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The New Pope
Again, this isn't really comedy, unless you enjoy watching me fall in the mud, but it was a sh$t-load of fun... On August 23rd we drove to Hamilton, Ontario, for a wedding, but we were also looking for any opportunity to do another Obstacle Course Race (OCR) before we hit The Zombie Run near Philadelphia on August 30th, and as luck would have it, Mud Hero's Toronto event was being held that same weekend at the Albion Hills Conservation Area (a bit north of Toronto), a location that was very conveniently not too far away from one of the routes that we could take to get home...so we registered, in different waves though, in order to make sure that one of us was with our daughter the entire time, and then we packed for the weekend: formal clothes for Saturday night, and running clothes for Sunday morning. And while it was 10km shorter than the Tough Mudder Montreal course, and the obstacles were easier, it was hillier and far muddier, and this was the result:
Whisky
About three weeks ago I absently remarked on Twitter that a head-to-head-to-head tasting of the three 21 year-old Canadian whiskies that I had in my cabinet (Danfield’s Limited Edition 21 year-old; opened), and on my storage shelf (Collingwood 21 year-old and Century Reserve 21 year-old; unopened), would be an interesting endeavour…and things sort of snowballed from there, with Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) suggesting that we do independent tastings of the three whiskies with the end goal of do near-simultaneous blog posts about the results (a “three-way” as Johanne so ineloquently termed it…her write-up is here)...and then she roped Maryse Pothier (@bergamote63) and Val Bradshaw (@ValBradshaw) into the mix...

There were some logistical issues to sort out, of course, like who already had which whiskies and who might still need to track down a bottle or two, when we’d have the time to do it, when the write-ups would be due, and the fact that Maryse doesn’t actually have a blog of her own (she’s guest writing a post on Johanne’s blog).


Danfields_21_KaijuCollingwood-Century_Reserve
Danfield's Limited Edition 21 year-old     Collingwood Limited Release 21 year-old & Century Reserve 21 year-old

So, with a date set – aim to have the tasting done by September 8th, with write-ups to be completed and posted by September 10th – we all took our best stab at it, and it wasn’t disappointing. However, that’s not to say that I liked all three whiskies. From an objective stand point they are all very, very different: different distillers, different maturation climate, different grain mixes, different wood influences, etc., etc., etc. From a subjective standpoint, however, these differences are extremely striking, and perhaps I tasted them in the wrong order, or perhaps some of the bottles needed more time to open-up and oxidize, as two of the three bottles were opened the day of the tasting (maybe I should have opened them three weeks ago), while the third has been open since July 2012 (and had been recently decanted to a 375ml bottle).

The reviews were conducted in the following manner: I poured a 25ml sample (+/- 2ml) into a standard Glencairn glass (see the photo below); each glass was then covered and let to stand for around 10 minutes while I found pen and paper; I then spent approximately 15 to 20 minutes nosing and tasting each glass, first neat and then adding some water; I covered each glass when tasting was finished to preserve the aroma for nosing again at the end; and finally, between whiskies I cleansed my palate with water and plain crackers (no chocolate or shortbreads this time around).


Danfield’s Limited Edition 21 year-old Canadian Whisky

Collingwood Limited Release 21 year-old Rye Candian Whisky (Toasted Maplewood Mellowed)

Century Reserve 21 year-old Canadian Rye Whisky

Black Velvet (Lethbridge, AB)

Produced for Williams & Churchill, a division of Schenley Distillers Inc.; W&C seems to be very much like what Labrot & Graham (Woodford Reserve) is to Brown-Forman.

Canadian Mist (Collingwood, ON)

Highwood Distillers (High River, AB)

Grain mix is unknown

100% malted rye

100% corn

40% ABV

40% ABV

40% ABV

WhichWhiskyIsWhich?

