Last night I headed out to Smith at The Forks, to enjoy a scotch tasting event put on by Bruichladdich distillery. I ended up there because the event had been posted in the Manitoba Bartenders Guild on Facebook.
The Manitoba Bartenders Guild appeared in my Facebook feed not long after my post on Brown’s Socialhouse. On one of my visits there, the drink special had been hi-balls. I had tried a couple of different alcohols in my drinks, but they both simply left me feeling that I was drinking cranberry juice and nothing else. Having had a rather disappointing experience I thought it would be worth my time to learn a little more about cocktails and other beverages.
Joel Carleton, the group admin (more on him later in the post), had posted a teaser in the group about a possible scotch tasting, so I was keeping my eyes open, and when Reed Pettit, the rep for Bruichladdich, posted the details for the event I jumped at the chance to get a ticket. A few years ago I had done a similar event hosted by a rep for The Maccallan, and had found it very enjoyable and informative.
Last night was also the first time I had been at the Inn at The Forks since the restaurant was called the Current. The event was held in a back reception room of the restaurant. The room had several long tables, the event was intended for 60 people and the room held that many quite comfortably.
The event was sponsored not only by Bruichladdich, but also by Remy Cointreau, the parent company of Bruichladdich. Remy Cointreau was represented at the event by Mandy Zetariuk. Also present was John Batiuk from Southern Glazers Wine and Spirits.
If you are not sure how to pronounce the name, just follow watch the video below.
In many ways, Bruichladdich is a rebel among scotch makers. An interesting part of the company’s history is that while the distillery has been around for many years, it has opened and closed several times over it’s history, with it’s latest incarnation dating to the year 2000.
Scotch is tightly regulated by the Scottish Whisky Association. Ostensibly this is to protect the reputation and quality of scotch, but to a certain extent it tends to favour the large, recognisable companies at the expense of smaller companies such as Bruichladdich.
The presentation also let us in on some of the little known facts of the whisky making business. The one that stood out for me is that the reason many scotchs have such a dark amber colour is that they use a food colouring similar to the one added to give Coca Cola it’s distinctive colouring.
Bruichladdich challenges many of the conventions of the scotch business, surrounding things such as sourcing barley, casking, and aging. This has been embodied by such people as James McEwan, a legend in the whisky business. Another such character is the farmer James Brown, known as the “Godfather of Soil.”
Reed Pettit embodies the mentality and personality of the brand. He’s young, Canadian, and passionate about scotch. One thing that marks that out, was that our tasting included, not only several commercially available whiskeys, but he brought along a couple that were not available on the market, but are part of his personal collection. At the end of the evening he suggested,that one thing we should all do when we acquire a good scotch is to share, because that what it’s meant for.
Another thing that made the night quite memorable was the story-telling itself. Bruichladdich bases it’s business model around the ideas of terroir, traditional distilling, and sustainability. Yet, at the same time, they poke at the ideas of the traditional whisky drinker. This is a company where there is no placed for the stuffed shirt, or pretentious nose. It’s wild, and wildly entertaining. Above all, it’s about trying to find out all the things a great whisky can be.
I haven’t space or time for all the stories, but I highly recommend that you visit the Bruichladdich website listed above and check out some of them for yourself.
One of the things that stood out about the evening, is that as far as tasting went, we weren’t going to be learning about tasting notes, as you might normally expect if you went to a wine or scotch tasting. Instead we were going to focus on the effects that different barley, casking, and peating will have on a scotch.
One of the new and interesting things I learned about last night, was the existence of unpeated scotch. The first five of the eight scotchs we tried were unpeated. Peat moss is what gives scotch it’s smoky flavour. A interesting bit of trivia on why peat is used, it’s because there are not a lot of trees in the area, so peat was the fuel that was readily available.
There were a lot of technical details flying about last night, but I didn’t pay attention to most of them, being a non-technical drinker. However, one thing I did note was that all their whiskies are bottle with an alcohol volume of 44.6% or higher to get the most out of the essential oils to produce the best flavour possible.
Below is a gallery of some of the individual glasses. Although, for all I know it’s just four different shots of the same glass.
I’m not a believer in essential oils as medicine, but single malt is still the best cold remedy available on the market.
I took some pictures of everyone of the scotchs above, but when I came to write this morning, I realized that I wasn’t able to distinguish between the individual glasses. So, I’m going to refer to some of the whiskys that stood out for me. We went in a particular order during the tasting, so you will be able to pick out each one from the picture above.
My favourite of the evening, was the Isla Barley, which is the second from viewer left in the picture above. It had a good bit of sweetness to it, that wasn’t overly sweet. This was in contrast to the one on the far right of the top row, which was an 18 year old which came from sweet white wine casks, and which I found the least enjoyable.
My next favourite was the Octomore on the bottom right. This is peated at 208 parts per million, which is obscenely high, but Jim McEwan has produced an incredible scotch, that reminds of liquid smoke one might use for cooking. It’s also aged for only six years, which keeps the peat from taking over, and also shows that you don’t have to age a scotch for 20 years to produce something memorable.
To make this a top three I would say that the Organic, the third whisky from left of the top row would have taken that spot. It’s gentler than any of the other whisky’s and one that would be a good introductory whisky for someone wanting to try it for the first time.
Cocktails and Conversation
Cocktails were available before and after the event. I’m not a big drinker, so I waited until after the tasting to avail myself of the cocktail opportunity. I chose the Mule which is made with Remy VSOP, Ginger Beer, Lime Juice and lime twist, served over ice. This is a French, not a Moscow Mule. The Moscow uses Vodka as it’s spirit. I found this a refreshing change are the scotchs.
Along with the cocktails, Smith had provided some nibbles to enjoy. So, I took my beverage loaded up a little plate and did some walking and talking. I took the opportunity to thank Reed for such a great presentation, and for introducing me to unpeated scotch.
Then I took the time to introduce myself to Joel. Joel brings an unbounded enthusiasm to his role in promoting bartending and cocktail making. He took the time to explain the way things need to balance out in a cocktail, and why he hopes to see more people taking the time to learn about and drink good cocktails. Joel’s efforts are definitely going to help improve the quality of the drinks served in lounges and bars. I’m glad he accepted me as a member of the Manitoba Bartenders Guild.
I also wandered down the tables and ended up talking to two guys, whose names I’ve forgotten alread (i’m getting really old). They were part of the enthusiast section of the crowd at the event. I also learned that I really need to try out the dim sum at the Sobey’s on McPhillips
Last nights tasting event was very enjoyable. A big thanks goes to everyone who helped make it so. Not only to those mentioned in the post, but to the staff at Smith who did a great job of serving, preparing drinks, and providing us with some really enjoyable food.