Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Dram #2, Stalk & Barrel Cask 5 - Carpe Diem!

 It is really exciting to look back at 2013 and revisit the entire year. The point of my 12 memorable drams was to share some of the adventures and moments that changed me or the direction I am headed. I always say the road is a bendy, windy, crazy adventure. I'm glad I have fantastic friends, a helmet and some knee pads, hehehe. The up moments have been glorious, the downs also epic. Can you say crash & burn!  Oh yeah... 2013 had some very memorable life experiences indeed. My grandmother often said: "It takes sitting in manure to make beautiful flowers grow". Well this year I felt, at times, like I was in shit up to my ears...

After a brief hiatus from the world this summer I came back to whisky, blogging and me with a slightly deflated attitude. I was struggling to find that spark and passion that I used to have. Well at least that's what it felt like at the time. I kept telling myself to just put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Glad I did because on my 2nd trip to Toronto, I took some time to visit Still Waters Distillery (yet again) and had a fantastic time (yet again). Wrote about it here:

But it's what happened as a result of trying cask 5 that sparked the whisky "burn" back into my life. When I asked Barry how I could get some of the best whisky (IMO) they were casking to date, he replied: "You can't, the whole cask is being shipped to the USA". I recall my shoulders slumping for a moment... "USA? All of it? Really? None for Canadians?" 

They explained that an importer had come to the distillery and chosen Cask 5 (obviously had a good nose/taste in whisky) so I asked the who, what, where questions because I really wanted a bottle for myself. Then it happened: The creative juices began to run hot in my veins like a fantastic whisky toddy (just had to add the pun...) and the next thing I knew I made contact with Raj Sabharwal @whiskyraj and pitched my idea, right on the spot. Within a week it was planned, organized and done! What, you might ask? The first USA twitter tasting of course. :)

The fantastic part: Four whiskies from around the world. Canadian, Tasmanian, Indian and English. We had a blast! The whiskies were great and I made 10 new whiskyfabric friends not to mention a fantastic networking contact in Raj, (Purple Valley Imports) whom I had the pleasure of meeting in New York City.

More importantly... I rediscovered that when I find a good whisky that I want, I have no fear in putting my best foot and ideas forward. The fire was there all along, I apparently just needed someone to poke it with a stick and add a bit of fuel so I want to thank Barry & Barry for being such a great repeated highlight to my year. It's meant the world to me to be so privileged and share your story and whiskies with people from around the world. 

To cask 5 and being me again.  Whisky Lassie back, better then ever and ready to take on whatever 2014 holds... 

PS - I did get a bottle of Cask 5 :) which I've shared several times...


Friday, December 27, 2013

Whisky Writer Circle Profile - The editor, AKA the thankless writer... Rob Allanson

ahhh... the editor. 

Misunderstood and often depicted as a totalitarianist whose sole purpose is to make writers lives a living nightmare. Ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration... but show me one Hollywood movie that doesn't depict them as a neurotic, controlling, antacid popping reptile - Can you say "Devil wears Prada"? 

The reality is: most people have no idea what an editor does. Have you ever finished reading a magazine and said to yourself: "Oh my God, the editing on this was just stupendous!" Of course not. The editor is a project manager (IMO): Meets with management, given a budget, seeks out the right material/players, ensures deadlines are met, oversees production, contigency plans, problem solves and of course all of this on a shoestring budget. The job involves long hours, headaches, much frustration, little to no credit BUT... all the blame if things go wrong or astray. We celebrate the writers all the time but without the editors and their dedicated teams: Magazines/books wouldn't happen. Well ok, they might happen but maybe more like pages and pages of this:
Ok, I'm done poking fun... for now...  hehe

I have never met Rob Allanson, although I hope our paths will cross in 2014, but I've been reading his editorials as well as Whisky Magazine for quite some time. It's usually the first article I read as it often sets the tone for the content. I really enjoy Rob's style of writing and get a good chuckle from time to time from his very poignant sense of humor. So, here's to the guy who hires all the writers I wrote about this year. Your job may be thankless but from what I hear you are highly respected and appreciated by those who have had the opportunity to work for you.

Ladies and gentlemen:  Rob Allanson, editor of Whisky Magazine. 

Begin interview...

Q1:  So how did you get “here”?  When you were a little boy, I’m sure you didn’t say:  “When I grow up I want to be the editor of Whisky Magazine"?

"I think the idea of being a journalist/reporter, was implanted at an early age with Tintin. My aunt bought me Tintin and the Blue Lotus when I was about 12, and the stories of that adventurous boy reporter (and his dog) really captured my imagination and made me dream.

The road to where I am now is a little circuitous, like most people I have had ups and downs, made good decisions and bad ones and occasionally been in the right place at the right time. I got a little sidetracked from that dream at Glasgow University, where I studied medieval Scottish Literature, and had wanted to lecture. But life took a twist, a change of track, and I moved back to Manchester with my parents and began working in various roles for Greater Manchester Police where one of the press officers encouraged me to focus on writing and reporting, and suggested I take the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) exams. So I upped sticks and moved to Southend, went back to college and eventually landed a job on a good sized regional newspaper covering the South East.