Amber/Reddy Bronze (“Tawny”)*

Dark Amber/Red Gold (“Old Oak”)*

Light Gold (“Gold”)*

Purchased in July 2012 (Opened in July 2012)

Purchased in May 2014 (Opened Sept 7, 2014)

Father’s Day Gift in 2013 (Opened Sept 7, 2014)

Nose: butter tarts, almost rum-like, brown sugar and pastry, nutmeg, golden raisins, ginger, cedar shavings

Nose: vegetal: a sort of damp rotting vegetation smell - like a forest after a rain storm; dark rye bread - almost pumpernickel; toasted dark rye with marmalade; and mint...lots of mint

Nose: very mellow, traces of vanilla cream icing, very mild butterscotch, some mild spices, and pecan pie (but only after letting it sit for some time)

Palate: thick, oily and mouth coating, light rye bread with tart marmalade, steel cut oats with brown sugar, ginger snaps and old fashioned ginger cookies

Palate: not as thick as the Danfield’s, but spicier!! Dark chocolate with pepper (cayenne?), mild ginger, somewhat fizzy and effervescent

Palate: very thick, but not as oily feeling as the Danfield’s, buttered popcorn, milk chocolate covered caramel corn, some ginger and nutmeg, but very gentle overall

Finish: very sweet, a tiny bit drying, with some peppery / spicy notes

Finish: minty (again with the mint!), shortish, very little oak influence (that I could sense, at least)

Finish: quick – very short and sweet, more chocolate covered popcorn

With Water: makes the finish a bit drier and the palate not quite as sweet

With Water: becomes sweeter on the palate, and softer, almost like drinking a mint-flavoured mouthwash…

With Water: makes it a bit butterier (is that even a word?), but extends the finish and adds a bit of an oaky dryness

Balance: fairly well balanced, with no one note overpowering the others, although I particularly like the nose

Balance: oddly balanced, as the nose is a bit off-putting…the mint thing is a bit weird, and then it sort of falls flat on the finish

Balance: the nose is the weakest part here, as it is just not really there. It’s not that it's unpleasant, it’s just too mellow, and the palate dominates too much

Empty Glass: cedar shavings

Empty Glass: buttered dark rye bread

Empty Glass: faint traces of brown sugar

Final Thoughts:
I’ve really, really enjoyed the Danfield’s over the past two years, probably because it is so much like a good quality rum…but, given that the bottle has been open for two years, it’s likely had time to interact with the environment and possibly improve, which may have given it an unfair advantage here.

Meg’s one word description of the nose: “sweet”

Final Thoughts:
I’m pretty sure that I don’t really like this (I prefer the standard Collingwood), although I like the idea of it, as it really is quite different from any other Canadian whisky currently on the market. The nose and the minty taste are what bugs me: while the palate reminds me of a mint julep, the nose just isn’t at all attractive, although perhaps it will even out and become more pleasant with time.

Meg’s description of the nose: “dry and woody”

Final Thoughts:
It’s nice, but of the three, it’s the middle of the road. I’d reach for something with more character and a bit more flavour first, but as with the Collingwood, it may develop a bit more now that the bottle has been opened.

Meg’s one word description of the nose: “mellow”

Other Reviews:

Other Reviews:

Other Reviews:


All in all, a fun exercise, and maybe one that needs to be repeated again in a few months time to see if there are any changes in opinion...

* I'm using the colour identification coding from A Wardrobe of Whisky's Tasting Sheet
Whisky
About a month ago I added to the myriad of articles and blog entries about the "evils" no 'No Age Statement' (or NAS) whiskies (see Part One, here), and promised that I'd write Part Two, on 'age statement' or 'vintage redaction' the next week...well, I got distracted, and things have died down a bit, although there continues to be sporadic discussion on Curt's article over at All Things Whisky.

The introduction of NAS expressions that are: a) being added to product lines, or b) replacing existing products (as the Macallan 1824 Colour Series has replaced the Fine Oak and Sherried line-ups, for example), or c) being offered to consumers for prices that far exceed existing age-stated expressions (Talisker Storm vs. Talisker 10 year-old), aside, it is the concept of "age statement" and/or "vintage" "redaction" - which I define as when a distillery drops the age statement from an existing expression entirely and then expects you to pay the same amount for a bottle of unknown quality / provenance - that really, really bothers me.

