Forty Creek – by @500levelfan

On the eve of the 2013 World Series, one of baseball’s biggest fans was working in a different capacity.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to towineman’s newest correspondent  Jeremy Gibson… AKA @500levelfan.  While he is a baseball blogger in his other life he represented towineman.com last night at a special tasting event for Canadian Whisky Forty Creek.  I’ll let him recap the evening for you in his own words.

Whisky.  It is such a simple word yet such a complex spirit, one that carries with it everything from different spellings (whisky in Canada and Scotland, whiskey in Ireland and the United States), to different ingredients (malt, grain, corn, and wheat to name a few), to different names (Scotch, Rye, Bourbon).

I have been drinking whisky for a long time, beginning when I was young and crazy in my university days.  Back then I drank whisky less for its complexities and flavours, and more for its innate ability to render me completely carefree, confident, and happy (AKA drunk).  But with age brings wisdom and respectability, and though I can’t say for certain that I have grown any wiser or more respectable, I can say that I have definitely increased my appreciation and fondness for whisky.

Over the past few years, my single malt scotch collection has slowly but steadily increased, but my taste for Canadian whisky had still been left lacking.  However, last night I had the pleasure to represent TOWineMan at a Forty Creek tasting event at the Spoke Club in Toronto, and let me say this – my appreciation for Canadian whisky has gone up incredibly.

Aside from tasting it a few times at family functions in Grimsby (where the Forty Creek distillery just happens to be located), my knowledge of the brand was limited.  I had never purchased a bottle from the LCBO (and to be honest had no plans to buy one anytime soon).  But after meeting the master distiller himself last night, and hearing his passion for his product (and yes, after sampling quite a few), things have changed.

First a bit of background – Forty Creek Whisky is the brainchild of distiller John K Hall, a wine maker who plies his trade in the aforementioned town of Grimsby, Ontario.  He is the owner of Kittling Ridge Distillery, who after 22 years of making wine decided in 1992 to create a premium Canadian whisky, a decision that has certainly panned out as shown by the list of awards Forty Creek has won in the past few years:

-          Gold Medal at the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago (2010, 2011, 2012)
-          Gold Medal at the 2010 International Whisky Competition
-          2008 Distiller of the Year by Whisky Magazine
-          2007’s Pioneer of the Year Award winner by Malt Advocate Magazine
-          Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition
-          Gold Medal – The World Selection in Belgium

Last night’s even took place at the Spoke Club (600 King St W, Toronto), a private members club located right downtown.  The venue itself was great, offering nice views of the street, with a quaint and intimate set-up. 

But as nice as it was, I was not there for the venue – I was there for the whisky.

The main attraction was none other than John K Hall himself, delivering a private, de-constructed tasting of the award winning whisky to small groups of five people.  Each tasting consisted of three samples of the ingredients that make up Forty Creek, followed by a sample of the finished product itself.  Because, as Mr. Hall explained to us, as most whiskies are made with a single ingredient, he wanted Forty Creek to be full of complex flavours, and decided to therefore combine three ingredients: rye, barley, and corn.  Each of these ingredients are distilled in individual barrels – each barrel containing just the right amount of char for the smoke flavour – and then combined in a sherry cask for six months to allow the flavours to come together.

Each sample of the de-constructed product came directly from Mr. Hall’s barrels, and each on its own could have been bottled and sold.  The rye whisky tasted like a Canadian whisky, such as a Canadian Club.  The barley malt, the main ingredient in single malt scotch, could have passed for a Glenlivet sample.  The third sample was the corn whisky, which, with its sweet finish, could have been bottled and sold as a Kentucky Bourbon – if, of course, we were in the States.  The fourth glass contained the finished product, and after tasting each ingredient in isolation, it is easy to see where Forty Creek gets its signature, complex flavour. 

I also had the opportunity to try the two newest products of the Forty Creek brand.  Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve is a bolder version of the regular whisky, amped up to 43% alcohol.  On the rocks, as I sampled it, was delicious – so delicious that I bought a bottle for myself at the LCBO after the event.  Forty Creek Cream, the second new offering, is marketed as the first Canadian whisky based cream liquor – think Bailey’s, but made right here at home.  It was outstanding on the rocks, but I could only imagine how good it would taste mixed with a morning coffee.

