Race Recap - Montreal (Owl's Head) Spartan Beast

Well, we finished. But that was hard. Harder than the Beast last year at Mont Ste. Marie, near Ottawa. Harder than Dead End Apocalypse, even without the extra 30lb sand bag. Trudging up and down a mountain with a 540m vertical drop for 21.5km (although I've seen it reported as anywhere from 20km to 24km, but somewhere around 21.5km is the most common estimate) on a sunny, humid day, with temperatures reaching upwards of 30'C is not fun. Not fun at all.

We drove up Saturday afternoon, making a brief stop in Montreal to pick-up our team mate, Nathan (last minute logistical wrinkles), and to have dinner, before heading further eastward toward Sherbrooke, spending the night at a quaint little motel in Eastman, Quebec, about a half hour from the race site. As we were running in the 08h15 wave on Sunday morning, we were to bed early, then up at 05h00, fueled, packed, and on site and ready to go by 06h45. Parking, check-in, and registration went smoothly, but that was about all...

Post-Registration, with an early morning fog settling in...

Between the Beast and the Ultra Beast, it's estimated that there about 3,000 runners there, and there certainly weren't enough portable toilets, especially when everyone is starting the race in a one-and-a-half hour window. It may have been enough for the Super the day before, when the start times were staggered over six hours, but it wasn't for the Beast. The line-up for a toilet was fifteen to twenty minutes long in some cases, and some runners ended up missing their start times...which didn't really matter, because after the Elite wave left, they sort of threw the start times out the window and were letting small waves go every ten minutes, first come, first served. We finally ended up getting into the starting corral at 08h40...

Thankfully, the course didn't start with a straight ascent of the mountain, as the Montreal Sprints had two weeks earlier, but it was up, and up, and up...Meg said something to the effect that they kept throwing short flats and corners at us to make us forget that we were still going up...and then there were the downs...up and down, up and down, rinse and repeat. All day. Virtually no flat sections to add distance or provide an opportunity to cover said distance at a decent speed. But we'd known this was coming: a young couple from Montreal - who we'd met at the Sprints - had done the Super the day before, and had sent us a message Saturday night to warn us that the Super course had been all hills, so the Beast would likely be the same.

Patrick and Fernanda, our pre-race intel sources. I mean, just look at them? Aren't they adorable?

Parts of the course were familiar, though, as many of the obstacles from the Sprints had been left in place, and they'd simply found new ways to string them together. New and "innovative" ways that involved trudging up and down hills. And I've seen similar complaints elsewhere. The course was just not interesting: it was up and down, up and down, part way down, and then back up, with no flats that couldn't be covered in under a minute or two. At the 2015 Eastern Canada Beast at Mont Ste. Marie the course designers had made brilliant use of the local mountain bike trails, adding kilometres of runnable distance - both up and down - on the switch-backs. Yes, there had been trips up and down the ski runs, but the trail had also cut horizontally, and the finish had wound around the base of the mountain, through a lake and up a stream. At Owl's Head there was just up and down, with no water-based obstacles on the course, only the tantalizingly beautiful view from the top of the mountain out over Lac Magog. I spent a lot of time wishing I could just fall into the lake to cool down...

The view from the top of Owl's Head (photo from 3-Seconds)

Which leads me to the two other major problems with the course:

1) there was a definite lack of originality with the obstacles. Where were the Infinity Bars from the 2015 Beast? Where was the Platinum Rig Table from the Toronto Super? Yes, we had the Platinum Rig Angled Frame, inverted this time, which was novel, and the Platinum Rig Logs and Posts, which we'd encountered at the Dead End Races in June, and the Bucket Bridgade (which we hadn't seen before, and which nearly killed me), but all of the more interesting obstacles were on the 1.5km extra loop for the Ultra Beast (the Sternum Checker, the Table, the Weaver)...the Beast course was given a set of hurdles, some hay bales, and some logs and metal bars lashed to trees on some of the trail sections, in addition to two barbed wire crawls, and four (yes, four!) camo-net crawls...and then there was the obstacle design, as the Platinum Rig and the Logs and Posts were not really set up in a way that allowed shorter runners (mostly women) to navigate them successfully. How that can be addressed, I don't know, because you don't want to make the obstacles too easy, but at the same time, why deliberately disadvantage a large portion of your participants?