I'd been struggling with how to put this idea to "paper", so to speak, when Sku announced that Jim Beam was replacing the existing Jim Beam Black, which carried an eight year-old statement, with a NAS version. It'll still be called Jim Beam Black, but they're no longer going to tell the consumer how old the whisky in the bottle is, which is actually kind of funny, since until now, Jim Beam Black produced for sale in the U.S. has been marketed as "double aged" - if a straight bourbon is aged less than four years, the distiller is required to tell you how old it is, more than four years and they don't have to tell you anything - so with an eight year-old age statement, "Double Aged" simply means that it's been aged twice as long as was required for them to not have to put an age statement on it. Confused yet? Just wait, because Jim Beam Black produced for export (to Canada, Europe, and placed beyond) currently carries a six year-old age statement, and is marketed as "Triple Aged", which in marketing-speak means that it's been aged three times longer than would be required for the distiller to market it as "straight bourbon". So let me get this straight, "Double Aged" means eight years old, and "Triple Aged" means six years old? Now I'm a bit confused... At least we can take solace in the fact that a NAS Jim Beam Black has to be at least four years old, otherwise they'd be legally obligated to put an age statement on it...and Jim Beam isn't the only bourbon distiller to be playing games with their age statements, as Sku has so kindly reported here, and here.

So, where am I going with this? Well, Jim Beam, Macallan, and the other companies that Sku identifies aren't the only distillers that have been dropping or otherwise fiddling with age statements: Diageo did it with the Johnnie Walker line-up, dropping the 15 year-old Green Label entirely, then removing the 18 year-old age statement from the Gold Label - which became the 'Gold Label Reserve' - and then introducing a new 18 year-old Platinum Label; and The Glenlivet recently introduced a new line-up of NAS cask strength whiskies as part of its Nadurra line-up, while at the same time reducing the original Nadurra 16 year-old from cask strength to 48% ABV.

Which brings me to my final example: a few years ago I picked up a Dun Bheagan Islay 2002bottle of Dun Bheagan Islay (Vintage 2002/2010), which you can see in the photo on the right. A quick Google search nets you an Auto-Complete entry for 'Dun Bheagan Islay 8 years old', which returns reviews of the whisky in question from Whisky Magazine (by both the late Michael Jackson, and Dave Broom, no less), as well as a number of other hits which clearly identify the Dun Bheagan Islay as an eight year-old whisky...and incidentally, the Ian Macleod website continues to market the Dun Bheagan Islay as an eight year-old whisky; and it was an eight year-old whisky for a long time - a 2003/2011 vintage replaced the 2002/2010 bottling, which was in turn replaced by a 2005/2013 bottling...and then suddenly the LCBO was carrying a 2008 vintage. Was I reading that correctly? How, in 2014, could a whisky distilled in 2008 be eight years old? The simple answer is that it can't possibly be an eight year-old whisky, and a close inspection on the label showed that it isn't...it is, in fact, a 2008/2013 vintage (see photo below), which makes it five years-old, not eight years-old, yet being sold for the exact same price as the earlier, older vintages that the LCBO had carried previously.

Dun Bheagan Islay 2008So, what's going on here? I understand that, as an independent bottler, Ian Macleod may not be able source the exact same whiskies for each vintage, hence the fact that the Dun Bheagan Islay doesn't actually state what distillery it is from (a 'Bastard' malt, if you will), so while scuttlebut says that the Islay bottling is a young Lagavulin, it's possible that Diageo has turned off the taps on selling barrels to independents, something that Oliver Klimek speculated about back in 2012. And if this is the case, then in a way, it's out of their control, but this isn't the case with Jim Beam, or Macallan, or any of the other distilleries that had decided to drop age statements (or reduce the alcohol by volume of certain expressions in order to stretch stocks).

