Recap: Whisky Live 2014 Toronto

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On Saturday, October 18, 2014 I attended Whisky Live Toronto at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. The all-inclusive event featured dozens of booths pouring several whiskies each, a delicious buffet, live entertainment and masterclass sessions available for purchase. The well-attended event seemed mostly geared to those who are new to the world of whisky but there were a few gems available on-site for long-time whisky enthusiasts.
In recent years, the organizers have tweaked the format, the event's location and the layout of the exhibitor floor. Comparing this year's layout over last, the exhibitor floor felt more crowded and bottlenecked at the Sheraton as opposed to the layout of the Westin. At the height of the event, patrons near some booths were lined up 5 deep thereby blocking passageway between the rows yet the large sitting area with a few chairs situated beside the giant dining space was mostly empty. Given the amount of space available, the exhibitors could be a bit more spread out in order to avoid a crush of patrons. That quibble aside, kudos to the organizers for having ample water jugs and urns on hand for thirsty festival-goers, in years past I recall having greater difficulty finding water as the event wore on. 

Another suggestion to the organizers for next year: bring back the LCBO kiosk that used to be on-site. Patrons are more likely to buy a bottle of something they tried that night than expecting them to remember to buy it later, let alone find it at their "home" LCBO. It's worth remembering that whisky is a luxury good and for many folks the old addage applies:"out of sight, out of mind." I think the benefit of a dedicated "Whisky Shop" would be threefold: festival-goers get their bottle upon leaving, distillers and independent bottlers would be able to both earn money to offset the exhibitor fees and bottle charges as well as get near real-time feedback on both their marketing at the event and consumers' demand for product, and the Province would of course benefit from sales on-site. Given that Toronto doesn't have "festival" bottles like other Whisky Live locations, the return of the kiosk may help to burnish the image of the festival as a unique, must-attend, event as the LCBO could stock limited and "rare" bottles thereby giving festival-goers "one-stop-shop" access rather than relying upon patrons to seek out bottles not commonly held in general listings or only available by store transfer.

Click here to see a photo gallery from the event.

Some highlights from the evening:

Forty Creek's revolutionary limited edition "Evolution" was a popular choice among festival goers. Evolution was on everyone's lips because of the unorthodox way in which it's made. Most of the whiskies in this bottle began their journey 12 years ago. Initially, these whiskies were aged in American White Oak for 3 years which was then re-distilled in a copper pot still to further concentrate the flavours. This whisky was then re-barreled into French Oak casks that had previously held Ontario Cabernet Sauvignon and aged for an additional 9 years! Beautiful fruit flavours, milk chocolate and an intriguing earthiness make this bottle a must-have for any whisky enthusiast.

While the Evolution offered up a radical take on Canadian Whisky, the "best" whisky of the show, hands-down, was Nikka's highly-awarded Taketsuru 17 year old Pure Malt. No other whisky approached the refinement, complexity and "quaffability" of this dram. For many at the festival, the Nikka booth was a great introduction to Japanese whiskies. 

It is worth noting that Aberlour's cask-strength beauty "A'Bunadh" was also a crowd favourite, and by 9pm both bottles of the Batch 45 were gone!

Corsican whisky maker Domaine Mavela had 2 products on offer, the young  and woody "P&M Blended Whisky" and the ex-Muscat barrel aged "Bastille." For me the Bastille proved to be the more interesting of the two as it boldly straddled the line between cognac and  whisky in it's flavour profile. Candied orange, maraschino cherries, and an explosion of tropical fruit made this one of the more unique blended whiskies I tried. It's a polarizing whisky but definitely one to try before you buy. Currently not available in the LCBO, you may be able to try a dram at the Emmet Ray

Likely one of the youngest distillers on the floor, Michael Stroz of 66 Gilead was on hand to showcase 4 products from the Prince Edward County distillery. Look out for their "Black Dragon Shochu," a blend of rice and barley spirits that's aged for 8 months in an ex-white wine cask. 

It might be worth a trip to Stillwaters Distillery in Concord, ON, to pick up a bottle of "Stalk and Barrel" Cask 8. Think big banana walnut bread with milk chocolate, grassy hay and gentle oaky spice. 

The Balvenie reprised their grain-to-glass interactive demonstration that showed festival-goers all aspects of the dram's production. Afterwards, patrons were treated to the Doublewood, 12yr Single Barrel and the fantastic Caribbean Cask

Finally, Talisker Storm was an interesting non-age-stated variation on the 10 year expression. Dial up the brine, chlorine, peat smoke and leathery "meatiness" of the original, up the price by $17 and you've got the Storm. It's a limited run, so if this is up your alley, act fast.

Thanks to the team at Jesson + Co. for helping out with access to this year's event

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