Category Archives: Uncategorized

Just a Thought… Back to the Blog!

http://www.istockphoto.com/
I haven’t been very active on my blog for a while. My main excuse has been that I have been struggling through my third year of graduate studies, while trying to wrap up another school year (Working as a vice principal pays the whisky bills!), not to mention everything else that goes into being a husband and father to three young kids. A secondary reason, although probably connected to my studies, is that I haven’t felt a whole lot like writing for leisure for a while now… When I have had a moment for a dram, I’ve just wanted to enjoy it without having to put it into words. 

Well, my masters program is finally finished and, after a good few days of letting my brain recover, I feel ready to again put pen to paper, or thumbs to iPad! And I kind have had a moment of clarity about our favourite spirit. At the risk of sounding like I might have a problem with relying on alcohol, I can’t help but think how a nice scotch sometimes made 2-hour online lectures a bit more tolerable… Or how a spicy rye occasionally seemed to keep me awake and alert while powering through late night sessions of research-writing… Or how, when I just couldn’t possibly work any more, I could take a personal moment to sit and contemplate a big, bold bourbon or, even better, get together with a buddy and just enjoy some human interaction over a decent dram…

I’m proud of my accomplishment and my wife and kids deserve a ton of credit because it was a true family effort over the past few years, with everyone making sacrifices and having to help pick up the slack where they could, but maybe I whisk(e)y should get some credit too!

Advertisements

Just a Thought… The Norlan Whisky Glass

This past Christmas (I know, I know… And I have no good excuses for my delay to post), my ever-thoughtful sister gifted a beautiful pair of glasses to me.  I can only imagine how her search for my gift actually went but, to hear her tell the story, it involved wonder about what to get a “whisky nerd” who apparently has everything already, while also feeling a little unsure about an outright display of support for my dramming habit by giving me an actual bottle of booze, not to mention completely ignorant toward how to choose a bottle I was sure enjoy… I don’t think you need to know my sister personally to pick up on all of the not-so-subtle jabs she was taking at me.

Nevertheless, I was quite thrilled to open my gift and see a carton of two Norlan glasses. I have been interested in this technology since reading about it on other blogs but my satisfaction with traditional Glencairns as well as the unavailability of Norlan glasses in stores (online orders only, I believe) had so-far kept me from getting my own.

 

For my comparison, I sampled some nice Classic Laddie in both the new Norlan and my usual Glencairn. Here’s what I thought:


Glencairn Nose

Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla. The Glencairn also delivers a clear malty-cereal character as well as some citrusy goodness on the nose. 

Norlan Nose

Noticeably less pronounced nose compared to the Glencairn. Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla… Those aromas are all still there, I just had to work a bit harder to find them. The malty character is pretty much absent but there is now a distinct herbal quality in its place – minty, eucalyptus. 

Glencairn Palate 

Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality.  The Glencairn delivers my sip directly to the tip of the tongue, which helps to highlight the sweet honey and bourbony elements of the whisky. The finish is medium, maybe medium-long, with pencil shavings, caramel and a nutty sensation. 

Norlan Palate

Very similar. Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality are all in the mix once again. The Norlan glass seems to bring a sip of whisky a bit further back on the palate, which makes for a slightly more bitter and peppery profile. The finish is again medium with flavours of oak and minerals, sweet caramel and nuts. 

Verdict

The Norlan Glass is a beautiful piece of glassware. I like how it feels in my hand and, if I’m drinking with friends who mix their drinks in tumblers, maybe I won’t feel quite as pretentious with the Norlan as with a Glencairn.  Maybe, but probably not… I have no qualms about matching my glass to whatever I’m drinking, so I may just stick with my trust Glencairn or, perhaps, my Canadian Glencairn. 

I should probably do more side-by-side comparisons, in the name of science of course, but I’m not yet sure that I can say the Norlan glass is better or worse, in terms of an overall drinking experience. The nose is decidedly subdued, compared to a Glencairn, and there seems to also be a slightly different taste experience, due to how the whiskey is delivered to the tongue. However, some aromas and flavours did also seem to be enhanced by the Norlan, so maybe it’s a trade-off in the end. I, for one, love to nose my whisky so I find the subdued nosing experience of the Norlan to be a strike against it. That said, however, I’m sure my new Norlan glasses will see plenty of use, especially when I can show them off when a buddy drops by come over for a dram. 

