Spirits of Calgary: Flor de Caña Tasting @ Murrieta’s

3 07 2018

By Tyler Derksen

Last Thursday I had the privilege of attending a Flor de Caña rum tasting at Murrieta’s, hosted by enthusiastic Brand Ambassador Jeffrey Meyers.  I’m going to level with you:  I’m relatively new to the world of rum.  Until recently, much of my experience has been limited to highballs, but I am thoroughly enjoying learning more about this surprisingly complex sugar cane-based spirit.  For whatever reason, I have generally associated rum with two things:  the Pirates of the Caribbean movie and the Caribbean islands (although now that I write this, I’m guessing the former informs the latter).  Flor de Caña, however, is produced in the Central American country of Nicaragua, most definitely not an island or a Disney franchise of any kind.

rum_flo5

If you look closely, you’ll see the volcano…  (Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange)

Flor de Caña traces its roots back 125 years, when was founded by the Pellas family, who moved to Nicaragua from Italy in 1875.  Originally intending to found a sugar cane plantation, the family began to distill spirit to celebrate the end of the harvest season with the area’s farmers.  Their distillation facility is located at the base of the San Cristobal volcano, which is featured prominently on its label.  Despite producing rum for local farmers for many years previous, it was not until 1937 that product from Flor de Caña became available for purchase by the public, and even then it was only in Nicaragua.  The company now exports internationally, remains family-owned and is now on its fifth generation of rum producers, which is a remarkable feat in today’s age of beverage conglomerations.

The name Flor de Caña translates to “flower of the cane”, which is a tip-of-the-hat to the practice of harvesting the sugar cane for rum distillation when the flowers that grow on it bloom.  Jeffrey Meyers took great pride in the Flor de Caña production process and emphasized that the distillery uses 100% molasses (a byproduct of the sugar refining process) for the production of its rum and does not use any added already-refined sugar.  Before being aged in American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, the spirit is distilled five times (which is, I think, the most that I have heard of a spirit being distilled and would almost surely result in a nearly neutral spirit pre-barrel maturation).  So, how does it taste? Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements




Spirits of Calgary: Buffalo Trace Tasting @ One18 Empire

1 06 2018

By Tyler Derksen

IMG_5037

Drew Mayville of Buffalo Trace.

It’s not every Wednesday that I get to leave work in the middle of the day to try nine whiskeys (if you’re being pedantic, actually eight whiskeys and one whisky, as the spelling of the spirit varies with its location of production), but this past Wednesday was one of those days.  I had the absolute pleasure to attend a tasting of Sazerac offerings chaired by Buffalo Trace’s Master Blender, Drew Mayville.  Buffalo Trace is part of the larger Sazerac company, whose myriad of other brands we also got to enjoy.  While the whiskey was the star of the show, it was Drew’s presentation and engagement with the subject matter and with all of us that really made the tasting special.  Drew is a Canadian who began his career in spirits at the Seagram’s plant in Waterloo, Ont. in 1980, eventually becoming the company’s fourth ever Master Blender.  After Seagram ceased to be, Drew then took his talents to Buffalo Trace, which at the time he joined was a relative unknown in the whiskey world, a fact that is hard to believe now that it has earned over 500 awards nationally and internationally over the last decade.

Drew’s passion for whiskey was readily apparent.  As Buffalo Trace’s current Master Blender, it is his job to take the aged spirits created by the Master Distiller and weave them into both established product lines and new and exciting projects.  Drew’s favourite whiskey is “the one he hasn’t made yet”.  In answer to the follow-up question “how do you make a better whiskey?”, Drew immediately said, “I don’t know”, reflecting his continuous stretch for further improvement.  Perhaps my biggest takeaway was Drew’s love of experimentation, embraced by both Buffalo Trace and Sazerac, which has created at least 50 different bottling “experiments” since 2006.  He freely acknowledges that not all of the experiments are successful and lead to new product lines, but this adventurous spirit is part of the fabric of Sazerac.  This is all the more impressive when one considers the extended aging process in the creation of whiskey.  Sazerac has even built a warehouse, Warehouse X, solely for the purpose of manipulating the many variables that go into the creation of whiskey (including light, temperature, air flow, wood grain, and others) to better understand the impact of those variables on the finished product and to use that knowledge to create that elusive “better whiskey”.

