As promised, here is Part Two - The Victoria Whisky Festival . I hope you enjoy it. Cheers, Wendy
Saturday January 27th was a “celebration of whisky” day that began at 1:00 pm with the first Masterclass, and wrapped up in the early hours of the morning with a post festival party. The two events of the day were the afternoon Masterclasses, and the evening Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting. I was also looking forward to reuniting with good friends Badmonkey (Craig) and WestVanDave (Dave), and meeting forum members Ibacha (Len), Cam and Inanime (Matt) for the first time.
All of the Masterclasses were sold-out. After each class, the friendly enthusiasts would swell the hallways waiting for their next class to start, all the while happily exchanging notes and stories with each other. This is where I first bumped into Dave and it felt wonderful to recognize a friend in the crowd. We didn’t have much time to chat as we were heading in opposite directions to our respective Masterclasses.
During the afternoon, I attended the three Masterclasses listed below, accompanied at the first and second by Craig and Inanime (Matt) in the third. Each Masterclass was an hour in length.
1.) Glenfarclas - Valley of the Green Grassland
Presenter: Mr. Robert Ranson, Sales Manager
Placed at each seating, a smart-looking and informative pamphlet gave a brief synopsis of the Glenfarclas history and tasting notes by George Grant, Brand Ambassador. Glenfarclas has been a family owned business since 1865, when the distillery was first purchased by John Grant. Mr. Ranson explained that Glenfarclas is a small company of 30 staff, and production remains computer-free. The Grant family continues to operate independently and strives for excellence by producing award-winning malts. During the presentation, Mr. Ranson also commented that J & G Grant had appointed a new Distillery Manager, Mr. Shane Fraser.
The five whiskies presented were:
Glenfarclas 17 yo, 43%abv; Glenfarclas 21 yo, 43% abv; Glenfarclas 105, Cask Strength 60% abv; Glenfarclas 25 yo, 43% abv; Glenfarclas 30 yo, 43% abv
Last year at the VWF during the Consumer Tasting, I sampled the Glenfarclas 17 yo and loved it. When I saw on the programme that there would be a Glenfarclas Masterclass at this years’ event, I just had to be there. I was delighted when the first whisky introduced was the 17 yo. I won’t review them all, but my two favourites were the 17 and the 30 yo. At the end of the session, in my modest notes, I had described the 30 yo as “velvety-creamy, marzipan-nutty!!” I think I liked it. A bottle of New Spirit was passed around for us to nose and taste. It was so sweet smelling and bursting with pear flavour. Overall, I really welcomed the opportunity to sample such a wonderful line up of Glenfarclas whiskies.
Glenfarclas 17 yo, 43% abv
Nose: fruity, honey
Palate: balance of malt and sweet sherry, stewed peppered fruit
Finish: long lasting, slow wave of spice that ended sweet
2.) A. Dewar Rattray
Presenter: Mr. James Cowan, Principle Sales Director
A. Dewar Rattray is owned by family member Mr. Tim Morrison who is fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar. The companies focus is to bottle unique and exclusive casks of Scotch whisky.
The five whiskies presented were:
Stronachie 12 yo, 43% abv; Balblair 15 yo, 62.9% abv, CS, unchillfiltered;
Auchentoshan 15 yo, 59% abv; Teaninich 30 yo, 60.8% abv; Inchgower 25 yo, 55.3% abv, Oloroso Sherry Cask
I really enjoyed this tasting because of the variety of the selection. Each unique whisky was distinguished by its region and unusual characteristics. It was a blast to contrast and compare the selection. The 30 yo CS Teaninich was my favourite. I found it delicate, and, as Craig would say, “damn good!” My tasting notes seemed to have trailed off mid-way through the selection as I sipped the whiskies and soaked in the ambience.
The Stronachie 12 yo piqued my interest because it was a new release by the LCBO (Liqour Control Board of Ontario) in the autumn of 2006. This is a recreation of a historical whisky. James Cowan explained that Mr. Morrison owns one of the three vintage bottles remaining from this long-closed distillery. A sample was taken from the 1904 Vintage bottling, analyzed, and matched as closely as possible to malt from a modern distillery. The mystery distillery is a closely guarded secret. I left the Masterclass pondering Mr. Morrison’s fascination with the Stronachie Distillery.
