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Month: November 2016

Singlemalting Whisky Blog # 133 – Yukon Gold

Whisky has taken me around the world and given me experiences that I honestly hadn’t even dreamed possible. Adding in a bucket list trip to Canada’s Yukon this past September tipped the scales as the most amazing week of the year.

After months of planning with the Yukon Liquor Corp and both the Whitehorse and Dawson City Chamber of Commerce I was finally on my way to the Klondike.

I was honored to be able to present some delicious whiskies and help the Yukon Whisky faithful experience some never before seen offerings. I have to say that this was just way too much fun to even remotely be considered work. Flying from Calgary to Dawson City included a brief pause in Vancouver and an awesome back to basics flight on one of Air North’s Hawker Siddeley 748’s that excels in landings on gravel and ice.

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First event was at the historically restored Red Feather Saloon and I must say that I have never presented whisky in such a cool location. A trip to Dawson City is like stepping back in time complete with dirt roads and perma frost damaged buildings. Tasting through a line up of various calendar whiskies meant that companies like A.D. Rattray, Wemyss Malts, Samaroli and the Malt Whisky Company were showcased for the first time ever. Not often an Aussie in a Kilt pours whisky in Dawson so it was a somewhat bemused and eager group that ran through the 7 drams on offer.

No trip to Dawson is complete without a visit to Diamond Tooth Gerties and the after party started watching the fabulous stage show and finished at the blackjack tables which just had to be done as part of the historical experience. A big thanks to Coralee for making me feel like a returning resident rather than a wide eyed tourist. Coralee went above and beyond and organised an absolutely perfect event.

 

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Nest stop was Whitehorse and a collaborative tasting with some delicious fresh shucked oysters from Wayfarer Oyster Bar and hand selected cheeses from Fine Cultured Cheese making it an event to remember. An energetic group if ever I saw one with loads of interesting questions and interaction right throughout the evening. I was so warmly welcomed, Whitehorse was really sparkling in fall colors and an opportunity for the most Northern Golf I have ever had the privilege of attempting was too good to pass up.

A massive thanks to Rachel who showed me the sights and sounds of Whitehorse including the Klondike Rib and Salmon, a preview of the oysters to come washed down with a terrific Whisky Sour at the Woodcutter’s Blanket and for taking me to 98 Hotel where I mostly guessed the pelts on the wall and got my official “breakfast club” pin. Rachel like Coralee was amazing in organizing the event and it is now locked in for a return visit in 2017.

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I would highly recommend anyone with half an excuse to head to the Yukon. It’s an experience you will not soon forget.

So just one sleep away from getting the party started with the first of 25 straight days of whisky blogging.

See you then

Cheers

Jonathan

Singlemalting Whisky Blog # 132 – “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it” – Life of an Entrepreneur

Even if you are not an entrepreneur I’m sure that most of you having completed a task multiple times become a little more proficient at it. Putting better systems in place, designed from hard lessons learned, to deal with ongoing challenges, should make it a little easier each time.
Well reality it seems doesn’t seem to care about all that. We have without a doubt had the most difficult year to date to bring you the 3rd edition of the Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar. We started the whole process even earlier this time around just to be theoretically more ahead of the curve.

Finding 25 unique whiskies truly is a challenge and this year we have increased the number of independent bottlers to 10 (including Secret Spirits). This means that we now have 10 cute furry little kittens to herd into the box and if you have ever seen a litter of kittens you will know that this is no small feat. The template that has really worked for us showcasing a wide range of ages, regions and styles to take everyone on a Scotch whisky journey of discovery each year also makes the sourcing a real challenge. Casks tend to come on the market in batches. For example I can be inundated with offers for a certain distillery because a broker had a large parcel of casks. We wouldn’t be very excited about 25 expressions from the same distillery so we need to be picking the best examples we can find and keep looking for the variety we need. We are helped by the amazing independent bottlers we work with who try really hard to offer up their best whiskies from the regions I need.

Owning your own business as an entrepreneur has to be one of the most fulfilling and exciting things anyone can do in their lives. It really helps to be a positive personality because it seems that negative barbs can come from almost anywhere and truly test your resolve. I know I speak for most business owners when I say that high praise from 99% of your customers can sometimes be drowned out by a big negative from the 1%. There will always be people in your life who say it cannot be done and we have certainly had our fair share. This year we were finally able to put a past challenging chapter of our business lives behind us and be able to fully embrace how fantastic it has been to see our dreams become reality. It is so incredible for us to be able to bring you such a special product that impacts so many in ways that have at times brought us to tears.
We certainly heaped challenge upon challenge into this years mix by launching our new brand the Rum’s Revenge. More pieces to manufacture and 12 rums to source. Even getting hand made miniature Rum’s Revenge Pirate Ships in a bottle half way around the world and almost the same again before getting them onto shelves in Canada. You should always be living in an uncomfortable space if you are to truly be considered an entrepreneur so from that perspective we hit it out of the park this year. We love to be stretched and to be honest we know that there is a real demand for the fun and entertainment that our products bring to the spirits industry. We really feel like Secret Spirits is breaking new ground not just with all the additions in our Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar but offering the same elements and more in our Rum’s Revenge. Stay tuned for next year as we work to launch our third product covering one of the most popular brown spirit categories over the past few years.

