Maltstock 2015

Warning

 This lengthy article covers many of the relaxed events happening at Maltstock 2015. 
It may cause a relaxed jealousy, start you (relaxedly) drinking whisky or trigger uncontrolled (but very relaxed) urges to purchase relaxed tickets for the next edition

After the 2014 event, we (as everybody else) were offered a €25,- discount per person if we would book within the week after the festival. Although it is quite the price for a festival, we needed not much time to make up our minds, and give each other the go-ahead. Eating just had become optional for three months…

Do not get us wrong! We are not bitching about the price of Maltstock here, the event is worth every eurocent we have spent on it the last three years. To summarize some of the huge value for money event: The 2015 price included our bunk-beds for the two nights (much needed) sleep, several tables full of whisky (all visitors bring a (couple of) bottle(s)), a whisky quiz to test your knowledge, a raffle with great prizes, two full Scottish and continental breakfasts by the Hielander, lunch with well filled breadrolls and soups on Saturday, two dinners (freshly made pizzas on the one day and a well-stocked BBQ with different salads, bread and sauces on the other), baskets of fruit, soft-drinks, beers, wine, Gins (and Tonics) and snacks during both days, evenings and nights. On top of all that there were ten different masterclasses from which you could give your preference in advance, and get selected (quite randomly) into a minimum of two of them. In the first seven years of Maltstock, everybody has always received their number one choice. If that was not enough, as the cherry on the applesauce*, there are over 200 whisky enthusiasts from about a dozen nationalities, each with their own stories to tell – real, and made up.

This year’s event had a bit of a rough start for us. Both of us were a little under the weather, and had to take a lot of precautionary drugs fruits, vegetables and hot toddies (we are still looking for a recipe that we will actually like) to get there at all. The morning of the Friday we were out of bed earlier as we were supposed to be, packed our car way too quickly, and decided to make pace and head to the venue’s next door pancake-house* for the traditional meet and greet with many of the visitors before the gates of Maltstock 2015 would open at 16:00. Hands were shaken, hugs were exchanged, tables were put together, food was eaten, beers were drunk. A good start of a great weekend.

When everyone had flooded in, found his or her bunk bed, shook more hands and exchanged more hugs, it was already about time for some people to report at the first masterclass. This year, this will be our main focus of the festival.

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the masterclass-masters

The first masterclass would start at 16:45, and we were both selected for this one. It was a masterclass of the Highland Park core-range, but with a twist – as can be expected of a visit to Maltstock. Sietse Offringa (Brand Ambassador for the Netherlands) and Daryl Haldane (Global Brand Ambassador) had decided to pair their whiskies with beers, which turned out to return some surprising results. A “sheit lager” was paired with a “sheit grain”; the Cameron Brig had been chosen to be victim to this. The HP 12yo was paired with an IPA, the HP Origins had a Trappist-Tripel to compete with, the 18yo was lucky enough to get to dance with a Belgian Abbey beer, and the HP 25yo fused with a beautiful dark Bock. These combinations were more successful to some as they were to others and no clear winner could be selected.

Fun was also had at the Douglas Laing masterclass. Jan Beckers had brought a selection of the independent bottler to be tasted by the selected few: an Old Particular – Auchentoshan 14yo, a Provenance – Ben Nevis 13yo, an Old Particular Dailuaine 16yo, a Provenace Miltonduff 8yo, the Rock Oyster and the world premiere of the Big Peat XMas edition 2015 had his world premiere. Jan must have had the shortest visit to Maltstock ever; he came late for his own tasting, relaxedly did his thing and had to dash again, in order to be on time in Paris, where Whisky Live Paris was about to start. Too bad we only spoke with him very, very brief.

 After the freshly baked pizza, there was one more masterclass to be given. Dewars had cancelled their presence at Maltstock this year, but this gap was filled by John McCheyne of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). The society is rather small in the Netherlands, and this was a good re-introduction for the (mostly) Dutch visitors to the excellent quality of this independent bottler. For those who do not know, the SMWS labels their whiskies with a number and cryptic description, instead of the distillery name. These descriptions are chosen by people from the SMWS tasting panel such as Annabel Meikle (last year’s campfire tasting host and director at the Keepers of the Quaich), Charles Maclean (whisky researcher and author) and Robin Laing (whiskybard, author, overall artist and still missed at Maltstock). The selection: 26.112 – Sherbety, spritzy and vivacious (a 10yo Clynelish), 55.29 – A barley harvest and a ”fizzy buzz” (a 14yo Royal Brackla), 9.83 – Tiger Balm, Limoncello and scented candles (a 25yo Glen Grant), 29.168 – Fade to black (a 15yo Laphroaig), G5.10 – Sugar and spice and all things nice (a 25yo Invergordon).

