Thursday, March 14, 2013

Funny thing happened on the way to the Compass Box Twitter Tasting

One of the most difficult things about being on twitter sometimes is sitting on the sidelines watching the UK twitter tastings.  I liken it to that kid that would show up at the soccer game and he would just stand on the white line watching.  "Come on!" the other kids yell to him.  But he can't because he's wearing his school uniform and good shoes.  So he just stands, watches and envies that all the other kids get to play.  If you don't follow twitter as often as I do (hourly), Whisky Twitter Tastings happen weekly.  I can spend two hours watching 12-20 people trying the latest whiskies and discussing them at length.  Me and my "good shoes" can't take part because we are in North America.  Sigh...  So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when, one of the leaders using social media (since 2011) for whisky tastings, tweeted that they would be hosting a transatlantic twitter tasting for International Women's Day using Compass Box. Not only was it a first for a twitter tasting and for women it was COMPASS BOX!  I quickly responded to be on the list. People may not realize the work that goes into hosting a whisky tasting, even less about a virtual one.  The logistics are mind boggling and I was nervous from the get go as to how they would pull this off.
So here is where it sort of gets silly as my life often does.  The samples were coming from New York and being sent to a personal American mailbox I own in Maine.  As of Tuesday (two days before the tasting) I had yet to receive a message stating they were in.  Thursday, I was really starting to get nervous but thankfully around 2:00pm I got the call.  I literally dashed to my car and drove to my mailbox arriving at 3:15 to find a sign on the door stating they were out for 15 minutes.  I waited.  Their debit machine was down and I had no cash so now I find myself jumping into the car and driving to two different banks before I found one whose banking machines were not down.  By the time that part of my fiasco was over with and I had parcel in hand it was 3:55.  I crossed into Canada, declared my samples which of course lead to going in and paying for duty/taxes, etc..   After a poor confused officer finally understood what I was talking about (thankfully I had the twitter tasting invite on my IPhone) I paid minimal duty/taxes (he was now convinced I wasn't trying to sell my samples in Canada) and I was sent on my way.  It's was now 4:20.  The tasting was due to start at 5:00pm Atlantic Time and I had at least one hour to drive before I was in my own driveway.  Well I thought, I'll drive until I can't drive anymore and then I'll park it to do the tasting if it comes to that.

Strapped in for the drive!
I stopped on the side of the road, unwrapped the three lovely samples   and strapped them into the passenger seat beside me.  If we (me and the samples) were in this together, then by all means they had to be as ready as I was.  Come hell or high water I WAS ATTENDING THIS TASTING!  At 4:45 I was getting close to a small town so I turned off the highway and proceeded to drive through St. George NB (pop 1500).  There is one hotel in that area and I knew it had WIFI so I put the blinker on and parked the car in the furthest part of their parking lot.  I scrambled for pen, paper, something to nose my whiskies from and of course get my phone ready.  All the while, I must admit giggling to myself out loud at the absurdity of my situation.  If this doesn't show dedication to my passion, I don't know what does? 
yes that's a snowbank!

So, with a few minutes to spare I took the lovely bottles and placed them on my dashboard.  Pen in hand I took down the hashtags:  #WhiskyandWomen and #IWD.  And so we began, women from around the world on twitter together, ready to sample and discuss three lovely mystery whiskies from Compass Box, with me in my car on the side of the road in a hotel parking lot.  (It never dawned on my at the time that to anyone else this may sound particularly disturbing or worse illegal but I'll get back to that at the end of my story...)  Where was I?  Oh yes, we were beginning.  Our hosts Steven Rush and Compass Box Lilly welcomed everyone and we immediately began nosing whisky sample #1.

#1 - Nosing:  Very light and floral in nature with a bit of a variety of soft warm spices.  I was transported to a sweet tropical fruit salad:  Coconut, bananas, mangoes, ripe pears and melons.  The spices were there but almost honeyed in nature.  Palate: (I took a very small sip and swished it around) I immediately tasted lovely green grapes, tangy sweetness.  Another small sip and I was getting a lovely creamy lemon curd.  Truly delicious on the palate.  We were asked to guess the ABV, I stated it was about 42%.  I also thought it was so refreshing that a wine finished whisky may have been used as part of the equation.  Well, I was close on the ABV but this is a 100% grain whisky bottling. The big reveal:  HEDONISM.  I was floored!  