But there was more to the event than just the whisky and the food samplings (5-year old cheddar grilled cheese?  Yes, please.).  There was the chance to meet John K Hall himself.  As one would expect from a man with over 40 years of experience in the industry, he was knowledgeable.  But more than anything, he was entertaining – a great storyteller who spun tales ranging from his desire to name the whisky “Johnnie Hall” (a la Johnnie Walker); to demonstrating the look on his wife’s face when he told her he wanted to create his own whisky.  Priceless.

Overall, the event was a great experience – educational, interesting, and fun all rolled into a few hours.

Special thanks to Jillian at Penelope PR, and Angela at iyellow Wine Club (@iyellowwineclub) for putting on the event, and the esteemed TOWineMan for passing along the invite.  Most of all, thanks to Forty Creek Whisky and Mr. John K Hall (@John_K_Hall) for a wonderful evening.

Many, many thanks to Jeremy for attending the event and for this fantastic guest post.  Follow him on Twitter @500levelfan, and check out www.500levelfan.com

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

 

The many colours of Johnnie Walker

I grew up in a scotch drinking household. Single malt scotch to be more precise, was my dad’s favourite. Also for as long as I can remember he kept what he called an “everyday drinking” scotch on hand.  This would always be a moderately priced blended scotch, typically J & B or an equivalent.  The purpose of said scotch was for more general scotch drinking.  For those times when you didn’t have time to sit down and appreciate the nuances of premium single malt.  At the core this example represents some of the fundamental differences in the scotch world.  Single malt is the premium product, aged for long periods in expensive casks, made with the finest malts and by the finest producers.  Blended scotch is mass produced, a blend of many different scotches, and sold at much more reasonable prices.  Typically.

Let’s start with a quick definition of the two:
Single Malt Scotch: a scotch which is distilled in a single distillery, in a pot still, using only malted barley in the production.
Blended Scotch Whisky: a blend of one or more malt scotch whiskies or grain scotch whiskies from different distilleries.  A general “Blended Scotch Whisky” can contain both malt whisky or grain whisky.

Blended scotch whiskies can lack the attention to detail and finesse in production, the care that generally goes into single malt scotch production.  But that is an extreme generalization and in some cases the finest scotches may just happen to be blends.  So with that in mind I thought we would take a quick look into the world’s largest distributer and marketer of blended scotch. A scotch that most people (whisky drinkers or not) know by name.   I present to you the many colours of Johnnie Walker.

Walk into a liquor store in virtually any city in the world, walk over to the whisky section, and you are sure to find Johnnie Walker scotch.  They have been around for nearly 200 years and are currently the world’s largest distributer of scotch whisky.  To get that type of notoriety you need to run a savvy business for sure, but you also need the quality product to back it up and Johnnie Walker certainly has that.  But don’t worry about ages, fancy names or regionality… to understand their line-up you just need to know your colours.

Ordered from lowest to highest quality, as well as (surprise, surprise) lowest to highest price.

Johnnie Walker Red: A blend of about 35 different malt and grain whiskies.  Some light whisky from Scotland’s East Coast and some dark peaty whisky from the West Coast. This is the base of the Johnnie Walker line-up.  Retails for $29.95 at the LCBO.

Johnnie Walker Black: A blend of over 40 selected Whiskies from around Scotland.  The youngest scotch in the blend is aged a minimum of 12 years, allowing them to label the bottle as a 12yr old scotch.  The Black is created to have more depth and character than the Red and it certainly succeeds.  Retails for $50.95 at the LCBO.

Johnnie Walker Double Black: The newest addition to the Johnnie Walker family, this scotch takes the Johnnie Walker Black as a general guideline but adds some additional heavily peated malts, as well as more whisky which has been aged in deepy charred casks.  This add’s darkness to the colour and strength to the flavour.  Retails for $69.90 at the LCBO.