Time for the much anticipated quiz. Because Maltstock was a couple of weeks later in the year as the previous editions, quizmaster Mike Lord had himself prevented from coming to Maltstock due to some festival somewhere in the Speyside region, but was replaced by the very able Dutch author Hans Offringa and his lovely wife Becky, who gave the quiz their own twist. A very visually set quiz, where – as every year we attended – we did much worse as we intended or thought we would do. Lucky for us, the best team got only half of the points to be won, so our team did not end up that far below them. At least we didn’t end up last, although the poedelprice* was a nice bottle of whisky to be shared.

Still, it is the Friday-evening and things are only just starting up. To make some quiet on the gathering place surrounding most of the sleeping rooms, many of the whiskies and people were moved to the Chapel, where the midnight cafe was about to start with music, draft beer, soft drinks and of course a bottle of whisky or two, all accompanied by a seemingly never ending supply of bitterballs*, chicken nuggets and other deep fried snacks, nuts and cheese.
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Saturday started with the mentioned Scottish breakfast and some coffee, and before we knew it, we were en-route with about half of the visitors on the traditional detox-walk. Something that had started some years ago as a true detoxicating walk through the beautiful surroundings of the venue, but had somehow incorporated the idea of bringing some whiskies along, and have an on the fly walk tasting. Sietse and Daryl had brought a couple of Highland Park whiskies along, and made the participants work for a dram. They had decided to hide 12 bottles of the 10yo (a special half bottle release for the Netherlands and Canada), and make us look for them in honour of the smugglers of the High Park. Further along the route, we were treated by a variation on the “mint julep” with a HP 12yo with mint leaves and a touch of sugar. Not all bad… Last and certainly not least, was a setup where we could try to get a dram of the HP 12yo, the Dark Origins, the 18yo, or the 25yo, by tossing our earlier received bungs into their respective boxes (each a tad smaller for a higher difficulty class). Good fun.

Back at the venue, it was about time again to start the next masterclass. We were not selected for this masterclass either, but there was a very interesting masterclass about Belgian whiskies, hosted bij Willem Huijsman. A 22yo single grain finished in an ex-Oloroso Sherry cask and a single malt Family Cask from the stables of Filliers, an (old style) Belgian Owl, Molenberg’s Gouden Carolus, a de Graal San Graal single malt and brewery Wilderen’s Wild Weasel were present in the line-up.

Meanwhile, on the central gathering place, the last calls for the Big Bokje Bathmen Blind Bottle Battle were up (there was a price for the one that could pronounce this three times without stuttering). In this ‘battle’ we could participate by entering a bottle of whisky, that would be tasted blind. The lucky winner would receive a 25yo bottle of “Braes of Glenlivet” to share or take home.

William Grant & Sons sent over Global Marketing Ambassador Kevin Abrook, who decided to bring something really special. Thomas was the lucky one of us to get selected for this masterclass, where Kevin would explain a little about all the distilleries the company owns and serve us some hard/ impossible to get whiskies. The company is best known for their Glenfiddich and Balvenie single malts, and their Grant’s blended whisky is also among the whiskies most of us will have heard of. We started with a sample of the no 4 apps (short for apparatus), a delicate distillate from the vacuum still at their Girvan distillery. Next up was the Girvan 25yo (liquid creme brulee), followed by the 23yo Kininvie. Not all whiskies one would encounter in normal circumstances, but still pretty available here and there. The 41yo Ladyburn however is a little less available, but will be offered on market somewhere in the months/ years to come. The next Ailsa bay 8yo single malt however is not going to be available any time soon. Using a lightly peated malt (to 21ppm) and cooled through a stainless steel condenser, it will be matured and used in the company’s blended whiskies. For those who never heard of the distillery before, that is quite possible: they only produce about 14 million litres of pure alcohol per year. Closing the masterclass, we were treated with the Òhrda, a beautiful 21yo blended whisky, selected for the Dutch market.