Another move took me to Norfolk and another big regional newspaper, but then a job on a new magazine called Beers of the World (edited by Dominic Roskrow) came up. After a little research I found the company owned Whisky Magazine, Scotland Magazine and Cigar Buyer. Basically four things I was really interested in. I sent in the world's shortest CV, about half a page, as I did not know when the deadline was; and that was that. I got the job.
After a while Dom left and I went for the editorship of Whisky, and eventually Scotland as well. As well as learning a lot from Dom, I have great mentors in Mr. Broom and the folk in the industry I have the pleasure of knowing. Now I am the longest serving editor in a short but illustrious line."
Q2:  What motivates you to be in this part of the Whisky industry?  With so many magazines having difficulty staying in print, how do you cope with the challenges?

"I love the industry, the liquid and the people behind it. It is such a friendly and inventive industry to cover. Looking at other global drinks categories, I think the marketing brains in the whisky world as some of the most innovative anywhere. There is always something to talk and write about; whether it's the global domination of Irish Whiskey to small craft distilleries that are popping up all across the world. It is an exciting time to be part of the industry, and I am honoured to be able to cover it.

It is a privileged position I sit in, being able to take in the world of whisky, and I never forget how lucky I am. There are some incredible people out there who create this spirit we love, and it is always a pleasure to bring their stories to people.

I think Whisky Magazine is coping pretty well at the moment in the challenging climate. Let's not forget that this is an age old discussion, well at least as old as the internet; and the sort of debate that goes back to "will vinyl replace the wax cylinder, will tape replace vinyl" etc...

To a certain extent I think you can say there will be an impact, but print is not going anywhere. In fact quite the opposite, I think we might be in for a new resurgence of specialist and well put together magazines. The digital medium gives you some wonderful options to play with. Let’s not forget you can embed films, tweets, Facebook links...the list is endless, and great fun to explore.

However there is still an excitement in getting a magazine that for me personally is not replicated with the digital world. It is a very immediate physical thing. The weight and presence of the magazine. Opening the package, the smell of printer’s ink, the feel of pages and a spine as yet not broken in.

There is a permanence to a magazine that you don’t get with digital. If you are a magazine fan then chances are you keep them. You can go back, reference, mark up even cut out and keep things that catch your eye. I have all sorts of things clipped from newspapers and magazines pasted in journals, they serve as reminders for later. In fact watching my daughter with a magazine is a joy. There is an innate desire to draw in it, cut things out to save or stick on the fridge and interact with it in a way that a flat screen cannot compete with.

To be honest I see the two mediums working hand in hand, one complementing the other. The digital world can enhance you experience of a magazine. We are on the cusp of something very exciting in this print and online world, embrace them both and enjoy."

 Q3:  Do you feel you have had to make some sacrifices or tough decisions to get to where you are now in your career? If yes, can you elaborate ?

"I think most writers and journalists make sacrifices at some point to move on; time being the biggest. The magazines are greedy beasts; they demand time. They can, when running up to press day, become all consuming. But I am not complaining. Once each one leaves for the printers and then the first copies come back it is a joy."

Q4:  Whisky Magazine seems to have undergone some great changes, so what's next for you? 

"Yeah the redesign was a few months of to and fro between me and Whisky Mag's art director Paul Beevis, and I am incredibly proud of what we came up with. It's a real marker in the sand for the magazine, you know, we are here and this is our direction and style. We still have the same excellent writers across the world covering the great and interesting developments, we just wanted to shake the physical nature of the magazine up a little; which actually turned out to be the biggest redesign to date in terms of lay out and paper stock.

Next for me... well am not sure. I think at the moment I will keep learning, tasting and writing, you never know what's round the corner. But I am not complacent, there is still so much out there I want to do, see and write about."

Q5:  If you could go back in time and talk to Rob Allanson in 1984, what would you want to tell him?

"Blimey I was 10, slightly shy, struggling to learn the bass and just discovering a world full of literature and long walks. 

I think the first thing would have to be "listen this is not the plot to Terminator, I am here to help not kill you, stop daydreaming."

I would have to tell him to keep on striving, listen to more music and read more. Keep learning and for goodness sake make more notes and take more pictures. Also do not stop learning, especially with the bass - it becomes an important part of your life, even though at the moment it's huge and unwieldy.

Don't speak too soon about your opinions, take time to consider, listen and process, there are always people out there who know much more. Also you are a journalist, you are there to impart information, take complex things and tell them in a simple way and to be entertaining.

Never lose the joy of things. The world and whisky are full of wonder and amazement, of course it's a global business, but still there are breathtaking things out there."

End of interview...

When I started with this whole idea it was a result of reading an article about the decline of the writer, how today's editors have no backbone and are nothing more than the office puppet. Dictated by management as to what is to be printed and bullied by the new breed of rockstar writers who demand things be done their way. Going back to my favorite whisky books and magazines is that it certainly doesn't seem to be the case. Good writers are a special breed and good editors even more rare. I, luckily, have met several of the people behind the literature I own. I've come away with a bit of a smug feeling that only proves, yet again, that "whisky people" are simply different. Not that we are better or worse, just unique and a very special breed indeed.

Doing this series was a blessing. I really enjoyed interviewing each person and their answers gave me insight and even more appreciation for this thing we call whisky. 

