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Whisky advent calendar

In few weeks we get to start our fourth annual whisky advent calendar. It seemed like a good moment to check where started and how have we evolved during these years. But most of all, I hope you my dear reader, to get an inspiration to start your own calendar.

Where it all began

The official start of our calendar can be traced back to November 29 ,2019 when a group called "Christmas calendar" was created in Whatsapp. To really dive into the starting point of our calendar we must go a bit further back to the past. It was December of 2018 when a group of friends started to post updates on a self made whisky advent calendar in Facebook group called "Whisky group Turku" . There's no certainty on who was the original inventor of this other calendar, but it sparked us into action.

It only took one December of watching from the sidelines until one of our friend group had the idea to create a calendar of our own. The idea was presented to me in early 2019 and I was invited along. All the members were found quickly and I consider my self lucky, that I was asked to me part of this. I was 'all in' immediately without hesitation and remember not worrying any details at all. Starting was actually quite easy, because we could ask details and setup from the original calendar group. First question was were to get the sample bottles as that made the calendar possible. After that we did probably ask many other questions related to the order of the calendar and other settings.

Our first year (2019)

The first calendar had eight members and there was only one limitations on selecting the whiskies. It couldn't come from the core range of Finnish state monopoly. Every attendee bought three bottles and the price categories were decided as follows

Cheap 40-70€

Middle priced 70-100€

Expensive 100-150€

Now that all the necessary decisions for the most important part was done, we could start to map what to buy. At the same time we resolved some practicalities like the sample bottles. We ended up buying the bottles with a member from the other calendar group as he was already decided to place an order. We ordered 24 bottles for each member of the group so that we could get the calendar done.

Instead of having the whiskies in completely random order in our calendar we decided to adopt another system. One of our group volunteered to bottle the whiskies and also to put them in order so that we would have better whiskies in weekends and a rising trend towards the end of the calendar. We agreed to deliver whiskies at the end of October so that we would have enough time to bottle and distribute the calendar back to everyone.

We've discussed about everyone's procurement process over the years, but I can only speak on my behalf. For me this is one of the best parts of the calendar and usually it starts on January already. The goal is to find a unique and superb whisky that brings joy and amazement in the others. I don't know if I've ever succeeded in this, but I have given my best shot every year. As we have a person who knows all the whiskies, it's good to use him as a sparring partner when trying to decide what to bring in.

The first whisky was an 'easy choice' for me as Mackmyra had just released Intelligens AI:01 whisky. The recipe is created by Artificial Intelligence and as I work in IT it was super interesting and it went to the lowest price category. With the expensive bottle I browsed different websites for a long time, until I found this vintage IB Caol Ila from 1999. There are some legendary bottles with these older independent bottlers and you always hear that vintage whiskies are so much better. That seemed like an interesting whisky. The last bottle proved to be a harder nut to crack. I didn't find anything suitable for a long time and I turned to my friend for help. We tried to figure out a interesting whisky and as I had this private cask Arran that's bottled for the Whisky Group Turku he suggested that. Few of our friend group had tried that whisky already and I thought it wouldn't be a good choice. But my friend convinced me otherwise and I'm glad he did.

I think now is good time to introduce the whiskies in our first calendar. They are in the order they came from the calendar. The first whisky was the Private Cask Arran and it's quite fitting as the inspiration for our calendar started from that Whisky Group Turku.

The best whisky from the first calendar has to be the Dun Bheagan's 15 year old cask strength Ardbeg. Amazingly beautiful whisky that allegedly went it to the price range in pounds and without the delivery fees. Highland Parks Wings of the Eagle worked for me really well and it was on my shopping list for a long time, but then it always lost the place to another whisky. Might need to test that one again in a bar. And the Auld Rare Sweden's Bruichladdich sparked a good discussions when we trying to figure out what was it. A very good year I have to say.

