Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #2 Trailblazers take heed!



In 2013 I had the utmost pleasure to tour meet, and taste the whiskies Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein were making near Toronto, Ontario Canada. They had been operational as Still Waters Distillery since 2009. Prior to the existence of the John Hall era there were less than 10 distilleries across our expansive country. Barry & Barry were not only the first micro-distillers but also only the second distillery to create and sell a Canadian Single Malt. They have been at the forefront of the craft distillation movement in Canada from the very start. It's not been easy. It's been a long exhaustive road where some days there was nothing more than sheer willpower and the ability to put one foot in front of the other it seemed. These guys have.... CHUTZPAH! But it takes more than just tenacity to keep the lights on, it also requires skill and a great product. Again, luckily these guys have a winning combination.

In September of 2014 I was back at their distillery and super excited to try their newest whisky: Rye, 100% (they don't like it when I call it that ;) I wrote about it here:


At the Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria BC in January of 2015 I was beyond exuberant when I had the utmost pleasure of receiving on their behalf their gold medal for Connoisseur whisky of the year - best new whisky, their rye. It was the first time in the history of the awards that a craft distillery won. And, honestly, there is some personal satisfaction in believing in a whisky from its inception and knowing in your heart/soul that a product is THAT GOOD!

So, once again on my annual trek to Toronto in September 2015 I had the pleasure of taking part in an intimate evening at Still Waters with the Barry's and a few Toronto #whiskyfabric friends. We were fortunate enough to try some really great new products coming to market such as their discovery pack. Somewhat innovative since nobody else is doing this type of whisky release in Canada at the moment. 

But for me, the one that came out on top and also came home with me that day was my number 2 dram for 2015. This doesn't exist anywhere in Canadian whiskies, as of yet... and it's 100% rye, at cask strength. I absolutely love it! 

THIS is what rye should taste like and I revel in every chance to introduce this to people who enjoy rye. There have been, many a convert!

Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Rye Whisky, Cask 56, 60.2% ABV

Nose: Full on fresh grain harvested and stored in a hay barn. Lots of delicate floral notes and with a bit of time in the glass the spicy aromas of the rye finally make an appearance. It's quite a complex nose!

Palate: At 60% it knocks you over with peppery spiciness, freshly grated ginger root and a handful of cloves! With a healthy dollop of water, this tones down the heat to reveal some lovely toffee and creamy caramel. Super oily mouthfeel.

Finish: This lingers forever... well ok for about 5-10 minutes. Just a warm, glowing finish with more baking spices and sweetness.

For me, it's simply a superb dram from start to finish. Well balanced and delivers some of the best rye notes I've ever nosed/tasted. 

Stalk & Barrel is available in several Canadian provinces as well as the United States. Check out their website for details, locations and prices. Sadly not yet available overseas unless you have a Lassie friend to ask to bring it over ;)

We all have dreams but some people like Barry & Barry are fearless and make those a reality. To those of us on the outside they can certainly make it look easy but the reality is trailblazers often sacrifice 95% of their lives and sanity to make it happen. Since the Barry's have arrived on the scene there have been many new craft distilleries come online. I would dare say the Barry's helped paved the road for the next generation of small batch whisky makers such as Last Straw and Yongehurst. They too will suffer ups and downs, struggle to make it work but in the end I hope they end up thriving, surviving and someday winning awards with their whiskies as well.

Still Waters has something special going on: Quality, talent and perseverance. It's what it takes to make it as a small independent distillery and I have no doubt that what's next will be some pretty cool or amazing stuff. See you guys in 2016!!!
Courtesy of Thestar.com

















Respectfully,

Lassie

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #3 The loveliest of drams...

Every year people around the world make new year's resolutions, me not so much... 

I do have the habit of making a list of things I want to do, see or get for the upcoming year. It's nothing crazy but from a whisky perspective it just gives me some incentives to try and find whiskies that are either bucket list or the "must try and buys".

But... sometimes, living in North America can have its disadvantages when it comes to whisky availability. This particular whisky was released in the UK and flew off the shelves. I started asking around to see if any of it would make it to Canada and it didn't appear like it would. Problem: I wasn't going to Scotland until May and I knew there wouldn't be any left so I got a hold of a friend who lived outside Edinburgh and asked if I could get a bottle of this whisky delivered to his house if I ordered a bottle. Without hesitation he said yes and I ordered immediately. The great part of not only getting the whisky was the fact that it allowed me to introduce him to Graham and we got to spend an afternoon dramming and talking on Queen Street. 

I've already written about this whisky in a blog this year, here is the "sort of" review...


Since the review, not only did I get my own bottles (yes plural....) but while I was visiting Scotland I had the best night with Jacqueline Sutherland @WemyssJacque and she opened a bottle of Velvet Fig with Graham and I... (I had 3 drams that night!) not to mention she fed us so much delicious food I was ready to burst. I still crave the shortbread we had that night. The BEST I have ever tasted!

Velvet Fig was/is a fabulous whisky that transported me to wonderful memories, that made me forget where I was and offered me the best gift ever: Pure enjoyment. And now, as promised... a proper nosing/tasting. 