As I sat in the St. Andrews Bar in New York City in October of 2013 and looked around the table that I was sitting at, I felt an enormous sense of the surreal and captured that moment in my memory bank forever: Dave Broom, Dominic Roskrow, Davin de Kergommeaux, Gavin Smith, Jonny McCormick, Lew Bryson & Sam Komlenic. The cream of the crop, the writers of today. Today...  that resonated in me.  As I looked around the room, I realized the average age was about 55-60. They won't write forever? Most will retire in one way or another in the next 10-15 years so... who's next? Who are the upcoming or next wave of whisky writers? I believe I've interviewed three that will be part of that group: Rob Gard, Fred Minnick & Rob Allanson. Do I aspire to be there too, maybe? Who knows where the road will lead. All I know is that I find myself being pulled like a magnet toward something. What that is, is yet to be determined. 

Thanks to all the writers who helped me with the great little project. I look foward to the next bend in the road ahead and where it will lead us all.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Can you say SMWS!? Dram #3 - A Bag of assorted boiled sweets that won my heart

 I'm down to the top 3 most memorable drams for 2013 for this Lassie. Each one leaving its mark, or memory. It's truly an interesting look back at what I've done this year and how far I have come. The people, the locations and the drams were in some cases life changing. This one certainly fits in that category.

If you haven't heard of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society well, you are either a newbie or live under a rock perhaps. If you want to take a moment to get a bit of info please click here: 

Are you back? Ok good, read on! 

Living on the east coast of Canada I had heard of the SMWS bottlings, mostly on twitter and a few social media sites or forums I belong to but because it is not an option afforded to us I never really looked into the membership or the whiskies for that matter.

During the Victoria Whisky Festival I had the utmost pleasure of meeting Karen & Rob Carpenter, the reason SMWS came to Canada, and of course I just had to try many of the SMWS they were showcasing at the Consumer Tasting. I was hooked! The quality of the whisky was superb. I was super excited and then it hit me, they are not east of Calgary which means not available to me. Why? Well because Canada, unfortunately still has very archaic liquor transportation laws. That means I can only buy whisky/wine in my own province. Needless to say I was pretty disappointed. 

A couple of weeks later in February a friend/member of our society came home from Fort McMurray Alberta and we went out for coffee. We spend an hour or so catching up and talking about some of the great scotches he had received for Christmas. I told him about my trip to BC and showed him a few pictures.
When I got to the "Jar Jar binks in trouble again" he said: "What is that?" I explained what the SMWS was, how different I felt they were but that I couldn't buy any of them because I wasn't in Alberta. He asked if he could get them in Calgary and I nodded. "Would they let you get a membership even if you don't live in Alberta". I said pointless, can't ship them to me. He grinned: "I can pick them up and bring them to you when I come home provided you are not buying like 20 of them at a time". You serious I said?! He grinned wider. So I called a few people and low and behold I could do it that way provided he picked up my order directly at the store. That's what I did - membership mine. He comes home every 6 to 8 weeks so now I had a way to get the lovely bottles home to me. Research began! What was I going to purchase as my first bottle. I chose: Sugared almonds in a mattress factory. Loved it! In March we received a newsletter stating what new bottlings were coming out. Me, being a complete newbie had no idea they had monthly releases. Talk about being surprised and excited all over again! 

One in particular caught my eye it was called G1.8 - A bag of assorted boiled sweets. I recall thinking: "What a peculiar name?" I contacted the Kensington Wine Market and asked for this bottle. I was advised that because a very small shipment had been delivered, they would be holding a lottery. "OK, I said, put me on the list" About 2 weeks later I received an email congratulating me that I had won one of the lottery bottles. I immediately called my friend "B" and asked him when he was coming home, just so happens it was that weekend. (I know, horseshoe.. :)

So, by Sunday my very lovely bottle of G1.8 arrived and what did I do, opened it of course!? Ok, you've been following along patiently. Why did I pick this as a memorable dram for 2013? 3 reasons:

1. I had never tried a single grain whisky before.
2. I absolutely love SMWS bottlings
3. It's opened up yet another level of whisky discoveries for me that travels with me. (I'll explain)

What I love even more about being a member of the SMWS is that I take that privilege where ever I go. So, if I'm the USA or UK and there is an SMWS, provided I have my member's card I can go in and try whiskies there as well.  

I've heard so many people say: "Yeah but is the membership really worth it? Seriously, the whiskies are so expensive".  

To that I say: Where else can you buy a good quality cask strength, limited bottling of whisky from so many different distilleries (not just limited to Scotland) and in some cases that rarely bottle for the public. I've done some research. The part I don't get is people seem to complain about everything whisky related these days. If it's a NAS they complain about quality don't want to pay a lot of money. If it's a limited released item from a distillery, they don't want to spend a lot of money. If it's an older aged statement whisky that isn't from the distillery directly - you get where I'm going...  

So, for me, why not? I enjoy the SMWS's so far and I have the means. I have bought - since March - 8 bottles and of the ones I've opened I am completely satisfied and enjoy them immensely. I share them with friends, I've traded with other SMWS members and when I go to Scotland in 2014 I plan on hitting the vaults, the London shop and anywhere else I can. 

Trying the whisky from the North British Distillery opened my eyes to the loveliness that exists in grain whiskies. I've since tried several and seek them out when they are available.  

G1.8 - A bag of assorted boiled sweets:

Color: Golden straw, legs long, thick and slow...

Nose: Very herbal, tomato plant leaves, granny smith apples. Left in the glass for a little while much more sweetness is revealed. Becomes ethereal in nature, the lightest of vanilla is found. So delicate. ( I could sit and sniff this one for hours).

