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Spring into Whisky | Blog #121

What an amazingly nice Winter we have had here in Alberta and it feels like we are in for an early Spring this year. My thoughts always start turning to time on the deck and some delicious drams paired with a great cigar. Almost time for me to put away the Islay for a few months and reach for those dreamy drams that promise floral, honey and sweet spices.

I truly love all the diversity that whisky brings and am constantly on a bit of a crusade to help others experience all that whisky/ey is.

“I wanted to talk about a home grown Alberta distillery but will hold off until I can have a sample in front of me to review.”

This week, I want to delve a little into what a versatile drink whisky is and why you should have it around your back bar not just for drinking straight but also for mixing and especially for Cocktails.

A lot of whisky friends I know shy away from Cocktails but having experienced how mind boggling they can be, I am always experimenting with ways that I can incorporate good whisky into something new.

I had a recent trip down to One18 Empire at the Calgary Marriott Hotel. They are on a quest to be one of the best whisky bars in Calgary and their Bartender Mike is shaking up a storm when it comes to whisky based cocktails.

One such cocktail that has become a favorite of my wife, he calls the Brilliant Basil. It captures all that is great about more herbaceous and floral whisky and then compliments it in a drink that screams springtime.

Take a couple of ounces of your favorite Rye, preferably Canadian and 100%. Canadian Rye even at 100% tends to be lower on the spice scale than the Southern styles. Add 2 to 3 ounces of simple syrup that has been infused with fresh ginger and pour them both into a cocktail shaker.

“Easy way to make ginger simple syrup is as follows:

8 oz fresh organic ginger root (2 pieces, each about 10 inches long)

2 cups organic sugar – raw sugar is fine although your simple syrup will be darker

2 cups water

DIRECTIONS

Peel the ginger root with a vegetable peeler, and cut into thin rounds.
Bring the sugar and water to a boil over medium high heat.
Add the sliced ginger and bring the mixture back up to a simmer.
Remove from heat and allow to steep for at least 30 minutes.
Strain syrup through fine mesh. Keep ginger in a container for adding later.
Keep the syrup for a month refrigerated in an airtight container.
After adding the simple syrup fill half of the shaker with ice and then add an ounce and a half of fresh lime juice (can be 2 ounces if you want it a bit more zesty)

Now add 3 stalks of organic basil leaves to the shaker and 3 or 4 of the ginger rounds.

Shake the crap out of it as you are effectively muddling the basil using the ice. The more shaking the more basil infusion.

You can now either loosely strain using just the shaker and have small basil bits as part of it (yummier this way) or use a fine strainer for a cleaner looking drink.”

Cindy drinks her Brilliant Basil out of a Samaroli Whisky glass but any long stemmed cocktail glass will work.

Garnish with one basil leaf and away you go.

Just the ticket for that first day outside enjoying the fresh Spring air.

Whisky is truly a versatile drink and I love it in so many forms.

Until next week let me know if you tried a Brilliant Basil and how you liked it.

Cheers!

Once More Unto The Breach | Blog # 115

Welcome to 2016 and the start of another amazing year of whisky experiences. I hope everyone had a refreshing time over Christmas with family and friends.

Time to get back at it and every New Year for me really starts with what is now known as Whisky Week. 3 whisky festivals in Alberta followed by 2 more in British Columbia.

So first as ways it’s the trek to Red Deer for a great little festival that is part and parcel of the support for the MS society as are all the 3 Alberta festivals this week. At the Red Deer Golf and Country club and in only it’s second year it has to be the best opportunity for anyone to really delve into the whiskies presented and be able to have valuable one on one time with all the vendors present. With only around 100 people attending it really is a relaxed atmosphere. I really enjoy the opportunity to chat with attendees and talk the nitty gritty of various whiskies. Even if you are in Calgary, Edmonton or surrounding areas I would encourage you to come along to Red Deer as an educational alternative.

“This year I’m just going to condense my experiences into one blog for the festivals that we covered last year. I will however slot in a unique blog about a brand new Vancouver festival that is just launching this year.”

This year for the first time we showcased the Angels Share Glassware with all profits donated to the MS Society as part of the fundraising effort. It was great to see some people grabbing a hand blown water dropper or whisky glass lids and helping such a great cause. One lucky winner also won a table full of assorted whiskies a fantastic way to start or extend a good whisky collection.

