November 2010 Archives

Gibson's Finest Canadian Whisky Tasting

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Although somewhat outside of our normal single malt comfort zone, we recently had the opportunity to taste Gibson's Finest Canadian Whisky, owned by William Grant & Sons, in the Distillery District. Not having had much experience with this Canadian whisky, we welcomed the opportunity to explore the three expressions of Gibson's.

Arriving on a blustery wet evening to the Martini Club, we were greeted with a Hot Taughty upon entering. A heated mixture of Gibson's Stirling whisky mixed with lemonade and accented with with pineapple, orange and lemon juices along with vanilla, cloves, orange zest and ginger, we were pleasantly surprised at how wonderful this drink was.

The format of the evening was quite unique. Rather than a "mix and mingle" period followed by a formal, sit-down guided tasting, the "mix and mingle" was the whole event - with several Gibson's representatives in the crowd, one could simply enjoy the various drink options available and engage the Gibson's reps as they pleased in order to learn more about the three offerings. Steve Wright, Gibson's brand ambassador, explained to us that Gibson's is the #1 producer of age-stated Canadian whisky. All Gibson's varieties are made with a mash of corn, barley and rye.

Upon venturing to the bar, we found that there were four different types of mixed drinks on offer, all featuring Gibson's Finest as the feature ingredient.

First drink I tried (and the best of the four) was called a 'Mint Divine". Strikingly similar to a mohito, but lacking the sourness. A very delicious drink in all, I had several of these before the night was out.

After a few mixed drinks, we decided to try each of the three Gibson's whisky products. Gibson's Finest Stirling, their "entry level" whisky; Gibson's Finest 12 Year Old, their best selling and mainstream product; and Gibson's Finest 18 Year Old Rare - their flagship and higher-end offering.

Gibson Finest Stirling
Described as a "fresh and crisp" whisky - their entry-level product offering is mainly described as being for mixed drinks, and after trying it neat, I certainly do not disagree. Not suitable for drinking neat (or even with water), this whisky with no age statement contains a significantly higher rye content than the Gibson's 12 and 18. With a nose full of alcohol solvents, it is quite a harsh whisky to drink, and definitely needs to be flavoured with other ingredients to be palatable.

Gibson's Finest 12 Year Old
The 12 year old is Gibson's best selling product. We were informed that Gibson's just recently came out of a 3-year supply glut caused by primarily higher than expected sales and poor grain yields. In this dram the rye content is prominent and distinct, without being offensive. Raisins and vanilla are present on the palate. A fine whisky for mixing in cocktails, and not disagreeable by any means, I would not recommend drinking it straight. It does however beat the pants of Gibson's Stirling by a country mile.

Gibson's Finest 18 Year Old Rare
This whisky was quite impressive. Based on the previous two samplings I was expecting a mediocre product. I was pleasantly proven incorrect. With lots of raisins and dates on the nose (in fact it actually smells like you actually have a glass filled with raisins!), it is an extremely drinkable whisky. The oak and rye flavours are well developed and intermingle exceedingly well for a Canadian Whisky. No harshness, very smooth. I could drink a lot of this.

So, if you're ever in Boston...

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Front Entrance.JPGOn my final day in Boston last week I had the great fortune to stumble upon a place at least equally worth a visit as any of the historical sites the city has to offer. Especially if you are a fan of whisky or wine.

Located at 29 State Street (near the corner of State and Congress Street), and tucked into a corner of the building,  Federal Wine and Spirits is a tiny shop that most would dismiss when just looking through the window. Aisles that at first glance appear too tight, shelves that look ready to give way due to the sheer volume on them, and a nearly hidden staircase to the wine cellar in the back give the impression that you might want to keep walking. Do not give in to this impulse in any way!

Once inside I had further luck in meeting manager Joe Howell (a man even more unassuming than the fantastic Matt and Joe.JPGvault he curates) and begin a near 90 minute discussion of all that Federal had to offer. After a brief chat about what we all must suffer through here in Ontario with regard to the LCBO's monopoly on the market and big-box store view to overall customer service, Joe proceeded to offer up a quick 3 dram tasting flight to aid me in my decision making.