Palate: Whoa! I forgot this was almost 63% ABV, could not detect that on the nose at all. Super mouthfeel (lots of burn, oopsy). Added water and found the sweetness at the forefront again. Huge hit of anise seed, lots of pastry - like a fruit flan. Surprisingly a full bodied dram.

Finish:  A bit hot still, white pepper but also hints of mint and more green apples. Lingers quite a bit. 

Discovering SMWS was one of the biggest memorable experiences in 2013 for me. Thank you to Georgie Bell, Kelly & Rob Carpenter for opening my eyes/nose/palate to these lovely whiskies. And to the nay sayers, the complainers and the skeptics that don't like them or think they are too expensive, well... 

Hmmmm, which by the way is not one of their bottlings but may be it should be :)

Dram 2 and 1 to come...  OHHHHHHH MY!


PS, a HUGE thank you to B for being such a great friend. I'll share my whiskies with you anytime :)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dram #4....Old is stil new - Johnnie Walker Red from the 1960's

 As I have mentioned before this year has been beyond educational. I have gone coast to coast and attended 10 different whisky events. Over the course of 2013, I have had the utmost pleasure and honor to meet: Lawrence Graham, Oliver Klimek, Tim Puet, Mark Gillespie, Charles MacLean, Peter Silver, Dave Broom, Ralfy Mitchell (retired). Add Davin de Kergommeaux & Martine Nouet and I've met 1/3 of the malt maniacs of the world. I am the ultimate whisky geek! 

They all seem to have one thing in common: The belief and desire to help anyone on their whisky journey. In my opinion it is what sets them apart. Although Oliver and I befriended each other on Facebook and Twitter we had not met in person. He advised me in late 2012 that he was coming to Canada and I was elated. Of all the people I looked forward to meeting, he was at the top of that list. I find his sense of humor quite hilarious and he's got a great palate/nose that I highly respect. So, meet with did. He came to the Victoria Whisky Festival in January and we spent much time together going to some of the same classes or simply hanging out afterward. Mr. Klimek is almost 100% the same personality you get to see on social media and that means much to me. It is simply refreshing to meet someone face to face and have their personas match the virtual world.

Something I suspect is a tradition between bloggers or friends is to bring whisky samples when travelling to meet others and so of course we obliged as well. We exchanged samples in Victoria and I came home with several lovely little 50ml sample bottles.  

It wasn't until April that I had a chance to start opening them. I came across one marked Johnnie Walker Red - 1960's. I recall staring at it and thinking WTF? Then I remembered the conversation Oliver and I had. He felt that the whiskies from days of old were sometimes 10X better than the whiskies of today. Having never tasted them, I think I was skeptical. Whisky is whisky, is it not? Well, not really... 

I discovered by doing a head to head with JW Red from today against the JW Red of the 60's - Not even close... and I've discovered that a few times since.  Lot 40 Canadian whisky, Greenore 8 Irish whisky, Talisker & Macallan's 10 year old bottled in the 70's, etc...

And so dram #4, Johnnie Walker Red from the 1960's started a new obsession for me... Try the whiskies from the yester' years. Don't mistake what I'm saying: Not old whiskies...  but whiskies bottled in the "olden" years.  

In November another opportunity presented itself when Igor Kossov took Graham and I aside at Whisky Live Toronto and said: "No... no, come over here and meet Joe". The next thing I know we have a date for the next day at the Via Allegro restaurant with Igor.  


Igor explained it was an amazing place to see/try some interesting whiskies.  Sounds cool I thought. The next day when we arrived with Rick Culver, I got out of the car seriously thinking we were at the wrong address.  It was a non-descriptive strip mall with several store fronts...  "This is a special place for whiskies??" I was very skeptical until we walked in.  

With over 1000 whiskies in their collection, needless to say I was in whisky heaven. They brought over the book (which was thicker than the Gutenberg Bible) and Graham and I proceeded to look and drool over the immense catalogue. After much deliberation and a bit of help from Igor we all settled in with food, espresso, whisky or a combination thereof. It was a full afternoon of relaxation, fantastic company, amazing whiskies and most importantly great conversations. I feel like we've known Igor for years. He is beyond wise, smart as whip and truly a whisky enthusiast and lover. In my heart, he is the epitome of a Malt Maniac. So between he and Oliver my eyes were opened and my nose/palate introduced to some lovely whiskies from days of old. Yet another memorable experience that affected me deeply for 2013. Back to that Johnnie Walker Red from the 60's.  IT WAS DELISH. (I can't even swallow the stuff from today?!!)

I wish you all the opportunity to try something that was made/bottled in those early years. They are truly a rare and beautiful experience to have, even more so with friends.  Here's to the days of yore!


Friday, December 20, 2013

Writer Circle Profile - Fred Minnick, no longer a man's world...

James Brown - 1966

Conversation with Graham in October - G: "So do you want a copy of Fred Minnick's book". Moi: "I'm not sure I want to read a book about whisky women written by a man". G: "And why not?" Moi: "What could he possibly say from a man's perspective that would truly be relevant to women and whisky. Meh, maybe?"  Yup... me - at my worst. I state I'm not a feminist and think I'm open minded?! Hey, I am human and I will chalk some of it up to my upbringing - My mother was a burn your bra, damn the man kinda mom who encouraged me to push the limits of what was expected of a girl in the 70's but also ensured I was constantly reminded that by stepping into a "man's world" I would have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good. I can think of several examples where this was unfortunately true. 

