Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Review of whisky show #2 - CELEBRATE WHISKY HALIFAX...

Welcome to the East Coast.  NO NOT TORONTO!!!  The real Canadian East Coast.  Where you can walk up to your knees in the Atlantic Ocean, eat lobster for $4.95/lbs until you have to unbuckle your belt and meet some of the nicest people in the world!  Yes, this is where I'm from and I am super proud of it.  There are four provinces that make up the "Atlantic" coast:  New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.  All four with long traditional ties to the ocean, music and down home "kindness".  It's not uncommon for us to not only give directions but help people get there.  You need a place to stay, there's my couch.  We give without expecting anything in return.  Ask anyone who comes to visit, we are warm, fun loving people.  Our combined populations:  2,328,000 which is only 7% of Canada's total population.  We may be small, but we are big on life and living it well.  Nova Scotia is the largest of the four provinces.  It's capital city is Halifax.  Picturesque is not even close enough of a word to describe the beauty of this province.  Old world charm of Lunenburg, the raw beauty of the Atlantic Ocean at Peggy's Cove, the highlands of Cape Breton Island (where more people speak Gaelic per capita than Scotland) and rich Acadian roots of the North Shore. Seafood so FRESH you buy it off the boat seconds after it comes in the harbour. I love visiting this part of the world.   

In case you don't always read my blogs part of my journey planned for this year is going to different whisky shows across Canada and "rating" them.  My first one was in January at the Victoria Whisky Festival in beautiful British Columbia.  It only seemed right that I travel all the way to the other end of my country to visit the next one?  For those of you who don't realize the immensity of Canada, that's 6100 km considering the distance from Halifax to Dublin is 4200 km.  HUGE!  

Ok so back to why I'm writing this blog today:  CELEBRATE WHISKY 2013 in Halifax NS - March 22nd. I'll remind everyone what parameters I have chosen:  Cost (accommodations, events, classes, etc.), Venue (locale, food, geographic location), Classes (quality, type, time) Main Event (availability of whiskies, venue, services, knowledge of the exhibitors), Overall personal experience (people, place, whisky). Scoring explanation:  A (90-100, exceptional value), B (80-90, great value), C (70-80 Good value), D (60-70) Some value, F (FAIL - little to no value).

Let's begin.  Celebrate Whisky has only been in existence since 2012 so the show is truly still in its infancy.  Unlike many of the other shows I have attended this one is put on by a government entity: the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission and is not a non-profit endeavour.  It took place on Friday March 22nd and was one night only.  Pro #1 - Collect Air Miles points when you purchase tickets and/or whiskies.  

More shows should do this!!!
Pro #2 - You receive a booklet with layout of event, table/product placement and a list of all the whiskies that will be available (detailed info & price).  

Pro #3 - Celebrate Whisky has a silent auction that runs throughout the evening with many chances to win some rare whiskies. 

Pro #4 - An onsite ordering desk to purchase the whiskies available at the show.  

Con #1 - Whiskies are only available two weeks later at the local liquor store of your choice for pickup)

 Accommodations:   Hotel did not have a special rate for the whisky event and regular price for a room $140/night.  I did a bit of research and got the room for $109.  So, a small savings of $31 dollars.

Events:  There were only two:  The whisky panel discussion, 80 tickets available ($45) and the main showcase ($95). Both were sold out by the evening of the event.

I didn't attend the panel, so my only purchase was a main showcase ticket.  

Total cost for lodgings & whisky festival for me = $204.  


  VENUE:  The Lord Nelson Hotel is situated in the shopping district of Halifax.  It's rated 4 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor.  Easily accessible from airport or driving into the city.  Range of services available:  Onsite restaurant, pets allowed, free wireless, business, center, and fitness center.

Pro #1:  THEY TAKE PETS.  I love that.
Pro #2: Recently renovated rooms are awesome.
Pro #3:  Within walking distance to just about everything.

Locale:  The hotel is very Victorian.  Doormen in full uniform, staff exemplary and very important to me:  Comfy beds!  And as silly as this many sound:  A large bowl of fresh fruit at the front desk.  It's the little things that add up that make this hotel a truly relaxing and pleasant experience.

Food:  There is a restaurant/bar on site:  The Victory Arms.  Reasonably priced and great pub food.  Fast service and lovely staff!

Location:  It was great.  Seconds from the shopping district.  Spring Garden Road has everything at your fingertips:  Restaurants, malls, beautiful gardens, minutes from the harbor.  You can take a virtual tour (the lobby is amazing):



Well here is where the struggle begins.  They are only in their second year.  For 2013 they added the Whisky Panel event which ran before the Main Showcase from 4:30 - 6:30pm.  The session featured a Q&A with Joanna Zannin-Scandella (Master Blender at Crown Royal), John Hall (Owner/whisky maker at Forty Creek), Kate Flanagan (Brand Ambassador Jameson), Simon Brooking (Master Ambassador Laphroaig) and Marc Laverdière (Brand Ambassador Highland Park/Macallan/Famous Grouse) and of course some whisky sampling.  Tickets were $45 and it did sell out quickly.  I did not attend so cannot review it personally.  I spoke to several people who did attend and they thought it was a great added value to the experience of the main showcase.

As far as how I feel about what was available.  I understand it's a one evening only event and all I can do is compare what was available to other whisky shows I've attended.  If you go back to my Victoria show revue here:  you will note that dinners were about $65-$125, Grand Tastings were $45 and Master Classes were $28.  So although I think doing something different this year at Celebrate Whisky was a great idea, I find the choice of the Whisky Panel and cost do not equal good value for a whisky show.