Velvet Fig, Wemyss Malts, 46% ABV
















Nose: Big, bold and full of sweet sherry notes. Then the overwhelming but absolutely mouthwatering smell of fresh ripe figs. Baking spices come next. 

Palate: Not only does it match the nose, it's even bolder. My whole mouth exploded with rich dried fruits, full bodied with a nutty background. 

Finish: Long, lingering, warm with more figs and a bit of ginger root heat. 

This is rich velvety figs from start to finish and everything else that comes with it: Friends, memories and simple enjoyment. Those drams are few and far in between so when they happen they are very special to me. Hence, this was easily in my top 3 for 2015. 

I plan on opening a bottle of Velvet Fig in January to share with all of my friends. It's doubtful it will last for very long. Hope you got a bottle too! 


Lassie

PS -> Happy Birthday Jacqueline xox

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #4 The redemption dram

Relaxing in our wellies!!
If you've been following my adventures all year you know that I spent 10 magical days on Islay. I went to every single distillery, sometimes twice. I was warned by several people that Feis Ile is not for the faint of heart. If you hate crowds, don't go. If you hate standing in line for anything, don't go and especially if you hate being surrounded by BFK's (big feeling knobs) -> DON'T GO!!!! But, I went anyway because it's my firm belief you are only supposed to get one kick at this can we call life and I'm going to dent the shit out of mine with every opportunity that is presented.

Many people who have gone to Islay for years will also tell you that Feis Ile has somewhat ruined the quiet, laid back attitude about the island and its whiskies. Going to Feis Ile involves planning your accommodations and reservations up to one year in advance. It also means getting online at the wee hours of the day in some cases to try and get tickets for some of the events the distilleries will be holding. 

Another thing that has completely ruined Feis Ile for many people is the ridiculous length some people will go to buy the exclusive festival distillery bottlings and of course the outrageous prices. Case in point: Bowmore released a 26 year old vintage 1988 with only 248 bottles available for £350. People camped overnight in the rain to get a bottle... and then the very next day, many could be found on auction sites for double the price. Greed... ruins everything eventually. 

But I'm not here to judge. If that's what some people want to do more power to them, as I've stated many times before it's not about the money and it's not even about the whiskies sometimes.

Case in point. Laphroaig day ended up being a complete shit show for Graham and me. It started well enough but then quickly went from having someone almost throw up in the back of our rental, to being lost and late for the one event we had booked, to not getting any food or seeing anything else that day because it was all over and done with by the time we came out of our event. It was rather disappointing indeed. 


So... not being deterred we went back with Thomas and Ansgar Speller after Feis Ile was completely done and that's when we were redeemed. The four of us had the most glorious day hiking around those parts of the distillery, tasting whiskies, finding our Friends of Laphroaig (FoL) plots and having the day we were meant to have but in a much more quiet, relaxed and fun environment. We were back on Islay time and it was fabulous.  

The biggest dilemma Graham and I often have when we travel is not only how much to bring back but what. Although I did try many of the Feis bottlings we were very particular about the ones we did bring home (we didn't get that Bowmore, btw... hehe) I tried the Laphroaig Feis offering twice while we were on the island and both times Graham said: "want to buy this one?" and all I could say was "Meh".... It's not that it wasn't a good whisky it just didn't speak to me like some of the others had.

So, after we were pretty much done our afternoon at Laphroaig we returned our wellies and went to the shop for one last chance to buy the Feis bottling. The kind person behind the counter watched me intently and asked me what I didn't like about it. I explained it simply wasn't grabbing my attention. He smiled a devilish grin and pulled out dram #4...  

After my first sip I looked over at Graham and he smiled. Yes!!!! -> it screamed, Take me home woman! No words were spoken as he knew I had found the one coming back with us to Canada. 
Unfortunately this is no longer available for purchase so I feel even more lucky to have tried and purchased it which is really too bad because I think this is one of the best Laphroaig's I've tasted in a long time. I should have bought two!!!

Dram #4 - Laphroaig 10, Cask Strength Batch 007, 56.3% ABV

Nose: Meaty smoke! A picture of a smokey BBQ pulled pork sandwich popped into my head. Once that settles the backdrop of the beach & bonfire appeared followed by baking spices. 

Palate: PEAT!! Probably one of the peatiest whiskies I recall in years. Clean sweet citrus explosion, a bit phenolic/carbolic. 


Finish: Long lingering warm, spicy and with the antiseptic feel of the phenols. WARMS THE BELLY!

This is peat, peat peat all the way... We loved it so much we opened it less than two weeks after we were home: June 18th. Last drams were shared with my ladies' whisky posse on October 19th which is probably one of the fastest bottle drains I can recall!? 

In passing, my friend Donna (she's holding the bottle in the photo) HATED peated whiskies 5 years ago. Not only did she taste this one, she loved it so much she had 3 drams. I had to send her husband John a photo as proof we've completely converted her ;)

Cheers from the ladies posse and thank you Laphroaig for this really great Islay time dram!

Lassie

Monday, December 21, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #5 Now that's a cracker!