Tampon ad of 1930's
So why wouldn't I be skeptical and close minded about a book written by a guy that deals with women and whisky. Because, I had (past tense) a firm belief that if you are not a woman, how can you possibly empathize? You know, you don't have a vagina so how can you even remotely know what it feels like to have the pains from your period?  

So back to Fred and his book. I saw it while I was in New York City and I picked it up. Cover looked like I expected - Not exactly the "sexiest" of images but I opened it and read the table of contents. The very last chapter is entitled: For women, by women. I sheepishly admit I rolled my eyes BUT... curiosity kills the cat and so I went to look at it. What I found not only changed how I felt but truly made me feel ashamed that I had so easily misjudged someone just because of his gender. Fuck! I did what had been done to me for years - reverse feminism. I put the book down and walked away feeling like the biggest schmuck and too embarrassed to even tell Graham about it when I got home. I did however mention later on that I wanted a copy for Christmas.

In early November I interviewed Chuck Cowdery and he said something that stunned me: "Fred Minnick is a mentor of mine and I've learned a lot from him". Fred is almost young enough to be my son?! Totally intrigued now...? As soon as we hung up I went online and started looking Fred up. That was twice this man's name crossed my path and I firmly believe things like that don't happen at random. What I found prompted me to contact Mr. Minnick and ask if I could interview him for my profile series. 

Ladies & gentlemen: Mr. Fred Minnick.

Q1:  So how did you get “here”? When you were a little boy, I’m sure you didn’t say: “When I grow up I want to be a whisky writer”?

"After a tour in Iraq, I moved to Louisville, KY, to be with the woman who is now my wife and the only job I could find in 2005 was a food editor position at a restaurant trade magazine. I lasted 10 months, but the job gave me incredible skills that helped carve out a niche in food, wine and spirits. And of course, when you live in Kentucky, you must make bourbon a priority. So, I strongly pursued a wine and spirits (with a main emphasis on bourbon) writing / photography career. I wrote about bourbon for wine magazines, meeting magazines, scientific magazines, newspapers and even tried to write about it for financial sites. If somebody would pay me, I’d write about it. The operative word being paid. Since this is how I make my living, I don’t write for free.

Starting out, I read as much as I could and took advantage of my location, always interviewing master distillers and bourbon historian Mike Veach, who’s been a great educator. The whiskey business has so many great people, and I generally think we all try to help one another."

Q2: What motivates you to be in this part of the industry? Sometimes it can be quite unkind and very few can make a living doing this?

"After surviving war and surviving the return home, I decided to never let anybody dictate my future. I will determine what I want to do, and I chose to write about the good things in life. This industry is a never-ending web of mystery and fascination with a few great drams in between. I also take on the responsibility to uncover history, write poignant reviews and make informed opinions about whiskey. I genuinely enjoy finding stories that are not on anybody’s radar. For example, I wrote about Mexican bourbon and Mormon for Whisky Magazine and nobody had ever heard of either. But, my favorite of never-heard-of stories was my “Kentucky Leak Hunters” piece for Whisky Advocate in 2011, where I followed a group of Buffalo Trace leak hunters around the warehouse for a day and just observed them looking for leaking barrels. They were saving precious whiskey. Could their be a more important job than a whiskey saver?"

Q3: What sacrifices or tough decisions have you made to get to where you are now?  

"When you write about booze long enough, the marketing veil is eventually pierced, the protective PR tarp falls to the ground and you see the business for what it really is—a business. And there’s a lot of bullshit floating around whiskey. As a writer, I think it’s okay to get caught up in the pageantry and beauty of a good story. But, I feel it’s extremely important to not get “taken” on long fictitious rides. So, there’s a fine balance between sacrificing the newspaper reporter inside and becoming a hopeless whiskey romantic, where I dote on every brand. I still find ways to break whiskey news and craft in-depth details that marketers usually don’t want out there. For example, I’m extremely proud of the MGPI feature in the most recent issue of Whisky Advocate. The inside whiskey world knew they supplied rye whiskey to umpteen brands, but I wanted to detail their anonymous distiller without passing judgment."

Q4: After publishing your first whisky book, care to share what some of your upcoming plans are?

"I’ve got a few things in the hopper, but I’m mostly looking forward to becoming a dad. No matter what I will accomplish as a professional, nothing will be more important to me than that." 

Q5: If you could go back in time and talk to Fred Minnick in 1984, what would you want to tell him?

"You’ve got a great life ahead of you, kid. Don’t change a thing…except maybe don’t put chewing gum in your seventh grade art teacher’s hair. You’ll still feel the sting of Mr. Stevenson’s swats 20 years later."  

End of interview...

About two weeks after I interviewed Fred, my friend Susannah Skiver-Barton surprised me with an autographed copy of his book. I was extremely touched by her gift as I hadn't told anyone I was writing about Fred. Kismet?! 

Two weeks later the whole Dewar's debacle took place and Fred, a man I barely know stood beside me and many others on this issue. AND... was instrumental in taking the ad down. 

Again, serendipity? Scary to think about it isn't it...

I spoke to Fred a few days later about this article and to thank him for his support and help. I had to ask him one question: "Why? Why would he write a book about whisky & women? His answer was quite simple: "Because it was way past time it was done." Fred has faced ridicule for writing this book. He knew, ahead of time this would happen but armed himself with facts and tools so the book is accurate and factual. There is no fluff and certainly no bullshit. 