Of course, one can't complain too much about transparency with the Dun Bheagan Islay, unlike in the case of Jim Beam Black or the Macallan 1824 series, as the distillation date and bottling dates are printed on the bottle and bottle sleeve, even though all the information available online still reports the whisky as being an eight year-old (and the LCBO website is using a photo of the 2005/2013 bottling as part of the product description, which leads you to believe you're buying an eight year-old whisky, not a five year-old whisky), but in a way, it is about transparency: can Jim Beam ensure that a new NAS Black has the same flavour profile as the existing eight year-old (or six year-old), or is this all about consistency and standardization of product? If they're going to eliminate the age statement to make the "Double Aged" and "Triple Aged" expressions the same thing and get rid of this marketing BS, then maybe it's a change for the better, but if it's just a way to make what were eight year-old and six year-old whiskies into something that could be as young as four-years old (which is what Jim Beam White is), then why bother having a 'Black' and a 'White' expression at all?

OK, with all that said and done, here's my review of the Dun Bheagan Islay, 2002/2010 (eight years old), Non-Chill Filtered, Cask Numbers 701912 / 701926 (5400 bottles). In truth, I'm not entirely sure why I picked this bottle up, but I did...and then it spent a year or so in storage until I opened it - to replace the bottle of Talisker 10 year-old that I'd finished.

Nose: peat...lots of it, and smoke. Then some alcohol (a bit biting), but it mellows a bit and gives way to campfire smoke and smoked bacon.

Taste: thick, oily, mouth-coating, and then bacon, bacon, more bacon, and sourdough soaked in bacon grease.

Finish: quite hot, and a bit harsh...lingering, then more bacon...

Balance: not as balanced as I'd like, as the nose and palate are a bit one dimensional (as much as I like bacon, it can be a bit overpowering). This is a budget Lagavulin, and it shows, but if you want Lagavulin for less than $60 (CAD) then this will do the trick quite nicely (even if you're now buying a five year-old whisky instead of an eight year-old).

For other thoughts on the 2002/2010 bottling, see the following:

The New Pope
A bit unorthodox, since it isn't really comedy, but it is still amusing. Back in early/mid July, our informal running team (the United Nations Zombie Emergency Response Task Force [UNZERTF] - 'Run Fast or Die') took on Tough Mudder Montreal for the second year in a row (I couldn't participate last year as a result of the concussion), but this time I was good to go and actually in fairly decent shape. So, with our GoPro camera on a chest mount (which gives everyone else a sort of head-height view), we set out to record our race experience...and then Meg edited three-hours of footage down to the length of 'Everything is AWESOME!!!' from 'The LEGO Movie':


And then I got challenged to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge...to which I pointed out that I'd already jumped into a dumpster filled with ice water as part of the Tough Mudder...the 'Artic Enema', a bone-chilling experience that lasts far longer than, say, dumping a bucket of ice water over your head...and I'd done it in support of a good cause, namely the Wounded Warrior Project (Tough Mudder supports the Wounded Warrior Project and encourages participants to fundraise, which I had). So, for your viewing enjoyment, I also give you my "Ice Dumpster Challenge":

No Age Statement (NAS) Issues - Part One

Whisky
I know that I'm several months - and some very comprehensive and nuanced discussions - late to the party, and that other people with far more knowledge of the industry have already covered this issue in depth (see Curt, Oliver, Lucasz, and Gal, among others), but it bears further examination, which why I've divided this subject into three parts.

Part One (today) is just a brief summary of the issues as I see them. In Part Two (later this week, or perhaps next week) I'll be looking at a specific example of what I'll call 'age statement' or 'vintage' redaction (complete with a whisky review!), and in Part Three, I plan on taking a very close look at "The" Macallan's absurd notion that colour is an indicator of quality.

So, as everyone who's been following the whisky blogosphere in the last few months knows, the number of "No Age Statement" - aka NAS - whiskies on the market has exploded (OK, maybe not "exploded", but there certainly are a lot more of them than there were just a couple of years ago...Talisker's range has expanded with the addition of no less than three new NAS expressions in the last year alone), and the larger spirits conglomerates have been tirelessly spinning an "age statements no longer matter" / "age statements don't matter" / "age statements never mattered" narrative, which runs counter to the marketing message that has been pushed down the whisky consumer's throat for the past decade (or perhaps longer).