IMG_5039

Drew’s other point of emphasis was the recipe for the whiskey, which he came back to with each successive whiskey we tried.  Buffalo Trace’s bourbons are made of a combination of 6 main ingredients (Drew would never tell us exactly how much of each).  First, any bourbon must legally be made from at least 51% corn, which gives the spirit its sweet and fruity characteristics.  Next is rye, which adds spice, pepper and herbaceous notes.  Third is barley malt, which doesn’t add flavour so much as enzymes vital to the fermentation process.  As an alternative to rye, wheat can also be used, but this is far less common and wheat bourbons make up less than 5% of the overall spirit created.  Add limestone-filtered water and yeast and you’re almost finished.  The one ingredient that is not often talked about with bourbon, but that has a profound impact on its character, is time.  As was made clear when we started sampling, Buffalo Trace ages its whiskey longer than many of its competitors.  Speaking of sampling, now would be a good time to shine a spotlight on the fantastic whiskeys we tried. Read the rest of this entry »





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As all good things must end, so too does my tenure as guest blogger for Pop & Pour and this year’s KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these eight (as of today) whiskies with me.  My final whisky of this calendar, the Gordon & MacPhail’s Collection Highland Park 8 Years Old, ties back to a number of the previous seven I have written up in a number of ways.  First, as with my first write up on Day 5 (the Caol Ila) and Day 13 (the Balblair), this whisky comes to us from independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (the Balblair was also part of the MacPhail’s Collection).  Second, including today, exactly half of the whisky that I pulled from the Whisky Advent Calendar come from a Scottish island.

Highland Park Distillery is located on one of the Orkney Islands, a collection of over seventy islands north of mainland Scotland (only twenty of which are inhabited).  The Orkneys were conquered by Vikings from Norway in the late 800s and were a staging ground for their raiding efforts in Britain, and they did not become part of Scotland officially again until 1472.  Located where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are exposed to such severe weather that no trees grow there.

The main island of the archipelago is fittingly called The Mainland and it is in the burgh of Kirkwall on The Mainland that Highland Park is located.  The distillery smokes its barley over 9000 year-old peat cut from Hobbister Moor (and has done so for over 220 years).   Their newest kiln is over 100 years old!  Highland Park embraces the islands’ Viking heritage and its founder, Magnus Eunson, was a direct Viking descendant and sounds like he could have a show on the History Network as well.  By day, Magnus was a mild-mannered butcher and church officer, but by night he was a smuggler who set up an illicit still at High Park.  The Highland Park distillery claims 1798 as its official date of foundation, but that was merely the year that Magnus was finally caught – whisky was being distilled at High Park before that.  Highland Park’s Viking heritage can also be seen in many of its bottlings, including Valkyrie, Voyage of the Raven, Thor, Freya and Loki – the latter three being part of the Valhalla Collection with phenomenal wood packaging.

IMG_4246

The Highland Park 8 Years Old is a pale straw in the glass and is bottled at a restrained 43%.  The nose smells of malt, apple, vanilla, as well as peat and brine which call back to the whisky’s island birthplace.  The palate is a wonderful combination of leather, wood, smoke, sea salt, pepper and a bit of honey.  For only 8 years of age, this whisky has a remarkable depth and I could definitely see myself drinking it on a longship on the way to sack a coastal English monastery.  Skol!

Merry Christmas everyone!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 22

22 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

For those of you that have been following along at home as Peter and I have explored each of the whiskies thus far in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, you will note that there has been a wide variety of offerings from a number of different countries.  It is a testament to the hard work of Andrew Ferguson and Kensington Wine Market that there have been no duplicate producers…that is, until tonight.  It was with a sense of excitement and trepidation that I reached through the little cardboard door and found a familiar cylindrical container.  Glenfiddich.  Again.  Of all of the whisky that I have tried this Advent season, it was the Glenfiddich 15 that has most disappointed.  As I said back on Day 10, that is not to say that it is a bad whisky, I just think it tries too hard to appeal to too many people and sacrifices character for such mass appeal.

Just as one must seek out the opinions or views of those with whom they disagree in order to grow intellectually, so too must one be willing to try all kinds of whisky in order to grow as an uisgeophile.  I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to purchase a bottle of Glenfiddich, so I looked forward to sampling a new offering.  Today’s whisky is the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old Small Batch Reserve, which is the most aged whisky I’ve tried from the distillery.

