The whisky-lover’s guide to the galaxy

99_DramsThose who know me well, or who have at least read a few posts on this blog, know I love travel, a good dram of whisky, and a great read. So when I first read about Kate Hopkins’ 99 Drams of Whiskey: The Accidental Hedonist’s Quest for the Perfect Shot and the History of the Drink, a book ostensibly at the intersection of these three passions, I vowed to get my hands on it. My patience was at last rewarded over Christmas, when a copy with my name on it appeared under the tree. (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

You glean as much about a book from its jacket as you do about a whisky from its distillery tasting notes. Expectations are set, but in both instances, you really have to dive in yourself to get a true sense of their characters. Continue reading

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Tasting Flight: Whisky is dead! Long live whisky!

Dram of whisky with water dropperWith the rise of no-age-statement (NAS) scotches, there’s been some hand-wringing and whingeing online about the death of whisky, and of Scotch in particular. But those who actually know what they’re talking about are quick to point out that the spirit is merely entering a new age.

  • Matt Chambers of Whisky For Everyone offers a well-reasoned defense of the continued vitality of Scotch, pointing out that NAS bottlings are common in other whisky categories. (See also the list of recently announced Canadian Whisky Award recipients.) He aligns Scotch’s plight to that of Old World wine in the 1990s, suggesting that we’ll ultimately see not the decline of Scotch, but a leveling of the bar across regions. Greater selection of widely available, well-crafted whiskies? Now that’s a future I’m anxious to see!
  • Adam McDowell was similarly optimistic in the most recent installment of his National Post “Fix My Drink” column. Taking that controversial Jim Murray pick as his point of departure, McDowell draws on whisky history and basic supply-and-demand, ultimately making a case for blended whiskies. He does recognize what’s lost when an old single malt is no longer available, but he’s ready to embrace the new frontier: “Today we live at the time of peak whisky, poised between two eras. The age statements and old standbys remain relatively plentiful for now, while a new era of youth and product variety are dawning… The drinker’s life after Peak Whisky won’t be all bad, just different.”
  • For those whose drams are half empty, though, there’s science! Via a gadget known as the THEA One Reactor comes the world’s first “flash-aged whiskey,” Rattleback Rye. I wouldn’t call barrel aging “doomed” — I think the verdict’s out, Food Republic, at least until after the spirit’s release — but if the result is a good one, perhaps this development will take some of the pressure off distillers who are struggling to keep up with consumer demand?
  • Finally, if you’re a DIY type who happens to be dissatisfied with your youthful whisky, the folks who brought you the Carry On Cocktail Kit have a new toolkit just for you: The Barrel Aged Spirits Kit. This kit operates on the same premise as Whiskey Elements, which I mentioned in a previous Tasting Flight, but comes with a bonus guide to aging. If nothing else, it may give you a greater appreciation for coopers!

Peat Monsters: A blind tasting with The Wee Dram Girl

They say that alcohol is a social lubricant, and while I’ve never needed a drink to make friends, I’ve recently bonded with a number of smart, funny women over our mutual love of whisky. I’m sure friendships of this kind are the norm not the exception, but I can’t help feeling lucky to have made these new acquaintances. And all the more so since YouTuber The Wee Dram Girl, alter ego of Laura Meehan, asked me to be a guest on her blind tasting series, “The Couch.”

The premise of the series is simple: Laura pours three whiskies from her extensive collection, and she films her guests as they experience and discuss the aromas and flavours of each — all without the guests knowing what’s in their Glencairn glasses. Guests pick a favourite without the influence of branding or distillery tasting notes. The result? Good fun and some surprises! Continue reading

Four Places to Drink in Edinburgh

For various reasons, my husband and I stuck close to home in 2015, but that doesn’t mean our desire to travel has diminished. Being Preparing to sip a cocktail.home-bound for so long, though, means that I’m feeling especially nostalgic for past adventures. Maybe it’s on account of all the Christmas Market and Hogmanay photos I’ve seen on travel blogs and social media lately, but I keep finding myself thinking especially of my 2014 trip to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is rich in history and culture, and there’s no shortage of great places to eat and especially to drink. I really can’t begin to do justice to the city’s bar scene here, so instead, I’ll offer a sampling of what’s in store for travelers through the lens of four of my favourites. Continue reading

In the year 2016…

Bridge over the Humber River in winterWhat is it about a new year that makes us reflective? Endings, whether real or imagined, help us make sense of what came before, neatly tidying the inherent randomness of life into coherent wholes. Smarter people than I have written about this elsewhere. Endings force us to look where we stand and to reflect on the path that brought us here. Through the lens of an end, we can evaluate the success of our actions and commit to do better, if we’re not happy.

In the early days of 2015, in the interest of making myself more accountable, I used this space to pledge personal goals around being active, creating, reading, and writing. And accountable I shall be, for it’s with a sense of 2015’s end that I can begin 2016 with a better sense of myself. Continue reading

Toronto the Fun

Toronto skyline facing south from BloorI’ve previously described my complicated feelings about my adopted hometown, and one need only take a peek at the comments to this post reporting Toronto’s Economist livability ranking to know I’m not the only one with feelings like this. For whatever reason, when you live somewhere for too long, it’s all too easy to see the negative. Hell, even our new mayor thinks the city is “uptight.” Whenever I find myself mired in complaints about city council, the TTC, or even the weather, I know it’s time to give Toronto another look. There are many reasons to visit or to live here; you just have to be willing to see them. A few weekends ago offered just such an occasion: the chance to see Toronto with fresh eyes, to play the tourist in my own city. I spent two days experiencing new-to-me delights, and the result? I feel invigorated and happier to be home. Continue reading

Blue Saturday: What fingernails have to do with Down syndrome and why it matters

Blue-painted fingernails against a blue striped shirtThere are lots of things I’m good at, and there are possibly more things that I’m terrible at. But because I’m white, middle-class, able-bodied, and conventionally attractive, I have the privilege of not having people prejudge my success because of the way I look. The thing is, everyone deserves this; it shouldn’t be a privilege but a right.

That’s why my husband and I are sporting blue fingernails today. Blue nails are hard to ignore — such a bold hue makes the fingertips a focal point — but if you’re only seeing a small part of the fingers, you’ll likely miss what these hands can do.

The assumptions we make about perceived ability are often far more limiting than actual disability. That’s why we’ve painted our nails blue: to show Connor we believe in him — that he can and will do so much more if given the chance.

Today is World Down Syndrome Day, and you can show your support even if you can’t paint your nails blue. Read what Connor’s mom, Christie, has to say about the importance of Down syndrome awareness. I promise that’s a start.