Is NAS whisky something new?  Absolutely not. There have always been NAS whiskies on the market, in both the blended and single malt markets, and some of them are quite good: Aberlour A'Bunadh, Talisker 57'N, Compass Box Spice Tree, Brenne Estate Cask, Laphroaig Quarter Cask*, and Te Bheag, to name just a few.  In fact, I can't say that I've ever had a bad NAS whisky (excepting perhaps the bottom shelf blends such as Dewar's White Label, Ballantine's Finest, and J&B Rare, etc., etc.).  So what then, is the issue?  Are the distilleries, given the boom in the global whisky market, running out of aged stock, as many have speculated?  Perhaps, but a lack of aged stock isn't what irks me.  For me the issue with NAS whiskies is one of disclosure.  If I'm being asked to pay for something, I'd like to know that I'm getting quality in return for my money, and while the industry is telling us that age doesn't matter - although it apparently did a few years ago, and still seems to matter a great deal when it comes to how older, "luxury" expressions are priced (see my earlier rant on cask strength whiskies here) - it isn't giving us any reason to believe that these new NAS whiskies represent value for money, other than a "Trust us. They're good. And you'll want to pay us more money for them."-type attitude.

For example, here in Ontario, Talisker 10 year-old just broke $80 a bottle, while Talisker Storm (NAS) is priced at just under $100, and across the river in Quebec, Taliser 34 year old single cask is just over $2,500.  Is Storm better than the standard 10 year-old expression?  Not necessarily (see also this review).  It may be different, but what justifies the extra cost?  Is it because there is older whisky in it?  Maybe, maybe not.  We don't know, and that is the point.  I have no objection to paying for quality whisky, but I want to be able to make an informed choice (not to say that age is actually an indicator of quality, as I've tried some older whiskies that were terrible).  It has been suggested by some that the producers should make an attempt to explain exactly what goes into each NAS expression, a step that Arran took with the Devil's Punchbowl, which Compass Box does with almost every one of its whiskies, and which Highland Park has done with Thor, Loki, and Freya.  While this information isn't necessarily on the label, it is readily available on the distiller's websites.

Perhaps another question we should be asking is what, exactly, is the problem with putting age statements, even young age statements, on whisky labels?  How does this restrict the industry?  MacDuff International doesn't hesitate to state that the younger end of its Islay Mist expressions is eight years old, and Te Bheag's older sibling, the Poit Dhubh unabashedy carries an eight year old age statement.  Similarly, Distell from South Africa is quite open about the fact that it's Three Ships Blended Whisky is a minimum of five years old (and it's reportedly quite good), and neither the English Whisky Co, nor the Belgian Owl are ashamed to admit that their entry level malts are only three years old.

So, what's the problem with the Scotch industry?  Why the push toward NAS and away from age statements, especially when Gibson's (you know, that Canadian whisky brand that's owned by William Grant & Sons, who also happen to own Glenfiddich and The Balvenie) newest ads are pushing age as an indicator of quality?


*NOTE: the Laphroaig Quarter Cask is actually cheaper than the Laphroaig 10 year-old...could it possibly be because the Quarter-Cask contains younger whisky?
The New Pope
It's been a while, and while normally I'd apologize for my unannounced hiatus, this time around we were on vacation (more on that later...). Now that we're back, I can get back on schedule...so, without further ado, I give you Barely Political's "X-Men Back to the Future Past":



I watched 'The Wolverine' during our vacation. It was terrible, or at least the last twenty minutes or so, when there were inexplicable plot twists that made absolutely no sense...it was far better than 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', and 'X-Men: The Last Stand', but not by much...
The New Pope
Follow-up to my question from last week: "Have you ever wondered how your internet search queries would sound if you had to say them out loud to a real person?"  For your viewing enjoyment, I give you CollegeHumor's "If Google was a Guy - Part 2":
Whisky
In December 2012 - at Christmas, to be precise - my younger brother gave me a copy of Ian Buxton's (@101Whiskies on Twitter) 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die, which I quite dutifully thumbed through, made some notes about which of the whiskies listed I'd tried, which I currently had in inventory in the basement waiting to be opened, and what might be available at the LCBO...many of them are not, which may necessitate travel at some point.  I noted, however, that this was the second book in "series" (soon to be followed by a third book, "Legendary Whiskies", if I understand correctly), and I made up my mind to try and track down a copy of the original 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die; it wasn't that difficult, actually, as it was readily available on Amazon (and apparently in Chapters, too), but I don't have the "Revised and Updated" version.  Note, these books should not be confused with the similarly titled 1001 Whiskies You Must Try Before You Die, by Dominic Roskrow (which I do not own, yet...).

