There is a place on the Isle of Islay called Finlaggan. It’s an ancient stone ruin on the side of a small loch in the middle of the Island; the old seat of the Lordship of the Isles. It’s a peaceful place, one accessed by wooden walkway that takes you through tall, rippling bullrushes and serenely still waters which stir only occasionally with the twisting breeze. It’s a peace which is somewhat disrupted once a year during the Islay Festival at the end of May when Eddie Ludlow leads a phalanx of fellow whisky enthusiasts from Finlaggan house down the hill to the ruins by the water with all manner of assorted whiskies and accompanying revelry to taste and talk about whisky in the setting evening. It’s one of the great and typifying spectacles of the Whisky Lounge and one which I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy on several occasions.
This is the essence of the Whisky Lounge. Whether it is a tasting of wartime era whiskies on a London rooftop overlooking one of the country’s last remaining Blitz sites or out on a sailing boat drinking 30 year old Caol Ila around the south coast of Islay. I’ve been giggling through the set up of a tasting for the London Whisky Weekender with pals one minute, then stood somewhat enthralled at the back of the room by the speaker ten minutes later. I’ve had just as much fun co-hosting introduction to blending workshops as I have doing old and rare whisky tastings and there aren’t too many whisky companies or events you can honestly say that about. It’s all part of the fabric that makes up the Whisky Lounge.
When I started out in Whisky I was kind of on my own – the pre-internet, late 1990s darkness was dense indeed – it took me going to Ardbeg to work a summer job for a couple of years at uni to flesh out my knowledge. There wasn’t anything like the Whisky Lounge when I was starting out, it’s the kind of network of people and festivals and events that I would have loved to have been a part of when I was first getting into whisky. Thankfully it is now very much in existence and regularly puts on shows and events the length and breadth of the country.
Since I’ve been involved with them I’ve forged a handful of great and lasting friendships, had many a mirthful evening in cities around the country, tasted more incredible whiskies than I can count right now and never stopped learning. It’s this ability to imbue what is essentially ongoing education with a sense of revelry, camaraderie, good fun and, occasionally, late night guitar sessions and karaoke. Eddie likes to surround himself with fellow music lovers and musicians so these kinds of things tend to take on a certain ‘inevitability’ once the requisite number of drams have been had.
My experience over the years with the Whisky Lounge is pretty unique I suppose. But then yours can, and will be, too. It’s just a mutual love of whisky that threads everything together. What the Whisky Lounge really does is quite simple: it provides the space and opportunity for great experiences to happen naturally. Take the right people and the right whiskies and give them the space and time they need, that’s what the Whisky Lounge is to me.