Gold Medal and Award of Excellence for Innovation winning Shelter Point Montfort DL 141, and a few drams bestowed by the Whisky Fairy (and definitely not poured or provided by any reps or ambassadors) a 1983 Old Pulteney and a 1992 Single Cask Sherry Puncheon Balvenie.