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.
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.