2) water...there were serious shortages of water on the course. Yes, it is a Spartan Beast, and yes, Spartan Canada says that you're responsible for your own hydration, but many of the water stations were out of water by 12h00, and they weren't allowing runners to re-fill their hydration packs (one station near the Beam & Slack-Line had water, but no cups, and was dispensing water by making runners kneel down under the got two twists of the pump, that was all). I was carrying 2.5L of Gatorade. Meg had 1.5L. By half-way through the course my pack was empty, and Meg had somehow lost the lock valve from hers (we think it got caught and torn off during one of the camo-net crawls), which meant she couldn't get suction on it, and every time she had to crawl under something, it started to leak all over the place. Right before the Bucket Brigade we ran into a long line-up of people who were using a garden hose from one of the cottages at the edge of the course to re-fill their packs. We stopped, because Nathan and I were running dry, and had already made a decision to pass up one water station because the line-up was too long. We lost half an hour waiting, but I don't think we would have been able to finish if we hadn't.

The dehydration resulted in muscle spasms in my legs, especially on the uphill portions of the various carries, and it also left me unable to take in food - everything felt like I was eating dust, and without any water to rinse it down with, I felt like I was going to be sick. It didn't help that the weather forecast had been woefully inaccurate. Cool, overcast, with the possibility of a shower in the afternoon had become sunny, cloudless, and hot; I'd over dressed, and by the time I finished the Sandbag Carry I felt like I was going to pass out. Off came the compression sleeves and one layer...

But we did finish. Meg pulled away from Nathan and I on the last descent, down toward the Javelin Throw and the Rig, and finished about five minutes ahead of us. From the Javelin Throw (I missed, and the Burpees nearly finished me) there was a brief flat section that cut through some woods toward the Rig, the Fire Jump, the A-Frame Ropes and Net, and then the finish, and that section of trail was lined with spectators, as well as other runners who had already finished, and they were cheering everyone on. It felt good. As we came up the small ascent to the Rig there were three little girls holding signs that said "High Fives give Energy", so I walked over and give each of them a High Five.

I still fell off the Rig; I didn't have the strength to keep my legs up during the last transition, and my feet brushed across the ground, so I was done. Burpees and what seemed like an eternity lying in the grass to catch my breath. Then the Fire Jump, then a quick sprint down a short hill to the A-Frame, and then over the finish line. Done. 21.5km. ~2,000m of elevation gain (~4,000m of elevation change over the day). 7h49m44s. Just a bit slower than we were at the 2015 Beast, but over a much harder course on a much higher mountain, so overall, I think we put in a stronger performance this year...

Proudly displaying our medals back at the car... was just a matter of a three hour drive home...and then a celebratory beer a couple nights later...

whiprsnapr "Root of Evil" Lager #earnyourbeer. I think I certainly did.

OP BUCKETLIST (aka "A Challenge from SOLO")

Shortly before she returned from her trip to Russia, my friend SOLO challenged a number of us to be accountable for something this I said that in addition to some work-related responsibilities, I had a blog post that needed to be written fact, what I needed to post was something that I'd committed to writing back in December (or possibly earlier) as part of her Operation BUCKETLIST Challenge. At the time, I'd scratched something out on a piece of scrap paper and then tucked that sheet into the back of a journal that I've been carrying around since my birthday and have yet to write anything in...can we see a trend here?

So, without further ado, here's my rough stab at a Bucket List, divided somewhat thematically (but not numbered in order of importance), and with the caveats that a) when I drew this up I knew that I was going to be knocking a few of them off this summer, and b) the list will likely expand a great deal in the future...