In June of 2015 I had the utmost pleasure of touring the Benromach Distillery with Richard Urqhart. It has a long history like many of the others in Scotland but it had a really rocky start. Construction did indeed start in 1898 but spirits didn't start to flow until 1900 and within that same year closed down due to insufficient funds = Whisky bust #1. Like other scottish distilleries it passed through many sets of hands from then until 1983 when it suffered yet another closure from the second economic slump = Whisky bust #2 (I easily found 17 distilleries listed as closed between 1981-1985).  

Gordon & MacPhail bought the distillery in 1993, carefully restored it and new spirit started to flow again in 1998. What I love the most about the story is that G&M have been in business for themselves for over 120 years but had never actually owned or operated a distillery. I would bet my best bottle of whisky this was a huge learning curve for them and came with many interesting stories and lessons. However, if we take into consideration the reputation, pride and quality of their independent bottlings I don't think it comes as a surprise that Benromach whiskies were bound to be great in their own right. 

I was honoured to walk through the refurbished distillery, meet the people who make the whisky and discover just how proud they are about their whiskies. It's truly a small, hands on, up close and personal experience with every mash, distillation and casking. I've said it before, many of the distilleries I've toured are now automated with computers making the decisions about temperatures, pH, cuts and they have very little human interaction other than someone ensuring they are there to push a button or check a computer monitor. I've quickly noticed that many of my favourite whiskies these past few years have been the ones that still have a human connection. www.benromach.com has a fantastic little video if you would like to learn a little more about them: http://www.benromach.com/story

The example I love to give that brings this home for me is making my grandmother's meat pies at Christmas. There is no written recipe and it was taught by feel, taste and sight. I know it's two parts beef for every part pork and that I have to add two onions the size of my fists for every three pounds of meat. I can also tell you exactly when I have to add the cubed potatoes and what color or texture I'm looking for when I start to get the mixture ready to put in the pie crust. The flavour is memorized and of course the pies vary from year to year. There is no set times to cook it, no set list of spices. It's truly a handmade and unique experience every single time I make them and I as well as anyone in my family can tell you they are fabulous & 10X better than what we could buy at the local grocery store.

That's how I feel about a few distilleries I've talked about before: AnCnoc, Springbank, Tomatin and now Benromach joins their ranks. There is much to be said about people who care and are invested in something they are proud of. Methods are passed down from one person to the next and it's done in a way that promotes the importance of quality NOT quantity. I feel it is highly reflected in the products these distilleries make. 

Dram #5 and one of my favourite new drams for 2015:

Benromach 15, 43% ABV.  Matured in ex-bourbon & sherry casks.

SOPHIA... the most georgeous Italian ;)
I once described this as a tall dark and gorgeous Italian... and with good reason ;)

Nose: Pulls you in the glass, enticing with rich red fruits and spices. Plums smothered in vanilla custard and whipped cream. (Made my mouth water)

Palate: Did not disappoint! The sweetness and rich red fruits are still there followed by some dark decadent chocolate and hints of blood orange. Silky and full bodied, truly delectable. 

Finish: Oddly reminded me of a menthol cigarillo. Herbal, maybe eucalyptus and a bit smoky but not much. Lingers and I would dare say quite refreshing.  

I've had this whisky several times since then and have recommended it to many people. Unfortunately it was very limited in Canada with only one province getting a small amount. They brought it to our local whisky festival and it flew off the shelves in less than 2 hours. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of the lucky ones. So, it will be on my list of to "buy and bring home" from Scotland in the new year. 

There is something quite special about the Benromach's coming to market and I can't wait to see what they come out with next. So far, they have done nothing but make some pretty brilliant whiskies:  The 10, the 100 proof, the 15, the organic and the 1976 have all been real crowd pleasers, well I suppose I can only speak about myself so Lassie cracker drams they are! 

Cheers and tomorrow we go full ISLAY! Bring on #4!!!!!

Lassie...   

Friday, December 18, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #6 Raise a dram to independent bottlings!

Looking back through my log book and photos for 2015 I quickly realized something about the 406 new drams I tried. Almost 1/3 of those were from independent bottlers. 105 drams to be precise. So how can you overlook that as a whisky enthusiast? I also concluded something else. In North America, Canada, specifically, independent bottlers seem to be as complicated and misunderstood as a Dali


























Even more so on the east coast, unfortunately... Here is a typical conversation either at a whisky show or in my own home:

Me: "You love Islay whiskies right, have you ever tried this one before?", I say as I point to a Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Caol Ila. The person looks confusingly at the bottle. 

Them: "What distillery is that from?", they say even more baffled as I hand them the bottle.

So then I start to explain what Gordon & MacPhail is in the simplest way I can: "It's not a distillery, it's an independent company that has really great and long standing relationships with many of the distilleries. They buy it from them directly and then age it in their own warehouses until they see fit to bottle it and then put it out on the market under their own brand name".