Beginning with a Springbank 14 year old, it's peaty-citrus smoothness was just about the perfect warm up dram given that we'd just gone past noon. After mentioning that I was on the hunt for something from a closed distillery and a little more on the upper side of 15 years old, Joe treated me to a 21 year old Mortlach from Gordon & MacPhail. Beginning with the faintest sherry nose, a couple minutes of hand warming spurred the whisky to explode into cereal, honey, and leather with a spectacularly long finish. Although delicious, this Mortlach was not quite what I was looking for.

Scotch selection 2.JPGWhile sipping my way through these first two, I began to realise that any solo attempt to navigate the selection on offer would be nothing short of daunting. Carrying well over 200 different single malts, most of which are precariously perched on the upper shelves thoroughout the store, it is without hyperbole that I can assert that this is Boston's single malt Mecca. With that in mind, I strongly encourage anyone planning to take the time to dig through the selection in house to first call ahead and chat with Joe and to plan your visit in advance during off-peak hours. For, as much as I wish it would be, this is not the place where one can go "crate digging" the way we used to when hunting for a rare record.

After finishing off the Mortlach, and still pondering my next move, Joe presented me with the option I would ultimately settle on: a 1991 Gordon & MacPhail 17 year old cask strength Rosebank. Sipping on it now while writing this, I can say that I am thoroughly pleased with my decsion to make the purchase without sampling it and, fear not, the review will be up in the not too distant future.

Now just because I'd settled on a purchase, one might assume that my time in the store would end. But no. For while discussing the wine selection, the mechanics of operations, and all of the different tasting events offered, Joe completed the trifecta by offering up a sample of Laphroaig's astonishing 30 year old expression. Now I'm a big fan of the peaty, smokey Islay malts, and I'm obviously prone to being overly verbose at times, but this was just ... wow. Stunning. Find it. Buy it. Enjoy it. I cannot wait to have it again and if it were not for Canada's customs limits on bringing back spirits, this bottle would have come with me.

After finishing off this idol of Islay, I took a few more minutes to discuss and explore. Some other elements of note at Federal Wine and Spirits:

  • Pre-ordering whiskies prior to their arrival is not only an option, but encouraged.
  • Wednesday nights feature regular free wine tastings. Be sure to call ahead.
  • The wine selection is both hidden downstairs and astonishing

In closing, I must say that Boston was already one of my favourite cities in the United States due to its fantastic food, incredible history, and the delightfully friendly demeanor of its denizens. But now, I've got one more reason to return as soon as possible.


Penderyn Distillery Sampling

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penderynSimonErlanger.jpgIn late October Jeff and I were invited to a private tasting of three expressions by Penderyn, Wales' only single malt whisky distiller. The distillery's Sales Director, Simon Erlanger, treated us to some of the most interesting whiskies I've tried in recent memory.

Penderyn Distillery, located in the Welsh town of the same name in the Brecon Beacon foothills, is Wales' only distillery and a source of great national pride. Penderyn's wash is made by Brain Brewery in Cardiff specifically for the distillery while the nearby Brecon foothills supplies the distillery's water. Opened in 2004, the distillery runs 24 hours six days a week with twelve employees.

All of Penderyn's whisky expressions are matured, at least in part, in Buffalo Trace ex-bourbon casks shipped intact from Kentucky. The wash is distilled only once in a unique still designed by Dr. David Farady which allows the new make spirit to be quite flavourful despite the unusual technique. We had the opportunity to taste to new make spirit (at some 92% ABV) and it proved quite enjoyable compared to other new make we've tasted previously.

The Madeira finish expression is matured in 100% ex-bourbon casks for four to six years, then finished in Madeira casks for six months. It is the only Penderyn expression available in Ontario with 185 cases currently available. The Madeira's nose and palate are quite similar. Orange zest, vanilla, tropical fruits and cocoa are prominent through with a quick cocoa finish but the most endearing property of the spirit is it's fresh light summer-like character and remarkable smoothness despite it's relatively young age. Overall the whisky is crafted as an aperitif style treat making it light and easy to enjoy. Should the blog decide to get to the bottom of a bottle, we will write a more in-depth review.

The Peated expression is a marriage of 2/3 spirit matured in ex-bourbon casks and 1/3 spirit matured in second-fill Islay scotch casks. This is to say that the barley malt is not dried with peat smoke. This marriage gives the whisky a very gentle peat on the nose (perhaps indiscernible by some) and a more prominent peat on the palate. The palate is creamy smooth while the finish is very dry with lots of cocoa. I found the peated bottle less complex than the Madeira though this is no slight. A very enjoyable expression and a wonderful start for those new to peated single malts.