Stronachie 12 yo, 43% abv
Nose: fruit, hard candy
Palate: apple, cinnamon, lively, light peat
Finish: long, enjoyable finish
Balblair 15 yo, 62.9% abv
Nose: cocoa, smokey
Palate: creamy, bitter chocolate, vanilla
Finish: mouth-filling, rich
Between my last two Masterclasses, an impromptu tasting took place in the Badmonkey’s palatial suite with four forumners and a bottle of Yoichi 12 yo. It was a memorable interlude for Craig, Matt, Dave and me to crack open one of the pre Festival promised Japanese ‘mystery malts’. As we sipped our drams from the bathroom tumblers, we heard stories of Craig's recent trip to Asia and shared our impressions of the Masterclasses. The Yoichi 12 yo and the company hit the Wow! factor. But before I knew it, it was time for us to dash to our respective end-of-the-day Masterclasses with promises of getting together at the evening's Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting.
3.) Isle of Arran
Presenter: Mr. Douglas Davidson, Managing Director of Isle of Arran
The three whiskies presented were:
Arran 10 yo, Non Chill-filtered 46% abv; Arran 100%, bourbon-sherry casks;
Arran Calvados Finish
(sorry, I didn’t record the %abv of the Arran 100% or the Calvados Finish)
Despite some frustrating and disappointing technical problems with his CD presentation, Mr. Douglas eventually found his groove and continued in a more personable fashion. I really liked him--he is a soft-spoken and genuine man who is refreshingly candid and critical on such subjects as the Scotch Whisky Association, of which Arran is no longer a member, and their attitude toward finishes. In his opinion, “quality scotch is quality choice,” full-stop. I enjoyed hearing his snapshot stories of how the Arran Calvados Finish came to be, and his journeys to the Chateau Margaux winery in France.
There are changes in store for the Arran Distillery--Distillery Manager
Gordon Mitchell is retiring, and a new 3000-cask warehouse is being built. It will be first of its kind to be used in the whisky industry, modeled after a winery warehouse. I regretted not asking him to describe some of the benefits that he was looking for with this new structure. I now consider it homework for another time.
Arran 10 yo, Non Chill-filtered 46% abv
Nose: sorry, I left this blank
Palate: lemon, pear, mild cinammon
Finish: lovely and balanced
This was Matt’s first time sampling whisky from the Arran Distillery. He was really impressed. He said that he tends to favour peaty-smokey whiskies, but was now going to add Arran to his home collection. I am sure there were more than one convert in the room!
By the end of the afternoon, I was full of good whisky and very pleased with the Masterclasses that I had attended. The rotation of classes ran quite smoothly which reflected the huge commitment generated from the team of organizers and volunteers. The Masterclasses were a shining opportunity to be walked through a number of whiskies that I had never tried before. I also gathered a fair amount of information from the presenters about the distilleries or companies they represented. And, last but not least, the camaraderie shared between the whisky enthusiasts was hard to beat.
The sold-out, Saturday night Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting was next on the itinerary. Lawrence had kindly invited the forumners to attend the Media portion of the “Media, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting” that was scheduled from 5:30 - 6:30 pm. The Media event is equivalent to the “VIP” portion that is offered by other festivals. I welcomed The Media Event as it is a slower paced time to chat with industry representatives and to check out the nights’ whisky selection. The Consumer Tasting was scheduled a little later between 7:00 pm -10:00 pm. On the Festival website, the Consumer Tasting is described as “the heart of the Victoria Whisky Festival”. It certainly lived up to its billing as the ballrooms filled to capacity with whisky enthusiasts and industry insiders representing “a selection of over 90 different whiskies from Canada, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.” Jim Murray, whisky writer, also occupied a booth and was kept busy through the night selling and signing copies of the Whisky Bible 2007.
Just in its second year, the Consumer Tasting had already expanded from one to two of the large ballrooms plus two break away rooms with tables covered in emerald green linen holding trays of delicious appetizers like smoked lamb and chutney croustade. The attendees also received a goody bag that included a complimentary glass from the Glencairn Crystal Studio in Scotland. Significantly, the Victoria Whisky Festival was a voucher-free event Having experienced voucher and non-voucher festivals, it was lovely to not fiddle with a ticket system or for that matter pay above and beyond the entrance fee to sample choice drams. The friendly and cooperative atmosphere prevailed until the last person (which I think was me) had left the premises. For attendees requiring a ride home, transportation was provided by volunteers. The volunteers are from the Victoria Whisky Festival benefiting charities, The Rock Solid Foundation and the T.L.C. Fund for Kids.
