Victoria Whisky Festival 2018!

I wanted to leave myself a little breathing room between the events of last weekend’s Victoria Whisky Festival and any musings on the subject. This was my fourth year attending the annual festival (which is now in it’s thirteenth year), but my first attending strictly as a guest and private citizen. Prior to 2018, my attendance at the festival was in a professional capacity, my previous job at The Strath Ale Wine & Spirit Merchants (a long time sponsor of the for-charity festival), had been the driving force that brought me there. The previous two years in particular were a great deal of hard work, running a Scotch Malt Whisky Society tasting table in 2016, and an ambitious three day pop-up whisky shop in 2017. It was therefore with enormous anticipation that my wife and I awaited this year’s festivities, as we’d finally be set loose to experience all of the sights, sounds, smells and flavours that #VWF2018 would have to offer.

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I’ve got a golden ticket…

After some initial sad news that the Friday night SMWS Grand Tasting we had secured tickets for had been cancelled (more on that shortly), we were at last off to the races on Saturday afternoon. While Mrs. Whiskymafia was attending a Ladies Only masterclass featuring a lineup of Douglas Laing’s Regional Malts series (Big Peat and the gang), I attended a remarkable little Balvenie Peat Masterclass with six drams from across the globe, hosted by no less than five Balvenie brand ambassadors.

 

The standout dram of the tasting, for my money, was The Peated 2016 bottling of Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu, a truly breathtaking and complex young beastie from Japan. The ambassadors kept things light, fun, and moving along from whisky to whisky at a steady clip (all the hallmarks of a well executed tasting session), before wrapping things up an hour later to hearty applause. Reconvening amongst a gaggle of old friends and well-wishers in the lobby of the Hotel Grand Pacific, m’lady and I decided to take in a little walk to reflect and decompress.

Stopping to relax at our favourite hole in the wall coffee shop downtown, my wife and I spotted a stark reminder of the calamitous events of the previous 48 hours that had caused our tasting the night before to be cancelled.

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Uneasy times in Whiskyland.

As many of my readers have likely already heard, there was a targeted and coordinated prohibition style attack specifically leveled at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society here in British Columbia on the opening day of the Victoria Whisky Festival. The event, carried out at the behest of B.C.’s Liquor Control and Licencing Branch, caused shockwaves throughout the province, and was directly responsible for the cancellation of all SMWS tastings at the VWF. While I was as baffled, outraged and saddened by the raids as anyone (particularly since SMWS Canada co-founders Kelly & Rob Carpenter are personal friends and former work associates of mine), I was determined not to let these grim shenanigans get in the way of enjoying such a wonderful weekend of festivities. While I’ll likely do a more in-depth post on the subject in the coming weeks as events continue to unfold, for now I’ll simply say that I hope these raids serve as a catalyst for change to our antiquated liquor laws.

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Spirits remained high, despite the troubles.

After returning to the hotel a few hours later and awaiting dinner reservations with a pair of our favourite old friends, Mrs. Whiskymafia was approached by festival chairman and Victoria’s Bruce Wayne of Whisky himself, Mr. Lawrence Graham, clutching a spare ticket for a Laphroaig Masterclass. She graciously accepted the offer to attend, and was whisked upstairs to sit in on the already in-progress tasting. Rejoining us just in time for a lovely meal, she waxed lyrical about some of the whiskies she had tasted, including the excellent Laphroaig Lore, and a “mystery dram” which she could not recall the specific details of, but which she loved.

After dinner the main event of the weekend was immediately underway, the fantastically over the top and wonderful consumer tasting. Two ballrooms filled with tables brimming with whiskies from around the world, from Canada to France to Taiwan to Scotland and all points in between. Things become understandably hazy at this point, so I’ll merely rattle off some of my personal standout drams from the evening: Balvenie Tun 1509, Octomore 08.1, Kilchoman 100% Islay, Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask, Balblair 2005, the newer edition packaging of Springbank 10yr, Yukon Two Brewers Peated, Douglas Laing’s Rock Oyster and a good many others that have at this point slipped through the cracks of my mind.

All in all Victoria Whisky Festival 2018 was a remarkably joyous event, painstakingly put together as always by an army of dedicated organizers and volunteers, and well attended by an army of rabid and passionate whisky geeks. Let the countdown to #VWF2019 begin…

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