I also confessed and apologized about my somewhat ignorant conversation with Graham. Just so happens Chuck couldn't have been more right. I have much to learn in this "man's world" and the first lesson is that the next generation of writers/whisky drinkers don't see it that way anymore. It is with the deepest respect that I write this particular blog. Fred, his book, the Dewar's ad and everything that has come has propelled me down yet another unexpected road.

Fred, you are a mentor and wise beyond your years. I've come to the conclusion that your world is not that much different than mine and I thank you for that.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

2013's Dram 5 - The snowball dram - Tweeddale Blend Batch #3

CURMUDGEONS AND TROLLS OF THE WHISKY WORLD - Avert your eyes to this post as it will only bore you, cause you pain/suffering or your head might pop off?! The rest of you, feel free to read on :)

2013 has been an absolute roller coaster ride for me. There have been some really tough moments like coming to terms with losing a few close friends and other things. There have also been some fantastic moments like pregnancies (not my own, eek!) meeting many lovely people, travel and lots of personal growth. I know I'm headed somewhere and that is often the thought that keeps me moving forward even at my lowest moments. 

So dram #6 came to my attention in April, then May, June, October and again in November (persistent little bugger!) I read about it in April, interviewed Alasdair Day a month later and then nosed/tasted it in June. So June..  a month where spring is turning into summer. The grass is growing, and people are shedding their winter wear for good (well, it is eastern Canada...) and where was I when I was imbibing it?

By a pool on holiday, in Florida where it was 42C with the humidity. PERFECT weather for a dram, don't you think? Graham was there for a full week of training and I tagged along as a corporate wife which was really nice! Before we left cold and rainy Saint John I grabbed the Tweeddale and brough it with us and I'm so happy I did. We were in Orlando and the closest liquor store had plenty of rum, vodka and beer but the selection of whiskies wasn't that great. Graham got in the habit of pouring himself a refreshing cocktail as soon as he would get home from training and I, well I enjoyed the Tweeddale several times by the pool or back in the room sitting out on the balcony. Probably one of the most refreshing things I've ever drank when it was so hot which bewildered me a bit because I don't have a custom of drinking whisky that much in the summer. Tweeddale was a light, crisp and quite satisfying sip that week. I didn't feel like I had drank loads of sugary stuff (from the colorful umbrella drinks), I didn't overdrink (rarely happens with whisky because of how slow I sip) and I felt refreshed and satisfied. 

And you know what: Some might cringe to hear that I kept the whisky in the refrigerator AND drank it ice cold every day... Gasps of blasphemous profanities erupt from the appalled crowd! hehe.. That's right! I committed the whisky snobs greatest faux pas or wait... did I? I didn't add water or ice. 

I started every morning on our vacation by having breakfast with Graham. He would leave for class and I in my bathing suit and flip flops made my way to the pool to swim, read and laze around. I'd head back to the suite for lunch, make a sandwich and pour myself a short cold one - Tweeddale. Clean up, finish my whisky and head back to the pool for a few more hours of sun and relaxation. Sometime, I took a small dram with me. By 3:30 I would head back up to the room for a quick shower and a nap. This was my daily ritual for 9 days.  Lovely, just lovely. 

As for the Tweeddale, well I enjoyed it so much I approached Alasdair to see if it was possible to use it for my Coast 2 Coast Canada Twitter Tasting which was a first in our country in October of 2013. Thirty people from British Columbia to Newfoundland - a span of 5000km came together and we had a blast. It was a glorious moment to say the least. Later on in October I got to meet Alasdair face to face and appreciated the chance to talk to him about the Tweeddale legacy and where he hopes to go next. I was also fortunate enough to try Batch 4, his 14 single malt and the 16 year old grain whisky. They were all very impressive and the hit of Whisky Live Toronto. 

The memorable part of this dram will always be how my curiosity got the best of me while reading a blog post led -> a chance meeting over a plate of sweet potato fries led -> an interview led -> drinking close to a full bottle on vacation led -> a cross country twitter tasting led ->meeting the whiskymaker. And it hasn't stopped there. 
Tweeddale Batch 3 will forever be the turning point dram where I was no longer "just a blogger" and things started happening pretty fast after that for me. I will always be grateful for the opportunities I've received this year and this great little whisky will always be proof of how you have to keep your eyes open, your ears to the ground and not be afraid to step forward and grab opportunities when they present themselves. Tweeddale is available in Ontario & Quebec (on request) and will may also be available in western Canada very soon.

Thanks to Tom Thomson, Ken Gunn and Alasdair Day for one of my favorite drams this year. Slainté gentlemen!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dram #6 - No more searching for a Heart of Gold (ohhh bad pun.... :)

Ahhh Neil Young! You can't be Canadian and not know who he is, well unless you are 5 years old maybe? 

Most that know me, know how much I love Forty Creek whiskies. So I will say it again: John Hall shook the foundations of Canadian Whisky by making it "better". I'm sure at first the industry looked at him like he was nothing more than a flash in the pan and assumed he would a blip on the radar for a few years. Boy, were there wrong. Forty Creek has the second large demographic in Ontario for Canadian whisky and in Texas, it sells 2.5 million whiskies a year. Forty Creek whiskies, for me, became a reason to get on a soap box and announce to the world that CANADIAN WHISKY CAN BE GREAT! 

