Category Archives: Festival

Scotchpocalypse in the New World

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A few of the bottles that made it to the ‘Scotchpocalypse’ table

The whisky community thrives in Victoria. In the short time since my arrival in Canada I have been invited to numerous whisky events. The best named event so far is ‘Scotchpocalypse’. This gathering of the faithful involved everyone bringing a bottle of single malt Scotch to the table. The bottles were lined up and sampled in turn, with a wee bit of discussion about each one. Of course, by the time you get to the fifth or sixth all the formalities are thrown out of the window and it descends into a house party.

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SMWS events – 8 whiskies for C$40 and always a good turnout/outturn!

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is present in town too. Held monthly at the Strathcona, every tasting I have been to so far has been sold out (approximately 50 seats). There is a palpable buzz around the room as each whisky is announced following a blind tasting. Demand is so high for the bottles that most are snapped up within minutes of being revealed. This is despite prices being far higher than what I am used to back in Scotland. A typical 10 year old will go for C$170 (£110) and older whiskies typically C$250 (£160) and beyond.

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The Sidney Chapter – Officially a member in good standing!

Even in sleepy Sidney there are some great whisky events to be had. I am now a ‘member in good standing’ with the Sidney chapter of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich. The effort put in by Thom and Viola into the tastings is outstanding. A booklet is produced that details tasting notes, fun facts and distillery profiles. Last month we enjoyed a vertical tasting of Glen Garioch, including the rare Vintage 1995 which was the last to use peated malt. I am even more excited however by what is to come – a Supernumeracy Brora tasting. Brora distillery in north-east Scotland closed in 1983 and is a precious find in any whisky bar. The chance to try these rare whiskies 5,000 miles from their origin is an unusual privilege.

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The Grand Pacific Hotel – Venue of the Victoria Whisky Festival 2017

In January, Victoria will host its annual international whisky festival. Representatives from distilleries around the world will be present to show off there spirits and meet friends old and new. I have been asked to be part of one such event, representing Victoria Distillers at the tasting and discussion panel of BC distillers. I can’t wait to be a part of it. People will willingly queue at 2am in the morning to grab tickets for master classes when they are released next weekend. I am most impressed by the dedication and determination of whisky-mad Victorians to ensure a place at the official ‘Scotchpocalypse’!

http://www.victoriawhiskyfestival.com/

 

Feis Ile 2016

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The secret fishermen pools near Port Ellen, Islay

Nick Morgan serenaded us with a whimsical rendition of ‘Riders in the storm’. The Paps of Jura broke through wispy clouds across the Sound of Ila. A festival edition of Caol Ila in hand. How extraordinary. Even more impressive was the Australian gentleman in the crowd who had made the pilgrimage every year for the last eight years…such is the pull of Feis Ile.

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Lagavulin Day in the distillery’s 200th year
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Cooperage demonstration, Lagavulin Distillery

My first ever Islay whisky festival coincided with the 200th anniversary of Lagavulin. A 3 hour queue for the festival bottling was avoided. I made a promise to myself not to get caught up in the buying frenzy and to instead focus on soaking up the atmosphere of this very special occasion. I loved the cooperage display and speaking to enthusiasts from all over the world. So many good stories and so many happy faces. The drams flowed freely from the distillery but also amongst the whisky geeks. Sample bottles emerged from clunking bags and eyebrows raised with interest at each new arrival.

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The Yellow Submarine arrives at Bruichladdich!

At Bruichladdich, the locals came out in force. We were treated to a wonderful performance from the pipeband and a dram of ‘Yellow Submarine’. I took an impromptu tour of the distillery and got acquainted with ‘Ugly Betty’, the Lomond still used for The Botanist gin. The highlight of the day was sampling a 23 year old rare malt Port Ellen which appeared out of nowhere from a friend of a friend. Serendipity and the stuff you can’t plan is the part I enjoy the most about these gatherings of the faithful!

With hitch-hiking proving to be the best way around the island, I headed for Port Ellen maltings. A fascinating peek at the inside of drum maltings and the wonderful smell of peat smoke roaring through the kilns. It proved to be a welcome addition to the distillery events and added an element of  education to the festival experience.

