Alberta Distillers event highlights the top whisky events this spring

- April 22nd, 2014

Fill your glass with some fine whisky.

The Dram Initiative is a relatively new whisky club in Calgary.

Curt Robinson and friends have been hosting events under the Dram initiative banner, complete with cool Lost-inspired logo, for about the past year.

And while there has been a heavy focus on scotch and other single malt whisky from around the world, they’re going local for their next event. And it’s going to be a highlight of the spring.

For those not familiar with Alberta Distillers Ltd., they have been cooking up some fantastic 100% rye whisky for more than 65 years.

The Canadian whisky segment has gone through its own bit of renaissance in recent years, and the makers of Alberta Premium have made a name for themselves with people who are looking for something that stands out.

The Dram Initiative event, happening April 29 at Marda Loop community hall will showcase the best Alberta Distillers has to offer, including Alberta Premium 25 and 30 year expressions, in a tasting led by ADL’s Norm Little.

The event is for club members, but they’re always open to new people joining up. For more information on the club, contact  draminitiative@gmail.com.

Rounding out the Top 5:

2. The Last Samurai, June 26, Kensington Wine MarketKensington Wine Market plays host to plenty of great whisky events this spring, including Ancient Malts, and a Glendronach Batch 9 dinner. But an evening promising ‘some real curiosities from the world of Japanese whisky’ is one we’d find hard to pass up. Tickets are $100.

3. Co-Op Wine Spirits Beer World of Whisky and Cognac: This June event (June 7 in Calgary at the BMO Centre and June 14 in Edmonton at the Northlands Expo Centre) features a wide array of ‘whiskies from around the world, cognacs, and a gourmet dinner. VIP tickets get a guided tasting with experts, exclusive samples and early entry. General admission tickets are $125, VIP entry is $175.

4. The Spirit of Bourbon, June 13, Willow Park Wines & Spirits: Beyond single malt scotch, I love some bourbon, and Willow Park does put on great bourbon events. This June 13 tasting highlights the best in the segment. Tickets are $60.

5. Summer Whiskies, May 14, Willow Park Wines & Spirits: When it’s hot out, we tend to lean toward lighter beers and wines, so why not whiskies? Willow Park’s scotch expert David Michiels will run through a tasting of his favourite warm weather whiskies. Tickets are $25.

 

http://willowpark.net/events/type/week/0

We drink beer: Innis & Gunn Lager

- April 18th, 2014
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The tasty Innis & Gunn Lager is available now.

There are a couple of notable exceptions – a good pilsner, for instance, especially when it’s hot out.

So I was kind of puzzled when I heard Innis & Gunn, makers of some of my favourite beers when I’m looking for a richly flavoured treat, was releasing a lager.

But I suppose strong, whisky-barrel aged beers aren’t for everyone, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to appeal to the masses.

The beer was launched to celebrate the brewery’s 10th anniversary, and founder Dougal Sharp said the concept behind the Helles-style lager was to give consumers something more approachable.

“(Innis & Gunn beers) are not light sessionalbe beers, so I wanted to give our consumers a refreshing but flavourful lager that would deliver a rewarding taste experience in the same way they’ve grown to expect through our oak-aged beers,” Sharp said.

Thankfully, the Innis & Gunn Lager, while certainly milder than what we’ve come to expect from the Scottish brewery, is far better than any mainstream lager I’ve had.

It’s made with Golden Naked Oats, which give off a light nuttiness, and a full mouthfeel, plus Super Styrian and Styrian Goldings hops for a crisp bitterness.

It also has a pleasing sweetness to it.

The Scots have done it again with this one.

My only complaint is that the carbonation seems to vanish as it comes across the palate, but it still packs enough zing overall to be an easy-drinking beer.

It’s available in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland in 500 ml cans. In Alberta it’s available in six packs as well.

The Dram Initiative tasting: A bevy of Ardbeg

- April 14th, 2014
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A bevy of Ardbeg whisky.

Whisky lovers in Calgary, and Alberta really, are quite lucky.

Even people in the drinks industry from outside Alberta tell me how blessed we are to have the selection here that we do.

Stores offer a ridiculous selection of scotch, not to mention tastings dedicated to everyone’s favourite spirit (or mine, anyway).

For those who take their whiskies more seriously, there are also a good assortment of whisky appreciation clubs: The women-only Femmes Fatales YYC, the Calgary-based Canadian chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the Alberta Scotch Society (for our Edmonton Friends), and the Calgary Chapter of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich.