They frown and stare at the bottle. "Doesn't look like a bottle of Caol Ila to me?". And... back and forth it goes until finally I simply pour them a dram and say: "Just trust me on this one..." You can almost see the trepidation in the way they try to taste the whisky but then after they are done that first sip you see the light bulb go off. "Wow, this is some pretty good stuff!, they say as they pick up the bottle again for closer and more curious inspection. "Bet it is super expensive though?", they chuckle clinging to the last hope that this is just too good to be true and that's when I turn them into converts. On average, independent bottler's versions of some and yes I say SOME (don't send me nasty comments, hehe) are cheaper than if you buy a DB (Distillery bottling). 

1. G&M Mortlach 21, £57 vs Diageo Mortlach 18, £150.

2. Wemyss Malts Blowing on a Sea Breeze (Bunnahabhain 25), £95 vs Bunnahabhain 25, £195

3. Douglas Laing Laphroaig 25 Cask Strength, £299 vs Laphroaig 25 Cask Strength, £355

There were so many amazing drams for me this year, some of the most memorable were indeed from independent bottlers. I struggled as I went through them all and I thought several times it truly seemed so unfair to just pick one... so I picked 10... I had to... I want people to understand what is out there. What you have the chance to try because not only do independent bottlers have access to many distilleries they also have access to whisky from many closed/mothballed ones as well. Some of which for me this year were truly stunning drams! And here's another thing, if we as Canadians don't start buying these, they can be pulled out of the market all together (has already happened with Compass Box in my own province, sad to say...)

Top 10 Independent Bottler drams, listed in chronological order for 2015:

10. SMWS 25.63 Poire et poivre. Rosebank 21, 59.8% ABV. Tasted at Annabel Meikle's masterclass Jan/15. 

9. Wemyss Malts Waves of Pepper, Clynelish 1997 Kingsbarn Exclusive, 46% ABV. Tasted, purchased and finished in Scotland before we came home! Apr/15.

8. SMWS 3.243 Dark, smouldering Flamenco gypsy, Bowmore 17, 57.1% ABV. Tasted at SMWS event on Islay (And purchased to bring back to Canada) Apr/15.

7. Old Malt Cask (Douglas Laing) Port Ellen 1982, 19 years old, 50% ABV. Opened with pizza on Islay, courtesy of "Johnnie" May/15.

6. SMWS 119.14 Raspberry Imperial Stout. Yamazaki 11 year old, 53.9% ABV. Sent as sample from Dave Alcock (@whiskyrepublic) June/15.

5. Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd. Glen Grant 1940 (YES YOU READ CORRECTLY) No ABV listed and suspected it was bottled sometime in the 50's. Shared at the Lunar Rogue courtesy of Frank Scott. Jul/15.

4. XOP Douglas Laing Port Dundas 36 year old, 59.3% ABV. Private whisky tasting Toronto. Sept/15.

3. Signatory Vintage Dallas Dhu 1978, 19 years old, bottled for World of Whiskies, 43% ABV. Davin de Kergommeaux Master Class Fredericton Nov/15. 

2. Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice, Convalmore 1981, 17 years old, 40% ABV. Frank Scott's Chairman's Dram Masterclass, Fredericton Nov/15.

And last... but not least...  


1. Cadenhead's Glen Mhor 32 years old, 53.2% ABV. Opened for SJWTS December tasting - Silent distilleries. Dec/15. 

So here is the thing whisky peeps... Those of us who have either been introduced or discovered independent bottlings are quite often true fanatics. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't mean you won't find a few duds from time to time but on average I can truly say I am rarely disappointed with these lovely discoveries. Do yourself a very large favour: Go to whisky shows, walk up to the tables where the independent bottlers are and TRY their products. Go to their masterclasses because sometimes it's the absolute BEST bang for your buck. 

If you are still skeptic... send me an email and I'll send you a special sample based on what you like. 

Seriously... 

Because sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and not judge what's written on the bottle before you try what is inside. 

Get out there and try Independent bottlings. You'll thank me for it. 

Cheers and on to number 5!

Lassie

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #7 Glitter giggles

If you had or have small kids I know you know what I know... GLITTER.... makes you cringe!!! You can't get rid of that crap for years??!??? Speaking of crap ;) why or how this was started is beyond me but these are on the market and yes... they make you poop glittery?!


These are $7.00/two capsules but you can also buy the ones that have 24K gold for $750/capsule and apparently are a hot item on the Asian market. Who knew this was the new definition of luxury?

PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFTTT! Marketing bullshit can apparently sell just about anything these days....

Case in point. I'm about to sprinkle a bit of glittery poop on Haig Club so if you are a huge fan, stop reading now and go do something else ok...

David Beckham (some soccer dude) and Simon Fuller (some bigwhig who created reality tv show Idol something or other) got together and partnered with Diageo to launch Haig Club. Interestingly enough this isn't the first time Diageo links up with celebrity status. Diddy Combs, Justin Timberlake and George Clooney = Tequila. Not a stupid move by any means since celebrity status brings a wider audience and appeal right? I mean after all if David Beckham dressed in is Armani suit drinks Haig Club, then damn it I'm going to put on my Jimmy Choo's and pour myself a tall glass of that stuff too!!! With celebrity status, HUGE marketing budgets for ads, videos and coming out parties around the world, the stuff in the fancy and mysterious cologne bottle, errr I mean whisky bottle is bound to be expensive? Well in the UK it retails for under £45. That's $100 Canadian...
I tried it... it's good but was it $100 good, nope. 