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Beautiful Islay, Port Ellen

I wish I could have stayed for the full eight days but a four day trip had to suffice. I have no doubt I will be back as Islay is whisky Mecca and the Feis Ile is whisky Hajj. To all the Ilachs dedicated to organising such a remarkable festival, I raise a dram to you.  Lang may yer lum reek Feis Ile!

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Camping whisky enthusiasts

The Whisky Stramash

Review: The Whisky Stramash, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh, Saturday May 23, 2015

The queue of anticipation
The queue of anticipation

The Oxford English dictionary defines a ‘stramash’ as an ‘uproar’ or ‘row’. A title that became increasing appropriate as the 12-4pm Saturday session later proved.

A large, orderly queue formed, stretching around the corner and out of site. The demographic consisted mostly of middle-aged, follically challenged men with bellies that spoke of their fondness for fish suppers and baked goods. A smattering of bearded hipsters represented the younger contingent, while the few women present hinted at the challenge the industry faces to broaden its appeal.

The Bacardi boys doing a stellar job
The Bacardi boys doing a stellar job

Once inside, the race was on to sample the most interesting bottlings. Chaos ensued as crowds of whisky crazed monsters surrounded inadequately sized tables to receive their sample drams. The poor staff looked startled as a sea of Glencairn glasses were thrust into their faces. The ratio of pourers to drinkers was woefully insufficient for the first hour. However, the jostling eased as the pace of consumption slowed later in the afternoon.

As a newby to the Stramash, I expected each distillery to have its own stand and knowledgeable ambassadors to generate passion for the products on show. What actually occurred was distillery products grouped together in small, sweaty bear pits mostly attended by casual employees who looked like they were more accustomed to a weekend on the Budweiser express rather than cosying up to a peat fire enjoying the water of life.

The notable exceptions were the Spirit of the Spey Canoe Adventure stand (who had a surprisingly good selection including the Glenfiddich 15 year old distillery edition, A 14 year old Carribbean Cask Balvenie and a 12 year old Macallan); the Douglas Laing stand for its intriguing blended malts; and the atmospheric Bacardi snug downstairs which had good staff and interesting product to try (including the Aultmore 25 year old).

Douglas Laing, a good guy to meet for lots of Big Peat
Douglas Laing, a good guy to meet for lots of Big Peat

The winner of the smallest measure award goes to the Lost Distillery Company who produced a sample so small I could not even see the colour of the whisky. Diageo too may have missed a trick given that it was Lagavulin day at Feis Ile on Islay, they only had the 16 year old on offer and were offering nothing out of the ordinary. I was secretly hoping that they might have some of the 21 year old cask strength festival bottling to try!

However, despite some minor quibbles, a wonderful day of whisky tasting was had by all. Any disgruntlement evaporated as quickly as the whisky.

Of the many whiskies consumed my highlight of the Stramash was the 25 year old Aultmore, part of Dewar’s ‘Last Great Malts’ range and available at £296 ($450). A full list of all the whiskies I tried (and remembered to write down!) follows:

Aultmore 25 Year Old

In order of consumption…..

  • Blair Atholl, 18 year old, Hunter & Laing
  • Stronachie, 18 year old
  • Glen Moray, Port Cask, 25 year old
  • Aultmore, 12 year old
  • Aberfeldy, 12 year old
  • Aultmore, 25 year old
  • Craigellachie, 17 year old
  • Aberfeldy, 21 year old
  • Ardmore, Legacy, Non-Age Statement (NAS)
  • Yamazaki, NAS
  • Hukushu, NAS
  • Glenfiddich, Distillers Edition, 15 year old
  • Macallan, 12 year old
  • Scallywag, Douglas Laing, NAS
  • Rock Oyster, Douglas Laing, NAS
  • Big Peat, Douglas Laing, NAS
  • Lagavulin, 16 year old
  • Fraiser’s Scotch Whisky Liqueur
  • Cardhu, Special Cask Reserve, NAS
  • Auchentoshan, Three Wood, NAS
  • Craigellachie, 23 year old
  • Craigellachie, 13 year old
  • Highland Park, 18 year old
  • Highland Park, Dark Origins, NAS
  • Balvenie, Caribbean Cask, 14 year old
  • Dewar’s White Label
  • Black Bottle cocktail

All in all, not bad for £17 each (early bird discounted rate, normally £31)