That’s a wrap on 2015! What a great year it has been, with our Fifth Birthday celebrations being just the tip of the iceberg. If you would like to catch up on what went down this year and get a sneak peak at what’s to come in 2016, check out our Year In Review blog.
If you can’t wait to get stuck in to January’s whisky tastings, here is what we have planned for you:
Little known fact: Elise Craft, our resident Canadian, was actually born in Scotland on Burns Night. Och aye! It might be a couple of weeks early, but we’ll celebrate both Elise and Rabbie’s birthday with a selection of drams from either side of The Pond.
Only some things stand the test of time. In 2011, our social media streams were clogged with photos of people laying on their stomachs and Rob Whitehead hosted his first January Berry Brothers & Rudd Whisky Squad session. Fortunately for us, planking is a distant bad memory while Rob is returning for a fifth consecutive January bringing with him another swag of Berry’s impressive single cask single malts.
As 2015 comes galloping to close, it is time to reflect upon the year that was at Whisky Squad and preview another great year in 2016.
The Year in Numbers
In 2015 we ran 19 session, tasting a grand total of 115 whiskies. The growing diversity of the whisky world is reflected in the fact that the whiskies we sampled came from ten different countries, including drams from Switzerland and Slovakia! Of course, old faithful Scotland still dominates, with around 70% of our drams coming from whisky’s heartland. For a full run-down of the whiskies we tasted this year, head on over to our What We Tasted page.
The drams are one thing, but Whisky Squad would be nothing without the people who attend the tastings. This year has seen over 100 individuals joining us for at least one session, and while we don’t keep figures on how many sessions everyone has been to (thankfully!), we do know that we have had a healthy proportion of new people come along in 2015. Our continued success hinges as much upon these Whisky Squad newcomers as much as it does our regulars, so don’t forget to invite a mate in 2016.
Each year, Whisky Squad throws up some great moments and some classic drams. Billy has been doing a spot of reminiscing – here are some of his 2015 highlights:
The point at the Old vs New III session where an unnamed work colleague of mine turned to me and pleaded, ‘Please let this be the new whisky, so I can still get it!’. It wasn’t. The whisky in question was Talisker Distillers Edition – the 2003 vintage, which we had at Whisky Squad, was just named The Whisky Exchange’s 2015-16 Whisky of the Year…
The whole of the Indoor Picnic Session – great food, great whisky and whiskey, and a top crew attending. An excellent session by Elise.
The moment in the Island Hopping session when Whisky Squad veteran Dave(y) Haste turned to our table and said ‘This is definitely not Scapa’. It was Scapa. It was also very nice.
Pouring the last dram for rye whiskey fan Elise at the “What? Really?!” session and asking her where it came from. It was a Dutch Rye whiskey, which fooled the entire room, including Elise, who now owns a couple of bottles.
The moment during Rob Whitehead’s “Class of ’97” session where we realised that every whisky we were tasting that night was Clynelish – astonishingly, five whiskies into a session of six drams – only to discover that the sixth dram wasn’t from Clynelish!
As for the whiskies themselves? Each year throws up a great list of stonkers and, inevitably, one or two stinkers. This year’s stand-outs included aforementioned raft of 1997 Clynelish from Berry Brothers & Rudd and another from the folks at Wemyss, the brash Millstone 2004 Single Cask Rye, the award winning new sherry cask 12 year old from Benriach and a pair of old and new Talisker Distillers Editions. I won’t name names on the drams that entered the Whisky Squad Hall of Shame, but tasting them is all part of the fun and we enjoy reminiscing about the drams that aren’t so great as much as we do the best.
The Birthday Bash
Without doubt, the biggest moment of 2015 was the celebration of Whisky Squad’s fifth birthday in April, doing so in style with a big shindig at the Finborough Arms. A packed out room tucked in to pizza, delicious cake (thanks to Kirsty Chant and Su-Lin Ong) and toasted our ongoing success with plenty of beers and few choice drams specially chosen for the occasion. In attendance were Squadders old and new – some had attended the very first session back in 2010, others had recently joined the fun.
The night really typified what makes Whisky Squad so great; a room full of people sharing a passion for a spirit that truly brings them together. No pub in the world could match Whisky Squad for the diversity of the whiskies and the quality of the company (not to mention the prices of the drams!). I have been taking part in Whisky Squad for over four years now and I have lost count of the number of brilliant whiskies I have tasted that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to try. I also have Whisky Squad to thank for many brilliant memories and for the opportunities to meet such great people, many of whom I now genuinely call friends. I even have Whisky Squad to thank for the opportunity to meet and get to know my now wife! I don’t doubt that there are many others that share similar sentiments to mine and if that is you, then I hope you continue to join us for another five years and beyond.
