the whisky lounge - a journal tracking a whisky maturation project involving a newly-acquired oak cask and a significant amount of patience

Monday, May 12, 2008

Good Things Come In Pairs

Hi folks,

I decided to turn my whisky weekend in Toronto into a slightly longer affair, and have still not made it back to Ottawa, so no news on the Glen Parker front for another couple of days. But I thought I'd take a break from the gigantic pile of manuscripts and architectural plans staring at me and share my impressions of the Spirit of Toronto show.

In short, I had a blast.

I went with my friend Rob who has appeared in this blog a time or two. Neither of us was entirely sure what to expect, but we were both impressed. I'll put Rob's comments up shortly as well as my own.

The show was very well laid out and organized. I found I never had to wait to sample something, and the folks at the booths and the snack bar were all friendly. The food (crackers and various fancy cheeses, figs, grapes, noodley Asian things and a beef dish I didn't try) was excellent and made a perfect complement to the whisky. The availability of food and lots of water is commendable: I saw no one rowdy or obviously too much in his cups, thanks in part to the food and non-alcoholic drink.

There were spirits from the United States, Canada, France (a cognac, not a whisky), Scotland, Ireland and Japan. The whiskies also ran the gamut in styles, as you'd expect: light and fruity to heavy and oaky, smokey and peaty to herbal and citrusy...in short, regardless of your tastes, you'd find something. As well, I was pleased to note a number of whiskies in every price range to appeal to both budget-conscious tipplers and those with enough money to go wild and crazy in their whisky selection. There are too many to go through them all, but here are some of the interesting things I found:

They had set up Smokehead right beside The Peat Monster. I'd not tried either, but I understand they're aimed at the same market: young-ish men who like strongly flavoured, smokey and peaty whiskies. I sampled them both, and the Peat Monster was head and shoulders above the competition: a more complex array of tastes with (of course) lots of peat, but a nice lemon and salt and vanilla undertone. Smokehead seemed simpler and so smokey that other flavours were lost. It's also about $10 cheaper, so you get what you pay for.

There were three Japanese whiskies from two distillers: one Yoichi and two Yamazakis. The former was all right, but I found it was too strong in the malt and grain departments and lacked enough peat or smoke. It tasted young, though I'm not sure exactly how old it was. The Yamazakis were very clearly in the style of Scotch. If I hadn't been told they were from Japan, I'd have guessed they were from the British Isles. I'd be happy to have either the 18 or the 12 in my collection, but the price tag is a bit steep.

I, in spite of my reservations, sampled both Maker's Mark and Woodford Reserve: American whiskies. The staff at the Maker's Mark booth was insane. I'm glad that they brought their enthusiasm, but I found it over the top. And providing a selection of drinks blended from their whisky was an interesting, though ultimately unsatisfying experience. When I'm in the mood for a whisky, I want whisky. Not something with mint and sugar syrup. In any case, neither of the American spirits grabbed my attention, and I'll continue to dodge bourbons and their ilk for the time being.

I sampled two Isle of Juras: Superstition (a blend of a few different years ranging from about 14 to 21) and the 16. I was impressed at how different they were. Superstition was very rich and smokey and salty, while the 16 was replete with hints of oak and pine and citrus and heather. I liked them both well enough. I tried a few Glenmorangies. This is a whisky Rob says is kind of his default: if you're not sure what to get, this one will do nicely. And it did. All three that I tried were tasty, though none will be my favourite, and if I'm going to buy a whisky at that price, there are more interesting options.

The Talisker 18 was already gone by the time I reached that table, which is really too bad. But I tried a Cragganmore and Dalwhinnie, neither of which I'd had, believe it or not. Enjoyable, but neither leapt out at me. I couldn't pass up the Lagavulin 16 and it was every bit as awe-inspiring as I remember.

I managed to find the folks from Premium Bottlers and had a really good chat. In addition to the Whisky Works kit on display, they had four whiskies to sample, all of which were quite nice, but not necessarily available in Ontario. Fortunately, their vatting of Linkwood 10 was my favourite and is sold by the LCBO, so I'm in luck. I found it nice and buttery, rich and sweet. They've got another on the way to Ontario stores next year, but I admit my brain's a bit foggy as to which it was (Let me know which it is if you happen to be in the loop!) [Update: it's BRIN: a vatting of malt from Benrinnes with a little bit of Canadian whisky)

If you're wondering why I called this post "Good Things Come In Pairs" it has to do, in part, with meeting the guys who run Premium Bottlers. I knew they were both named Barry beforehand, so wasn't surprised. But over the course of the evening, I was introduced to 4 other people. Two were named Andrew. Two were named Paul. I'm no statistician, but I found that meeting 6 people with three names between them was a bit odd, but hey. Odd is what I do.

Anyhow, this post is far too long, so I'll sign off for now.

For those of you around Toronto next May, do yourselves a favour and check out the show. You won't be disappointed.

Cheers,

Ian

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