Obstacle Course Races / Events:
1. BattleFrog - 8km Open (BF Trois-Rivieres, July 9/16)
2. BattleFrog - 8km Extreme [will sadly never happen]
3. BattleFrog - 24 hour Extreme [will sadly never happen]
4. Dead End Race: Apocalypse (June 26/16)
5. Spartan Beast (finish time < 7h00: Sun Peaks, September 2017)(< 6h00)
6. Spartan Beast - Killington, Vermont
7. Spartan Ultra Beast (South Carolina - November 2018)
8. Spartan Hurricane Heat (4HRHH - Toronto, July 2017)
9. Spartan Trifecta Weekend (Ontario Trifecta Weekend, Sept 2018)
10. Run a Burpee Free Spartan Race (Toronto Super, July 3/16)
11. Run a Spartan Race (or another OCR) in the Elite Heat (Owl's Head Spartan Sprint, June 2017)
12. Run multiple obstacle races ('As Many Laps as Possible') in one day
10. Tough Mudder (x3 Headband) (Tough Mudder Toronto, Sept 10/16)
11. Toughest Mudder
12. World's Toughest Mudder - Las Vegas, Nevada
13. Qualify for the OCR World Championships (Mud Hero Ottawa, June 4/16)
14. Run in the OCR World Championships (OCRWC Long Course, Oct 15/16; Long Course & Short Course, Oct 2017 and Oct 2018)
15. Run a winter obstacle race (e.g. - Polar Hero) (Polar Hero, Feb 4/17; Ragnarok, Mar 11/17; Dead End Race, Mar 2019)
16. Run a Mud Hero Ultra 10km (Summer 2018)
17. Train for, and attempt, a triathalon
18. Run a Ragnar Relay (Ragnar Niagara, May 2017)
19. Run a Ragnar Trail Relay (Kentuckiana, May 2018; Arizona, Nov 2019)
20. Run an Obstacle Race in costume
21. Participate in a 24HR Obstacle Race Event (Platinum Rig Team Championships, October 2019)

Rock Climbing:
1. Climb a 5.8 on an incline (top roping) (March 2017)
2. Climb a 5.9 (top roping)
3. Climb a 5.10 (top roping)
4. Climb a 5.10+ (top roping)
5. Learn how to Lead Climb
6. Complete Blue-difficulty Bouldering Routes on a regular basis (Feb 22/17)
7. Complete a Black-difficulty Bouldering Route
8. Enter a Bouldering Competition (NCBS, Jan 9/17)

1. Italy (Rome & Pompeii) (November 2016)
2. Iceland
3. Barbados (St. Nicholas Abbey)
4. Scotland (Aberlour, Highland Park, Isle of Arran)
5. Take our daughter to Japan, so she can see where we lived from 2001 to 2002
6. Visit all the Micro-Distilleries in Canada (North of 7, Ottawa; Liberty Distillery, Vancouver)
7. Visit the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido, Japan
8. Visit a Bourbon Distillery in Kentucky, U.S.A. (any Bourbon Distillery)
9. Visit the Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph, Ontario
10. Ride the Trans-Siberian / Trans-Manchurian Railway across Russia to China
11. Take the train to the west coast ('The Canadian')
12. Take my wife and daughter on a long-distance back-country canoe trip
13. Go on a solo canoe trip

General Life:
1. Go somewhere really fun with my amazing wife for our 20th anniversary (Hiking in the Grand Canyon, Oct/Nov 2019)
2. Sit down and enjoy a glass of whisky with our fantastic daugher when she turns 19
3. dress up as Hellboy for Halloween
4. grow a huge beard (Summer 2016)
5. learn how to ride a motorcycle
6. go on a bicycle camping trip
7. try a whisky that's older than I am (Clan Denny Strathclyde 1974/2012 38yr single grain Scotch - Dec 2014)
8. take a picture with my best friend in a photobooth
9. learn how to shoot a bow
10. go to an axe-throwing gym

Anything missing? I'm open to suggestions...


