Not being a drinker of any alcoholic beverage, my motive for attending the Whisky Live Manila event held on Oct 21 and 22, 2017 at Shangri-La at the Fort was to understand why whisky has become so popular that it has its own event in the grandest ballroom of the swankiest hotel in the Fort. Whisky is a hard liquor, ie. a drink that has high alcohol content, quite expensive, and its image in the old days, which is like twenty years ago, was associated mostly with a group of wealthy elderly men drinking quietly in a dimly lit room.
I was unable to attend the first night of the event, so I went there early on the second day. I arrived at around 5 p.m., but found out that most of the program started at 7pm, and most people came in after 8pm. So the first thing that I learned about whisky was that people usually drink it after dinner (unless you are a Japanese whisky drinker, who would drink it during a meal).
Photo above: At 8pm, the Grand Ballroom where Whisky Live Manila 2017 was held, is filled with merry participants.
Being there early turned out to be not a bad move, though, as I could talk to exhibitors quietly and at length, which would not be possible if I had arrived after 8pm.
How the event worked. Each participant upon registration was given ten chips. For each shot of whisky tasted, the participant would give one chip to the exhibitor, so that each participant could try only ten shots. An additional chip was for voting for the best tasting whisky, and another one for voting for the best decorated exhibition.
The event had over 40 exhibitors. There were brands well-known to the general public, such as Chivas, Remy, Johnny Walker, Tanduay, as well as brands only known to whisky connoisseurs, such as Dalmore, Glenfiddich, Dewar's, Glengoyne, bourbons like Jim Beam, Irish whisky like Jameson, Japanese whisky like Yamazakura, and new comers like Koval from USA. There was even a local liquor producer, Lakan, that offers premium Philippine Lambanog, a wine made from coconut.
A steamer that lets you 'nose' the whisky
The first exhibit that I stopped at was that of a whisky brand called Dewar. I was drawn to that exhibit because it had an unusual contraption on display. It was a glass dome with a button. When the button was pushed, steam carrying the flavor of a whisky would be released and we could inhale it to get a wisp of its aroma. My take? It was a nice breath of warm air with alcoholic and grainy smell. I could have spent a few minutes inhaling it if I had more time. Dewar's bartender, Lennon, was a very nice guy and answered all my questions about whisky that I could think of.
The event included a number of master classes, with presenters from different whisky brands to impart their knowledge about whisky. I went to one presented by Neil Strachan of Balvenie, called "The Art of the Craft". In the class, Neil highlighted the features of Balvenie that form the identity of the brand, and along the way, explained the steps of whisky making the Balvenie way. The company's pride was the craftmen that they have for each step of whisky making, and their ownership of workshops, such as having their own cooperage, which is a workshop that builds whisky barrels (or casks) from pre-used wine or whisky barrels.
Apart from dispensing whisky-making knowledge, Balvenie master class was memorable for their generous freebies for attendees. We each were given a replicate of a "Dipping Dog", a container made from copper tube which was used by distillery workers to 'liberate' whisky from casks in the warehouse.
Balvenie's "Dipping Dog" that contains malted barley, which can be consumed as bar snack.
Event to remember
The crowd that I met at Whisky Live Manila was quite different from those that I imagined. They were younger, many were in their 30s, and they were not only men. Even at the master class that I attended, out of 20 attendees, 6 were women. Sure, there were those who were there just for tasting the whiskies, and socializing with other drinkers. But there were many who seemed genuinely interested in learning about the ways to differential one whisky from another, such as through the method of making the drink, the flavors found in each, or the story behind the brand, details that make appreciation of a liquor possible.
To get a feel of the vibe at the Whisky Manila Live event, check out the video below.
Intimate Whisky Experience
While tasting whisky from different brands and interacting with sellers in a big event like Whisky Manila Live is a great way to learn about whisky, such events do not happen all the time. Meanwhile, there are places that we can dip our toe into whisky appreciation in a more intimate setting.
Three days before the event, I went to LIT Japanese Whisky Bar at Serendra Piazza to attend their Rum Tasting masterclass. Rum is not exactly whisky, I am told, but I wanted to get a feel of the learning environment at LIT, which also conducts Japanese Whisky appreciation classes.
I must say, the experience was quite different from that in Whisky Manila Live. First, the presenter was not tied to a brand, and thus could offer opinion on products from different brands. Second, the place was small, so participants could engage in more involved discussion.