Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eric Scouten - Bartender, Alchemist and Maritimer on the move!

Sometimes you meet people and you think to yourself: What the hell just happened?! Well, that's what took place the first time I met Eric. He was a whirlwind of kindness, enthusiasm and passion all rolled into a pretty cool package! From the get go three things were very apparent to me: 

1) He knows beer and cocktails like I know whisky! 2) He could likely make a drink from the ingredients in a bachelor's refrigerator and 3) Eric is bar smart. Many people are hired to be bartenders. I would say, likely, most are not in it as a full time lifelong career. University students, entry level position into the hotel/tourism industry, etc... Not to say these people are not serious about their jobs but the reality is, they will make drinks, sling beer and within a few years move on to something else.

I met Eric while he was employed at one of the best restaurants/bars on the boardwalk in Saint John. HE loves what he does and it is a career path he's chosen. Eric was there for quite some time until a fabulous opportunity presented itself: Port City Royal.

Established in 2014, Jakob & Eric consistently push the boundaries of traditional turn of the century Maritime fare by preparing it with today's technology and creativity. Two masterminds: One has a mad scientist/genius approach for drink, the other a 'Group of Seven' artist touch when it comes to food. It garnered them Spot #2 in Enroute's Canada's Best New Restaurants of 2015. 

Eric recently embarked on a 21 day trip to Japan. I followed along on Instagram and was truly envious of his discoveries. I asked if he would be interested in writing a small piece for me when he returned and... write he did. The adventures of a bartender, abroad...

Ladies & gents I give you Mr. Eric Scouten.

"32 hours in transit is enough to make anyone go a little stir crazy but I knew the experience that was in store for me would be more than worth it. I... was going to the motherland of bartending culture for the first time in my life -> JAPAN and I was willing to travel the 9800km to live out that dream.

I landed in Chitose just south of Sapporo, made my way north to Japan’s beer capital and checked into my first destination - a hostel called Untapped. It was by far the nicest one I have ever seen. It had a great restaurant on the first floor that was tremendously popular with locals. The owner, Teruya Jin, and a young American/Japanese server from the restaurant offered to take me out on the town to show me some of their favourite bars and thanks to their kind generosity I discovered a beautiful community surrounded by mountains, centered around tourism and a vibrant night life. So prominent, in fact, that they have an entire district dedicated to it - Susukino. That’s where I found my first gold mine of a bar.

Chosetsuan was nestled in a maze of back alleys so it's likely I would have never found this little gem on my own. Teruya knew I was looking for a unique experience so he was very excited to take me there as it was his friend’s place. The bar seats 8 total and specializes in Japanese Whisky and French Rum. Much like myself, I found the owner to be passionate and excitable, and with the help of Amy’s translations we had a fabulous conversation about some of the products he carried. He told me whisky is available everywhere in Japan but that it was highly unlikely to to find his rum selection anywhere else. How could I not be excited as we set out on a rum tasting paired with dehydrated citrus and cured meats with Calvados and Brandy thrown into the mix. By the time we left I was feeling a bit rosy cheeked but ready for another round and that’s when pure magic happened in the form of food. Genghis Khan! 

This local favorite is the equivalent of our Maritime drunk Donair and Poutine run. The only difference is in Sapporo, it’s a midnight endeavour and not a night cap. It consists of grilling lamb over a wood coal grill built into the counter top. Served with onions, garlic and spiced soy sauce along with ice cold Sapporo Classic Pilsner. If you know me, you know that lighter beer styles are not usually my thing, but this combination was to die for and a truly unforgettable experience.

The next find came as a complete surprise. I was in Aomori after leaving the northern island of Hokkaido. I wanted to go there because it’s the birthplace of Sake and has 40+ 'breweries' in the surrounding area. After a long day on trains and failing to find a hostel I reluctantly rented a room at the Richmond hotel. I don’t like staying in hotels when traveling because you don’t meet other travelers without going out of your way. Mind you a private room is nice from time to time. 

I went for a walk but soon found that like in my home province of New Brunswick, most things are closed on Sundays. I searched for hours but gave up looking for a restaurant so resigned myself to getting supper from a 7-11 on the way back to my lonely hotel room. 'Supper' in hand I decided to take the back streets hoping to scope out interesting finds for the coming days. I saw a sign and walked past it at first but somewhat frustrated by my thus far fruitless walk I decided to turn back. As I past the door step into Bar Familiar I was greeted enthusiastically by a young bartender/owner named Sakurai Toshitsugu. I quickly realized this man could make one hell of a mean drink. As I sat in his quaint and beautiful bar that sits no more than 26, he made me several drinks but by far the highlight was trying out Nikka’s Apple Brandy.

I also sampled a locally produced Shōchū, and tried Suze for the first time. If you've never had Suze, please do as it is quite the treat! 