Now some will say I've drank the Kool-aid and let them think that if they will. All I can say is having seen the foundations shook over the last 7 years I'm positive the slew of new Canadian whiskies we now see on the market is NO coincidence. Someone took notice that status quo was no longer acceptable and that Canadian whisky lovers were ready for something innovative. Ok, I'm getting off the soap box now... 

So why did I choose Heart of Gold as dram #6. As stated each dram has a memorable story or lesson attached, well this one is no different. I was attending the Spirit of Toronto in May of this year. After much deliberation and arm twisting from Richard Culver, we went to Forty Creek Distillery. Not that I didn't want to go, I was scheduled to appear in September at the distillery as part of the Canadian Whisky Dream team with Mark Gillespie, Davin de Kergommeaux and John himself. I knew John was very busy getting things ready for SoT as well as many other dates/tours he was gearing up for so I really didn't want to impose and be another person on the tour in May. What I didn't know is that it was going to be a very special tour. So I'm glad we reshuffled the planned weekend activities and said yes. 
What resulted was the surprise of a lifetime. I found out we were going to be spending the morning touring Forty Creek with John and Ralfy. Oh that's a nice surprise you are thinking?! NO... the surprise came when John took some of his latest creation Heart of Gold out of a cask and we were honored to be the firsts to try it. Of course we were under radio silence and I couldn't tell anyone about it. I nosed/tasted and listened to everyone discuss what they were getting from the sample. It was a glorious way to spend a few hours and I truly felt privileged to be there. The opportunity to imbibe with Ralfy was great but to sit with John and have undivided attention to ask questions, make remarks and learn was amazing. Ok you are thinking so why is this the August 2013 dram? Remember I said we were under strict radio silence, well Mark Gillespie, Davin de Kergommeaux and Chip Dykstra received samples during SoT and accidentally broke that radio silence by posting early reviews of it to their respective sites. June was Ralfy's turn to post his video and then came August when I received my "official" sample for review. I kept quiet still... and said nothing because my blog was due to air the week of Forty Creek Weekend when HoG was being launched: 

I spent the better part of three consecutive days trying to figure out that dram! It's really not unlike anything John had made before? I was perplexed. Why didn't I remember it this way the first time in May? And... that's when it hit me. I got to try a Canadian whisky before Davin and Chip. Two of the leading bloggers/writers in Canada. Davin, the fine gentleman and my mentor - the do all, know all, see all about Canadian whisky. Now I know it was purely by accident and because I happened to be at the right place and right time BUT it still happened. I'm not saying this to sound like I got one over on someone what I'm trying to convey is that I felt like I had come to the table so to speak. That day in August as I stared at my lovely Glencairn with Heart of Gold gleaming in it I thought to myself: "wow, here I am... finally". Not that I think myself an expert as I have so much to learn and it's one thing to hear someone describe me as: "She's one of the top 5 influential voices with regards to Canadian Whisky".  It's a huge compliment I assure you but... to self accept and allow myself to be in a confident place in my own head to finally say: I am the Canadian Whisky Lassie. Pretty memorable indeed! 

I'm comfortable with who I am becoming and my identity in the whiskyfabric. It may have taken a sunny afternoon in August with a dram of Heart of Gold to figure that out but then again Forty Creek changed my life years ago, it's only befitting it changes it again. 

Thanks John for your support and belief in me. May your heart of gold continue to shine brightly within mine.  


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Memorable Dram #7 for 2013 - Unity Bottling and The 7 kings of bourbons

I'd like to start by reiterating that my memorable drams for 2013 all have something in common: Each taught me a valuable lesson so they may not necessarily be the BEST I tried during the year but they all left an impression and #7 certainly did that. 

In October of 2013 I surprised many of our #whiskyfabric bloggers in New York city when I showed up for Whisky Jewbilee & Whiskyfest. That alone made the trip most memorable because I met: Susannah Skiver-Barton (@WhatTastesGood), Allison Patel (@whiskygirls), Aaron Krouse (@AaronMKrouse), Steven Zeller (@SmokyBeast), Shane Helmick (@How2DrinkWhisky), Angelo Veneziano (@boozedancing), Joe Gratkowski (@whiskyjourney) and the grand weaver of them all Joshua Feldman (@cooperedtot). I apologize if I forgot anyone... 

I also figured if I was going to NYC, I might as well go big so I bought tickets to everything, including the all day seminar that Whiskyfest was hosting on Saturday October 12th. Here was the lineup for the day:


Some of the whiskies I tried were breathtaking, rare or chance in a lifetime dram and after a fantastic lunch paired with Talisker whiskies we came back to the seminar room where we were treated to, of all things Dominic Roskrow teaching the crowd about twerking (you had to be there). It was a lively, comedic and great seminar about where whisky is heading - the road to tomorrow.

Courtesy of Whisky Advocate: John Hansell, Parker Beam & son Craig

What happened next was a moment that touched many of us in the room. I expected the interview to be poignant and also see people moved by the grand gentleman who sat on stage. What I, and the rest of the crowd, didn't expect was the level of emotion that John Hansell shared. At one point he was rendered speechless but once he regained his composure John made no bones about how he felt about Parker Beam. You could see the pride and love he had for this man. I and many others were also moved to tears that afternoon. The coming together of seven bourbon families is the epitome of what the #whiskyfabric is all about. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please watch this video: http://www.unitybottling.com/  

Everyone that was there that afternoon was most fortunate to taste the unity bottling sample before them. Many of the seven distillery heads joined Parker on stage and we all raised a toast together. The two bottles sold at auction the following day raising over $10,000 for ALS.

