Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gin review.... Yes, you read correctly - GIN

Aye, the mother's ruin...   Gin
Cruikshank's - The Gin Shop

My first encounter with it was when I was 16 while my best friend Louise was babysitting. She wanted to show me the very impressive bar in the house. The kids were asleep so we tiptoed down to the basement and Louise turned the lights on. My eyes almost popped out of my head. It was a wall to wall liquor shelving unit filled to the brim. This couple obviously travelled a lot and had amassed thousands of bottles of...  everything! Louise, trying to impress me I'm sure, walked over and started picking up bottles and talking about them like she knew what they were. We were 16!!!?? I finally called her out on it when she picked up a weird shaped green bottle. I said: "You don't have a clue what you are talking about". Incensed, she yelled: Yes I do, my mom drinks this. And the conversation continued until finally I threw her a "double dog dare ya!" to make a cocktail with it.  We went back up the stairs where she proceeded to get ice, some glasses, a lime and some pineapple juice. She poured two cocktails and after the first sip I thought I was going to be sick. "I forgot to add sugar" she announced as she put a full teaspoon in my glass. That, only made it worse!!! We drank the glass and I essentially was sick for the rest of the night. Gin, pineapple juice and sugar DO NOT MIX with spaghetti!!! I swore I would never drink gin again.

Fast forward to a few years after Graham and I had been dating and we inherited a bottle of Tanqueray. Graham made a gin martini. I think I recall telling him the pineapple juice incident but he handed me the cocktail none the less. To which, I sipped and immediately spit out and dumped said gin drink. Strike 2!!! I spent the next 8 years avoiding all gins. Turning down, politely I might add, any gin offerings until I was in Scotland last year. While at Springbank Distillery, the master distiller mentioned they made a superb gin called Old Raj. I smiled and stated I wasn't a gin fan. He promptly ordered a G&T from the bar for me. Fuuuuuuudge! So, with my usual polite Canadian way, I took a sip and prepared to repeat my speech when the reality was, it was actually a very delicious cocktail. Gavin told me it was available in Canada. Excellent!  Found out once I was home, not on east coast...  Grrrrrr......

A few months ago, I started writing a regular column for a magazine. My articles cover Craft distillation. So, I thought it might be great to start doing a bit of research and try some gins. But wait, I thought, I really don't know anything about gin!?? So, in true Lassie fashion I put out a call to friends who were gin drinkers to come to my house and take part of a blind taste panel, and come they did -> 14 of them! 

Here is what took place as well as the results of that evening.  AND... what I learned from the night.

I prepared a questionnaire for each person to answer. Questions like: Is gin your primary drink of choice, if not what is. What is a fair price range for a bottle of gin, what do you base your buying on, how often do you drink gin, etc... Then everyone received a scoring sheet: Nose, palate, finish.  Add 1/2 ounce of water and repeat the process.  Two flights of four gins served blind. Pick the best top 4, they move on to the cocktails competition where we will rank them in order of least favorite to favorite and then reveal what all the gins were.

I had craft gins as well as "big brand name" gins on hand. I had hardcore "I only drink this brand of gin ever" in my field of 14. AND... I had one coloured gin, so to make it fair, I coloured a second to ensure people wouldn't guess that one.

Flight 1:  Hendrick's - Scotland, Victoria's Gin - Canada, JR's dry organic Canadian gin - Canada and The Lakes Gin - England. 

Flight 2: Ungava - Canada, Dodd's - England, Thuya - Canada, Noteworthy - Canada.

Nose/Palate comments were quite interesting to read, as some took the panel VERY seriously while others were honest but cheeky. 

Top 4:  Hendrick's - all 14 picked that one, JR's dry organic Canadian gin - 10 votes, Dodd's Gin - 9 votes and rounding up the top was Ungava with 7.  Food & water break followed by the cocktails round!

Gin & Tonic was chosen and the recipe was simple: 1 part gin, 3 parts tonic, lime slice, ice. 

Order of top 4 for a Gin & tonic made with Fever Tree Tonic water: 

1. Hendrick's
2. Dodd's
3. Ungava
4. JR's Organic Canadian

Now a few notes are in order. Many participants thought the tonic was a bit too strong and all were in agreement that JR's Organic was a beautiful gin on its own (many said they would probably drink it straight!). So I've contacted the distillery and requested a recipe they could recommend to try with their gin as many people really loved it, just not with the Fever Tree Tonic.  

