Monday, March 31, 2014

Ode to a whisky tasting...

Courtesy of Kim McMillan (@Iamkimmcmillan)
Whisky tastings...  I host them often enough.  I get asked to do them more and more it seems and I'm not complaining because, of course, I'm passionate... ok obsessed with whisky.  I love to experience every adventure fully and I love to be a part of other people's adventures too.  So when I was asked if I'd be interested in doing a tasting at Ducky's Bar in Sackville NB of course I said:  Yuck Feah!  Or something like that :)

As most of you who do this on a regular basis know there is a planning phase, preparation involves getting a presentation ready, set up, take down, etc.. The tasting sold out and unfortunately we had to turn people away. 

The afternoon was awesome.  People seemed to be enjoying themselves and the whiskies.  They were a great bunch as well.  Lots of good questions, many were enthusiasts and as always the din of the conversations would grow louder and louder as we went through the whiskies one by one.  Line up:

Aberlour A'bunadh
Amrut Fusion (to show other good whiskies exists)
Auchentoshan Three Wood
Glen Garioch 1994
Highland Park 12 w/dark chocolate pairing
Jura Prophecy
Laphroaig 18
Longrow w/honey wheat ale pairing

But what happened after the tasting was done is what prompted me to write this blog.  A very funny & well known local regular wrote a poem and presented it to all of us at the end of the session. He didn't give it a name, so I did. Ladies and gentlemen I present:  


We're drinkin' Scotch at Ducky's we're gettin' frikken' lit
If anybody wants a rush this is fuckin' it!

There's Scotch from the Highlands and from the Lowlands too
And after two or three more shots I'll get as drunk as you

There's whisky drinks from India that Mike won't list for sale
Next time we take a slug of Scotch we'll chase it back with Ale

The Highland Park with Choc'late was wicked friggin' good
It tasted so damn sexy I nearly got the wood

The chick that sells this poison sure knows her freakin' stuff
And this'll getcha nicely lit if you imbibe enough

I'm in my friggin glory and I would like ta thank ya
For sittin' here beside us don't make me have ta spank ya

Steve Epworth
AKA - Big Red

I'm not sure when he wrote it, but it couldn't have taken him more than 20-30 minutes. That in itself is amazing. Now, what I would love to bring to your attention is that this poem is truly a reflection of how friendly, generous and good natured the people of the Maritimes are. I'm a proud Maritimer, always have been and always will be. It's in our blood and in our raisin', you see... our parents, they taught us "good"  :)

Thank you to Ducky's, Darren & his wife, the very smart bar staff, the people who came to the tasting, Cape Breton Oatcake Society, Ganache & Panache Chocolates in the City Market and of course a huge thank you to Steve for making me feel right at home and making our Tour of Scotland tasting a "right good & some wicked " one...

Sincerely and with all my respect!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Guest Blogger - Jo Lawson, a new member of my whiskyfabric

Like whisky, some of us don't necessarily mature well with age...    :)

There has been much discussion in social media circles that my definition of the #whiskyfabric reeks of fabric softener. Well, I guess we all look through a window and choose to see different things. I for one would much prefer to focus on the good because life is simply too short to always be in a foul mood.  I love the fact that I have met so many wonderful people from around the world as a result of my love and passion for whisky. As I get ready to embark on a UK/Europe 10 week trip I will be spending time with many new #whiskyfabric people. I thought it would be fun to get a few of them to guest blog.  

The first person I approached was Jo Lawson. She is a mom, a wife, a strong member of her local community. She can be found working at the Horsley Community Shop and she loves to knit (you should see my awesome Alpaca hat!) Her twitter handle is @AlpacaJo. She gladly took on the challenge, which didn't surprise me. Ladies & gents, Jo Lawson:

"When Johanne invited me to write a post for her blog, I said “OK, about what in particular?” She said “Anything you like”  I replied “As I've only been drinking whisky, seriously, for about a year, how about my favourite 5?” She said “Great, I love it!”, so that was that! I was committed, which is what I should have been, for making the suggestion, as when I counted up, I found I have tried 67 whiskies in the last 12 months!!!!!

Pick 5 from 67, what was I thinking of? As it turns out, when I read back over my tasting notes, a few whiskies did float to the top, so here they are, in the order I tasted them.....