Meanwhile there was a dram I tried and loved in February 2015 at a whisky festival in Kingston Ontario. I believe they were the first whisky festival in Canada to showcase this one and then I was fortunate enough to try it again in March at Celebrate Whisky in Halifax Canada. It's half the price of Haig Club and in my opinion, twice as better. So value for money = excellent. It's less than $50 Canadian = less than £25. And you know what else... unlike Haig Club, it's available in Canada. Needless to say I bought two bottles for that price tag ;)

Ladies and gents:  

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, 43% ABV

100% grain whisky made at the James Sedgwick Distillery by highly respected master distiller Andy Watts in... South Africa (yup, you read that correctly my friends). 

Nose: My first thought was creamy MacIntosh toffee bars (from my childhood) and as it develops in the glass it turns into a creamy vanilla custard.

Palate: Sweet grains (reminded me a bit of a young bourbon) then with a few drops of water it softened the oaky aspect I was getting. Lots of ginger spiciness too!

Finish: This one lingers for a long time. It was a bit drying at first and then came the spices and warming sensation. From start to finish this is a well balanced and lovely dram. 

No fancy expensive bottle, no David Beckham 10 Million dollar deal, invitation to a big party or Jimmy Choo shoes but you will get excellent value for a great grain whisky! 

Because honestly most of us don't like anything with glitter anyway...

LASSIE ENJOYING BAIN'S ON WORLD WHISKY DAY!


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #8 Here's to fantastic whisky friends


If you haven't already been sickened by my constant comments about the #whiskyfabric, well maybe you should go get a bag, just in case... Because I'm not about to stop now. ;)

There are very few parts of the #whiskyfabric that I don't enjoy. For instance, Scott Munro @KiltedMoose greeting me at the door of the Bon Accord pub and saying with open arms: "Welcome home Lassie" (Seriously did bring tears to my eyes ;)). People like Jo Lawson @AlpacaJo who constantly check in with you when you are not feeling well and managing to make you giggle with a kind word or lovely poem. The likes of Rick Culver @rmculver and @OliverKlimek who not only come to visit but bring fantastic things for us to have (not even whisky related!). Erik and Laura Burgess @TheWhiskyKiwi & @LauraWBurgess organizing a huge #whiskyfabric get together for 2016 at the Artisan near Glasgow. Getting surprise packages from those I have met along the way: Jacqueline Sutherland @WemyssJacque, Jarred Lindale @thecyclingyogi or Bob Caron @Bob_Caron. These are simply but a few examples I will mention but I assure you there are 100's of other moments for 2015 that were near and dear to my heart from whisky friends, brothers and sisters (you know who you are!) 

Case in point. Dram #8 is dedicated to those of us who care enough about our whisky friends that when we get something special, we share it. Samples travel all over the world in one form or another. I am never without 15-20 when I'm travelling and excited to give them out when I reach my destination. This is but a very small list of people who shared samples with me this year: Beth Havers - @Whiskybeth, Tom Tompson - @ifotou, Dave Worthington - @WhiskyDiscovery, Dan Davies - @Whisky_Yak, Dave Alcock - @whiskyrepublic, Anki Ulvmane - @ulvmane, Dustin Harris - @TheN5Of Ontario, André Girard - @AndreQCWhisky and Benoit Bailey - @RatherBeOnIslay. 

THANK YOU for not only sharing the lovely whiskies with me and others all over the globe but truly being the epitome of that large crazy quilt I call #whiskyfabric.

DRAM#8, Courtesy of Franck Debernardi, prolific whisky blogger and maker of the best Osso Buco, @LaCavedeCobalt:  lacavedecobalt.com

KARUIZAWA 1981, BOTTLED 2014 - CASK 136. EX-SHERRY, 55.3% ABV. SELECTED EXCLUSIVELY FOR LA MAISON DU WHISKY IN PARIS.

Nose: Herbal (That surprised me...?) Almost smells like menthol cigarettes. It reminds me of a dusty old library book too. Spices come next - ginger especially at the forefront. 

Palate: Tannic with hints of Earl Gray tea, woody but not in a bad way, visually I'm getting fresh cut pine trees. Sweet like rum soaked raisins. Quite mouthwatering indeed!

Finish: Walking in a forest after after rainfall. I had a hard time describing it. It's almost like the taste of a truffle right out of the ground.

One of the best Karuizawa's I've ever had and completely different then the others. I didn't really get much of the sherry influence and I was truly surprised by the flavours and how the taste lingered. It was truly a memorable dram. Thanks Franck ever so much for constantly sharing memorable and intriguing drams with all us of...  xox

Now the funny part of this particular dram is that (again because I also prescribe to sharing) I decided that I should open it with my father-in- law, George. He poured it for us in "these" glasses and later when I asked him what he thought of the dram his answer was: "Really good whisky". I prodded a bit: "So what stood out for you?" He looked at his empty glass and without skipping a beat he answered: "It was moorish but you would have to give me more for me to figure that out...."

