Bigger, better, and one of the best events we’ve been to for 2018,  Whisky Live Manila definitely didn’t disappoint. Grand Cru Wine and Spirits has once again brought whisky enthusiasts together in a highly anticipated festival that we won’t soon forget.

With more brands participating than the last two years, Whisky Live Manila had The Grand Ballroom of Shangri-La at The Fort packed with over 2000 attendees. The festival showcased over 181 whiskies, bigger booths, and more interactive activities.

Here’s what caught our attention at Whisky Live Manila 2018:

New brands on the Whisky Live block – There were a few new brands that joined this year’s festival. Apotheke Craft Spirits in the Philippines brought in Michter’s American Whiskey together with all the other spirit brands under the Manila-based distributor’s portfolio in partnership with Wine Depot; Maker’s Mark launched Maker’s Mark Private Select in the Philippines; Award-winning Welsh single malt Penderyn; Scotch blend whisky Naked Grouse; Shackleton Blended Malt Scotch Whisky;  Irish Whiskey Lambay; and independent bottling companies Douglas Laing, and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Apotheke Craft Spirits booth with Michter’s American Whiskey
Maker’s Mark Private Select
Michter’s American Whiskey

Rare, new, and special bottles – One of the draws of Whisky Live is getting the chance to taste rare and special bottles that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to because of the price, scarcity or both. The Johnnie Walker booth opened a Blue Label Ghost and Rare, a special release created by Master Blender Dr. Jim Beveridge using whiskies from three “ghost” Scotch whisky distilleries that have long since closed together with other rare malt and grain whiskies. We were also able to taste Diageo Special Releases—Convalmore 32 (Php 92,000, only 20 bottles available in the Philippines) and Brora 37 (Php 110,000, only 4 bottles in the country). Johnnie Walker’s most awaited release, the White Walker, also made its debut in our shores at Whisky Live.

Marketing Director of Diageo Philippines Cesar Gangoso pours Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare
Convalmore 32
Brora 37
White Walker

Other special bottles available for tasting at the event were: The Tweeddale A Silent Character, World Whiskies Awards 2018 Best Scotch Grain (only 564 bottles worldwide and 24 is in the Philippines); Kavalan Soloist Fino Cask; Teeling Barbazon Bottling (Series No. 1, only 12,500 bottles available); Teeling Revival 14 Volume 3 (only 10,000 bottles worldwide and 100 is in PH); Jameson Irish Whiskeys Deconstructed Series—Bold, Lively and Round; Dewar’s 25; Michter’s Straight Rye Whisky 10; Chivas Regal XV (Chivas’ brand-new expression finished in Grande Champagne Cognac casks); Auchentoshan 21; and Maker’s Mark Private Select (only 200 bottles in the Philippines).

Teeling Barbazon Bottling and Teeling Revival 14 Volume 3
Jameson Irish Whiskeys Deconstructed Series—Bold, Lively and Round
Chivas Brothers Ambassador for the Philippines, Hamish Houliston introduced Chivas XV during his masterclass
Auchentoshan 21
Bacardi Philippines Ambassador Niño Cruz pours Dewar’s 25 Year Old

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a member’s only club with an extensive collection of single cask whiskies, which usually only sells their whisky to members gave the attendees a preview taste of seven of their special bottlings. During the event guests who want to buy bottles were given a discounted membership fee of Php 5,000 (usually sells for £130). The fee comes with a three SMWS exclusive release 10 cl bottles, a club lapel badge, and a journal.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society member’s kit—three SMWS exclusive release 10 cl bottles, a club lapel badge, and a journal

 

Bottomless peat – Peaty and smoky whiskies are near and dear to our hearts, so of course, we paid special attention to anything that had the word ‘peat’ on it—Raasay While We Wait (3rd Bottling Note) with its delicious tasting notes of smoky barley, vanilla, fruit, cream, and chocolate; Old Ballantruan Peated Malt and its 10 years old, the unusually peated single malts from the Tomintoul distillery; the oily and smoky SMWS Cask No. 29.205 Two Wheeled Beach Cruiser that contains Laphroaig 1999; Highland Park Valknut, the second expression in Highland Park’s limited edition Viking Series; The Six Isles, a blend of single malts from the six Scottish island; the strong  Smokehead High Voltage; Douglas Laing’s Provenance Bunnahabhain 8 Years Old and Big Peat; four smoky Ardbegs– Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Ardbeg Uigeadail (2009 Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible World Whisky of the Year), and Ardbeg An Oa; and Caol Ila 17 years from Diageo’s Special Release in 2015.