I recently had a chance to check out a tasting hosted by a relatively new club in Calgary: The Dram Initiative (bonus points for people who get the Lost reference).

Calgary’s ‘bad-as-they-wanna-be’ whisky club (I stole that from their own release, but it gives a sense of how they’re serious about their whisky, but not too serious), got up and running about a year ago, and have amassed an impressive assortment of events, including Jura, Glenfarclas and the SMWS.

Their March 18 tasting featured the a peat-lovers dream: An Islay buffet courtesy Ardbeg, from Alligator to Uigeadail.

What better guide for this “three-course meal” than Canadian Brand Ambassador Ruaraidh MacIntyre, an Islay product who once worked at the distillery and whose dad still helps make this wonderfully unique scotch.

Course 1: Ardbeg 10, paired with Blasda and Airgh Nam Beist

If this was the appetizer, it was quite filling.

I had previously tried just three of the whiskies on offer for the evening, including the opener, the 10-year. This is a great introduction to the peaty world of Ardbeg, but it also offers a great flavour profile, with aromas of citrus and dark chocolate, and flavours of lemon and vanilla mixed with oily smoke.

After kicking off with  a mouthful, the second whisky was a palate cleanser. The peat levels of the Blasda are dialed back substantially, leaving a light, balanced, sweet whisky. Lots of citrus and dried fruit on the palate, with a hint of spiciness on the finish.

The third in the course, the Airgh Nam Beist, is “as pure an expression of Ardbeg I think you can get,” MacIntyre said. And he’s right.

It’s sweet and floral and peaty and salty, with a creamy mouthfeel. It has notes of dried fruit and chocolate. It was definitely my favourite whisky of the evening. Alas, it is no longer available for sale. But it was a treat to be at the event for a chance to taste it.

Course 2: Uigedail, paired with Corryvreckan and Galileo

While the Airgh Nam Beist may have ranked among the best of the night, in my opinion, this was my favourite course of the night.

All three are stellar whiskies, whether it’s the “Christmas cake doused in diesel and set on fire” sweet smokiness of the Uigedail or the floral honey notes of the 2013 whisky of the year Galileo.

Uigedail, despite the description provided by MacIntyre, is a standout scotch, with stewed fruit and smoke on the nose, ginger spiciness and chocolate (especially with water) on the palate.

Corryvreckan, meanwhile, dials back the smoke, and ups the spiciness, like chocolate cherries and butterscotch toffees doused in hot sauce.

Galileo, inspired by a space station experiment Adrbeg is involved with (but “it’s not ‘space whisky,’” MacIntyre assures us), is “reminiscent 0f older Ardbeg,” he said.

It was named whisky of the year in 2013 at the World Whisky Awards.

It weighs in at a hefty 49% abv, but is finished in Marsala casks, so it has a sweeter edge to it, with lots of floral characteristics and honey notes. It is a tremendously tasty dram.

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The fine line-up from Ardbeg.

This by far was the meatiest course, with an interesting mix of unique whiskies.

First up was the Ardbog, the special bottling for the 2013 Ardbeg Day. This  was matured in Manzanilla casks for at least 10 years. It’s a great blend of sweetness, smokiness and briny saltiness. Reminiscent of smoked ham and chocolate.

The Alligator, so named because of the heavy, scaly char of the casks used to age it, was full of smoky sweet vanilla notes. A real treat.

And the Supernova 2010 was, as promised, a “wild paradox.” There’s almost next to no peat on the nose. None. It’s light, with a hint of sweetness. And then I took a drink. I almost coughed. Huge peat on the palate (100 ppm phenol count, plus a 60.1 abv). It’s possibly the peatiest whisky I’ve ever tasted. And after that peat explosion, it ends with a whimpering light, sweet finish.

All in all, it was a filling meal.

‘Dessert’: A mystery selection

This stumped even our Islay expert.

It turned out to be a fantastic blended whisky — Big Peat — made of of a selection of Islay’s finest: Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and the long-closed Port Ellen.

As a dessert, it’s more akin to a having a strong espresso and a cigarette while being lashed by the sea spray. But it was a pleasing finish, and not overly peaty (oddly), after an evening of peaty whiskies.

As mentioned above, The Dram Initiative has been around for about a year. And they have a big event coming up, featuring a night with Alberta Distillers Ltd. (makers of Alberta Premium)

Stay tuned for more info on what will surely be a great event.