Stroud Whisky Club started in May 2013 and at the first meeting, was just myself and club founder Tom Blumsom. By July, the membership had grown to about 5 or 6 and my first choice is from that meeting:  
Lagavulin 16yr old, 43% ABV - I spent 10 years an a Leader in the Scout Association, here in the UK and this dark gold liquid from Islay, brought back many happy memories of evenings round the campfire.  For me, smoke and warmth and friendship, are all contained in this whisky.

In September 2013, I took part in my very first Tweet Tasting. Organised by Steve, @TheWhiskyWire, we had 5 samples from Teeling Whiskey Company to try and this was my favourite.

21yr old single malt, Silver Reserve:
46% ABV. Small batch bottling of only 5,000 bottles. Matured first in ex-Bourbon casks, then finished in Sauternes wine casks.  The initial whiff of smelly socks, on the nose, develops into smokey bacon, pear drops and apricot.  The palate offers apricots and smooth, creamy toffee, with a long, smooth, pipe smoke finish at the back of the mouth. Definitely a whiskey to be savoured, as you contemplate the meaning of life, by a roaring fire!

At the end of Jan 2014, Andrew Purslow, @Ardbaggie, UK brand ambassador, sent me some Australian Limeburners samples to try: M61, 60% NCF, CS. Silver medal at IWSC 2013. The nose is buttery, with  dried fruit and acetone. From the first sip, your mouth just fills with smooth buttery caramel, leading to a tongue tingling finish. I really liked this and hope it eventually becomes available in the UK.

Feb 7th 2014, Highland Park Secret Tweet Tasting. 3 single malts, distinguished only by a different coloured spot on each bottle. The Blue dram, which turned out to be Freya, the third release in the HP Valhalla Collection,15 yr old, 51.2% ABV, was amazing.  Peaty, acetone notes, followed by fruit, on the nose, lead to a smooth, fruity, butterscotch, palate with a nice amount of smoke and a long and lovely finish. Freya was the Norse Goddess of Love and I definitely fell in love with this whisky.

22nd Feb 2014 and a collection of several different whiskies arrives from Canada, courtesy of Johanne, herself.  A woolly hat, hand knitted by me, was sent by return of post as a thank you!

As soon as I tried it, I was blown away by the Forty Creek,  Confederation Oak Reserve, 40% ABV. Huge scents of marzipan, green apples, fresh cut grass and caramel on the nose. The palate continued the crisp, but sweet notes, with citrus, vanilla and brown sugar. A smooth, but rather short finish just left me wanting to drink more. This is an amazing whisky and I would highly recommend you try it.

Friends at Stroud Whisky club will not be surprised by my choice of three peaty drams but when I look at the whiskies I've chosen, I'm pleased to see that my palate has developed beyond 'it's smokey, so I like it'!  If this is the standard of the first steps on my whisky journey, I'm really looking forward to what lies ahead.


Jo Lawson

I knew when Jo and I started conversing on twitter that I liked her and I can't wait to meet her when I get to Wales in May.  I'd like to thank her very much for writing this blog piece. One of the things I constantly try to remind myself as well as others is that we all have a voice.  AND... even if we are new at this, or have years experience it's fantastic to share the experience...  together :)

Thanks Jo!

The other "Jo"


Thursday, March 13, 2014

A whisky that stopped the world for 90 minutes - Compass Box The General...

THE GENERAL - 1926 Silent Film directed by Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton...  

Voted one of the greatest US filmmakers of all times. His "shtick" ► The art of deadpan delivery combined with physical comedy. He appeared in over 100 different movies during the span of his long career and his movie "The General" is listed as the 18th on the 100 best American movies ever made.

When the news came out in November of 2013 that Compass Box was releasing The General, I was thrilled to hear that a limited amount would be coming to Canada and then the news came that I would be receiving a bottle. Can you say "truly blessed". 

Flash forward to March 12th, 2014. We have just got home from work, it's Graham's 35th birthday and he's outside on the front lawn playing with the dogs for a few minutes while I make us some coffee.  For those of you who don't know my husband very well, he's a very old soul. He really should have been born in the era of the 30-40's. Graham loves classic movies like Casablanca, an American in Paris, Lawrence of Arabia and many more. He prefers the simple things in life, the era where you made your own snowshoes, planted your garden or listened to jazz on the radio (all things he does). 