As this is ostensibly a book review, I guess I have to tell you what I think of the books...so, here goes:

Pros:
  • the books themselves are quite durable and very portable (with removable sleeves);
  • Mr. Buxton doesn't pretend that he is providing a list of "the best whiskies", simply whiskies that he thinks people should try as part of their exploration of whisk(e)y, whether they happen to be "good", "bad", or somewhere in-between;
  • not limited to Scotch Single Malts (the second World Whiskies volume moreso than the first);
  • includes whiskies from taste profiles that Mr. Buxton doesn't personally prefer (he doesn't hide behind his biases);
  • limits recommendations to whiskies that are, in general, readily available (he can't accomodate for all markets, so I can't fault him if certain whiskies are not available at the LCBO);
  • doesn't provide numerical scores, only his impressions of the whiskies (for several reasons, which he explains in the Introduction of both books); and
  • provides space for your own notes at the bottom of each page;
  • the books can be quite humourous (at least I found it humourous, but, like whisky, whether you enjoy something or not is completely subjective), with Mr. Buxton taking aim at a number of issues within the industry (such as the SWA vs. Glen Breton).

Cons:
  • some of the references, comments, and humourous asides are very specific to the U.K. and may therefore be lost on North American readers (but given that the book was initially written with a U.K. / European focus, this is to be expected);
  • being Canadian, it would have been nice to see a few more Canadian whiskies mentioned (although, in fairness, some of the best Canadian whisky has been released subsequent to the publication of both books...);
  • a little heavy on the Diageo-owned malts in the first book (again, in fairness, when Diageo owns nearly half the distilleries in Scotland, this is hard to avoid, especailly when trying to recommend readily available whiskies...); and
  • I found the way the whiskies were arranged and organized a little confusing at first - alphabetically by whisky in the first book, regardless of country of origin, except for those distilleries that have 'The' in their title, and then alphabetically by country of origin, then whisky in the second book.  This took some getting used to especially with the change in format between the two books.

Would I recommend these books?  Absolutely.  Mr. Buxton has crafted some amusing anecdotes, provided some genuinely interesting information about the whiskies listed and the distilleries that produce them (but not too much, leaving the reader to do their own leg-work), and has left it to the reader / drinker to come to their own conclusions about the whiskies that he "recommends" (and I've quotation marks here because his recommendations aren't "go out and try this because it is good", they are "go out and try this because it is whisky and you'll learn something from it".  The descriptions provided are not gospel; rather, the book provides gentle guidance, allowing the reader to "choose their own adventure", but without having to shell out huge sums of money for highly limited expressions.  If there was a "gateway" book / series for whisky, then I've fallen down the rabbit hole...and while I'm not limiting my purchasing / sampling to the whiskies listed in either book, it is interesting to come home after an evening out and check whether what I consumed during the evening is in fact one of the whiskies "recommended".
The New Pope
Have you ever wondered how your internet search queries would sound if you had to say them out loud to a real person?  In response to this question I give you, for your viewing enjoyment, CollegeHumor's "If Google was a Guy":
Whisky
At some point last year I decided that I was going to try and make it to at least one whisky festival in 2014, if only to have the experience.  Luckily for me, there is a small festival in Kingston - the "Spirits of Kingston Whisky Festival" - which was scheduled to take place on Saturday, February 22, 2014.  Equally lucky, I suppose, is the fact that my brother lives in Kingston, and it isn't too far of a drive to get there.  So I put myself on the festival's mailing list and when tickets became available I immdediately purchased two (one for my brother and one for me - it was going to be fun brotherly bonding event).  We opted not to attend any of the Festival's Master Classes during the day, as I wasn't going to be able to leave for Kingston until early Saturday afternoon, which meant I wouldn't be getting there until around 4:00pm - enough time to have an early dinner, get changed, and head over to the festival site.

