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

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

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.

Tasting Flight: Seven whisky stories to read this wintry Saturday night

A photo of the blogger reading Fred Minnick's WHISKEY WOMEN with a dram of whisky in handLooking over my list of goals for 2015, I realize I should have specified that I mean to read more books this year. In 2011 and 2012, I read 30 books of various genres, but in 2014 — I’m embarrassed to say — I read less than one book per month.

My RSS reader, on the other hand, was robust. Here are a few recent whisky stories I found worth reading:

Whisky Wednesday

Dram of whisky with dropper for water.This blog has been a little neglected lately, and now that work is starting to slow down a bit, I’m happy to return my attention to it. Terse Tuesday posts are fine, but a girl needs variety in her expression!

And speaking of expressions, here a few of the whisky-inspired links that tickled my fancy over the last few weeks:

  • Last Friday marked the 81st anniversary of the day our bourbon-drinking neighbours to the south repealed Prohibition. Here are ten appropriately festive cocktails to enjoy now and through the holiday season. (I find this one, which calls for balsamic- and apple-infused Woodford, especially appealing.
  • Counting down the days until Christmas? I hope it’s with this dram-a-day Advent calendar! I can’t believe I discovered these existed only last week! You can bet I won’t miss out next year.
  • There are those who believe that water mixes with whisky as well as it does with oil. While I do prefer most whiskies neat, a drop of the real aqua vita can really enhance some drams. Here the Bourbon Guy shares his thoughts on dilution.
  • Though as a whisky-drinking woman I’m a little annoyed by Harry Rosen’s CEO’s “boys will be boys and they love scotch” comment, I love the sentiment behind this promo event for The Macallan: it’s not the age that matters but the cask. Now, go hug a cooper.
  • Where do good barrels go when they die? The garden centre crowd has one idea, but here’s a better one. Show your love for whisky by keeping a piece of monogrammed cask close to your heart. Dear Santa…

Photo Friday

I’m working on a couple longer posts right now, but in the meantime, here’s a peek at some of the whiskies currently on my bar cart:

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In case you can’t see, in behind the scotches and the local whisky are Bushmills Single Malt 10 Years, The Tyrconnell Single Malt, The Wild Geese Irish Soldiers and Heroes Rare Irish Whiskey, Jameson Select Reserve, Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and Bushmills Black Bush. Not pictured: Redbreast 12 Year. That I have a bottle of that in the house goes without saying.

Obviously, my collection is heavily weighted toward the Irish whiskies (and will continue to be), but I’m looking to add a few bourbons (namely, the Hudson Baby Bourbon and my much-loved Woodford Reserve) and another Canadian whisky. And, of course, I’m always open to suggestions.

As an aside, if you click on the Green Spot and Redbreast links above, you’ll find some lovely, short whiskey-nerd documentaries. Highly recommended!

They’re crafty

Ah, those cunning marketers!

While browsing one of my favourite online women’s magazines, Ireland’s IMAGE, I came across a post on a recent marketing campaign supporting Jameson Select Reserve Black Barrel. With the whiskey’s iconic barrels and the artistry of master cooper Ger Buckley as inspiration, four Irish artisans created pieces celebrating both the Jameson brand and their own artistic heritage.

The pieces–a leather apron, a trestle table, a holster bag, and a tweed cap–are lovely in themselves, but what really struck me were the resulting ad spots highlighting these partnerships. There’s a romantic, almost sensual, quality to them, but they still seem quite masculine. (Maybe the company’s decision to go with male artisans has coloured my perception? I wonder what partnerships with female artisans would have produced?) I couldn’t help but be taken in by these ads. The pride in Irish craftsmanship and tradition feels genuine to me, and confidence is so very attractive. I may now have to buy a bottle of Select Reserve for my collection.

So well done, marketers. Or as they say in Ireland, fair play to you.