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Father's Day is just around the corner and ScotchBlog.ca has compiled a baker's dozen of affordable gift ideas for the whisky-loving Dad(s) in your life! 

If you can, it's worth noting what bottles are in your recipient's existing collection. What types of whiskies occupy the shelves? Blends, single malts, bourbon, Canadian whisky? This will help you avoid duplicates (unless you've already been given a clear signal to buy yet another bottle of the fave) and will lend some context to your decision-making. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) before heading out to your local store. Remember, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. With many of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle - if we've reviewed it - in case you want a little more detail. 




The 2016 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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'Tis the season of holiday parties, merry-making and gift giving so to help you select the perfect present for the drammers on your list, we've compiled a list of whisky and whisky-related gift ideas to help take out some of the guesswork. Ranging from under $30 to $200, any of these gifts will inspire both delight and admiration in your recipient. 

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:

  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some flavour profiles to provide a frame of reference for determining to which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal. 
  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that the LCBO does provide inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. The title link navigates to the LCBO page while the links in the description will direct you to one of our reviews of the whisky - if available - so if you'd like more detail the full notes are a click away.

Before we get going, I'd like to re-iterate an important message: please don't waste your money on whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone, or balls of metal, meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. In fact, spend the money on anything else. For the $15-$30 you spend on whisky stones, I guarantee your recipient would prefer that you took him/her out to a nice whisky bar and bought them a dram or two of "the good stuff" from the whisky list and then sat there and spent time with each other. 


The Last Minute 2015 Gift Buyer's Guide

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With less than a week remaining for the pre-Christmas shopping season we've got plenty of price conscious last minute whisky and whisky-related gift ideas for the drammers on your list. Ranging from under $30 to $120 any of these gifts will inspire both delight and admiration in your recipient. 

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:

  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some flavour profiles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to. 
  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: fucking whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. In fact, spend the money on anything else. For the $15-$30 you spend on whisky stones, I guarantee your recipient would prefer that you took him/her out to a nice whisky bar and bought them a dram or two of "the good stuff" from the whisky list and then sat there and spent time with each other. 

ScotchBlog's 2015 Father's Day Gift Buying Guide

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With Father's Day less than a week away on Sunday, June 21, 2015 we at ScotchBlog.ca have compiled our yearly Father's Day Gift Buying Guide with a list of suggested gift bottles. But, before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well-wishers. Please don't buy your Grandfather, Dad, Step-Father, or Father-in-law whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, examine your intended recipient's existing collection. What types of whiskies occupy the shelves? Blends, single malts, bourbon, Canadian whisky? This will help you avoid duplicates (unless you've already been given a clear signal to buy yet another bottle of the fave) and will lend some context to your decision-making. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 

Those of you lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end of the article to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. We are always here to help! 

We've tweaked the format a bit this time around and have forgone the price bracket approach in favour of grouping our "best-bets" by a broadly defined categories of "whisky-drinking Dad." If your Dad, Step-Dad, Grandfather, or Father-in-Law enjoys whisky you likely have some sense of what type of whisky he enjoys and his level of engagement with his dram. This year's format offers up 3 different whiskies for each "Dad-type" ranging from: Dads who rock the CC and Cola, to brand loyalists, to the backyard barbecue grillmaster, to those who prefer a single malt with the company of a cigar, to smoke-loving peat freaks, and those with a serious collection.

As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. With many of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle if we've reviewed it, so if you need a little more detail please click away.

Ok, enough of the preamble. Are you ready to get started? Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think about your Dad. What's your Dad like?

Breaking the Status Quo at the LCBO

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Bare LCBO Product Shelves
During a three month period early last year, I'd been stopping by my local Liquor Control Board of Ontario store weekly, waiting patiently for new whisky releases. Each time I surveyed the shelves I was let down, finding that not only were there no new products to be found, but also that the shelves under the large words "single malt" were slowly becoming bare.

These sad few months inspired me to embark on a quest to understand why we in Ontario have the dubious honour of both paying some of the highest alcohol prices in the world as well as being unworthy of having year-round accessibility to unique and interesting whisky products. Let me start by saying that the results of my investigation have left me fuming over the disadvantaged position Ontarians are in.

