Friday, August 11, 2017

Into the light once more.... Lassie writes about Wiser's Dissertation

A little bit of honesty here: With every passing day as I stared at the screen that stated I hadn't blogged since March 3rd 2017 I grew more and more indifferent about ever doing it again. Day after day - spending time flipping through twitter then deleting the mindless amounts of PR emails that I receive about NEW and INNOVATIVE spirits coming to market. I attempted at times to read other blogs or websites but many simply seem to regurgitate the PR emails I deleted the day before.
Another round of: "Meh... Why do I bother, nobody reads these anymore anyway... or worse - I've really got nothing to say or add to the #whiskyfabric anymore. That last one likely hit me the hardest. Do people even care about stories, real reviews or crazy whisky adventures?" The following week I would read twitter, delete more emails, read a blog, sigh and then walk away from the computer yet once more.  Meh... Meh... Meh... Repeat... Meh...

Over the last five months I've travelled, done lots of sailing, had some fabulous and mind blowing adventures, drank some great whiskies, spent time with friends and family. These filled most of the nooks and crannies of my life. Writing, however, was an itch that wasn't getting scratched at all. Something needed to kick start my ass again but I wasn't sure what that was. In late May I received a package while I was at work. Graham, my wonderful partner in most of my crimes, sent me a message on his lunch hour about it so I casually said open it and let me know what it is. He wrote back: "Holy shit Jo!" Ok, so now he has my attention. I stare at my phone waiting for another message. Nothing...  "Errr, yes?" I write quickly. Nothing...  "Hello?" I type, now with a bit of impatience and annoyance. Nothing like getting click bait messages from your husband :) Then the photo comes in: A copy of Don Livermore's dissertation: "Quantification of oak wood extractives via gas chromatography - mass spectrometry and subsequent calibration of near infrared reflectance to predict the Canadian whisky aging process". Now, if you are a regular reader to this blog (poor attempt lately my apologies) or a new one who doesn't know who or what that means to me - Dr. Don Livermore is the brilliant and creative master blender at the Hiram Walker & Sons distillery in Windsor Ontario Canada. 

I know the adrenaline shot through my entire body when my brain registered what I was looking at and unless you are a full out whisky or chemistry geek like myself you may simply giggle at the thought of someone getting an adrenaline headache, her heart skipping a few beats and maybe suffering from a bit of hyperventilation as a result of seeing a photo of a paper about infrared sensors, barrel charring levels and whisky. Let me elaborate just a little (indulge me here...) = This is a PhD paper that demonstrates how the quality of a barrel can be determined by using infrared technology.

The other great thing that came of his dissertation was 114 barrels of whisky. A bi-product of the research and experiment really but also thankfully product that might be quite interesting to release on the market so Don chose 78 of them, blended the whisky which ended up creating Wiser's Dissertation. Released to the LCBO in Ontario as an exclusive bottling, 10,000 bottles hit the stores right before Father's Day. Cost $64.95.

I've really become a fan of Don's and many (MANY) of the whiskies he has created since taking the helm of Master Blender in 2012. I had a copy of the dissertation now I had to try the whisky. May 30th I stepped on a plane, hopped the Go train and headed directly to a liquor store in downtown Toronto where I purchased 2 bottles. (It's important to do a lot of trials - spoken like a true chemistry nerd!) I didn't make it back home to Saint John until June 21st but a few days later I quietly popped the cork while sitting on the boat. It was nice to simply enjoy it, no note book, no pictures for social media. Just me, the sunset and the whisky. It was glorious. I loved everything about it as many of you know I often say sometimes the whisky is simply the backdrop to the memory that is created. Over the course of the next 5-6 weeks anytime I opened my copy of the Dissertation, I also poured one (always made me smile when I did this!). I can't even begin to explain the satisfaction I had knowing that I was reading about Don's work and sipping the whisky that allowed him to successfully acquire his PhD.

Monday August 7th, my daughter Erica's birthday. She turned 27. I can't get a hold of her as she's off having an adventure (apple doesn't fall too far from this tree) but a great reason to pour myself a dram! Except this time, I'm drawn to my notebook. I open the page and the last notes taken on March 4th stare back at me. Halifax, whisky show - Bowmore Vault 1st Edition. Scribbles, my friend Celinda's name with a big happy face - Nice, salted with butterscotch sweet notes. I flip back a few pages, many more descriptors - most almost looking foreign to me now. Scented potpourri soaked cedar shavings (Won't mention the name of that whisky but good God it was horrible!) Yeah, I miss doing this. Maybe I needed the time off or away from writing so that I could appreciate how much I do love whisky?

Here goes, let's see how rusted my olfactory memory and taste buds really are? I have to say I was almost a bit nervous and scared to do this whisky a disfavour but like every other muscle that has memory, the nose did not fail me. Bicycle-schmicycle!?