As I watched him jumping around dressed in his Scottish tweed jacket and hand knit tuque that belonged to his grandfather I was once again reminded how much I appreciate that he's a classic in his own rights. I knew I wanted us to share a special dram for his birthday so I went and got my bottle of The General, placed it on the kitchen table and knocked on the front window. He came over quizzically. I got my camera ready and pointed to the bottle on the table.  This is the shot I got: 

Needless to say he was plenty shocked and extremely excited that we would be opening that bottle for his birthday. I didn't realize until after we sat with our drams how appropriate the whisky and moment would be. Much later on that evening when we were huddled on the couch with two glencairns, Graham passed me the bottle. I passed it back to him and said: "No, it's your birthday, you get to open it".  

"Really??" Another huge smile then he poured us each a healthy dram. Another few moments captured by the camera.  

We lifted our glasses and toasted each other at 11:00pm. We just sat there, smelling the whisky for the first 10 minutes while Graham read the back of the bottle. I tend to move to tasting much faster most of the time and this was no different. We nosed and sipped the whisky and it wasn't until Graham savored the last few drops that we realized it was 12:30am. We had nosed/drank the whisky over the course of 90 minutes and had not a care in the world. As we fell into bed, he kissed my forehead. "That was the best birthday dram ever".

Ladies & gentlemen, I give you: COMPASS BOX THE GENERAL, BOTTLE #957 of 1698.  Non-chill filtered, natural color, bottled at 53.4% ABV.

Color: Walnut wood! Dark, antique brown.  Legs slow, lazy and almost syrupy in nature.

Nose: So rich and full on the nose it makes your mouth water. Smells of rich red plums, an old library with big leather chairs & long wooden tables. As it sits in the glass and opens I get rum soaked golden sultanas or a rich rum cake.

Palate: Oily, full bodied dram.  Almost "meaty" and chewable. Detectable stewed fruit some hints of light cooking spices like ginger and cinnamon. As the whisky opens a bit, I can detect some woody components as it's a bit drying on the swallow but it's the balance of sweet and meaty that really makes this special for me.

Finish: Just as you swallow there's a hint of sour wood, almost "pithy" a bit like a lemon, then the lovely spicy heat as it lingers for what seems like 5 minutes. It's almost silky and you certainly don't feel like you are drinking a whisky that is almost 55% ABV.

Empty glass: This morning when I uncovered the glencairn a very distinct smell of lemon furniture polish hit me. Waxy, sweet and citrus.  wow...

It wasn't until I nosed the glass this morning that I really had a chance to reflect on the whisky and the moment yesterday. People might think others are crazy to pay $260 for a blended whisky. Me, I'm a live and let live kinda guy, errr I mean girl. If you like a whisky and you have the means to pay for it, why not buy it especially if it's something you really enjoy. 

Compass Box calls this release a whisky with an "antique" character.  For me, it was more than that. It was a whisky that brought me back in time. There are speculations that some of the whisky is 40 years old in this bottle. I'm sure it's a complete coincidence that Buster Keaton passed away not long before that. Funny how in 2014 they both find themselves showcased on/in the same bottle. Only seems fitting since both of these will be remembered as legendary.

After enjoying my first dram of The General, I would have to say John Glaser brilliantly created something that doesn't quite exist in the world of blended whiskies and I for one have never tasted anything else like this. There is more than old whisky in this bottle. There is nostalgia, history, simpler times and quality! 

It's a whisky I see myself sipping at when I've had the day from hell and I simply need a reminder of what I am grateful for in my life. A dram that will stop the world from spinning and let me slow down & enjoy the moment. 

I will fondly remember watching how happy Graham was to open this bottle, savoring it together on a cold stormy winter night in March and most of all how much pleasure it brought me to share it with someone so special. Happy Birthday my dear...  

The General is completely sold out in Canada and was released in the USA at the beginning of March 2014. It is still available in some parts of the UK as well. If you love Compass Box as much as I do, you may want to consider buying this one before it's completely gone.


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

If you have any poo, fling it now....

Is it just me or has something started to stink in the #whiskyfabric lately? 

Are people beginning to go mad with winter cabin fever? Maybe a little Lord of the flies starting to happen? Or is the simple reality that there are a few monkeys in the barrel that will eventually fling their poo? 

For me, it started off quite innocently I think when a fellow blogger wrote a piece about a company coming out with a premium range. This blogger was branded a "ever ranting Barbarian" by another well known blogging site. Well, maybe it was a joke because the "Bavarian" didn't seem to mind being called that. Irked me a bit though.

