Whisky Live Manila: The 4th Installment

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By The Glass

WHISKY, or whiskey, is actually the world’s largest selling spirit category, surpassing vodka, gin, rum, and brandy. Based on the study by the International Wine & Spirits Research (IWSR) group, five of the top 15 spirits brands are whiskies, with local Indian brands leading the way. Among the top 10 spirits brands are whisky brands Officer’s Choice from India’s largest domestic spirits company Allied Blenders Distillers, McDowell’s under the Diageo umbrella, and Imperial Blue (now sold in the Philippines) under Pernod Ricard. These three Indian whiskies combine for an astounding 76.6 million nine-liter cases in 2017. Just outside the top 10 but still in the top 15 are the more internationally renowned whisky brands which we can all relate to: Johnny Walker and Jack Daniels.

Bringing Whisky Live to Manila four years ago was therefore a brilliant move by our very own whisky guru Johnssen Li and Grand Cru Wine & Spirits, Inc. Immediately, the outcome had been overwhelming. Whisky Live Manila 2016, the inaugural launch, was able to draw close to 2,000 visitors. And each of the last two years had seen spikes in attendance numbers too. Whisky Live Manila 2019 is happening on Oct. 18 and 19. For this year, Johnssen wanted to actually put a cap on the number of visitors and will stop selling Whisky Live tickets after they reach 3,000.

For one, this year the event’s title is slightly longer and it is officially called Whisky Live Manila and Bar Show 2019. As Johnssen explained to me, this is actually two different events in one show. There is, of course, the Whisky Live event, and now, a segregated Bar Show event. The Whisky Live and Bar Show concept has already been done in more mature whisky markets like Japan and Taiwan.

Another new thing with Whisky Live 2019 is the venue. After three years at the grand ballroom of the Shangri-La at the Fort in BGC, Whisky Live Manila 2019 moved to a new venue — the grand ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Manila, which opened just last year also in Taguig City. There will be food, too, this time around, as provided by the hotel, something I heard previous Whisky Live visitors were really craving for.

And finally, ticket price is higher as well, because of the above mentioned new additions.

Johnssen is convinced that Whisky Live is not only for hardcore whisky lovers, but also for whisky newbies who can be introduced to whisky via cocktails. The Bar Show makes sense because whisky cocktails are becoming extremely popular all over the world. Think of Whisky Sour, Highball (extremely big in Japan), Jack Cola (Jack Daniels with Coca-Cola), and many more. The Bar Show is also an area where top bars will have their own booths to feature their cocktail creations, whether they are made with whisky or with other spirits.

“We should all be proud because we actually have four speakeasy bars in the metro that are included in Asia’s Top 50 bars. I am pleased to say that two of these bars — Curator and Backroom of Shangri-La BGC — will be at the Bar Show this year,” Johnssen declared.

Since its first show in 2016, Whisky Live Manila has been holding an annual bartending competition for schools with HRM courses, looking for original whisky cocktails from upcoming student-bartenders. A prelude to the cocktail competition is the mentorship program planned months ahead of Whisky Live. This mentorship program is officially endorsed by participating schools and is done in collaboration with the big spirits companies. The program involves tutoring HRM students on basic and advance bartending techniques, coached by industry professionals, in order to equip these students with the knowledge to compete in cocktail competitions.

This year, the competing schools are the College of St. Benilde, Enderun, Jose Rizal University, Lyceum University, and St. Scholastica’s College. The diverse range of whiskies selected to be made into cocktails at the competition this year will include Buffalo Trace bourbon, Lambay Irish whiskey, Bruichladdich Scotch whisky, and Kavalan Taiwanese whisky.

The usual expectations that endeared visitors to previous Whisky Live Manila events will still be very much the same, including the opportunity to sample now almost 200 different types of whisky, scotch, bourbons, and blends from all over the world; the chance to attend masterclasses from expert speakers; and the rare privilege to talk, chat, and taste with whisky masters and master blenders (part of the contingent of foreign whisky dignitaries attending the event).

There will be sightings of other spirits, craft beers, and all sorts of inebriating beverages to choose from. Whisky Live Manila 2019 will also be welcoming new participating brands, including Haku vodka (by Suntory, makers of Roku gin), Sagamore rye whiskey from Baltimore, USA, and Benchmark, Buffalo Trace, and Sazerac from Buffalo Trace Distillery (the oldest continuous operating distillery in Kentucky, because they never closed during prohibition), and more. Exciting and mouth-watering indeed…

Oct. 18 can’t seem to come soon enough.

Whisky Live Manila and Bar Show 2019 tickets are available at www.whiskylive.ph… but hurry, do not wait any longer as tickets are running out quick.

The author has been a member of the Federation Internationale des Journalists et Ecrivains du Vin et des Spiritueux or FIJEV since 2010. For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at wineprotege@gmail.com. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.