Toronto Whisky Live
Earlier in the day, Mark (of WhiskyCast fame) and I had made arrangements to meet for lunch which also combined the first interview of the weekend with the entrepreneurs of the one and only Canadian Independent bottlers, Premium Bottlers. It was such a pleasure to finally meet Mark and an extra treat "being a fly on the wall" in what would be one of many interviews taken over the weekend.
Typical for this time of year, the leaves are turning, the sun was out and yes for a very brief moment as we entered the WL venue, it also began to rain the size of gum drops, but one thing for sure, Toronto Whisky Live had arrived in my neck of the woods…
The three Master Classes that I attended were:
Discover the Glenrothes with the engaging and distinguished Mr. Ronnie Cox, Director of The Glenrothes. This was the first and single handedly my favourite session of the day. The following whiskies that were sampled were (in order): Cutty Sark, The Glenrothes Select Reserve, The Glenrothes 1991, The Glenrothes 1985 and The Glenrothes 1979. The ’85 and the ’79 really stood out for me as the two most interesting and enjoyable of the lot. We were also passed around a sampling of 68% New Make to smell. This was a new experience for me. I was expecting the predominant smell to be of alcohol, but was surprised by how sweet and fruity the aroma was with a mild hint of anise lingering at the end. I found it quite pleasant.
Mr. Cox mentioned a special project that Martine Nouet and he have been collaborating on which combines the theme of whisky and music. I thought his project reflected a fresh and contemporary attitude that whisky can be experienced within a myriad of occasions based on mood and environment and appreciated that he was trying to convey this message.
The second master class was re named, The Whisky World from Whisky Magazine after Mr. Michael Jackson due to poor health reasons had to cancel his appearance. On behalf of Michael Jackson, Damian Riley-Smith extended his sincere regrets and assured the attendees that Mr. Jackson was home recovering. The session was lead by guest presenters, Mr. Jim Cryle, Chivas Brothers and Mr. Chris Morris, Woodford Reserve. It was a comparative tasting of Canadian – Canadian Club, American - Woodford Reserve and Scottish Single Malt – Glenlivet 12 yo and Scottish Blend – Chivas 12 yo. I must admit, I thought the line up was pretty pedestrian and found it regretful that a Canadian spokesperson wasn’t asked to step in to present the Canadian whisky.
Next in line was The Art of Oak with Ian Millar, Glenfiddich Brand Ambassador (William Grant & Son). We sampled an assortment of whiskies and the whisky inspired ale beer, Innis and Gunn. The whiskies were Grant’s Ale Cask, Glenfiddich Solera Reserve (apparently the fastest growing single malt in the world), and 30 yo Balvenie CS. I was really looking forward to sampling the 30 yo Balvenie and wasn’t disappointed: Nose – sweetish, floral; Taste: bitter orange (that is what I can remember!). Ian Millar also talked about the first release Anniversary bottling from the Kininvie Distillery celebrating the 105th birthday of Wm Grant’s only surviving granddaughter. The bottling was released as gifts to employees only this summer. When I asked him to describe the taste, in light of the fact that it is special and so few would have the chance to sample it, he said, “It is great.” When he asked if he had answered my question, I shook my head, "No." He then added..."it is fruity." Wow, that is just GREAT!…sorry gang, I am still a little peeved about being brushed off.
Observations: I found that in every master class, the majority of the questions asked by attendees were how much water or ice should be added to their whisky and incredible confusion around the terminology of vatted vs blends. No one quite knew whether they were coming or going as they tried to sort out the categories. I also felt that all of the Master class presenters had the patients of saints as they diplomatically answered the same questions over and over again.
On the issue of water, I was taken by surprise by how often we were told to add water to our whisky by the session leaders. I felt like “lab” mentality had blurred the lines of a just settling in at home with your favourite dram. I think everyone should drink their whisky the way they want, but I wouldn’t have thought that we would be advised to add water to Glenlivet 12 yo or Solera Reserve. I can see the merit of distinguishing between CS vs a 40% abv bottling and explaining the potential benefits of how water can “open” up a CS, but to just suggest adding water carte blanche seemed like a clinical response from someone whose job is to taste all day. Ian Millar did say that he would NOT add water to the Balvenie 17 as it kills it immediately. For me the best quote of the day came from Chris Morris when asked about adding water: “Water is for washing in and whisky is for drinking.”
The end of the evening was reserved to wander from booth to booth. Stand out drams were the 1988 Tulibardine, Compass Box new Ontario release “Magic Cask” and Connemara CS. Fittingly, the evening closed with the honour of sitting in on an interview between Mark and industry leader, Jim Cryle. That was another highlight of the evening for me. So, stay tuned WhiskyCast fans, you are in for a real treat.
If my summary hasn't yet put you all to sleep, I quite enjoyed myself at Toronto Whisky Live, and yes there were a few pitfalls, but I was glad to have tasted a few special drams, to meet some special people and to show my support to the culture of whisky in Ontario.