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The Covid pandemic has had a colossal impact on the whisky industry, and on how we consume whisky. In the not so distant past, whisky lovers made pilgrimages to their favourite distilleries, shared drams in person and experienced whisky tasting at source. Within a few short months, the landscape has altered dramatically. So much so that whisky enthusiasts are completely acclimatised to trying drams from their favourite distilleries in their living room. There are clear downsides to this, notably the lack of human interaction, but it cannot be denied that whisky has become more accessible, and most enthusiasts are able to sample a far wider range.

Some were out of the traps quicker than others. Great Drams were quick to adapt, hosting some excellent tastings way back in April. Whisky clubs also thrived throughout the pandemic, with the ability to reach new people outside of their geographical area. The club of which I am a member, Sussex Whiskey Appreciation Club (SWAG!), was founded at the start of lockdown, and for months ran virtual tastings without any physical meetups. It was such a success that by May we were able to run two tastings a week with some incredible whisky, all down to the amazing organisational skills of our founder Wayne. Other clubs, such as the London Whisky Club, have gone on to phenomenal success, regularly hosting some of the best tastings online.

New distilleries began hosting their own online tastings, which received rave reviews. From the amazing tastings with the Isle of Raasey, to the Lindores Abbey tasting, to the few Bimber tastings that have popped up, there has been a hunger for new make spirit and young whisky. There have also been some excellent experimental tastings, from Mackmyra to Origin Spirits (and the incredible Currach Seaweed Whisky), which have pushed the boundaries of what a whisky tasting can offer.

It was therefore inevitable that larger events with established brands would begin to make a mark. The first true whisky festival was hosted by Summerton, and it was very well received in its content, value and quality. Following its success, the true giants of the industry have got involved. The Whisky Show has gone virtual, with some truly breathtaking tastings lined up, Master of Malt hosted their Scotch and Sofa Festival, and Cadenhead’s will be hosting their own exciting Virtual Whisky Week.

Amongst these giant events lie some hidden gems. Merchants like The Wee Dram, The Really Good Whisky Company, The Little Whisky Shop and The Celtic Whisky Shop have been hosting some of the best tastings online, and local whisky societies like Black Country Whisky Society and Waterford Whiskey Society have gone from strength to strength.

Nothing can replace a whisky club meeting or a trip to a distillery, but with the new Covid measures in place for the foreseeable future, online whisky tastings are here to stay. Luckily for us, there has never been more variety in the amount of whisky we can try at affordable prices from the safety of our own homes.

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The beautiful photos courtesy of Edward Milner (@MrEdwardMilner)

Last night, I had the privilege of attending the latest Tweet Tasting, with the wonderful A.D. Rattray. We were presented with five, “bin ends,’” from the Warehouse Collection Range, described as, “part casks leftover from other projects or from moving whisky from a larger cask to a different type of cask, for finishing.’

A.D. Rattray have a fascinating backstory that mirrors much of the trials and tribulations of the Scottish whisky industry throughout the years. Founded in 1868 as a grocery store, A.D. Rattray develops a strong distribution network, but his death in 1910, and the economic disasters of the 1920’s led to the sale of the business to William Walker. The company survives World War II, and by the 1950’s, now in the hands of Stanley P. Morrison, become part of a whisky enterprise, with the purchase of Sheriff’s Bowmore Islay Distillery among others. By 1989, Suntory purchase a stake and later take full control.

With this rich whisky heritage in mind, it was inevitable that the tasting would be of the highest quality. The packaging was exquisite, with each sample dipped in red wax, and a letter explaining each of the 5 drams.

The night began with the Knockdhu 10 year old, bottled at cask strength 54.1%. The nose had hints of lemon, peppermint and mint toffee. Palate wise, chocolate, lemon again, butterscotch and vanilla.

Glenrothes 12 year old followed, at a whopping 67.5%. Light on the nose for the ABV, lots of orange and cinnamon. The palate was a delight – buttery, fruity, but unsurprisingly needed water.

The Orkney 11 year old at 58% had an amazing seaside nose, salty and peppery. The palate was surprising – honey, cinnamon and apricot.

Next up was the Ardmore 9 year old – for me the pick of the bunch. Young and spiky, burnt pears on the nose and a long smoky finish.

Lastly, the Williamson 8 year old at 59% did exactly what it said on the tin – peat. Dark chocolate and caramel, think of a campfire on a cold night.

Great craic and a great evening, Tweet tastings are a fantastic opportunity to try whisky you may not usually gravitate towards, and if this tasting is anything to go by, I will be a regular follower of A.D. Rattray.

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English whisky has never been more in-demand. From the exciting releases in The Cotswolds Distillery, to the innovative work Dhavall Gandhi and team are creating at The Lakes Distillery, to the blink and you’ll miss them releases at Bimber, English whisky is emerging from the shadow of its northern neighbours to produce some excellent whisky. So what better way to celebrate than a festival shining a light on English Whisky?

The English Whisky Festival, hosted by the English Whisky Society, takes place online over the weekend of October 16th and 17th. There are thirteen distilleries participating from all corners of England. The tasting sets will include new releases and festival exclusives, and further tasting sets will be available for each event. Some highlights are:

o Cask Influence featuring The Lakes, Cotswolds, The English Whisky Co, The Oxford Artisan Distillery and White Peak.

o Field To Feints featuring Bimber, Cooper King, Cotswolds, Dartmoor and Hentsone

o Quiz featuring Boutique-y Dave and Andy from Malt Box.

Purchasing any ticket will provide access to the entire festival programme and 5 x 2.5cl samples, and each panel has a corresponding tasting pack, starting at £32.50. Tickets are limited so make sure you secure your place early!

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