Last weekend we were sailing, we were on a whisky cruise – for 48 hours. The two of us locked in on the cruise ship Cinderella together with 1500 other whisky nerds. Two round trips Stockholm – Åland. The island of Åland is an autonomous region of Finland, and conveniently defined as a special economic region as well. This opens the possibility of tax free sales of whisky on board! So why not have a whisky fair on board as well?!

The Cinderella Whisky Fair was first established in 2009, and it it said to be the world’s largest whisky fair at sea.

The concept

Let’s get the facts out of the way first, just to paint you a picture, sort of give you the frame work of the whole experience:

  • We enter the ship at 5.15 pm, the festival then runs from 6 till 10 pm.
  • The ship stays in the harbor as long as the festival is open. The reason being that the festival area is on deck 3, the car deck. You are not really supposed to stay here when the ship is at sea – security etc.
  • During the night the ship will sail to Åland, dock (briefly) at Mariehamn, before returning to Stockholm.
  • The festival re-opens at 11 am, when the ship is back in the harbor, and stays open until 2 pm.
  • At 3.30 pm we disembark, carrying bags full of tax free whisky.
  • Repeat up to three times; Thur-Fri, Fri-Sat, and Sat-Sun. (We did two trips, skipping the last one in favor of a day and a night in Stockholm.)
  • There are lots of masterclasses, in fact close to 40 per cruise.
  • 35 stands in the festival area, and hundreds of whiskies on offer.
Cinderella Whisky Fair 2015 - Shane
Shane Fitzharris, Global Brand Manager at Walsh Whiskey Distillery, and Whisky Saga (Photo: Whisky Saga)

Better prepared this year

Last year was our first trip to Cinderella Whisky Fair (see reports here and here), and we learned a few lessons:

  1. No masterclasses the first evening!
    • We did follow this advice this year, and it worked a charm! Lots more time to be social on the festival floor.
  2. No Buffet Dinners!
    • Yep! Good advice. The Buffet Dinner takes too long, and is scheduled during the open hours of the festival. Instead we had dinner at two great restaurants on board, one of which kept serving food until 4.30 am!
  3. Book a larger cabin!
    • Where the cabin last year felt very claustrophobic, the one we had this year (at only a marginally higher price) was a lot better.
  4. Buy any whisky bottles on the first cruise!
    • Again this year we saw many sought after releases sold out during the first cruise. This is not down to the distributors and whisky companies themselves, this is mainly down to Cinderella and the Viking Line. They decide what whisky to make available and they buy all the whisky from the companies, then sell it on board.
Cinderella Whisky Fair 2015 - Jari
Jari Mämmi, Sales- and Marketing Manager at Teerenpeli Distillery, and half of Whisky Saga (Photo: Whisky Saga)

 The Box Whisky Stampede

The Swedish distillery Box Whisky announced a couple of weeks before the fair that they would release a special bottling for the fair – Box Whisky The Archipelago Baltic Sea 2015. The outturn was limited to 700 bottles, and they would sell off 300 bottles on the first cruise, then 200 on each of the last two.

No one had anticipated the wild crazy this sparked in the whisky hungry hoards on the ship! It was mayhem, it was a stampede. People were climbing on top of each other, clawing their way forward. It was Beatles hysteria. We have never seen anything like this at a whisky festival, neither had anyone else that was witness to this spectacle. We had no chances at all of obtaining any bottles.

Cinderella Whisky fair 2015 - Box Whisky
The Box Whisky hysteria! (Photo: Box Whisky)

 

On the second cruise there was more order, but the craze was just as big. The air abuzz with rumors of what had happened the day before. There were many guards in place this time around, like Magnus Fagerström – hired muscle for Box Whisky. Luckily we managed to obtain the whisky on this second attempt, but it was crazy. The rest of the festival was on hold for these few wild minutes.

There must be a better way of doing this next year, if they try again.

The masterclasses

We had three masterclasses altogether this time, one on the first morning session, then one evening and one morning session on the second cruise. They were all very different, but good:

  • Thomas Sundblom from Clydesdale
    • Presenting whiskies from various independent bottlers.
    • Very knowledgeable presenter, with a relaxed and informative style – and great whisky.
    • The standout whisky was a 7 YO Aultmore from A.D. Rattray.
  • George Grant from Glenfarclas
    • Presenting (unfortunately) only core range whiskies from Glenfarclas.
    • We had hoped for at least some Family Casks, as they have done on previous occasions, but that was not to be. Again I do think Viking Line was to blame for this.
    • George had lots of great stories to tell, and did a great job, but the whiskies – while good by all means – somewhat of a disappointment. We had tried them all before…
  • Ian Millar from Glenfiddich
    • This was a morning session, starting at 10 am, and Ian had brought no less than 8 whiskies!
    • Three core range (Vintage series), three cask samples and two old rarities.
    • Fantastic to hear Ian, great storyteller with lots of humor. It was fun, from start to finish!
Cinderella Whisky Fair 2015 - Ian
Ian Millar, Global Brand Ambassador Glenfiddich, and the better half of Whisky Saga (Photo: Whisky Saga)

 

Whisky highlights

There were of course many whisky highlights on these two cruises, and there will be a lot of reviews coming up on the blog over the next few weeks. Let me list a select few special treats though, to give you an idea of what was on offer:

  • Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1
    • Certainly a good dram, but not sure I understand what all the fuzz is about.
  • Bunnahabhain 1990 22 YO Blackadder Raw Cask
    • A really, really lovely old Bunnahabhain!
  • Bruichladdich Black Art 04.1 1990 23 YO
    • Still quirky, still magic, although there seems to be less use of wine casks this time around.
  • Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008
    • Amazingly crisp and clean barley nose! A great experience.
  • Aultmore 7 YO A.D.Rattray
    • Surprisingly mature and soft sherry bomb and only seven years old.
  • Teerenpeli Hosa
    • Unpeated but matured in ex-Islay casks, which gave it a smooth and soft peat note.
  • Mortlach Special Strength
    • OK, so now I have tasted it, and I really like it!
  • Glenfiddich 1973 Vintage 35 YO
    • Delicate, soft and fruity – simply delightful!
  • Mackmyra Vintage
    • A new bottling to be released in February 2015. Mackmyra is going from strength to strength now. Great stuff!
Cinderella Whisky Fair 2015 - Karl
Karl Thögersen, Area Sales Manager at Mackmyra, surrounded by Whisky Saga (Photo: Whisky Saga)

 

Cinderella Whisky Fair 2015 – summary

It was really great to see so many friends and acquaintances! We literally spent the first three hours of the festival just covering half the festival floor – there was so much catching up to do we hardly had time for whisky.

Will we be back again next year? Most certainly! This is one quirky and fun festival.

Sláinte!
– Thomas

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Good article, thx, 🙂 just one thing. It’s correct that Viking Line buys all the whisky in advance, but to avoid sellouts the distributors has their fully rights to bring on as much as they want, unsold bottles goes back in return.

  2. Hi. This blog is great! My good friend sent me a link about the Cinderella Whisky Fair a few weeks back and it looks like the best experience ever, being an avid whisky taster. I would like to attend the Cinderella Whisky Fair next year in 2017, as a graduation present to myself when my diploma concludes later in the year! How do you register for the Whisky Fair? I will be flying from New Zealand but cant find any information in English.

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