October 2009 Archives

Macallan Tasting Event - Oct. 28, 2009

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On a blustery autumn day where the leaves were joined in their falling by the rain, your trusty ScotchBloggers headed to 1 Hazelton, the posh new restaurant in the toniest part of town, to participate in The Macallan Tasting event (hosted by Matchstick). Coming along for the night were friends of ScotchBlog, some old veterans drinking the venerated liquid and some new to the joy of single malts. 

Greeting us on our entry into the tasting event were Cameron & Sumaya from Matchstick and a glass of The Macallan 10. We had the option of enjoying our first taste on ice or neat; your dependable bloggers went for the latter and were provided a nice warm-up to the evening. 

The tasting room itself was set-up to accommodate up to 50 participants across four long rows. While this enhanced the formality for the night and allowed for a structured nosing, it limited the ability of diverse groups to mingle and discuss tasting notes across the magnificent line until after the group tasting had finished and we were afforded some one-on-one time with the presenter.

1 Hazelton was tasked with providing hors d'oeurves to the masses waiting and mingling in the entry alcove. Platings included mini falafel pitas, mini chicken korma pitas, deep fried chantrelles w/ black truffle, teryaki steak skewers, lobster perogies and steamed mushroom dumplings. The food offerings were scrumptious, yet left oil and grease on the palate that masked the finer points of the whiskies; a more complementary selection would have been preferred to allow the full flavours to come out.

Leading us through our journey was Marc Laverdiere, Scotch Whisky Ambassador for The Macallan. Marc proved to be an excellent presenter to the uninitiated single malt drinker, but to those with a refined palate, there were no new discoveries to be made. It wasn't until after the event when discussing the finer points of the vintages one-on-one with Marc that his knowledge shone through. 

On the table, each setting was provided with a dram of The Macallan 12, 15, 18 & 21. Mildly 
disappointing to the tasters was the lack of a 25 to truly appreciate the art of the drink. Marc 
lead the room through tasting each vintage in sequence, focussing at a very high level on how to nose & taste the Scotch, although as previously mentioned, the set-up of the room limited the attendees ability to compare notes and truly enjoy the intricate differences between vintages. 

The highlight of the night was The Macallan Ice Ball Press, which may seem like an affront to the sensibilities of a whisky lover, but provides one solution to the age-old question: to ice or
 not to ice. The spherical nature of the ice ball slows the ice from melting and clouding the purity of the single malt in the glass. Quite a genius invention to this humble writer, as it uses no electricity, just copper & physics to melt a square ice cube into a sphere to be added to one's tumbler. For those who wish to have no excess water in their drink, Marc showed us the rock cubes to be chilled in your freezer thereby allowing cooling without dilution. Those who balked at the £12 price tag were reminded that ordinary smooth round stones would do the trick just as well!

Each taster was provided a leather-bound, velvet-lined box shoe box with a sample of The Macallan Fine Oak 10, The Macallan 12, a tumbler & a pen to continue to enjoy The Macallan at home.

A few interesting items we learned about The Macallan and their unique distilling process were provided to the room. The Macallan has its own stand of European Oak in Northern Spain, where the wood is used to produce sherry for four years by Gonzales Byass. For variety, The Macallan also purchases bourbon casks from Makers Mark for aging their Fine Oak line. 

All-in-all, the tastings were targeted more toward new appreciators of single malt Scotches, a valued experience which afforded the Scotch Blog authors an opportunity to taste across The Macallan's offerings. We would like to thank Matchstick for inviting us to the event and to Marc for leading us through the night.

Tullibardine Vintage 1966

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Vintage 1966.jpg While attending Whisky Live Toronto, we had the pleasure of a proper tasting of this gem thanks to James Robertson of Tullibardine. Crafted using sherry butt #1112, bottle 259 of the 300 ever produced was without question the star of the show.

Nose: Opening behind an almost oily scent, the finer points of vanilla, maple, hay, and lemon zest then explode foreshadowing the sheer delight to follow.

Palate: From the first sip a hint of lemon dances immediately across the tongue yeilding to the most remarkable sensation of maple and brown sugar with a wonderfully rich yet lightly coating mouth feel. Something that is not easily encountered in most single malts.

Finish: As the whisky runs down to its final resting place, the maple sugar remains as though one had just finished a Canadian maple sugar candy. This is coupled with the most delightful faint whisp of smoke finishing with a sweetness but without cloying as one might expect.

