Thursday, January 12, 2017

That's the last of 2016, I swear - Runner ups!

When January 1st rolls around, I don't purposely set out to break records. What I mean by that is, I don't set a goal and other than taking photos and keeping a spreadsheet I don't go out of my way to try and supersede previous years numbers. For 2016 I tried 397 NEW whiskies. To the average person this may sound like a crazy number but when you start to talk to other enthusiasts, I'm not even considered hard core... yet!

I like picking out whiskies that really stood out as my top 10 or 12 of the year. I make notes, put little stars beside the ones I think were most memorable and for what reason. I've had a few people say: "Wow, I'm surprised you picked (that) whisky". So again, I'll explain that sometimes it's about the memory the whisky created, or the moment itself. For instance: Benromach 35 and how it transported me back to a time when my grandfather was still alive. How magical is it to sit there, close your eyes and be inundated with memories of someone who was very special. (Just the thought of that day as I sat there nosing that whisky and remembering pepere Mossey brings tears to my eyes as I type this). That is powerful indeed.

With 397 whiskies to choose from there are bound to be some that I initially say: Oh yeah - top 12 indeed but then as the year rolls on they get bumped by others. When I created my list this year, I noticed two things:

1. There wasn't one single American whiskey that even made the top 30!? As I surfed my photos it made me wonder. Is it because, here in Canada we don't really get to try many new/interesting USA whiskies or is it because I simply gravitate toward other whiskies in general. Hmmm...  Goal for 2017: Try more American brands.

2. As I went through the spreadsheet it became very apparent that the whiskies I did seem to gravitate toward in 2016 were independent bottlings. Again, it made me ponder: Was I naturally inclined toward those or did I somehow have more access than usual to these types of whiskies?

If you look at my list of honorable mentions you'll see for yourself. Here are whiskies number 30-13.

30. SMWS 59.49 - Celebration in a glass (Thanks Ross)

29. SMWS 1.196 - Sunshine, motherhood and apple pie (Thanks Blair & Clare)

28. Canadian Club 20 year old (Celebrate Whisky festival Halifax)

27. Douglas Laing Rock Oyster (Celebrate Whisky Festival Halifax)

26. Deerstalker Braeval 20 year old (Celebrate Whisky Festival Halifax)

25. SMWS 9.84 Playing "Sea battle" in the garden (Club whisky tasting) 

24. Cadenhead Mortlach 26 year old (Thanks Dave W)

23. Cadenhead Caperdonich 39 year old (Thanks Mark W)

22. Balvenie 25 year old Triple cask (Thanks Ian M)

21. Gordon & MacPhail Macallan 1958, 11 year old (Thanks Richard U)

20. Balvenie 1966 (HUGE thanks to Jill B - my birth year!)

19. The Cask of Yamazaki 1990 Sherry Butt (Thanks Martine N)

18. Highland Park 1968 (Thanks Nicolas V and Dan V!!)

17. Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt, Release 2 (Thanks Lydia!)

16. Wemyss Malts 1988 Kirsch Gateau (Thanks Jacqueline)

15. Sansibar Tomatin 18 year old (Thanks Igor K)

14. Springbank 12 Rum Wood (Thanks Frank S)

13. Adelphi 1988 Cambus 27 year old (Thanks Jonathan B)

It's always an amazing journey and you'll likely also notice that the majority of whiskies on this list were shared by friends in one form or another. 

You can make fun of me all you like but #whiskyfabric truly is a weave of personalities, friendships and connections that I am truly grateful for. We share moments, we create memories and best of all: We love whisky!

Now, if you'll excuse me I'm off to make some room on my sample shelf: Thanks Benoit B for the latest rounds of drams I can't wait to try!

Here's to 2017... may the list of new whisky discoveries, friendships and adventures be long and good for all of you!



Monday, January 9, 2017

Helping out a newbie.... points you may want to consider - PLEASE!!!!

My first scotch, courtesy of my father in law George was an Ardbeg 17. Tastebud suicide or brilliant move? Well in my case a little of both. I choked, sputtered but added ice, finished the dram and... continued to try peated whiskies.

Please do not consider this my first rant of 2017 however there are some points I hope will be considered!!!

Here it is January 9th and already four times this year I've either seen or been included in the following request: "Hey I'm new to scotch or bourbon, so what would you recommend I try".  