Johnnie Walker Green: A blend using only malts from each of the four corners of Scotland.  In fact the four malts used are from producers many would be familiar with for their success as premium single malts in their own right.  Caol Ila, Talisker, Cragganmore, and Linkwood.  The bottle is labeled a 15 year old, meaning the minimum age of the whiskies making up the blend is 15 years.  Retails for $79.95 at the LCBO… though I believe has been discontinued in this market.

Johnnie Walker Gold: A blend of 15 single malts, the Johnnie Walker Gold is a bit tougher to come by and has only been available outside the company since the 1990’s (according to the Johnnie Walker website itself).  This blend is created for smoothness with sweet notes and rich gold colour.  Retails for $109.45 at the LCBO.

Johnnie Walker Blue: In this blend Johnnie Walker taps into the rarest and most exceptional whiskies from their stock, which happens to be the largest in the world, so they have a lot to choose from.  The whisky is intended to be in an early 19th century style with literally each whisky in the blend being hand selected by their master distiller for its exceptional quality.  It’s easily the smoothest and most complex of the Johnnie Walker family.  Retails for a cool $289.95 at the LCBO thanks to a recent price increase of $60.

*note: they do produce some seasonal product and limited releases which fall outside of the above list, but this is their core line-up.

Don’t like scotch? Well feel free to mix the base line Johnnie Red with water, soda, or even coke.  You likely won’t offend anybody.  However the options above that level are really not meant to be mixed with anything but a dash of water or a little bit of ice.  Certainly above black you don’t mix.  With Green or Gold I would start to think about holding the ice as well.

Now let’s get back to the Blue for a second. For starters do not mix anything in a glass of Johnnie Blue.  Neat is the only way to go.  Plus at $290 a bottle (Ontario) I would hope you would want to taste nothing but the scotch.  The burning question though is… Is it worth it? $290! About $30 a shot in most bars! That’s a lot of money.  Personally I would argue that in this market, at this price point, it’s actually not worth it… but it’s very, very, close.  It’s a smooth scotch with many layers of flavours and complexity.  Rumour has it that some bottles of Johnnie Blue contain portions in the blend which have been aged up to 100 years.  However through countless sources and a fair bit of research I was unable to confirm this.

In fact the differences between all the levels of the Johnnie Walker scotches are quite discernible in colour, complexity, and ultimately taste.  It’s one of the reasons I think folks can appreciate the price gaps at each level.  If you ever want to compare and contrast scotch whisky’s across various price points and various levels, Johnnie Walker will likely provide you the best opportunity to appreciate it.  If you do get that opportunity feel free to pass an invite my way.  I’ll clear my calendar.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman 

A scotch post for Robbie Burns

Well I might be a few days late but every year in honour of Robbie Burns day you see a number of blog posts and write-ups on scotch… I guess it’s an excuse to write about it. Before I got into scotch I certainly had no idea who Robbie Burns was (he’s a Scottish poet who is no longer with us) but like others I took this opportunity to celebrate with a wee dram of single malt and thought I would follow-up with a post on scotch.

So here’s a few tasting notes and recommendations on single malt scotch.

1) The Glenlivet – Nadurra – $81.95, LCBO #89508
This one is a bit tough to find but if you can get your hands on it do it. Basic Glenlivet is your base line single malt and compared to other base line scotches its quite good. But this one is different. Sweet and light, it goes down quite easy. I would almost compare it to a Dalwhinnie (see #4 below).

2) Highland Park 12 yr old – $59.95, LCBO #204560
I have written about this one before and in my opinion there is hardly a better single malt that you can buy at this price point. It’s in a base line single malt price range but you get a good quality scotch. It’s got complexity and flavours that otherwise can’t be found at this price range.

3) Lagavulin 16 yr old – $109.95, LCBO #207126
Alright it’s $110 a bottle but you must try a Lagavulin. The classic Islay scotch, ripe with the classic peat smell you associate and want from that region. Gasoline, paint, and strong, strong alcohol scents are what those around you might find. But for a scotch drinker there is not really a better example of an Islay scotch… at least not in this marketplace.