So, I raise a dram to all of you, wherever you are. Thank you for making 2015 a fun and heartwarming year for this Canadian Lassie. 

If someone bestows upon you the gift of a special dram, pay it back or pay it forward. It is, after all what I feel being part of this lovely "thing" is all about. Life, is simply too short to have your bottles sitting on a shelf. Share, enjoy, appreciate.

Cheers!

Lassie


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #9 Oh no you didn't!!! Yes, yes I did....

Sometimes... either due to being stubborn or maybe it's more about genetics but some of humans have a tendency to make decisions about something and then stick with them for the rest of our lives. My father is a "domestic car" kinda of guy because the foreign stuff is crap (his words not mine so don't send me hate mail please)... He's bought North American Cars since before I was born. Me, well I've been an American Football Fan since I was 13 and for those 36 years I have been a true New England Patriots FAN through the good and the bad!!!! 

This bring me to drams (yes there are two this year that taught me a huge lesson...) number 9's. The first is as a result of my father instilling in me that anything but Gibson's Canadian whisky was SHITE... The second stems from trying one dram of a particular distillery last year while at the Campbeltown Festival with Mark Watt and saying to myself, oh my gawd... how can anyone like this at all?? It's... SHITE, but as I looked around the warehouse at the other 20+ participants I quickly realized just about everyone but me was enjoying that dram. Just not my cup of tea I said to myself quietly as I gave my dram to someone else.

Let's jump right to it: 

Dram #9.1 -> Crown Royal Monarch 75th anniversary blend. I actually got to taste a small sample in December of 2014 but spent much of 2015 enjoying & sharing it with many people. I picked this one as part of my top 10 for a few reasons. In all my years as a whisky drinker I had mostly (due to my dad) turned my nose up to anything that was made by Crown Royal. I had an aha moment last year and shamefully declared how much I had started to enjoy tasting CR's but still had never actually bought one. So, in February of 2015 this was the first bottle of Crown Royal whisky I ever bought and I've since bought a few more as a result, including the Northern Harvest Rye in June (BUT I STILL DON'T THINK IT'S A 97.5!!!)

The Monarch has become the CR I will recommend to friends/followers if they are looking for something unique from CR to bring home to friends or enjoy. It retails for a little more than the regular CR but in my very humble opinion of not being a fan for way too long, it is well worth the $60.

Dram #9.2  -> The Pearls of Scotland Littlemill CS, Distilled 1991, cask 116 (23 years old). As I stated up above, I was in a warehouse tasting with Mark Watt (WM Cadenhead) in 2014 when some crazy American named Matt yelled: Hey do you have any casks of Littlemill?" The crowd went wild when Mark walked over to an area and opened the cask. We all received a small sample and as I watched Matt and most of the participants go quiet and enjoy the dram fully. Me... not so much. I didn't even write a single tasting note, it was simply Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Fast forward to Toronto Canada in September and our good friend Rick Culver says: "Hey do you and Graham want to come to a Littlemill exclusive tasting". I will not lie to you when I say I told Graham: "I'll go but I know I really won't like them". Fast forward again to that evening, I'm the only woman (meh so what)... and when Igor handed over the Pearls sample I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I looked over at Graham a bit gobsmacked. Then 4 other gorgeous Littlemills, one after the other and I not only really enjoyed every single one, I immediately sought out to buy a bottle as soon as I could, and buy we did! Probably one of my best discoveries of 2015 is good quality Littlemill bottlings.

I LOVED the Littlemills so much, a friend of mine in Québec and I are having a vertical tasting of 7 of them over Skype on December 27th and I am beyond thrilled... I may not have "got" it at the time what the hub bub was about in that warehouse in Campbeltown, but I certainly do now.

LESSON LEARNED from drams 9.1 & 9.2

Just because you tried one bottle from a distillery or independent bottler doesn't mean the lot of them are SHITE...  Educate yourself, ask questions, get the history and keep trying the whiskies.

I also learned something else: Trust Mark Watt, he knows his shit...  errr, I mean whiskies!  
Cheers and off to Dram 8 tomorrow...

Lassie

Monday, December 14, 2015

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015, #10 the Unicorn!

This time of year many people start to ask me what my favourite drams for the year were. I do indeed keep a log, if not by bottle photo than those I take notes for, in my little black moleskin note book. Thank goodness I do because at the end of the year, I also have a tendency to count how many new whiskies I've tried. This year, as of today's date: 406. Revisited drams 197. That... is a lot of dramming! Before you think I may have a drinking problem, take into consideration that I flew off to Victoria in January to attend their whisky festival and spent 5 glorious days in jeans/t-shirt weather, then spent 3 weeks in Scotland in May which included multiple visits to the Bon Accord Pub in Glasgow, two whisky festivals on the west coast, 18 distillery visits, 2 independent bottling company tours, including their warehouses, and sharing drams with many... many friends. On to the month of June where I was in New Orleans for a week attending workshops and huge amazing parties then on to Toronto in September - 4 more distilleries. November = Fredericton at one more whisky festival where over the course of 4 days I tried 58 new drams and then finished off the whisky year with our final society tasting of silent distilleries...  So you can see how easily and quickly the tally reached 406!