Bourbon vs. Whiskey vs. Whisky – A Primer (“Actually, it’s about ethics in whisky journalism”)

While I’m still working on the third, and therefore final, part of my three-part series discussing the issues and controversies(?) surrounding No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies, it appears that I write better – and faster – when something has irked me…and something has indeed irked me.

A couple of days ago, a Brand Ambassador for an international whisky conglomerate (which shall remain nameless) sent out a tweet containing a link to an [old] Huffington Post article entitled “Bourbon vs. Whiskey: How to Know What’s What”. Calling it an article, however, is overly generous, because what it really was - despite purporting to answer the ‘age-old’ question of “…when it comes to bourbon vs. whiskey vs. whisky, what's the difference?” - was just a short paragraph followed by an infographic prepared by Maker’s Mark.

When I replied to the tweet, and pointed out that there were some serious flaws and misleading statements in the infographic, I was told that perhaps I’d been too literal in my interpretation of the infographic, and that the infographic accurately depicts the difference between bourbon whiskey and other whiskies, although this claim was later abrogated to a statement to the effect that “…it was just a promotional infographic defining Maker’s Mark and how it fits into bourbon as a category. #iswhatitis”.

But the reality is that neither of these statements are true, as that is not how the infographic was being used in the story it had been attached to. To me, this article, and its use of the infographic as its only source material (the author doesn’t seem to have done any research, fact checking, or analysis), is a perfect example of ‘Yellow Journalism’. And what, you ask, is Yellow Journalism? It’s “…when the truth isn't there [and/or] the facts are missing or twisted…[and] the internet makes yellow journalism even easier. You can post anything you want without checking facts.”

For another example, please see Jason Debly’s skewering of another biased and poorly researched article, here; however, I think it is accurate to say that most whisky bloggers are intimately familiar with the poor quality of many whisky-related articles that find their way into the mainstream media, so the lack of accurate information in the Huffington Post isn't really that surprising. What was surprising to me was that the article was being retweeted by a Brand Ambassador, someone who you would have thought would know better than to disseminate misinformation and/or misleading statements just to promote a brand: 'The Truth' shouldn't hurt a brand, so why conceal it behind technically correct, but misleading, statements...or am I being naive in thinking this?

So, seeing as how my day job is to un-pack and analyze things, let’s take a closer look at this infographic, shall we… (if you follow the link to the original article, you can view the infographic at its full size)

Bourbon-vs-Whisky Infographic (c) 2013 Maker&#39;s Mark Distillery Inc.“All bourbon is whisky. Not all whisky is bourbon” – True. No issue with this statement.

Legal Definitions:
“Must be made in America” (Bourbon) vs.
“Seriously. This is the actual law: ‘[t]he distillate must possess the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to whisky.” (Whisky)

True, but Bourbon can only claim its ‘Made in America’ status, as defined by s. 5.22(b)(2), because international trade agreements and legislation introduced in other countries have defined ‘Bourbon’ as a product of the United States (U.S.), made in accordance with the U.S. standards of identity (and the U.S. has reciprocated by including in its own standards of identity clauses to the effect that Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskies sold in the U.S. are distinctive products of their respective nations, manufactured in compliance with their own legal frameworks). Further, making the claim that Bourbon is 'Made in America' automatically implies that 'Whiskey' and 'Whisky' are not necessarily 'Made in America', but can be made elsewhere.

As for the second part of the comparison, the line that has been quoted in the infographic is actually part of s. 5.22(b) of the U.S. standards, which defines whisky, and this definition also applies to Bourbon [which is further defined at 5.22(b)(1)(i)]. Conveniently, the infographic does not address the fact that ‘Tennessee Whiskey’, which by error(?) of omission gets lumped in with ‘whiskey’ and ‘whisky’, is in fact a Bourbon that has simply gone through an additional filtering process (although there is a move in Tennessee to codify what constitutes ‘Tennessee Whiskey’).