It was no surprise to the group that Hendrick's came out on top overall in both rounds and many want and would buy the Dodd's saying it was a beautiful clean gin. It was lovely to introduce Ungava as many had seen the bottle at the liquor stores but had never tried it. I think a few people will be buying that one as a result of our experiment. 

So...  what did this Whisky Lassie learn:

1. Gin drinkers are as unique and serious about their elixir as whisky drinkers are.

2. Although the clear winner was Hendrick's, which I guess I consider a 'commercial" gin, many of the participants really enjoyed the craft gins and stated they had found some new favorites to enjoy. 

3. Gins might be absolutely fantastic in one cocktail but completely wrong for another due to the botanicals, etc (Gin & pineapple juice is never good).

4. Of the 8 gins I tried with the panel, I really only loved one enough to say I would continue drinking it. Problem is, it's not available here in Canada. Boo!  So will be sourcing some on my next trip to UK. 

5.  The most important one for this Lassie:  Don't turn your nose up at any new opportunities to try gin. Some of them are quite delicious!! ;)

Inviting friends over to imbibe is always so much fun. I want to thank: Eric, Steffan, John, Alex, Graham, Frank, Ross, Brendan, Krista, Linda, Melanie, Donna, Keltie and Heather for taking part in another of my crazy hair brain schemes. I appreciate your palates, your time and all the lovely comments.  Huzzah!

So, that's that on gin, for now... and now back to our regularly scheduled whisky programming...  ;) 

Thanks for tuning in!


Friday, April 17, 2015

Velvet Fig: The review... sort of?!

This little girl was raised in a small town where gardening & growing your own fruits/veggies was the norm. Summers are short (Jun-Sept) so I ate fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and lots of apples. The climate simply does not allow for growing citrus, bananas or any other 'exotic' delicacies. Also, we were not a rich family so 'store bought' items were rare or reserved for special occasions. 

Don't laugh but I always got a Sunkist Orange in my Christmas stocking and I would wait patiently for weeks before I ate it. 

It has always been in my nature to try everything so the first time I went to Toronto, when I was 13, my cousins made fun of the fact that I ate a kiwi with the peel on and why wouldn't I, I had no idea you weren't suppose to? (and I still do to this day). I moved to a much larger city when I was 18 and would go to the market every day to buy fruit and vegetables I had never tried before: Asparagus, eggplant, avocado, pomegranate and figs just to name a few of the first discoveries.

My favorite story was when I did buy avocado and figs for the first time. I asked the clerk what the avocado was: A fruit. I grabbed one and put it in my basket. What's that I stated pointing to a display of fresh figs. He looked at me quite strangely and asked where I was from. I happily explained (from that day forward when I came in he was always very helpful in pointing out different items that I might enjoy trying).  I got back to my little apartment, took out 2 figs and the avocado. I sliced them all open and chose to start with a piece of the fig. Oh... heavenly, juicy and absolutely mouthwatering. It was so good! I picked up the sliced avocado and put that in my mouth: bland, chalky and the peeling was like eating a piece of leather. I spit the whole thing out and stared down at the green muck. (yes, you read correctly, I ate the peel as well) DISGUSTING! It took almost 10 years and a friend's party before I would go near once again and thankfully that encounter was a much better one. I've loved avocado ever since.      

I continued to buy the fresh figs every time I could get my hands on them. They became a very memorable part of my food sensory discoveries in those very formative years of my life. Some people would reach for chocolate, I would always reach for fresh fruit because really for me they were much more special. 
Fast forward to late November 2014 when I notice some bloggers posting reviews of a whisky called 'Velvet Fig' from Wemyss Malts. I read a few of them, looked up the whisky on a few websites and it didn't appear, at that time, that it would be coming to Canada -> Bollocks! Like I usually do at the end of every year, I make a goals list for the following. So, Velvet Fig was added to my 'must try' list for 2015. Word started to spread in early January that supplies were limited and that it would soon be gone. Crap! I quickly decided I had to reach out and find a bottle, but laws don't allow whisky to be sent to Canada (archaic & stupid). I made arrangements with a 'Whisky Brother' from the fabric to have the bottle delivered to his home address in UK and I would pick it up on a trip to Scotland in May. (AMEN!!!)