Only made once or twice a year, 43% ABV, non-chill filtered and natural color.  100% first fill American Oak Barrels (or rejuvenated American Oak Hogsheads).  Uses older grain whiskies from Cameron Bridge (first to produce grain whisky and is the largest grain whisky producer 30M gallons/year in Scotland), as well as whisky from Carsebridge, Cambus, Dumbarton and Port Dundas.  Hedonism was on my to try and get list for 2013.  It's not available in Canada so I wasn't holding out too much hope that I was going to get to try it.  Quite surprised!  This dram is perfect to start off a lovely evening or to end as a nice sipper.  The light and quite creamy nature of this whisky is one that I can say without a doubt is truly an original.  Well done John Glaser!  So where is this available.  Well if you are lucky enough to be in the UK or carries it for £52.75. If you are in the US -> Park Avenue Liquor Store $110.00, Binny's for $99.00 and K&L Wine Merchants $94.99.  If you want a whisky that isn't heavy or peated, this is absolutely lovely and I'm super happy and thankful to have tried it.

Whisky #2:  Such a lovely fragrant nose.  Rum raisin soaked sultanas.  So rich and creamy smelling my mouth watered.  This one has more depth and character right up front.  A bit more aggressive on the nose than #1.  Aromas of dried fruit like figs or dates.  It reminded me of light version of sticky toffee pudding.  On the palate I immediately was hit with vanilla biscuits or sweet sponge cake followed by a bit of tinned pears.  Others could smell/taste a bit of smoke but honestly I was lost in the flavors of fruit and cake.  I found it to be very full bodied and estimated the ABV to be 43-46%.  Reveal:  Great King Street, Artist's Blend.  I was a bit shocked?  I own this bottle and thought I knew it fairly well.  Bottled at 43% ABV, blend of Lowland (46%), Highland (45%) and Speyside (9%) whiskies.  Non chill filtered and natural color.  I love this whisky in a high ball with some soda water but I have on occasion been surprised by Graham and enjoyed it as a mystery dram, just like I did this time.  This is available in Canada (Ontario LCBO's) for $46.95, and again at Whisky Exchange for £23.95, Park Avenue for $40.00, Binny's and K&L for $39.99.  This is a steal and excellent value for money whisky that you should consider having in your collection.

#3 was a no-brainer for me as soon as I removed the cap from the bottle.  It screamed THE PEAT MONSTER and I stated so immediately.  Then Lilly said, ahhh but is it?  I hesitated, hmmm was it?  On the nose:  Beach fire and medicinal.  Very maritime'ish.  I stated it reminded me of two whiskies I thoroughly enjoy:  Either Talisker or Ledaig to which Lilly stated I had hit one of the components to this whisky on the head.  It's quite powerful dram on the nose.  Going back to Hedonism, it almost smelled like water!? On the palate:  Delish, full bodied peated whisky with wisps of dark fruit but the driest finish of the three samples, also the highest in alcohol I gathered (quite a burn...) So I stated that I thought it was peat monster (again) and that if it wasn't I was guessing the Entertainer and also thought the ABV was higher at 46%.  

The reveal:  PEAT MONSTER.  What satisfaction in knowing this one as it's one of my favorite Compass Box bottling or at least it's the one I have drank the most and replenished in my collection (4 bottles, so far...)  This whisky is not for the faint at heart.  Living in the far eastern part of Canada we are subjected to temperatures below -40C during our long winters.  This is warmth in a glass.  Available in Canada, Kensington Wine Market (Alberta) for $57.49, also in BC but not able to find price range there, sorry.  Whisky Exchange for £36.95.  US market:  Park Avenue Liquor $65.00, Binny's and K&L for $55.00.