My little secret: I didn't taste the sample that day. I had brought several small 60ml vials with me and this is one of the whiskies I squirreled away. It was something special I wanted to hold on to and share with Graham who couldn't come with me to New York. The intent was to open it on the day Parker passes and toast his legacy with the dram that was blended and chosen by him. 

My second secret: I go into my whisky room pretty much every morning and look at all my little sample bottles. The morning of my birthday, November 11th, was no different except this time when I picked up the Unity bottling sample I didn't put it back down. I stared at it in my hands and then I opened it, gave it a long lingering nose and then I took a small mouthful and just let it sit there, totally taking it in. Happy Birthday to me. 

I took out my little pink book and wrote the following:

Color: Dark mahogany. Thick, viscous in the vial.

Nose: Deep vanilla poundcake, creamy and lots of caramel. Big oak at the back.

Palate: Quite intense (I think because I left it sit in my mouth for about 10 seconds), rich and full bodied. Somewhat tannic which surprised me but well balanced. Red dark fruit like juicy red cherries. Mouthwatering.

Finish: Also intense, long and lingered beautifully. A balance of sweet/hot and just a hint of spice like anise. 

It was very difficult to not pour myself a real dram so that I could nose/taste it properly. I was gobsmacked at how good that mouthful was. Then again, knowing now how good it was - it will be worth the wait albeit for a sad occasion. When I do open this one again I will be brought back to that moment when one of the greatest bourbon giants stood on stage before me and we toasted him, in unity with Unity.  

To Parker Beam, Greg Davis, Chris Morris, Fred Noe, Jim Rutledge, Jimmy Russell & Harlen Wheatley may you be remembered as the seven kings of whiskey who stood together on October 12 2013 and demonstrated to the world what unity truly means.



Link to Parker Beam's ALS Promise Fund:

Monday, December 16, 2013

Drams of 2013, Number 8... The accidental Irish tourist - Writers Tears

2013 has been a year of many wonderful whisky discoveries. I struggled at first to remember writing every single one down. I thought it was rather time consuming and having to drag my pink book everywhere was a royal pain in the ass. However I have to say in hindsight just like every other project I've worked on a bit of preventative maintenance before/during always pays off in the end because by documenting everything as it happened it did two things: A) Made me realize how many drams I actually got to try this year and B) it resulted in 342 nosing/tasting notes.   

Dram #8 - Writers Tears was completely accidental in nature. In March I attended the Celebrate Whisky Event in Halifax NS. It turned out to be a pretty great night considering I was suppose to be flying solo since Graham was working behind one of the whisky tables. I had an extra ticket that I sold to a very nice lady named Phlis McGregor and we ended up spending some time together that night, trying different whiskies that we both had "targeted" for the evening. She and I would part ways and then find each other later on and spend a few minutes discussing what we were nosing/tasting. At one point we decided to try and find a specific whisky together which we thought was at table 24. It wasn't... we had got our numbers mixed up. However a long skinny bottle on the table called Writers Tears caught my eye that I didn't recall hearing about or seeing before so I said to Phlis: "Might as well try it since we are here". So we stood in line, waited until we got to the front and the young man proceeded to tell us a bit about the whisky. As soon as he said the word "Irish" I almost instinctively crossed my arms and tucked my glass in thinking: "Meh? An Irish whiskey I've not heard of" and quickly became disinterested in trying it.
Background: Irish whiskies we have in Eastern Canada: Bushmills, Jamesons, Kilbeggan, Connemara or Tullamore Dew. NOT that there is anything wrong with these = breadth of my experience with Irish whiskies limited. Phlis looked at me like: "Aren't you going to put your glass forward?" so I did; still somewhat reluctantly I have to admit. 

Nosed, tasted -> BOOM! Another one of those wow moments where I wasn't sure how to even describe what I had just experienced. I looked over at Phlis to see if she liked it but she wasn't beside me anymore. Found her at a small table a few feet away where she was busy frantically writing notes. I quickly proceeded to do the same.
IPhone photo - trying to get a close up, hehe!
Color:  Bright amber, reminds me of a pale ale. Legs are super thin and extremely runny. A bit of an oily texture to it, sticks to the glass in certain spots.

Nose: Glorious hay right after it's been cut in late August. Fresh, clean/green followed by a very distinct lime or lemon zest, just bursting with citrus notes. (later on wrote - caramel with a ? beside it)

Palate:  Smooth, delicious mouthfeel with a minted marmalade rollercoaster. This is fabulous! 

Finish: So long and lingering. Mint is still at the forefront but honeyed. Reminds me of a whisky toddy with /mint leaves and honey in it. 

I had never tasted a pot still Irish Whiskey before but truly loved this one on first nose/taste. I bought a bottle that very night. I've since introduced it to many friends most of which have turned around and bought their own. As a result of trying this whiskey I began to seek out other Pot Still Irish Whiskies and since have tried: Red Breast and Green Spot just to name a few. In June I discovered there was only one bottle left on the east coast so of course, I bought it.

Writers Tears is now one of my favorite Irish Whiskies and I can't thank Phlis enough for giving me the "evil eye" that day in March.  :)

For more information about Writers Tears please visit their website:  http://www.writerstears.com/

Available widely in the US and in BC, AB, ON for Canada.  Retails about $50... 

The countdown continues as we make our way toward:

Stay tuned!