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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":
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, here goes:

  • 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).

  • 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":
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)

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)

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.

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% 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)

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 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)

Comedy / Parody Monday - "Seven Day Forecast"

The New Pope
Again with the weather related videos...of course, given what is projected for Atlantic Canada in the coming days, this may be prophetic.  For your viewing enjoyment I give you the Rick Mercer Report's "Environment Canada Seven Day Forecast":

As Saint Clynelish's Day has since passed us by (it was last Sunday), and our somewhat belated 3rd Annual celebration - which will also be our belated International Whisk(e)y Day Celebration - is coming up next Friday (March 28th), I thought I should do a write up of last year's celebration; I tried to do this last week, but there were some technical this is Take #2.

For the first Saint Clynelish's Day event, I put out several of my own bottles of whisky that were in need of drinking so that I could make room on my shelf...that didn't work out so well as everyone who showed up also brought their own bottles to offer.  For this second time around we decided that we should just ask everyone to bring something of their own so that everyone could sample what looked interesting.  In the end we had eleven or so people (there more, I think, as some people brought other people) and eleven different bottles of whisk(e)y:

  • Clynelish 14 year-old;

  • Clynelish 1993/2010 Distiller's Edition (17 year-old);

  • Compass Box Great King Street Artist's Blend;

  • Compass Box Peat Monster;

  • Connemara Turf Mor;

  • Dalwhinnie 15 year-old;

  • Glenlivet 15 year-old French Oak Reserve;

  • Lagavulin 16 year-old;

  • Locke's 8 year-old Irish Single Malt;

  • Macallan 12 year-old; and

  • Tullibardine Port Cask Finish

Of these eleven whiskies, I poured myself small samples of both Clynelish expressions, the Artist's Blend, the Locke's, the Turf Mor, and the Tullibardine.  The general consensus of the evening was that while both Clynelish were quite good, the standard 14 year-old was the better of the two.  While I really did like the Distiller's Edition, I think that the Oloroso cask finish buried some of the more subtle flavours that can be found in the 14 year-old.  Of the rest of the whiskies on offer, the Locke's 8 year-old was easily the worst whisky of the evening: too much over-ripe banana and a terrible, terrible finish.  I'm tempted to say there was something wrong with the bottle, or that it needed time to oxidize and open up, as I've since had the opportunity to sample the Locke's from a different bottle, and it wasn't bad.  Certainly not great whisky, but not as awful as I remembered it.

And of course, there was the food...cheeses, crackers, chocolates, smoked meat, olives, shortbread, and repeat of the candied bacon wrapped dates, which, when the tray was empty and all that was left was the sugary bacon grease, several of the attendees took huge chunks of sourdough bread and soaked up all the fatty goodness...

Tasting Notes: Clynelish 14 year-old, 46% ABV


  • Colour: Golden Straw (probably coloured with e150a)

  • Nose: faint smoke, brine, salted dark chocolate, coastal air (with some vegetal notes, like salted sun-drying dulse)

  • Palate: thinner than I expected, not that oily, with a light smokiness, then some candle wax, and chili peppers

  • Finish: again, traces of smoke, then very long, warming, and a lot of spice (more hot peppers)

  • Balance: fairly well balanced, although I the finish is a bit overpowering.

This is an all around nice whisky, very similar to the Oban 14 year-old (review forthcoming at some point), which I heartly recommend, and while the LCBO database entry suggests pairing it with sushi or other fresh seafood, I found that it went very well with the Cadbury Fruit & Nut Dark Chocolate bar that I had on hand.  For other thoughts on the Clynelish 14 year-old, please see the following:For this year's upcoming event I'll be putting out a bottle of Compass Box Oak Cross (which is made from a blend of single malts, the majority of which comes from Clynelish), and for next year's celebration (in 2015) I've been eyeing the new Hart Brother's 1998/2013 Clynelish that just arrived at the LCBO...

