Thursday, October 30, 2014

week 3 - 1988 was a good year for growing up, friendships and whisky...

Weird stuff has been happening in Canada that has left the majority of us simply shaking our heads. Fords back in office, radicalist attacks on home soil and non-consensual BDSM allegations for a well loved Canadian Icon. 2014 certainly won't be forgotten in many of our books. But I have to say the freakiest thing about this year for me is my daughter turns 30 next week! 

Moments like that make me think and be thankful for some of the memorable things in my life. I ended up calling a really good friend of mine as we hadn't talked in awhile, in a long while actually. We were extremely close when we were much younger however life pulled us in very separate directions but we always end up touching base and catching up. So there we were again catching up after not speaking to each other for almost a year. At one point he said all this shit in the news makes me realize how quickly it all goes by. I joked we were not that old and he kindly reminded me we had known each other since 1988. I did the math... OMG, I said as I put my hand on my forehead we have known each other for 26 years!? Nothing like a quick math lesson to realize that more than half of my life.

After work I went into my whisky room and picked up my Tomatin 1988. Coincidence?! I think not... Rarely seems to be in my life. So I grabbed a glass and my notebook. As I sat nosing, sipping and making notes I thought about the earlier conversation and it made me go back in time...    

1988... Good lord, I was 22 years old. Living on my own with my daughter (yes I was a really young mom). At that point I had a high school education with no family living close by but I was determined I would not be a "teen mom statistic". I worked hard to make our lives as good as it could be. Things that were important to me then: My child, my family, my friends. I was making $26,000 a year working as a telephone operator. I owned and paid $4500 for my Dodge Colt, a dozen eggs cost me 65 cents and if I went to a movie I could get in for $3.50. Life certainly seemed complicated at the time but in hindsight I realize it truly wasn't. 

I loved Elizabeth Manley
I don't really remember much about that year other than I broke up with my daughter's dad, Canada hosted the winter Olympics and Prince Charles escaped an avalanche (don't ask me why I remember that?!) but I do know that my friendship with Darren started that year, simply stated the way most of my adventures always begin.

I was living on the 4th floor of an apartment high rise, it was summer and I recall it was my day off. I was sitting on the balcony reading while Michelle napped. The next thing I knew there was a canoe going by my floor. It got stuck on the banister of my balcony and I could hear a couple of guys arguing. I got up and walked over to the edge. I looked up as well as down and sure enough there was a young man two floor above me with a rope and a young man on the ground with a rope trying to hoist a canoe.

They sheepishly stared at me for a moment and asked that I set the canoe free. Me, being the silly child I can be sometimes asked what exactly they planned on doing with the canoe once they got it up to the 6th floor. Long story short one of their friends had lost a bet and they were going to replace his bed with the canoe. I was amused by this and decided I would help. "Where will you be storing the bed?" I asked as I released the canoe tip from the rung. Peter (I later got both their names) said they were simply going to put it in his spare bedroom so I said, you can store it here if you like. Darren started laughing like crazy and said "Deal!". They came by about an hour later with the bed and I stored it in my dining room. Darren and I exchanged telephone numbers so they could get it in a few days after they drove their friend Dan a little crazy. 

The whole thing went over like a lead balloon with Dan and after 2 days they put him out of his misery. Darren called me about a week later and offered to drop off a bottle of wine to thank me for being an accomplice. I accepted. We both agree often that he and I clicked from the moment we sat down that night. We talked and drank wine until 3:00 in the morning. We dated... and both agreed that was the stupidest thing we could have ever done because the reality was it felt like I was kissing my little brother. 

However, Darren is proof that friendships can span a lifetime. Oddly enough I met a very special man not long after that, we married, had Erica and the rest is Lassie history...
Michelle now 30
I'm almost 48 now and have two beautiful daughters who are educated, independent and not only do I love them, I like them too. I "did" good. I'm really proud of that. Things that are very important to me now: My kids, my family and my friends. Everything has changed but oddly enough the things that mean the most to me haven't. My life has been interesting and even though the hardships may have been plentiful during those first few years I wouldn't change them for the world. Yup, 1988 was a really great year. 

The segway to whisky you say?! Well of course in 1988 someone at Tomatin was making whisky and even though it was the worst of times (critical economic downturn) Tomatin thankfully survived. So, in 2014 Graham Eunson and his team decided it was time to bottle the whisky from 1988 as vintage batch release. Vatted from a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Port casks to create what is essentially one of my favorite Tomatin's to date. 

Tomatin 1988, 46% ABV & non-chill filtered

Nose: My first sniff hit me like the fantastic memory it holds. Have you ever had jam cookies!? These were a staple at my grandmother's house. This was followed by orange creamsicles.

Palate: The sweet & creamy flavor is there like lemon squares. After it sits in the glass a little while it developed into chocolate covered cherries. It was quite a change in direction that surprised me. 

Finish: Long, lingering with a refreshing quality (sort of like eating parsley after a meal). Stayed with me for quite some time.
I've tried 11 different Tomatin's over the course of the last 2 years and I have to say this is by far my favorite so far. It's inviting on the nose, delicious on the palate and quite satisfying from start to finish. 