The Six Isles, Smokehead High Voltage, and Smokehead Single Malt
Caol Ila 17 years
Ardbeg Ten Years Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Ardbeg Uigeadail, and Ardbeg An Oa
SMWS Cask No. 29.205 Two Wheeled Beach Cruiser that contains Laphroaig 1999

We finished the 2-day festival with a generous pour of our favorite Octomore.

Octomore

It’s a gin thing – Our love affair with gin has not waned and is still going strong. Some gin brands were featured alongside the whisky stars of the festival. William Grant and Sons featured Hendrick’s Gin in a stunning green booth; Bruichladdich Distillery (makers of Octomore and Port Charlotte), highlighted their Islay gin, The Botanist; and Jim Beam Suntory brought in the complex Japanese gin Roku.

Joey Pineda, Diane Reyes, and Louise Lloyd Oliverio manning The Botanist cart
Hendrick’s Gin booth

Last year’s whisky brand to watch out for, Koval, came back with their Dry Gin and Barrel Aged Gin. Penderyn Distillery’s Brecon Gin and Brecon Botanicals Gin (awarded 2018 World Gin Masters- Super Premium Category Gold, 2017 Spirits Selection by Concours Mondial- Gold, and 2017 Gin Guide People’s Choice Award) from Wales, Windspiel Premium Dry Gins from Germany, and New Zealand’s Scapegrace Premium Dry Gins, plus our homegrown ARC Botanical Gin from Full Circle Craft Distillers Co. (handcrafted from a blend of 28 botanicals, 22 of which are sourced and foraged from across the Philippines), are a welcome addition to the growing list of must-have gins.

Koval Gins
Penderyn Distillery’s Brecon Gin and Brecon Botanicals Gin
New Zealand’s Scapegrace Premium Dry Gins
Windspiel Premium Dry Gins from Germany

Other spirits – Whisky Live is a host to other spirits. Bacolod’s Don Papa Rum served their 10 Years, Rare Cask, Sherry Cask, and Masskara rums. Cognacs Remy Martin, Camus, and Hennesy added a bit of diversity in spirit selection. And The Brewery at the palace provided Compadre Craft Beer to those who wanted to take a break from hard liquor.

Don Papa booth
Compadre Craft Beer

A bit of fun and games – Booths were more interactive this year, offering different ways to engage with the brands, less digital more analog. Auchentoshan had a trivia game that makes you win whisky holder lanyards. Douglas Laing tested your nose by having you guess which whisky is which by smell alone, winners gets miniature bottles or other Douglas Laing trinkets. Roku Gin featured a scent bar that highlighted its six botanicals.

Auchentoshan trivia game
Guess which expression at Douglas Laing
Prize miniature bottles at Douglas Laing
Roku Gin scent bar

The Monkey Shoulder team brought a claw machine that gave guests a chance to win mini bottles and a multi-game arcade machine that brought back some childhood memories. The Balvenie booth featured a barrel maker whom they flew in from Scotland, to demonstrate how to build a barrel. He didn’t give barrel making lessons, but he did have a captive audience watching him expertly assemble and disassemble that barrel multiple times. The creative ways of engaging the crowd paid off, with long lines of guests waiting to see and experience them for themselves.

The Balvenie’s barrel maker

Monkey Shoulder multi-game arcade machine
Monkey Shoulder claw machine

Rest for the wicked – Spending hours milling about sampling over a hundred whiskies can be hell on your feet, no matter how comfortable your shoes are. Exhibitors kept that in mind and designed their booths with sitting areas for guests to rest their tired feet, hang out with friends and enjoy their drinks leisurely. It felt like stepping into a pop-up bar instead of a whisky expo.

Ardbeg lounge

Booth designs – Many exhibitors upped their booth set-ups this year, opting for elaborate design elements to draw the crowd to their area. The prettiest booth has to go to Hendricks, which was made into their version of the Queen of Hearts’ garden, with an arched entrance covered in leaves and roses. They had the genius idea of bringing in a bathtub (a nod to bathtub gin), into their space, which made for most popular pic spot of the event.

Hendrick’s Gin bathtub

LVMH booth had a large connecting booth with connecting bars for their brands Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, and Hennessy. The Diageo booth gave a preview of Johnnie Walker House that featured new and special bottle releases and a guided video of Diageo ‘ghost distilleries’ by Diageo Bar Academy director Chi Mun Lam. The Shackleton booth transported guests to Antarctica to enjoy their whisky over handcrafted ice blocks.

Diageo booth’s Ghost Distillery room
Convalmore, Cambus, Brora, and Port Ellen
Diageo Bar Academy director Chi Mun Lam
Hennessy booth
Shackleton booth
Shackleton Whisky

Shout out to Dewar’s, which integrated the design of Dewar’s pop-up blending wagon (going around in the Middle East) into their booth.

