“Where can I smoke?” I ask the plump security guard in a yellow smock.
“Outside,” she says.
“But it’s raining.”
“And finish your drink,” she adds.
I’ll show you, I think, gulping my Gentleman Jack and holding it in my mouth. I’ll just spit it back into my glass to savour with my cigarette. It is a vile act, but this is what it has come to. Society has chased us dirty smokers out into the cold and we have become animals.
I am waylaid by a smiling blonde woman. She points to my media pass. I swallow and greet her. She asks if I am having a good time.
“Sure,” I reply, “this place is incredible.”
She raises her eyebrow and I disappear into the rain to share a cigarette with the rest of my kind. Next to me, a man in a tweed jacket discusses the pros of Irish single malt with another man in a tweed jacket. The second man produces a pipe and I scoff into my empty glass.
The Whisky festival is going well. The CTICC may not be some grimy Scottish cellar but the range of whisky available for tasting is an international experience.
Back inside, I pass a woman in a purple jumpsuit, handing out free breathalyser tests, and a bagpipe band in kilts, thankfully packing up from an earlier performance. I head over to the Glenfiddich stand and order an 18 year old whisky from one of the many cloned blonde women in short black skirts.
I think the whisky tastes like good whisky, or is that whiskey, but what do I know? Yes, above and beyond disagreement over which specific types of highland berries and honey can be distinguised in each variety, there is a clear division amongst folk who spell the name of the amber fluid one way or the other, too.
Nonetheless, the woman behind the bar tells me that it is infused with spiced apples and has a candy peel aftertaste. I nod sagely and order another.
“Oh,” she says. “You must really like that robust oakiness.”
We move on to the Jack Daniels stand, where a croaky voiced youngster gives me the patter on Jack’s new Honey infused something or other. It is a fine drink, but it is too sweet for more than one.
I need to smoke again, but my companion shushes me and leads me through the hall to the Bain’s Whisky stand. The hall is now clogged with people – farmers, handsome men in tight dress shirts, youngsters, more people in tweed jackets and other media types skulking about in search of loot. We pass the Schweppes arena where a man in a crown and a zebra skin-lined cape moves back and forth like a caged lion.
Bain’s Whisky is a product of the Western Cape and, just as the Constantia farmer next to me exclaims, “It is very drinkable, maybe the most drinkable of all the whiskies in the whole show”.
We sip the whisky and sniff it and marvel at how refined we are. I am tipsy now and I engage in a conversation with a blond girl in short black skirt. I feel fine about the whole thing until she asks whether I would like to be part of the Bain’s mailing list.
“Oh look,” I say to my companion, as we sway through the throng of people between the stalls. “They have some kind of Johnny Walker Booth there and what the hell is Johnny Walker Platinum, anyway?”
We stand in the queue leading into the Johnny Walker booth before paying the gatekeeper and entering what is really a set of rooms joined with velveteen curtains. I am disappointed to learn that in order to drink, we must first listen to the history of the product and other promotional patter. But hell, I guess that comes with the territory.
The first man talks about Highland blends and mixing and working together. The first sample is very smoky.
Johnny Walker Gold is next. It is nothing short of exceptional.
Johnny Walker Platinum is oddly, given its name, not the most expensive of the Walker family but fairly priced between Johnny Walker Blue and Johnny Walker Gold. The drink is very fine though and when I tell the man so, he tells me that it is not fine but beautiful. But who am I to argue, right?
We buy a final drink with the last of the coupons and I take it outside to smoke, again storing the whisky in my cheeks like a drunken squirrel. I am almost at the door leading into the rain, when an old school friend stops me. I look at him and nod, then walk outside and spit my whisky back into my glass.
In spite of it all I feel full and pampered after sampling some of the best whiskies in the world and I would recommend the experience to anyone with a taste for quality. Perhaps next time the festival comes around we can share a drink together. Hope to see you there.
Attend the Durban leg of the festival @ Durban International Convention Centre Thursday 1 - Friday 2 November (18h00-22h00 daily) or the Johannesburg leg @ Sandton Convention Centre Wednesday 7 - Friday 9 November (18h00-22h00 daily)
For more information: www.whiskylivefestival.co.za