If we go further afield and take a look at the regulations governing whisky distillation in other jurisdictions, such as Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, on the grounds that the infographic is being used to compare bourbon vs. whiskey vs. whisky,
and later makes a direct reference to country of origin with respect to whether it is ‘whiskey’ or ‘whisky’, we’d note that all of those countries have pretty clear legal definitions of what constitutes whisky [and s. 5.22(b)(7) through (b)(9) - which are subordinate to s. 5.22(b), above, which is used in the infographic itself to define non-Bourbon 'whisky' - provide definitions for Scotch, Irish, and Canadian whiskies]; although, admittedly, Canada’s definition is rather weak, as it simply states that Canadian whisky shall “…possess the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky.”

“Must be at least 51% corn” (Bourbon) vs.
“…a spirit distilled from grain” (Whisky)

True, but this conveniently omits the fact that in the U.S., rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt whiskies must also contain a minimum of 51% of the specified grain (rye, wheat, etc.), and that the remainder of the mash can be made up of other grains. Looking internationally, we see that Canadian, Irish, and Blended Scotch whisky do pretty much fall under the “…spirit distilled from grain” requirement, as their respective legislative regimes are non-specific, with the exception of Scotland, of course, where all Scotch whisky must contain some malted barley, and single malt Scotch whisky must be manufactured using 100% malted barley.

"Distilled to 80% ABV max, barrelled at no more than 62.5% ABV" (Bourbon) vs.
"Distilled to 90% ABV max, ‘bottled’ at no less than 40% ABV" (Whisky)

True, if we’re talking legal definitions, but it’s important to note that the final part of this comparison is actually between ‘barrelled at’ and ‘bottled at’, which are completely different things and can’t be compared at all, as the provision for bottling at no less than 40% ABV, as contained in the U.S. standards,  also applies to Bourbon. Moreover, this omits, again, that the standards for Bourbon also apply to rye, wheat, malt, and rye malt whiskies, and that there is, in fact, no minimum requirement for barrelling, only a maximum.

In Scotland and Ireland, the only distillation restriction is that the spirit cannot be distilled to more than 94.8% ABV, while in Canada there is no limitation (it is generally accepted that the base whisky spirits used by Canadian distillers are distilled to no more than 94.5% ABV, and the flavouring whiskies to around 80% ABV). With Scottish single malts, the distillation strengths differ by distillery, but new make spirit usually comes off the stills at around 70% ABV, and is then diluted to around 63% prior to barrelling.

Aging Requirements:
“Must be stored in new, charred oak containers” (Bourbon) vs.
“Must be stored in oak containers” (Whisky)

True, Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak containers, but so must rye whisky, wheat whisky, malt whisky, and rye malt whisky. In the U.S., only ‘Light’ whisky and 'Corn' whisky, which are separate classifications under the standards, are treated differently. Interestingly enough, both 'Corn' and 'Light' whiskies can be stored in new, uncharred oak. The Irish, Canadian, and Scottish regulations only refer to ‘oak’, and place no restriction on whether the oak containers employed are new, used, charred, or uncharred, and many distillers employ both used and virgin oak.

Further, while the infographic is correct in that there are no minimum aging requirements for Bourbon, or other types of whisky produced in the U.S., most other jurisdictions do have a minimum age requirement: in Canada, Ireland, and Scotland (and the U.K. in general), it is three years. The U.S. does requires a whisky whose mashbill contains at least 51% of a single grain (corn, rye, wheat, malted barley, etc.) to be aged at least two years in order to be designated a “Straight” whisky, but otherwise the only age requirement the U.S. seems to have is that if a whisky has been aged less than four years, the distiller is required to tell you how long it has been aged; if it has been aged for more than four years, there is no requirement for an age statement on the label.

“No added flavors, coloring or blends of different whisky types.” (Bourbon) vs.
No Claim (Whisky) [although by making no claim, there is the inherent implication that other whiskies do contain flavouring and/or colouring agents, and may be blended with other types of whisky.]

