Leeds Whisky Festival made a spectacular debut at Leeds Corn Exchange on April 9th. Organised by Rolling Social Events (the people behind Leeds Rum Fest and the Corn Exchange Christmas Market) and boasting big brand sponsors including Woodford Reserve and Port Askraig, the weekend-long event was a roaring success.
I attended the event during the afternoon and was blown away by how well it had been organised. Having previously attended a similar type of event in my hometown of Skipton a couple of years ago which was poorly planned and far from enjoyable, I expected it to be a bit of a letdown. How wrong I was!
Now, I’m not a whisky drinker at all. Red wine is my tipple of choice and if I were to choose a favourite spirit, it would probably be vodka. However, being half Scottish it’s a drink I pretty much grew up around. My Glaswegian father often ended his long working weeks with a few drams and his father (my grandfather) was drinking it daily with ginger ale until he passed away in his late 80s. With my father and grandfather both now deceased and having only ever really consumed it for “medicinal purposes”, I was interested to see how those from further afield would taste compared to the scotch whiskies my relatives favoured.
Greeted at the entrance by a friendly, enthusiastic and rather dapper looking chap name Dave, we were handed a guidebook, a free tasting glass and a bottle of water to keep us hydrated between tastings, before being sent down a balloon-lined walkway towards the crowded hub of the event.
The atmosphere was electric! The ground floor of Leeds’ iconic Corn Exchange was jam-packed with smiling faces and the jovial chitter-chatter almost drowned out the sound of the live band playing at the rear of the event area. Multiple stands lined the edges with enthusiastic brand reps animatedly sharing their expertise with slightly merry, yet consistently engaged attendees. Those who needed to line their stomachs midway could be found perched at tables devouring street food from some of Leeds’ favourite vendors.
Despite being quite busy, we didn’t have to wait too long at stands to get our glasses filled, hear some interesting brand stories and gain an insight into the fascinating world of whisky distilling. I was delighted to be able to taste noticeable differences between whiskies and learn how different casks resulted in different flavours. I’m ashamed to say I only managed to sample five or six of the available whiskies but I could certainly have consumed far more had those not gone straight to my head.
There were over 100 whiskies available and seemingly, there was no limit on how many you could try. We fully expected things to get a bit rowdy but other than a few accidental breakages followed by the obligatory whoops and cheers, it remained a chilled and enjoyable social event for the duration of our stay. With whiskies from as far away as Australia and South America to sample in addition to some from closer to home, like Filey Bay from Spirit of Yorkshire, true whisky enthusiasts would undoubtedly have relished in the experience and got far more than their money’s worth.
The reasonable £30-40 ticket price included access to numerous masterclasses, expert talks and, of course, a huge selection of whiskies to taste and purchase so the event was excellent value for money.
We clearly weren’t the only attendees who had only positive things to say about Leeds Whisky Fest. On our return home, we overheard and participated in numerous conversations about our whisky-fueled afternoon both at Leeds train station and on the train to Skipton.
After two long years of cancelled, postponed or socially distanced events, it’s good to see the return of such superbly executed and thoroughly enjoyable festivals. Bring on the next one!