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With all these treats it was time for Thomas to go to the gathering place again, and change places with Ansgar for the second SMWS tasting (previously known as the “mystery tasting” on the original programme). John had selected five different whiskies for his second masterclass, so people who had originally selected the Dewars and the Mystery class, would not be too disappointed. This selection was 5.39 – A vibrant promise of Spring (a 15yo Auchentoshan), 72.41 – Girlie holiday breakfast dram (a 7yo Miltonduff), 4.209 – The Cinderella Cottage (a 19yo Highland Park), 59.51 – A refined cocktail (a 30yo Teaninich) and 41.64 – Sharing, caring loving dram (a 30yo Dailuaine). Another beautiful selection of their excellent archive of whiskies.

At the same time, there was a cheesy stand erected in the main gathering place. And with Cheesy, we mean Cheesy. We could taste a great selection of cheeses from Reypenaer, a Dutch cheese manufacturer. If wanted, he had selected some whiskies from the tables to be paired with his cheeses. Who would have guessed that an Oban Distillers Edition would go no very nicely with an aged goat cheese, or that crums of three year old cheese would work so much magic with a Lagavulin 16yo..?

During the afternoon, ElectraSlide carried out a couple of tunes, and Inge Lankacker {chef zonder restaurant} (who we met earlier at WFNN) presented us with some sweets, once again paired with some whiskies. The occasion had been chosen to present the three latest editions of the Wemyss Malts Whiskies; the Hyve (paired with a milk chocolate cream with butterscotch and chestnut blossom honey), the Spice Tree (paired with drunk raisins with Dutch eggnog) and the Peat Chimney (paired with a trio of candy made with Lagavulin, Laphroaig or Caol Ila, undoubtedly one (or all three) of these whiskies is used in the Wemyss Blended Malt).

When ElectraSlide took a break, Anki Ulvmåne took over with a pop-up tasting (a Maltstock first) of Swedish whiskies, meanwhile singing some Swedish songs accompanying herself on guitar. She presented us the following whiskies: Mackmyra – Svensk Ek (with ABBA – dancing Queen – dedicated to Jan Beckers), Box – the Explorer (with Europe – final Countdown), Hven – Phecda (with Roxette – it must have been love) and from Smögen – private 30litre cask peated sherry 3,5 yo (Blue Swede – Hooked on a feeling!). All beautiful whiskies, not trying to copy Scottish or Irish styles, but having created their own styles and identities.

With all this happening at the main gathering place, there were still some other masterclasses to be had, that followed the official programming. Another first at Maltstock: a private person that held a masterclass bringing a selection of Japanese Shinshu Mars whiskies. We probably did not get the names right, but here is a list of the whiskies presented: Mars – blended Japanese whisky, Shinshu Mars – Iwai tradition wine cask finish, the revival 2011 – Komagatake, Shinshu Mars single cask – Spanish oak sherry butt finish, Shinshu Mars single cask – American oak finish, Tokyo barrel show whisky expo Japan 2015 Komagatake. Too bad we were not selected for this tasting, we are pretty sure we never tasted either of the whiskies.

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At the same time, the winners of Friday’s quiz got their price; a masterclass presented by the quiz host: Hans Offringa. We were lucky enough to get some tickets to this event, because some of the prize winners had chosen to go to the Mars masterclass they had also been selected for. Hans had gathered some ‘oddballs’ as he liked to name them, closed bottles put together from his own collection, all of them from parts of the world you would not expect them from, or created using a special grain or method. From Spain – the DYC, a middle of the road blend. From Bulgaria – Black Ram (the collective crowd was pretty sure it was a Scottish bulk whisky). From South Africa – Bains, an easy going single grain (read more about them in our previous article) From France – Guillon no1, something Hans had brought with him on his own travels. Everyone agreed it could also have been a cheap brandy. From America – New Southern Revival (made with 100% Sorghum). Good storytelling (as expected from Hans), good-ish whiskies, good times. Again.