So there it is folks regardless of if you are an entrepreneur or doing something else awesome with your life stay true to your dreams and as the title of this blog says “those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those doing it”.
As promised we have a new guest blogger for the 3rd edition calendar and I am pleased to introduce Johanne McInnis aka “Whisky Lassie”  who I have long followed and also linked for her amazing blog on the Wemyss Velvet Fig during the 2nd Edition calendar blogs. Thanks so much Johanne we look forward to reading all about your 3rd edition journey.
One last blog before we get stuck into the fun business of 25 days of whisky blogging. See you in a few days as we take a trip up North to Canada’s Klondike in the heart of the Yukon.
Cheers
Jonathan

Singlemalting Whisky Blog # 131 – First Secret Spirits launch at Chicago Jewbilee

Cindy and I absolutely loved attending another fabulous Whisky Jewbilee and I have written about our past experiences with these well run shows a few times so it was exciting for us to be actually presenting for the first time ever in the US at Joshua and Jason’s event. This time our attention was focused on Illinois and the amazing city of Chicago.
The US market is daunting to say the least. Protectionist beurocracy and out of date prohibition inspired lawmaking has caused many aspiring suppliers to just give up and find friendlier markets. This is especially so when the product is a brand new category like ours.
Having spent a considerable amount of time in the US this year along with hours of work from prospective importers we were finally able to get all the label approvals in place. The unfortunate result however was that running the steeplechase over the seemingly unending array of hurdles left us well and truly out of time. I know that we have a lot of consumers that have been waiting on a release date and it is really sad that we have to announce that 2017 will be the year. The good news is that we now have a complete understanding of what is required and a formula to get it through the system in a timely manner. We will also be able to launch the second edition of the Rum’s Revenge into the US as soon as it complete in the first half of 2017.
So onto the Whisky Jewbilee event itself which was really as it turned out a bit of a teaser for us. We were straight away heartened to find that those who love whisky are very much the same in Canada and the US when it comes to the thought of tasting a unique Scotch every day for 25 days.
We did of course take along some delicious examples of some of the 2nd edition whiskies from Wemyss Malts, Samaroli, A.D. Rattray and of course Single Cask Nation to pour for the fantastic Jewbilee crowd. We were able to capture a great time lapse of the event as seen through the lens of our GoPro. It shows in a few minutes what attendees enjoyed over several hours. It is always so much fun sharing our passion with people and having my darling wife along for the ride makes it even more special. Our table was packed with goodies including the first look for the US at Angel’s Share Glassware and the Whisky Connoisseur Kits. We have found that pioneering cool whisky geek accessories for sale at these events is a very new concept but one that consumers are warming too quickly. Look for our table at an event near you or if you can’t find us feel free to order online even if in the US.

Time lapse Whisky Jewbilee Chicago 2016

Secret Spirits were so pleased to be part of the Whisky Jewbilee this year in Chicago. This is a time lapse over looking our table at the show.

A big thanks to Joshua and Jason owners of the Whisky Jewbilee for having us promote Secret Spirits for the first time on US soil. Thanks to BC Merchants for working hard with us to navigate the extremely challenging label approval process and building a foundation for us to secure an importer for 2017. With another event over and a big tick next to the “should we put our products in the US” box it was time to head back to Canada but not before a little well deserved R&R.
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Mixing business with fun is always the order of the day and so when David Stirk of Executive Malts, Joshua and Jason joined me in a round of Golf at Willow Crest Golf Club, all sorts of crazy carnage ensued.
The Chicago sun shone brightly and the 4 of us thoroughly enjoyed the extreme challenge (except for David that is) of a round of golf in such a picturesque setting. I hope we can all do it again in Scotland sometime.
Not long now till we start thinking about December 1st and the start of 25 days of non-stop blogging. Next blog I will talk a little bit about the challenges faced this year and introduce our guest blogger for 2016.
Slainte
Jonathan