My last 'wow' moment ended up being 14 in 1! On the last leg of my trip I found myself in Kagoshima. Again no hostels in the area but managed to find a hotel where I asked the front desk about local bars. I was told to check out B.B.13 Bar. This place was amazing! Old French China cabinets filled with decadent glassware and bartending tools. Bottles lined the back of the bar, and the bartender Shinya Miyauchi was looking quite sharp in his white tuxedo. 

He offered me some 1984 single malt from the Mars distillery - Malt of Kagoshima. It was absolutely fantastic, smooth and smoky. As I thanked him and prepared to return to the hotel he offered me a map. In a heavy accent with a thick lisp he said “Cocktail Map”. The map had fourteen bars on it including B.B.13 Bar and I spent the next three days on one of the best bar hops I have ever experienced! I had never been so blown away. Each one had at least one competitive bartender on staff and I was taken on a flavour escapade that left me so astonished I truly fail to put it in words what I was fortunate enough to experience. Kagoshima was the highlight of my trip and the best of all the surprises.

And... just like that it was time to leave and make my way back to Canada. The trip home - 29 hours. That's a total of 61 hours (2 1/2 days) in airport lounges, cramped economy class seats and little to no sleep. I wanted to go to Japan because the bartending culture there is of the highest caliber. Their national association helps elevate the skills of that profession. Canada has a long way to go in that sense, so it was important to me to go to this country and see for myself how these people practice their craft. I was so touched by what I experienced and it's made me question my own abilities and knowledge. This has led me to not only learn more but to achieve a higher level of hospitality. I went to Japan to try whisky, cocktails and ramen and ended up coming back not only inspired but a changed bartender. My creative juices are flowing so I can't wait to get back to the bar and start working again. Something else has come out of this: The desire to have a better Canadian Bartending Association for bartenders to network and elevate their skills."

Sometimes, you meet people and know they are different from the get go. Then you watch as they exude the combination of hard work, a bit of 'crazy' and passion. I get that, because I feel that way about myself. I love what I do, I love where it's led and I see that emulated in Eric's choices. There is no stopping him now. He's one part Maritimer, two parts alchemist and one part driven = Someone who knows what he wants and how he's going to get there.

Since asking Eric to write this piece for me, he was also named one of the top 10 mixologists that are putting Canada on the map (Destination Canada Magazine, March 2016). Like I said... sometimes you meet someone and say: "What the hell just happened!!?..." 

Well Saint John, Eric Scouten happened and I can't wait to see what he does next.  

Thanks Eric...  I'll be in soon for a 'smoke and mirrors'...  ;)


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Caldera Canadian Whisky - The Maritimes in your glass

You can ask anyone from the #whiskyfabric who has come to stay with Graham and me, our life is wholesome, simple and good. Summer = Fantastic craft beer, fresh lobster and sailing. Winter = Hunkering down during bad storms, feet up by the fire, music/whisky and good food with friends. 

-35C & 7ft banks - Walk in the park!
We are indeed a rugged lot and living in the Maritimes offers us many things the rest of Canada doesn't necessarily get to experience: Spirit of community, life quality and a live and let live mentality. Now this is where people will say: "Now come on Johanne, you can find that anywhere in the world" and I won't argue that you can't. 

What I'm saying is, for most of us, our way of life is passed on from many generations of people who were the 'have not's" and as a result we are genetically inclined to look out for each other, take everything in stride and are built for survival. Just a few examples: After a massive snow storm, we help our neighbours dig out. While Montrealers drive for 3 hours to make their way to cottages in the Laurentides, I take my bicycle and drive about 5 minutes down to our boat on the Kennebecasis river and no I don't care what the color of your skin is, what religion you practise or who you choose as a life partner. 

Maritimers also share a deep love for beer, rum and whisky. The history of rum and beer is a long one but our first whisky distillery didn't take root until 1989 in the highlands of Cap Breton (NS). As we usher in 2016, we now have a few distilleries in each Maritime province making whisky. 

Truth be told there were two recent ones I had my eye on after seeing a few remarks on twitter about them back in October 2015 (thanks Bruce!) but I was immediately skeptical by some of the labels people were posting so went looking for website and product information. I'm not one to mince words - I was not impressed with the marketing "schitck" of either website but when my friend Craig reviewed the Caldera Hurricane 5 Blended Whisky and it gave me a bit more hope... 

Then I saw both would be poured at the Celebrate Whisky Show on March 5th and ensured they were both tasted. The first one tanked. I didn't like it at all I am really sorry to say. So I was a bit nervous as we headed to the next table. I ended up having a quick conversation with the owner/distiller - Jarret Stuart. I was very impressed by his whisky and bought a bottle to take home. Graham and I ended up contacting him later in the week and asked if we could come to visit him in the new location in River John Nova Scotia.  

We arrived shortly after lunch on Saturday March 12th (Graham's birthday). I knew as soon as we walked through the door Jarret was on the same wavelength as a true Maritimer. Dressed in Carhartt pants and Canada's equivalent to his 'wellies' we received warm handshakes followed by some Mortlach served in mason jars. (Man knows how to serve a good whisky!) He and Graham grabbed the old sofa in the corner and carried it over to where the current bottling area is and the three of us spent the afternoon sitting amidst brand new distilling equipment, glass bottles and thousands of boxes destined for market. We discussed whisky, rum making and Jarret's plans for the future. Caldera will be one of the few craft distilleries in Canada that grows its own grains: Corn, barley and rye and then turns them into whisky. First crops are being planted in April 2016 (that explained the website information).