As stated, 1988 was a great year for many things including this whisky. I do hope Tomatin considers keeping this one as part of their core range as I believe it's a keeper that many people will enjoy. 

Available in the UK, USA and of course Alberta Canada markets. If you live in Calgary or Edmonton they are having Tomatin tastings the first and second week of November.  It's a fantastic chance to try quite a few of their whiskies including this one.

Next week I will be reviewing a North American Exclusive Tomatin Release - French Oak 12 Year Old.

Until then, get out there and try some Tomatin!!!

I certainly will be.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

week 2 Tomatin 14 Portwood - Do you dare follow me down the rabbit hole?

DRINK ME!!!!! 

I CAN'T! I replied as I threw it back in my luggage. "But you want to don't you?", it beckoned slyly. 

"I can't. I have to wait until I get back to Canada!" I said with much more authority in my voice. I put the small bottle in a sock, tucked it away under a pair of pants and zipped the bag closed. I tried to read, I talked to people on twitter until finally I was exhausted and simply went to sleep. What followed was a strange dream of miniature Tomatin whisky bottles chasing me down the streets of London. Dave Worthington was the Cheshire cat and his daughter Kat was the Queen of Hearts. I was being put on trial for breaking the rules and drinking the king's favorite whiskies. Needless to say when I woke up my first thought was: "I'm never eating plantain fritters with honey yogurt before bed ever again!?" 

As I've stated several times, Tomatin whiskies were my favorite discovery of 2013 and so I specifically seek them out now either at home or my travels abroad. I have yet to find one that I don't enjoy immensely. My collection of Tomatins bottles has caught up to my Forty Creek as well as Compass Box collection. That... says something about the quality of the whiskies I enjoy.

Last week I posted about my encounters of the third kind with the Cù Bòcan 1989, this week I'm going to review the Tomatin 14 year old Port Wood finish. This whisky was added to the core range of the distillery bottlings in April 2014. It's bottled at 46% (always a bonus in my books) and it spent the first 13 years in an ex-bourbon barrel but finished in a port pipe for that last year of maturation.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of Forty Creek whisky. It's Canadian and their entire line is quite lovely. John Hall released a Port Wood Reserve limited release twice, once in 2009 and the last one in 2012. For me, it's been the benchmark of what a Port Wood Finished whisky should taste like. The really difficult part is knowing Forty Creek will never release another Port Wood finish so what I have in my collection right now (2 bottles left) is it. I've tried several other whiskies that were port finished and frankly, I always came away very disappointed until now... 

What qualities are you looking for in a Port Wood Finish Lassie I hear you asking?  Simple:

1. I should still be able to taste the house style of the whisky - The port should be in the background and not mask or overpower the whisky.

2. The port should provide sweet and soft undertones - Not candy, syrupy sweet but rather rounded, soft fruit like flavors.

3. Price tag - It must be affordable and have value for money since it's something I'll dip into often.
Whenever I've tried other port matured or finished whiskies these 3 criteria were somehow not being met. Case in point, I loved the Balvenie Portwood 21, but I don't think $350.00 is something I part with on a regular basis to enjoy this whisky. Forty Creek met those three criteria for me and I certainly didn't mind paying $70 for the bottle on a regular basis. 

So back to the Tomatin 14 Port Wood Finish. It may not completely match how I feel about the Forty Creek nor would I expect it to as no two whiskies are ever alike, but I do believe that I have found a replacement that is fairly close.

Nose: Bumbleberry pie (for those of you who don't know what that is: A combination of strawberry, blueberry, blackberries and/or raspberries -> Basically summer fruits) It's Tomatin, but so much more fruity on the nose (I compared it to my 12, 15 and 18). As it sits in the glass, I got a bit of sweet pipe tobacco or more like new leather perhaps. It was a lovely smell. I nosed the whisky for about 30 minutes before I would even consider tasting it. It's truly a lovely and well balanced nose. But would the palate hold true?

Palate: Nice full bodied mouthfeel, almost a bit oily and nutty in nature. I love the feeling of the fruit exploding on my tongue. It was a bit of a surprise I must admit. The taste of a honeycomb came to mind followed by a mango cheesecake I once made. Again, balanced, sweetness at the back and quite satisfying.

Finish: I could really taste blackberries which confused me at first. It's a rich, long finish that stays with you for quite some time. About half way through my dram I started to notice a bit more of an almond and oaky flavor being left behind. 

From start to finish, this whisky was simply delicious. Is it my Forty Creek port finished whisky - No...  Is it close enough that I'm extremely happy I found one that I can start buying as a replacement, YES... ! Now the next small problem...  I need to find more room for all these whiskies?! Oh wait... I'm in the process of working on that....

Tomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Finish is available world wide and ranges from £50 in the UK. Only available in the province of Alberta in Canada, at this time, retails for about $85. If you love Tomatin or port wood finishes I would certainly recommend you trying some.

More to come next week as I'll be reviewing the Tomatin 1988.  Care to come over for my tea party? I have some realllly nice cups I'd love to use... 

Cheeky Lassie....

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

There's a chill in the air, time for autumn warmers!

