With travelling restricted and tight barriers put up around entry of visitors to different continents around the world, the instructions that I’ve gotten to get my tickets booked for the Netherlands to Maltstock and Whisky Tasting Festival were odd and puzzling at the same time. For the past 17 months, myself and my fellow Singaporeans have been living in the equivalent of a glass house; the outside world is visible through social media, but yet we aren’t there to experience it. What has been unknown to me was that throughout this time in Singapore with the constant routine and at 2 occasions in this year having to adapt to 2 pseudo-lockdowns, I had grown to be more reserved and the need to meet new people has been more of a chore and obligation.
Needless to say, the feeling of dread was further amplified knowing that I will soon be a fish out of water for 12 days, especially with the thought that I will be meeting up with icons and legends of the industry.
“What if I can’t catch up with the conversation?”. “What if I left a bad impression and be known as a fluke?”
The feelings of negativity grew stronger as the days drew nearer. It wasn’t till one day when a good friend, who has spent years in the UK in various whisky conventions and behind the vault with SMWS told me, to keep an open mind and be prepared for a phenomenal experience.
“Whisky people are the friendliest people in the world, and they are the most comfortable people to be around.”, as my friend says, and that proved to be right as I stepped into Overasselt, home of Maltstock - A Relaxed Weekend. We were immediately greeted by the hospitable Bob Wenting and the relaxed Teun Van Wel as they ushered us into our dorms, in which we hastily dropped our baggage and proceeded with the 3D2N debauchery.
But first, a welcome dram of Milk & Honey’s Special Relaxed Edition at a whopping 62.8%abv! Just what we need to warm ourselves after a drenching run to the train station in Amsterdam. With that, we offered our TSC 8 Y.O. Blair Athol for the Sharing Table and our TSC 20 Y.O. Ben Nevis #170 for the Raffle and proceeded to close in on the bottles put up on the Sharing Table.
It seems that there would be too much whisky for the time we have, or too little space in the liver for the whiskies, but I would soon be hit with something unexpected. More on that later.
We carefully picked the offerings before heading to dinner, sparing ourselves the need to rush in preparations for the session that would be held by our Polish powerhouses, Michal and Mikolaj.
We offered our help with the distribution of our wares, unbeknown to us, whether the room would be packed by nightfall. Needless to say, attendees started filling in 20 minutes before the session commenced, and what a sight to behold! I’ve always been curious and had on multiple occasions submitted my interests for masterclasses held by brand ambassadors and distillers alike. It is always a learning point to observe how they communicate the language of the craft to consumers, how they inspire people to appreciate the whats and the whys of their trade.
The approach of Michal and Mikolaj is precise and to the point; the introduction of our brand, and an invitation to the drams in front of our guests. A short description of the distilleries’ history and production methods which acts like a canvas before diving into the relaxed tasting notes from the audience themselves, which is the paint that both parties will draw on. What followed was the enthusiasm of the crowd, eager to present what they taste as well as the questions that they had.
It was a dynamic back and forth between the speakers and the audience, which in my opinion is a refreshing take of a masterclass whisky session. A guided freestyle salsa dance of which both speakers and audience is equally involved, a great execution of a class indeed. An interactive experience that I had from a third party view.
It will not be a gathering if everyone goes to sleep early at Maltstock wouldn’t it? That’s why there is a Midnight Cafe for both nights in which the chapel, where The Single Cask’s session was held earlier on, converts instantly into a bar of sorts. Snacks were served by the amicable volunteers and one of my favourites is the bitterballen, to which Teun calls the “lava ball”. Innocent, but dangerous, handle with extra care. We then proceeded with beers to which we were joined by different whisky enthusiasts with conversations, of excitement and curiosity alike with regards to what we do, and we are doing in months to come. Some even checked in on us about Brendan, Ben and Torsten, ultimately welcoming us to Maltstock, and in a nutshell how perfect it would be if all of us were present at the same time. It is almost equivalent to engaging with an extended family. Here at Maltstock, happiness isn’t found at the bottom of the glass, but the warmth and passion emanating from every individual.
There is a room dedicated to a myriad of displays of whiskies for purchase at an extremely affordable price at dram pours. It was a unanimous decision to head in together, which we thought would be “just a quick one”, but lo and behold! The gems that were on the table left us starry eyed. Once again after a long time, we felt like a kid in a candy store.
We were served by Arno, and as we flooded him with our choices I could see him smiling away. We apologised and he replied with a smile: “It’s okay, I love sharing with people who appreciate these whiskies.”.
In the moment of sheer indulgence, time has seemingly slowed down as we engaged in discussion and sharing of what we’ve gotten among ourselves. Just one dram… after another, and another, a good 45 minutes has passed but none of it in waste as we’re in good company and in the good hands of the community at Maltstock.
Stay tuned for Part 2!