My drinking objective of the evening was to explore new whiskies including variations of some of my favourites like Highland Park. The whiskies that I sampled were:
Scotches: Glenlivet Archive 21 yo; Old Pulteney 17 yo; Hazelburn 8yo; Murray McDavid Highland Park 1989; A. Dewar Rattray 30 yo Tomintoul;
Canadian: Potter’s Special Old Rye, Potter’s Distillers; Centennial 10 yo, (Rye) Highwood’s Distillers;
France: Whisky Breton, product of France, bottled by Warenghem, Lannion-Bretagne 22300. I was told that the bottling could be purchased for $38 (Canadian) for 700ml in West Vancouver government store;
Irish: Connemara, Single Malt Peated Irish Whiskey
One of my observations was that the Bourbon selection was slim. I am not too sure why, but if I could make one suggestion, I would encourage the organizers to increase the profile of Bourbon at next years festival.
There are two new Canadian whisky Distilleries which are in their various planning and operating stages on Vancouver Island. They are Shelter Point Distilleries and Winchester Cellars. Both distilleries had their respective booths at the festival. With its natural surroundings of glacier-fed water, sea air, and rich farming community, Vancouver Island is quite suited to making great whisky. Shelter Point is a joint partnership between Jay Oddleifson (Vancouver Island) and Andrew Currie (Scotland). The Distillery will be located on the former University of B. C. 700 hectacre experimental farm outside of Courtenay and nestled by the Strait of Georgia. The farm will be a self-contained operation housing the distillery, warehouse and malting house, as well as, using the land to grow their own barley. The whisky will be stored in American oak casks and, projecting annual production, this boutique whisky will reach 50,000 litres or roughly 65,000 750 millilitre bottles.
The name behind Winchester Cellars is Ken Winchester, a winemaker since 1982, who along with partner, Bryan Murray, are moving forward with this dream. Mr. Winchester has expanded his talent for making wine into whisky production. Talking to Ken at the festival, he said that they have bought their new potstill which is a traditional copper still made by Muller, Germany. To age the whisky, they are using a combination of sherry and bourbon casks and will naturally branch out for finishes in wine barrels. At the end of 2007, they will be offering cask futures and welcome drop-ins to take a peek at the still.
The only complaint I heard, which admittedly was second hand, was made from one of the whisky representatives. He was pouring at the Glenlivet booth. He complained that during the Media Event, the bottle of Glenlivet Archive 21 yo was devoured. He put it down to people making a grab for the older age statement bottling. It was a bit difficult to not take his comment personal because when I went to that table that is what I asked for. On behalf of a discerning consumer, it was one of the selections being offered that I had never tasted before and had heard plenty about. Why wouldn’t I seize the moment? As a matter of fact, for most of the other forum attendees, it was also their first chance as well to try this bottling from the Glenlivet stable. It just so happened to be the first of two times that night when Bruce, Ron, Elaine, Craig, Matt and I (maybe Dave!) were together at once and we all asked for a sample minus Elaine. On behalf of our little group, we appreciated trying this older age statement and as whisky enthusiasts attending a Whisky Festival, it seemed a logical choice from the selection at hand. I know that it would have taken more than the five of us to put a dent in that bottle, but I think it was hasty judgement on the whisky rep’s part to brush us and anyone else for that matter, off.
Midway through the night, Lawrence had organized a picture taking of the Whisky Magazine Forumners. Unfortunately, Craig and Matt were unavailable, but Bruce (Mr. TH), Ron and Elaine, Len (Ibacha), Cam, Dave (WVD), Lawrence and me had gathered in front of the camera for our photo op. As Forum members, we spend most if not all of our time communicating via cyberspace. The opportunity to exchange our whisky opinions with each other in person felt like a treat. The combination of world class whiskies and fine company amidst the beautiful atmosphere of the Hotel Grand Pacific makes this festival something to put on your “must do” list.
Due to other obligations, I didn’t attend the Aberlour Distillery Dinner that marked the last night of the festival on Sunday January 28th. Mr. Ed Patrick, President of the Companions of the Quaich, was hosting this affair. Ed also lives in Toronto and leads our monthly Companion get-togethers. He is a very dedicated and knowledgeable whisky man whose jokes are not for the weak kneed. From experience, I know without even attending the Aberlour Distillery Dinner, it would have been a wonderful time.
There is no doubt that the Victoria Whisky Festival 2008 event will be sold-out again in record time, so I would recommend registering your name and contact information on the official website, http://www.victoriawhiskyfestival.com
for advance notification. Next year’s Victoria Whisky Festival has been scheduled on January 25-27th, so mark it on your calendars and start saving your pennies. Hopefully, I will be clinking my glass with more of you next year.