My favorite for this particular tasting was the Hedonism as it surprised me the greatest and of course when I discovered what it was I more than elated to have tried it, knowing it might be awhile before I get to have it again. As we started to wind down the twitter tasting, I noticed my phone was now at 4% power and that it was going to shut down any minute.  I had time to say my goodbyes, thank everyone who attended and text Graham what I wanted for supper and it shut down.  Wow, I thought as I sat there in my car looking around (probably for the first time really), that was AWESOME!  Even though I was faced with so many little things that could have totally ruined the tasting event for me, I refused to let that happen.  I took every twisted turn and strange little bump with stride and found the humor and fun in the adventure. Which is why I love whisky to begin with.  My life, since finding this passion has been nothing but one great adventure after another filled with stories and memories to last me a lifetime.  

had the utmost pleasure of meeting John Glaser this year and I won't lie when I say I probably looked like a giddy school girl meeting Justin Bieber.  Why? Because little Canadian East Coast girls don't usually have the chance to meet the innovators of the whisky world.  On twitter, the folks from Compass Box are friendly, educative, and quick to reply or direct people to where they can get the answers they are looking for.  No other company or distillery to my knowledge has ever extended a twitter tasting to people across the Atlantic Ocean and no other entity other than Whisky Wire somehow managed to have it be for just women. Not to say that I think it should always be that way, but where this was for International Women's Day, it was truly a wonderful way to not only include us but showcase some of the great female noses/palates there are in the world.  So I extend my deepest thank you's to both Compass Box and the Whisky Wire for being the leaders and innovators they are known to be.

I will be very honest with the next part of what I have to say.  There was one small downfall to this twitter tasting for me.  Where were the men? Unlike any other twitter tasting I have ever followed there didn't seem to be men interacting from the sideline (with the exception of one, once).  With all the twitter tastings that take place you constantly see people jumping in, making comments and adding some energy.  In our case, there were the women invited to attend, Compass Box Lilly and Steve.  As fabulous is it was to be partaking in this momentous twitter tasting the men of the whisky fabric were not there partaking or cheering us on (including my own husband) and in the end I felt like something was truly missing.  I love being part of all this and it's great that women around the world said woohoo to a women's only twitter tasting.  I guess for me having Compass Box & Whisky Wire acknowledge and celebrate the fact that we love whisky just as much as the next "guy" meant alot to me.  It would have meant more knowing some of the guys in our lives thought so too and voiced it accordingly even if only to come on twitter and wish us luck, or say "way to go", anything really... 

So back to me and my car which is parked in an obscure part of Canada in the parking lot of a hotel...  Knowing full well I now have drank alcohol (three very small sips mind you) and that I have "said open alcohol" in my car I was faced with yet another little dilemma, how do I get home which is still a 45 minute drive...  So I did what any good Canadian would do, I packed up the alcohol, put it my knapsack and threw it in the trunk.  I drove out of the parking lot of the hotel and right next to the hotel in the very next drive way, pulled into here:
Even small towns have at least one of these...

Which is where I sat for the next 40 minutes drinking a hot mint tea and writing a few notes for my blog.  Had you told me at the beginning of 2013 that I would, at some point in the year, do a twitter tasting from the back seat of my car parked next to a 5 foot snowbank, I would have replied:  "Not bloody likely that would ever happen".  So it goes to show, Compass Box Whiskies are worth driving for two hours and jumping through all sorts of weird hoops to try.  Please consider trying them for yourself, you truly won't be disappointed I assure you.  

As for twitter, well most of you know how I feel about it, it's a fabulous place to discuss, share and learn about the whisky fabric.  As I drove home that Thursday night I was on my way home to a quick supper followed by an impromptu Canadian Whisky introduction to two local twitter personalities in my home town.  I went to bed that night happier than I ever recall being and it all had to do with a Lassie and her love of whiskies.

Onward and forward to the next crazy adventure.  I do hope you will join me, after all nobody does adventure quite the way I do I've come to realize and appreciate.

Whisky trail blazing!!!


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