It's really nice having "go to" whiskies. We just celebrated a lovely Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada and after the guests went home, the kitchen was cleaned and I was able to put my feet up for a few seconds I wanted a nice whisky I could sip on quietly while I read. I instinctively reached for Copper Pot from Forty Creek. It was so good, I had two drams. Reminded me how much certain whiskies are really appealing when it comes to the different seasons we experience here in Canada.

Thought I'd repost from my days of blogging as "Perfect Whisky Match"...

For those who read my blog regularly you must know by now how much I love Canadian whiskies. Of course I do have my favorites and Forty Creek is one of them. Prior to tasting John Hall's whiskies, there were very few Canadian whiskies that I owned more than one bottle of. I like Wisers and Gibsons, I have 2 bottles of each. However I have almost all of the Forty Creek releases because John Hall opened my eyes to a new avenue of whisky that many still refuse to believe exists in Canada. 

Like most other master distillers in the world, John works very hard at maintaining the quality of his award winning whiskies while constantly developing new products for future markets. Copper Pot was his release for 2012. I and many other fans have gone through several bottles of this particular release and I am never without a bottle in my collection.

Autumn here in Canada is one of the most beautiful times of the year. People from around the world flock to our country to experience the brisk morning air, warm sunny afternoons and the long shadows cast by the sun by day's end. The red maple leafs, yellow birches and copper oak leaves are abundant and breathtakingly beautiful. I am in awe every year as the transition from summer to fall takes place. Out come the warm wool socks and gloves and the fall/winter whiskies too! Copper Pot Reserve is an autumn whisky for me. The bottle even has an orange hue and golden highlights while the elixir within a rich deep golden amber to match.

One of the great things about John that sets him apart from the other distillers in North America is that he's a trailblazer and a perfectionist in his craft. 

Pot still distillation is not the most efficient or easiest to use but John swears by it for some of his whiskies. The pot stills transfer characters to the whiskies that is not readily created over and over again. This likely means each batch is somewhat unique. I like that. It's truly what I think being Canadian is all about. We don't aim to look like everyone else and to be "Canadian" means we are all individuals with our own distinct personalities. You will find no melting pot mentality here. 

No wonder I like Forty Creek so much, it represents what I feel being Canadian is all about. This dram has such a wonderful warmth that I always have a very content feeling after finishing it. It has a hugely satisfying, full bodied and spicy profile. 

I think releasing this at 43% ABV was a great idea. Some people describe this particular release as Forty Creek Barrel Select on steroids. Although I can still taste the Forty Creek profile, I tend to think it's more like the NEON version. It's Barrel select but MAGNIFIED in amplitude when it comes to the aromas and flavors. It's a much bolder version and yet another great example of how John thinks outside the typical Canadian whisky box to create something that is exciting, different and surprising.
A Danish blogger friend of mine was in Canada the summer this was released and I helped arrange a tour for him to visit to the distillery. Copper Pot wasn't quire ready yet so when I got my first bottle I asked him if he wanted to try it: YES ->Was the resounding answer heard across the Atlantic. So a sample was sent and he nosed, tasted and reviewed it. He rates his whiskies and gave it an 86 out of a 100. Not bad at all, if I do say so myself. Here is his website in case you would like to read:

And there's also this guy "Ralfy" that you may have heard of :)

And if you are still reading my blog, here is what I thought the first time I tasted it.


COLOR: Golden sunshine in a glass. Hues of deep amber with flickers of orange. When my glass was coated it was somewhat viscous and the legs although plentiful slow to travel down the glass.  

NOSE: Peppery!, Very nice level of spice. A sweet butterscotch creaminess, and then it hit me. Kraft Caramels I used to get in my Halloween bag! WHOA! I let that memory sit for a moment. At the back I could detect some very bitter grapefruit pith. Once I added water, it tamed a bit of the spice and black cherries or rich black berries (very sweet) appeared. The water opened another familiar fall item of my childhood: Date squares. 

PALATE: The spice grabs your whole mouth so hold on! Nice mouth watering feel and explosion of flavors immediately. Cloves and a handful of cinnamon candies or maybe closer to the hot tamales candy I also use to get at Halloween, fiery! Once I added the water it toned down the spicy and a beautiful flavor of dark cocoa and bitter oranges came to the forefront. If Terry's Chocolate Orange made one with dark 85% cocoa and Seville oranges - This is what it would taste like I'm sure of it.
FINISH: So sweet. I had anticipated a long lingering burn because of all the spiciness on the nose and palate, but got just the opposite. The burn was there: instantaneous on the swallow BUT then this glorious silky sweet finish took over and lasts.   

EMPTY GLASS:  So sweet, almost bourbon like. Next morning reminded me of maple sap with a hint of vanilla.

John Hall successfully creates interesting and complex whiskies year after year. Copper Pot, not expensive - Less then $30. Available across Canada (except Québec - sorry)  Value for money - YES. Nice sipping whisky - YESS. Forty Creek brilliance in a glass - YESSS! (Sorry, I'll stop screaming from the soap box now.) 

The point is if you want to sip a whisky that warms you to the core on a cold autumn evening, I would strongly recommend you consider getting a bottle of this.

Now if you'll excuse me it's time to rotate spring/summer to the back of the closets and take out the fall/winter clothing to the front. Same goes for my whiskies too!   

