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!



Friday, August 8, 2014

From stud to dud....

I just had one of the weirdest moments I've ever had drinking whisky and it was called sample 4 of the French whiskies Franck Debernardi sent me. 

I am surviving day 4 of being on the road for work. After finishing the day at the last of the 4 delivery sites, it was 4:00 and I was leaving for four (errrr for) the hotel room extremely happy to be done. Picked up the coworker and we drove back mostly in silence, both exhausted after another long day of last minute headaches. We made plans to meet later for supper.  

I went straight to pour a hot bath and brought in sample 4 (noticing the trend here folks?!). Now, you'll notice I typed HOT bath... apparently at the hotel we are staying at that might cost extra. I ended up with lukewarm or maybe outdoor pool temperature. Oh well, I thought, it's my last night, I've made it through 4 not so great days on the road, I can do this, plus I have a whisky!!! So, grab towel, lower lights, pour whisky and slip into hot, errrr warm bath.  Not bad, I thought as I let myself sink all the way to my nose. 

When I was a kid I loved taking a bath, I would purposely lay my ears under the water to drown out any sounds.  Peace, serenity...  I have always gone there when I need to step off the world so to speak and that's where I was quickly able to go.  I opened my eyes for a moment seeing the whisky sitting there as quietly as I was.  I reached for the glass and brought it to my nose. Rich butterscotch, lots of cereal and weirdly enough dill pickles!  I giggled out loud. (I better not be pregnant = second coming of the anti-christ, I assure you...)

I took my time, sat in the warm'ish tub for about 30 minutes, picking up the whisky from time to time. Unlike the temperature of my bath water, the smell of the whisky didn't change much other than sometimes smelling like a cognac. Odd I thought?  I don't recall a whisky not changing when it sits in the glass a while?? As I started to feel cold, I decided it was time to leave the tub and make my way to the bed. Whisky in hand, I grabbed my whisky book and wrote my nosing information.  Then I tasted it. Seriously, I really wish I hadn't.  

Palate: Lemon scented nail polish remover! I sputtered, and made faces like a few cartoons I recall watching as a kid.  Good gracious gravy boats!? This was just awful tasting!? I decided to add water. BAD IDEA #2... It completely fell apart -> soapy lemon nail polish remover with a nasty aftertaste that made me want to brush my teeth immediately!?  More sputtering!

Well... what a way to end day 4. Naked in a towel, brushing my teeth and regretting ever meeting sample #4...  Then again, in my twenties that did happen a few times with a few dates, errrrrrrrr but I digress and that's a different blog all together!? I can't help but wonder if Franck deliberately threw in a red herring to see if people would be honest!? The other options are my sample went sour or my nose/taste buds are completely shot???  I'm hoping for #2 for #4, because option #1 or #3 are possible but not likely?!  Confused yet... No?  Good.

Oh... and the reveal...  It was: Secale, Domaine des Hautes Glaces, Single Organic Malted Rye, 56% spirit.  Not quite a whisky yet... and well enough, maybe after it has spent much more time in barrels it will improve.

Sorry Franck, this one simply gave me shivers and I didn't even finish it.  Yesterday I accidentally spilled some of sample 3, almost wish it had been this one. 

Here's hoping that the last of the French invasion sets me straight and is lovely.  No matter what comes, this has been a fun experience.


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Spilled her whisky, broke a shoelace kinda day...

Wednesday morning came bright and early, too bad the rest of me didn't catch up.  MIGRAINE! Fuuuuuuck... I'm on the road with no meds. I text my coworker in the next hotel room over - Do you have advil -> Yes she replies.  AMEN I answer. She knocks on the door and I swipe 3 (yes, 3). Stumble back to bed, swallow, lay down. 30 minutes later, holding my water/advil down I walk with eyes closed and stand in the shower.  Water pressure - Zero to none.  The water comes out of the shower head looking like a 80 year old limp penis (don't ask)... Well at least, that makes me smile.  

I manage to eat a piece of toast and the co-worker and I take off for the work site we are working at for the morning.  A -> Spill coffee on my pants.  B -> Contractors are no-shows. C) Technology is failing D) Work that was suppose to be completed, not even started.  And so the morning has begun...   Bah...