True, the U.S. standards are clear that no flavouring or colouring agents may be added to 'Straight' Bourbon (or 'Straight' Rye, Wheat, Malt, etc., etc.), although the recent dust-up surrounding Templeton Rye and the use of flavouring agents in that particular whisky has revealed that flavouring and colouring agents are allowed in whisky that hasn’t been designated as ‘Straight’ whisky. But here’s the rub, just because the regulations allow for something to be done, doesn’t mean that it has been done. For example, the Irish whiskey regulations are silent on additives (although the Canadian regulations on what constitutes ‘Irish Whiskey’ specifically allow for the addition of caramel to Irish whiskey imported to Canada), and while the Scotch Whisky Regulations allow for the addition of colouring agents (e150a), not all distillers add it to their whiskies. Similarly, in Canada, even though the regulations specifically state that caramel and flavouring are allowed, the famed “9.09%” rule is generally only exploited for Canadian whisky that is destined for export to the United States.

“To ‘E’ or not to ‘E,’ that is the question”:
As is clearly stated in the infographic, the decision on which spelling to use is “[s]imply a…preference typically from country of origin.” In general, whiskeys – including bourbon – produced in the U.S. and Ireland use ‘Whiskey’, while whiskies from Scotland, Canada, and Japan use ‘Whisky’. Of interest here is that Maker’s Mark actually uses ‘whisky’, and not ‘whiskey’, in honour of their founders’ Scottish heritage. By including this definitional issue, the infographic further implies that the comparison it makes isn’t just about Bourbon vs. other types of American whisky, but rather it is comparing / contrasting Bourbon with other whiskeys and whiskies, which includes, by definition, Scotch, Irish, Japanese, and Canadian (and any other whiskey/whisky that may be produced elsewhere, such as India, South Africa, Sweden, Belgium, France, etc., etc., etc.). To argue otherwise, especially when the article that uses it as reference material specifically states that it is examining the differences between bourbon, whiskey, and whisky, is disingenuous at best.

I like Maker's Mark, I really do. It's possibly one of the only bourbon's I've tried that I've actually been able to enjoy (my love/hate relationship with bourbon will be the subject of another entry at another time), but I'm really disappointed with the fact that:

  1. the infographic itself is filled with misinformation and/or misleading statements;
  2. a journalist would rely solely on an infographic produced by a single distillery as the basis for such a comparison; and
  3. a Brand Ambassador would circulate the article without questioning the content and/or accuracy.

A more accurate infographic, that could lead to a more informed discussion would be something like this:

Scotch vs. Whiskey vs. Bourbon (c) College Humour
(For those who are wondering, this is, indeed, sarcasm)

Thoughts? Disagreements? Comments?

Maker's Mark Review:
Maker&#39;s Mark

Colour: deep copper

Nose: oak, maraschino cherries, some vanilla, burnt / caramelized marshmallows, and cinnamon.

Taste: oily, quite thick and mouth coating, with brown sugar, some baking spices (nutmeg), vanilla, oak, a hint of dark cherry changing to sweet corn with butter, and then fading to salted caramel at the end.

Finish: hot and lingering, with very pleasent, but spicy oak flavours.

Balance: nicely balanced - not too oaky, not too powerful - a nice middle other words, bourbon that I'll actually drink, instead of using it solely for baking and bbq sauce after having one glass.

For other thoughts on Maker's Mark, please see the following:

The New Pope

Comedy / Parody Monday - Mud Hero Toronto 2014

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 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:

Head-to-Head-to-Head with three 21 year-old Canadian Whiskies

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).

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


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

No Age Statement (NAS) Issues - Part Two [Age Statement Redaction]

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' 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

Comedy / Parody Monday - Tough Mudder / Wounded Warrior "Ice Dumpster Challenge"

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 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

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

Comedy / Parody Monday - X-Men 'Days of Future Past'

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, 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 was far better than 'X-Men Origins: Wolverine', and 'X-Men: The Last Stand', but not by much...