Later, this could take awhile...


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Have Tomatin Cù Bòcan 1989, will travel!!!!

Every October, NOTHING scared me more during my childhood then the stories my grandfather told us about the black dogs of hell. The mythical red eyed creatures that roamed the wooded areas of Ireland howling and stealing bad little children. 

Nothing good ever came of the people who saw them and of course my grandfather relished in the gory details that made us squeal and wriggle in fear. Was enough to make me run all the way to bed, pull blankets over my head and wouldn't allow my grandmother to turn the lights off. I was scared half out of my wits for years... Now that he's gone, I miss those stories and him very much. 

As most of my regular readers know, I had the trip of a lifetime this past spring spending an entire month in Scotland. Lots of spooky stories along the way, especially at the distilleries. I often found my thoughts drifting to grampy and I'd smile wondering if he would scowl at the thought of me "swilling" uisge beatha or if he would have been proud :) 

Not long after my first trip to Scotland I realized we had driven right by the Tomatin distillery. Didn't know it = didn't stop. So this time, I made sure this was one of my chosen and planned stops. What I didn't expect was to spend most of an entire day visiting the distillery and WHAT A DAY it was!!!

Two of my very good friends Ansgar & Thomas (the duo that makes up Whisky Speller) were there with us as well, which of course only made it even more memorable.  Here is their account:

I personally fell in love with Tomatin whiskies in 2013 to the point where they replaced Talisker which was my favorite Scottish distillery for almost 7 years. Thus far, not one single Tomatin whisky has disappointed me. 

The tour itself was most excellent (blog about that soon!) but the biggest thrill for most of us geeks is getting to sample whiskies not yet available to the market or only available at the distillery. I have a bottle of the Cù Bòcan (on my 2nd one) and love that it's an easy going, sippable every day dram for excellent $ value. It's a hybrid that slips in really well somewhere between a Speyside and Islay whisky. Sweet, slighty smoky dram. It's truly one of the better NAS whiskies that came out in 2013 that I love to share.

Trying to look "calm" 
So when we went into the tasting room and Graham Eunson took out the Cù Bòcan 1989, needless to say my mouth began to water and I was trying really hard not to show my excitement. However some of those present that day didn't exactly hold back?! Errr wait, oh...that is me in the picture isn't it?! Ok, ok so I may have squealed, danced and possibly yelled "THIS IS THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE EVER!!!" a few times... Let's just say the group had many good laughs at my expense that day because I don't hide emotions that well. Worse poker player ever. 

But I digress, back to the whisky... a small sample was poured for all of us and I was tempted to take out my note book but didn't. This entire day was simply about enjoying the moment. We didn't overindulge as we are responsible whisky people. We did however leave at the end of the day with samples to enjoy later, purchases of distillery only bottlings, glassware, clothing and a few other goodies to take home with us. The cars were loaded! But even so I wanted to ensure that everyone had a really great experience so I was happy to share the 1989 Cù Bòcan sample with the Spellers and sent some home with them back to the Netherlands. 

A few weeks later I was in now visiting Paris. I was alone for that portion of the trip. It had rained most of the day and I had been out walking around the Père Lachaise cemetary. I was soaked when I got back to my hotel room. I had a headache, I was a bit homesick and was in need of a nice warming dram. I went through my bag picking through sample bottle after sample bottle and nothing was really speaking to me so I gave up & went to take a hot shower. When I came back to my room I grabbed a pair of socks and that's when the Cù Bòcan fell out. Perfect! I happily sighed and reached for a Glencairn (At that point I had almost 20 from the trip) I opened the window blinds, turned off the overhead light and lay on the bed with my dram & notebook. No sooner did I write down the words: campfire ashes, did my window light up and a loud crack of thunder boomed overhead. It started to rain really hard and I could hear people scrambling to get out of the storm. A symphony of angry car horns, bicycle bells and rain bouncing off the cobblestones were mixed in between the thunder and light show. I left my bed and walked over to window with my dram. I opened the two large windows as wide as I could, grabbed a chair and watched the world unfold below me. It lasted a good 30 minutes and I sat there completely mesmerized. It wasn't until the storm was over and there was nothing but a few raindrops left behind that I realized that like the storm my whisky was gone. I looked back at the bed where my notebook was and peered down into my now very empty glass. Oooops.... Two words. That was all I had written down. I had simply enveloped myself in the warmth of the whisky while being completely enraptured by the glistening streets of Paris. I again had apparently very much enjoyed this whisky but without taking notes. I wanted to kick myself. Dejected I rinsed the glass, closed the window and fell into bed. My trip continued and it was fabulous but alas it was time to go home. 

Once I settled back into my life in Canada I started making enquiries as to whether or not this particular bottling would be available here and if so how much. I was determined to get my hands on some more. October I was advised and it would retail for $400.00. Frack, fudge, fallopian tubes!!! Well, that's that I thought but then, as always my horseshoe appears. 

On our very recent trip to Toronto (late September) we had a #whiskyfabric get together and a very dear friend Rick Culver (@rmculver) PULLED IT OUT OF HIS BAG... Lucky Lassie you say?  Hell ya I say...