PS - since I am still 'going backward to go forward' (very slowly, mind you) I guess I should also make a promise to cover off some things that I said I would write about some time ago.  Which means over the following weeks / months, I need to post entries, in no particular order, on the following:

  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - The Book vs. The Movie;

  • Screamers: The Hunting (Movie Review);

  • Snow White and Huntsman (Movie Review);

  • The Balvenie "Doublewood" 12 Year Old & War on Terror: The Boardgame;

  • Laphroaig "Quarter-Cask" (Whisky Review);

  • the Robert Burns Single Malt (and the Burns Dinner we had in January 2013);

  • the Talisker mini-vertical we had in December 2012 (with a discussion of Battle Royale, as well);

  • the 2nd Annual Saint Clynelish's Day Celebration (March 2013);

  • Round One (Group A) of 'The Battle of the (Budget) Blended Scotch Whiskies';

  • Round Two (Group B) of 'The Battle of the (Budget) Blended Scotch Whiskies';

  • Round Three (Group C) of 'The Battle of the (Budget) Blended Scotch Whiskies';

  • Round Four (Group D) of 'The Battle of the (Budget) Blended Scotch Whiskies'; and

  • Innis & Gunn "Rum Cask" & Vanilla Rum Pulled Pork

Comedy / Parody Monday - "#SELFIE"

The New Pope
I'm not sure what to make of is disturbing, but quite catchy (it definitely has some similarities to Psy's 'Gentleman', in terms of overall sound).  I'm not sure whether the people who contributed their selfies to this realized that it was mocking social media culture...either way, for your viewing enjoyment, I give you The Chainsmokers "#SELFIE":
Spy Cthulhu
One of the dangers of working for a tax department is that people assume that you know everything about taxes writ large, and that despite the extreme specialization that exists in the tax codes of various levels of government, if you work for one level of government, you must know something about [insert tax issue here].  Yes, I have sometimes helped my friends with their income taxes, and in fact volunteered for a couple of years to assist lower-income families and new immigrants to complete their federal income tax returns (through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program), and yes, I do understand municipal property taxes, and I might know something about corporate tax filings...but there are lots of things I don't know...and when I don't, I find people who do.

My aunt and uncle once asked me about the tax treatment of property income, flow through shares, and mineral exploration tax to the income tax experts that I happen to know at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) with that question.  Similarly, a year or so ago a friend asked for advice on an investment scheme that had been floated his way and which had received an 'Advance Income Tax Ruling' on the acceptability of the tax treatment of the proposed venture...again, off to the income tax experts that I know over at CRA...the ruling document that they sent back to me - redacted, of course - led me to believe that the investment firm wasn't being entirely honest in its prospectus about CRA's supposed "approval" of their venture.

Then yesterday I got an e-mail from some family friends.  Their son is a pilot with Air Canada; he's a Canadian citizen, but he lives in the U.S. and flies out of a Canadian airport (flying some in-Canada routes and some international routes).  It seems that CRA has suddenly changed the way it apportions salary income for non-resident pilots, and they thought that perhaps I might be able to help him figure out what was going on.  "Sure", I said, "have him give me a call and I'll see what I can find out for him."

So he calls me and explains the situation.  Prior to 2013, the CRA seems to have calculated income based on the percentage of the flight that was actually over Canada.  Fly out of Toronto toward a destination in South America, and only 2% of the salary for that flight is considered Canadian income for Canadian tax purposes, the rest is considered American, or 'World', income and is treated differently.  Some quick research (thank you, Mr. Google) indicated that this whole income-apportioning structure came about following the Sutcliffe v. The Queen decision, in which a retired Air Canada pilot disagreed with the CRA's assessment of taxes owing on his income, and this court decision appears to have guided CRA policy since 2006.

However, in 2013, CRA started assessing non-resident pilots differently, arguing that 100% of salary payments for any flight between two cities in Canada, regardless of whether the actual flight path was inside or outside of Canadian airspace, was to be considered income earned in Canada.  Similarly, 50% of salary payments for flights from Canada to foreign destinations, or from foreign cities to Canada was to be considered income earned in Canada, even if only 2% of the flight was in Canadian airspace.  My pilot friend wanted to know why there had been a sudden change of policy.  Did someone at CRA have it out for Air Canada pilots?

So, I did some more poking around and found another tax court decision from 2011 (Price v. The Queen, which ultimately found its way to the Federal Court of Appeal as Price v. Canada), in which another retired Air Canada pilot had argued that the flight from Vancouver to Toronto was mostly through U.S. airspace, and that as a result his salary income for those flights should be apportioned based on the percentage of time the flight spent in Canadian airspace, and not just on the geographic location of the departure and arrival points.  The tax court justice, while upholding the structure that had emerged following the Sutcliffe decision, also did something else: at the end of his decision, he noted that the court was getting tired of the endless maneuvering regarding the apportioning of salary, and recommended that the government simplify the rules through legislation.