In the meantime, his current whisky in his own words: "It's a whisky recipe I made and perfected here in my small still in Nova Scotia but I've outsourced it to a distillery out west where they make it to my specifications and ship it back to River John where I finish it locally"

It sells for $33/bottle. Yeah... I was a little bit gobsmacked!?!

He was quite honest in saying he could have upped the ABV or sold it at the recommended $45 price point and would have made more money but that's not what he wanted on the market. This is the Maritimes after all and sometimes it's about having less in the moment to gain more in the long run. I was impressed with his constant honesty and full disclosure at all times. 

I wanted to share my take on his whisky because I often think in "pictures" and as I quietly sipped on my Caldera the very first time at the whisky show this is what came to mind:

It's a Friday night and Graham and I have had a long draining work week. We shed our monkey suits, get into our jeans/t-shirts and flip flops. I prep two nice steaks, yell out to Graham to see if he wants me to pour a whisky while we enjoy some down time and wait for the BBQ to fire up. I pour two glasses of Hurricane 5 and we sit in our deck chairs. Nancy waves from across the street and comes over to ask how my dad is doing. We chat and she leaves to drive Greg to ball hockey. As the sensuous golden liquid slowly disappears from our glasses so does the stress that was weighing us down. Suddenly as we sit listening to distant lawn mowers, birds chirping and the sizzle of the steaks, we are officially 'defragged'. 

Hurricane 5 is a small piece of the slower pace, come what may, relax & put your feet up, you can borrow my ladder, did you need a pie for your fundraiser: 'Maritimes'. That's why this whisky excited me so much at the show and I named it as the top of my five favourite drams that night. I felt like I found a whisky that emulated what we live here on the east coast. Best value for money find of the night, hands down!

decided to share with Jarret what I had experienced and as I recounted that first glassful he sat back with his mason jar, smiled and said: "That's exactly what I want people to feel when they drink my whisky". 

So then I reminded him the only place you can get Hurricane 5 right now is Nova Scotia which is where he grinned even wider and divulged that Alberta will be the second province to get it, likely before the beginning of May 2016 (price point might be slightly higher due to transportation costs but he's hoping to keep it as low as possible) so of course I pressed on... where next? His answer was: "I was thinking world domination" (also has a great sense of humour) but on a serious note he's looking at the possibility of representation in Ontario, Quebec and as far as Texas by the end of this year. 

Just look at his smile!!! Happy, happy man ;)
Graham and I had a really great afternoon that Saturday. We also had the opportunity to participate in the bottling line. On average 4 men can rinse, fill, seal, label and pack 600 bottles in one hour. And you can't be from here and not know how much fun it is to sit in a brand new tractor! 

Jarret is doing his best to keep as much of the local flare for his spirits: Caldera was the name of one of the ships built in River John back in 1884 that sailed around the world. Hurricane 5 (name of his blended whisky currently on the market) is just that. Back in 1939, before they named storms, the owner of the barn where Jarret currently houses aging spirits, scrawled 'Oct 18/39 - Storm' on one of the large cross beams. Looking at the weather records, I found this was considered the most dangerous of the storms that year and was simply referred to as Hurricane 5. It would have been classified as a class 4 in today's terminology with winds up to 150 - 200 km/h. The whisky label is quite unique in that it's made from local birch wood (yes, it's wooden). 

Jarret wants to grow, make, promote and sell true local whisky/rum. He is committed to making that happen. 

My tasting notes (in case you were wondering):

Caldera Hurricane 5 Blended Whisky, 40% ABV

Nose: Just a spray of rye spices and then huge creamy toffee. Detect some freshly ground cloves but it's in the backdrop after it's been in the glass for a few minutes.

Palate: Smooth, silky and sweet. Nice notes of fresh gingeroot and honeyed citrus flavours.

Finish: Not long, slightly tannic with peppery notes. Lovely, balanced whisky from start to finish.

We will be watching as Jarret continues his journey as one of the east coast's new distilleries. Graham plans to be back when planting season starts and I really look forward to his rum production too!

Again, there's something to be said about the spirit of the east coast and I can't wait for the rest of Canada (and hopefully the world as Jarret says) to sip away at this laid back, enjoyable and very affordable Canadian whisky. 

I'll be there in spirit proudly saying: "Welcome to the Maritimes, put your feet up and stay awhile..."


PS -> You will note in the photo taken above that Graham and I have initialed the bottle. Actually we initialled 6 total. They have been packed and are going to market...  Jarret will be posting on his website and social media channels that if anyone finds the bottles in question and posts about it, they may get something special!  Looking forward to seeing if anyone actually finds them!  ;)

Friday, March 11, 2016

There's gold in the Yukon - Liquid that is....