The weather was kind as I headed North to Edmonton for one of the busiest festivals of the year. With bright shiny Lexus vehicles dotting the room and Scottish Dancers and pipers in attendance the Edmonton festival has a uniquely upbeat atmosphere. Plying the seasoned and new whisky drinkers alike with delicious drams is a privilege that I relish and this week really gets me excited about the year to come.

This year I had 3 whiskies from the 2nd Edition Calendar, Wemyss Dark Treacle Fondant Craigellachie – Blog #…, Samaroli Miltonduff (Red Deer and Edmonton) and Samaroli Benriach (Calgary) and the Malt Whisky Company Portsoy (Glenglassaugh) Sauterne. Accompanying these single cask options was the launch of the Single Cask Nation Independent Bottling club into Canada. On show in Red Deer was the Cooley 13 year old Irish Single Malt and added for Edmonton and Calgary was the Tobermory heavily peated 10. You can read more about Single Cask Nation here and if you get in quick you can take advantage of a great deal to join as one of the first in Canada to gain access to their amazing whiskies. A.D. Rattray was represented with the ever popular Stronachie 10 and Cask Islay. Our Canadian option was none other than the Canadian Whisky Awards best new whisky of 2015 Stalk and Barrel Rye and rounding out the ample display was probably the most popular choice for tasting amongst festival goers, the Hyde 10 Year Old Sherry finished Single Malt.

“At the newly renamed Arts Commons on Stephen Avenue downtown the Calgary festival is a unique space to enjoy a vast array of excellent whisky.”

Looking to the skies with a touch of trepidation as the snow lightly fell at the conclusion of the Edmonton festival I awoke to find a clear morning for the drive back South to Calgary.

Boasting the oldest whisky to be poured at any festival (50 year old North British Single Grain) this year was again a treat for any whisky enthusiast at the longest running festival of the 3. Attending festivals like these can expand your whisky palate immensely. More than worth the cost of admission it a chance to try the unique and rare, single casks and special editions that would normally cost a small fortune to try.

Packing up 4 cases of various whisky paraphernalia in the morning after Calgary was done and dusted for another year it was time to make the annual pilgrimage to Victoria. I love this festival and have only missed 2 since its inception.

Not participating in the masterclasses this time around left me some time to catch up with the many whisky characters that flock to Victoria every year. It is very tough to get tickets and those outside the province have to bundle a hotel room to even get a look in. November is when it all happens so if you plan on coming along be prepared to have your finger on the button the day the tickets are released. I love the opportunity to catch up with so many great people that share my passion.

Fabulous to have Dave Broom at the festival this year signing his Whisky Atlas and enjoying the amazing array of whiskies on offer. Dave is a great guy and very unassuming, perpetually bright eyed and in awe of this amazing drink that we love I found him to be a kindred spirit. Thanks for sharing this year’s festival with us Dave.

With the array of whiskies on offer the Secret Spirits table was extremely busy during the Saturday evening main event. With our British Columbia import license finally secured it will not be long before our whiskies hit the private store shelves.

Once again Lawrence, Iain and the team did an incredible job. All good things must come to an end and the pod of orca’s cruising alongside the ferry on the way back to the mainland was a fitting farewell to Victoria for another year.

Next week I will post a detailed report on the first annual Vancouver Whisky Festival.

Until then if you didn’t get a chance to get along to any of the above 4 festivals this year then make it a must for 2017.

Cheers!

4 Cities in 5 days, a Whisky Journey | Blog #59

January is a whisky month! Even more than the ramp up towards Christmas and the frenzy of shoppers grabbing special bottles for their loved ones, January is one of the busiest whisky months of the year.

If you are getting into whisky and want to experience an opportunity to try some really amazing drams and get some great insights from really knowledgeable people, then attending a whisky festival is your next step.

This past week has been a blur and not because of the number of delicious drams imbibed. Starting on the 13th of January I made the trek to the Red Deer Golf and Country club for the MS Society Whisky Festival. The inaugural year for this festival it was a treat for the 90 odd people that came along and had quality one on one time with a host of excellent whiskies.

Being able to meander around the room and try whiskies that you have never seen or always wondered about is golden if you are on the journey to greater whisky discovery.

The pass around nibblies were fantastic and one lucky winner took home a whole table of great spirit donations in the raffle to raise money for a great cause. Big thanks to Blair at Liquor Crossing for partnering with the MS Society to get the event up and running.

