The 2016 Victoria Whisky Festival was hosted at the Hotel Grand Pacific right off the wharf in downtown Victoria, British Columbia. The fest is a well reputed, annual smorgasbord of master classes, including a prestigious consumer tasting, and plenty of informal tastings in and around the hotel, for those looking for some extra-curricular action. It’s a great festival, and Victoria is a real whisky city. While I was ambling around downtown, I poked my head into a few bars and restaurants, and none of them had a whisky list with fewer than 10 or-so Scotches, often carefully shelved, with pride, and conscientiously represented in the beverage menu. Just one of the many differences between Victoria and my home town of Edmonton that I ruminated on after returning, to -28°C weather, where merely inhaling is sharp and painful.

The Festival

The VWF is very well organized for the consumers, and my talks with some suppliers confirm that they enjoy the same organization as well. It’s a big show, with lots going on, and I didn’t see even a small hiccup in the works, except for a single whisky missing from the Macallan master class mat, the 1876 Replica bottling, which was supposedly not meant to be included in the tasting. Gripes aside, the nature of seamlessness is that it hides all the hard work and effective communication necessary to produce a feeling of ease and tidy perfection. And the VWF did that very well. No small task, when you have 200+ people walking around, drinking whisky for 4 days.

One complaint I would put forward is that the whiskies poured for the Friday grand tastings and Saturday master classes remained undisclosed until you were sitting right in front of them. A little unfortunate, because it definitely would have changed which master classes I picked, and which ones I passed on. Browsing through some of the photos of the tasting mats being tweeted out, there were definitely great lineups, and a few real stinkers. So much work must go into nailing down the lineups, why not make them public in a centralised place, either in print or online? Even after the event?

There was also no list of whiskies posted for the consumer tasting, which is unnerving, but ultimately not too grievous, because it was easy to navigate the two banquet rooms used for the festival, and get a feel for what was being poured before diving in.

On the good side, there were some extremely rare and interesting whiskies being poured at the show. Here are some of my thoughts on what I tried:

Biggest Disappointment

The Macallan Reflexion (no rating)

OK. I think overly negative reviews are a bit cheesy and self indulgent. But, when a non age statement (NAS) whisky like Reflextion comes around with a $1500 price tag, the whisky ought to be nothing less than flawless. Unfortunately, it’s not. It’s a gaudy mantle trophy with absolutely nothing interesting happening on the palate. The nose was somewhat amusing, but didn’t deliver on the complexity that Macallan seems to believe Reflexion exhibits. An appalling lack of either charisma, or balance, or intensity. Bottled at an absurdly low 43%, with a detectable harshness on the finish that is way out of place. Is it an awful whisky? No. But it’s price tag is truly criminal.

Favourite whiskies

Kavalan Fino Cask

This cask strength beauty from Kavalan was smooth & silky, with Kavalan’s trademark intensity of flavour, and flawless spirit.

Amrut Spectrum

This whisky hasn’t been released, hasn’t even been officially announced, it was well hidden under the table, and yet every time I glanced over at the Amrut table, ambassador Ashok Chokalingam was ducking out of sight to pour a glass of whisky for an anxious festival-goer. That whisky was Amrut’s upcoming Spectrum, which, by the end of the night, came up on a lot of discussions about the best of the fest. The whisky is drawn from 5 frankensteined barrels that are made up of staves from new American oak, Oloroso sherry, PX sherry, Bourbon, and European oak. With only 900 bottles produced worldwide this whisky will be quite limited. Watch for it in March of this year.

Kilchoman Sanaig

A marriage of Bourbon and Sherry casks, this upcoming release from Kilchoman is one to watch for.




Did you go to the festival? Have any favourites or big disappointments? Want to come at me for ripping on Reflexion? Let me know in the comment box below.