Happy dance = redemption = WRITE NOTES this time you idiot!? And so... I did. I poured myself a dram and snuck off to our bedroom for just a few minutes & dug out my notebook. 

I didn't want to turn any lights on so I sat on the floor next to the bed, covered myself with a blanket and used the flashlight on my phone. Nose in glass and pen at the ready I balanced my I Phone as well as I could so that I could see what I was writing. Having created a bit of a blanket fort, the smell was surrounding me completely and it was it was purely sinful & delicious... 

Nose: The smell of the left over ashes after a bonfire has died down. Tinned pineapple pieces (the kind that my mom put in my school lunches). It has an earthy quality to it, like a wet mossy forest. Honeyed, creamy... 

Palate: Oh my... greeted by dark chocolate covered crystallized ginger pieces. Quite rich and there's hints of dried figs or prunes. Almost meaty in quality like walnuts or Portobello mushrooms (I wrote a ?). Mouthwatering and zesty orange on the swallow. 

Finish: Long, lingering and smoky. The taste of a good cigar after one exhales.  

Notebook closed and I turned off the flashlight app. "Thank you" I whispered in the darkness and off I rushed back down the stairs to the rest of the party. The company was awesome, the evening now perfect because I had been reunited once again totally by chance with the "dog". I nursed that dram for almost an hour, refusing to drink any other whiskies afterwards. 

Tomatin whiskies have provided me with some very memorable drams and moments. Most often they come to me through serendipity. This one only cemented that yet again. I tend to believe in karma and the supernatural. After all, some things are simply not meant to be explained but just enjoyed. I will forever have not one but three great stories of this whisky: first with fantastic friends in Scotland at the distillery with the people who created it, on my own during a dark rainy Paris storm and yet again in my homeland on Canadian soil tucked under blankets with a flashlight. 

So... grampy I often feel that you are the angel that is always here ensuring I make it through life's lessons but also allocates some of the good things that place too. In this case, I'm going to give you credit for this one and hope that this is payback for all the times you scared the beJesus out of me with your stories of howling hell dogs. I'm much older now and I can safely say in this case after three glorious attempts the "dog" has finally been tamed... for now at least.  

With just over 1000 bottles of the Cù Bòcan 1989 made it is available worldwide (except USA) but is somewhat scarce and rare. I recall hearing some might still be available at the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and the Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow. 

In Alberta Canada now, appx retail price $375 - $400. Check out places like Kensington Wine Market & some Calgary Co-op locations as well as Vinomania or Wine and Beyond in Edmonton. Nova Scotia will get in early 2015...

Graham MacKenney if you are reading this I have a birthday coming up and of course Christmas is right around the corner. I'm just saying - I could be really brave and take a 4th chance on encountering this smouldering dog. ;)


Monday, October 6, 2014

Can you say light bulb!? Virtual tour of Islay whiskies...

This little exercise was something we did in late summer of 2012. Some friends of mine wanted to experience a few Islay whiskies. Graham and I put our heads together and created a virtual tour of the distilleries on Islay. We had a whisky from every distillery and presented them accordingly.  The ladies had a great afternoon, learned a lot about the Islay whiskies and better yet - Got a free Islay vacation :)

Here is the reprint.... Hope it gives a few people some ideas on how to present or host an evening in your home. Cheers!

I haven't been blogging for the last couple of weeks for good reason: I was busy getting everything done at work so that I can leave for a short sailing vacation, helping my youngest daughter get a job in NS, pack and move, having fun trading samples with fellow bloggers/enthusiasts and getting my fall schedule ready for tastings and whisky events I want to attend.

Bad influences - SMYC ladies!
So, a funny thing sort of happened after the four young ladies from Show me your Canada where here. I, for one, drank too much; which doesn't usually happen. I recall finishing a bottle of Compass Box Spice Tree and I think we also drank a lot of Tobermory but I could be wrong because things got a bit fuzzy as the sun went down on our evening boat cruise...  :s 

I do remember Graham driving us home and walking the dogs with my brother in law at 1:00am so that's good. What I seem to remember the most was the reality at 6:30am - getting up for work and being one hurting unit! So after sitting at my desk for almost 2 hours waiting for the Advil and coffee to kick in, I had had it. I went to the Feel Good Store here in Saint John (A GOD SEND) and Anne was there to save me. "I need something for this hangover, please!" I begged. She has a tea that she makes herself called Cold Blaster Tea, rich in vitamins and nutrients to help the immune system. I HIGHLY recommend you have this in your cupboard, not only for colds...  :)

Long story short, Anne had attended my ladies introductory class to whiskies and we talked while she was preparing my tea. She reminded me how much she had enjoyed the Bowmore Darkest 15 and I basically told her there was a whole island of whiskies that were delicious like that. She gasped and lit up like light bulb, which in turn I lit up like a light bulb with my next tasting adventure. 