But as always the lovely #whiskyfabric is a wondrous thing and I have true friends that are genuinely happy to share their whiskies as was the case with this one as well. Rick Culver (@rmculver) from Ontario and Franck Debernardi (@LaCaveDeCobalt) from France were kind enough to ensure a few samples of the Velvet Fig got to me. The first dram of the Velvet Fig I enjoyed with Rick and Rob in Kingston. No notes. Nothing but three friends sitting down together and enjoying the discovery of a new dram. Fabulous experience and I highly recommend doing that from time to time. JUST ENJOY THE MOMENT. It was a lovely dram that the three of us enjoyed together.

The second time was alone at home, on a cold blustery night in March while Graham walked the dog and I huddled on the couch with a soft blanket and wool socks. I needed a 'warming' dram and went into my whisky room to get a smoky Islay when Franck's distinctive hand writing caught my eye. I grabbed a Glencairn and poured the Velvet Fig. I went back to the living room, enveloped myself in my blanket and proceeded to watch TV. At first I was simply paying attention to the program and not to my glass. I held it up to my nose during a commercial and that's when the magic began. 

So fruity, silky and mouthwatering that I was immediately whisked backwards in time to a small backyard where a cat was lazing in a sunbeam. We were all outside sitting on patio chairs, shoes off, enjoying the summer afternoon. Franck, his lovely wife and their two beautiful and very smart little girls. I was in France... I snapped open my eyes and stared at the Glencairn. I smiled, turned off the television, leaned my head back and continued back to that very special afternoon. Watching the kids, laughing, speaking in French and getting to know Franck & Jennifer. Sharing stories, whiskies and having one of the best meals I had while in France cooked by both of them. Franck's Veal Osso Buco melted in my mouth and it was followed by Jennifer's French apple tart. It was so delicious it would have made my grandmother cry. Truly a fantastic day spent near Paris. I remember saying goodbye at the train station and wishing I had more time. Sometimes you meet people that you click with right away and there's a sense that you'd end up being good friends. The train ride back to Paris was spent trying to draw Llewella & Doriane, his two sweet & very bright little girls. (I suck at drawing though... hehe) Back at my Paris hotel that night, I spent a full hour skyping with Graham describing the day I had had. It was another fantastic day brought to me by #whiskyfabric

The wind howled and I opened my eyes again in the darkened living room. I noticed a few tears that had started to well up but laughed and wiped them away. I stared down once more at the now empty glass and quickly realized the whisky had transported me back in time to a very happy place with some extraordinary people I was fortunate to have met. But in the here and now my notepad was blank, the Velvet Fig was gone and I hadn't registered anything drinking the whisky?! 

I have always said that whisky is more than just a liquid that is consumed, taking notes or grinding out reviews!? It's about moments in time, sharing and living life to the fullest. Whisky has done that for me and so many of you as well. I giggled as I went back to the whisky room and pulled out what was left of the Velvet Fig sample. I sat at my desk and nosed/tasted it again, this time paying attention to the whisky. But once again I was distracted and transported back to that moment in the city market where that bright eyed 18 year old girl with her whole life ahead of her was chattering to the clerk and buying fresh figs. I relived the moment of bringing them home (as described above) and I sat back laughing at myself for being such a country bumpkin... and so naive but at least very eager to learn about everything! After all, we didn't have the interweb back then. It dawned on me that moment was 30 years ago. Memories are powerful aren't they?

I realize I'm still holding a pen in my hand and look down to find... an empty glass AGAIN. Look at the notebook to see where I wrote four words: This is really good. So, the initial review of Velvet Fig from the Lassie, sort of... 

Nose: Rich, sweet and really fruity. Ability to transport you to a time/place associated with blissful fond memories.

Palate: So silky and tasty that it may cause you to forget to write anything down because you are too busy enjoying it. Seems to cause a second dram to be poured.

Finish: Delightful and causes a bit of embarrassment when you realize the glass is empty. Leads to blaming someone else for the dram being gone?!

