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 clich├ęs 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.

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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)

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