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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Day 4 - Spirit of Speyside...3000ft, a bit of humility & the joy of biscotti

Designed by Danielle Magee - Vancouver BC
In my youth (clears throat...) I used to be an avid hiker and I loved it. I mostly climbed the peaks in Eastern Canada & US and more often by myself then in groups. There was something gratifying about peaking that always led to the personal satisfaction that I could do "it". But like most of us, with more responsibilities and "life" came much less hiking which led to none for almost 8 years. 

In January of 2014 when the schedule came out for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival I immediately jaunted down some of the things I wanted to ensure I did. One caught my eye -> A whisky hike up Ben Rinnes with Dave Broom.  

BEN RINNES in the spring...
Now... for those of you who have met me face to face, you know that mentally I'm about 13 years old but that "joie de vie" is bottled in a 48 year old shell. So of course I said to myself, I can hike that mountain, pshhhaw! Point, click, pay -> DONE! Then as the date drew closer my 48 year old ego started whispering: "Psssst... hey Doogie Howser it's a 3000ft peak and you are going to have to do more than dog walking a couple of times a week". Of course the 13 year old laughed and ignored that voice at several reprises. 

We learned about a month before the hike that Dave Broom had to bow out because of a massive conflict of schedule. Just so happens, he was going to be in Canada the 2 weeks I was in Scotland... bah! Annabel Meikle (@whiskybelle) stepped in and we were back on track! That Sunday morning near Craigallachie Graham packed a backpack, we grabbed our gear, drove off and arrived at the foot of the trail to meet our group. We were about 20 people from all ages & backgrounds. After a quick discussion about rules from our guides we proceeded to climb. I started strong and was at the forefront of the pack. By the first quarter, I was falling to mid-pack and by half I was...

DEAD last! My cardio SUCKED. I was out of breathe and my heart rate was quite high but I kept taking my time, slow & steady while always apologizing to the guide who had to stay with me the entire time. It got colder and started to mist about 3/4 of the way up, a bit of a wardrobe change, some more water and back to one foot in front of the other. I wasn't struggling, just really slow. "Not so bright eyed and bushy tailed now are you", whispered the 48 year old voice sarcastically. 

I reached the summit about 3-5 minutes behind everyone else. I was exhausted but happy to have completed the climb. Whisky started to flow immediately and Miranda Nijenhuis had brought Glencairns (I was impressed...), Henk Seine her partner poured us all a Glentauchers Single Cask 15 year old. With whisky in hand the conversations came alive. There were 5-6 bottles circulating of some very special whiskies. Then a short little man who looked like he was in 70's stood directly in front of me and in his broken English told me he was happy to see me work so hard to get to the top. He offered me some authentic Italian biscotti that he had brought with him. I was wet, sore and cold but I tell you now that I soaked in every moment of being on the summit with those people. The whisky was fantastic, the biscotti to die for and I took the time to talk to almost every single person. It was the quickest hour ever spent in my life, I'm sure, but some of the most wonderful conversations I have ever had. 

We were advised it was time to leave, everyone packed up and we started our descent. Henk and I hiked back down together, again another full hour of listening to adventures, stories, life with his partner Miranda and their never ending quest to live life to the fullest. It was to say the least, a beautiful lesson for me because they are slightly older than me (I'd say they are 15 & 16, ;) and although in much better shape physically, are in the same place mentally that I am: Out to explore, learn, share and love the whisky lives we have. It was one of those moments when I felt like I'm "not the only one"... 

And just like that, the trek was over. The mental anguish I had for being so slow and the physical limitations I felt (for a few days) were non-existent during the descent replaced with the sheer pleasure of having created yet another #whiskyfabric memory and bond with total strangers from all over the world. Henk was probably one of the most interesting people I met while in Scotland. I doubt he realized the impact he had. 

Whisky... is NOT just about drinking. Whisky, for myself and many others is about finding common grounds and creating those moments that you end up treasuring for the rest of your life. My trip to Scotland had just begun and I was loving every second. Here's to your own journey and how you choose to live it. May there be peaks, hardships that teach you not to give up on the things you want and may there always be plenty of whisky to share and enjoy!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Captain's log - French whisky mission concluded

Captain's log, stardate 20148.12. I've just finished the last of the French whisky samples sent to me by first officer Franck Debernardi from the Cave de Cobalt colony near the region of Europe on planet Earth. The 5 samples were logically well presented and took me on an interesting journey into the unknown realm of what is known as French Whiskies.
It has been a very strange journey at times leaving me wondering where the future of world whiskies will go in the next 10-15 years. Franck completed his mission and provided several crew members from around planet earth as well as the nether regions (Gal Granov) with enough whisky to peak their interest or in the very least provide a whetted appetite for what is to come for this region of whisky making.
Sample 5 caught be a bit by surprise after the disastrous encounter with sample #4 spirit which caused me to express in my native Klingonese: "nugDag 'oH 'oH puchpa' 'e' . Small disappointment comparably, hence we have learned and moved on with the mission. 

Sample 5 on the nose was very pleasant. The sherry influence was noticeable immediately. I could detect the aromas of cherries covered in dark chocolate. It reminded me of a cherry blossom candy bar I would have eaten in my youth. The next thing I could clearly detect was a bit of a sulphurous compound. Not enough to be off putting and I have a sense that Captain Oliver Klimek from the region would have appreciated the smell of this dram greatly, however
Jim Murray from the Borg clan would not, crying: "Resistance is futile, assimilation into bourbon regions is imminent". 

But I digress....  I happen to like a rich smelling whisky and this one certainly did not disappoint. On the palate, the whisky is a bit harsh at first but the flavor profile is balanced and the meaty rich flavor is there as well.  It's a "stick to your ribs" sort of whisky that evokes having eaten a large roast beef supper with gravy, mashed potatoes and steamed carrots. (again, food from my youth)... It has a superb mouthfeel that I really enjoyed.
The finish, albeit tannic and very dry was somewhat pleasant.  After adding a few drops of water, I settled into writing my project reports and slowly sipped at this very interesting style of whisky.  

After deciding how I felt about this particular whisky I was reminded how France is not remotely close to being one of the top whisky makers on planet earth, and yet from the historical reports I have seen, the French are one of the biggest importers. As planet earth becomes more diverse and whiskies become more readily available, I often wonder if the imbibers situated on all 7 continents will move away from whiskies from Scotland (especially) and delve into the unknown regions such as France? I for one have no fear to revisit them and very much look forward to adding these fairly rare whiskies to my personal collection.
The reveal: Uberach Alsace Whisky, Whisky Live Paris, 10th edition from 2013. 46.7% ABV.  Distilled in 2003 and matured in Banyuls casks. A very rare whisky that I am lucky to have tried. Once again thank you to Franck for sending me these lovely samples and allowing me to experience yet another great whisky adventure. I do hope to return to France and imbibe again with you, soon.
Merci Franck, merci France, merci #whiskyfabric pour les possibilités et les aventures que vous m'accorder très souvent!