My trip to the Leeds Whisky Festival was not only to sample my favourite spirit, but to right a wrong which had been eating away at me for several years. More of that later, first there was booze to savour.

Rolling Social Events have already had Rum Festivals, a Gin Fair and a Christmas Market at the Corn Exchange so now it was time for me to indulge in my spirit of choice. I must confess that I have attended the other events as I am nothing if not open minded, and open mouthed, but this was the one I was waiting for and believe me, it didn’t disappoint. Well, not as far as the drink was concerned.

The format of the Whisky Festival was different to those of the gin and rum versions which began after the shops in the Corn Exchange had shut and occupied the whole of the building. This event was in two time slots; noon until 4.00pm, and 5.00pm until 9.00pm, so, as life continued as normal on the ground floor and balcony of the building, we festival goers were ensconced in the lower ground floor oblivious to goings on above. Some of us were oblivious to most things by 4.00!

There was a fabulous selection of over 100 variations on the theme, coming from all over the globe. Places as exotic as California, Australia, Japan and Filey! Yes, that Filey.

I don’t know who that bloke Peat is, obviously a Scottish interloper wanting to fool everyone that he is from the East Coast of Yorkshire.

You will see that they are the happiest bunch of distillers because they get to make a great tasting whisky without needing to leave God’s Own County. I especially enjoyed er, whichever one I tried!

Not only did the whisky come from all over the world but it was presented in lots of styles; Bourbon, Rye, Single Malt, Blended Malt and an array of bottles which used a mixture of two or more of the above named in varying proportion.

Apart from the Filey, obviously, my favourite was the first one I tried, Highland Rye 1794. A bit past its sell by date I grant you but as smooth as you like. When I had complimented the chap, who had explained the distilling process to me, on his fine product he informed me that a bottle would set me back £95! That is a bit more than the budget will stretch to, it is more a case of waiting for Asda to reduce Famous Grouse to £16 a litre. I told you I was a connoisseur.

To you, 95 quid

It is an almost impossible task to describe all of the tastes as they were so diverse and, after a few samples your taste buds get confused, as does your brain. The wonderful thing about life though is that everyone’s tastes are different. If that were not the case then there would only have been one brand on show!

Leaving taste aside, although it was rather nice, my prize for the coolest bottle designs goes to Bruichladdich Distillery whose black and turquoise containers brought the spirit’s image up to date with not a bagpipe or stag at bay in sight.

In addition to the drink on offer there were a couple of food outlets; Ooey Gooey Bakes and Mans Market Chinese Street Food. I must admit to not having sampled the first as I have a constant struggle with containing my weight to manageable proportions and I had already ordered some chips from Mans. On reflection, I did things the wrong way round.

The lady at Ooey Gooey Bakes was very pleasant with a warm, welcoming smile and her range of cakes, and Woodford Reserve Brownies made especially for the occasion, looked delicious.

Sadly, the people at Mans could not raise a smile between them, nor a ‘Thank you’ when I ordered. When my pager didn’t function meaning that I was waiting ages, watching those who had been behind me in the queue, collect their food before I did, thus having to enquire as to the delay, there was not even a ‘Sorry mate’ when they made up my order. I realise that they were busy but politeness and manners neither slow you down nor cost you money.

I have to say that my carton of fries with hoisin duck was very nice but, at a tenner, so it should have been.

For our entertainment there was a two-piece band knocking out a great selection of rock and roll which finished the whole experience off a treat.

Just about the best mixer to go with Bourbon

Right, back to my initial story about getting my own back. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, well, this plateful was all but frozen. In 2010 I was staying with my great friend Linda who lives in Lexington, Kentucky and we obviously had to visit a Bourbon distillery. I suggested Maker’s Mark, which was my favourite at the time, but she said that it was situated in a ‘dry’ county so you didn’t get a sample at the end. It might have been my favourite but, come on, so she suggested going to Woodford Reserve. The distillery itself was a beautiful old building and the tour was extremely interesting. When we got to the end we were led into a room, obviously next to the gift shop, where our guide said ‘Normally, this is where I would give out free tasting samples, but, unfortunately today is an Election Day and so we are not allowed to do that. My protesting that I wasn’t eligible to vote being a foreigner, fell on deaf ears. When asked if there were any questions I couldn’t help but enquire as to whether this meant that our American cousins were stone cold sober when they elected George W Bush, he confirmed that this was indeed the case.

It turned out that the election was not for a new leader of the free world or even a Governor or Congressman, but it was for the local Coroner. Much as I was tempted to provide the new incumbent with his first customer, I resisted the temptation and we repaired to conservatory back at Linda’s where a bottle from her own stash was opened.

I know that Linda will be reading this article, as she does with everything I write, well, it is a very quiet part of the state where she lives, so I just want to let her know that after 12 years, I finally got my free shot out of Woodford Reserve. It tasted all the better for the wait.

Mission Accomplished!

To see what else Rolling Social Events have in the pipeline, please go to https://rollingsocialevents.com/

All photographs by Stan Graham

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