The Yukon conjures up images of Cccccccold.... barren, dog sleds, and to some (we will say ignoramuses) igloos, burly men errr and women that don't shave, polar bears, and did I mention COLD!?

The reality is, yes some of that is mostly true. Does it get cold, hell yes!  Coldest temperature ever recorded in North America -> Snag (1947) where it dipped to -63 Celsius (-81.4 Fahrenheit). But it also has summer just like the rest of Canada does where temperatures have climbed as high as 36 Celsius. Now for those of you who haven't brushed up on Canadian geography since elementary school. The Yukon is located at the far north western part of my beautiful country. Distance from my front door to the capital of Whitehorse is 6, 842km, hence I've never been there but I want to! 

Well now it's even more on the bucket list because there is a distillery there called Yukon Brewing (and their sister Yukon Spirits) -> http://twobrewerswhisky.com/

Another great Canadian story of two good friends starting up a business together in 1997. First a brewery and then in 2009 they bought a still and starting making whisky spirits. Carefully crafted in very small batches and yes it's single malt. This year, 2016, marks the first year they are releasing their whisky to the market. Although no age statement appears on the bottles, it's approximately 6 to 7 years old.

Release Number 01 was limited to the Yukon and completely sold out in less than 6 hours. My friend Mark Manolis was the first to review it (just so happens he lives there) 


Then the distillery announced that release #2 would hit the stores on March 5 in the Yukon and was branching out to select Alberta locations on March 10th. With only 1,650 bottles being made I scrambled to get in touch with someone from the Alberta #whiskyfabric to ensure I would get two bottles! (Amen for good friends!!!)

And as my luck would have it I was fortunate enough to not only receive a sample from Release 2 but also Release 1. I was over the moon and opened them immediately when they arrived (at 11:30am!!!)

I know some people haven't caught on to the fact that Canadian whisky is such a fantastic category right now. The truth of the matter is we are still such a young country and so our distilleries. We have them in almost every province and now also one of the territories. This thrills me deeply and the excitement I feel as a very proud Canadian whisky drinker is so apparent to my friends and followers that I must appear like a bit of a fanatic. Honestly, I don't care what people might want to call it, I am truly proud and not scared to say or show it. I will do everything I can to continue elevating the category and will bring to your attention the ones I feel (my own opinion don't forget) are doing it right and are worth buying!

Release #1 - Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt - Classic Release 01, 46% ABV.

Nose: Honey! Clean, slightly waxy with undertones of fresh ripe fruit: Melon, peaches and a little banana. With water became creamy and much more cereal appeared.

Palate: Whoa! Explosion of lemon custard and peppery/grapefruit snuck up on me. Made my mouth water profusely. With water, again even more creamy and then the oak appears. It's almost a bit "woodsy"...  pine'ish maybe?  

Finish: The "burn" doesn't linger but leaves a trace of parsley or mint that lasts. It's "green" but not at all unpleasant. 

I like the 46%, I think that was an excellent choice for the ABV. It's not one dimensional. It's a very good whisky indeed! I think the people who were lucky enough to get a bottle will be pleasantly pleased!

Release #2 - Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt - Special Finishes Release 02, 46% ABV

Nose: Rich red cherries! Enticing, really grabs your attention. It's sweet but fresh, not "syrupy". My friend Oliver is going to kill me for using this word but it's truly a vibrant smelling whisky (sorry dude!) With water, the cherries disappeared completely and I started getting dried fruits like gold sultanas or dates. Still lovely on the nose!

Palate: This has more dimensions than Release 01, it's a bit more aggressive and drying in nature. I would almost bet there was a bit more virgin oak used on this... It's a powerful dram. Water totally calmed it down for me. Again became more like a cherry clafouti (Pastry/cherries) but tannic feeling completely gone.

Finish: This one lingers! Warming, spicy with baking spices like ginger, cloves and hints of hot cinnamon candies.

Having recently tried a variety of other 'new Canadian whiskies' at a recent whisky show I am more than happy to say these whiskies get a really high thumbs up! I can't wait to get my bottles of Release 02 and if, hmmm, anyone has an extra bottle of Release 01 they think they might want to get rid of, please keep me in mind.

Release 02 - Special Finishes is now available at several Alberta locations such as Chateau Louis Liquor in Edmonton, Wine and Beyond (also in Edmonton) as well as several Liquor Depot locations in Alberta.  It retails for $100, it's a 750ml bottle and in my very happy but always humbled opinion: WORTH EVERY PENNY!

Where else in the world can you get a whisky that was made where the men are men, and so are the women!  hehehe Yup, excuse the pun... but this distillery has indeed struck gold!

I very much look forward to the opportunity to try the next releases which will happen in 2016. A huge Maritime HUZZAH to Bob and Alan! Keep up the good work and making the rest of Canada extremely whisky proud!

Now... Alberta, get out there and get your bottle before it's gone!