Key words number 1:  I'M NEW
Key words number 2: WHAT SHOULD I TRY...

Here is what baffled me...  I know people are simply trying to be helpful and start sending out all sorts of recommendations to this "newbie" immediately -> WITHOUT asking any questions what so ever. I received private messages on 3 of the 4 occasions saying: "Thank you for taking the time to talk to me a little, the rest of that stuff was crazy overwhelming and not very helpful!?".

So... think about this for a minute. Would you do the same if someone asked you to recommend a type of dog? What about a car? "I love my Subaru - Buy one". Errrrr, ok... why?

In my opinion (and this is how I've done this for years) - There are several points to consider when someone asks you to recommend something to "TRY"...

1. Where do they live?  If you live in South Carolina USA and someone from the UK asks you to recommend a bourbon... WHY would you recommend something that is only available in South Carolina??? 

A: Do some research - Where do they live and what is available there... Don't recommend something they can never buy.

2. What is their price range? Why... would you recommend a bottle of scotch that costs $150.00 to someone who is brand new or has little experience with it? If they go by your recommendation and they hate it, they have just spend $150.00 for nothing more than: a door stop.
3. What do these people like? Why.... would you recommend all the things you like? Whisky is subjective as subjective as everything else in our lives. "I like the colour purple - you should wear purple too". Errrr... no.

Take a few moments to see what types of flavours they like. Easy questions such as:

A: What whiskies have you tried so far? Or what ones did you really like?
B: If they have never really tried whisky: Do you like sweet? Do you like the bitterness of coffee or chocolate, what about wine - do you like white vs. red? Beer? Rum? Super easy questions that will help you determine where to possibly point them in the right direction.

4. You are part of a HUGE #whiskyfabric!!! 

What about offering to put them in touch with someone you know near them for help? Or better yet... what about sending them a few little samples after you've determined what they think they might like to try? A try before you buy sort of deal? What a great introduction to the #whiskyfabric and what we are all about!

Now, maybe it's because you've been a whisky enthusiast for many years and you've forgotten how overwhelming and scary venturing out into buying your first few bottles really is? Either way, you may want to consider the points I've mentioned above when someone throws the "What should I try?" question. If you do, a few things will happen:

A. You'll be a trusted source that this person will rely on or refer other friends to. 


B. You'll really get the hang of recommending whiskies to suit the person and not the other way around.

Like I said, not a rant...  just some advice from a whisky enthusiast who remembers standing in front of the large wall of whisky and worse... being led down the wrong path because someone simply didn't take the time to get to know me just a little. Please feel free to add the list of points you are trying to lend a helping hand.



Sunday, January 8, 2017

Lassie's number 1 pick for 2016 - JP WISER WINS 2 years in a row!!!

It's not that I've fallen out of love with scotch but I have spent time these past two years trying to discover more Canadian distilleries and whiskies. , I would add I have done that successfully. Proud to be from this country and since day one of my social media adventure, I've been a proponent of Canadian whiskies and dispelling that it's no better than "brown vodka" by sending samples as far as New Zealand. I have also had some pretty fantastic mentors and people who have helped me understand and appreciate the whiskies that are being made from coast to coast. 

@CDNWhiskyDoc - Twitter handle
Last year Don Livermore, Wiser's Master Blender, and in my opinion the Steve Jobs of Canadian Whisky is the mastermind of some really great whiskies coming to market. Well educated, passionate and looking to change the face of whisky he has made it his mission for 2016-2017 to introduce the world to Canadian whisky. 

I had the chance to visit him in April of 2016 where he took the time to spend 5 hours with me teaching me how his creative nature and microbiology background guide him in his vision of what Canadian whisky can become. I experienced my very own university 101 whisky chemistry class and given the opportunity to try my hand at blending.  A "whiskylassie" blend was created as well as recipe written down. You never know, maybe someday after I pass away, there will be a Whisky Lassie whisky!? (Dream on Johanne, dream on... hehehe) Don and I went to lunch and we discussed many aspects of what is to come for Wiser's. 2017 is going to be one hell of an exciting year... albeit I am sworn to secrecy as to what will be released. 

