The Box Whisky Festival 2015 - fun in the sun!
Box Whisky is a distillery located smack in the middle of Sweden, although it feels like it is very far up north. It is about 5 hours drive north of Stockholm. The nearest town of any significant size, Sundsvall, is 90 minutes south of the distillery. We do have a couple of Swedish friends that will cover those distances in a far shorter time than this, but they are crazy - like many other Swedes. In particular these Swedes are crazy about whisky! I guess fall in the crazy category as well, as we had a 10 hour drive to get up there...
Ever since 2006 Box Whisky have arranged the Box Whisky Festival. The festival was started years before they started any whisky production (2010). The attendants were numbered in the dozens at the start, then in the hundreds, and last year it really exploded. This year, on Saturday June 27, more than 2500 people found their way out into the 'wild high coast' of Sweden to enjoy whisky and great company. That is massively impressive! I do not think this could have been pulled this off anywhere else in the world.
This year, as a first, production was running at full speed at the distillery during the festival. All doors were open, and the visitors could witness it all first-hand. There was also more than a dozen masterclasses throughout the day.
They also had a stage set up, where the band Dreams of Drams performed Scottish and Irish folk songs.
The festival area and the stands
The festival opened at 11 am, and closed at 10 pm. A long day for sure, but it helps when the sun is up well past closing time.
We arrived a few minutes past 11 in the morning, and thankfully there was almost no queue. The most eager visitors had queued at least half an hour before the gates opened, and where already through when we got there. There were loooong queues to buy tokens, however.
The tokens were another new feature this year. Previous years you could buy samples etc at the stands using cash, but this caused long queues at each stand when people wanted to pay with credit cards. It was a lot more practical having this all done in one spot (three queues mind you).
Once we had our hands full of tokens it was time to take it all in. The festival area was quite large, spread out around the distillery and the new Visitors Center.
There was a fairly large selection of whiskies available to try at the three whisky stands; Whiskytaste Sweden, Clydesdale and Box Whisky. In addition to the whisky we could also try gin from the local producer Hernö Gin, and there was the traditional festival beer - this year produced by Oppigårds Bryggeri.
Even with 2500 people attending it did not feel crowded, with the possible exception of the short periods when it rained. Naturally everyone gathered inside the big tents then.
We attended just one masterclass during the festival, as we wanted to have more time for socializing. The masterclass we joined was held by Gabriella Axelsson from Whiskytaste Sweden, and she focused on products from the Indian distillery Paul John. Great presentation and great whisky!
The festival bottling
A big and much anticipated happening during the festival was the opportunity to obtain a letter with a unique code to let you order one bottle of the Box Whisky The Festival 2015. This is a limited release of just 700 bottles, exclusively available to the attendees of the festival. The first festival bottling was released at last year's festival (see review here), and it was a really good dram.
We were told that there would be an announcement at an unspecified time during the day, where we would be told where to go to queue for this. Unfortunately this did not work out quite as the attendees or the distillery had planned. Somehow someone had found a place at the edge of the festival area where they firmly believed the queue for the letters would be. These people took a calculated risk, I would say, as this was not yet announced. As time went on, more and more people gathered in a huge line at this spot - hundreds of people. The first in line had been there well over an hour.
This queue, at this spot, before any official announcements had been made, was clearly not intended by Box Whisky. An executive decision was then made to hand out the letters at the opposite end of the festival area, maybe 3-400 meters away from the queue. When the announcement came, there was a stampede of whisky-thirsty festival attendees storming down to the new spot. This did, naturally, completely disrupt whatever queue order had existed. Many felt this was very unfair, they had queued for a long time and had good queue positions. However, they had taken a chance. No one had confirmed to them that they were indeed queuing in the right spot. The whole incident was probably not handled perfectly by Box Whisky, but then again what would have been correct? One thing is for sure, they have to come up with a better way to handle this next year.
Luckily we managed to get our letters, and we will now have to wait patiently till September when the festival bottling is actually released.
A big plus of any whisky festival is meeting old and new friends in the whisky world.
It is also always good catching up with the lovely people working at Box Whisky.
I find only a couple of things I would improved upon for next year. The first I have already mentioned; there has to be a better system in place for the festival bottling. Too many people were left angry or disappointed. It does not really matter if they brought this on themselves, they are still left with a negative impression.
The second thing I would improve upon is the food that is served. It is a long festival day, and there's not really any restaurants or stores nearby, so you have to have a good selection of food served in the festival area. Unfortunately the selection on offer this year was - in a word - sad. I got an embarrassingly tasteless and dry little burger patty served between to hot dog buns, at SEK 50?! And that was after queuing for close to 40 minutes!
All in all I would say this was one massively impressive festival. How do they even manage to gather this many people in such a remote place? It takes a lot of passion, lots of planning and hard work, and great whisky with a big and growing following.
We will be back!
Sláinte! - Thomas