I made it through the end of that day and by the time I got home that night was feeling much like myself again. I told Graham about my idea and he lit up like a light bulb. The next day I tweeted a few of the other girls I had met at the tasting who had said they liked the peaty ones the best and invited them to my home for a "tabletop" Islay tour. I invited another friend who I had recently introduced to whiskies and she lit up like a light bulb too (I was starting to notice a trend!) Date decided, total we were 6 girls in. I asked Graham if he minded being in the "chair" so that I could sit back and relax a bit.. NO prob! Graham asked me one question: What whiskies do you want them to try? I gave him a list and he did the rest. Now our collection is quite a good one I think and we have at least one bottle from almost every distillery on Islay, except Port Ellen which I can't afford so we knew we were going to have a great night and really introduce these lovely whisky maidens to Islay in proper style! The excitement built over the course of a few weeks and finally, Sunday came. Around 4:00pm, Graham flitted about getting all the whiskies, glasses, and everything else he needed including a HUGE table top map of Islay ready for the arrival of the ladies.

Once arrived and all seated, Graham took us along a lovely whisky trail visiting distillery after distillery on Islay. He went into a bit of detail and also had a few other surprises (including a very nice dram of the Octomore and Kilchoman Sherry Cask). The ladies loved it! We started the evening at 7:00 and it seems to me they left around 10:00pm. 

It was a great night with five wonderful women who love Islays as much as I do. I'm discovering more and more that I'm not the unicorn I thought I was, all alone in this part of the world with only the "boys" to drink with. Most of the time I am ok with but I have to say there's something special about being in a roomful of women who experience whiskies with all their senses. The stories, the whiskies, the friendships and the knowledge we all shared made our table top exercise a rather beautiful and at the same time serene experience for me, although we were noisy and boisterous sometimes laughing like fools, on the inside I was at peace and feeling like I found a space I belonged. To the whisky sisterhood I raise my glass! To the #whiskyfabric, thank you for bringing me the sisterhood, at last  :)  To Graham, thanks for the great tour!

On my bicycle (ring, ring) pedaling down the Islay trail, humming a happy little tune.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Toronto roadtrip: 66 Gilead, Still Waters, Forty Creek and Fabric get together!

Ahhhhh "Taranta"... City of subways, cable cars and a million miles of year round construction?! How I missed you so. Well, not really. It's not the city I love but the people and places I get to go once I arrive. Some say Toronto is the armpit of Canada however I tend to disagree. Of all the Canadian cities I have visited over the many years I've been on this earth, Toronto has the largest population of amazingly friendly and caring people. I guess it's sort of the "New York" of Canada for me, which is why I try to get there as often as I can. Case in point, Forty Creek Weekend took place again this year on September 27-28th and so began the planning process a few months ago to get up there, see people, visit distilleries and taste good whiskies. 

Steven (mr_goalie7959) and Sandra Radcliffe have become good friends of ours. I can't begin to describe how much we enjoy their company and staying with them when we come to Toronto. Steven shares a passion for whiskies that equals ours. Sandra balances us all out as the voice of reason. I used to think I was one of the most organized people I knew. I do not exaggerate when I say, Sandra beats me 100X over and is not only brilliant at multitasking but has one of the sharpest & wittiest sense of humors I have ever heard. I can only hope to repay them both some day soon for their generosity, peace of mind and fantastic memories thus far.  

Thursday night we arrived at Billy Bishop airport (downtown Toronto) and were immediately met by Steven & Sandra. Luggage loaded and off to the Distillery District for a fabulous supper at The Beer Hall. If you are in Toronto and want to try something a little different, I would recommend this place hands down. The long "communal" tables are reminiscent of the old days of the beer halls, there's a heated patio, the beer was pretty good (I'm not a fan), the service was awesome and the food quite delicious indeed. 

Bellies full, of course we had to go shopping. So straight to the LCBO at Summerhill to browse and pick up a few good bottles. The rest of Thursday night was spent catching up, sharing a few drams and eventually falling into bed for a good night's sleep.

Friday morning I woke at 5:00am in order to go meet #whiskyfabric friend Jarred Lindale (@thecyclingyogi) for a hot yoga class. Yes, you read correctly. A hot yoga class. It's important to me to try and spend time with the people I really like so when Jarred told me he wasn't going to be around for the weekend due to a family commitment but offered the hot yoga class and a coffee date right afterwards I said yes immediately. Might sound crazy for some of you but again I believe in making the most of my passions and friendships. I loved the yoga class and it was nice connecting with Jarred. *Thanks bud!*

Back on a subway by 8:00am to the house, a quick rinse/clothes change and we are on the road with Steven to get to Prince Edward County which is about 2 hours away. Why would you go there Lassie you ask? I'll tell you why =  It's a hidden little gem on the shores of Lake Ontario that has wineries, golf and so many other great little get away ideas.  
For us the goal was to get to 66 Gilead Distillery and try their latest whisky releases but we also wanted to stop along the way, visit a few wineries and see the sights. As always a few funny little things happened during our travel. First we stopped off at a lovely little Inn to drop off Steven's son who had business there and found out the owners were not only from New Brunswick but their family (an uncle) was Graham's grandmother's neighbour AND on the other side of the family, the paternal great uncles had meat stalls side by each (as we say here in the Maritimes) in the Saint John City Market. It may be 6 degrees of separation everywhere else in the world, but in NB I assure you it's always 2...