After lunch, I assumed my day was done but no...  
Don says: "So do you want to go to the warehouse?" Lassie beams! We did a walk about, and then opened a few casks for sampling. Lot 40, Red Letter and the 18 - All at CS. I stood speechless (I'm sure that surprises many of you) and I said not a word for 5-10 minutes. Simply amazing straight out of the barrel, that is all. Back to the distillery and down to the archives for about an hour. I rummaged, searched and discovered pieces of Canadian history that day that simply blew me out of my boots. How sorry do I feel for people who simply think Canada makes brown vodka!? If only you knew the long history and story behind what we have here in this country. 

One last surprise for the Lassie - JP Wiser's Last Barrels. I was allowed to try a sample, take a photo but again sworn to secrecy as to saying anything until it was revealed in June 2016. 

My experience in full... why I love this bottle even more and why you should really get one bottle if you can.

At the Victoria Whisky Festival on January 20th, Don Livermore will reveal four new whiskies for 2017. I won't be on the west coast but I'll certainly be first in line here on the east coast to sample and buy them.

I'd like to thank Davin de Kergommeaux for introducing me to Don Livermore and of course a huge thank you to Don for being the passionate mad scientist who believes in what Canadians are capable of on the whisky scene.

Canada celebrates 150 years in 2017 and my mission and commitment to prove how proud I am - I'm going to sample, buy and write about as many Canadian whiskies as I can. Let's see how many this Lassie ends up trying!!!  Place your bets now boys and girls, place those bets. Bring on the Canadian whisky adventure!



Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lassie's Top 12 countdown to 2016, the runner up and in 2nd place!

Graham: "You should call this reveal - dropping the deuce".  Me about an hour later: "HEY!! I just googled that!?" Graham: "Nothing but maniacal laughter"..   BOYS!!??

Needless to say, we are calling this one my 2nd best moment and whisky for 2016 for a few reasons. First and foremost, a visit to this distillery has been a stellar one EVERY time. I've been going for 3 years straight now. It doesn't matter who is there, I always get the same level of customer service, great information and better yet: Some pretty interesting and delicious whiskies! If you haven't yet been, please make a reservation and don't forget to take a photo of the #whiskyfabric cask.

This year was no different. On my trip to Scotland for 2016 I actually ended up visiting the distillery twice. Once with Jo Lawson.. well because we needed a loo... (what better place to stop)... and it was a pleasure to introduce Jo to Graham Eunson, have a quick coffee and a bit of shopping. 

Then a week later, I revisited with Crystal Coverdale and we had a full tour of the distillery. It was pretty much my last chance to grab something different to bring back home for Graham so I decided upon an ex-bourbon cask, cask strength, straight out of the barrel. 

Whisky #2 for 2016: Tomatin 12 CS, ex-bourbon cask #2592, 62.3% ABV. The bottle made it home and sound and we opened the bottle on November 11th, my 50th birthday. I've since shared it a few times (as I always do...) and enjoyed it immensely. I love Tomatin whiskies as I feel, so far, every single bottling I've ever tried has followed the same recipe (so to speak): Lovely nose, great palate, strong finish. BALANCED.  What I thought was really interesting about 2016 was the fact that my palate seemed really tuned into ex-bourbon casks. This one is exceptional and truly is a great definition of what this type of maturation is all about. 

I knew this whisky would be in my top 10 and once I had my list, quickly placed it in the top 3. When the Scotch Test Dummies asked if I would do a live tasting with them, I quickly said hell ya and we schemed that I would reveal my number 1 and runner up whisky of the year.  I learned a few things that day:

1. The boys really love Tomatin Cask Strength whisky.
2. A 30-45 minute video session with Bart & Scott easily turned into a 75 minutes of laughter and debauchery. 
3. Never feed cask strength whiskies to the boys... again  (hehehe....)

I'm thankful to be in the position to visit distilleries in many different countries, I'm even more thankful for the friends and whisky community that has grown exponentially these last few years. I hope the Scotch Test Dummies and I make this an annual event and I certainly hope that Tomatin keeps hitting them way out of the park.

Buy great whisky, share it with fabulous friends... 

May this be the motto of 2017.

Cheers -> Lassie

Friday, January 6, 2017

Lassie's top 12 countdown for 2016, TOP 3 - Must have bottles!

