In my calendar, September means it’s time for one of my favourite whisky events of the year – Maltstock.
Maltstock is advertised as the ‘relaxed whisky weekend’, but what dos this actually mean? On the first weekend of September each year, more than 100 whisky enthusiasts head to ‘Het Buitencentrum’, an outdoor centre in Overasselt, on the outskirts of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, each bringing a bottle (or more) of whisky to share.
- The Outward Journey (with an important mission)
The weekend started with a 5.30am departure from Hemel Hempstead in order to make the 0804 Eurostar to Brussels. I had been tasked to get my friend and colleague, Billy Abbott, whose excellent blog can be found here, to Maltstock on time. For the last two years his masterclass has been scheduled first and for the last two years he has been late for it – in 2011 due to forgetting his passport and last year due to the car drive taking longer than expected from Kent. Sure enough, in an attempt to keep the joke running for another year, he was scheduled to host his class at 4.45pm on the Friday. After a swift pick me up breakfast at the establishment known as “The Daily Bread” (other breakfast food outlets are available!) we headed to catch the train to the Belgian capital. This first train leg was pretty uneventful and mainly used for snoozing. To be honest it would have been entirely uneventful but for my first sighting of a new Eurostar Train in the yard just before Brussels.
We had a leisurely 73 minute connection at Brussels Midi, enough to pick up some waffles (well when in Belgium….) and meet the third member of our group, Jason, who’d stayed in Brussels the previous night. Picking up our train from the depths of platform 19, it headed through Brussels accompanied by some ‘Bolognese flavoured’ crisps (that being an interesting claim to say the least) for the 70 minute journey to Roosendaal, just over the border in the Netherlands.
Making our final change onto a double Koploper service (my favourite type of Dutch train), we all became noticeably antisocial, due to the free WiFi offered on Dutch Intercity trains, arriving at Nijmegen Railway Station on time at 3.14pm as planned.
After a quick cab ride through the back streets of the city, we (more importantly Billy) arrived at Maltstock at just before 4pm, a good 45 minutes before his tasting was due to start.
- The Event Itself (well the Friday night)
After dumping the bags in our dorm-style room (once again our room was made up of most of the British contingent at the festival), we popped our bottles onto the communal tables to join those of others who had arrived earlier.
My personal offerings were The Speyside 12 Year Old and a Bourbon Cask from The Balvenie. The bottles on there ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous (more of that in part 2), a really extreme offering.
The event price (around €200) includes food and drink for the weekend and Friday’s dinner offering was a Chinese buffet, accompanied by quite a few bottles of Grolsch, much needed both after a long day up to then and in anticipation of it continuing into the next morning (from previous experience).
- Amrut Masterclass/No Quiz
My first masterclass of the weekend (also included in the bargain price) was hosted by Ashok Chokalingam, Amrut’s excellent Brand Ambassador. We entered the room to see six drams awaiting us, of which only the first three can be talked about at this stage, look out for some stunning new releases in the next few months from them. Sadly this was timed to clash with the excellent (if slightly random and ridiculous) quiz, I have to admit to missing the chance to guess which lamppost outside an obscure distillery had been photoshopped to be a few inches shorter….
Anyway, back to the masterclass. I have to admit to being rather tired by this time (it was 9pm and I’d been up for almost 17 hours), and so didn’t make any tasting notes at the time.
First up was their unpeated new make. It’s always interesting to see the difference between different distillery’s new make and this was the first I have personally tried from Asia – it was fairly fruity and in the 60s ABV-wise.
The next dram I can talk about is their Herald. The whisky was originally matured at Amrut in Bangalore, but they wanted to see how their spirit matured in more ‘normal’ conditions, so they sent 4 casks off to the remote island of Helgoland (or Heligoland in English). The island has an interesting history, being under British rule from 1807 to 1890 when we decided to swap it for Zanzibar – a decision which led, indirectly, to the shortest war is history, the 38-minute(!) Anglo-Zanzibar war in 1896. 3 of the casks were then bottled in 2011 (with a fourth being left there for a further 2 years before being released last month and is now available at around £125). It had an incredible complexity, but a bit less punchy than Amrut’s usual cask strength offerings, due to the cooler climate finishing period.
Finally it was the turn of the very rare Greedy Angels, the oldest whisky Amrut have ever produced. At over 8 years old, the hot climate meant that a total of 274 litres were lost to the Angels from the 2 casks and only 144 bottles were ever commercially available. It had unusual (for Amrut) tropical fruit notes and an unrivalled richness. It’s just a shame with the thirsty Indian angels that they can’t afford to do this as a regular bottling.
- Into the Night
After the masterclass, it was time to head back to The Kiln for some more whisky and catching up with the other attendees, many of whom I hadn’t seen since last year’s event. As is usual, noone wants to really go to bed too early (especially as our room backed onto the main area anyway so attempting to sleep would no doubt have been futile!)
After a good (but not OTT) number of whiskies, of which one was this:
the first night (or first morning depending on how you view things), ended at about 3.30am when we finally called an end to proceedings.
To be continued…