Off to 66 Gilead Distillery right before lunch to try their latest releases of whiskies. It was my first time visiting the distillery. It is small but offers a very pleasant atmosphere with chickens running around, an art gallery, a tasting room nestled in the house (built by a hops grower in 1874) and the distilling unit is in back.

I started with the Wild Oak Whisky. Matured 3 1/2 years and bottled at 47%. This is a whisky made with 51% corn, 30% rye and the remainder a mix of wheat & peated barley. I tried asking a few questions about the wheat's origins as well as peated barley but unfortunately the gentleman pouring didn't know and I didn't find anything on the website. It is also not colored or chill-filtered.

Nose: Really Oaky, no surprise considering the name. Very sweet on the nose like hard Christmas candy and a bit of a medicinal smell, hints of orange oil (like furniture polish). 

Palate: Again really oaky, extremely drying and a bit bitter on the tongue. Very peppery and quite tannic in nature (reminded me of the taste I get after I drink Earl Gray tea). 

Finish: Hot, very hot! I didn't find it to be a long finish, but the "burn" definitely stays with you for a few minutes. If the flavor profile they were looking for was oak... then they achieved it. 

The second whisky I tried was their Crimson Rye. A 100% rye whisky aged 3 1/2 years in barrels that contained French Pinot Noir. Bottled at 47%, not colored or chill-filtered.

Nose: Sweet, spicy but not really strong on the nose. The rye seems a bit muted.

Palate: Hot, peppery but thin with not much character.

Finish: REALLY HOT, ground cinnamon powder (I literally exclaimed whoa! as it took my breath away)

Overall (and this is comparing them to all the whiskies I tried over the weekend) these were my least favorite. Although I found the flavor profiles quite unique, my personal opinion is that these are not ready yet. I can't say for sure they are flawed as in something wrong with the process but there is missing components in both whiskies as they are not quite balanced and simply too "hot" for me to enjoy. 

There is a delicate dance that takes place between barrel oak and spirit and I'm thinking that dance needs to be longer for these whiskies or that the wood chosen might not be the best choice. I may be wrong, but that's my gut instinct. They both retail at $68.95. 

For me personally, they are a pass for now but I do look forward to trying more of their products as time goes by. 

Off to lunch in Bloomfield - (  Something simple yet elegant - Fresh tomato basil soup with a grill cheese sandwich. Delish and jumped back in the car pick up Steven's son, stopped at a few wineries along the way, then back to the house in Toronto and to the best part of the weekend. 

This again is where #whiskyfabric always impresses me and touches my heart because Steven & Sandra hosted 14 people in their home from all walks of life from the fabric on Friday night. Yes, 14!!!

Sandra spent the entire day cooking recipes that either contained or paired with whisky. The table was beautifully set out, the house smelled amazing and she's a genius! We had a traditional Cullen Skink with Whisky Soda bread followed by Short Ribs, Polenta and roasted fall carrots. We finished off the evening with a lovely tart that was loaded with A'bunadh Batch 18 whipped cream. I requested sweat pants at least twice during the evening and I bow my chef's hat down to one of the best cooks I've ever come across (don't tell my grandmother I said that ok?!) 

The rest of the evening was spent enjoying each other's company, catching up, discussing and drinking everything whisky. Here is the line up of what was available for all to try (we all pitch in and bring bottles). 

Once the people all left, we helped Sandra to the best of our ability (she's effective let me tell ya!) and the house was back to almost normal, most of us retired to another fantastic evening of sleep. 

Early Saturday morning I was the first one up, coffee was ready as were some of Sandra's pumpkin muffins (are you getting my drift at how wonderful this woman is?). The house came alive slowly but surely and by 9:00am we were on the road again. Stephen and I picked up Maryse (@Bergamot63) and we headed up to Still Waters Distillery as a group. We originally started as 3, ended up as 10 but Barry & Barry were happy to see us all. We met Graham, Rick (@rmculver) and Lydia (@actionGeologist).

I tried a few more of their single malt releases (sorry didn't take notes for those, just enjoyed) as well as their very soon and upcoming 100% rye (95% rye, 5% malted rye) to be released on Saturday October 25th at 10:00am.

This was my 2nd time (2013 as well) trying it and I have to say I absolutely fell in love with it last year. That love affair still goes strong! It's the BEST new rye I've tried this year so far and when it becomes available I will be getting several bottles.

Nose: Dusty hay barn (right after the bailed hay has been stored). Floral and delicate spiciness (geraniums) with hints of powdered sugar. The longer it stays in the glass the more it develops a creaminess (French toast). 

Palate: A lovely roller coaster ride that starts with full mouth feel, sweet toffee pudding and grabs you with a bit of peppery spices like ginger & cloves. 

Finish: Long sweet heat. Hot pepper meets honey. Knowing I was in Toronto when it's this "" close to market almost gives me goosebumps. If I lived in Toronto, I'd be the first in line waiting to get bottles of this as there will only be about 300 bottles available. I always encourage people to try everything, take it on my advice that this one cannot be missed. It truly is a must try if you like 100% rye whiskies. If you see Stalk & Barrel at a whisky show, do yourself a huge favor and try it!

By the way, Barry & Barry will be at the NB Spirits Festival this year on Nov 21st so please stop into their booth!