Still, the best memory about the first calendar has to be the evening when the whiskies were bottled. We had two volunteers who gathered the whiskies and promised to bottle them into the sample bottles. As I wasn't there, I have to tell you the story how I heard it.

The evening started well and our two happy fellas marked 192 bottles with correct numbers. As the bottles were marked, it was time to start the bottling. As the equipment for the bottling was only a little plate that was there to cover the table they quickly realized that alcohol combined to the marker wasn't a good combo. All the numbers started to vanish from the bottles. In this point, our much less happy team managed to sell the idea of beautiful number cards to their wives, who agreed to help. So they cut, numbered and attached 192 cardboard cards to the bottles with strings. The whole operation ended up taking hours and the only consolation was the little plate that had to be cleared from the excess whisky. That was a big task and we are still grateful that they did it.

We got the most beautiful small bottles that had a number cards attached to them. We also got a message that from now on, everyone bottles their own whiskies and only the numbering and order is done by our volunteer. To date, the fanciest calendar bottles that we've had.

First year we had attendees from several different cities and this set a challenge with the distribution with the calendar. Helsinki are calendars were distributed in a parking hall of a big shopping center. I'm sure that it has been quite shady looking, when four cars park next to each other and then start changing small packages.

Very memorable and great start to our calendar tradition.

Everyone wants in (2020)

As the first year of our calendar was a success, we advertised the calendar quite a lot. At the same time the members of the calendar had a discussion about the price ranges. We felt that the quality wise we get a lot more from the mid priced and expensive category compared to the cheap one. After a short negotiations we decided to get four new members and drop the cheapest category away. In the future each member would buy two whiskies and the price categories were updated to be

Cheap 70-100€

Expensive 100-150€

We have created a nice routine for the calendar and whisky reveals. The whisky is revealed 9 pm every night. It's usually about an hour before the reveal when the whisky is poured in to the glass. 30 minutes later the first comments starts to pop in to the chat. From there the discussions starts and it lasts way over the reveal as we discuss about the whisky and how our guessing went. My wife and oldest daughter have had their fun over the nose and taste descriptions. For example, there's a distillery in the next list that one of our member recognizes because he gets the taste of vomit from that distilleries whiskies. And it's every time :D

The second year of calendar had three whiskies from Wemyss Malts. The best one for me was the Candied Chestnuts and I think most of the others felt the same. There was few people that guessed that it would be a Bowmore. I also brought one Wemyss Malts whisky to the calendar. It was the calendars first blended whisky called Velvet Fig. In the calendar it was a bit in the wrong place as it was fragile, elegant and with a low abv. It's a great whisky and I did enjoy finishing the rest of the bottle. On the Independence day we got to enjoy a Port Charlotte that's bottled for Finland and that was great also.

This time the whiskies were bottled by the attendees and the delivered to the mastermind for arranging and numbering. Once again I have to thank the groups volunteer who does this every year. For me the blind element is a bit part of the calendar and wouldn't want to give that away, but I still like that I know that somebody has given a thought on the order of the whiskies. It also creates the possibility to have different kind of combos like same distillery whiskies back-to-back, different kind of barrel finishes or certain whisky area whiskies in a row. This way we can also have better whiskies on weekends and holidays and on Independence day we've usually had a Finnish themed whisky. Also it's good to notice, that the person who arranges the calendar is celebrating his birthday on 15th of December. Does it show on the whisky that day, I'll leave it for you to judge.

On a more general note it's nice to see that new members got into the calendar very well and logistics were more smooth. We had to order more bottles and luckily we were able to do so through a member of the group.

How long can Christmas be? (2021)

I started the 2021 calendar in January when i Noticed a great review in in Orkney Malt 13 yo 2007 whisky. It was in the lower price bracket, still available and I had to act fast and so the first whisky in the calendar was locked. Well, so I thought, I ended up buying at least two other whiskies to replace it, but then ended up putting it in the calendar anyway. So the buying still was a whole year process.