Then it followed a few days later with a well-known American blogger telling another blogger he was uncomfortable with the other's recent whisky post. Conversation ensued, publicly for all to see and they both brought each other to task about several aspects of blogging. Everyone slowing down to watch the train wreck, blood and gore!? Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating A LOT. Honestly I don't know what came of it because I simply tuned out. But again I was a bit irked and thought why are you two airing dirty laundry on social media? 

As I sipped some coffee yesterday morning (Monday March 10th) and scrolled through twitter I found another blogger posted a piece entitled "Sometimes you are sold a story and get a free bottle of whiskey". IMO, the blogger was personally attacking and criticizing another fellow blogger and, again I will stress that my perception was that said blogger was accusing the piece was written for a free bottle of whiskey. Unfortunately, it was the furthest thing from the truth. Blogger #2 may have used/published a poor choice of words in a question from the interview but DID not receive any free whiskey. They were simply asking/performing a Q&A, telling a story, nothing more... Damn our lack of blogging editors!??

So, of course me, and my big mouth made a comment. I didn't name any names, just wrote a tweet that I was really getting disappointed with some bloggers lately. Result: Cries of SELF REGULATION, Calling bullshit when you see it and that bloggers should be held to the same standard as journalists. 

Ok, those could be considered valid points, sort of... Journalists usually get a degree so they follow a code of ethics and are held to standards. Calling bullshit when you see it, sure I do it often but shouldn't you check what exactly you are calling bullshit on first? Self regulation, ha... oxymoron. There is no whisky blogger hall monitor program that I know of? Beware of the whisky crusaders preaching the "one and only" gospel and out to save us all from whisky evils !??

So for me it's a matter of integrity. I will start with my definition: Integrity means doing what's right regardless of whether it's popular or not. Doing what's right even when nobody is watching. Doing what's right for the greater of all good. Yah, I know... roll your eyes. I have rose-colored glasses on, or do I? Who determines what's right vs wrong? 

Question: Do you ever see Whisky Ambassadors bad mouthing each other or tearing each other down on twitter or during their masterclass? No...  Their motto is: A rising tide raises all boats. It's about professionalism. Something that doesn't necessarily have to exist in the self-regulated world of bloggers.

Recently a fellow blogger posted something on twitter that, again IMO, wasn't necessarily correct (whisky chemistry).  I DID NOT write a blog about it, I didn't even mention it on twitter for all to see. I contacted the person in private, provided an explanation, we had a fantastic discussion and I never asked or expected that my comments be known or posted. What that person did with that information was now their business. However, the other person chose to say something along the lines of: "I stand corrected, thanks goes out to Johanne for helping me on that". I felt like I helped and hopefully in a manner that didn't make the person feel or look stupid.  

After many discussions about this whole poo throwing thing I said to Graham: This isn't what the #whiskyfabric is all about. To which his answer was: "Some people simply won't have the values of what most of us conceive the #whiskyfabric to be so you can't hold them to that..."   Ahhhhh, light bulb! Values...  Hmmmmm....

Grandparents are wise old birds... and although I don't remember my grampy too much, I know he often said: "What you are willing to say about others is more of a reflection of what type of character you are yourself".  In other words, if you can only state the negative or put others down to elevate your own "importance" what does that say about you, as a person?  

I tend to be mostly positive about life and people. I also prefer to talk to people directly, in private, if I have any issues or concerns. So for me the questions become: Is there really a need to tear each other down in front of all to see? What does that bring to the table? What does it exactly prove, other than: if one person is willing to attack or try to discount the words of another without first checking if it's warranted, what will he/she say about any of us when we are not looking?  Integrity...

Yes, hold others to "task", yes write anything you want as a blogger, but be aware that your own words reflect your thoughts, your values, your opinions and although you are certainly entitled to them... it doesn't mean anyone else will want to read them or respect you for it.  So eventually, you may be writing for just yourself or other like minded individuals who are just as hungry and willing to tear you down too. 

Again...  "Just" my opinion...

On a positive note, although the subject line of the blog piece has not been changed, the blogger that (again in my opinion) attacked a fellow blogger has retracted part of the piece that they originally wrote and stated why. I thank you for that... 

Maybe a little bit of faith has been restored in those I consider part of my #whiskyfabric.