Singlemalting Whisky Blog # 130 – Scotland Forever Part 2

What could be more fun than sourcing 25 unique Scotches every year along with a new tasting glass, pin and booklet? The answer is of course to launch a new product so you can source 12 amazing rums, a skull glass, pin, map, chest and ship in a bottle.
The funny twist to this reality is that we were able to source most of the Rum’s from Scottish independent bottler’s. Scottish bottler’s have been working with single cask rums for a long time and there is a surprisingly large amount of rum casks aging away in Scottish warehouses. With aging profiles typically well advanced before the casks hits Scottish shores, many are bottled straight away or transported in drums to preserve the snapshot in time of when the rum was tasted and transported. More on this later when I get right into the mechanics of building a rum adventure in a chest.
Before I could roll up my sleeves at Craigton there was the small matter of connecting with long time Whisky mate James Cowan and sneaking in a round of golf and soaking up the excellent Cowan hospitality. Thanks James and Kerry for another fantastic visit. One special little moment was having a dram of the 1973 Auchentoshan Sherry cask that James and I had shared over a decade before on my first night in Scotland. Having since procured a bottle I was able to use my trusty Whisky Connoisseur Travel Kit to make sure that we could relive the moment.
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Auchentoshan 1973 Sherry cask – delicious
My week at Craigton is becoming a yearly event as the team throws itself into full Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar mode. This year with some frustrating hold ups and delays from all facets of production I found myself a few weeks early to actually help out with the third edition run.
Getting back up in the warehouse though and going through left over 2nd edition parts was great fun. There were a bunch of slightly incomplete 2nd edition calendars that needed various bits and pieces and I was able to scrounge through the empties and find everything I needed. As with any production it is always wise to over produce which means we have a ton of leftovers. For those collector’s out there the good news is that we have been able to complete more 2nd editions which we will release in very limited amounts over the coming years.
Also coming to the UK and select European markets will be some Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar mini packs. Made up of 6 random whiskies from all editions these packs will be a lot of fun for a fraction of the cost. Sorry Canadian and US customers given the revolving nature of the whiskies and subsequent alcohol volumes it would be impossible to import these into North America. This will probably be released in 2017 or 2018.
Taking my daily commute through Glasgow to and from Craigton was really cool as I do not normally  drive to and from work operating mostly from home when I am not on the road. Upon my arrival it was not long before I had a fresh cup of tea in hand from the amazing and energetic Rachel. I was always feeling excited about what I could do to help get everything done and no doubt a big part of it was helping to create some magic for whisky lovers out there.
So long story short all 2nd editions that can possibly be created have been and the stage was set for the third edition to hit the production floor. Great week and a big round of thanks to the Craigton packaging team for their hard work and enthusiasm.
With all that warehouse work done and dusted I was able to finally find some sunshine for my third round of golf in Scotland in over 10 years. On a day trip to Ayr I got onto a lovely course with Single Cask Nation founder Jason’s brother Murray. Wow what a fantastic day and topped off no less by Lobster dinner at the local hangout. The sun shone for almost the first time since my arrival and hitting the green off the tee on the par 4 18th hole was certainly a highlight for this barely passable golfer.
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Scotland spoils me so much I can hardly wait for our first 2017 trip at the end of January.
Next blog we talk about another fabulous Whisky Jewbilee in Chicago and the first presentation of our brands in the US.
Until then
Scotland forever
Slainte
Jonathan

Singlemalting Whisky Blog – # 129 Scotland Forever Part 1

Hard to believe that the last quarter of the year is here and it seems ages ago that it was time to head back to Scotland to oversee the last rites on the 3rd edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar.
This time the trip took a twist with Joshua Hatton from Single Cask Nation meeting up with me for a trip to Speyside and a cask tasting or two. Having never been to Speyside before I was excited to say the least. Having been to Scotland half a dozen times I was well past due to get up North and experience more of the spectacular Scottish countryside.
Making some new friends while pulling wooden bungs out of barrels is awesome. There will be some amazing whiskies around the corner for the 4th edition as a result and those who are members of Single Cask Nation can anticipate some exceptional bottles. A huge thanks to David Stirk of Exclusive Malts for taking us through his warehouse and providing our first amazing meal of the trip complete with what was to be the first of many pints.
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Nothing better than whisky from the cask
Our first night was absolutely one to remember as we were literally spoilt rotten at the hands of the Crucial Drinks crew. Treated to a private dinner in the magnificent Dumfries House, a seemingly endless array of courses were presented alongside paired wines and fun conversation. It would have to rank right up there in my top 10 list for dinner experiences in my 40+ years. The tour of this fully restored mansion with Champagne glass in hand was only topped by the incredible service. It was to date the most outstanding attention I have ever received in Scotland and I can’t impress upon you all enough that if you get a chance to visit Dumfries House don’t miss it. Drams and tales in the bar after topped off an absolutely epic evening. Thanks so much Brian, Scott and Ewan for making our first day on the trip one to remember.

