Just before the 2023 edition of Whisky Fringe kicks off, I realised I’d attended 10 previous editions of this excellent event, and this post is just a celebration of that fact. My first appearance (2011) was actually the 10th anniversary of the event itself – the programme kicked off with this quote from Keir Sword:
“Welcome to the 10th Whisky Fringe. Who’d have thought it has been 10 years since my former colleague Robin Torrie half-convinced me that this mad idea of a whisky event during the festival wasn’t quite as mad as it seemed. So here we are holding the 10th Whisky Fringe and I’m still to be fully convinced that it’s not a mad idea! Thanks for coming along and also to all who have attended over the past decade.”
I think most people will now be convinced it wasn’t a mad idea – it’s the best whisky festival out there, in my opinion. The venue, the atmosphere, the people – long may it continue! I’ve collated a few memories below, I’m sure they’ll be added to in the coming years too (starting tomorrow, in fact…)
Whilst digging around, I managed to find every programme from the past 10 events, which is quite nice (there were no editions in 2020 / 2021 due to COVID) – it’s interesting to see how the layout, selection and prices have changed over the years.
Whisky Fringe Pics
In honour of all the wonderful memories created (then partially destroyed) over the years, here’s a gallery of photos from all 10 editions, 2011-22 – lots more further down too:
One of the best bits of the festival is the ‘Half-time Orange’ – 2 hours in, a bell rings and you can exchange your ticket for a special whisky from one of the stands, with a big noticeboard detailing the options sitting in the middle of the hall. In the early days, I’d try and queue up (in an increasingly mad rush) to get the ‘best’ half-time orange available, with silent stills and age-old drams regularly often being on offer. Over the years, the ‘specialness’ of what’s on offer has waned a little, along with my enthusiasm for justling in a throng, so these days I tend to look at which stands aren’t so popular and go over to get those, normally combined with a nice chat. I stupidly only started taking photos of the half-time orange board in 2016 (and the quality of those photos – after a few drams – is sometimes sub-par), but here is what was on offer at the last 5 events:
In 2011, I bought a couple of tickets on a whim and found it extremely difficult to persuade anyone else to come along. How things have changed! Not only was it reasonably easy to get a ticket then, but the general popularity of whisky was definitely lower. These days, it’s extremely challenging to get a ticket, with ones for Saturday selling out in a matter of minutes. To counter this, the Southside Whisky Club banded together to form an elite ticket buying group, now known as Team Banana. No-one can remember how it got this moniker, but it stuck. Members of this crack squad get a special badge, which they proudly wear at Whisky Fringe each year (if they remember where they drunkenly stowed it away the year before):
Which whiskies have stood out the most over those 10 years? Other than loads of amazing cask samples, new make spirit and other random, unexpected and forgotten drams, I’ve picked out 3 that seem to have stuck in the mind, for different reasons:
North British 50yo Directors’ Cut 1962/2012 57.1% – this was the first dram that was truly memorable to me. It was a half-time orange and I got one with a friend – we just sampled it in utter amazement. Rich, ancient, woody raisins. I’m pretty confident it was the linked bottle as it was definitely 50+ years, was almost certainly a Directors’ Cut bottling and it really feels like it was pre-2013. I wrote this review of it sometime after that fact, which is the same bottle as above, but I still can’t be 100% is wasn’t its sister cask.
Bushmills OB 21-25yo, 40-46% – OK, so I have a distinct memory of tasting an old Bushmills (in its normal-looking bottle) around 2017/18 and swear it was a 25yo, but nothing on whiskybase seems to fit, so am wondering if it’s the OB 21yo linked and I just got confused. Whatever it was, it had the most tropical fruit I’ve ever had in a whisky – it was truly wonderful. There are no Bushmills listed on any of the programmes below, nor any of the halftime orange drams for 2016-19, so it must’ve either been an under-the-table offering, or I’ve just gone totally mad. Kind of sums up Whisky Fringe, to be honest.
Strathearn Ex-Sherry 2014/2018 55% – massive colour and flavour for its age, this cask-strengther from Strathearn Distillery was delightful. I remember being so impressed that I was going to grab a bottle to take home, but then found out it was around £120 for 50cl of 3yo whisky. It was a lovely dram, but also hammered home to me how crazy the whisky market had become.
The Whisky Fringe App
To help organise ourselves on the day, I developed a Whisky Fringe web app for our group, with the first (basic) edition put to the test in 2016. Since then, it’s gained a few bells and whistles, and now generally works well across devices and sobriety levels. 📱 It allows you to look at a map of all the stands, see the whiskies available at each then star / golden star drams you’re particularly keen on tasting on the day. Once there, you can leave comments, scores and photos of any bottle you try, with it showing you the thoughts of anyone else in the group who’s tried the same dram. It’s not just a good way to plan, but a great way to stay in touch with each other as the madness of the day ensues…
Even More Pics
So, until the next one, long live Whisky Fringe and long live #TEAMBANANA! 🥃🍌