Probably my best review ever!  Now I have no choice but to wait patiently for May 17th when I will be reunited with my bottle of Velvet Fig and promise to do a full review of it, this time trying desperately to pay attention to the elixir in the glass instead of floating away on the aromas. Pinky swear....

Velvet Fig - Wemyss Malts, if you haven't already gotten your bottle... you might be out of luck. 

Plenty of much better reviews out there I'm sure, just get on the google machine and look up "Velvet Fig review".... 


PS -> This coming to NB in November 2015 ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Celebrate Whisky Festival Halifax - 2 years later...

Was talking to a friend the other day and he stated: "I had the Dark Horse again last night, I think it's finally growing on me." Considering the first 2 or 3 times he tried it he was really convinced he didn't like it, I gave him huge props for sticking with it and having the open mind to go back to it a few times. These sort of little conversations always remind me of the type of people who review things once  and because they don't like it, it's banished as horrible for the rest of their lives to never be revisited again. Sad...

Me, well I have the total opposite mind set (as if that should suprise any of you?!) So time to revisit for the Lassie!!! Two years ago I reviewed an east coast whisky show that takes place in Halifax Nova Scotia. I gave it a C+ as far as the parameters I used: Cost (accommodations, events, classes, etc.), Venue (locale, food, geographic location), Classes (quality, type, time) Main Event (availability of whiskies, venue, services, knowledge of the exhibitors), Overall personal experience (people, place, whisky). Scoring explanation: A (90-100, exceptional value), B (80-90, great value), C (70-80 Good value), D (60-70) Some value, F (FAIL - little to no value). If you would like to compare the first review to this one you can find it here: Celebrate Whisky 2013

Celebrate Whisky started in 2012 so this is the 4th show they have put on in the Halifax area. Unlike many of the whisky shows I've ever attended this one is actually organized by the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission for profit. This year's event took place on Friday March 27th.

Two years ago I raved about this great little booklet. This year I came to the show without my satchel and found having a glass, my cellphone and the booklet cumbersome. It was down right stupid on my part because I also had no pant pockets. Lessons learned! Like previous years, the booklet had a layout of the event, where products would be & price. They also did the silent auction again and had the on-site ordering desk for purchasing at the show but, as with previous years, the products could be ordered but not picked up until 3 full weeks later. Massive disadvantage for people who do not live in the Halifax area.

COST: Accommodations: No hotel was associated with the event for 2015 but there was one very nearby. Rates were $139/night however I did some online research and booked for $109. Savings of $20.

Events: Nothing changed from two years ago: No master classes offered. Whisky panel discussion (5 brand ambassadors) $140 but included your general admission ticket. Main showcase ticket $100. Both sold out within hours of the tickets being made available.

Total cost for lodging & whisky festival for me = $209.00


VENUE: Casino Nova Scotia is situated right on the harbour front of downtown Halifax. Easily accessible with a range of services available: Casino, restaurants, parking but no free wifi.

Location: It is on the water seconds and within walking distance to everything Halifax has to offer. This is a new venue for the show and it was well chosen, in my opinion.


CLASSES: Sigh, nothing new. Whisky Panel event which ran from 5:00-7:00pm that night. It featured: Mike Nicolson - Diageo, Frank Biskupek - Scotch Brand Ambassador, Dan Volway - Beam Suntory, Ruaraidh MacIntyre - Glenmorangie/Ardbeg and Bob Scott - Glenora Distillery. As mentioned tickets were $140. I did not attend, but spoke to 3 people who did. All reported back with the same review: A bit dull, disjointed & a few thought the only worthwhile speaker was Mr. MacIntyre & his products on offer. They all mostly felt the last whisky was a bit rushed and two stated, it would be the last year they attend the panel unless next year's schedule is completely different. "Been there, done that"

I am really disappointed that two years later, there is still nothing added to this show? No classes, no luncheon, dinners or grand master classes - NADA. Classes give people the opportunity for a more intimate hour with the people of the industry as well as the whiskies. This works and exists at EVERY other show I have ever been to so why isn't Celebrate Whisky doing the same??