IMG_4222

This Glenfiddich 18 was aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and American oak and each batch is individually numbered (apparently only on full-sized bottles, as the 40 ml sampler doesn’t have a number).  In doing some research on how this whisky was made, Glenfiddich once again uses the word “consistency” in its marketing.  Sigh.

The colour was a golden colour in the glass with a fascinating ring around the outside that looked almost clear.  The nose was much more pronounced than the 15 Year I tried a couple of weeks ago.  The sherry cask influence comes through clearly on the nose, with dried fruit taking centre stage along with oatmeal raisin cookie, cinnamon, vanilla, sawdust and a spritz of citrus.  I needn’t have been so concerned about the looming spectre of “consistency”, as the flavour was actually quite enjoyable.  The palate was brighter than expected, with flavours of vanilla, orange, pear and baking spices.  Despite being bottled at the same 40% as the 15 Year Old Solera, this whisky has a nice slow burn to follow the bright palate, which was unexpected but appreciated.  Overall, this whisky certainly exceeded my (admittedly tempered) expectations and I’m glad of the opportunity to try it.

 





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 19

19 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

One of the things that I love the most about whisky (other than drinking it) is that researching the many and varied distilleries always teaches me something new.  For example, did you know that Arran is an island in Scotland?  I didn’t.  I probably should have, but it was news to me.  The Isle of Arran is located in the Firth of Clyde and, eyeballing it on a map, appears to be slightly smaller than Islay, which is located due west of Arran and is separate by the Kintyre Peninsula, a skinny peninsula extending south off of mainland Scotland.  This is most pertinent news as today’s whisky comes from this very Isle:  the Arran 14 Year Old.

The Isle of Arran Distillers is a relative newcomer to the scotch scene in comparison to many other distilleries in Scotland.  Having been established in 1995, it is the only distillery located on the island.  This was not always the case, as back in the 1800s there were many smaller producers, but they could not compete in an era that valued quantity over quality.  I think that the Arran website puts it best when it says:  “Back in the 1800s there were many small stills to be found across the island.  Not all of them were legal, but all made superlative spirit.”  The Arran distillery is located at the north end of the island and opened its first cask of whisky on July 25, 1998.  Fun fact – the cask was opened that day by actor Ewan McGregor.  In fairness to Arran, The Phantom Menace wouldn’t come out until the following year so I guess it’s OK.

Ch_7_Pic_23_timeline

Taken from the Arran Distillers website to prove that I didn’t make that last part up.

While the distillery releases a large range of product (I have seen bottles aged in various types of wine, bourbon and sherry), apparently all are produced using only Scottish barley (chiefly Optic and Oxbridge) and fermented in washbacks crafted from Oregon pine (I don’t know why they chose Oregon pine over a pine that is native to Scotland, but I’d love to find out).  The water for the spirit is drawn from nearby Loch na Davie which arrives in the lake after traveling through granite and peat and which Arran Distillers claims is the purest in all of Scotland.  I haven’t seen any peer-reviewed scientific studies to back them up, so I’ll assume it’s true (although I have some lingering doubts if it travels through peat).  If any of you really love Arran, you should know that you can actually buy a cask and they will mature it for you (there are even some options as to what type of barrel you want it aged in!).

IMG_4220.JPG

Today’s offering from Arran is the Arran 14 Year Old.  It was aged in first fill Sherry and Bourbon casks and is bottled at 46%.  I would describe the colour in the glass as a pale gold; however, Arran clearly has more paint swatches available and poetically describes the colour as “sunset copper”.  The nose is fruity, with smells of orange zest, cantaloupe and apricot abounding.  Hints of toffee and honey round it out.  The palate is bright, sweet and slightly floral with tastes of apple, citrus and perhaps a bit of sea salt.  The finish is long and takes on a bit of a spice characteristic, kind of like very mellow anise.  If a glass of Ardbeg is perfect for reading in a dark cabin next to a fire (or an apocalyptic wasteland if you’re Peter), the Arran 14 Year Old would be ideal for watching a sunset on a beach after a warm clear day.  KWM has the bottle listed for $79.99 if you’re interested in trying it rather than just reading about it.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 17

17 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

I smile every time I pull a whisky from the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar because, well, whisky.  That said, I must say that my smile was a bit bigger today, as after trying some new whiskys over the last few posts, I am returning somewhere familiar – Islay.  Today’s scotch is the 12 Years Old from Bunnahabhain (pronounced boo-na-hah-venn).  The distillery dates back to 1881 and its name is Gaelic meaning “mouth of the river”.  The river in question is the Margadale and it will make a reappearance below.  Bunnahabhain is the northernmost of Islay’s distilleries and is located a few minutes north of Caol Ila, which made an appearance on Day 5.