Just a Thought… The Canadian Glencairn

So here’s the deal… I’m Canadian and I drink whisky. Obviously It’s about time that I got myself a Canadian Glencairn glass!

Maybe it’s a little pretentious but I don’t think there are too many people left who consider themselves serious whisky drinkers and just use any old glass. Myself, I’ve been rather partial about the original Glencairn for quite some time now. My first was a gift, brought to me from the Glenfiddich distillery a few years back by a buddy. Shortly after, my lovely wife got me a box of six more as a Christmas present so I wouldn’t have to be “the only nerd at the table” when friends were over for a dram.  Ever since, I have appreciated that the glass allows me to control the temperature of my whisky by either holding the base or the bowl and I do find that he tulip-shape does a great job of concentrating the whisky’s aromas.

I’ve been aware of the Glencairn glass designed specifically for Canadian drammer’s for quite a while but I’ve been content enough with the original that it felt unnecessary to order some online. Last weekend, however, I added two glasses to my cupboard. My wife and I snuck away for a weekend getaway in Jasper National Park and, after spending a good chunk of one day hiking through the beautiful natural scenery, we spent a couple hours in the town of Jasper, perusing the many interesting shops. It was in a store called Bearfoot in the Park (Very punny, I know!), where I came across some Canadian whisky glasses. At about $14 bucks apiece, I had a hard time coming up with good reasons not to add a couple to my repertoire!

Jasper National Park… Yeah, we’re pretty lucky here in Alberta!

So, the Canadian version of the Glencairn looks a little like the love child of the original and a typical rocks glass…Kind of like a small fishbowl. It has a shape that is similar to the regular Glencairn but it has a larger bowl, is significantly wider and is minus the base.

 

My first Glencairn and one of the new additions.

I do like how it feels in my hand and I did think that the shape helped in nosing my drop of Forty Creek, compared to a rocks glass, and it did actually seem like I could take a sip without tipping my head back quite as far… Not sure if that’s all that advantageous, though! The box states that this glass “delivers whisky to the tip of the tongue for the fullest taste experience” and that the “larger size is versatile whether serving whisky neat or in mixed drinks.” The only advantage in this glass, then, would seem to be that it could accommodate some mix. However, since I rearely mix cocktails, I expect that I will usually stick with the traditional Glencairn, which is a terrific glass!

I should add that although I very  rarely mix cocktails, I did try something new in the bigger glass…


I had a bottle of the recently released Pepsi Ginger soft drink in my fridge and the first sip was interesting and surprisingly gingery. Since I used to enjoy rye and ginger ale, I figured What the hell, let’s give ‘er a go! Mixing my whisky about 1-to-1 with the Pepsi Ginger along with a splash of lime soda and a couple of ice cubes was actually pretty darn tasty!

Cheers!

A Wee Dram… Bruichladdich Octomore 6.1

Stopped in for a quick nip at my best buddy’s place tonight and I was pleasantly surprised when he grabbed a brand new bottle of Bruichladdich Octomore… “The World’s Most Heavily Peated Single Malt.” Needless to say, I was excited. I’ve been meaning to try the Octomore for a while now!


As soon as the bottle was uncorked, the room was washed in rich peat smoke. As the glass breathed a bit, smoke made way  for dusty hay, oak, iodine and a surprising citrus note became apparent as well, although the smoke mellowed out, the peatiness remained. It was a very enjoyable nose! My fist sip was dominated by peat as well, but a malty sweetness eventually proved to be the backbone of this dram. The flavour of the smoke is actually quite gentle, as it allows a nuttiness to shine through, along with a salty maritime quality. And that finish… It just went on and on and on, not so much leaving smoke in its wake as just some nice chewy peat, with a healthy dose of heather!

I really enjoyed a drop of this whisky. What really struck me was how this malt was obviously a young one, yet it had a certain mature sophistication about it. Bright and lively, yet rich and fulfilling. I love Islay malts so I’ll be wanting to pick up one of these for my own cupboard!

