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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.

Whisky 101: Thursday, December 12, 2013

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Have you ever wanted to explore whisky but didn't know where to start? Habits Logo.jpg

Are you a fan of whisky but struggling to figure out which ones will satisfy your taste buds? 

Did you know that whisky can be successfully paired with food so that the dish and the dram compliment each other? 

If you have ever pondered these or any other questions relating to the enjoyment of whisky, then perhaps you should join us at Habits Gastropub on Thursday, December 12th at 8pm as together we will explore 5 different styles of whisky from 5 different countries. Each whisky will be paired with an amuse-bouche custom made by the team that recently won Now Magazine's Readers Choice Award for Best Gastro-Pub and the tasting will be guided by us, but please don't let that scare you. 

Advance tickets are $55 after tax and tip and are available directly from the fine folks at Habits, who can be reached at 416-533-7272. Seating is limited, as are the whiskies, so if you, your friends, or your family are interested then I would recommend picking up the phone sooner rather than later. 

Here's hoping that we see a few friendly faces and many new ones on the 12th, and to everyone regardless of your availability: Slainte! 
As the year draws to a close I am left reflecting on everything that has come and gone in these past twelve months. Great days and rough days alike; incredible moments shared with family and friends; and the wonders of the whisky world that have punctuated many of those times. 

While this is not a retrospective, it certainly could be. At no time in my memory have we whisky lovers seen such proliferation of new products and rare editions. This only serves to make it even more difficult for the uninitiated to wade into the fray of the whisky world to find a bottle that they can feel proud about giving as a gift.

It is with that sentiment that we here at ScotchBlog offer up our 2012 edition of our annual Gift Buyer's Guide. Just like past editions, we will keep to our three price ranges of under $70, $70 to $100, and over $100 and include links to more detailed reviews of the whiskies on the list. This year there are some surprises as we venture out of Scotland and away from single malt, but as always, we will be using the LCBO's pricing as a guideline, meaning that you are apt to find these bottles for less in many other cities around the world should you reside in or be passing through such places. 

But enough of this sentimental preamble. Let's get to the whiskies. 

A Jewel from Glenfiddich is Up for Auction in Toronto

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Bottle on Podium.JPGThis past Thursday we were privy to the arrival and unveiling of the Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve, a 55 year old single cask bottling of the rarest whisky this vaunted distillery has ever released. Named for the recently departed granddaughter of William Grant, founder of the distillery, it is fitting that the oldest whisky the good people of William Grant and Sons have ever released bares her name as she was the oldest woman in Scotland at the time of her passing. 

Glenfiddich pulled out all the stops in ensuring the safe passage of this precious cargo to Toronto, as it is 1 of only 11 bottles released from the total of 15 that were filled from the cask. Arriving at the LCBO's flagship store at Summerhill in a Brinks truck with pomp and ceremony typically reserved for dignitaries and celebrities, the bottle was piped into the tasting hall. There it was set upon a pillar to stand guard over a special tasting of the 21, 30, and 50 year old expressions while we learned about the craftsmanship that when into it and its precious contents.

This Thursday Habits Gastropub will be offering up a chance to experience their culinary prowess in the form of an updated take on the classic 5-course dinner featuring modern spins on classic pub dishes, each paired with a whisky for a mere $35 after tax. 

Having appeared in our recent feature on the area, they invited us to coordinate the whisky portion of the evening and provided 2 free tickets to see the whole affair in action. 

Enough rambling, here are the details:

Where: Habits Gastropub 928 College St., Toronto, ON
When: This Thursday, July 12th at 7pm

The Menu:
  • Pear and tellegio cheese soup paired with a Speyside single malt
  • An updated take on mushrooms on toast using king oyster mushrooms on brioche paired with a Canadian whisky
  • A mini Scotch egg using a quail egg wrapped in in-house smoked trout paired with an Irish whiskey
  • Sweet braised pork belly paired with an Islay whisky
  • Apple bread pudding in a whisky caramel sauce paired with a Lowland whisky
How to get your seat:
  1. By calling them directly at 416-533-7272 and using your credit card over the phone.
  2. By going to the venue and paying in person.
I recommend going with the advance ticket option so that everything is paid for before you arrive.

For the 2 free seats, we'll give one away to each of the first two people to email us at the "contact us" address to the right, and then we will notify the team at Habits who you are. 

On behalf of the team at ScotchBlog.ca and Habits Gastropub, we look forward to seeing you this Thursday!
Free? Yes, that's right, free.

We've caught wind of, and already confirmed our place at, what is sure to be an enlightening experience happening Tuesday, May 29th between 6pm and 8pm somewhere in downtown Toronto. The evening will feature a few selections from the Mackmyra line, a wee nibble (so be sure to eat before or prepare to have supper afterwards), and the opportunity to learn more about the Swedish single malt maker in a no cost, drop-in style format. 

The only catch? You will need to send a quick email to sales-at-rolandandrussell.com to confirm your place and find out where the event is being held. After all, they do need to know how many bottles to bring. Of course, if you do run into me or anyone else in the ScotchBlog.ca crew, be sure to say "Hello!" and be equally prepared for potential recruitment into an after-event gathering for more whisky revelry. After all, the next day is only Wednesday, right? 