Dewar’s booth

Masterclasses and Brand Ambassadors – Whisky Live gathered master blenders, directors, and brand ambassadors to conduct 12 masterclasses offered to those who wanted to get a better understanding of certain brands, and were there to man their respective booths to share their passion and knowledge of their whiskies to the attendees. Two Keepers of the Quaich, an exclusive and international society that is dedicated to a greater appreciation of Scotch whisky, were present at this year’s festival: Glenmorangie Brand Ambassador Murphy Chang and Douglas Laing’s Brand Ambassador Paul Wang.

Glenmorangie Brand Ambassador Murphy Chang
Douglas Laing’s Brand Ambassador Paul Wang

Murphy Chang’s class focused on the flavors of Glenmorangie with tasting samples of Glenmorangie unaged new make spirit, Glenmorangie The Original, 2 Sherry Cask expressions (PX and Olorosso), Lasanta, and The Tayne.

Tasting samples of Glenmorangie during the masterclass

Chivas Brothers Ambassador for the Philippines Hamish Houliston held an interactive blending session for his masterclass. Attendees get to take home a 100 ml bottle of their own signature mix featuring Chivas 12’s unique whisky blends–floral, fruity, smoky, creamy, and citrus. The guest who created the closest blend to Chivas 12 was able to take home a Collin Scott signed Chivas bottle.

Make your own blend
Smoky, citrus, fruity, creamy, and floral expressions for blending

Free-flowing cocktails and a bartender showcase – Not everyone drinks whisky neat or on the rocks, so cocktails not only offered options for those who wanted to take a breather from drinking whisky straight up, but also allowed the brands and bartenders to show off their spirits and skills in creative ways.

Apart from the Whisky Live Bartender Competition, there were top bartenders serving cocktails in their respective booths.

Diageo World Class Philippine Champion and ABV’s head bartender Lester Ligon manned the Lambay booth. We got to taste the entries to Glenfiddich’s Most Experimental Bartender by John Silva and Chef Alexandra Versoza and 2018 PH champions Shinichi Itoh and Kevin Fortu. Louise Oliverio served up gin and tonic concoctions at The Botanist cart. Bacardi Legacy 2018 Philippine Semi-finalist Ian James Osillo was stationed at Naked Grouse. Bartender Sam Webster whipped up Jameson cocktails, and Nokal’s Jay Natividad served cocktails at the main bar. Mixologist Enzo Lim mixed five Filipino inspired cocktails at the Chivas Regal booth. Manhattan Bar’s  Philip Bischoff and Gab Carlos (Singapore’s #1 Bar and #3 in The World’s 50 Best Bars) mixed behind the stick at Auchentoshan booth.

Diageo World Class Philippine Champion and ABV’s head bartender Lester Ligon
Glenfiddich’s Most Experimental Bartender 2018 PH champions Shinichi Itoh and Kevin Fortu
Jay Natividad
Enzo Lim

Arc Gin served their signature G&T’s, and Hendricks Gin served their Tea Cocktail. Hennessy and Glenmorangie served refreshing highballs.

Arc Gin and Tonics

Pro + Student collab cocktail competition – 12 top bartenders were paired with 12 students from six (6) participating schools to come up with a signature serves that highlights their assigned brand’s strengths on the first day of the festival.

Pernod Ricard X Jose Rizal University Mentor Vanessa Rabadon (Nokal) and apprentice Maureen Diosa Comendador placed second, Lambay Irish Whisky x Lyceum of the Philippines Manila Mentor Paul Perez (Raffles Makati) and apprentice Lea Razielle Palmera took first place. Grand Cru Wine & Spirits X Enderun Colleges Mentor Lennon Aguilar (Discovery Primea) and apprentice Thirdy Ramirez were the champions of the competition, impressing the judges and the crowd with their playful take on boba milk tea from Taiwan and Filipino sago’t gulaman creation. Their entry, Good Times Bubble Milk Tea (Kavalan Classic, Oolong Tea, Whole Milk, Arnibal, Arnibal Tapioca, Kavalan Classic Jelly, Kavalan Classic Mango Flambé, Rose Water Scented Cracked Ice), elevated the ubiquitous bubble tea to a fun, deliciously creamy, balanced cocktail that made us feel like naughty kids. You bet we came back for seconds (okay fine, thirds).