MAIN EVENT: I purchased my ticket online the morning they went on sale. It sold out within 2 hours and from what I heard the waiting list was quite extensive. The evening of the show I arrived about 15 minutes early to a lineup (no surprise) but the irritating part was 'we' seemed to be in the way of the people trying to get in/out of the casino on a Friday night. It was a bit chaotic and seem to anger a few people, me not so much. When I finally arrived in the area of the showcase, I thought to myself... oh this is going to get packed and really loud and hot but that was not the case. At no point in the evening was I shouting, the flow of traffic and temperature were quite comfortable and the layout was quite easy to follow. Food in the middle, tables all around, water towers clearly marked and clockwise pattern for numbered tables. Just one little downfall - you could not see the table numbers. They should have been placed much higher for all to see.

The food was lovely with a variety of choices but I have to say based on previous years not quite as good as what the Lord Nelson put on as a spread.

Selection of whiskies was more than adequate (200 different ones) with a great balance available for all levels of whisky enthusiasts: Beginner, Intermediate and Geek. Top 10 highlights for me: 

10. Kavalan Soloist FINO
9. Balblair 1983
8. Michter's Single Barrel Rye
7. Highland Park Freya
6. Teeling 21 year old Silver Reserve Single Malt
5. Tomatin 25 year old 
4. Amrut Intermediate Sherry
3. Bain's Cape Mountain 
2. Jim Beam Distiller's Masterpiece

1. Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 34 Year Old

Quick notes: I wrote: "Nose: wow... Wisps of smoke and dark chocolate, spent coffee grains, scorched hazelnuts. Dark chocolate covered cherries. Palate: Gorgeous mouth feel, silky, rich and fruity with hints of anise seed or fresh gingerroot. Finish: A bit woody with a nice smoky exhale. Long, lingering and satisfying finish. DELISH!" NSLC was bringing in 8 bottles exclusively available for order through the show. Cost $750.00. I know this whisky will make my top 5 best whiskies of 2015. It was simply exquisite and if I had the means, I would buy a bottle of this in a heartbeat! 

The top 5 were whiskies I spent at least 10-15 minutes nosing and tasting, and even better usually with friends and I often wonder if that adds to the experience of true enjoyment when it comes choosing the top whiskies tried? 

Best table for the night: Tomatin. They did not limit themselves to simply serving their core range (again I will stress the importance of having whiskies at the table for all levels of enthusiasts). They had: 12 French Oak (Exclusive to Canada), 14 Portwood, 18, 25, Cù Bòcan & Cù Bòcan 1989. 

One of the more busy tables was Innovative Beverages providing a vast array of different products: Glencadam 21, Smokey Joe, Penderyn's, Mackillops Choice Tamdhu 1989, Arran's Devil Punch Bowl III & Bere Barley. Also available to sample was Wemyss Malts: Spice King, Hive and Peat Chimney which were exclusive to the show. Canadian whisky was well represented with Stillwaters Distillery introducing their whiskies for the 1st time to the residents of NS and no show would be complete without the presence of Forty Creek whiskies, however it was the first time in many years John Hall wasn't there and honestly for me, that felt bittersweet.  :(


Overall Personal Experience: Knowing full well that this particular show is still really young compared to some of the others I attend, I applaud the change in venue and the organizers did a great job with whisky selection; however, I feel the show is still too 'little'. This year's venue was truly better for the show itself but there wasn't really one place for all to congregate after the show because many people were staying at various hotels in the city. So after the show was over, people seem to scatter and go there own way. Graham and I ended up going for a bite with a few friends. It was low key, the food was good and the company was great but we were back to our hotel and in bed quite early considering how late we have stayed out for some after show shenanigans. It was awesome seeing some of the Halifax peeps - Phlis, Craig, Saravana and Greg and it was also lovely to make a few new friends: Tim, Paul, Mike & Graham. Missed out seeing Robert, Jeff or Bruce sadly. It was a great night to walk about, talk to people and share many great discussions and drams.   


Recommendations (they seem to fall on deaf ears unfortunately): NSLC needs to do something differently when it comes to the ability to purchase at the show. Yes, there is an order desk but you can only pick up the whiskies 3 weeks later. 

If an on-site store is not possible, in this day and age and with the use of technology there really must be a better way to do this? Is there not a way to have one store close at hand, say Port of Wines carry the inventory for the show and as the purchases are being made at the event fax them over to the store in question so that orders could be picked up the next day? 