Wiser's Dissertation Blended Canadian Whisky, 46.1% ABV

Nose: Explosive rye profile. Spicy, rich, lots of early fall night orchard smells like apples still fresh on the tree, grass that was hot all day but cooling in the autumn air, wild flowers like purple clover and evening primrose. The nose is big and beautiful.

Palate: Just a hint of fresh oak, pink grapefruit cheesecake with a caramel sauce (not kidding). Super creamy but mildly sweet in nature. Quite complex.
Finish: Smooth, not overly hot more like spicy like cinnamon heart candies. Nice but a bit short especially compared to most of the other whiskies I love from Corby's.

Overall I think Don hit it out of the park yet again with this one. I put it directly behind Last Barrels which I loved immensely in 2016. Review written, blog done = Lassie happy. With only about 25% of the stock left, when this one is gone, it's gone for good so if you are in Ontario or know someone who lives there, I recommend you get a bottle or maybe two.

Just three little things to add:

a. 46.1% is what Dr. Don decided to bottle this at, which also (not by coincidence) is the molecular weight of ethanol (CH3CH2OH) -> Squeals with geeky excitement.

b.  Maybe you noticed that I stated Dr. Livermore used 78 of his PhD research barrels to make Dissertation a reality. I hope that leaves you wondering, just like me - what will happen to the remaining 36? Can't wait to see what creative idea he comes up with for those.

and c... BIG thanks to fellow Canadian whisky judge, chosen brother and very good friend André Girard, for being the kick in the pants I needed to finish this one and reminding me about the one thing that brings friends, happiness, adventures and great memories into my life: Whisky.

It was quite refreshing writing a blog for the fun of it. It's nice to be back and I'll do my best to keep writing about what this Lassie does, thinks and experiences after all why should I keep all the crazy and weird things that I get to do locked up in my head ;)

Cheers from Saint John Canada wherever you may be.


Friday, March 3, 2017

When whisky and poetry slam!

My wish for 2017 was that I would "do" more. I made a promise to myself that I would give back as much as was given to me, that I would expand my life experiences until I felt I was bursting because I would say yes, without hesitations, to the opportunities being presented to me.

In January I donated my time to a great fundraiser in my hometown called: Bolder taste for Boulder Art. It was quite the experience to link how a sculpture has the same humble beginning as a grain of barley. In the end both end up creating masterpieces for people to enjoy.

February came along and the Regional Library approached me to do a lecture series about whisky. No actual tastings involved, just a series of information sessions about all things whisky. I thought to myself, I can't imagine people would want to come to a whisky talk without whisky being poured? But... I was wrong. Completely wrong! It was the largest turnout the library had ever seen with their speakers series and I truly loved it.

Here we are March and my friend Matt Jones and I were scheduled to be presenting at the Nova Scotia Festival of Whisky from March 1-4. One late evening as we were talking about upcoming events and what our itineraries were like for the next couple of months and he mentioned that a few friends were getting together for an evening of Spoken Word, graciously sponsored by Maker's Mark Bourbon. YES, without hesitations. There we are Thursday March the 2nd at the Company House in Halifax Nova Scotia. Intimate setting, candles, tables and plenty of other people there to listen and experience poetry. Sounds a bit floopy I'm sure to most, because I mean really how does whisky even remotely fit when it comes to poetry. To that I would say you would be mostly surprised how one really did go hand in hand with the other.

Let's start with the definition of Slam Poetry: An intense blend of written verse mixed with stage performance - and a stop watch.  There are no props, no music, just a speaker on stage with their own voice and words. There is authenticity, rawness and it takes time to not only compose each piece but to perfect it.  Sound familiar to whisky?  I think so in many ways...

The evening began with a young, somewhat shy but humorous man by the name of Andre Fenton. Wise beyond his 21 years of age. He was one of only two participants from the east coast to attend the National Slam Poetry Competition in Vancouver in 2016. Andre, stepped up to the microphone, apologetic in nature as he seemed to stumble on his own words to introduce himself. "I wrote a book", he almost whispered, "I'll be launching in March 31st across the street at Alteregos Café on Gottingen Street". I couldn't help but smile as I thought to myself, ahhhh we are starting with an up-and-comer who is still quite green behind the ears. Then... he began. The clarity of his speech, the cadence of his language and the movement of his body so in sync with the spoken words. I found myself leaning in, listening more than just intently, listening with purpose. This was not a young man of 21 years of age standing before us under a bright spotlight on a dark little stage at the Company House. This was an old soul who had lived, and seen and experienced life more intensely than most of us could ever imagine.