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Petra Milde - Guest blog: The "women only" Sharing Angels Club

NOW!!!! Before you go and send me a bunch of hate mail stating it's reverse sexism... please hear me out because women are treated differently then men are in some whisky circles and that's our reality.... Not yours. It's still common practice for me to go to a whisky event and endure demeaning remarks, assumptions that I'm my husband's designated driver or that I'm nothing more than a wine drinker who is taking a walk on the wild side so will be offered whisky that won't offend or cause me to pass out in hysterics??!

Parity... I'm not even talking equality. We are asking for the right to have parity. The opportunity to attend, gain knowledge and continue our whisky journey without ridicule, abuse or harassment. So how do we do that? How do you build confidence if you feel like you know nothing, or if you find yourself at a bar and the guy behind it can't pronounce Auchentoshan but still denies you the benefit of the doubt that you love whisky and can pick your own damn dram without his unqualified help or opinions!?

I'm a huge proponent of having a women's only space or a women's only group for a few reasons. 

1. You are with a group of your peers.

2. You feel safe and are not judged because of where you are in your whisky journey.

3. By women, for women. I'm sorry but after what I've seen on some of the whisky forums and facebook groups - we need a space that is respectful toward women or where the administrators have the teeth to block the idiots that don't. 

4. Women, especially new whisky imbibers, need a space to explore, speak freely, ask questions without fear to help build their self confidence and knowledge base. You can't get that with old creepy guy wrapping his arm a little too tightly around your shoulders, spitting on you while he mumbles: "If it's not scotch, it's crap!"  Yah... that will make me want to come back to this club and drink more whisky!??

And simply said... The reality is Luddites still exists in our world. 

It's International Women's Day so I thought it might be nice to visit a club in Germany although still in their infancy are quickly growing in size and popularity because... It's a women only club.  

Petra, Margarete, and Julia

What happens when three women meet up for a private tasting on a warm summer evening in 2014? Well, they start to talk about the possibility of starting a tasting club of course!?

That's exactly what happened with Margarete Marie (whisky blogger), Julia Nourney (independent spirits consultant) and Petra Milde (author/whisky blogger) did. They had just experienced a fantastic evening of spirits (whiskies & gins) and all said: "This was so much fun, we should really do it again". They started to share some ideas and expressed how much of a shame it was that too few women they knew were getting to experience the special togetherness and sisterhood the three of them had felt that night. 

And... from necessity the three whisky ladies of invention created The Sharing Angels Club, for women only. The name didn't come right away. That materialized as a result of a discussion on a private Facebook page for women. Julia Nourney posted: "Being a new member I would like to ask the group if someone has a good idea for a short but memorable name for a group of female whisky tasters?" Many people responded but when all three saw The Sharing Angels Club, it was immediate and perfect. They knew they would face questions by people who might disagree about a women's only whisky club but in her own words Petra shares the following: 

Oh yes.... “That’s discrimination!” – We have often heard this cry of reproach since we started our private whisky group, The Sharing Angels.

Some men say it in a humorous way but some are quite serious and mean it in a kind of huffy manner. Well, most of us don’t really care and to be honest we sometimes (often…) enjoy seeing them experience what we women have been used to being subjected to for ages: 

Having to stand outside of the closed circle because of our gender. 

Don't get me wrong as we are not purposely trying to widen the divide between whisky drinking men and women!? Not at all! That is the furthest thing and never the intention of the Sharing Angels. It is truly to the contrary: We love mixed groups in bars and during whisky events because we enjoy sharing good drams with like minded men. 

The reality, however, is indeed often different: Women’s liberation and equality hasn’t really reached the whisky scene yet here in Germany. In my experience women at whisky tastings and events are still a small minority. But I digress because our club never took up women’s liberation as a cause and are far from considering ourselves whisky-suffragettes that want to fight for a female quota at whisky events. Our sole intention and goal is to encourage women to have fun, enjoy their drinks and talk about it without thinking: “HE can analyze and assess whisky much better than I can, I'm only a woman”. Our reply to that is quite: "No Ladies, he can’t do it better than you. He just does it louder and with much more self awareness, so... so what!?" 

That is our purpose and mission at the Sharing Angels group: It's a learning arena for women who might feel unsure or intimidated by the subject of whisky. We love to show them how easy it is to talk about the drink in one’s glass and that there is no right or wrong regarding any of it because in the end it's all about your own taste/experience.

And don't think for two seconds that the women in our club look for a "woman's" whisky. Do you want to know what we consider a woman's whisky?

Ardbeg, Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas, Glenmorangie, Highland Park, Kavalan, Knob Creek, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Macallan, Mackmyra, Säntis, Talisker, Tomatin or a Yamazaki and so many more! Are you getting what I mean? There is no such thing as a whisky for women. They are for everyone, male or female. It has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with some may or may not like. That's all. 

Our group started as a small contingency of women in Germany, then our Facebook group started to and is constantly growing (close to 200 now) and our Sharing Angels are everywhere! There are women working in the spirits business, some that have been enjoying whisky for ages or many that are just starting to discover the world of spirits. We share news and thoughts, have organized two online tastings, visited a distillery and there are many plans for more group events. 