I've often heard many whisky enthusiasts say: "I'm not allowed to buy anymore whisky until I get rid of a few bottles" or "My wife says I'm not allowed to build a bigger storage area". I have to say that having a partner who is just as passionate as I am leads us completely down the other path. I look at Graham and say: "There's no more room in my bookshelf". He scratches his head and builds me shelves. He looks at me while we are on vacation and says: "Do we want this bottle", and I don't even look over. "You want it, get it".  You can see the dilemma right? There is... NO VOICE OF REASON! 

Now mind you we do try to have limits (try...) so our spending habits have changed slightly in the last few years. We are more selective with our whisky purchases and have many less bottles open then we did 5 years ago. Looking back at 2016 and what we bought, I was quite satisfied with our choices and only had one small disappointment overall. Not bad, I say...  

As mentioned in a previous post when tasting the whiskies in the advent calendar, I knew I was going to be in trouble and promised myself I would limit my purchases to 3. Many of whiskies in the Secret Spirits calendar were pretty stellar but I managed to narrow it down to the ones I really wanted a full bottle of. Wemyss Marmalade Appeal, Glenrothes 27 year old. 

Number 3 on my top 12 of 2016 easily slides into this position for two reasons:

1. These bottles are rarely available in Canada and I usually have to wait until a trip to Scotland or the kindness of #whiskyfabric to get these, so I'm super excited to have this one in our collection.

2. This whisky was truly a stellar dram and next to Velvet Fig (which I miss very much), this is the best of the Wemyss Malts I've ever tried. 

Serge Valentin (Malt Maniacs) as well as rates this particular bottling 4 stars. (I highly respect his opinion).

My review was here as part of the advent fun I participated in:

Whiskies that make the "world" stop for a few minutes are a rarity. I come across these every once and awhile and absolutely cherish them. There were very few bottles of this Wemyss (688 I believe)... and I consider myself extremely lucky to be getting one. 

To Emma, Karen, Jacqueline, Ginny, and the rest of the team that works extremely hard at Wemyss Malts: Keep up the good work. Every whisky enthusiast should be so lucky to own a few good bottles from this independent company. 



Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Lassie's top 12 countdown of 2016, Number 4 Best value for $ whisky of the year

I was wandering around the Celebrate Whisky Show in March in Halifax Nova Scotia. I had tried everything I wanted and was mostly making conversation and taking a few photos. Graham came over and said: "Have you made it over to the Canadian whisky tables yet?". I looked down at my list, apparently I had overlooked two that I was looking to try that night. We headed over in that direction. First one I tried wasn't bad but it wasn't quite my style. I found it a bit too oaky for my liking. I was a bit worried as I headed over to the second table. When I arrived there was nobody at the table (Geeez I hate that...) and I asked for a pour. What followed was great conversation with the distillery owner, a trip to the distillery twice since then and many, MANY bottles purchased.

Caldera Hurricane 5 blended Canadian whisky caught my attention and blew me out of the water. Why you ask? Because it's a great sipping whisky for an extremely affordable price! In a world where some of these price hikes have stopped us dead in our tracks from buying some of our favourites, this was a breathe of fresh air. When I asked why this was so "cheap" he stated: "Because I want everyone to be able to drink good whisky at a great price". Well, wow... honest and not looking to gouge the public! Can you say I'm a client for life!?

I wrote about Caldera earlier this year:

Graham and I have gone through 4 bottles of this since March, we've also ensured friends in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec get bottles. It's truly a lovely whisky that is well worth the price tag. He's working on getting this available across Canada and it's just been released in some part of the USA as well.

Jarret, I very much look forward to trying other products as you evolve as a distillery. Thank you so much for Hurricane 5. For as long as we can buy it, it will be our "boat" whisky...  guaranteed!



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Lassie's top 12 countdown of 2016 - Number 5, well worth the hype?!

After seeing Rogue One last week, I have to admit I wasn't overly impressed. Cue diving into the camera in slow motion while massive explosions go on, cue the sappy heart string music when Jyn's father dies in her arms. Well, at least she got 10 seconds with him after not seeing him in 16 years. Bla bla bla... Hollywood has ruined so many movies for me these last few years.

