The famously ‘Relaxed’ weekend highlights the greatest aspect of any whisky festival; good drams and great people. Gone are the marketing campaigns, sales pitches and colour-coded token systems; this is a weekend for unwinding and catching up with friends both old and new, swapping stories and sharing laughs.
We’ve attended many whisky festivals this year and while they have all been fun and rewarding experiences, none are quite like Maltstock. Here there are no passes, no tables between exhibitors and attendees; everyone spends the weekend bumping shoulders and getting to know each other, whether they’ve decades of experience working in the industry or have only just begun to explore the world of whisky.
Every attendee brings with them a bottle or two for the courtyard, which forms the heart of this whisky festival. With over two hundred hardcore whisky geeks in attendance, this makes for a serious collection of drams. We saw everything from rare bottlings of Bowmore from the 1980's, to one or two literally labelled with nought but an ominous question mark. Each bottle is tagged with the name of the person who brought it, making for an excellent ice-breaker as guests spend the first afternoon seeking each other out to discuss their favourite drams.
From there the weekend just keeps on going, with live music, speed tastings, masterclasses, walks through the surrounding nature reserve and the infamous Maltstock quiz. While some retreat to nearby hotels for a night of much-needed recuperation, many guests (both industry professionals and ‘civilians’ alike) stay on-site for the duration, talking into the wee hours or dancing like lunatics at the Midnight Café.
Having been a relaxed haven for whisky lovers for a whole decade now, a number of traditions and running jokes have emerged over the years as the same characters return year after year. Rather than making for an uninviting ‘whisky clique’, however, Maltstock welcomes so-called ‘virgins’ with open arms. This was the first time any of us had made the trip to Overasselt to witness the fabled relaxed dramming, but by the end of the weekend we felt like part of the family.
By far the greatest tradition is the campfire on the Saturday night, in which the whole crowd gather for a final celebration of all things whisky. This year saw a special presentation from none other than Charles McLean, who was himself a Maltstock virgin, and Alex Bruce of Adelphi. As the fire crackled in the centre of the clearing some truly outstanding whiskies were passed around and many jokes and stories were shared.
I could list the many rare drams that I was fortunate enough to try over the weekend (in fact a 36 year old Glenlivet stands out in my memory, and I was surprised to come across a distillery-only bottling from my old haunt Glenkinchie) but what left the most lasting impression was the people we met along the way. Maltstock truly is the most relaxed event we’ve been to, and we cannot recommend it highly enough. Teun, Bob and the team have cultivated a very special atmosphere, bringing together the best parts of our industry; the people, their jokes and stories, their passion for what they do and the whisky that they love. A weekend with that much spirit might have proven to be anarchy, but instead what we found was a charming, endlessly entertaining evening of drams that happened to include over two hundred mates and went on for about forty hours.
Perhaps we'll see you there next year!