How do you pick 10... Just 10... Near impossible you would think. My criteria is rather simple I think: 

1. Sometimes there are drams that knock you into outer space and all you can do is sit there gobsmacked because the experience is simply lovely. 

2. Other are memorable because you were not expecting "it". 

3. Whereas other drams simply strike you as delicious and your tasting note simply says: "Fuck yeah! 

So let's start with Number 10 shall we!?

My poor mother is from a different era, so a few years ago when I told her Graham and I were going to Scotland and staying with people we had met on the internet she almost fell out of her chair in concern. "You are staying with strangers you met over the internet??!", she said clutching her sweater around her neck a little tighter. No matter how much I tried to explain #whiskyfabric, or Skype technology or anything else for the next couple of months, my mother feared for our lives... Sigh...

It's not uncommon for me to meet up with all sorts of people from the #whiskyfabric. Hell some of the best memories this past year are as a result of just that. "Hey twitterverse!! I'm going to be in Toronto for 5 days, who's game for a meet up - Show of hands...?"  12 people greet us at a local pub! How cool is that!? I know if you've experienced this phenomena, you know exactly what I mean because you are sitting there smiling as you read this thinking back to your own crazy meet ups, sharing of drams and photos!

So dram 10 is as a result of that type of experience. Sometime in 2014, Darren McInnis (co-founder of North Shore Whisky Club) and I started chatting on Twitter. Not sure if it was because his last name is the same as mine, he's also a Patriots fan or if it was related to whisky. 

Either way we became fast twitter friends often having some pretty funny or interesting conversations. He advised me once that he would be driving through my hometown on a family summer vacation and would love to meet up for a dram. As the date arrived, he texted and Graham and I went to pick him up. After all, what's the harm in a couple picking you up at your hotel to bring you back to their house because your drams are way better than any hotel bar?! (Yes, I can see how my mother could be mortified by these interactions!?? hehe)

So after a trip down to the piano, Darren, Graham and I settled in for a few minutes of talking and simply enjoying some drammage! There were so many he wanted to try but eas trying to ensure he wasn't blotto by the time we drove him back to the hotel so of course we went and got sample bottles and let him pick and choose a dozen drams to bring with him for his trip. What good is the #whiskyfabric if you can't share in good dramming and stories with new friends! And of course Darren (God love him) didn't arrive empty handed either...  He kindly shared the following. 

St. Magdalene G&M Reserve, Distilled 1975 - Bottled in 2005 exclusively for Brookline Liquor Mart in Boston, Massachusetts. 1 of 270 bottles, 46%ABV.

This was a first for me as far as the St. Magdalene distillery goes. It closed in 1983 so of course it's now one of those silent distillery bottlings that will get more and more rare and expensive with time. (Just looked up one similar to this and at auction it sold for £450)

Nose: Green fields of wild flowers, apple blossoms, almost a bit of mint or eucalyptus in the backdrop. Fresh, light and very delicate dram...

Palate: There is a barley/cereal flavour that reminds me of fresh and warm oatmeal cookies quickly followed by a lush and mouthwatering orange marmalade that leads to a slightly drying finish with the background being the pith of the orange.

Finish: Sweet but didn't linger for very long.

Darren and I enjoying a few drams...
So dram #10 fits in the category of "wow wasn't expecting that at all". I would have never anticipated Darren pulling that out in a million years. Besides, who travels with a St. Magdalene in his suitcase? Apparently, Darren does and I'm super happy he brought it with him for Graham and me to try. I want to thank Mr. McInnis not only for the lovely dram and time spent at the house that day but for also being another great friend in the #whiskyfabric I have come to love. The epitome of which I often praise is to simply share great whiskies and create lasting memories. Graham and I look forward to seeing them in Boston sometime in 2016.

My door is always open to anyone who wants to come and visit us and it's not mandatory to bring any drams, but surprises like this one are certainly appreciated and most of all, treasured. Darren and George can be found on twitter:  @noshwhiskyclub and their blog is:

Tomorrow brings another fantastic dram and story. Number 9... it's utterly, very Canadian indeed!

Lassie

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Breaking news: Don't care for creepy or greedy hypocrites

Ahhhh Jim Murray... The man serious whisky enthusiasts and industry loves to hate!!!

I don't care....  I really don't anymore. So what, he wrote a book that has a bunch of whisky stuff in it and he always scores his whiskies 10 points higher than he should. Live and let live I always say. The man sells books, it's what he does for a living. But I can't... I just can't anymore. Something stinks about this one, and it's not the fish n' chips I had on the weekend.

Honestly I know when you are a complete newbie you don't want to plunk down $100 on a bottle of whisky when you feel like you don't have a freaking clue what the hell you are doing so why wouldn't you put down your $20 for a book called the whisky bible written by someone who calls himself a whisky expert. The cover itself will tell you: "Jim Murray's Whisky Bible is the world's leading whisky guide". Says who? There is no quote from someone attached to that? You have no idea he's a self professed whisky genius. You only know that his opinion is the only one in a population of 7.3 billion people on this huge earth that matters... Because, when you are new you believe fully what you see/read and you have to start somewhere.