For those women who are not part of Facebook (and there are some!) we actually built up a website to stay in contact and provide them with information, too. The site is not completed yet but will be soon. Our angels are spread all over Germany and some other countries as well. We make it a point at every whisky event to organize a small gathering to share a dram together in sisterhood and to get to know more whisky women. 

It’s always amazing and you can believe me: The Sharing Angels are becoming well-known and much-noticed in the Germany whisky scene. Our trademark is our lovely whisky button.  If you happen to see someone wearing a blue button it's because we have devised a way to show appreciation for our male friends/fans who support our club. Although we won't let any men join we certainly appreciate their efforts at letting people know they support our group. 

We are so thankful for people like Götz (Julia's husband) for creating our Logo, Frank (my husband) for hand-manufacturing our buttons and supplying us with delicious food during our foundation tasting. And all the importers and brand ambassadors that invited our group to visit and taste their spirits. We truly feel honored and supported in this wonderful time of whisky change."   

Thank you Petra. Her blog can be found at: www.meinwhisky.com

I can tell you things are changing. In my country, there is parity. Women are now close to 40% of the people that attend whisky events. And the days of having "booth bunnies" in high heels behind the tables are a thing of the long lost past. So... while the rest of the world catches up, please remember to not judge anyone, male or female as where they are in their journey. Help them along anyway you can because once, long ago or maybe not that long ago... you were a newbie too.

My newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau brought in 15 women into his 30 member cabinet back in November of 2015. 

When a journalist asked why 1/2 were women he simply replied: "Because it's 2015". Here's to all the women and men who support this idea, I and the next generation of whisky women all over the world sincerely thank you for it.

Thanks again to Petra Milde for her contribution. I hope some day to make it to Germany and imbibe with this lovely ladies group!



Monday, March 7, 2016

When you get to walk for a moment in the shadow of the giants...

There is something to be said about being my age and loving it (I turn 50 this year) and it's the fact that I'm old enough to remember and appreciate many of the great personalities that have moulded and affected many an enthusiast's whisky journey over the last 30 years. Some I never had the chance to meet such as the prolific and highly acclaimed journalist Michael Jackson who passed away in 2007. Others such as Serge Valentin, whose skills and wit I highly admire, are on the list of people I very much look forward to one day meeting. 

Each of the whisky greats that I have met so far have created a lasting impression on me but I wonder if they ever consider how much they influence hundreds if not thousands of individuals? Do they think about what legacy they leave behind them? Well, this next man does...
Richard Paterson - Master blender Whyte & Mackay
If you know anything about whisky, you should know who "The Nose" is. For over 50 years he's been behind the scenes or on stage in front of hundreds of fans. He is not only legendary with regards to the whiskies he creates for Whyte & Mackay (Jura, Fettercairn, Dalmore) he is the epitome of being a gentleman, scholar and fantastic entertainer so it was with the utmost respect and pride that I accepted an opportunity to interview him last week as he toured eastern Canada and appeared at the Celebrate Whisky Festival in Halifax Nova Scotia on March 5, 2016. 

I wanted the interview to be somewhat serious but also convey a warm Canadian "Hello" and "How are you" so I decided to show up with a bottle of whisky. He opened the door dressed to the nines and greeted me with a warm handshake and smile. Mr. Paterson immediately put me at ease by telling me he had done some homework and read a bit about me (he even knew my husband's name was Graham and asked where he was). I looked over to the sitting area to see many whisky bottles, some glasses and water. I put my coat on a chair, took out my notebook, a pen, my phone and the bottle of whisky I had brought. Quizzically he looked at what I was doing and I got the impression from the raised eyebrows and sly smile that nobody had ever brought whisky to an interview with him before. 

Immortalized in a manga (Japanese Cartoon Book) 

We sat down, chatted for a few minutes and I asked if I could pour us each a dram of the Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel. He quickly nosed/described the dram as clearly having the Crown Royal house style but with a more flavourful profile. Mr. Paterson also asked a few questions about the bottle so I talked a little about Davin de Kergommeaux (mentor/friend of mine) which led to us talking about Davin's book: Canadian Whisky, The portable expert. I mentioned the book was a great walk through our Canadian Distilling history. He didn't own a copy but proceeded to stun me with his impressive knowledge of my country's history, shameful to say I think he knows some of it better than 90% of most Canadians. 

This little bit really impressed Lindsay & me: 


I could have listened to him for the rest of the day, but knew we were getting pressed for time so I asked if I could start the interview and.... we began. What better way to get going than some quick fire questions.

1. What is your favourite whisky word?

2. What is your least favourite whisky word?

3. What still excites you about the whisky industry?

4. What makes you worry about the future state of the whisky category?

5. What sound or noise do you love the most about whisky?
The gurgling

6. If you could have attempted any other profession what would you have chosen?

My follow up on that (for Lory Hemy) -> Are there any particular fragrances you currently enjoy?
I love Dior, but also the Estée Lauder range of perfumes. Chanel 1921 is important but there are a lot of new perfumes. Paco Rabanne is another. They change a lot.