While the LCBO is proud to show off the upsides of having a crown corporation provide booze to the citizens of Ontario, there can be no argument that consumers are losing out; both regarding the money from their pockets, and the products on the shelf. Full LCBO privatization is not something that any government has been receptive to. As such, the solutions presented within this article are focused on working with the current system to build and improve upon it.

To illustrate this, let's compare LCBO operations to those of privatized specialty alcohol retailers in other markets. I recently had the fortune of interviewing Andrew Ferguson, Co-Store Manager and Whisky Expert at Kensington Wine Market (KWM) in Calgary. As a private retailer, he has much less clout in the industry than a behemoth like the LCBO would, yet KWM outshines even the best LCBO store in numerous ways.

The 2014 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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Regardless of whether you celebrate anything at this time of year or not, it is highly likely that you or someone you know will be looking for a few tips on what to get a whisky lover. Be they friend, family, coworker, or neighbour, your intended recipient should receive something that fits your budget and that they enjoy. It is with that in mind that we delve once again into the mire of the LCBO's "selection" to choose a handful of bottles in three price ranges with the aim of enabling you or whomever you share this with, to walk away with just a little extra smugness that you absolutely nailed it when choosing that gift. 

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:

  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some benchmark bottles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to. 

  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
For those lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. We truly are always here to help! 

Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. Please don't buy your loved ones whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Alright, let's get to what should be bought, shall we? 

Going Beyond the Bottle at Glenfiddich

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In the galaxy of Scotch whisky distilleries there are many stars, but few burn as brightly as Glenfiddich. Nestled in a valley bordering the small village of Dufftown, its 1,200 acre estate sprawls out over rolling hills under endless skies in such a way that at times it feels like there is no need to venture anywhere else ever again. Arresting in its beauty, nearly flawless in its construction, and operating with an attention to detail that goes beyond obsessive; it leaves one with little wonder as to why its whisky has gone on to win more awards than any other. 

From the moment of arrival it becomes clear that this is one slick operation. Pulling into a proper car park with well manicured grounds and a glorious visitor centre is not something one is likely to encounter at too many of Scotland's distilleries, then again there really isn't much that is like this distillery anywhere. The cafe in the visitor centre is offers some of the best food that we had on our trip, and is likely only rivaled by Ardbeg's cafe for honours of the best distillery to grab a bite at. But what really matters is what goes on in the buildings surrounding the public entry point. Those buildings have been producing some of the finest malt whisky to ever come out of Scotland's vaunted stills, and for over 125 years have done so with such consistency that most whisky fans take it for granted, some even considering it boring.  

But consistency in execution is no accident. It is what separates superstars from all the other players in the league, and it was with this thought in mind that we set out to discover just what sets this distillery apart from the rest.

On Retailers, Scores, and the Human Condition

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Isn't the point of life to live it through one's own actions and experiences rather than trudging along blindly behind those that have gone before? Surely there is some merit in using the findings of others as sign posts to avoid the worst potential pitfalls, but a life without individualized experience is hardly a life worth living. With its etymological origins rooted in the notion of the "water of life", whisky is inexorably tied to the notion of experience; either as a vehicle for it, or as an experience in and of itself.

So why are people allowing others to limit their experiences in life and in whisky? 

The 2013 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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It's merely 2 days until Christmas. You have many people you want to shop for, and there is a whisky lover on your list. You've already gone into your local store a couple times and have left empty handed because no one could help you make heads or tails of the selection and whether or not it would be enjoyed by the person you are buying for. Where could you possibly turn for help? 

Well, this is one of those places. The first thing you'll need to do is make a list of what they have on their shelf at home. See a lot of Glenfarclas or Macallan on their shelf? That means you have a fan of sherried whiskies that you are buying for. Are there names like Elijah Craig, Maker's Mark, or Bookers staring back at you? Then you've got a bourbon fan on your hands. Are you staring at a myriad of bizarre sample bottles with hand written labels filling every nook and cranny of the room while 3 other shelves hold full-size bottles that are open, and another room holds the closed ones? Then get out of my house! 