On to Forty Creek!!!  We hit the highway for 11:45 and wouldn't you know it - Construction!? Our spirits were not dampened but I was seriously going to beat someone up if the smoked ribs were sold out when we got there!!?? That didn't happen, thankfully. We ate, we advised we were there to pick up our bottles and we went on a guided tour of the distillery. 

Overhead of the tour group in traffic mirror
It doesn't matter how many times I go one of these, there is ALWAYS something magical about being in the barrel warehouse! It smells divine. Tour over and run in quick to get/pay for our reserved bottles of Evolution. 

John's 8th limited release. Packages in hand, off to see John to get them signed (of course). While we waited in line I got my first taste of Evolution and I have to say I was really confused. Understandably, when they are pouring the taster they use small little plastic wine glasses and it was almost impossible to really smell the whisky so I simply enjoyed it and didn't think about "rating" it all that quickly. We saw many people of the #whiskyfabric while we were there, I had the chance to talk to Tim, got my hug from Lynn, saw Terri flit by a few times and of course spent a few precious moment with a tired but very happy John Hall (he had to put ice on his wrist that night from signing so many bottles). We left the distillery with the car full and again Steven kindly dropping us off at the airport on his way home. Our flight was spent talking about the weekend, the friends, the whiskies and how lucky we are to be living in these times. Canadian whiskies are booming for a reason - there are some really great whiskies coming to market.

We stayed in Moncton that night and it wasn't until the next day that we popped one of our bottles (yes, we buy more than one - always) and shared it with our friend Eric Lewis (@Eric_B_Lewis). It was 11:30am, hehehe...  We all enjoyed the dram, took out a few of the other Forty Creeks Eric has in his collection and tried to create a flavor "trail" of sorts of where the Evolution fit... We had different opinions but all enjoyed the dram together.

I drank more of the Evolution Tuesday night and then last night I really had the chance to quietly sit with it. So as you can see I went to the tub and enjoyed a good size dram while I relaxed with my feet up so to speak. So what is Evolution? As stated, it's Forty Creeks' latest limited release. Bottled at 43%. It starts its whisky journey like many of John's whiskies as an original concept and idea. So let's turn back the clock to early 2002 when the distillery was still in its infancy. John aged this whisky in ex-bourbon oak for 3 years, then he decided to re-distill it. HE DID WHAT!? Yes, you read correctly: He re-distilled the whisky using his copper pot still. Then he said to himself (as he was a wine maker at that time as well), I think I'm going to put this whisky in some French Oak barrels that held some of the Cabernet Sauvignon wine I make. Constantly checking on this whisky until this year 2014 when he felt it was ready. It spent 9 years soaking up the characteristics of the Cab Sauvignon & French Oak. Do you think he was done then? Well of course not because John loves to do things "differently". Then he hand picked some very personal and favourite barrels that he had tucked away to balance and round out the whisky. All of a sudden the name Evolution certainly makes sense to me?!

So what did I think:

Nose: Very rich and full bodied smell. It did remind me a bit of a previous release called Portwood but with a spicier kick to it. My mind immediately thought: Copper pot meets Portwood!? With a bit more time in the glass it turns to juicy wine gummies with hints of sweet dried fruits (fig newtons). There's a bit of clean nuttiness there as well, like blanched almonds or maybe marzipan. The nose is quite intriguing and pulls you deeply into the glass. 

Palate: Didn't quite match the rich full bodied effect of the nose. It sort of did remind me of a red wine from a colder region such as South America. It was fruity, with hints of dried cherries or plums. A bit spicy and drying in nature, sort of like ground cinnamon. Complex, but not quite what I had on the nose.

Finish: Short, sweet, spicy and to the point. Doesn't linger for a very long time.

(As a side note, the next morning I nosed the empty glass and I really had to work hard to find any of the spices left)

So what do I think of this latest release... I really like it. Graham and I had a good discussion about this yesterday and what I came away with is I pretty much have a Forty Creek for all the seasons and drinking moods. I have easy drinking: Barrel select & the Double Barrel. For rich warming drams I have the Portwood or the Copper Pot. I love the Heart of Gold as my light/delicate summer dram and my go to has always been the Confederation Oak. Happily I shared the last of my John's Private Cask (my special, I'm having a bad day dram) with Steve Beam (@stevehasbeans) on his recent trip home and it was glorious! So now I have yet another to add to my great collection. This one is also very easy drinking and I can see it fit somewhere between my Confederation Oak and the Portwood. It's sweet but not overbearing or sickly. It's rich but not quite heavy or full bodied and doesn't leave an after taste. 

I'm glad John takes chances and does things his way. I'm even happier that I get to enjoy his releases year after year. 

It's with trepidation that I look forward into the future when it comes to Forty Creek and with good reason. I've had a "good thing" for the last 8 years and I hope John's way of pushing the limits and going in new and different directions continues...

Overall my entire weekend was a fabulous one and I had no doubt that it wouldn't be. I know amazing people, I love good whiskies and I am truly a blessed Lassie...

Thanks Toronto, thanks #whiskyfabric and thank you Steven and Sandra from the bottom of my whisky soaked soul!!!

Love always TO and see you again, really soon...