The Whisky-Online team were on the road again last weekend, with our first ever visit to the famous Whisky Fair in Limburg.  The show, which has been going since 2002 has a reputation for being the biggest event in the European whisky calendar, so we made sure to pack some truly fantastic whiskies for punters to try – we like to make a good first impression!

The team comprised WOL’s own Harrison Ormerod and Tim Roberts, ably (?) assisted by whisky writer Tim Forbes.  We were all pretty excited as none of us had visited the festival before, and it’s fair to say that the event certainly didn’t disappoint.  The scale of the show is huge, with hundreds of exhibitors packed into several floors and side rooms of Limburg’s town hall.

Perhaps because the entrance fee is very low (just €10 gets you in the door and a glass in your hand), several thousand eager whisky fans fill the venue over the course of the two days of the festival. Once inside, they have a choice of a quite astonishing selection of whiskies (and a few rums) from all over the world – and from every era, with hundreds of drams from the 1970s, ‘60s, ‘50s and even earlier.  Each dram is priced individually, and there’s so much variety that all tastes (and budgets) are catered for.

As soon as the doors were opened on Saturday morning there was a flood of thirsty punters making a beeline for our stand. As usual for these events, we had a very large selection of old and rare whiskies to try, with dozens of drams at €3-€5, a large selection around €10-20 and then a few ‘unicorn’ malts like the Port Ellen 12yo James McArthur at €200 and Black Bowmore First Edition at €250.  It says a lot about the reputation and quality of the Black Bowmore that even at this price we sold loads of it – there really wasn’t much left in the bottle at the end of the show.

The Caol Ila was one of Harrison’s favourite drams at the show…

One of the great things about our selection at Limburg was that it wasn’t an identical selection to the whiskies we showed at the Glasgow Old & Rare Whisky Show back in February. We had plenty of new stuff on the table, including a lot of gems that none of us had tried before.

Personal highlights included a big range of Cadenhead’s drams specially bottled for the independent bottlers’ 150th anniversary in 1992.  There were whiskies from little-seen distilleries like Glen Mhor and infrequently-independently-bottled distilleries like Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich but my favourites from this range were a trio of drams from classic distilleries: a Glen Garioch 1974 – my vintage – that was redolent of ash and lanolin with a sliver of sweetness for balance; a Rosebank 1980, only 11 years old and bottled at a hefty 60.1% but bursting with delicious dark fruit from what was clearly an outstanding sherry cask; and another 1974, this time from Longmorn, again from a fabulous sherry cask bottled at 58%. This was an absolute belter, with incredibly profound Christmas cake sherry notes alongside Longmorn’s cooked citrus character.

Sherried drams were definitely a big strength of ours at this show – quite aside from the Black Bowmore, and the above-mentioned Rosebank and Longmorn, there were sherried highlights in a couple of the other groups of drams we brought: a dark sherried Braes of Glenlivet 1979 was the highlight of our Signatory Vintage selection, while a Dallas Dhu 1974 was one of the picks of an excellent bunch of First Cask bottlings we had that also included a splendid Teaninich 1981. A special mention, too, for our own heavy sherry Glendronach 1992 26 year old, which sold out early on the second day – we really should have brought an extra bottle of that one!

My absolute favourite of the new selection on the stand, though, were the old bottlings we had from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS).  There were so many highlights here, including 61.1 (the first Society bottling of Brora) which we had at €65 for 1cl, which I thought was very fair given what this bottle would fetch at auction, and a great Macallan 1974.  

However, the four (yes, FOUR) Springbank 1965 SMWS bottlings were on another level, particularly SMWS 27.6 (bottled October 1987) which is one of the best sherried Springbanks I’ve ever tasted.  Yet another wonderful sherried dram was the Rosebank 1979 (SMWS 25.2) bottled from what must have been a first fill Oloroso cask in 1991 at just 11 years old, with a quite glorious nose, an intense, flawless sherry palate and an almost endless finish. Truly outrageous stuff.

It’s so hard to pick a favourite from what was an absolutely incredible lineup… but if you twisted my arm, I’d have gone for the SMWS Ardbeg 1974 33.11. Distilled not only in my year, but also month of birth (July 1974), so no doubt there was some emotional bias – but nonetheless, this was one of the very greatest Ardbeg ‘74s I’ve ever had, and I’ve been lucky to try quite a few.  SMWS 33.11 was bottled in 1991 at 56% and is a coastal / medicinal style Ardbeg, with flinty, seaspray and medicine cabinet notes alongside the dry turf and peaty character. I was absolutely blown away by this dram, really magnificent.

That seems a good place to finish this report but before I go, many thanks on behalf of the WOL team to the organisers and attendees of the Limburg Whisky Fair who created a really fantastic event with a great atmosphere – and a personal thank you from me to Whisky-Online for having me along for the ride.

 


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