June 2009 Archives

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Wednesday night we were treated to a "Taste and Talk" event courtesy of Glenfiddich, featuring an inspiring account by adventurer Colin Angus of his "human-powered" circumnavigation of the globe. The event was held in the lower level of the charming Six Steps Lounge and featured a tastings of Glenfiddich 12, 15, 18, and 21 year old expressions.

Colin's unlikely story of travelling around the world--by rowboat and bicycle--made for a captivating experience. One could hardly believe that this unassuming fellow achieved such a unique feat, and amazingly this is just one of his many ambitious expeditions. It was really a treat to talk with him and hear his story.

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I'm sure most of our readers are probably familiar with Glenfiddich already, but given that this was a tasting of the full range of malts, it's worth noting how the different flavours stake up, for comparisons sake:

12 Year: Clean, fresh tasting scotch with hints of cut grass, a light oakiness, with a smooth fruity finish.  The twelve is a nice, easy to drink scotch that offers a good introduction for first timer single malt tasters, but lacks any of the depth and complexity of older expressions.
15 Year: The use of three kinds of oak barrels, with additional aging in large pine vats (the so called "Solera process") adds remarkable complexity to the fifteen year old malt. Honey, spice, vanilla, fresh fruit and lots oak are all detectable.
18 Year: Deep oak and peat smoke meet dried fruit and malty sweetness in a fine balance. Cinnamon and nuts round out the flavour, and the finish is smooth, smoky and satisfying.
21 Year: Bright notes of delicious buttery caramel, nutmeg and cookies emerge in the twenty-one year old expression, which has an all-around sweetness due to the finishing in Caribbean rum casks. This spicy sweetness is the perfect counterpoint to the deep wood smoke imparted by the long maturation, making for a very interesting dram. The best of the bunch by far in my opinion.

All that wonderful single malt, plus a rousing tale of old-fashioned adventure, made for a truly memorable evening. A few things I learned:

  • Glenfiddich is the most awarded and best-selling single malt in the world. David Stewart is the malt master of BOTH Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, and is "the longest serving malt master in the single malt Scotch whisky industry." i 
  • William Grant and Son's, owners of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie also, it turns out, make my favourite gin: Hendricks.
  • The biggest danger to rowing a boat through a hurricane is, apparently, head trauma.
  • Women do not necessarily have a better sense of smell than men, but they are on average better at articulating what they smell.
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Addendum: stop by the excellent Le Gourmet TV for more photos and write-up of the event, plus an interview with Glenfiddich's global brand ambassador. 

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Last night I had the privilege of attending an exclusive preview of Jamie Kennedy's Summer Tastings on the Terrace with the Balvenie at the Gardiner Ceramic Museum in Toronto. Located on the 3rd floor of the Ceramic Museum the Terrace offers a magnificent view of Queen's Park North, the Royal Ontario Museum and unobstructed sunlight.



Balvenie@theGardiner 020.jpgUpon entry I was met with the smoothed-out sounds of jazz and light piano music over the P.A.  while servers distributed a refreshing sparkling blueberry drink; which I suspect was just Perrier and pureed blueberries. As guests steadily made their way into the waiting area we were treated to smoked white fish and chive canapes, lamb and spinach meatballs (thoughtfully delivered on skewers as they were quite fatty), and pork liver pate with prune compote on crispy wafers.

Balvenie@theGardiner 004.jpgFinally, the doors opened and I beheld three serving stations and legions of pre-poured flights of Balvenie. Immediately I seized upon the one of three Balvenie's I had yet to try: the 15yr Single Barrel.

Balvenie@theGardiner 006.jpgApproaching cask strength at 47% it had a light mouthfeel with an uncommon heat at 15yrs. Notes of oak and heather-honeyed sweetness on the nose. Honeyed malt on the palate with a strong oak presence. I must confess I'm not a big fan of this variation of the Balvenie.

As I sipped, the reps from Balvenie explained that their choice of Jamie Kennedy as the Summer Tastings chef was based on his committment to local craftsmanship and his work ethic, both of which are shared by the Balvenie. Balvenie has a definite sense of pride in the fact that it grows its own barley, malts its own own traditional floor maltings, has coopers to tend the casks and a coppersmith to tend to the stills.

Jamie admitted that prior to this experience he was unfamiliar with how to pair whisky and food preferring to stay with the tried and true wine pairings. However, after tonight's samplings I think he's got a good grasp of it! Later in the evening I cornered the charismatic chef and asked him how long it took him to suss out the appropriate pairings, and in a seemingly off-hand manner he quipped that it took him "about two days."

First up, was the "British Columbian Spot Prawn Bisque with Tangle of Prawn and Greens" paired with the Balvenie DoubleWood: matured first in traditional oak casks then finished in sherry casks - very aromatic with sweet fruit and nutty sherry notes with dominant sherry on the palate smoothed out with oaky vanilla and honeyed sweetness before a long lingering raisin-like finish.Balvenie@theGardiner 011.jpgThe tangle of greens was spinach and collard greens and despite the fact that the brown and aromatic bisque had NO whisky in it, it paired quite well. The bisque served as a palate pleasing bridge picking up the nutty tones of the whisky.