And classes or at least a luncheon or supper before the show? Why is this not being done? 

There are many opportunities for the NSLC to make this show better. I do hope they listen for feedback and I encourage anyone who has attended this year or in previous years to let them know what they can do to make the show better. But then again, maybe you or others may think the show is fine just the way it is. If that's the case please leave your comments here as well as I'd be curious to see what other people thought. 


Well, the score hasn't changed since the last time I reviewed it which for me is a bit unfortunate. I was really hoping the show would get better with time. I admit I did like the new venue as there was ample space to move about and the selection of whiskies was great but and it's a huge one: No ability to buy what I really liked because of the 3 week delay AND please do something different for next year's show. The whisky panel has overstayed its welcome and needs to go or needs to be improved upon. 

I will gave this show another 2 or maybe 3 years before I review it again, after all... It's really important to revisit things just in case "they" are different or get better, or didn't I mention that already? ;)


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mystery Blogger - Review of Celebrate Whisky 2015, Halifax NS

Sometimes I wonder if I've become a bit 'blazéed' when it comes to attending whisky shows. The faces all start to look alike as do the venues and the products. I aim for the tables where I know there will be whisky I haven't tried yet. But, as many of you know, that can get harder with every passing year. So after going to the Celebrate Whisky event again this year in Halifax Nova Scotia, I thought maybe along with my own review it might be a good idea to get a few opinions from people that were there. What transpired was a bit magical. 

Many people were happy to give me their impressions and one friend in particular said: "Sure I'll write up a little blurb". They ended up surprising themselves as well as me with a full length review. I've known 'Mystery Blogger' for a few years now therefore I'm quite pleased that they wrote this. The only caveat is that they remain faceless/nameless. Done -> Let's do this!

Mystery Blogger reviews Celebrate Whisky 2015:

"After several years of using the Lord Nelson Hotel as a venue, NSLC relocated their annual Celebrate Whisky show to new surroundings at Casino Nova Scotia. In some ways this event came full circle as the former NSLC Ceilidh, a show that began much like the current one before veering into an all-spirits event and eventually being discontinued, was once held in the same room about 10 years ago. The rationale for moving this year seemed to be one of allowing them to sell more tickets to the event by holding it in a larger room. Unfortunately it did not seem to help much as the show sold out in 5 hours, leaving lots of unhappy prospective attendees out in the cold. Word on the show floor was that they are thinking about doing two shows next year to help meet the demand, perhaps an afternoon and evening split like the wine show has. One hopes this sends a message that there is a large untapped demand for access to whisky in Nova Scotia that isn't currently being met unless you travel out of province.

The NSLC also has a pre-show 'panel', which they have done in each of the last couple of years. This year if you purchased a ticket to the panel you also were admitted to the show, eliminating the oddity of previous years where panel tickets were sold separately and at a lower price than show tickets. What happened then was that panel ticket holders could also buy whisky that was available only at the show, causing some tensions when limited-quantity exclusive whisky was sold to customers who bought a cheaper ticket than did those who went to the show itself. This year that problem was solved by tying the two together.

The panel, while a pleasant enough event, has never really worked in my opinion. The ability to use it as a learning experience depends on who is presenting and how well they tell their story. 

Unlike master classes where someone from a distillery is talking about 4 or 5 of their own products, usually with much passion and a common theme, in this format you have 5 people from different companies talking about just one product each, and it can feel disjointed. There can be too many different styles and approaches, and if you have a clinker in the group, you lose interest in a hurry. The other thing missing this year was any attempt to pair food with the whiskies on offer, which was a real eye-opener in previous years. This was the one major step down with the change of venue, as the Lord Nelson food was absolutely incredible and prolific, whereas this year's food was certainly acceptable but not at the same level of either quantity or quality.

