We have been to several festivals in the Netherlands and love finding new festivals to go to and discover. At most events we find the same tables and selections of whiskies, and the only difference seems to be a bigger or smaller location. After a while, there is less and less to discover whisky-wise, and therefore we really like festivals that present a mix of different spirits. We are not looking for people dressed up in pirate costumes, groups of kilted bagpipers blowing our ears to smithereens, sounds of approaching thunderstorms accompanied with a thick layer of mist, or half naked ladies in wellies presenting us a little too much of themselves instead of the whisky the seem to represent. Just keep it simple, you might know by now how we feel about marketing.
The festival we went to this time, Whisky & Rum aan Zee, in the weekend of 9 & 10 October 2015 is one of the festivals that keeps it normal. It is neither too big nor too small and serves a good balance between two popular spirits and good food. It is about 60 / 40 divided between whisky / rum, and has a handful of other drinks and spirits that the importers and producers feel fitting to bring along. All products can be found in Esther and Richard Blesgraaf’s shop Zeewijck in Ijmuiden, who organized the festival with a lot of passion for the 10th time this year. Because it is organized by the store (like some other festivals also do), you know beforehand that anything you taste is available from the shop, what the costs are, and you don’t have to look all around the country to find it again and purchase it in the shop or online store*.
On the top floor of the Seaport Beach Hotel, a run of the mill location (quite refreshing, considering most whisky-festivals in the Netherlands are in a Church), with normal tables, decorated with a tablecloth and a banner or two (also, rather refreshing when you see the inflatable castles some of the distributors seem to blow up every now and then), displaying, well, bottles. In between all this, there is ample water and bread to cleanse your glass and palate, and if you might get the munchies at some point, there are several stands that are eager to sell you a semi-healthy snack, which are, in one way or another, often related to the booze you have just been tasting. As visitors, we were well taken care of.
We must however agree with some of the (very Dutch) noises we picked up, that some things could have been planned or communicated different. That the list of drinks was not completely up-to-date, is not one of these things. We could download this one week in advance, and there was a printed copy available as well (including a pen), complete with pricing and location where they could be found. Kudos for that. Other communication regarding tickets, start & end times of master classes (we missed one due to an overlap), social media activity and printed advertising, could perhaps have a higher frequency and started at an earlier moment to attract more people. Because it is a fun festival to go to and people should know about it. We understand that, when you have an online and physical store to run, hosting wine and beer tastings, run a family, have some sort of social life and work 40 hours a week (after which you still have to start your Wednesday), organising a festival like this can get a bit “in the way”, so this is only a small smudge on an otherwise very successful event.
Because this was the 10th edition, they wanted to celebrate with something they normally did not do during their festival. They added a day and an evening-session and arranged an excellent master class from Jan Beek, who had a range of closed whisky distilleries and oddballs to present in his own special way. There was an amazing BBQ workshop, where we got to do things to meat and fish we had not imagined that could be done without being arrested, and allegedly there has been a master class with a Sazarac bourbon lineup, which started without us having finished the rum infused, smoked salmon, pulled pork and wagyu beef picanha. We know; priorities…
Priorities also creep up when it comes to choosing between whisky and rum, and there is even a split within WhiskySpeller about that (!). Ansgar clearly has developed a taste for rum, where Thomas has trouble sharing the whisky-spotlight with other spirits. Although there was this Mai-Tai he kept coming back for.
There were many rums and whiskies from the smaller independents to the large industrials standing side by side, and many visitors enjoyed rolling their own cigar or the collection of cigars available*. Many wandered off to the outside terrace enjoying the sea view, with a glass in one hand and a cigar in the other, trying the (not so) comfortable lounge seats and (too comfortable) bean bags.
Did we feel that it was a 10th anniversary?
We liked that the master classes were something different from the standard and that the organisation wanted to do something with food/booze pairing in the BBQ workshop. The rushed feeling we sometimes have at other festivals, we luckily did not feel at the Whisky & Rum aan Zee festival, except for the mishap with our BBQ/bourbon priority.
Next time, when you are in Ijmuiden waiting for the Princes or King to help you on your way to Scotland, pay Zeewijck a little visit and have a look at their well stocked shop. You might end up with a dram or two for the way over.
One of us feels there will be some wandering off into the world of rum while the other will most likely indulge in doing something more with preparing food using spirits. It is fun to discover and combine different passions. On our Facebook page you can find some pictures of the event and be sure to mark down the 8th of October 2016 for the 11th edition of this festival.