I purchased my ticket online the day they became available.  There were two rooms to wander about in, plenty of space and tables to stand at to make your notes.  The main area had a carving station set up at one end and smorgasbord at the other end.  Also happening at the same time was an endless loop of waiters with large trays of food walking around:  Bacon wrapped scallops, duck rolls with blueberry sauce, curried meatballs, veggies, etc.  WE DID NOT GO HUNGRY.  A bit of a difficulty finding water at times and you had to wait to get to the front of a table to get rid of whisky/water, etc..   

There were 150 whiskies to try, some of them quite different and new to the show.  Not much from independent bottlers but lots of the usuals from the big guns.  Major improvement over last year's show:  People pouring mostly had knowledge of what they were putting in my glass.  All were very friendly and quite courteous.  Even more lovely, from my perspective (and please don't take this the wrong way) no "barbies" behind the counters there for being pretty and not much else.  I found women pouring who were intelligent, well dressed and quite interesting to talk to.  The best whisky surprise for me that evening was hands down called Bastille 1789 which is a blended whisky from France.  What a delightful whisky and only $50.00  I was also impressed with the amount of Canadian whiskies the NSLC brought in for the show, which ended up being the majority of my purchases.  Another lovely whisky and coup de grâce for this show:  First in Canada to get their hands on a small amount of the Bowmore Tempest Small Batch Release IV.   It's not even available in the UK yet?  

Also a first for Atlantic Canada:  Masterson's Straight Rye Whisky.  A Canadian whisky not available in Canada, until now.  NSLC now carries it, $85.  I bought it.  DELISH!   Had a chance to have a great conversation about it with Adam behind the table and if you have a chance to try this, or better yet buy it, DO!  I (blindly) scored it quite high when I judged the CWA last year.  Very well balanced 100% rye whisky.  


Overall Personal Experience: This festival is so young which makes it difficult to compare it to some of the other whisky events I am used to going to, however it is a fun little show with lots of potential to turn into something bigger in a few years (fingers crossed).  The hotel is a great venue.  The main showcase is well thought out and quite organized.  Food - DELISH.  The after party happened in the bar at the hotel, plenty of drinks were poured, lots of great discussions with Brand Ambassadors and other bloggers.  A little later on, some of us (NB group) headed up to one of the suites were we were entertained by John Hall from Forty Creek (he's an excellent fly fisherman in the event you wondered?!  hehe).    

Me & @firepuncher being "serious" 
Something I've noticed more and more as I attend these events is how much I am enjoying meeting the people behind the scenes may it be the bloggers, twitterers or whisky personalities.  They seem to really enhance the experience of being at a show.  It was awesome to walk around, recognize so many people and have some of the best discussions with the new as well as old friends I have made.  It was a blast to meet Phlis McGregor from CBC Halifax.  Her and I hung out for the first couple of hours of the show and really worked our noses/palates on those first few drams together.  Some of the "Halifax boys" were out in full swing:  Bruce Fraser, Steve Keeling, Robert Snell, Jeff Pinhey just to name a few.  It was great falling in and out of conversations, discussing what whiskies we were trying and pointing out the "surprises" or "you gotta go try this one".  Funny enough I knew more people at the Halifax show then I do at our local whisky show in NB.  It was really cool and somewhat humbling to be introduced as "this is Whisky Lassie" and through the handshakes and hugs hearing "I love reading your blog".  


So that was Whisky Festival #2 for 2013.  It's a good festival but it could use "more" so I look forward to seeing what they will do to make it bigger and better as the years go by.  

Recommendations:  Maybe one or two classes available before the showcase or make it a two day event.

Unanswered questions:  I realize this is run by the liquor corporation and that the show is for profit.  They are there to make money, understood.   However, my personal feeling on this is that they are charging "BIG FESTIVAL" prices for a little festival.  Had I purchased just a main event ticket in Victoria (one of the largest festivals in Canada) I would have paid $110.00 and they showcased over 300 whiskies.  Halifax:  Ticket $95 for 150 whiskies.  Not that anyone could ever sample every single whisky, that's not my point.  

My point is or better yet my question becomes is the NSLC taking advantage of the public by charging BIG ticket prices but offering SMALL event whiskies?   Hard to say, as stated this is to make money and it all goes back in the liquor commission's coffers.  Honestly from 95% of the conversations I had with local whisky imbibers, they didn't seem to mind.  They were simply happy to be there and have a whisky show in their city of Halifax.


If you live in Nova Scotia and are willing to spend $100 for an evening out involving whisky, this is a show that offers good value.  If you are from out of town and want a little more bang for your buck, you may want to wait a few years to see if this will improve.  I for one don't mind the 4 hour trek or the vacation time off from work needed to get there on a Friday but I certainly hope they will consider expanding the show or at least making it worth $100/ticket.  

In the meantime, I look forward to my next trip:  Spirit of Toronto in May 2013. 

If you've attended the NS show this year, by all means I'd love to hear from you, please feel free to leave your comments.  

Walking along the Atlantic Ocean

Lassie...  out!



  1. I have just found out about this yearly event and plan on being at the 2015 event now being held at the Casino in Halifax. I am a lover of whisky and have alot to learn about it and cant wait till March 27, 2015..

  2. Very much looking forward to this years show. Just got my tickets.

    And for the record, the pre show is well worth the extra $45

    1. Hey, thanks for commenting. I also have my ticket for this year and I'll agree that for many people the pre-show is worth it. I won't be attending, having seen the presenters many, many, MANY times.... hehe (The price of being a geek)...