Maltstock 2014 is over. For the sixth time, the event was organized in an accommodation "het Buitencentrum" in a small oak-and-pine forest in Overasselt, close to the city of Nijmegen in the south-east of the Netherlands. This was only our second visit to the relaxed whisky weekend, but it has already become clear that the dates of 25, 26 and 27 September 2015 will already be blocked in WhiskySpeller's calendar.
This year's approach of the organisation was largely the same as last year, with some changes and improvements. Besides the square (dubbed Dornoch Castle Gathering for this event) in the centre of the venue where the tables were once more overwhelmed with the many different whiskies everybody brought themselves, the organisation also had arranged the use of the chapel where several master-classes were held, and kept an open bar in the evening for everybody to relax, dance and chat until the sun came up. The relocation of most of the people to the chapel (dubbed the tasting.guru midnight cafe) turned out a great success, leaving the square nice and quiet, so the people trying to get some sleep in the surrounding rooms could do so, without being disturbed by music or people chatting underneath their bedroom windows.
This year's catering was perfectly arranged. Besides the b.y.o.b. tables that were fully stocked with whiskies during the whole weekend, around the clock volunteers and staff were available to supply everyone with the necessary bottles of water, soft drinks and different beers - all included in the entrance fee. Last year's event had received some comments on the food, and many hungry people had decided to arrange pizza (ordered online) in the middle of the night. 2014 was different.
The excellent traditional Scottish breakfast on Saturday and Sunday from from Alkmaar's Hielander restaurant (who took over the honour of making breakfast from Graigellachies' Highlander inn), the Friday evening had an on-site pizza stand that continuously baked pizzas for all attendees, with enough to serve anyone from six, to half past eight. Lunch on Saturday was available during the entire afternoon, with a constant supply of buns with various spreads, plus the choice between a good tomato or mushroom soup. Saturday's evening meal was made from an endless supply of well prepared BBQed meat accompanied by the required salads, bread and sauces, with a heavy but delicious trifle to top things off. All good stuff, but if this was not enough, during aforementioned evenings in the chapel on Friday and Saturday, there were large quantities of cheese, crisps, nuts and deep-fried snacks available.
Enough blabbering about food, we started this to have a closer look at whisky. During Maltstock, it has become customary that a handful of master-classes are scheduled into the programme. This year was no different, with no less than 10 masterclasses to choose from, a couple of weeks before the event. Most people received two or three of their chosen master-classes, and all people (due to a slight mistake, all but one) were appointed their number one choice.
First masterclass of the weekend was presented by Lukasz Dynowiak from Edinburgh Whisky Blog taking everybody present through the current line-up of Balblair whiskies. Next was Micheal Vachon of Maverick drinks who guided the attendees through Maverick's twelve (12!) "reference series" blended whiskies, followed by Douglas Laing's Jan Beckers who closed the Friday series of masterclasses with a selection of their Provenance and Old Particular ranges and the latest Big Peat release. When all pizzas had been devoured and everybody was back at the square, Mike Lord from the Whisky shop Dufftown presented a lengthy and exhausting - but very entertaining whisky quiz, where first prize would be an extra "Springbank deconstructed" master-class from Dutch author Hans Offringa Saturday afternoon.
Saturday morning - when about one hundred people were doing a so called detox walk (re-tox would be a more appropriate name, since there were two instances where whisky was being distributed during the one hour trip), Lucasz kicked off the Saturday masterclasses with the current Old Pulteney line-up, and Mike Lord came into action after that with a selection of niceties available in his (online-)shop. John Dewars & Sons was represented by global ambassador Stephen Marshal who had brought a selection of cask-samples from several of their single malts, and Tatsayu Minagawa from Suntory presented a great selection of cask samples from the different brands of Japan's largest distiller together with Yumi Yoshikawa from Chichibu, who brought some cask samples from Japan's smallest distillery.
In line with their colleague brand-ambassadors, Dutch Balvenie brand ambassador Tony van Rooyen had "found" his lost samples from last year's masterclass, and Tamdhu's Anthony McCallum-Caron had brought some different cask samples intended for one of their parent company's independent bottlings of Jura, a cask strength GlenGoyne and a cask sample of a yet to be released Tamdhu. Last of the afternoon to come into action was Sietse Offringa with the Highland Park 12yo, their Dark Origins and three (wait for it...) Highland Park cask samples.
As already mentioned, all of these masterclasses were options the visitors could have pointed out beforehand and two or three were selected for them to attend. During the traditional campfire on the Saturday night however, one additional masterclass was given by independent whisky-expert Annabel Meikle where all 200-something Maltstock attendees were presented four whiskies from four different bottlers or smaller producers.
In between the master-classes all visitors had ample time to catch up with acquaintances and make new connections with fellow whisky enthusiasts while enjoying a dram of their own choosing. With only two drops of rain and without any doubt, Maltstock 2014 was a blast again. The dates of 25, 26 and 27 September have already been blocked for next year's lucky number seven.
Be there, it is promising to be very relaxed again.
(more photos can be found via our facebook page)