Even though the growing participant list also added the challenge on getting calendars for everyone we decided to take two new members. One member decided to step down and take a break and this is how we ended up with 13 members.

As the member count rose we faced a new problem. If everyone buys two bottles, we end up with 26 whiskies. As we discussed this majority felt there's only one solution. Let's go with 26 days calendar. And the whisky list looked like this

For me this calendar was the best one yet. My both bottles were a success in my own opinion. The earlier mentioned Highland Park, that had already jumped in value and sold out. My expensive bottle was the Vintage Ardbeg from 1991. 12 Years old, cask strength with the abv of 60,3 %. There were also several other great whiskies like Ardbeg Kildalton, Talisker and Lagavulin 2020 Special Editions, Smögen and Benromach to name a few. I ended up buying the Benromach on the same evening we tasted it.

One of the best new ideas was this statistics that was released after the last day of the calendar. This will continue in the future and hopefully we will do this for the past years also.

Stats looks like this

  • Whiskybase points average was 86,65. 14 bottles scored over those points and 12 under. Standard deviation was quite small.

  • Best points got the 24 years old IB Deanston, 89,72. Second place was the IB Ardbeg with 89,67 and third place wen to another Deanston with 88,33.

  • Quite amusing fact is, that the two "worst" whiskies were from the same person. Loch Lomond had the worst points with 82,75 and second worst was BenRiach with 83,5. Third place in this category went to the last Deanston. Interesting fact also is, that ⅔ of the best points went to Deanston as did ⅓ of the worst.

  • Not all the bottles had a age statement, but combined these whiskies spent about 400 years in casks.

  • On average the whiskies were 15,7 years old. They went from NAS to 33 Years.

  • Eights of the bottles were original bottlings and 18 from independent bottlers.

  • Average abv was a whopping 53,53% so quite a lot of CS bottles might have been there.

  • Highest ABV was in Deanston with 63,7, silver went to Teerenpeli with 62,7 and bronze to Ardbeg with 60,3

  • 13 of the bottles had been matured in sherry. Not all of them told the maturation, but there were few Bourbons also. In addition at least one Moscatel, red wine, rum and two Octaves (that had been already counted to sherry. And the few fresh barrels.

  • 5 islay distilleries and 21 unique distilleries.

What the future holds?

When I'm writing this blog post there's about two weeks until this years calendar and some small changes are taken place this year also. The calendar is as popular as ever and we had to think long and hard that do we want add any more people and how to handle rising amount of whisky. We decided that as long it's possible we want to be able to bring people along. We just have to figure out the bottle size and see that the logistics will work.

The part where our participants were a bit divided was the length of the calendar. Some were in the favor of continuing the calendar to new years even and others felt that it should be 24 days. We then ended up taking one new member and setting the calendar to 24 days and this lead to a change in the price categories.

This year four people will buy only one bottle that lands between 170€ and 250€. Rest of the group will buy two bottles like last year.

Covid-19 had done it's job this year and there were no work trips for anyone. That lead to a little logistic challenge, but we managed to tackle that down. Thanks to the volunteers who drove few hours just to move some bottles. This year we also had to recruit some relatives to help out with the logistics. Previous years we have seen our group members wives and stored the bottles with relatives etc. This is starting to be a family fun event for some of us :D

Most of the pics are from this years bottling and organizing event. I requested them for this blog post. Thank you Lauri for these and for the last time in this text, thank you for the huge work you do for this calendar every year. And while I started the thanks, I would like to thank every member of our calendar. The whiskies are great, no doubt and this calendar is the highlight of my December. But most importantly it's the people. The small but eager group that sits down from evening to evening and starts to analyze what's in the glass. From molded oak plank to bonfire smoke, from black berries to the taste of vomit and so on. Without you, this calendar would only be 24 individual whiskies.

You will be able to follow this years calendar in my Instagram account and Facebook. And eventually there will probably be a blog post about it also.

Have a very merry Christmas my dear reader and hopefully you will find your calendar group eventually.

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