Next, I ventured over to the Grilled Oysters with Sweet and Sour Chive Mignonette where Newfoundland's native son Rick Mercer was heartily enjoying the pairing with the Balvenie 15yr Single Barrel. Not being a huge fan of oysters I approached this pairing with a critical palate. However, I was once again won over by the combination. The minerality of the oysters seemed to bring out another dimension of the whisky that I had originally missed. A splash of water to the malt seemed to help this pairing quite a bit and the complexity of the oyster dish and the malt was inoffensive and I found myself wishing for another sampling, however there were none to be had.

Balvenie@theGardiner 010.jpgHoping to avoid a similar disappointment I quickly made my way to the last station manned by JK himself.

Balvenie@theGardiner 009.jpg While in line I compared notes with Glen and Julie Powell of Le Gourmet TV, who were both equally impressed with JK's pairings, before sampling the final dish: Crispy pain d'epices (spiced bread) with seared duck liver and candied apple in cider. At first I envisioned a savory spiced bread yet I was delightfully surprised to find that instead the bread was more like a fruitcake and seasoned with allspice, which paired amazingly with the Balvenie Signature Malt 12yr: A strong bourbon aroma tempered by nutty sherry notes - very rich. Long honeyed sweetness on the palate with sherry and an extended warm and lingering finish.


The sweet apple and spiced bread provided a great bridge for the whisky and the fattyness of the duck liver was an inspired antidote to the astringency of the whisky. All in all, this was THE pairing of the night. So much texture, flavour, and wonderful complexity here. I had to go back twice to revel in the flavours! :)

Balvenie@theGardiner 018.jpgAs I chowed on my second helping of duck liver I bumped into Ed Patrick, President of the  International Order of Companions of the Quaich. After introducing myself, I asked what he thought of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Glen Breton to keep the "Glen" prefix. He replied that the Scotch Whisky Association was being silly and that Nova Scotia had just as many glens as Scotland and shouldn't be punished for it. Moreover, he chastised the SWA for introducing the term "Blended malt" changing the labelling from Vatted or Pure Malt. Simply put, a Vatted or Blended Malt contains no grain whisky, whereas a traditional blend contains a combination of malt and grain whisky. In any case, he added, that while they sought to alleviate confusion in the market they've been responsible for quite a bit of it!

Overall I was tremendously pleased with the event, the pairings were terrific, the servers were attentive and the whisky flowed freely. IMHO teaming whisky with food is very difficult as the distinctive characteristics of single malts tend to either overwhelm the food or conversely get lost in the food's flavours. Kudos to the chef!

This is a great venue and concept. I highly recommend that you take advantage of this limited time offer to visit the Gardiner on a Friday night beginning June 26 - August 28.

And yes I can hear you thinking: "But what was in the Schwag Bag Ryan?"

A beautifully hand-crafted journal by Rustico Leather with 96 rough-cut pages hand-sewn to top-grain leather to be filled with my tasting notes. Awesome.

Glen Breton Whisky wins fight to keep "glen" prefix

originally printed by Reuters, re-printed in the Toronto Star:

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/651052

A nine-year legal battle over a wee word has finally come to an end.

Nova Scotia's Glen Breton Whisky will keep its name after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear a final appeal by the Scotch Whisky Association, which has fought long and hard to keep the prefix "Glen" off labels of the single malt.

The Edinburgh-based association argued that the name could trick consumers into thinking that the whisky was a Scottish product since "Glen" is associated with many single malts distilled in Scotland, including Glenlivet and Glenfiddich. Scotch whisky is Scotland's largest export.

The association, which also insists that the word "Scotch" apply only to whisky made in Scotland, said it would still oppose the use of the Glen Breton label outside Canada.

"We will be continuing to monitor the marketing of this product to ensure that it doesn't cause consumer confusion and we will be opposing applications to register the mark in any country outside Canada were such confusion is likely," said the association's spokesman, David Williamson.

Glenora, which sells its Glen Breton whisky in small quantities in Canada, United States and Europe, argued that its product is clearly Canadian.

"In fact it says, 'Glen Breton Rare - Canada's only single malt whisky,' and it has a large, red maple leaf on our label and on our box," said Bob Scott, the distillery's vice-president.

Glenora Distillery is located in Glenville, Nova Scotia, on Cape Breton island.

The case initially landed in court in 2000 when the distillery applied for a trademark. The Scotch Whisky Association was unsuccessful in its first attempt to block the name, but it appealed and won. Glenora then appealed the second ruling and won the right to register Glen Breton in Canada.

Caol Ila 1993 Distiller's Edition

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Matured: 1993 to 2006. Finished in Moscatel Casks.

As a dedicated acolyte of the Lagavulin's pungent smokiness, the Caol Ila (pronounced like "Cull Eel", my whiskey book tells me) is a wonderfully similar yet distinct flavour experience. This expression - a 1993 Distiller's Edition, is a rare and delightful introduction to this exceptional Islay malt.