A Look Ahead
Without giving too much away, here is a sneak peek at what you can expect from Whisky Squad in the first half of 2016:
A full line up of whisky tastings – in the mix are a selection of our annual favourites, tastings with a couple of our favourite London whisky retailers, the return of the hugely popular Punter’s Choice and something a little cheesy. We’ll also be running our first premium session with some iconic whiskies to taste.
We will be holding more social events at various establishments around the town.
An online London Whisky Calendar, so you’ll never miss out on any of this city’s whisky related events
A sexy new look for our monthly newsletter
Keep your eyes peeled for all this and more in 2016.
Over To You
So that’s what we thought of the year and now we’d love to hear what you thought. Did you have any stand out drams or highlight moments? Which was your favourite session of the year? Do you have any session ideas or suggestions on how we could improve Whisky Squad in 2016? Please get in touch with us by leaving us a comment below, sending a tweet to @whiskysquad or sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All that is left for me to do is, on behalf of Jason, Billy, Elise and myself, wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope your festive season is full of tasty things and a at least a few good drams. Thanks for your ongoing support this year and we look forward to seeing you at Whisky Squad in 2016.
From the sublime to the ridiculous to the just plain old patchy, it’s Movember again and at Whisky Squad we take the ‘stache, the mo, the whisky-strainer very seriously. So much so that we’ve organised a Moustache and Whisky pairing in support of WS regular Mitesh who is raising money for the charity.
Bookings open on Friday 23rd October at High Noon. Hope to see you in November!
Strangely, we’d not done a great-valued whisky session since Whisky Squad #44 – it’s long enough ago that Billy even wrote it up on his blog. In the past three years we’ve learned a lot about whisky and some fantastic new drams have been released, so it’s time to go back – Bang for your Buck II.
We’ve been seeking out the best-value whiskies and will present them at the session. Expect the unexpected and a line-up of very tasty drams.
Billy Abbott, our very own walking whisky Wikipedia, brings us a delicious double header this September. He is presenting two of our favourite formats that are sure to be a hit. Partly because they feature old whisky and sherried drams…but mostly because they are presented by Billy.
In this third Old vs New session, we’ll again have three pairs of drams on the tasting mat, each the same whisky according to the label on the bottle, but all very different – can you guess which is which?
In these days of austerity, hardship and greater whisky sales than ever before, fewer and fewer whiskies are matured in casks that used to hold sherry. These are the classic casks that made the great whiskies of the past, and their slow disappearance is much lamented. But not at Whisky Squad!
17th September, 19:30 at The King & Queen, W1S 6DL
Whisky Squads #114 and #115 will go on sale on Wednesday 19th August 2015 at 3pm.
Sometimes it’s nice to put all the wacky session themes aside and have a good old fashioned regional whisky tasting. So that’s what we’re doing! For the first time in our five year history we dedicate a session to a little town with a big history
Other times it’s fun to tip the idea of a whisky tasting on its head and do something completely different. Sound like fun? Then check out this summery session, complete with whisky, BBQ and a bit of mixology.
Whisky Squads #112 and #113 will go on sale on Monday 21st July 2015 at 11am.
One of the problems with running two tasting sessions a month is coming up with new ideas. We’re now at least 109 Whisky Squads down – our numbering is not necessarily as accurate as we might like, but we’re fairly certain that’s the minimum – and have done close to 100 unique sessions. Fortunately, Elise, the newest member of the so-called ‘management team’ has a bunch of ideas, and our first June session was one of hers – Island Hopping.
With June drawing to a close, it’s time for another pair of Whisky Squad sessions to drag themselves into the limelight. This time, we’ll be welcoming back a friend and getting you lot to do some work for once…
Recently, the squad management gang have become slightly obsessed with how new make spirit has been made. But during some late night discussion we realised we’d been neglecting the most important bit of whisky production: the casks.
This sessions is our apology to the humble oak tree and the coopers of the world. We’ll have John McCheyne from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on hand to feed us some excellent drams and talk about wood.
We’re busy folks at Whisky Squad and putting together two whisky tastings a month takes more time and effort than you might think, especially if you’ve been to a Squad session and seen how organised we are. That changes now: you’ll be organising Squad #111.
Now, we’re not mean enough to get you all to find venues and carry glasses (although suggestions for the former and offers of the latter are always gratefully received), but we will be getting you to choose the whisky. We’ll have six whiskies on the mat, all tasted blind, all chosen by the attendees. Will your dram be chosen? Will you be able to tell if it is..?
Whisky Squads #110 and #111 will go on sale on Monday 22 June 2015 at 11am.