Whisky Live London 2014 is almost upon us (this coming weekend!) and it’s a good opportunity to bring you a reflective summary of our own first local Whisky Live event held in Tel-Aviv almost two weeks ago. Instead of writing my own summary, I’ve invited my friend Shai to present his own view of the event.
Shai is a photography enthusiast, very passionate about it and can totally appreciate a good composition. Fascinated by whiskies (mostly malts), wines (adores the Israeli boutique wineries market) and cigars (still has a lot to learn). See his photos on Flicker here.
Whisky Live Tel-Aviv 2014, a Visit Summary by Shai Gilboa
The latest major whisky event in Israel, Whisky Live Tel-Aviv, took place just the other week on March 5th and 6th at the well located Meyerhoff Gallery. This was the first ever whisky show in Israel to be placed under the umbrella of Whisky Magazine’s global Whisky Live venues. This was something which I was looking forward to for a very long while, ever since my visit to Whisky Live London 2011. The show, organized by Israeli alcohol distributor ‘Binyamina Wholesale’, included on the ground floor booths from seven Israeli alcohol importers (HaKerem, Y.D, HaShaked, Caspi, France-Israel, Akkerman and Arudan), a boutique Israeli Whisky Liquor, boutique coffee importers/roasters, Vom Fass Israel branch and, last but not least, the in-the-making first commercial Israeli whisky Distillery ‘Milk and Honey’. In addition, there was a whisky shop by the organizers selling the expressions presented at the show for nicely discounted prices.
Sadly, some major Israeli whisky importers were missing from the show, so we missed some big brands such as Johnnie Walker and the Diageo brands, GlenDronach and others. This, according to the show organizers, was due to importers being skeptical of their benefits from the show or maybe due to ‘first-time-show-fear’ (mind you, these missing importers took a very big role in a rather large and successful whisky show held in Tel Aviv on November 2011 by ‘Zeman Amity’ bartending school. Why is this relevant? Well, it has to do with expectations, but I’ll get to that later.) On the second floor (which is a walking gallery with nice view of the floor below), there was the VIP lounge where food was provided (mini sandwiches, vegetables, sushi), resting area was placed and special whiskies were poured without the need for a coupon (15 different whiskies every day, amongst them were DE versions of Talisker, Lagavulin and Caol Ila, Mortlach 15, Nikka from the Barrel, Kilkerran Sherry Wood, Burns Malt, 3D and others).
Two special guests to the show where Dr. Jim Swan and Patsy Christie.
Dr.Swan, a globally well known whisky consultant and master blender for several independent distilleries such as Kavalan and Kilchoman, was the guest of the ‘Milk and Honey’ distillery which recently joined the aforementioned list.
Dr. Swan also gave a masterclass about aging whisky in warm climate, which was though a bit dry, very interesting to me.
(Shai forgot to mention – we also tasted some good Kavalan whiskies! -Yoav)
The lovely Patsy Christie is The Macallan Brand Ambassador to the Middle East (based in Dubai), and was brought by The Macallan importer Akkerman to give masterclasses and workshops about The Macallan expressions and distillery at Whisky Live and also during the week after that at bars/alcohol distributors across Israel. I attended her Whisky Live masterclass and I must say, she gives one hell of a show.
I’m writing this article after reading several other reviews and posts about the event with lots of praises and details on the whiskies in the show, but almost none dealt with the organization, preparations and marketing of the show itself. And here I come to that expectations bit I mentioned before.
I’ll start by emphasizing that summing it all up, I had a GREAT time at the event enjoying most of it with good friends, old and new, up in the VIP lounge (to which most of us purchased the 2 days pass). The fact that some of us (we were a nice group), knew some key persons with some of the importers was also helpful, and during the first day, an intimate conversation we happened to have with Patsy Christie up in the lounge (she was brought there by chance) gave a nice additional flavour to the experience.
Yes, the organizers are WELL deserved credit and applause for the overall successful venue. The show was indeed a hit to which thousands came, most of them with minimal previous whisky experience who, thanks to the show, are now aware to more options and tastes which I find great!. I highly praise the manner in which the production company personnel acted (made sure everything ticks), and also the handling of the organizing Binyamina Wholesale personnel themselves during the show (in particular Tomer Goren who also happens to be the distiller for ‘Milk and Honey’). So big thank yous and slainte all around!
As I’ve just mentioned, from a consumer and visitor angle of view the end result was quite good. The ride taken there though, from the same point of view, was rather bumpy and jumpy.
Disclaimer – Let it be known that the below items are brought as pointers for the organizers to pay attention to as I do wish to see and visit a successful and larger show next year (please note that I did tell these items in person to a key person with the organizers).
As one who visited Whisky Live London and a very successful whisky event in Tel Aviv (mentioned earlier), and as one who has good friends who visited WL London and WL Madrid, when I hear the term ‘Whisky Live’ I tend to have quite high initial expectations of both the event and its organization. This was also the case when I’ve learnt the show is coming to Israel.