Just a Thought… Celebrate Robbie Burns

… In Camrose, Alberta!  

I know that the few people who may stumble upon this post can’t or won’t actually be able to do this, especially with January 25 right around the corner and, since it falls on a Monday, festivities are happening tonight. Nevertheless, it’s possible that it might be worth the trip!   

“Whisky and freedom gang thegither” – Robbie Burns
 
Last night, I attended an event in support of the local chapter of a national charity that helps children from low-income families participate in sports and athletic programs. (www.kidsportcanada.ca/alberta/camrose/) Well, it just so happens that this event was held at the same location as tonics Robbie Burns celebration. And, it just so happens that I know the manager of this establishment quite well. So, I was less surprised than pleased when she presented me with a copy of the pamphlet/menu that will be in use tonight, along with an early invitation to enjoy a couple of the fine drams that will be available! (Unfortunately, I will be on the road coaching tonight – her son plays on my hockey team – so I won’t be able to attend.🙁)

Look at this whisky menu… And look at the prices! In a small city that doesn’t have any great whisky bars, this is a drammer’s dream and I appreciate the efforts taken to educate about scotch whisky to make some fantastic malts extremely affordable to sample! (Yeah, those prices are $CDN!)   
  I know there may be some errors in this, but I still think it’s a nice touch for landlocked Albertans wanting to learn more about scotch… No haggis… But some good eats will be available, too!  

Let me tell you, it was difficult to choose what to sample – my friend has done a great job of selecting a number of excellent whiskies. I was tempted to simply request that a bottle of the Glenfarclas 25 be left at my table… But I decided to just go for a couple of drams I had not yet tried, settling on the Balblair 1989 vintage and the Caol Ila 12 year old. (I know, I know, I should have had that one by now!) I asked for the Balblair first, to avoid having my palate dominated by the Islay malt. 

 
Obviously, I wasn’t able to do my usual review tasting regimen but a few quick notes on these whiskies:

Balblair ’89 (3rd Release)

I was quite taken by the intense floral character of this whisky, which was in abundance in both the nose and the palate. There is plenty of juicy fruit on the nose, along with some delicious toffee and vanilla – very bourbony!  On the palate, the 46% abv delivers those juicy fruits but turns them jammy and quite a bit darker, with oak and baking spices. It is a rich tasting dram with a long, smooth finish of honey, citrus pith and a nice fruity, floral rye-like character.  Absolutely delicious!

Caol Ila 12

I love Islay! And this dram delivers the typical Islay elements I look for – smoke, maltiness and salty, seeweedy brine – and balances them beautifully. On the nose, the smoke is assertive but not sharp, as it is nicely rounded out by malted cereals and a unique citrusy aroma that reminds me of a spicy Thai basil. The salty character of this whisky leaves impressions of smoked meat but I couldn’t decide if it was more like ham or lox… Interesting though! There is plenty of body to this 43% abv dram and the flavours are sweet and malty with some tar, juicy fruits, restrained peat and smoke. The finish was a lovely assault of salty sweetness, like a smack of Granny Smith apples and kettle corn. Terrific whisky to end the evening with!

Just a Thought… World’s Best, Eh?

“To say this is a masterpiece is barely doing it justice.” Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible 2016

So this is Jim Murray’s 2016 World Whisky of the year… Kinda makes me proud to be Canadian! 

(A Blue Jay wins the American League MVP and now this, it has been quite a week for us!)  

I have long expressed my love for whiskies produced in the True North, Strong and Free, as well as my opinion that our best can hold their own against offerings from anywhere else. Nevertheless, it certainly is nice to see our whiskies getting a little love today, especially the rye-forward style Canadian drams are known for. Upon reading that Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye had been given top marks in the latest Whisky Bible, I set out get my hands on a bottle. In my fourth stop, I found what I was looking for, too. 

Traditionally, I have not been a huge Crown Royal fan. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty hard to genuinely dislike “Crown”; it’s worldwide popularity is no coincidence! For me personally, however, I have never really found enough value in Crown Royal – I know of less expensive whiskies for mixing and I prefer several other examples of Canadian whisky for sipping neat. (Visit some of my older postings for reviews of some really excellent Canadian drops, from 100% rye whiskies to 20 & 30 year expressions that cost about the same as a regular bottle of Crown Royal.)