Before I get into too much detail about the event itself, I'll offer up a reminder regarding the rating scale that I'm using, which I borrowed from Johanne McInnis, and first employed for my review of the Diefenbunker's Whisky Tasting Fundraiser:

  1. Cost (accomodations, classes, transport, etc.)
  2. Venue (atmosphere, food, geographic location, etc.)
  3. Classes
  4. Main Event
  5. Overall Personal Experience
  • A (90 - 100) - Exceptional Value
  • B (80 - 89) - Great Value
  • C (70 - 79) - Good Value
  • D (60 - 69) - Little Value
  • Fail (<60) - No Value


1. COST:
Unlike the Diefenbunker's Whisky Tasting, the Kingston Whisky Festival is not a single evening event.  While the main event took place on the Saturday evening, there was an optional Festival Dinner on the Friday night featuring five single malt pairings ($115), an optional four-course Brunch with four different whisky pairings on the Saturday morning ($40), and 18 different Master Classes in four different sessions (price varied per class, and ranged from $15 to $30, with most being around $15, but you were only allowed to book one Master Class per session). General Admission tickets were $85 plus online booking fees, which worked out to around $95 per ticket (this includes an engraved Glencairn glass).  While the Festival initially stated that individuals were required to purchase an General Admission ticket prior to reserving a spot in a Master Class, when the General Admission tickets sold out in less than an hour, this requirement was waived.

Transport and accomodation were relatively simple, I drove down to Kingston and stayed overnight with my brother, which greatly reduced my costs.  However, it is worth pointing out that Festival had made arrangements with a local hotel (the Best Western) for reduced rates for Festival patrons staying at the hotel on the nights of the 21st and 22nd ($99.99 per night, which included parking and buffet breakfast, as well as a shuttle service from the hotel to the Festival site for the Master Classes and the Main Sampling Event).

Total cost to me was only $95 for the tickets, plus approximately $40 for fuel, for a total of $135.  Had I stayed overnight and/or attended any of the Master Classes and/or the dinner or bruch, then the costs would have been significantly more, but those were optional parts of the event.  In future I'll probably consider attending one or two of the Master Classes, which will, of course, increase my costs.

MARK = B+ (As this was my first foray into such events, and I'm not overly familiar with how this price compares with other whisky festivals, I may have an unrealistic expectation regarding costs. If so, please let me know and I'll consider revising this)


2. VENUE:
The Festival's main event was held at the Military Communications & Electronic Warfare Museum on Canadian Forces Base Kingston, while some of the Master Classes were hosted at the Vimy Officer's Mess (also at CFB Kingston).  The museum is interesting, after a fact, but not in a way that is all that accessible to non-military personnel (I studied Museum Management and Curatorship and have worked in several museums - there is something to be said for minimizing displays and trying to tell a coherent history...), however, I did enjoy how the tasting booths were spread throughout the museum, which encouraged visitors to move through the exhibit area and engage with the displays.  Taking all of that into consideration, there were a few minor problems with the venue:

  • Parking is limited and while the Festival did encourage people to arrive by public transit or taxi, in our case this wasn't feasible (it would have taken 1.5 hours on the bus to get to the museum, and hiring a cab would have added significantly to the costs).  Had I been staying overnight at the Best Western, the free shuttle service would have been amazingly convenient;
  • The Conference Room, where the Festival situated ten tables (Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Diageo Classic Malts, Forty Creek, Cooley's, Brown-Forman, and Canadian Club) was really, really noisy, even though it wasn't that crowded.  It was difficult to carry on a conversation and it was quite hot and stuffy;
  • The Festival organizers appeared to have problems arranging for the large heated tent where they intended to place the buffet and dining area and several other tables.  As a result, the buffet was located in a small narrow room that was very difficult to get into, allowed only a few people access at any given time, and without the tent there was very little place to sit and eat.
  • As the outdoor tent was not available, eleven tables were re-located to the Vimy Officer's Mess (Ardbeg/Glenmorangie, Glenora, Still Waters, Glenlivet/Aberlour, Wiser's, Compass Box, Arran, and a couple other vendors).  To make up for this logistical problem, the Festival arranged for shuttle buses to run every half-hour between the Museum and the Officer's Mess.