All jokes aside, the label on a bottle, tube, or tin will be your first indicator of what you should be looking for. In fact, the best way to read a label is often in reverse. For instance if it says "Single Malt Scotch Whisky", then the bottle contains whisky, made in Scotland from malt (a process by which barley is allowed to sprout before roasting called "malting"), from a single distillery. Whereas "Blended Scotch Whisky" refers to whisky made in Scotland that uses a blend of different distilleries and types of whisky. Other things that you will find noted on the label could include the region of Scotland the whisky is from (Highland, Lowland, Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, or Island), cask type (most commonly sherry or bourbon), an age statement that lists the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle, and the type of whisky it is such as Canadian, Irish, Bourbon, or Scotch. 

Once you have attended to looking into the contents of your subject's cabinet, turn your attention to thoughts of their favourite flavours. Both in terms of food, and if you can think of them, whisky. Do they enjoy smoked foods like pulled pork or beef brisket? Look for something with "Islay" on the bottle and you'll have a very good chance of bringing home a smoky whisky. Do they have a sweet tooth that sees them looking at the dessert menu before the mains in a restaurant? Then a whisky from the Speyside region will likely be a big hit with them.

Want more specific recommendations? Then read on...

The conference room at the main office of Speciality Drinks in London, England is an awesome sight that would make any whisky-geek weak at the knees. Lining the walls of this room are glass covered cabinets containing the most impressive collection of whisky I have ever seen. Arranged by distillery, the 4000 or so bottles represent a sizeable part of the vast and carefully curated collection that Sukhinder Singh has meticulously acquired over the course of his remarkable 25 year career. Every bottle here has a story and a special significance to Sukhinder whose genuine interest and passion for spirits, particularly whisky, is truly inspiring.

IMG_0412-001.JPGOver the past 14 years, he and his brother Rajbir have built The Whisky Exchange (TWE) from a small online retail business in the early days of the web to the world's largest and most respected online retailer of wine and spirits. 

A luminary in the drinks industry, Mr.Singh is approachable, professional and refreshingly candid about his career in the drinks business. Over the course of the interview we discuss his path to success, the challenges of bottle collecting, his views on trends in the sector and the upcoming prestigious Whisky Show being held this October 5-7 in London.

Legacy Lost: The Macallan 1824 Series

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Glasses from above.jpgInnovation and diversification of product lines are an integral part of operating any successful business or brand. Careful consideration with thousands of hours of planning, product development, and preparation go into roll-outs, redesigns, and revamps. These are immutable facts for any successful product launch, and steps which must have surely been taken in the lead-up to the unveiling of The Macallan 1824 Series. What leaves me scratching my head is how the entire company and their affiliates could have possibly managed to get it all so very, very wrong


This series is meant to be The Macallan's way forward; replacing their age-statement whiskies and their Cask Strength edition, ultimately becoming the new identity of the brand. However, there is absolutely nothing about this move that smells, tastes, or feels like a step in any direction but backwards. I understand and agree that there is indeed a need for whisky makers to capitalize on the exploding popularity of Scotch whisky by removing age statements to bulk up the amount that can be produced, and therefore sold, by using younger whiskies. What I cannot comprehend is why any whisky maker, let alone one with the global reputation of The Macallan (the validity of which is not being discussed here) would allow such clearly inferior products to bear its name while simultaneously removing the very products that were the foundation of it.

On Thursday, June 20, 2013 we were invited to Toronto's gleaming new luxury hotel, The Shangri-La, to sit down to tuck into Macallan's new line-up of Gold, Amber, Sienna, and Ruby for an evening hosted by their Canadian Brand Ambassador Marc Laverdiere and Stuart MacPherson, Macallan's Master of Wood. 

What could possibly have gone so wrong? Allow me to enlighten you.

If you are not already aware that Father's Day falls on this coming Sunday, then this guide should help you with a few last minute gift ideas for a whisky loving dad. If you were already aware and were waiting for us to publish a list of suggestions, then your long wait is over. 


Regardless of your reasons for reading this, there are always a couple of steps you should take prior to heading out to purchase anything on this list: 
  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some benchmark bottles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to. 
  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before embarking. It is important to remember that as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
For those reading this from elsewhere, there will be links at the end to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. Personally, I would love to receive a note via Carrier Pigeon as my knowledge of smoke signals is limited. 

Anyway, on with the list! 