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Cruising through the Heather covered hills of the Carn Gorms National Park next morning was glorious and with the sun making some brief appearances spotlighting a patchwork of purple and green I indeed wondered why I had never ventured North before.
Elgin was the destination but not before a wee stop at the Highland Bar for a dram and a pint (see a pattern forming here). Glenfarclas was the first distillery visit and the absolute highlight of not only this trip but my entire whisky experience was a sneak into the Family Cask warehouse where Callum proceeded to dip his magic whisky wand into the 1953 cask. Upon giving the sample to Joshua he claimed that it had been a while and a refresher nosing was in order. Joshua quickly complied handing the glass back to Callum who promptly sniffed then dumped it back into the barrel. The look on Joshua’s face was something akin to how he might look while watching a particularly gripping horror movie. Callum fully reveling in his fun dipped back in and replenished the glass for both of us to have not only a nose but a precious taste.
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I have had many older whiskies some of which have been amazing and some that have been disappointing. This was neither, as amazing would not do it justice. It was without doubt the best older whisky expression I have ever had and at 63 years of age I could scarcely believe the soft fruits and balance. This was one expensive dram and I savored the moment. It could be the setting added to the effect but why not it’s a rare experience to delve into such old and scarce whisky.
Next distillery on the docket after a fabulous lunch (and a pint) at The Mash Tun was Glen Moray and the tour with Ian was fantastic. Glen Moray has been a favorite of mine and the 6 whisky tasting lineup at the end was everything I have come to love about Glen Moray and more. Dinner, pints, drams and cigars with Ian, Joshua and Ronnie capped off another perfect day of whisky adventure in Speyside.
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Week one came to a close all too quickly and it was time to have a last evening with Joshua on “the mile” at the fringe festival with my good mate James Cowan and Jennifer Nickerson. The Edinburgh festival is really fun and any chance to be part of the buzz in such a beautiful city is a must.
With Joshua winging back to the States it was time to roll up the sleeves and do some actual work. Stay tuned for part two.
Cheers
Jonathan

 

Singlemalting Blog # 128 – Whisky for a good cause – I’m in …

Things have been busy here at Secret Spirits over the Summer as we ramp up a new look Singlemalting website and get deep into preparations for launching the third edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar and the first edition Rum’s Revenge.

Before departing for my second Scotland trip of the year I was invited along to a very special Ardbeg tasting by Curt from Allthingswhisky.com. Those pursuing whisky and everything that it brings to the table understand that not much is needed in the way of enticement to turn up to a mega tasting of no less than 11 Arbeg expressions.

More than just a tasting of epic proportions it was first and foremost a way to raise some much needed funds to help send a fellow whisky lover on a trip of a lifetime to Islay. The gentleman in question will remain nameless to protect the innocent (see picture attached).

Run for the hills the Vikings are coming
Run for the hills the Vikings are coming
All proceeds for the evening went into a “trip to Islay” kitty with Curt donating all the bottles from his own stock which was amazingly generous and speaks volumes about his qualities as a whisky fan and a great guy.
So let’s look at the lineup of the most amazing Ardbeg array ever to grace a tasting mat.
1. Arbeg 10
2. Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 2008 release
3. Ardbeg Perpetaum 2015 200th anniversary edition
4. Ardbeg Auriverdes 2014 edition
5. Arbeg Uigeadail
6. Ardbeg Dark Cove
7. Ardbeg Ardbog
8. Ardbeg Galileo
9. Ardbeg Corryvreckan
10. Ardbeg Rollercoaster
11. Ardbeg Supernova SN2014
Whoa it almost hurts my taste buds again just thinking about all those heavy weight drams. Absolutely amazing and gave me an even greater appreciation for the depth of complexity that heavily peated whisky can deliver.
It's going to take a while for my taste buds to recover from this
It’s going to take a while for my taste buds to recover from this
I was really bummed that I had not cleaned out my whisky connoisseur kit to take along as I had to leave many a delicious dram behind.
Suffice to say that a grand time was had by all with some amazing cigars on offer to make the night complete. Hoping to get a report from our Viking friend on his Islay travels at some point but I know that it will be incredible.
A lot of you might have been hoping for me to write detailed tasting notes on each but alas it was not that sort of evening and I just enjoyed each one for its own sake.
Let’s just say that I really like Ardbeg a lot more than I thought I did at the start of the night.
I want to add a note about how whisky geeky my mate Curt can get and sporting a freshly pressed Ardbeg tablecloth might just be the pinnacle that any budding geek can aspire to.
For those of you on this whisky journey remember to share and share often. The more you open up your dram cupboard the more opportunities will come your way.
A little tag line I coined as an email signature is “a dram shared gives twice the reward” I can say on this night that it did 10 times over.
Thanks Curt for a memorable evening.
Slainte
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