It may be a cliché but it’s true that the Scots do whisky better than anyone else the world over. David Pollock reports on Whisky live; the year’s biggest whisky exhibition and a grand celebration of the Scottish ‘water of life’
Along with novelty tartan kilts and the skirl of bagpipes, whisky is the most obvious symbol of Scotland to the outside world. But whilst Scots bemoan the clichéd, tartan-coloured image that sometimes dogs the country, we’re are actually very fond of whisky. Like shortbread, fish suppers and inventing things, it’s something we do better than everyone else. But remember, it’s whisky rather than whiskey (the latter is Irish or American), and the word ‘Scotch’ is absolutely only used to describe the drink. Anything else belonging to Scotland is ‘Scottish’.
Now we’ve sorted that out, onto this year’s Whisky Live, the world’s biggest whisky-tasting event. It will feel almost like a homecoming when it returns to Glasgow for the fifth year, even though the annual exhibition is also touring as far afield as North America and South Africa. Yet the point is that even a whisky-educated, local audience will be entertained and educated during the show. ‘Whisky Live’s aim is basically to celebrate the whiskies of the world,’ says Rob Allanson, editor of Whisky magazine, who also organise Whisky Live. ‘It’s a gathering of like-minded people, and we have as many producers from across the world as possible.
‘If people have a favourite distillery,’ he says, ‘they can explore it much further by going through all the expressions here, while novices will find a lot to start off their exploration of the big world of whisky. Whisky Live is a big family, with events in places like New York, Australia and India, so we do have access to producers from all over the world who are making malt whisky and whisky-based products. For example, there’s a distillery from Sweden called Mackmyra who really came through at the London event because they do malt in an interesting way, and make very good whisky in the process. Whisky Live allows people to step out of their comfort zone and try something different like this.’
In addition to tastings of familiar and rare whiskies in the presence of their producers, there will be masterclasses, distiller debates, live music and cock-tail-making championships. This year’s Whisky Live has also been timed to coincide with the BBC Good Food Show Scotland, taking place over the same weekend in the SECC. Joint entry prices for both shows are available, while certain events will explore the relationship between whisky and food.
‘There’s a growing interest in the subject these days,’ says Allanson, ‘and particularly in things like bourbons and Japanese whiskies. The whole range is really starting to capture people’s imagination. Whisky is no longer your dad’s drink, that image has been well and truly forgotten, and the rise of the cocktail-maker – the mixologist – in recent years has meant the age demographic of those who enjoy it has dropped quite markedly. Good whisky has become a young person’s sport nowadays.’
31 Oct &1 Nov, noon-6pm, SECC, Exhibition Way, Finnieston (B4), 0141 248 3000, www.secc.co.uk, £16-£50.