Pernod Ricard X Jose Rizal Universityapprentice Maureen Diosa Comendador and Mentor Vanessa Rabadon (Nokal)
Lambay Irish Whisky x Lyceum of the Philippines Manila apprentice Lea Razielle Palmera and Mentor Paul Perez (Raffles Makati)
Good Times Bubble Milk Tea
Grand Cru Wine & Spirits X Enderun Colleges Mentor Lennon Aguilar (Discovery Primea) and apprentice Thirdy Ramirez

This is Thirdy’s second cocktail competition (first was at the Philippine Coffee in Good Spirits Competition where he placed second) and has blossomed under Lennon’s nurturing tutelage.

“Doing this Whisky Live mentorship with Lennon was such a surreal experience, ”Thirdy shares. “Being trained by someone with as much experience as him, he was just guiding my ideas and everything.”

Judge Joey Cerdiña, Thirdy Ramirez, Lennon Aguilar, The Spirits Library’s Lee Watson, and judge Kenneth Bandivas

“Since meeting and choosing Thirdy, I saw his passion for the craft,” beamed mentor Lennon. “From everything I observed when we practiced, I saw that he was ready.” The cocktail was such a hit that Lennon is planning on serving it at Edge, Discovery Primea’s bar with a view and name it after his mentee.

The pair drew ideas from Taiwan, since Kavalan is a Taiwanese whisky (their first cocktail was based on Taiwanese pineapple cake). “We even had Ian Chang (Kavalan’s Master Blender) taste the cocktail, and he was impressed by it,” says Lennon.

Most in-demand souvenir – Balvenie just keeps on coming up with the souvenir that everyone lines up patiently for. This time, they gave away gold leaf monogrammed leather key chains, provided by The General Co, Singapore (check out their Instagram @thegeneralco for more artisanal handmade goods).

The Balvenie’s gold leaf monogrammed leather key chains

Something to munch on – Whisky Live is a marathon, not a sprint. Apart from pacing the booze and keeping hydrated, it is advised that guests come to the event having eaten a substantial meal. It was a lifesaver to have some food options available for those who needed a nibble or had the drunchies (drunk munchies). Shangri-La Fort offered a menu with a small selection of sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and rice dishes. Although, apart from fruit cups, there weren’t pescetarian or vegetarian options. We hope that the selection next year will account for that.

The Singleton booth offered potato chips on a platter for guests to nom on while enjoying their whiskies, and Monkey Shoulder gave away bags of popcorn.

Monkey Shoulder gave away bags of popcorn

One of the booths people crowded around was the Bono Gelato booth, who collaborated with Lambay Whiskey and Smokehead to produce a sweet and smoky spiked soft serves that people could not get enough of.

Bono Gelato booth
Lambay gelato

All dolled up – Guests came to get their drink on and do it fashionably. Some celebrities and personalities graced the event to sample and even buy some of their favorite brands.

As the festivities were winding down and everyone was happily intoxicated, the chips were tallied and the Best Whisky was awarded to Glenfiddich and Balvenie bagged the Best Booth for the third year running.

Glenfiddich team accepts the Best Whisky award
The Balvenie team winning Best Booth

Whisky Live Manila 2018 gathered whisky enthusiasts of all ages, brand ambassadors, bartenders, and industry people from all over the world to celebrate and share their passion for whisky. The festival is becoming bigger and grander every year even surpassing other Whisky Live in some parts of Asia. The week leading up to the event was like a ‘Manila Cocktail Week’ as numerous brand ambassadors had bartender shifts, special tastings, and masterclasses in various bars all over the Metro. Even after the festival, Manhattan had a last minute bar shift at Shangri-La the Fort’s Backroom soon as the Whisky Live closed, and Hendrick’s Gin had a follow-up bar shift at Run Rabbit Run with Hendrick’s Gin regional brand ambassador (Southeast Asia) Charmaine Ann Thio.

Manhattan SG’s Gab Carlos and Philip Bischoff behind the bar at Shangri-La the Fort’s Backroom
Philip Bischoff at Oto, Poblacion
Diageo Global Scotch Whisky Ambassador Ervin Trykowski had a bar shift at 205 bar, BGC

The event had a good atmosphere and a certain energy. It felt like a great big party, being surrounded by like-minded people, who came to enjoy, explore, and experience the biggest whisky festival in the country. We’re already looking forward to 2019.

“We always want Whisky Live to be fresh, keep it exciting, it will reach a point when people say, ‘oh, I’ve tried this brand already’, so, next year, we will announce a transition in terms of direction, different collaborations, serving, programs, and themes,” says Grand Cru’s Managing Director Johnssen Li.

Grand Cru’s Managing Director Johnssen Li

Whisky Live Manila 2018 is organized by Grand Cru Wine & Spirits, Inc. Follow @drinkmanila on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for our Whisky Live event coverage.

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