Re: Whisky Live Toronto 2007
Toronto 2007 Whisky Live
October 20, Toronto, Ontario Canada
After already spending the earlier part of my day over at the Gooderham and Worts Distillery District, it was rather fitting to continue this whisky theme by ending my day attending the 2nd Annual Toronto 2007 Whisky Live. For out-of-town visitors and Toronto city dwellers, this festival had an unmistakable Canadian stamp on it which I believe would have made G&W quite proud. With the opportunity to sample a variety of new and exciting Canadian releases, and to meet others in the businesses who are promoting whisky on the home front, indeed, the Canadian Whisky scene is more than alive and well. The organizers of the event provided a welcoming gathering place at the downtown Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Attendees could easily make the acquaintances of some of the distinguished industry leaders, innovators and Ambassadors. And, it was so much fun to discuss familiar and new to the palate drams with like-minded whisky enthusiasts.
My first steps past the admission table lead me to a lounge-like exhibit situated adjacent to the entrance way of the Main Exhibit Hall. The lounge was hosted by Joseph Cassidy, the affable Manager of Via Allegro Ristorante, recipient of the 2008 Restaurant of the Year award in the Icons of Whisky Canada, WM competition. This award has been well appointed as the restaurant boasts a collection of 800 plus whiskies and a mouthwatering menu. Perusing their hefty Whisky menu is like meeting the "whose-who" of the malt world. Via Allegro's friendly staff helped kick-off the event by pouring my first two drams of the night. From the complement of the Rare Malts collection, I sampled: Inchgower 27 yo, 55.6%abv, and, Rosebank 22, 61.1%abv. The Rosebank was my favourite. The Nose was so fresh and grassy. And, the mouthfeel was unbelievably rich and creamy with tasting notes of citrus and light apple-spice to liven things up. It spoke of why I enjoy the taste of whisky so much. The third whisky that was offered was Talisker 25 plus an assortment of cheeses to be paired to the malts. Passing on the Talisker, I said my goodbyes and headed into the Exhibit Hall looking for more adventure.
It was a welcoming sight to see so many booths in the room. The exhibitors names were written on banners that hung from the ceiling and the banners were representative of something special for everyone be it Irish, Canadian, Bourbon, Scottish and/or blends. The first booth that caught my eye was Forty Creek whisky (Kittling Ridge) and the Canadian Distiller, John Hall who was busily manning the fort. Recently, John was awarded by WM in the Icons of Whisky Canada, the "Ambassador of the Year" and "Distiller of the Year - Kittling Ridge." And, this past September, he released, to a resounding success, the John K. Hall, Small Batch Reserve, 40% abv. Having picked up my personalized and autographed bottle of the Small Batch Reserve from the distillery, and not quite ready to crack it open, I welcomed the chance to sample this dram again. In John's own words, "...this is a meritage of rye, corn and barley." And, "the whisky is a blend of ages between 6 to 15 years old." My notes: Colour: light copper; Nose: rye, menthol, spicy, pepper, bold; Taste: rye, buttery, salty, warm spice; Finish: lingering warmth that beckons the next sip. This is a very flavourful and enjoyable whisky.
We then headed over to the Independent Canadian bottlers, Premium Bottlers to check things out. Partners, Barry Bernstein and Barry Stein, were busily pouring samples. One of their bottles, the Linkwood, 10 yo, 46% abv was recently added to the LCBO inventory. The festival was a great opportunity for enthusiasts to sample their collection. I am a big fan of Linkwood, and I welcomed the chance to sample their bottling. The tasting notes from Premium Bottlers are: Nose: Liquorice, mixed fruit and butter pecan; Taste: Toffee, caramel and sherry undertones; Body: Medium with full mouth feel; Finish: Short, smooth but reappears with liquorice. I look forward to picking up a bottle soon. Other private order bottlings are Royal Lochnagar Distillery, 11 yo, 46% abv; Blair Athol Distillery, 11 yo, 46 % abv; and, Benrinnes, 12 yo, 46 % abv.
Other new releases on the Canadian frontier that I was fortunate to sample were: Wiser's Red Letter bottling, 45% abv, un-chillfiltered. Michael Booth, the distiller was attending and poured our samples. The Red Letter whisky was launched in commemoration of Wiser's 150 year anniversary. Mr. Booth explained that it is modeled after J.P.'s Red Letter Rye. He noted that it was the closest product to a 19th Century whisky. It was nice to meet him. My tasting notes: Nose: crispy, light spice, vanilla, salty; Taste: malty, bread wisp o' spice, subtle fruit; Finish: clean and crisp, like biting into a freshly picked red apple. The bottle is also very beautiful and elegant looking. Another new Canadian that will be soon hitting the shelves is the Crown Royal Batch No. 16. It is a blend of 50 whiskies finished in a Cognac cask. Brian Gencher, from Diageo, who I had a good discussion with poured my dram. I walked around with this gentle Canadian beauty for quite awhile. It was one to savour. I had the good intentions of jotting my notes down, but my plans quickly changed when my path crossed with the Master Blender-Extraordinaire, Mr. Richard Paterson.
Having met before, I was very happy to see Richard again. After at least 10 seconds rolling by, and with cobra-like precision, Richard had my glass in his hand and with a quick flick of the wrist had emptied the content onto the carpet...good-bye Batch No. 16! And, with the same speed, had refilled it from a bottling that appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. In his formidable voice and eagle-eye stare, said, "Now try that, Wendy!" And, I did. And, I still don't know what I tasted, but it was damn-good. In my defense, when close to Richard, the room just naturally starts to spin. It was all in good fun.
Another blend that I was pleased to sample was the King George V Ltd. Edition, Diageo. In Diageo's own words, "...a brand new ultra-deluxe scotch created to celebrate the first Royal Warrant awarded to JW and Sons Limited using the world's rarest and most valuable whiskies." Jonathon Driver, International Whisky Ambassador, was giving a master class to showcase the King George and JW Blue. I really regretted that I couldn't sample this whisky the following day when my taste buds were "fresh". By this time, I had reached my saturation point and my notes dramatically began to take a nose dive.
The one master class that I attended was titled, Ballantine's Super Premium Range - a timeless classic with Bill Bergius, Heritage Director, Chivas Brothers. He showcased the new LCBO release of the Ballantine's 17, 21 and 31 (all bottled at 43%abv). Indeed, the 30 yo was sublime; it didn't have any of the heady oak that sometimes (or mostly from what I hear) punches through with some of the older bottlings. I believe Mr. Bergius said that the LCBO will be releasing the 30 yo in January 2008, and that only 30 bottles will be released in Ontario at $413 Canadian, each. In Ballantine's 180 year history, there have only been 5 master blenders. Mr. Sandy Hyslop is the 5th Master Blender to continue on in this prestigious position.
The food was very tasty. And, the pipe band and Scottish dancers added to the festive atmosphere. The dancers certainly put smiles on a number of attendee's faces!
One of the personal highlights was meeting up with friends from this forum like "Pipe and Dram" and a very special treat was to hang out with Mark while he taped a few of his interviews for the upcoming Whisky Cast show. He is quite a professional who is able to put those he interviews at ease. The quality of his shows reflects what he brings to the table.
Last but not least, a special thank you to the organizers. It certainly was a job well done and I look forward to attending next year.