Author Archive

About "dave-breakenridge"

Dave Breakenridge is the Online Content Editor of the Calgary Sun - responsible for local news on calgarysun.com, original online content, as well as writing a weekly column with a strong focus on Calgary issues. He also maintains the blogs Breaken' it Down and Thirsty Writin' Scoundrels. A nine-year resident of Calgary, he has covered myriad issues at the Calgary Sun as a reporter, including crime, education, health, politics and pop culture. An Edmonton native, he is also a former radio broadcaster and a graduate of Grant MacEwan University's journalism program.

The Dram Initiative tasting: A bevy of Ardbeg

- April 14th, 2014
IMG-20140318-00048

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.

DSC03754

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.

Spring Thaw Bottle

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.

Mill Street Portage Ale - Bottle

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
Forty Creek Image

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.

New Belgium Brewing finds new market in Alberta

- March 11th, 2014

Despite the long-held misconceptions of some suds lovers out there, the craft beer scene in the U.S. is rather enviable.

Whether it’s Anchor out of San Francisco, Oregon’s Rogue, Montana-based Tamarack or New York’s Shmaltz (and many, many more) there is great beer being made from coast to coast.

Alberta drinkers can add another highly-touted brewery to the list of U.S. craft beers available here.

Colorado-based, employee-owned New Belgium Brewing recently launched in Alberta.

“British Columbia was our first market outside the U.S., and we’ve obviously learned a lot about beer sales in Canada since rolling out there,” said Rich Rush, Regional Sales Director with NewBelgium Brewing.

“There are some great emerging craft beer markets in Alberta, and we’re excited to be introducing our brews to the craft beer enthusiasts there.”

To start things off, the initial Alberta offerings include Fat Tire Amber Ale, featuring ‘toasty, buscuit-like malt flavours’ and the Ranger IPA:

After the initial release, we’ll see the Rampant Imperial IPA, Snapshot Wheat along with select seasonal beers and some of the Lips of Faith offerings. These wild concoctions have, in the past, included Coconut Curry Hefeweizen, Yuzu Berliner Weisse and ale made with dates and coffee cherries.

Look for New Belgium at your local liquor store or search online at liquorconnect.com.

For more info about New Belgium, check out their website.

Sour beers a growing trend in Alberta market

- March 3rd, 2014
MortSubite High Res

Mort Subite, an approachable sour beer.

For all that I’ve learned about beer, wine and spirits since I started writing this blog, I am still learning.

Last fall, I interviewed Wild Rose’s brewmaster (yes, I know I’m overdue for another one of those), and  he mentioned sour beers as a trend we’ll see more of here.

Before that interview I had heard the term ‘lambic’ and seen the beers with decidedly old-world labels on liquor store shelves, but I had never had a ‘sour’ beer or knew quite what it was.

Brian Smith from Wild Rose told me he expects to see more of them here, but as we’re talking about having to age beer in barrels, it could take awhile.

“It is an acquired taste,” he said.

It’s a style that traces its roots back to Belgium, and involves beer aged in wood casks. Some are fermented in open tanks with wild yeast, and flavoured with fruit such as sour cherry or raspberry.

Whether it’s a Flemish red ale or a lambic (or lambic-inspired), these beers are growing in popularity, especially as the craft beer scene grows south of the border.

A recent article at tablematters.com featured U.S. breweries experimenting with spontaneous fermentation.

So where do things sit in Canada?

Guy McClelland — an importer of premium European beers who was ‘knighted’ by Confederation of Belgian Brewers Association — says he’s seeing more interest in the product here, during what he calls “an exciting time in the industry.”

“This speaks to the consumer being more sophisticated,” McClelland told me.

“Is sour beer going to be as popular as IPA?” That remains to be seen, he says, but he thinks more people will gravitate toward to Flanders red ale or lambics as they look for something a little different.

“This is the missing link between wine and beer — oak maturation meets grain fermentation.”

But, for the uninitiated, how do these beers taste?

Calling them sour beers may scare people off.

They are, in fact, quite crisp and refreshing. You know the bite some white wines have? It’s kind of like that. But I’d argue it’s better, mostly because I’m not so much a white wine drinker.

“They get their taste characteristic from acidic astringency instead of hop bitterness,” McClelland said.

“It’s quite refreshing.”

Rodenbach Classic Ale, a Flanders sour ale, bears the title of “most refreshing beer in the world,” according to influential beer writer Michael Jackson.

It is aged in large oak barrels and is a blend of young beer (a few months in oak) and old beer (up to two years).

Whereas red ales garner their acidity from the lengthy aging process, McClelland says lambics get their flavour from the wild yeasts in the region where they’re brewed (where lambics get their name).

To cut the acidity, they’re commonly flavoured with fruit such as raspberry or kriek (sour cherry).

Even more so than with the red ales, the word sour is also a misnomer. Both the raspberry and cherry versions of Mort Subite are quite balanced. There’s the acidity coming through, but it’s quite light and is complimented by the fruit. These would make the perfect pairing with dessert, but are a treat all on their own.

As the consumption trend grows, I hope to see more Canadian brewers taking on the style, either instituting a barrel-aging program, or trying their hand at spontaneous fermentation.

They may be an acquired taste for some, but sour beers are more accessible than you might think.