We look forward to seeing some familiar faces and meeting some new friends on Tuesday.
For some time now the choice glass of whisky festivals the world over has been the Glencairn glass, and most often these are also the first places people have a chance to try a glass made for whisky. Typically emblazoned with the festival logo, or that of the distillery being visited, it has become a de facto festival requirement, and a staple of the whisky world. 

Recently I was contacted by the purveyors of the NEAT glass to give it a trial run to see how it matched up to my normal glassware. Given that I am prone to trying just about anything at least once (line dancing and nefarious acts notwithstanding) I agreed to give it a go. So for a month now I have been working through various whiskies, comparing it to my everyday glass: The Glencairn.

Is a price hike looming at the LCBO?

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Last week, I heard a rumour about an impending price increase at the LCBO. My first reaction was typical of the embittered Ontario consumer: a sigh and a resigned muttering: "First coffee, then hydro and now they're going after my whiskey..."


A quick search online yielded a description of the increase in the LCBO's minimum pricing structure and as outlined by the CBC "About 10 per cent of spirits sold by the LCBO and three to four per cent of beers will see their prices go up. A 24-bottle case of the cheapest beer will go up by 55 cents, from $28.80 to $29.35. A 750 mL bottle of a mainstream spirit will go up by 50 cents to $23.90."


"Meh. What's so bad about that?" I can hear you thinking. Small change right?


Well, maybe not...  

Discontinued in Ontario: Grant's Ale Cask Edition

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Alas t'is true....
Last week I was searching the LCBO website for blended whisky and was alarmed to find a big red "Product Discontinued" disclaimer next to the entry for Grant's Ale Cask Reserve. Remembering that the labelling has recently changed to Grant's Ale Cask Edition, I re-entered the search terms only to be met with the same results.

productdiscontinued.jpg

Deciphering the label information on bottles of Scotch can be a little confusing; between the Gaelic, archaic finishing vs. maturation barrel volume sizes, the sometimes esoteric tasting notes, and the mystery related to the composition of the bottle's contents information it's no wonder the process of shopping for a new dram can be overwhelming. Today, five new legal definitions of Scotch whisky styles have come into effect based on the The Scotch Whisky Regulations, 2009 with the intended goal of clearing up some confusion in the market about the composition of the main types of Scotch Whisky currently in production.

Whisky Live Toronto 2011

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Whisky Live 2011 Crowd ShotWith all due respect to baseball fans for this analogy, Whisky Live is fast becoming the only "Fall Classic" on the Toronto whisky aficionado's mind. With a host of exhibitors, whiskies from around the world, and a sea of devotees to the dram, this year's edition and its new confines in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre's North building certainly topped years past. Armed with a notebook, a press pass, and a Glencairn glass, Jeff and I had at it for your reading pleasure. 

So click on for news of whiskies yet to be released, the stars of the show, and a snapshot of the sights and smells of the cornerstone of the fall whisky calendar.

Ardbeg Tasting at Harbour Sixty

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Harbour Sixty EntranceMatchmaking has long been a skill that mankind has sought to perfect. But pairing a tasting of a Scotch whisky with a cult following with arguably Toronto's most venerated steakhouse may just be the pinnacle of such quests to occur in Toronto this year. 

Combining rich ambiance, a knowledgeable and personable group, fantastic food and drink, and some excellent news, LVMH and DDB served to raise the bar for tasting events very early this whisky season. 

In addition to our near unquenchable thirst for Scotch whisky, we at ScotchBlog.ca also have a torrid love affair with Bourbon. 

Although the selection of Bourbons in Toronto, Ontario is pathetic compared to what you'd find just south of the border in Buffalo, NY; as a group we've tried nearly everything that's passed through the LCBO and we've even made a point of buying harder-to-find bottles during our individual trips to the USA. 

So why bother reviewing Bourbon on a blog specifically dedicated to Scotch? Quite simply, we all enjoy it. Moreover, as a group we recognize Bourbon's invaluable contribution to the Scotch industry: oak barrels. 

That fine Single Malt you're drinking right now probably spent some time co-mingling with wood which was once soaked in Bourbon.

New in mixology: Barrel-aged cocktails

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Following a trend started by renowned Portland bartender and mixologist, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, the Black Hoof in Toronto is now experimenting with barrel-aged cocktails.

Rest easy, they aren't double aging the whiskey, only the additional cocktail components.

We at ScotchBlog.ca have yet to sample a barrel-aged cocktail. 

Have you? 

Let us know what you think in the comments! 
The Guardian has published an interesting article on a new bio-energy plant being built at Rothes in the Speyside region of Scotland. What makes this plant interesting is that it generates energy by burning spent malt and other grains that were used in the distilling process to create scotch whisky. The plant will generate up to of 7.2 MW electricity, and steam generated by the plant will be used to heat nearby buildings (including a distillery).

Although this doesn't really come as a surprise, two British gentlemen have put to the test whether a new make spirit, fresh from distillation has enough energy to actually power a car. They use a Bruichladdich x4 distilled spirit to power a high-performance race car. Their results are demonstrated in this YouTube video

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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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