Mr. Andre Fenton - East coast poet
His book, Ode to Teen Angst, is a 43 page compilation of 10 of his favourite poems. My favourite of the evening was clearly the letter to his 10 year old self. Witty, dirty, truths about growing up, truth about depression, being bullied, being scared about the changes to come but with the advice to always hang on, dream big and trust that it's all good.

I read in the interview where he stated: "Some of the topics in the book aren't really relatable to everybody". I would tend to disagree somewhat. He talks about the life in the "customer service" world, he talks about life lessons, love and mental illness. "Like I'm running through a grass field with the girl of my dreams or like I'm looking through at the stars trying to solve all the galaxy's mysteries".  His poem Unapologetic is an eye opening piece about racism. Something I have never experienced in my 50 years of my life. I will never understand how that feels or looks like but through Andre's eyes. I see the un-relatable side of his teenage years versus mine...

Andre's book is available by contacting him at

The $15 is not only worth every loonie, it's like the best little book a teenager should read, in my opinion. Nothing speaks louder than the words of someone else going through the exact same thing as yourself.  Thank you Andre for putting those words to paper and allowing the world to look in and share those moments with you.

Up next Martha, "just" Martha... no last name. The little wisp of a long haired woman with nothing more than her cell phone in hand. An ode to a grandmother who had recently passed away. Her grief, love and respect poured out for all to see. Touching, special and meaningful to many in the room as I watched how they nodded when certain words tugged at their own heart strings. How stupid we are in our youth to not realize the importance of our elders. It is all too late that we see how they shape and mould us into the adults we become. Her poem about marriage is where I found myself nodding incessantly, smiling under my breathe. How lost a woman can feel when she sees friends around her marrying, meanwhile deep inside she thinks but what about "me"... Who is this me, and why do I have to rush into what society sees as the only goal for making it in the world. A husband... to have and to hold. Why, can't I simply have and hold myself until I know what it is I want? Wouldn't that make me a better partner in the end? Martha stood 7 feet tall on that stage and I, gracefully sat in her shadow and basked in the words. Again, baffled by the depth and grace that were beyond her years.

And then Mona Mousa steps up to the stage and the electricity is felt through the crowd as she unleashes immediately a foray of words from the hip and soul. Clever, polished and melodious. I watched as the body language was one with the spoken words. Ohhhh she's a veteran at this, and you can tell she loves how standing that the microphone transforms Mona to "The Poet Mona". She runs the gamut from powerful, sassy to vulnerable. Speaking words of frustration, defiance and then love. No pauses, no frills... Just a woman, her life and her ability to share those awkward and sometimes scary moments that all of us feel but would never have the guts to share, especially on stage in front of strangers.

"Picture this: There is a man that plays the piano like it's his job. To remind people that music is brutal and real love will make you sick. This man plays the piano like it's his lover."

"Kentucky: It's 3:27am in Lexington Kentucky, the night that taught me that I am not everything I know, she is 67 headed to a city made of towering skyscrapers for the first time. She said to me: She can't blame her because ain't nothing changes in Kentucky but the weather. She looked at me and said: Darling, I can tell you're hurting because no stranger to the south comes to Kentucky unless they have a bourbon craving, broken heart. Honey you can decorate abstinence whatever you want but it's still going to be obvious what's missing."

Her entire spoken album entitled Bourbon Darling is available online at

Mona.. Spoken word poet, motivational speaker, comedian, heavily active in community, advocate for the empowerment of youth and whose mission in life is simple: Education and tolerance, no exceptions. Brilliant!

As the night wound to an end I came to a few quick conclusions about it all...  Poetry is not defined by age, nationality or content. What appears before you is nothing more than the outer shell and it's not until you let it open up that you discover the contents and the meaning inside. Some poets come in small unassuming packages where others are bold and exciting. There are some that you immediately are drawn to and you think to yourself, now... that was special.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. It's super easy to link my evening back to whisky for almost all the same reasons. Whisky, like poetry is art in most cases and it speaks to my heart and soul. I, once again, find myself speechless in how whisky has changed my life for the good, the best years of my life. I am, truly blessed.

At the end of the night, I went over and introduced myself to Andre. I didn't tell him how much his poetry touched me but I did buy his book. I have no doubt that thanks to people like Mona who believe and support the next generation of artists like Andre and Martha, these young and very talented people will continue to grow, excel and become the eloquent poets of tomorrow.

Huge thanks to Maker's Mark (cue the product placement joke - that's a personal one for Mona who does this part ooooh so well! ;) as well as Matt Jones for such a great experience. It was added value to the Nova Scotia Whisky Festival that I'm attending this week in Halifax.

What's next for this Lassie... a little adventure in whisky and chocolate pairings! Cue the moaning and giggles, errrr that was from me, not the people in the class (hehehe!)


The enlightened Lassie