7. Most favourite whisky place in the world?
Japan (said with such reverence and passion)

8. What achievement are you proudest of?
Oh... Difficult one. Actually, probably the very first award I won which was The Spirit of Scotland trophy in 1994. 

On that note I'd like to expand that by sharing a few excerpts from Mr. Paterson's book, Goodness Nose: The passionate revelations of a Scotch Whisky Master Blender.

"My father had actually been given just two years to live at the time of the operation but he survived for the best part of the decade. He had always been there to encourage me, offering advice and taking a keen interest in my career. Like any son I wanted him to be proud of me, particularly as I was following in his footsteps. One of my biggest regrets was that he was not alive to see me receive 'the Spirit of Scotland Award' at London's Guildhall in October of 1994, as he had passed away earlier that year. 

This prestigious award had been organized by the International Wine and Spirit Competition to celebrate the first reference to Scotch whisky 500 years previously in 1494. All of the major whisky companies had been invited to submit an aged blended whisky, of which is no more than 500 bottles had been produced. This was, indeed, putting the blender to the test, and my colleagues and I took it extremely seriously. Accordingly I searched our inventory for our most appropriate makes. For years I had been in the habit of keeping back casks of exceptional character which I could not bring myself to use in our blends. 

I was looking for a blend with weight and body but with a rich velvety finish. Although grains such as Cameronbridge, Caledonian, Port Dundas, and Invergordon were included because I had decided the blend would be a minimum of 21 years olds, the grains would only play a minor part. The true backbone of the blend would be single malts from the Highland region. I included Longmorn, Glenrothes, Macallan and Glenfarclas. A subtle whisky of Islay was provided by Bruichladdich. A total of 16 component parts were included, however, the key to it all was a perfect marriage. I called on Gonzalez Byas to provide the most perfect Apostoles Oloroso sherry butts. 

 This had not been the best of years for me professionally or personally, and so as the competition date neared I became more and more tense. I really needed to win this to boost my morale and confidence. That night in the packed Guildhall was one I will never forget. All the nominated blenders assembled on stage to the accompaniment of trumpets and bagpipes. When the golden envelope was opened and my name read out I was numb. It was one of those rare occasions where I was speechless. It was a momentous evening I wanted to share my emotions with the people I cared about. In particular, I wanted to share them with my father, though sadly he was not there. After all, he had done so much for me, and as is often the case with father and son, I had never really thanked him."

9. What is your favourite non-whisky vice?
(Lots of laughter....) Drinking too much red wine!

10. What is your annual carpet cleaning cost?
(More laughter...) Very high... Not too bad actually.

And on to the "essay" portion of my questions

Q1: What people impacted your career and helped mould who you are today? 

A: So many! I'd like to think that when I speak of whisky people realize that number 1, they say: "He knows what he's talking about but 2, he conveys conviction of passion". I've always been fortunate to be surrounded by people with those convictions and it instilled in me that it doesn't matter what job you are in, you gotta love it and you have to have passion. I really hope that when I'm gone people will remember that I always had passion, believed in innovation and helped people look at whisky differently. The greatest thrill I still get is when I create a new whisky and they get that wow factor of "Gee we've never experienced anything like this before". (At this point I may have received a small sneak peak/description of what the newest Dalmore will be, but I'm under strict blackout. All I can say is whoa!)

Q2: As a master blender are you single-handedly responsible for choosing the releases that come to market, and if so can you tell us in a nutshell the process involved in doing so?

A: Yes. My responsibility as the master distiller and master blender is to select the single malts, may it be for Jura, Whyte & Mackay or Dalmore and make them sing. What am I doing? First of all I need to have the stocks. I need to know how to manipulate them and look after them. What are they doing? Where are they? They are asleep in the warehouses. Are they at the top, middle or the bottom of the racks? What age whiskies do we have? Let's have a look. Oh this one is really asleep, let's give it a bit of Viagra. What are we going to do? American white oak? Maybe Sherry, Port, Madeira or Marsala? I stimulate the sleeping whisky and leave it for 18 months, 2 or maybe even 3 years. Then I go back you and that's when I say, wait a minute I think we might have something here but sometimes I still have to wait. I judge the development carefully, decide on my selection and convey it to the marketing people. So of course they come along and say: "Well, what have you got?" Then it's the process of working in harmony with each other but sometimes I do get calls to say: "Can you do... this?" and I say No and they reply with: "But why not?" and I answer Because it's not ready, you will have to wait. "Yeah but when will it be ready?" and I always reply: When I say so. 

Earlier today in another interview I was asked the NAS question, you know do you "believe" in it. And I want to say: "Come on, none of my fellow blenders, including myself want to create or release something that's inferior. For me, it has to be of a particular quality because that's my credentials written on all these bottles. Just because a whisky is in a barrel for 12 years doesn't mean it's mature yet and in the very next barrel next to it, the whisky may have matured at 8 but then if you use 14 year olds with that 8, you have to trust that it will compensate and marry well. I have to ensure that it's up to a certain standard which I always do.