  • In terms of the whiskies, the oft-overlooked Longmorn 16 may have opened some eyes with its well-rounded, herbal and fruity character, although it made me miss the dearly departed 15 year old version that was such an incredible bargain for many years.
  • Highland Park Dark Origins was pleasant, offering some rounded HP character, and at $99 was likely decent value given the price of other HP expressions these days, despite it being a NAS whisky that was said to have a lot of 15 year-old liquid blended with some younger stuff. Unlike some other NAS whiskies, with this you could be fooled into thinking it wasn't NAS, though that trend continues to disturb me.
  • Talisker Storm, also featured on the panel, was the other side of the coin and for me it was not particularly interesting nor something I would buy for myself. Too bad, as Talisker 10 and the incredible Talisker 18 are among my favorites.
  • My love-hate relationship with Ardbeg continued with their Auriverdes, which I found  disappointing. Old Ardbeg 10's which I have been fortunate enough to try are excellent and bear little in common with the current 10 year-old, which I find rather rough and extreme. The Auriverdes reminded me of that, in spades, with lots and lots of water needed to tame the overwhelming smoke and phenols. The Corryveckan and Uigeadail have lots of the Ardbeg character too, but in what to me is a more balanced and approachable package.

    Sorry, Ardbeg, this one isn't for me. 

  • We were also able to try the Glen Breton 14, which wood-lovers may like more than I did, though it was certainly a step up from their mainstream Glen Breton 10.
  • Oddly, at the very end, we were served a sample of Mackinlay's Shackleton Journey, a rather pricey vatted concoction made by Whyte and MacKay's master blender Richard Paterson to recreate the whisky recovered from Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic expedition of the early 1900s. Very good, with lots going on, but a whisky I found hard to pin down in terms of style. This seemed a bit rushed in presentation and perhaps worthy of a bit more attention. Strangely, it came across almost as a bit of an afterthought in the context of the panel.  

As for the show itself, there were more whiskies on offer than ever before, with some interesting choices available, far too many to discuss here. With so many available there is no way to try them all so you needed to be very selective. 

For me one of the highlights was the ability to sample a whisky priced at a rather stiff $750, a Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 34. It was, as you would expect, quite lovely. It is difficult to appreciate the qualities of such a rarefied whisky in the typical show environment, unfortunately. 

Something like that deserves the right ambiance, the ability to sit and savour and think about what you are tasting, and surroundings worthy of the cost. All I can really tell you, given I was in a noisy, crowded room being hustled out of the way by the crowd, was that it was very good indeed. There were lots of other good choices too, and I left very satisfied by the product offerings.

Now, a couple of criticisms. First, the NSLC again failed to establish an on-site store for attendees wishing to purchase product. Instead as they have done in the past they had an order desk where you could order product which would then be available for pickup in a couple of weeks time. The process was slow and time-consuming, as it is every year, and not very satisfying. I understand the issue with setting up an on-site store - you have to actually haul the store fixtures and equipment to the show location, set it all up, then bring down and shelve the product, and at the end knock it all down and haul it back - but the current model is simply painful. Plus, it removes any chance of a customer making an impulse or last-minute purchase, because quite frankly, if you have already gone through that ordering line once earlier in the evening, you are unlikely to want to repeat the experience. I have to think that alone costs them a lot of sales and adds to leftover inventory. It's time for them to get serious about this show and provide a proper store.

Secondly, while I find the show a fun event each year, it never fails to bring home to me the lack of attention paid to the whisky category by the NSLC the other 364 days on the calendar. With all these products available to them, and the demand for show tickets so high, it disappoints me to see so much of the same old product on the shelves with very little change year over year. 

The NSLC seems primarily to focus its attention these days on wine, along with mainstream beer and spirits. I understand that they do need to make the bulk of their profit from those mainstream products, but as the provincial liquor board I feel they do us a disservice by not rotating more of these high-end whiskies over the course of the year the way they somehow seem to do quite easily with wine. Unlike the situation in New Brunswick, where there is a strong relationship between ANBL and the whisky community, here it seems largely dependent upon local agents being able to persuade NSLC to list their product. 

A little more attention by the NSLC to offering customers more of these high-end whiskies on a rotating basis would surely not be that hard, given that they do exactly that with wine, and would greatly improve the NSLC's rather tattered reputation within the whisky community. The show would certainly seem to indicate the demand is there if the NSLC wants to make the effort to meet it."

And with that, ends the mystery blogger's review...
My post will follow in a few days for comparison and I strongly encourage others who were there to leave comments on what you thought as well!

Cheers lovely #whiskyfabric