Many whisky enthusiasts will tell you that Marketing bullshit was likely just as rampant in 2016. In some cases I would say they were well justified so when Diageo came out with Lagavulin 8 for the 200th anniversary of the distillery, I'm sure a few people rolled their eyes as the marketing team gushed how Alfred Barnard had enjoyed an "exceptional 8 year old" back in 1880 something or other. Of course, others immediately started to complain about the price as well. Me, well... I'm about trying it at least and then making my decision on whether or not what is inside the bottle is worth the money. But, that's me ;)

I landed in London on April 22nd and went directly to my "big brother" Dave's house. After a short nap, a huge feast thanks to Kiat (MY GOD THAT WOMAN CAN COOK!?!), we settled in for a few drams, a proper catch up and a game plan for the next couple of days. When Dave asked what whiskies I wanted to ensure I bring home, first on my list to try and then buy if I liked it was the Lagavulin 8. Try and buy I DID! I didn't open it until June, after I got home where we brought it down to the boat. It was gone by August 1st. IT IS... that good. I want you to also consider the fact that we don't usually drink peated whiskies in the summer either.

Lagavulin 8 year old, 200th anniversary edition bottled at 48% ABV. 

Colour: Barely there, wisp of yellow

Nose: Delicate but the style of Lagavulin is there. More soft on the vanilla and hardly any cereal notes. The peat is not overly aggressive (that was my fear). After it sits in the glass for a few minutes, unripened pears or bananas. There's a bit of "green" in there but it's not unpleasant.

Palate: Alive! This is where the peat comes in. It's organic though, not overly smoky. It reminds me of a wet forest - damp earth and moss. A bit more time in the glass and it does become a bit more shortbread "cooky'ish".  Very nice, oily/buttery.

Finish: Eucalyptus, gingery with smoky overtones. Sweet, peat reek!  Lovely.

We made sure to share this with as many friends as we could over the 2 months we drank it and when it finally made its way to Canada in November, there was a lineup to get a bottle. Luckily, we got ours and it's now safely sitting in the collection. My only regret: Not getting 2, because here in my province it's already all gone....

Highly recommend getting a bottle of this if you haven't already. It may be Lagavulin 16's little brother but my goodness how I wish they would consider keeping this one in their regular line up because this is another Lagavulin done right.



Monday, January 2, 2017

Lassie's top 12 countdown for 2016 - Moving along to number 6!

When I was asked to be the guest writer for the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar this year, I was quite excited. I wasn't necessarily worried but hoped "life" wouldn't get too much in the way and that I'd be able to write, review and post every day for 25 days. Other than one small technical glitch, I was successful. 

I did a bit of research and looked at the previous years for this particular advent calendar. My initial thought was: "Wow, if it's half as good as year 1 or 2, man I'm in for a treat". Sure enough, the whiskies did not disappoint. My only dilemma - > WHAT whiskies do I want to try and buy!? I have no self control when it comes to these things sometimes. ;)

So, I narrowed it down to 3...

Whisky #6 on my countdown is quite a memorable one indeed for a few reasons. A) It was really a great dram, B) It's one of those rare whiskies that many people have yet to try and C) I had the chance to visit the distillery last spring (it's not usually open to the public). Maybe it's just me, but once I've visited a distillery it makes the whisky all the more special, in most cases (except for Penderyn, hehe but that's a whole other story). 

What's interesting with regards to this distillery visit was that I had the opportunity to walk around with Ian Logan (International Brand Ambassador Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard) which, that in itself was a huge honour as there are not many of these great experienced ambassadors left in the industry. He and I had a really great conversation about the fact that things are changing so quickly in the industry right now. The people coming in are team leaders or process managers. They get shifted around to many different distilleries so that they can learn all aspects of the companies, etc...  Not to say this is a bad thing by any mean because it does make for a more rounded distillery manager down the line. The people that are retiring right now have a wealth of knowledge and stories that will soon be lost. It made me consider writing a book of some sort, but I haven't quite put my finger on what exactly I want to write about. I'll take 2017 to ponder that a bit and come up with a few ideas for sure!

So back to the whisky you ask.. what is number 6?!

It was the Samaroli Allt a Bhainne 8 year old:

I very much look forward to getting a bottle of this whisky and sharing it with as many friends as possible. It's a fantastic whisky.

Thanks to Jonathan for introducing to Samaroli's and an even bigger thanks to Ian for being a wealth of knowledge and making that day in Speyside a very memorable one indeed.  Cheers gentlemen!