Which is exactly what the government seems to have done as part of the March 2013 Federal Budget.  While it wasn't likely mentioned in the budget speech itself, Bill C-60, one of the budget implementation bills, quietly made changes to s. 115 of the Income Tax Act, adding s. 115(3), which explicitly states how - retroactive for the entirety of the 2013 tax year - the salaries of non-resident pilots who also happen to be Canadian citizens should be treated, and s. 115(3) of the Income Tax Act now states:

Non-resident employed as aircraft pilot:

[115](3) For the purpose of applying subparagraph [115](1)(a)(i) to a non-resident person employed as an aircraft pilot, income of the non-resident person that is attributable to a flight (including a leg of a flight) and paid directly or indirectly by a person resident in Canada is attributable to duties performed in Canada in the following proportions:

  • (a) all of the income attributable to the flight if the flight departs from a location in Canada and arrives at a location in Canada;

  • (b) one-half of the income attributable to the flight if the flight departs from a location in Canada and arrives at a location outside Canada;

  • (c) one-half of the income attributable to the flight if the flight departs from a location outside Canada and arrives at a location in Canada; and

  • (d) none of the income attributable to the flight if the flight departs from a location outside Canada and arrives at a location outside Canada.

So, the federal government stuck a very minor legislative change to the Income Tax Act into a budget implementation omnibus bill and no one seems to have noticed: the Air Canada Pilots Association certainly didn't notice (and they're supposed to notice such things), and now many of its members are facing significantly increased tax bills.  It makes you wonder what else may have been slipped into budget implementation bills that hasn't been noticed yet...
The New Pope
This may be a bit tasteless, considering the weather situation in southern Ontario over the weekend, but I thought it was, for your viewing enjoyment, and later my demise at the hands of a pitch-fork and torch wielding mob of angry Torontonians, I give you the Rick Mercer Report's "Special Report on Toronto Snow":
On Saturday, November 30th, 2013, which also happened to be Saint Andrew's Day (you know, that Saint Andrew, the Patron Saint of Scotland), I attended, along with several other members of our informal whisky club, the Diefenbunker Museum's 2nd Annual 'Whiskey Business' Fundraiser.  I had wanted to go to this event last year, but scheduling conflicts had prevented me from doing so; this year, however, was a different story, as we (Meg, Rowan, and I) had all been out at the Diefenbunker most of October and early November volunteering as part of their zombie-themed collaboration with The Haunted Walk (the 'Incident At The Bunker'), and I knew the whisky tasting was coming up, so we booked early.

And how was it, you ask?  Well, before I get into too much detail, I will take a moment to shamelessly steal Johanne McInnis's event rating parameters and grading system (for the sake of consistency, of course, and not simply because I am lazy...):

  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:
As this was an event that was confined to one evening, there was no cost for accomodation, and there were no "Classes" per se, just the main tasting event, which leaves us with costs for the tickets themselves and transport.  Tickets were fairly reasonably priced: $75 per person ($65 for Museum Members), $140 per couple ($130 for Museum Members), or $500 for a table (eight people, which works out to $62.50 per person).  In addition, since the Diefenbunker is a registered charity, a portion of the ticket cost is considered to be a charitable donation (any amount in excess of the 'advantage' received by the ticket holder is eligible for receipting as a charitable gift).  Since I was able to drum up eight people, the final bill for tickets (after convience fees for ordering online) was $65 per person.  We also car-pooled out to the site, which is a fair distance from anywhere (although parking is free), and this saved us a bit, since if we'd been forced to take a cab, it likely would have cost us between $70 and $80 each way (assuming a shared cab with four people, this would have resulted in an additional $35 to $40 per person, return trip).  As it was, we car pooled, so the final cost to me, not counting mileage and gas, was $65.

MARK = A (a relatively low-cost evening, all things considered)

If you've never been to the Diefenbunker, I encourage you to go.  It is a fascinating place in its own right, and yes, it might be out of the way, but since it was originally built as a nuclear defence bunker to ensure continuity of government, it is, by necessity, a bit out of the way.  In the grand scheme of things, a 40km drive isn't going to kill you (one minor quibble is that you can't get there using public transit: the closest major transit stop is still a $25 to $30 cab ride, one way).  For me it was a bit of an experience, as the main cafeteria was laid out with fairly elegant tables, centre-pieces, etc., and I had grown accustomed to being in the Bunker with most of the lights turned off, and the corridors strewn with debris, fake blood, fake body parts, make-shift barricades, and zombies.  Seeing the cafeteria set up as, well, a formal dining hall was a bit of a shock.