Overall: Clocking in at 49.8% alcohol by volume, this single malt delivers all of the aforementioned flavours and sensations without the powerful heat often associated with this range. Priced at £300 it may be steep, but when compared to other malts in this price range, I can confidently say it is a bargain worth hunting. To call this whisky merely amazing would be an injustice similar to describing Machu Picchu as a nice little hilltop community. Quite simply put, this single malt is in a league of its own, and will most assuredly sit atop the pantheon of whiskies in my mind for many years to come.

It is a rare day in a year when one can make use of their ability to appreciate a fine dram and parlay that into an evening of glorious whiskies, intriguing personalities, enlightening interviews, and an all around memorable time. For the intrepid staff of ScotchBlog.ca that day was October 23, 2009. Better known as Whisky Live Toronto

Taking place on an almost fittingly dreary Friday, we set out in search of fresh knowledge, old whisky, and great conversation. Three objectives that were most certainly attained at Canada's largest whisky tasting event. 

Upon arrival in advance of the rest of the crowd, we collected our press credentials and set off to arrange our interview times with our selected targets. After solidifying our in-event schedule there was time to begin perusing the wares of the 30 or so exhibitors in attendance. Beginning at The Glenfiddich Experience, we opened the event with a favourite here at the blog, the well-rounded and always enjoyable Glenfiddich 15. This was followed by chats with the incomparable and delightfully blunt Willie Tate (Master Distiller, The Isle of Jura) and James Robertson of Tullibardine, who graciously invited myself and Robin to attend Tullibardine's Master Class at 6:30, and we accepted of course. For those who did not know, a Master Class at Whisky Live is without question the most comprehensive way to learn about the finer points of a distiller and is therefore a must attend.

After further filling our agendas it was time to convene with the fine folks back at Glenfiddich for a blind taste test (yes, we Scotchblog.ca folks nailed all three with ease) in advance of our interview with their brilliantly candid and equally insightful Global Brand Ambassador, Ian Millar. The contents of this, and indeed all interviews, will most certainly emerge in later articles, but for now let us stay focused on the event itself. 

Following on from here it was time to head over to The Isle of Arran Distillers exhibit for an interview with Managing Director, Euan Mitchell and to taste the St. Emillion Grand Cru Cask finish which will see a mere 600 bottles released to the Ontario market in about 4 weeks or so, which is not nearly soon enough in my opinion as this was a truly delightful dram which I can't wait to have on my shelf. Upon completion of this block in the agenda it was time for the Tullibardine Master Class.

Let it be said that for a while now I have been espousing the virtues of Tullibardine as likely the best distiller of single malt that most have never heard of. After the conclusion of the Master Class in which Robin and I were treated to sampling the full flight of the Tullibardine line, I can certainly say without hesitation that there are huge things looming for this little distillery situated on the dividing line between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. After a thorough history lesson, the aforementioned Mr. Robertson skillfully led the group of about 30 through a full flight of whiskies ranging from the Oak Aged to the unquestioned star of the night, the Tullibardine Vintage 1966. Upon finishing detailed tasting notes of all the whiskies involved in this class, it was time to head back out into the throngs that amassed since the 7pm open admission time, but not before concluding our final interview with none other than Mr. Robertson himself over that truly remarkable 1966. 

Returning to the main hall of Whisky Live there was a sense that the event had swayed somewhat from a tasting event of the educated into the hands of those who came solely for the purpose of mass consumption. During this period it was time to reconvene with those at Glenfiddich to sample the 1977 with Mr. Millar, followed by notes comparison with the other writers. It was at this point that the largest failing of the event manifested itself -- the closure of the buffet. An appalling error on the part of the planners as by 8:30 all of the food had been swept away; clearly a failing as anyone attending more than one Master Class would attest to. It was in this somewhat tainted circumstance that we returned to the tasting exhibits, enjoying the Robbie Burns 250th Anniversary edition and the Macallan Cask Strength among others, before returning to Tullibardine to finish the event in style with one last sampling of the 1966. 

All in all, this is indeed Canada's premier whisky tasting event, yet there is without question a considerable way to go before it can be considered a world class one. The cross section of whiskies provided is the perfect way to expand the knowledge base of the uninitiated without breaking the bank since the miniatures market in Ontario is grossly underserviced. It is the opinion of this writer, however, that if one is considering attending Whisky Live 2010, the additional expenditure on the VIP tickets to ensure early entry is a must, as it provides the time to converse with those behind the whiskies on hand while at the same time enabling one to make the rounds with unhurried ease to ensure an appropriate and varied tasting of what the event has to offer. Should the price be too steep for the VIP tickets, be sure to attend regardless, as it is truly a rare occurrence when one is afforded the opportunity to sample single malts that are typically unavailable due to the LCBO's excessively stringent policies. I for one will almost certainly be back next year. 