In recent years, a wide variety of new expressions have been released by the Gimli, Manitoba distillery. From a “black” expression to maple and even apple flavoured versions, it seems that there has been an effort to develop a Crown Royal for every palate. I have not yet found mine but, with the new revelation of Northern Harvest Rye being crowned (Dammit, I couldn’t help myself!) the world champ for 2016, perhaps this will be the one.

Here’s what Jim Murray has to say about this whisky:

  

This year, doubtless there will be many more eyebrows raised because rarely is Canada mentioned when it comes  to the world’s top whiskies. But, again, I have no doubt people finding the bottling I tasted will be blown away with this whisky’s uncompromising and unique beauty. It certainly puts the rye into Canadian rye.

 Well, we shall see soon enough I suppose! I have my bottle and am excited to conduct my own review to find out whether I can agree with Mr. Murray on this one.

Just a Thought… Beer’s Good Too!

So I’m sitting here enjoying a craft brewed IPA and I’m thinking, what the hell, it’s time that beer got a little love too!  

Once upon a time, beer provided me with my first alcoholic beverage experience and, in my youth, I might have been a bit more concerned with the effects of my drink than I was with the whole flavour experience.Fortunately, long gone are the days of keg parties and crushing cases of crappy mass produced lagers but I’m still quite happy to proclaim my continued appreciation for beer… I am Canadian, after all! 

I don’t quite remember when my tastes started gearing more towards the richer, fuller flavours of of craft brewed beer. And I forget whether this shift in preference preceded or followed after discovering a love for whisky, although they seemed to have developed hand-in-hand. 

I will always enjoy beer as an assuming and unpretentious beverage, as easy to enjoy directly from the bottle at a backyard BBQ as it is from a fancy Bavarian stein. (Much easier, actually!) But, what I’ve come to realize is that many of the characteristics I appreciate in whiskies are also there to be appreciated in beer. I thought it would be fun to sing the praises of my second favourite drink using the category headings normally saved for my whisky reviews:

To the Eye

Beer can look absolutely gorgeous in a glass. From the inviting rocky white crown adorning a sparkling, golden Saaz Republic Pils from Big Rock Brewery to the juxtaposition of a thick, creamy tan head topping an oily Alberta Crude Oatmeal Stout from Wildrose Brewery, few drinks can be as seductive looking as a quality brew. 

In the Nose

Subtle compared to most whiskies, beer is still capable of offering an aromatic experience. Consider the banana, clove and coriander breezes above a Mill St. Wit from Mill Street Brewing Co. or the roasted-malt and fresh cut grass whiff that greets you in a glass of Twice As Mad Tom IPA from Muskoka Brewery. If you can’t enjoy sniffing your beer, your drinking the wrong stuff!

On the Tongue

Are you kidding me? Ok, if you stick to the mainstream, mass-produced beers that dominate the television ads, I guess I can see why you think beer lacks all-important flavour. But might I suggest a full on hop-assault in a Full Nelson IPA from Nelson Brewing Company or, perhaps, the sweet, malty excellence to be found in a rum-cask finished Innis and Gunn Scottish ale? Honestly, with so much variety in hops, malts, adjunct grains, yeast strains, abv and water sources, beer is capable of incredible variety in style and flavour profiles. 

Final Thoughts

I’m a whisky guy, no question about it. But beer’s still good too! I think anyone who claims otherwise must be allergic or lying! There are too many options and choices to make a blanket-statement claim like that. And fellow drammers need to consider that whisky, especially scotch, is basically distilled beer… think about it!

Few beverages can be as refreshing during a hot day at the lake and still serve as the perfect a compliment to a good steak dinner. If you don’t “like” beer, don’t be afraid to keep trying them – there are so many breweries, there will be one out there for you somewhere. And if you can’t find a distillery who makes what you like, it’s not all that tough to make your own

 (My 3rd batch of malt/wheat lager, which is damned near perfected, if I do say so myself!)