Going to the whiskylive.com website to learn what is planned to be, like I did with past shows (London and not) was a bit of a disappointemnt. Whisky Live Israel was mentioned as just to be happening with no real details. Only some weeks after the first publication about the show, did a dedicated website for the Israeli venue, whiskylive.co.il came to be. Sadly, on that web there was not much of information either. No detailed list of presenters, no listing of masterclasses, no information about global guests. It was mostly about selling tickets.
As time passed by few things happened. First the list of presenters became a little clearer, although until almost the last moment it was not known who exactly will be presenting. Second was the build up of master classes, two weeks only before the show. And third was an overflow of discount coupons on facebook and alcohol blogs just 2 weeks before the show which grew larger in numbers and discount values as time got nearer to for the show.
About the list of presenters, I can understand the difficulties the organizers had. The Israeli whisky market is not a booming one. Thankfully lately the tax on fine alcohol has been reduced couple of months ago which means there has been a drop in whisky prices and a growth in the variety of whiskies sold on the Israeli market. As this is a rather fresh change, no one really knows yet the actual impact it will have on the whisky market in Israel (though to my understanding there is a growth in sales) and I believe this is one reason importers were hesitant about joining the show. I also believe that not all of the importers understand what Whisky Live stands for and that the organizers failed to reflect it to them; I base this thought on the large difference in approach the different importers had.
On one edge of the scale, a blue ribbon for excellence goes to Y.D. and Caspi who took the show head on, brought a nice range of expressions with them (Y.D. with several Jura whiskies including 16, 21 and boutique barrels, Dalmore whiskies and several unique bourbons including Jim Beam signature craft; Caspi with Blackface, Bullrun, Buffalo Trace(s), Benchmark and more), and made sure to have in the stalls at most of the time someone with knowledge about the presented spirits (Caspi also brought whisky based liquors).
On the other side of the scale, with a great big F, are France-Israel and Arudan. France Israel brought only Glenmorangie Original and Ardbeg Ten. The Glenmorangie finishes expressions (Lasanta, Quinta Ruban and Nectar D’Or) were only provided in a masterclass which was announced one day(!) before the show. When a good friend tried to present them with some questions, the guy in charge was rude, and talked down to him as he knows nothing about whisky (trust me that friend is highly knowledgeable).
Arudan brought the Old St. Andrews blended malts (10, 12) and blended scotch. Though they had a cute mini golf game, they had no knowledge about the whisky they were pouring. Nothing except that the blender is from the speyside area. I asked them to try and learn for the second day and though promises, nothing happened. They didn’t even Google to learn that the whisky mainly got popular thanks to being given at golf tournaments and that Denis Thatcher had something with presenting it all over.
I hope that for next year(s) the organizers, with the help of the successful first event, will be able to explain to the presenters what Whisky Live is about and for, and who usually comes to the show (true many non fanatics, but us fanatics also want added value).
The list of master classes, in my book anyhow, is expected to be known and fixed enough time in advance so one can have sufficient time to think and select between ALL. Publishing the initial list 2 weeks before the show and adding and changing classes up to the last minute, does not reflect well, problematic at best and plain unprofessional at worst. I want to believe that this instability has to do with the issues the organizers had with importers (see above mentioned Glenmorangie finishes masterclass).
And lastly the topic which caused quite an amount of frustration. Us fanatics purchased our tickets as the option became possible.(I was actually told that the first VIP ticket purchased was by myself). As the days went by and discounts for WL Facebook friends were offered including additional tasting coupons more and more questions from WL Facebook friends who already purchased their tickets were raised and discomfort was felt. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for selling more with discounts, however there is a way to do so. From my WL London recollections discounts were offered by specific whisky blogs and producers, plenty time in advance and certainly without a change to the discount as days went by.
The organizers did try to put the genie back in the bottle aligning the amount of coupons for all of those who purchased the first day ticket (not sure why not for the second day).
I keep in mind that this is a first Whisky Live in Israel. I also keep in mind that it is NOT the first major whisky show either, so glitches are accepted, to a point. I have true faith the organizers will learn from their experienced teething aches and will do the best to improve and have a grander and even more successful show next time(s). They are a bunch of capable and intelligent individuals with true love to their alcohol and whisky. Bottom line is ‘Good Show’ as the English say. For whisky fanatics the VIP lounge was a good retreat from the ground floor (whisky wise), for non fanatics an excellent place to get acquainted to this amazing world, and for everyone I believe a fun and enjoyable time (including the organizers who seem a bit more relaxed on the second day).
Again, I thank Binyamina Wholesale and Tomer Goren in particular for organizing the show and allowing me to have two rest days away from work, wife, kids and dogs in the company of good friends (whom I thank much as well).
Many thanks to Yoav for enjoying the show with me and, asking and allowing me to write this long summary of my time there.
Slainte and Leshana HaBaa BeWhisky Live TA (again).