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

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

Beyond the Basics: How to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Toronto now

Celtic cross at MonasterboiceOh, North America! You have a lot of things to answer for, least among them the secularization of St. Patrick’s Day. But one thing at a time. Really, you don’t have to be religious or Irish to celebrate the gifts Ireland’s bestowed upon the world. Being curious and engaged, though? That helps.

Instead of my regular rapid-fire Tuesday post, here are six St. Patrick’s Day swaps to help you make the most of today.

  1. Instead of green beer, try some proper Irish craft beer. I like O’Hara’s Irish Stout, now available in bottles through the LCBO.
  2. Instead of Jameson, try a dram from Dublin’s newer distillery, Teeling. I highly recommend the rich and spicy Teeling Small Batch, a blend, and I’ve read nothing but good things about their Single Grain and Single Malt.
  3. Instead of whiling away the hours in an outpost of one of those franchised faux-Irish pubs, visit the real deal. I humbly suggest the family-friendly Galway Arms, which draws Irish ex-pats and Canadians alike with its warm service and companionable clientele. Bonus: draught Smithwick’s!
  4. Instead of wearing an offensive-sloganed novelty tee, try on some Donegal tweed or an Aran knit. This is a great time for Irish design, with all sectors of the industry poised for increased international attention. In Toronto, you can see what the fuss is about at the Irish Design House, an excellent source for all manner of Irish goods. Well worth the trip to Leslieville!
  5. Instead of James Joyce, read Donal Ryan or Maeve Brennan. Ryan’s The Thing About December and The Spinning Heart movingly chronicle life in Tipperary, roughly bookending the Celtic Tiger. Ryan’s writing cuts to the marrow of contemporary Ireland, but it’s not without humour or sympathy. You’ll laugh and cry at alternating sentences, and long to return to the characters after the covers have closed. Unfortunately, the glorious Maeve Brennan can only be given short shrift in a post like this; she commands volumes of her own. Though very much a woman of her time, Brennan’s voice continues to resonate today. Hers is the voice of the ex-patriot (though a very particular, very privileged kind of ex-patriot), and her stories and essays are essential to anyone looking to better understand contemporary diasporic writings or how the Irish shaped North America in the 20th century.
  6. Instead of The Mahones or Flogging Molly, listen to The Undertones or Rudi, stalwarts of the 1970s Ulster punk scene. Musically, there were lots of interesting things happening at the height of The Troubles. The Undertones and Rudi provide a glimpse into what it was like to be — or to try to be — a normal teen despite the conflict. At the very least, if they don’t have you rethinking your St. Patrick’s playlist, they’ll give you pause the next time you think of mixing Jameson, Guinness and Bailey’s. If a trad session is more your speed, though, check out The Gloaming — all the extraordinary musicianship you’d expect from traditional folk musicians, but with arrangements that are modern and frequently unexpected. And Iarla Ó Lionáird has one of the most hauntingly beautiful voices you’ll ever hear!

Tasting Flight: Six must-read profiles of whisky-loving women

A photo of the author sipping whisky while admiring The Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection in Edinburgh.International Women’s Day is still two weeks away, but why celebrate women’s achievements on only one day? As a whisky-drinking woman, I’ve loved reading about and learning from women who share my passion. Here are six admirable women in whisky to kick off Women’s Day festivities early:

– Alwynne Gwilt, whisky enthusiast, journalist and the palate behind the excellent Miss Whisky — where she reviews drams, explores distilleries and profiles fellow women in whiskytells The Whiskey Reviewer how she fell in love with the spirit, and how to introduce Scotch to the uninitiated.

Mackmyra master blender Angela D’Orazio shares what it’s like working at Sweden’s flagship whisky distillery, as well as her interests outside of the spirits business.

Helen Mulholland, Bushmills’ master blender, is all business as she discusses the distillery’s range and packaging. And I second her recommendation of the Black Bush blend, which is one of my own favourites!

– when it comes to women in whisky, Allison Patel is a powerhouse. She’s the founder and owner of Brenne Whisky, which is uniquely finished in cognac barrels. Here she talks about crafting Brenne’s flavour profile.

– if job envy’s a thing, Eimear Kelleher leaves me positively green! She’s a Brooklyn-based brand ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W., and she’s spreading her love of Irish whiskey.

– a list of whisky women I admire wouldn’t be complete without a nod to Johanne McInnis, a.k.a. the Whisky Lassie. Knowledgeable and friendly, Johanne is highly active on Twitter, connecting whisky-lovers or, to paraphrase Johanne, weaving the whisky fabric. When I started to tweet about whisky, Johanne was one of the first people to engage me in conversation and in doing so, she made me feel welcome. With one small gesture, she took away a lot of the remaining whisky intimidation — the sense that everyone knew what he or she was talking about but me — and I’ll be forever grateful for that. Johanne is a connector — of people to whisky and to each other — and The East at last gives her the in-depth profile she deserves.

Wit and Whisky

Funny man Nick Offerman is, it turns out, a fellow whisky fan, so he did what any whisky lover does: he found a way to celebrate his favourite drams publicly. Partnering with Diageo, makers of Lagavulin and Oban, among others, Offerman presents his “Tales of Whisky” on a dedicated YouTube Channel. The result? A perfect pairing of wit and whisky!

A taste courtesy of my favourite Offerman whisky video: “Taste It All.”

Happy Burns Day!

IMG_3207Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

attributed to Robert Burns, “Selkirk Grace”

Today marked my first Burns Day as a proper Scotch drinker, so naturally, I planned a full vegan Burns Supper complete with single malt pairings.

Taking my cue from The Caledonian’s Donna Wolff, I paired the smoky, briny Laphroaig 10 with a bowl of Cullen skink, a hearty chowder traditionally made with smoked haddock. My vegan version was a creamy, warming, rib-sticking potato soup with a sweet smokiness to match the Laphroaig. A wonderful way to stimulate the appetite — and it’s appetite that was needed, for there were two courses still to go! Continue reading