January 14th and on to Edmonton for the MS Society Whisky festival held at the Delta South.

A much bigger show now that it has been going for a number of years. A show of this size needs a careful plan if you want to get around and try a good number of drams. The temptation is always to be drawn to things you love and drink often.

I would urge you though to adopt the opposite plan and only try whiskies that you have never had before.

This is really what these festivals are all about. The chance to try new and amazing whiskies and maybe just find something that will become your new favorite. Edmonton had it all, luxury Lexus cars sprinkled through the ballroom, Bagpipes and Scottish Dancers entertaining the whisky loving crowd and a great array of Silent Auction items to tempt everyone into bidding for something awesome for their collection.

I think I can speak for everyone there that we loved every minute of it and were completely spent after satisfying the educational yearning from the appreciative crowd. A big thanks to Dave and Steve at Vines of Riverbend for initiating and working with the MS Society to bring this festival to Edmonton and make it such a vibrant growing event every year.

January 15th and back to Calgary for the longest running independent whisky festival in Alberta.

The MS Society again the supported charity. Held at the Jack Singer Concert hall lobby, it is a grand venue with two levels of whisky tables, chandelier lit high ceilings and a very relaxed feel. Great food and a vast array of silent auction items are highlights along with a well attended VIP masterclass.

The Calgary festival was the brainchild of one of the most well known whisky personalities in Calgary, Andrew Ferguson from Kensington Wine Market. Andrew was integral in making the first Calgary festival a reality and subsequently Edmonton and now Red Deer festivals have spawned giving much more opportunity for whisky enthusiasts to try great new offerings every year from Southern to Northern Alberta.

Regardless of which city you live in you owe it to yourself to get along if you haven’t already to the 2016 festivals.

One day to catch my breath on Friday before an early start Saturday morning the 17th January for the flight to Victoria.

In it’s 10th year, Victoria is one of my favorite festivals and by far the longest running independent festival in Western Canada. Started by the Victoria Single Malt club and run ably by Lawrence, Iain, Jonathan and his team of volunteers, it is the most well run and amazing festival I have had the privilege to be a part of.

Missing the first year I have, except for a hiatus in 2014, been a regular presenter at the Victoria festival with this being my 8th time in the beautiful capital of British Columbia behind a whisky table. It was great to be back again this year and see a lot of new and familiar faces. Such a knowledgeable group of attendees who try each whisky with interest and enthusiasm. If you like to be educated then the massive array of masterclasses offers some schooling in everything from specific distilleries to Chocolate and Whisky pairings. Held at the magnificent Grand Pacific Hotel next to the Parliament building on the harbor it is an inspiring place to experience whisky nirvana.

If you do get a coveted ticket and attend some masterclasses, careful pacing is required to get through the entire day and still be getting something from your abused taste buds at the 10:00pm close on Saturday night.

Shared between two rooms with a sumptuous room of delicious food snuggled in between you can do a circuit regroup with some whisky soaking nibblies and then get back at it in the next room. Rinse and repeat as often as you can and then collapse back in your beautifully appointed room overlooking gorgeous Victoria Harbor.

This year was a special treat for me as I was able to showcase the first edition Scotch Whisky Calendar to entice hopefully some new recruits to order the second edition this year. I was also pouring whiskies that were part of the 2014 mix. I was able to meet many people at all 4 festivals that were part of the lucky 400 that secured themselves a 1st edition last year. The joy in their faces and the fun banter and feedback made all the hard work so worthwhile.

Gosh, I love my life – I can’t even really say that it’s a job.

I will post a full rundown of the winning drams and feedback on the 1st edition in the beginning of March when we close the “rate your favorite 3” competition and announce the winning entry.

As I sit here in the Grand Pacific lounge looking out at the bobbing float planes and resident Grand Pacific ducks, I feel so completely blessed to be able to rub shoulders with so many amazing people during this past week and to pass on my passion and love of this wonderful drink.

I urge you to make one of these festivals part of your plans for January 2016. I look forward to sharing an amazing dram with you and getting to know you as a regular. See photos from all the shows below…

Please jump in with a comment about your festival experience in 2015. I look forward to getting into a very special whisky next week.

Cheers!

Red Deer Festival Photos

Edmonton Festival Photos

Calgary Festival Photos

Victoria Festival Photos