Lagavulin: Icon of Islay

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Broadside.jpg

We set out just after dawn. Our boots steadily scrubbing the well weathered pavement as we crossed the faces of the white wind-rattled harbourfront homes. The sun shone down gloriously from a pristine blue sky as we turned left onto Lennox Street, now heading uphill with a quickening pace. It was a perfect Islay spring day in every way imaginable, and yet somehow all of this was secondary to the destination. 

There were just the three of us alone on that road. Marching over the hills; past the stone-walled fields; beyond Laphroaig. The only sounds: our footsteps, the wind, and the ocean. Then, past the old croft on the left, while rounding the bend to the right around the hill, it came into view. An alabaster visage as though conjured from a dream. Simultaneously surreal and hyper-real. 

We had arrived at Lagavulin.

We certainly enjoy writing about whisky here. By and large we write about the whisky itself, once it's in the glass. Here's a pared down description of the whisky-making process from start to finish. The overall steps in the production of all whiskies are the same everywhere on earth, but I'll only discuss the processes specific to single malt Scotch making, and I'm using a lexicon appropriate to that region. Other whisky-making regions have their own special techniques and nomenclature but in the interest of brevity I shall skip over these variations.

Album Grain Processing: Malting, Milling, and Mashing.

Malting

Malting is the process of generating enzymes within a grain which will allow the conversion of starch into sugar during the mashing process (outlined below). The malting process results in malted grain, or "malt". Grains are steeped several times in warm water, allowed to germinate and dry, and then kiln dried using either hot air or smoke. It is during the kiln drying that peat smoke may be used which imparts peat flavour into the malt.

Only about seven distilleries malt their own barley, the balance buying malt directly from malting houses.

On the Rocks: Whiskey Stones vs. Ice Cubes

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ABSTRACT
Among all organoleptic pursuits there are gadgets, devices, dishes, and glassware designed to heighten, enhance or deliver the substance in question to the human sense organs. Over time, some of these inventions take root and become the preferred means by which the item is to be be consumed and enjoyed while others are seen as fads relegated to the dustbin of history. For the world of whiskey lovers, Teroforma has declared a solution to the problem of how best to chill whiskey. Assuming that you would want to do such a thing, we decided to investigate. 

teroforma2.jpg
The Whiskey Stone manufacturer claims that their stones, made in Vermont from natural non-porous soapstone, are more gentle than ice and can be used to cool down your favorite spirits just enough to take the edge off without "closing down" the flavors. Simply store the stones in the freezer for at least 4 hours before use, then add 3 stones to a glass with 2oz of whiskey and let stand 5 minutes. Moreover, the stones will not inadvertently scratch glassware and they are "particularly effective at retaining cold for extended periods of time."

While the claims that the stones impart no flavour, are non-porous, non-reactive, and won't inadvertently scratch glassware are sound, the claim that they are effective at retaining cold for extended periods did not reflect our collective experience with the stones. To resolve the matter, we set out to determine the cooling rates of ice, the traditional chilling method for whiskey, and Whiskey Stones so as to better understand the degree to which both chill a standard 2oz pour of whiskey and how long the dram stayed chilled. Running a series of measurements, ice was found to cool a dram faster and for a longer period than Whiskey Stones.

Having established the rates of cooling, we opened our discussion about the impact of Whiskey Stones on the enjoyment of a dram to our readership by means of a survey to shed light on the following: do readers chill their whiskey? How and under what circumstances do they chill whiskey and when might someone wish to use Whiskey Stones over ice? Finally, how many readers actually use them and think they're a necessary substitute to ice?

The essay below combines the empirical chilling data, analysis of the survey results and elucidation of ScotchBlog.ca's internal consensus to determine that Whiskey Stones provide little to no utility for the whiskey enthusiast. 

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Recent Comments

  • Kevin commented on Springbank 13 Years Old:

    Just looked and saw they released a 13 after the original 12 yr old Green. Guess I should have looked at the photo..... :)

  • Kevin commented on Springbank 13 Years Old:

    Very curious about this given the glowing review. Will keep my eyes open.

    Clarification-isn't the Green 12 years old and not 13?

  • Ryan commented on Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask:

    Hi James, I greatly prefer the A'Bunadh over the 16yr. But as you've probably noticed, I've got a real affinity for big, bold sherry bombs! :) In my opinion, the A'Bunadh is THE best variation of Aberlour on LCBO shelves. From a value perspective, the higher price is more than compensated by the higher ABV.

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