In the end, as with all large scale events, the success of Whisky Live is the result of those in attendance. It is with that in mind that the staff of ScotchBlog.ca would like to extend our warmest thanks to:

Ian Millar, Global Brand Ambassador & Master Distiller, Glenfiddich 
James Robertson, International Sales Manager, Tullibardine
Euan Mitchell, Managing Director, Isle of Arran Distillers 
Susan Mohammad, Communications Consultant, Jesson + Company Communications Inc.

It was truly our pleasure to enjoy your company throughout the night.

Designer Drinking

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When one mentions single malt scotch, to many it will bring to mind aristocratic British reading rooms, oak paneled cigar lounges filed with overfed business men, or Don Draper-esque midcentury modernism. Indeed, the relationship between the scotch tasting experience and one's surroundings is a close, if oft ignored one. As every true enthusiast knows, drinking fine malts is an aesthetic experience, shaped not only the nose and pallet of the glass, but by whom one shares it with, what food it is paired with, and the overall ambiance of the space. It would be as much of a sin to order a finely aged malt in a dingy dive bar as it would be to drown it in ice.

The designers at Powell & Bonnell have joined forces with the Balvenie to explore this concept by creating a sleek, beautiful, and timeless lounge space which updates the old clichés of the stuffy whisky bar while retaining the elegance and comfort of a gentleman's library. Inspired by the Balvenie's understated packaging, and crafted in white, supple tan, and curving steel, the resulting space is modern, egalitarian and inviting--all the more so because of the exceptional  whisky on offer for this tasting.

209051 Balvenie Lounge-1195.jpg

All the classic Balvenie expressions were available, including my personal standby - the Twelve year old David Stewart signature edition. But the real standout here was Balvenie's latest creation, a 17 year old Madeira cask variation which we were lucky enough to sample despite the bottling not being available for sale in Ontario (something I hope will change soon!)

Rich, dark, and aromatic, it gives off hints of cinnamon spice, vanilla and oak. The initial taste is remarkably spicy, primarily on the tip of the tongue, which gives the scotch its distinctive character of raisin, spices, plum and dried cherry early on, while finishing briefly, smooth and slightly honeyed. This is a sophisticated scotch, and I can't wait to see it hit the LCBO.


Equally, I would love to see the concept of the scotch lounge showcased by Powell & Bonnell executed on a larger scale. Toronto could use a spot like this; a stylish and sophisticated space offering a welcome counterpoint to the endlessly repetitive martini bars favored among young fashionistas in this city. It's time that this genuinely upscale drink took its rightful place in the cocktail culture, and the Powell & Bonnell / Balvenie tasting lounge offers a stunning  vision of its potential.

(Photos courtesy of DDB Canada)

Glenfarclas 17

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Nose: Sweet candied fruit with hints of sherry.

Palate: Flavours of butterscotch are offset by baking spice with predominant clove aromatics all underpinned by the nutty cocoa of sherry.

Finish: Sherry malty notes in the long finish. Surprising amount of heat in the finish beginning in the mid-palate for such a mature scotch.

Overall: I am somewhat disappointed with this offering from Glenfarclas. I purchased this bottle on my way home from London as I was impressed with the 10yr expression I tried months earlier. Although I enjoy the complexity of Glenfarclas, in general, the 17yr doesn't finish as mellow as I was hoping. However, the resonant heat in the finish would make this whisky a good warm-up after shovelling the driveway in winter.

Calling All Toronto Scotch Lovers!

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Here's your chance to meet the Scotchblog crew and be our guest at a free tasting featuring one of the world's finest distillers at one of Toronto's top restaurants during the last week of October.

We're not about to provide anything like accomodations or transportation to the event, so it's best if you're local, but we will make sure that your taxi home is looked after, so don't be a fool and drive to a scotch tasting.

So how do you end up at this event? Well, that's up to you.

We want to see your best review of a scotch (preferably a single malt) that we have not yet covered on the site. All reviews should be submitted to blog@scotchblog.ca. The best writer will then be contacted via email with instructions on how to join us at this exclusive event.

The deadline is midnight on Wednesday, October 21 so hurry up and get into your favourite drams.

We're looking forward to your reviews!



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