MARK = B (getting there can be a bit difficult, but the atmosphere and feel of the Bunker is amazing, and the food for the evening, provided by The Swan at Carp, was phenomenal)

N/A - there were no actual classes, just the main event, so this category is not required.

The event was presided over by Geoffrey Skegs (@TheWhiskyCourse on Twitter), who runs a Whisky Course at Algonquin College.  Discussions in advance of the event suggested that he'd would be showcasing whiskies from Ardbeg (Islay), Bruichladdich (Islay), The Balvenie (Speyside), Auchentoshan (Lowland), and Old Pulteney (Highland), but no specifics had been given.  Having done my own research on what the LCBO had available from each of these distilleries, I made the assumption that he was likely going to be serving the Ardbeg 10yr, Bruichladdie 'Classic', Balvenie Double-Wood 12yr, Auchentoshan 'Three Wood', and Old Pulteney 12yr.  As it turned out, he had been unable to get any Old Pulteney and had substituted Springbank 10yr instead.  In the end, the tasting line-up looked like this:

  1. Springbank 10yr paired with crostini smothered with smoked cheddar, sliced almonds, and dried figs;
  2. Bruichladdich 'The Laddie 10' paired with chicken satay and mango chutney;
  3. Ardbeg 10yr paired with spicy salmon california rolls;
  4. Balvenie 14yr 'Caribbean Cask' paired with smoked maple scallops; and
  5. Auchentoshan 'Three Wood' paired with a Grand Marnier creme brulee.

Things got off to a bit of a slow start, which left some of the people at my table a bit hungry, although since there were baskets of rolls and bottles of water at each table, they were able to stave off their hunger until the whisky and food pairings started to arrive.  I was also a bit disappointed that I'd previously sampled three of the five whiskies on offer, but I understand the rationale with going for lower-cost whiskies and not being too daring with the selection, especially since this may have been the first whisky tasting that some of the guests had ever attended (personally, I would have selected the Laphroaig Quarter-Cask over the Ardbeg 10 as it has a more interesting story behind it, is lower cost, and in my mind, is a better whisky).  Mr. Skegs made a point of making his way around the cafeteria while each whisky was being tasted and engaging all of the tables in conversation, answering questions when asked, and entering into discussions with the attendees.  Perhaps my only critique for this part of the evening is that the coffee, made available to all attendees at the end of the tasting, was reportedly pretty vile.  I don't have first-hand knowledge of this, though, as I had made myself a cup of tea, instead of waiting for the coffee.

MARK = B- (a bit more information on the whiskies themselves would have been useful, but for people coming to their first whisky tasting, it was pretty good overall)

I love the Diefenbunker, I really do.  The people who run it are fantastic, friendly, and very enthusiastic about their facility; they do their best to educate the public about Canadian history and the Cold War, and they have an amazing venue which they use in very innovative ways (Cold War Cinema Evenings, the Music of the Cold War - for which they won an award, Spy Camps, Zombie-themed Halloween events - which get people talking about emergency preparedness, etc., etc.), including whisky tasting fundraisers.  I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, even if some of the whiskies were a bit disappointing: I didn't like the Ardbeg 10yr at our first tasting event, and while I'm still not fond of it, I can see why others like it; also, the Balvenie 14yr 'Caribbean Cask' was just not that good - it felt like I was drinking inferior whisky that someone had thrown into an ex-rum cask for a couple of years to hide its weakeness...I would rather have had tried the 12yr 'Signature' or even the 12yr 'Double Wood' again, or even a decent aged rum as opposed to a rum-tinted whisky.  On the other hand, the food was very, very good, the Diefenbunker staff were wonderful, and the company and conversation was quite enjoyable.  Everyone who went seems to have had a good time, so Kudos all around to the Diefenbunker, Mr. Skegs, and The Swan at Carp for a very successful evening!

MARK = A (one minor quibble, though: whisky vs. whiskey...since we were celebrating Saint Andrew's Day, they probably should have used the U.K. spelling of 'whisky' instead of the American 'whiskey'...)

OVERALL AVERAGE MARK = A- (if they host it again next year, we are definitely going, and we'll do what we can to spread the word!)


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