Mill Street Brewery springs ahead with pair of beers to thaw you out

- March 12th, 2014

I know breweries release new beers all the time, but there’s something about the new spring crop that gets me excited.

Something about the renewal of the season, or the resetting of the clock.

Or maybe it’s just a nice reminder that the weather is getting warmer.

With that in mind, Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery has released its Spring Mix Pack in Alberta.

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The tasty Spring Thaw Maple Ale

The six pack features a pair of beers well-suited for spring: The Spring Thaw Maple Ale and the Portage Ale.

Brewmaster Joel Manning on the Spring Thaw: “Smoked beers are near to my heart and this one in combination with Ontario maple syrup just screams spring!  It has a very drinkable character and is very understated — don’t go looking for something to pour on your pancakes!  The maple syrup is added to give flavour and not sweetness so it is added judiciously and the wood fired maple syrup from the Madawaska Valley near my cabin in northeastern Ontario is so intensely flavoured that you don’t need much!”

The Spring Thaw was included in last year’s mix pack, and I’m glad to see its return this year. It carries a lightly roasted smoke flavour with a hint of maple. But, as Manning says, it isn’t sweet. It clocks in at 5.3% abv, and it isn’t too heavy in flavour to enjoy a couple of them.

The Portage Ale was originally created at the Mill Street Brewpub in Ottawa, and is named after the historic portage route around the Chaudiere Falls on the Ottawa River, where the pub is located.

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The Mill Street Portage Ale

Water was actually trucked from Ottawa to the Mill Street site in Toronto for production of this beer.

Manning on the Portage Ale: “This is a wonderfully refreshing light ale that epitomizes the traditional styles made by the brewers of Ottawa in the 19th and early 20th Centuries.  This is real cream ale made the way it is supposed to be made with two yeast strains blended to give complexity and smoothness.  The soft water of the Ottawa River is responsible for the incredibly light texture of this beer.”

The light texture is the first thing I noticed about this beer. It’s light and smooth  and ready for a spring session.

Alberta is one of only three provinces getting the Spring Mix Pack.

Look for it at your local liquor store.

Spirits giant Campari buys Canadian whisky distillery

- March 12th, 2014
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Forty Creek Distillery has been bought by Campari. Supplied photo

Big news out of the Canadian whisky industry.

Gruppo Campari, the sixth-largest spirits company in the world, has purchased Forty Creek Distillery, makers of a range of quality Canadian whisky, for $185.6M.

From the release:  Gruppo Campari has reached an agreement to acquire 100% of Forty Creek Distillery Ltd. (‘FCD’), the producer of award winning premium Canadian whiskies. Its flagship brand Forty Creek Whisky is the fastest growing brand in the Canadian whisky category and is well positioned in the USA, one of the Group’s key markets.

Further details about the deal: “The acquired business includes the full portfolio of FCD: the stocks, the distillery facilities and a Hospitality Center located in Grimsby, Ontario. FCD brand portfolio includes whisky, vodka, brandy, rum and liqueurs, with Forty Creek Whisky as its core brand. The Forty Creek whisky family includes Barrel Select, Copper Pot Reserve, Forty Creek Cream Whisky and offers high-end, limited releases including Forty Creek Confederation Oak, Double Barrel and an annual special John K. Hall Reserve release. Forty Creek whiskies are 3-Time Canadian Whisky of the Year champions at the Canadian Whisky Awards (2010-12) and recently captured five gold medals as Best Tasting Whiskies at the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago (2014).”

John Hall, the founder and whisky maker at Forty Creek had this to say:

“Today’s deal represents a milestone for myself and the entire Forty Creek team. I believe this opportunity will further support Forty Creek’s vision to produce unique, quality, handcrafted, Canadian-made spirits. Campari has the global ability to take Forty Creek to the next level. Introducing customers around the world to my whisky is a dream come true. I am very excited to continue to devote my time to whisky making at Forty Creek distillery, continuing my whisky journey and exploring my passion for additional Forty Creek whisky expressions. In addition, I am proud to note today’s announcement ensures even greater added economic value to both the Ontario and Canadian economy through Campari’s investment in the Grimsby distillery and the Forty Creek family of brands.”

Hall will be staying on as Forty Creek’s chairman and whisky maker.

Noted Canadian whisky expert Davin De Kergommeaux offers a bit of background on the deal at Whisky Advocate.