By 10:00, at least the migraine is gone but the work headaches continue. I won't go into details, but it was a whatever could screw up - it has day.  By 4:30 I was tired, brain numb and slightly pissed that I would be spending 2 more days in this hell hole!!!  
We drove back to the hotel and said we would meet for supper around 6:00.  I took my work clothes off, slipped into shorts/t-shirt and threw myself on the bed.  EXHAUSTED.  When I opened my eyes the first thing that caught them was my little whisky samples I had brought with me.  Excellent, I thought and grabbed #3.  Into the glencairn and off to grab my whisky book.
I bring the glass up to my nose, accidentally lose the grip on it and spill about 1/3 of the contents on my shirt. A slew of French swear words left my mouth (appropriate since I'm attempting to drink French whisky). I shake my head and fist at nobody in particular but it somehow makes me feel better, go figure? Ok so what little I have left, I'll have to make the best of it.
So the first thing I notice immediately is a metallic smell which strikes me as quite odd so I get up and go blow my nose. But, when I continue nosing, it's still there.  It reminds me of the canned peaches my mom used to give me for my school lunches. I didn't like those very much. Seems like it's a really "green" whisky. It's quite fragrant with cereal or grassy notes which I find confusing because from what I know of the sample it's ex-sherry cask? Quite a perplexing whisky at this point. So of course after nosing comes tasting. More French swearing. HOT! HOT! HOT! Bitter on the swallow and so peppery & dry.  What the hell??? Oh wait, this is cask strength... Ooops. So I add a dollop of water and let it sit for a few minutes.  

Oh... hmmmm, now we have got something very interesting in the glass. Now I'm finding Seville oranges and figs/dried raisins.  On the palate:  Still a bit hot, but more like fresh ginger root.  A "sweet" spicy and there's a bit of oak there.  Not so bad at all now.  The finish was also a bit peppery but didn't stick around or linger.  Short and sweet, sort of like some of my first dates (hehe)...
The reveal: Armorik Millésime 2002, Sherry Cask. 56.2% ABV and non-chill filtered.  10 Year Old.  Now the interesting part for me is that I've read this is a 3rd refill sherry cask.  Makes me wonder what the quality of that barrel was, because I really found that at cask strength this was not a pleasant whisky AT ALL and I could barely detect any sherry influence at cask strength.  It took water, lots of it for me to really enjoy the nose/flavors. Which leads me to a little story about David Stewart. When I met him in New York we had the chance to sit down and enjoy a whisky or two together. We discussed many aspects of his job (60 years in the business) and something he shared with me is the following.  Unless there is something seriously wrong with a cask, most cask strength whiskies will nose/taste pretty good. However, if you had water and bring them down to a certain percentage that's the true test of the flavor profiles. Good whiskies don't fall apart when you add water.  I'm paraphrasing of course, but that's the basic idea behind it and I would have to agree.  I love cask strengths whiskies, I think many people do. When you add water you can truly see if the whisky will stand up through the dilution.

I started Wednesday on the wrong foot and had I not decided to add water to this whisky I probably would have chalked it up to a whisky I didn't enjoy. One thing I've learned so far on this mini journey through the French whiskies is that each one has been perfect for the day I've been having and each has evoked a memory or feeling that has made me remember, revisit or re-enjoy something else in my life.  Thanks again Franck, your presence reaches me across the Atlantic.  :)  Looking forward to a new day and another whisky sample tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Oh la la... French Whisky Excursion, échantillon deux

So yesterday I wrote the first part of a five day series that will be about being on the road and tasting French whiskies. The first one was quite interesting as it was enjoyed during a hot/sticky thunder storm. The second one well this one was something that was enjoyed in a completely different way. 

So context: I'm on the road in Northern New Brunswick which is mostly a French region of my province (yes we have provinces in Canada, not states...) and I'm here for five days. A) There isn't much to do in this area and B) by the end of each day I'm too exhausted to really do anything but veg in my hotel room. I figured bringing a few samples with me and blogging about them would be fun.  

So sample #2 was poured at about 8:00pm as I sat in my shorts and a t-shirt staring out into the parking lot (yup that's my view). Graham was busy, my friends were all out or on vacation and I was sitting in a boring hotel room staring out into parking lot. It was going to be a LOOOOOOONG night. I grabbed my whisky book, put my feet up and brought the sample to my nose. Closing my eyes, I let myself drift with the aromas filling my nose. My first thought: Summer!? I could smell apple blossoms, a slight tinge of roses or something really floral at least and in the background some red rich fruit like dark plums. I suddenly found myself sinking into my chair and sighing. I bet I spent about 10 minutes just smelling this very interesting whisky. It was so delicate but at the same time inviting me fully into the glass. I opened my eyes and made a few notes.  