On average I know 10-12 people who started that way. They paid attention to every score, every tasting note and purchased many of their bottles accordingly. I made it a point before I wrote this piece to ask them if they still used the whisky bible now.... All 11 that I asked said no and they hadn't bought one for years, one joked it's in his bathroom in case he runs out of toilet paper.

In 2013 while I attended the Canadian Whisky Awards in Victoria BC, Jim Murray was there leading a sold out tasting as well as master class. He didn't hang out with the rest of us after hours like John Glaser, Iain McCallum or Mark Gillespie did. He only made appearance if he was paid to. Again, I may not agree with that but understand. He is, after all, the Mick Jagger of whisky (not my definition... I assure you)

SO here is what is really bothering me.... On that Saturday between masterclasses, some of the Canadian Whisky Awards judges and John Hall were brought upstairs to the penthouse (where his suite was I assume) and we were asked to wait in the hallway. John Hall (Forty Creek Whisky) was to go in first and have a few publicity photos taken with him and then if he had time, some of the judges would get to meet him. Well, we waited in the hallway for 25 minutes until finally someone knocked on the door, went in and it didn't take long for them to come out apologizing profusely to Mr. Hall stating Murray would not be taking any publicity photos or meeting any of the judges. 

I didn't ask any questions because a few of the organizers had mortified looks on their faces and spent the rest of the day at my masterclasses. About 20 minutes before the main event was slated to start, Murray was in the lobby and making his way through the crowd when one of the organizers took the time to stop and introduce me and a few others to him. He held out his hand for me to shake it and spoke directly to my chest. I don't think he knew I actually had a face. But seriously... that part albeit creepy is not what bothers me because I had been warned he often said and did inappropriate things amongst the women at shows and in his classes. (Warned ahead of time.... how sad is that)

Later though, when I had the chance to talk to a few people about the situation on the top floor it came to light (and I realize this is third party information I am about to share) that Murray refused to have any photos taken with Mr. Hall because Canadian whisky was utter shite and the only decent thing ever to come out of Canada was Alberta Premium Rye... 

Can some people have a change of heart? Certainly... I personally have written about the fact that I previously would often refuse to even try any Crown Royal bottlings as a result of a predetermined opinion that their entry level was crap so the rest of it must be crap too. 

BUT... then again, I don't sell thousands of books do I?

And I think I'd like to do a little math problem here for your benefit. So, the 2016 bible boasts that it has 4500 whiskies tasted (doesn't say personally analyzed by him, btw) of which 1000 are new for this edition. Let's consider the following:

1000 whiskies, 365 days if we start on January 1... Let's not count weekends so 365 - 104 = 261. Let's also remove book signings, whisky show appearances or travel time. I will guestimate low and say he travels 10 weeks a year (since there are less countries or whisky shows that allow him entry anymore). 261 - 50 = 211 days left. I'm sure the man takes holidays and must celebrate Christmas or some other pagan ritual? So again, let's be modest and say 4 weeks. 211 - 20 = 191. The man must get sick from time to time or have other miscellaneous days to himself to do laundry and mow his grass or something? Let's subtract another three weeks. 191 - 15 = 176. Now his whiskies of 2016 preview was announced the 3rd week of November plus it appears I can buy the book now on line so that means it had to have gone to publisher before the end of October at least (give or take a few days)... So that's another 9 weeks (45 days) removed from the tasting schedule...  

So... hypothetically speaking he had 131 days in 2015 to evaluate 1000 new whiskies. 

1000 divided by 131 days = 7.6 whiskies per day

Is that doable, absolutely... but doesn't it make you wonder even if for just a few seconds how much time he actually spends with each whisky? Does he review them once? Does he have a team to help? Does he even review them?

So back to his supposed hatred for rubbish Canadian whisky... Could be some truth to that but he is known to cause controversy on purpose. 

How is it possible that a Canadian Whisky which is available in Canada, USA and the UK suddenly becomes his top pick for 2016? If you take the time to read anything on social media and/or newspapers there are plenty of speculations that Jim went home with a few Crown Royal Purple bags filled with money? There are others who say he's trying to get back into favour with Diageo...  Me personally... Again I don't know and frankly I don't care.

So here is what I do know:

A) Jim Murray is the creepiest and rudest person I have ever met in my whisky world. 

B) The average consumer will clamber, stand in line or pay way too much to buy the magical "near perfection" rated whisky of the year (which I and many others have rated somewhere between 80-85) and be disappointed

C) The whisky world will continue to revolve around this one man's opinion because nobody will speak out/hear about the atrocities he commits or the people he belittles and humiliates... why?  BECAUSE IT MAKES MONEY for everyone: Whisky shows, whisky sellers and Mr. Murray himself!

Example of his "guidelines", not all are bad but some are just ridiculous...
    

AND MOST OF ALL....

D) I am left tipping my hat to the biggest bunch of hypocrites on both sides rolling in the money as a result of one person's opinion about a whisky he may have spent less than 30 minutes with, if he even spent any time with it at all. 


Well played again creepy old uncle Jim, well played...



Disrespectfully...

Lassie