A couple notable single malt events were recently held in Toronto. Both on Wednesdays; both at The Spoke Club; both during the kind of weather we’re getting plenty sick of (blizzard for the first event; rain for the second).
In any case, the drams poured more than made up for the cruddy climes.
The first event focused on The Balvenie. Those who know their malts need no introduction to this distillery, suffice to say that it remains one of the few in Scotland that keeps the entire whisky making process “in house.” From growing it’s own barley on a 1,000-acre farm, to on-site floor malting, cooperage, and the employing of it’s own coppersmith, production of The Balvenie’s line of single malts pretty much defines “hand crafted” (in fact, it dubs itself ‘The World’s Most Handcrafted Single Malt Scotch”).
The tasting, led by Beth Havers, National Whisky Portfolio Specialist, William Grant & Sons, was set up to showcase the unique, limited edition The Balvenie Single Cask 12 Year Old (which has been released for the first time in Canada – 300 cases for Ontario in 2014; on the tail of the 300 cases allocated for Alberta last year), though other expressions were also showcased, including The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old and The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old.
The Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Barrel (cask #1740; bottle #217; 47.8 per cent ABV; $104.95)
Pale straw in colour (natural cask colour only), it offered up sweet pear/vanilla notes with some marzipan and floral overtones (enhanced with a drop or two of water). Warm and round in the mouth with traces of toasted nuts, caramel, cocoa, and smoky/floral undertones. It was my preferred expression of the three (and I bought a bottle the following day).
The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood (40 per cent ABV; $84.95)
This amber coloured whisky sports hints of sultana raisin (evidence of the partial use of sherry casks for aging), buckwheat honey, leather, smoke, and toffee. Smooth and balanced on the palate, its flavour profile suggests fruitcake, raisin, baking spices, and honey with hints of cocoa in the long finish.
The Balvenie 17 Year Old DoubleWood (43per cent ABV; $199.95)
A deep bronze colour from the additional aging, the 17 Year Old is intensely aromatic with polished wood, green apple, chocolate and candied orange peel on the nose and just a bare whiff of acetate and pepper. A big, lush, mouth filling spirit, boasting layers of dried fruit, pepper, nutmeg, toasted nuts, vanilla and toffee that follow through on the sustained end notes.
It was in 1887 that William Grant realized his dream, and the first drops of what was to become Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky began to flow from his Speyside stills. And since 2002, the distillery has been celebrating other types of “still” life through its Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize. The recipients of the 2014 Canadian Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize – Winnipeg-born Rhonda Weppler and Calgary-born Trevor Mahovsky were honoured at a reception that featured some currently available – and one never to be available – expression of Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky (or not Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch Whisky, as the case may be).
We kicked things off with a cocktail called the Glenfiddich Ealantair. Created by The Spoke’s bartender Joe Howell, it was kind of a twist on the classic Rusty Nail, and contained Glenfiddich 12 Year Old combined with Benedictine, Stone’s Ginger Wine, and plum bitters. It would be way too easy to imbibe way too much of this stuff.
After a few words from the prizewinners themselves (introduced by Prize curator Andy Fairgrieve) it was on to the tasting. To be honest, it had been a while since I last tasted anything from Glenfiddich – I’d always thought it too be too light for my tastes. Or so I thought. Maybe the style had changed. Maybe my palate had changed. Maybe both. In any case, the malts presented seemed fuller and more complex than I recalled.
The Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (40 per cent ABV; $52.95) sported notes of apple, pear, vanilla, toffee, and marmalade both on the nose and palate while Glenfiddich 18 Year Old (40 per cent ABV; $109.95) showed more evident sherry wood maturation with fruitcake, sultana, toasted grain and candied orange peel. Rich and smooth in the mouth with flavours suggesting dried fruit, cocoa and nutmeg. The complex Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition (double matured in ex-bourbon and sherry casks; 43 per cent ABV; $89.95) had a distinctly earthy side to it sweetened up by suggestions of raisin pie and baking spices. Round and voluptuous, it’s flavours suggested toasted nuts, raisin, and baking spices.
Finally, we were treated to something most people are unlikely to experience. Bottled and brought over especially for the occasion was a very rare whisky. Sort of. A single cask of whisky was filled in 2007. What made this barrel unique was that it was one of three works of art produced by the Spanish Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Prize Recipient, Luis Bisbe. At first glance, the barrel looks to have a long handled yard brush leaning against it. On closer inspection you can see that the handle of the brush actually enters the cask near the bottom and exits through the top end. Because this extra bit of wood would ultimately affect the maturation of the spirit, it cannot be called “scotch whisky.” That being said, it was nonetheless interesting stuff. Bottled at cask strength (59.5 per cent ABV), it delivered a bold whack of marzipan, vanilla, pepper, mocha, and nougat on the nose and powerful, peppery/mocha flavours. Maybe not scotch whisky…but pretty dram good!
(Ontario prices listed)