Q3: If you had to pick a non W&M whisky as a possible favourite, what would it be and would you consider it a desert island dram that you would pack in a large suitcase? 

A: (He laughed heartily and thought for a few moments...) Honestly, there is one company I really admire and I make no bones about it. I really admire William Grant & Sons. David Stewart... his whiskies reflect his style. He's a real gentleman and I love him very much. He produces warm and sensuous whiskies. Balvenie 21 Portwood finish really has that elegant balance and I call that real warmth and sensuality. That's the one I would choose right now, but there are so many others that I do love that are not just Dalmore or Jura.

**I want to add at this point, that I did ask to discuss E150a, and we did... but honestly I really don't want to include it in the interview simply because I didn't see it as added value. It's an overdone and pointless question that leads to nowhere but arguments** 

In September of 2016, Mr. Paterson will be celebrating 50 years in the whisky industry. In that time he's seen 10 takeovers, 19 different bosses and 2,563 marketing people. (That may have been said tongue in cheek, but regardless is impressive!). 

Q4: What is the biggest change you've seen?

A: Whisky festivals, whisky tourism. Over 1.5 million people coming to Scotland. Whisky clubs creating greater awareness. Thousands of people, not only in North America, but all over the world drinking and learning about whisky. Social media! Today's technology is so quick and you can see everything right away. How whisky is promoted is so much more important now. 

Q5: How do you ensure work/life balance?

A: Sometimes there are things in your personal life that are going on and you think to yourself, I can't disappoint. You have to put the "persona on" where everything in your life is simply rosy. On a few occasions I've had to cancel trips because of a family member's illness but you can't get away with it because people have expectations and want to know why you are not coming or say "well you have to come back". It's not that easy sometimes. And as far as work balance, I'm fortunate that the people that are part of my team understand that so they try not to overbook me when I come to festivals like this one. I was up early this morning, but they ensure I have some down time. That's where the program and the people put in the thought of how important that is and it's fantastic. 

And just like that the interview was over and 1 1/2 hours had gone by!!! 

Not long after I arrived Mr. Paterson said: "You know sometimes you walk into a room and meet someone and right away you can tell by their body language or level of comfort whether or not you'll get on with them."

I have to say I totally agree. I've interviewed a few people in the whisky industry and with some, I immediately got the feeling that they 'had' to be there with me. I was always polite and would ask my questions but would leave feeling disconnected and simply hoping that I had caught them on a bad day, after all we are all human. With Mr. Paterson, I didn't feel awkward, rushed or like I was interviewing someone who was going through the motions. Even after the interview was over and we continued to discuss a little more about Canadian whisky, the local weather and talked about the festival that was happening on Saturday. It was like having a great conversation with a friend that was visiting from away. He has a knack for making people feel truly comfortable in his presence.

His schedule is rigorous, the work tireless, the many faces he meets all over the world are sometimes a huge sea of smiling people with their whisky glasses in hand and yet he remains dedicated to his following, passionate about what he does and most of all the reality is after you get to sit down and 'get on with him', if you listen long enough you quickly realize the last thing he wants to do is talk about himself. He's much more interested in who is front of him, what whisky means to them as an individual and how he can help create something special for your whisky journey. 

Courtesy of Ken Arsenault
The next day, Mr. Paterson was up by 5:30am, more sales team work, interviews then leading a large group through a lovely 5 course whisky/food pairing, signing books, posing with fans for hundreds of photos and appeared at the afternoon and evening session of the tastings. I watched as he took the time with each person that came over, genuinely interested in where they were from, whether or not they had tried Dalmore or Jura before and happy to take selfies, shake hands and of course entertain. 

My friend Crystal who is just starting her journey into the whisky world was introduced to Mr. Paterson and afterwards she stated: "I learned more in those 5 minutes with him then I have in the last 6 months". He never once demeaned, belittled or treated her any different than the other two hundred or so people he met that night. That speaks so much to how forward thinking he still is after all these years, a dinosaur he is not!

About 15 minutes before the evening session was over, I came over to hand Mr. Paterson a gift. A copy of Davin's book to take back to the UK with him. He loves history so it only made sense to give him that book. I received a warm hug, a message whispered in my ear that made me giggle like crazy and Graham and others clicked away as the photos on cell phones multiplied. 

I think his father would be more than proud knowing that Richard is genuine, dedicated and passionate about his job and that's why he will always be remembered as one of the giants. 

I am thankful to have walked, if only for a few moments, by his side. Thanks to Denise (NSLC), Lindsay (Mark Anthony Brands) and above all Mr. Paterson for making this happen. It was a wonderful experience and a lovely way to spend a Friday morning talking about whisky, listening to stories and learning... Constantly learning!


PS - Gavin Smith if you are reading this, I know what whisky Richard has set aside in his will for you!!!