The room was really quiet and there was a cool breeze coming into the room. In the distance I could hear a tractor haying a field. I looked as far as I coudl see, still simply nosing the glass. Again, the word "summer" popped into my head as a descriptor. Simply put, summer in a glass. I tilted the glass back and took my first sip. A bit of a shock...  not at all what I had expected. The flavors quickly imparted were: Sandalwood, hot, spicy, vanilla & rich pound cake. I sat up and stared at the glass? 

This sweet little innocent whisky just bitch slapped me?? Whoa...  A few more sips and the flavors continued to evolve and the next thing I knew it was all gone?!  I was a bit embarrassed as to how quickly I drank the sample and I hadn't even bothered to notice what the finish was like? It totally took me by surprise. I looked out the window again, the sun had gone down and the sky was bright red.  Bright red, huge flavor, bang the word hit me: Temptress. Perfect. This whisky was certainly a French little temptress that left me wanting more.

What whisky was it:  Warenghem Armorik Double Maturation French Whisky, 46% ABV and non-chill filtered. 

I closed the drapes, started to write the blog & turned the television on. Flipped through a few channels and I stopped on an old black & white movie with French subtitles. I sort of watched for a few minutes and then it just became background noise until after it came back from a commercial and I heard the announcer say: Maintenant au retour de notre filme classique "La Tentatrice" avec Greta Garbo et Antonio Moreno. I shot my head up so fast I almost upset the laptop.  This was what was on this particular channel:
I KID YOU NOT!!!!  I sat with my mouth hanging open for a few minutes, then I simply started to giggle...

I always say things happen sometimes and I don't question the where or why's anymore and this another one of those moments where I simply smile and say, well there you go then...   

To the French temptress who drew me in and to the Frenchman (Franck) who sent to me, cheers for another night well spent in a hotel room. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch the rest of the movie.

See you all tomorrow, sample 3 should prove quite interesting at this rate, don't you think??


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

ROAD TRIP!!!! French Whisky samples anyone?

In the fall of 2013 my friend Franck Debernardi ( decided to celebrate his blog's 3rd anniversary by hosting a twitter tasting #FrenchWhiskyTT. A little while later, I received the 5 samples he had provided to the participants. (Too cool & lucky me)

Then I went away to Scotland and a few other lovely places, came home, went back to work and the next thing I knew it was the 1st of August??? I happened to be cleaning my whisky room a bit and organizing stuff when I saw the 5 lovely samples still sitting there. I carefully opened #1 and took a sniff. I was also in the middle of packing for a week away for work when it struck me, I was going to be gone for 5 nights. Hmmmm, 5 nights, 5 samples...  5 quick and easy blogs!!?  DONE!!! Packed a whisky glass and my Cave de Cobalt samples and I was a happy camper. It's Monday night and I popped open the first sample. It was a hot and muggy night, not the best of environments for a whisky but I pushed forward on my quest. 

Sample #1 - On the nose: Red rich ripe cherries!  Once it's sat for a little while, a really strong smell of demerara sugar and/or a spicy sweet rum.  Quite an aromatic little sample!  On the palate: Again very sweet, tropical in nature (coconut cream, vanilla, powdered sugar with hints of ripe banana.  The finish was a bit of a surprise because it was a bit on the bitter side and very short.  

I decided not to add any water as I was enjoying the sample just as it was.  A thunder/lightning shower started and I opened the window. Heavy air, hot, muggy with a strong warm breeze.  I was transported to the first night I was in Paris in June.  I arrived around 9:00pm, went straight to the hotel, dropped off my stuff and headed directly to the tour Eiffel. I walked around for a little while, bought a crepe and took some photos.  A huge thunder storm was approaching and I captured this:

It was glorious! I quickly walked back to the Metro and jumped on. Five stops later, I was at my stop and it was pissing down sideways! Stuck in the subway for about 20 minutes and finally it let up or at least I thought it had. I took off running just as it started to come down again.  I ran all the way back to the hotel laughing and was soaked.  It was almost 3:00am, I was in Paris and I was loving every second! 

And just like that, my happy memory and sample #1 was gone. How appropriate to enjoy this one during the height of a hot and sticky night filled with thunder and warm wet breezes.  TOO COOL... as always.

The reveal:  Sample #1 was a French Single Malt - G. Rozelieures, Rare Collection from the Grallet Dupuis Distillerie, 40%, NAS. 

Not bad at all for a sipping whisky on a hot summer night!   Can't wait to see what sample 2 brings on Tuesday...

Cheers folks