It starts with a strong, iodine nose, universally identified by our group as reminiscent of chlorine. This may not sound pleasant at first, but trust me: enjoy it on a summer evening outdoors and let the Proustian association with swimming pools and lazy days in the sun come alive. This hot, medicinal scent gives way to peat, salty sea spray, and smoke.

The palate is equally complex. The smooth, oily feel reveals notes of heather beneath spice, with lots dry peat and smoky, earthy overtones, medicinal vapours, and a slight malty sweetness at the end.

This is a somewhat challenging Scotch. It is deeply peaty, strong and pungent. Those who prefer their scotch on the malty side may find it heady and over-strong. For my taste, however, it is everything a great single malt should be. It captures the rich peaty essence and heat that I look for without approaching Cask Strength levels of alcohol. That means it is best sampled neat. Leave the ice or water for lesser mortals.

Glenfiddich Tasting Event - June 24th 2009

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Thanks to DDB Canada for extending us this invitation. Scotch lovers in the Toronto area are encouraged to come out to what promises to be an excellent night of scotching and story telling. We want to meet fellow enthusiasts!

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What's in a Glen?

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Scotch group takes battle to top court

Jennifer MacMillan 

Originally posted on the Globe & Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/scotch-group-takes-battle-to-top-court/article1172979/

 A nine-year battle over the labelling of a Cape Breton whisky has followed the course of a fine single malt, gaining complexity as it ages.

The Edinburgh-based Scotch Whisky Association is turning to the Supreme Court of Canada to stop a small Nova Scotia distillery from calling its product "Glen Breton," arguing the word "glen" will lead consumers to believe the whisky was produced in Scotland.

The Scotch group is asking the Supreme Court for permission to appeal a lower court ruling that allows Glenora Distillers of Glenville, N.S., to use the name.

Distillery vice-president Bob Scott says the "Glen Breton" label is justified.

"It's because we're located in a glen, we're near Glenora Falls and we're in Cape Breton," Mr. Scott said, adding that the name reflects the history of the region, settled by Scottish immigrants in the 1820s.

"It's rich in Scottish heritage and people in the area still speak Gaelic."

The Federal Court of Appeal sided with the distiller in January, allowing the company to register the trademark and reversing an earlier decision of the Federal Court of Canada. The transatlantic fight started in 2000, when Glenora Distillers applied for the "Glen Breton" trademark.

The Scotch group has argued the popularity of Scottish-made brands like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich links the word "glen" in consumers' minds with whiskies distilled in Scotland.

A lawyer for Glenora Distillers has filed a formal response with the Supreme Court. Mr. Scott points out his company has never called its product "Scotch," a name that only applies to whisky produced in Scotland. Instead, the Glen Breton brand is sold as a single-malt whisky.

Glen Breton is marketed across North America and Mr. Scott says the company would like to make a bigger push into Asian markets, but the ongoing legal battle has made that potentially expensive, since the company could be forced to rebrand if it loses in court.

"We're a small, independently-owned company," he said. "This legal thing is certainly hurting us."

Isle of Jura 10

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Spoiled by the value and depth of Jura Superstition, expectations for the 10 year old may be unusually high. Unfortunately, it would be difficult to conjure a bottle more unexpectedly and mortally disappointing than this abortion.

Upon cracking the foil seal and pulling the cork, an aroma rank with southern ghetto is apparent. The overwhelming odor of tequila fresh out of a rusty steel drum best describes tonight's plight. A salty, medicinal rank follows, better suited to an abusive cough elixir than a relaxing dram of whisky.

At 40%, the bottle is barely vibrant enough to fog the wasted price of admission, about $40 Cnd. The 10 year old's low viscosity, smooth mouth feeling and medium finish make for quick and mild punishment. As lacking in character and depth as last night's date, one could only hope to escape while she's in the shower.

Finishing with hints of cocoa and toffee, perhaps the best reason to take a sip is the sigh of relief after it slides down one's throat. As is the case so frequently in life, the best part of Jura 10 is the end.

Although this is an Irish whiskey, regrettably only available at the LCBO in March to coincide with St. Patty's, it deserves to be included on Scotch Blog. Well-rounded even at the "entry-level," this malt stands shoulder to shoulder with anything out of Scotland.

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Nose:  Malted sweetness on the nose embued with a seaside freshness.

Taste: One sip and you are seaside with fresh air and heather-honeyed sweetness and the next and you are immersed in gentle peat with a slight medicinal edge.

Finish: Light bodied with a clover honey finish giving way to subtle peat.

Overall: I cannot say enough good things about this multiple award winning whiskey.  It seems to split on the palate: one side peat and smoke and honeyed sweetnes on the other. Each sip can go either way which makes for an eminently quaffable malt!

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    Hi Sherry, I think you might be outta luck on this one. Only 9000 bottles of this delicious whisky were produced and I'd wager most - if not all - purveyors have been sold out for quite some time now. If you're looking to sample it, I'd recommend visiting your local whisky bar and checking their list of Canadian whisky offerings. Your only other option would be to try and track down someone willing to give up their bottle? I've got one 2oz sample tucked away and, sorry, I'm keeping it all to myself! :) Good luck! Let us know if you find a bottle!

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