MARK = C+ (layout and flow through the museum could be improved; while the food was good, access was difficult)


3. CLASSES:
As noted earlier, while there were classes, neither my brother or I attended them, so I cannot provide a rating for this portion of the Festival.


4. MAIN EVENT:
It is hard to separate some of the issues that I had with the venue from the main event, however, once we got there and got into the "spirit" of things, it was a pretty good time.  Given that we'd driven there, I opted to eat more and sample less, and take time between samples.  The Main Sampling Event ran from 19h00 to 21h45, split between the two different locations, which meant you had to be strategic and decide which tables you wanted to approach at which site, and keep an eye out for the shuttle bus.  Over the course of the evening I tried six different whiskies (making sure that I was poured very small samples):

  1. Highland Park 10 year-old - it was OK, but it wasn't great (it may be worth exploring more later, although I somewhat regret opting to try the 10yr instead of Loki);
  2. an Cnoc Peter Arkle - it had a beautiful nose, and a decent finish, but there was something very strange and not at all pleasant going on with the palate;
  3. Bain's Cape Mountain Single Grain Whisky - this is a beautiful South African Single Grain, which the man at the table insisted was 100% rye, but which I've since learned is 100% corn...it certainly tasted more like a high corn whisky than a rye;
  4. Tobermory 10 year-old - surprisingly nice. I liked it better than the Highland Park 10yr;
  5. Cardu 12 year-old - compared to the Tobermory, Highland Park, and Bain's this was immediately forgettable: bland and inoffensive, but at the same time offensive because of it's complete lack of character;
  6. Wiser's Red Letter - I had big expectations for this, given the price at the LCBO, and the reviews that it has received elsewhere, and while I enjoyed it (it wasn't nearly as sweet on the palate as the nose had led me to believe), I didn't enjoy it as much as I did the Bain's, which is about one-third the price.

One of the other things that I found interesting while wandering by all the tables and examining the whiskies on offer was that some vendors had brought quite a wide selection whiskies.  Highland Park, for example, had everything from their 10 year-old to Loki (including the 15 year-old, which the LCBO no longer stocks).  The Macallan, The Balvenie, and Glenfiddich all had quite a broad representation of their core expressions, as did Wiser's, Forty Creek, and Arran.  Others exhibitors, however, had very minimal stocks: the Ardbeg/Glenmorangie table only had their respective 10 year-old bottlings, despite the fact that Ardbog and Uigeadail became available at the LCBO earlier in the month.  Most disappointing of all, however, was that the Compass Box table only had Asyla (I was secretly hoping they'd have some of the other expressions that aren't available at the LCBO).  I'm left wondering whether this conspicuous lack of variety on the part of some vendors is normal (having had no previous experiences to serve as a benchmark for "normal"), or whether the LCBO places restrictions on what can and can't be served as part of the festival licensing process.

MARK = C+ (I was left wanting a bit more in the way of variety)


5. PERSONAL EXPERIENCE:
Despite the seemingly negative comments regarding the layout and logistical problems, I had a pretty good time.  It was nice to get out for an evening with my brother, sample a number of new whiskies, and chat. I didn't personally witness anyone making an ass of themselves as a result of drinking too much, or being rude or overly pedantic and/or obnoxious to the vendors.  What I did notice though, was a distinct lack of women...in both a good way and a not-so-good way.  To the best of my knowledge there were no "booth babes", and the few women that I did see serving whisky at the various tables were respectfully dressed and very engaged in their discussions of whisky, and very knowledgable about the whisky: what I didn't see were that many women actually attending the Festival...I felt like my brother and I were sandwiched between two distinct categories of men: the older, flat-cap wearing white men, and the younger twilby wearing hipster men.

MARK = B (waking up early the next morning to watch the Canada / Sweden Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game, and adding some Bailey's Irish Cream to my coffee was also a pretty memorably moment, too...)


OVERALL AVERAGE MARK = B- (Will I go back next year?  Probably.  Will I sign up for one or two of the Master Classes next time?  More than likely)

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