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More good times were expected at a highly anticipated Zuidam Masterclass. As most masterclasses take about one hour at Maltstock, Patrick van Zuidam was given two whole hours, and was slotted in as the last masterclass, so possible probable overtime would not interfere with other events, safe dinner. Patrick had brought several a lot of cask samples and two finished products, to let us all see what makes the difference. For some people, this might have been too much in nerd level, but the majority of the crowd sat on the tip of their chairs to follow what he was telling us. He started with five different new make spirits, two 100% malted spelts (two and three times distilled), a 50/50 malted/unmalted rye, an unpeated malted barley and a triple distilled malt wine. The differences between these five were unprecedented, as one might expect from different base products, but even the two different spelts were in a world of their own.

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From this base (we were all left with about a pint of a clear liquid on the table), he continued to show us the differences between five different ages of his pride and joy: rye whiskies [When asked “why would you keep continuing with a difficult product as rye when it gives you so much trouble?” he answered with a big smile “because I can!”]. A one, two, three, five and ten year old were presented, all of them based on the same recipe, double distilled, except the five year old, which was triple distilled. This was great in letting us see the importance of age towards flavour, and how maturation does, or does not affect colour. The one and two year old ryes were clearly too young and hardly drinkable, the three year old was “getting there”, the five years old was – with its triple distillation far from anything comparable in taste or colour, and the ten year old was as good as his finished product, but still at cask strength.

Moving on again to the next part of his show, he introduced us to different types of ageing with his malt whiskies. A one year old ex-Oloroso (pale yellow and clear notes of new make), an one year old (from the same distillate) ex-PX (very dark, and almost as strong in taste as the sherry the cask previously held), one French virgin oak cask filled in 2008, one American virgin oak cask filled in 2010, and an ex-Oloroso cask filled in 1998, all three clearly different whiskies and ‘not really good’ to drink on their own. Patrick explained extensively that this is where the art of blending comes in and shows its importance, so the end result of the product is as good (or better) as his customers expect and has used all his mature spirit.

As a small company that releases batches of whisky on a small scale, it shows very important to taste and select each cask on its own, and make sure it is ready for marrying, hold maturation immediately or let it mature for some more time, so he can uphold (or improve) his standard. Every now and then there is a lucky cask that can be bottled straight from the casks, as one of the few things that is the same with his Scottish friends. To top off his excellent masterclass, he presented his latest release of his peated 10yo whisky – much more delicate as expected, knowing he uses the same Scottish barley as some of his Scottish friends use. And because he had brought one more bottle he was very, very proud of (“this is the best product I have bottled- until now”) he let us sip a 25yo Genever, bottled for his father’s 80th birthday. A masterclass fit for maltstock, although they might introduce a geek-o-meter on the programme. This would have scored maximum points.

After this other highlight of the weekend, it was not even over yet. We went back to the central gathering place again, where the bbq was at full steam already, but we got ample time to get the necessary protein refill before we went to the campfire where the guys of Highland Park (third time’s a charm) had prepared another masterclass for us, in between the announcements of the raffle winners. They came up with the discontinued Ambassador’s choice, the not so well known or loved 15yo, the 18o and – especially concocted for Maltstock 2015 – a 29yo Highland Park. Awesomeness…

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Normally, Maltstock would end here, with some live music at the campfire, some more drams that appear out of nowhere, slowly relocate to the Chapel for some more music, dancing , draft beers, bitterballen* and more chats with people known for ages or people just met, over a dram or two. This did still happen, but we were not there to witness it. What we did witness was another first though; a pyjama tasting starting at 23:59.

You read it correct. A tasting in our pyjamas. Long story short: Glenfiddich Ambassador Tony van Rooyen was once laughed at (at Maltstock) for wearing a silk pyjama, when he came back to the gathering place where he left his phone, forgot about his pyjamas and stayed for a couple of drams. He used this moment to invite 20-odd people to get together and taste the new release of the earlier mentioned Òhrda, dresscode: pyjama. A complete mayhem, but a very friendly and relaxed mayhem nonetheless. Afterwards, some still went to the Chapel, some went to sleep, because next morning, after a sturdy, full Scottish breakfast, it was time to say our goodbyes again and go home.

2015 was our third year in a row, and although we were really excited to get there, on the way over we doubted if we would attend the 2016 edition. That said, not eating until Christmas sounded like a better plan (we can miss some pounds), so we will see you all next year.

Now it is time to relax (here).

* Dutch things, like clogs and sheit lagers.
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Copyright notice: Photos by WhiskySpeller

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