The Sherrywood expression is a marriage of 2/3 spirit matured in ex-bourbon casks and 1/3 spirit matured in dry oloroso sherry casks. While the sherry creates a richer nose than the Madeira finish, the sherry is not overpowering as can be the case in other sherry-matured whiskies. The nose and palate are nutty, honey sweet with a hint of mint. The sherry's effects are obvious. The whisky finishes quite dry and at some length. I found this expression to be the most subtle of the three and better suited to the curious enthusiast than the casual single malt drinker.

Penderyn also releases vintage single cask bottlings when they find a cask worth its own show (the "rich oloroso" for instance). The three expressions mentioned above are non-vintage as Penderyn bottles to taste. All Penderyn expressions inherit a set of distinct notes and character on the nose and palate (prominent in the new make spirit) making for a great flavour trademark. This Penderyn bright yet smooth "freshness" happily sets itself distinct from Scotch and Irish whiskies making it a real treat and indeed a welcome addition to any collection.

Laphroaig at Harbour Sixty

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Last week I had the chance to visit the Harbour Sixty steakhouse for an evening of fine food and a guided tasting of Laphroaig single malts. Led by Simon Brooking, Laphroaig and Ardmore's brand ambassador, this was a truly sophisticated evening of marvelous toasts, expertly paired food, and of course a flight of Laphroaig's rich, peated Islay single malts.

The evening began in the main bar of Harbour Sixty, where guests gathered to sample the showcased cocktail, a "smokey bitter" concoction of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Glayva Liquor, and Nonno Amaro. While I am normally reticent about scotch-based cocktails, this one was perfectly balanced, dry and slightly fruity, which enhanced rather than masked the peaty flavour of the Laphroaig. Served on the rocks with some good hard cheeses and baskets of sweetly glazed, crispy bacon, it helped everyone to slip into easy conversation and take in the luxurious surroundings.

After an invigorating gathering outdoors for a rain-swept group photo--good Islay weather, Simon called it--we were escorted into the lower level dining room and arranged at our tables, each seat set out with five tempting tulip glasses of whisky.

As Simon took us through a highly informative presentation touching on the history and geography of Islay and the Laphroaig distillery, I made my way from one whisky to the next, each matched with a superb selection of miniature delicacies. First up was a golden crab cake with roasted red pepper aioli, seared ahi tuna with wasabi mayo, and a grilled spear of pear with walnut and roquefort cheese, which I enjoyed alongside the woody and smoky quarter cask expression. This was followed by the Laphroaig ten year old, saltier and peatier than the small barrel version, and perfectly suited to the grilled lamb shank and smoked salmon canapé which accompanied it.

Next I moved onto the Laphroaig 18 year old, which is a truly standout expression. Having never sampled it before, I was amazed as the smooth, sweet, floral notes which set it apart from the bold heat and peat smoke I have come to expect form Laphroaig. At 18 years the malt takes on an entirely different character, mellow and chocolaty, which left me wanting more. The 18 year old just became available at the LCBO this month, priced at $179.95. This will no doubt be a treat for special occasions.

While polishing off a tasty brazed shortrib on soda bread, I sampled the exceptional 25 year old bottling, which is matured in ex-Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry barrels which impart a rich red colour and sherry sweetness to the still peaty malt, and finishes long with spice and fruit. Finally, the flight was completed with a unique festival bottling crafted this year from 11, 15 and 19 year old malts which was hot, spicy, full of classic Laphroaig peat and smoke, but more complex than the quarter cask or ten year old varieties.

Simon Brooking's poetic toasts and rousing songs transported all in attendance to a misty Scottish isle for an evening, and his expertise in the nosing and tasting helped me gain a deeper appreciation for this wonderful family of single malts. Special thanks to Simon, and the folks at Beam Global and PraxisPR for making this night possible.


Recent Comments

  • Isabelle Gurble commented on The Famous Jubilee, Special Edition Reserve:

    This looks amazing, something my husband would love. His birth is coming up soon as well.

  • Ryan commented on Forty Creek Heart of Gold:

    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!

  • Sherry commented on Forty Creek Heart of Gold:

    Do you know where I can purchase this item?

    Sherry Boutilier

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