4) Dalwhinnie 15yr old – $84.95, LCBO #238097
Taking a complete 180 from the Lagavulin the Dalwhinnie comes from the other end of the spectrum. As single malts go I would classify this as light and easy to drink. But do not confuse that with a lack of complexity. The easiness of drinking is a compliment as this scotch is well made and gains its smoothness from the aging process. For those that have never tried a scotch before you would likely enjoy this one as the candy and caramel are on full display.

5) The Edradour 10yr old – $79.95, LCBO #904995
This is the coveted scotch missing in my collection. Made from the smallest distillery in Scotland this is a wonderful scotch. Its been years since I have had it, but I can still confidently recommend it. It was extremely hard to find for awhile but I found it last christmas at the LCBO on Queens Quay. Check the LCBO product inventory before heading out in search of this one.

So let’s all raise a toast to Scotland for giving us golf and Scotch. I think we owe them.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman

How to taste Single Malt Scotch

I like to say that ever since I was a little boy I have been groomed to like and drink single malt scotch.  Yes it’s expensive.  Yes it is considered a connoisseurs drink.  But if enjoyed properly there is nothing like it.

While I was growing up my dad loved single malt scotch.  He was quick to keep me in line by telling me “Scotch can only be named as such if it is distilled in Scotland.” Of course I was merely a boy so I didn’t care.  Then I turned 19 and it was legal for me to drink in Ontario.  But I hated Scotch.  It tasted like alcohol and I wanted to mix it with something.    It was a trip to Deerhurst resort when I was 24 that took me over the hump.  I was parked in a huge leather chair, the piano was playing at the bar and I decided now was the time.  I went to the bar and asked the bartender for a recommendation.  Naturally he recommended the most expensive scotch on the menu and said it was his favourite.  So after ordering two glasses of The Macallan 18 yr old ($189.99 at the LCBO) my bill was way more than I had anticipated… but I was a scotch drinker.

So for those who didn’t grow up in a Scotch household or didn’t have the Deerhurst Resort experience above, here are a few tasting notes on how to enjoy single malts.

  1. Get the right Scotch.  Single Malt Scotch of any kind will do.  Be prepared to spend $50 – $60 a bottle.  If enjoyed properly however, it will last.
  2. Get the right glass.  Tulip glasses are preferred as are bottom heavy tumblers or bottom heavy snifters.  All will do as they allow you to swirl the drink in the bottom sending the aroma’s out the top.
  3. Pour yourself a glass.  1 – 3 ounces only.  No more.
  4. Add a touch of water.  Preferably not tap water.  Note that you are not mixing with water so when I say add a touch I mean a touch.  Use an eye dropper if you have to.  If you think about the smallest amount you can add… add less.  The water helps to release the aromas of the drink.  It add’s nothing to the flavour.
  5. Take a good look at the scotch noting it colour and characteristics.  All scotches will be slightly different in appearance, smell and taste so take a second to notice them all.
  6. Smell the scotch.  However unlike wine there is no need to swirl the scotch in the         glass excessively to release the aromas.  Scotch aromas are powerful and if you swirl it and get your nose right in there the alcohol can sometimes overpower the wonderful scents.  But do smell it.  Butterscotch, caramel, yeast, peat, barley, vanilla, and nut flavours are very common.
  7. Take your sip.  This is not a gulp but do take enough to have it hit and coat your entire tongue.
  8. Take the time to take in the flavours before you swallow.  After swallowing let the flavours settle by breathing in a few times through your nose.  You will taste the different flavours on different touch points of your tongue depending on the distillery, age and region you are tasting.  The same flavour characteristics I mentioned you might find when you smell are also common to taste.
  9. Repeat and enjoy.

Notes:

- Scotch is only named as such if it is distilled in Scotland, otherwise it is simply called whisky or whiskey
- You do not mix single malt scotch with anything except water
-Take your time, taking moderate sips.  A small 1 – 3oz glass should last you about half an hour, if not more.
-You are not drinking scotch to get drunk.  If you are pre-drinking to go out for the night Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Coors Light is much cheaper.

- Mark
Follow me on Twitter: @towineman