IMG_4199

Bunnahabhain’s website takes a remarkably honest approach.  Rather than suggesting that its whisky is better because of the use of superior ingredients, it acknowledges that all whisky production begins essentially the same way.  In the case of Bunnahabhain, especially as it compares to other Islay distilleries, it is all about location, location, location.  Many of the other distilleries on Islay create their spirit using spring water that has wound its way through the island’s signature peat bogs.  Bunnahabhain, on the other hand, sources water from the Margadale, which flows through sandstone rocks and results in a spirit that is cleaner in its characteristics.  Also, unlike its Islay brethren, Bunnahabhain does not heavily peat its malt, creating a scotch that does not have the mossy, smoky characteristics for which the island is known.

At this time, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my Dad.  My parents and I went to Scotland in 2008 and spent five glorious days on Islay, during which time I took advantage of the opportunity to taste many of the peaty scotches that I love. It seems that an affinity for peat is not genetic as my Dad does not enjoy peaty scotch in the slightest, and so while he was able to enjoy Islay’s incredible beauty, he only took an academic interest in the distilleries we visited.  That all changed after we left our Caol Ila tour.  We were exploring the coast with no particular destination in mind and came upon Bunnahabhain, which neither of us had heard of.  Not ones to turn down the potential to try some free scotch, we went in.  It was a revelation for my Dad (and for me too) as we discovered a phenomenal Islay scotch that didn’t have the distinctive Islay peat flavour.  From that day forward Bunnahabhain has been one of my Dad’s favourite whiskies and we have enjoyed many a dram together.

IMG_1580

They say that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.  I don’t know who “they” are, but they are very wise.

The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old was launched in 2010, is bottled at a comfortable 46.3% and is a deep golden colour in the glass.  The nose has a wonderful maltiness along with readily apparent sherried notes.  As if being unable to completely hide its Islay heritage, there is a slight note of smoke meandering through the nose, but it comes across more like wood smoke rather than the earthy peat smoke of other Islay scotch.  On the palate, the scotch is sweet with vanilla and further sherry notes.  There is also a wood flavour of some kind (I’m a lawyer, not an arborist) along with a hint of smoke to round things out and add further depth.  Again, the smoke is more like campfire/wood smoke and far less pronounced than one would expect from an Islay scotch.  If you’re not familiar with Bunnahabhain, I recommend rectifying that.  It appeals to those peat-averse like my Dad, but there is also something familiar for Islay aficionados and certainly justifies its price-point ($75 at KWM).  Trying something new is always fun, but sometimes its great to curl up with a glass that is familiar and comforting, which is what I got to do tonight.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 13

13 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

Today we take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to visit Balblair Distillery, care of independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s “The MacPhail’s Collection”.  Located on the coast of the Dornoch Firth (which is almost due north of Inverness in the very northern part of mainland Scotland), Balblair was established by John Ross in 1790.  Interestingly, the original distillery was located half a mile from its current location and was moved in 1895 to take advantage of the Highland Railway.  As is the case with so many distilleries in Scotland, it was mothballed in 1911 and the last whisky being released in 1932.  The distillery continued to provide a valuable service when the army commandeered the buildings during World War II.

After the War, Robert James “Bertie” Cummings purchased the distillery in 1948 for £48,000 with production resuming the following year.  As a lawyer from Calgary, I’m tickled by the fact that Cummings was a solicitor from Banff – the original one in Scotland, not the one in the Rocky Mountains.  In 1970, Cummings sold Balblair to Hiram Walker, which later became Allied Distillers, which owns over 100 distilleries.  It is now owned by Inver House Distillers, which purchased it in 1996 (and which has a regional headquarters in Airdrie – the original one in Scotland, not the one north of Calgary).

IMG_4145For many years, Balblair has released its whisky as vintage offerings, with each one released based on the year it was distilled rather than with an age statement on the bottle.  As today’s bottle does not come direct from the distillery, we see a more conventional (for whisky) age statement of 10 years on the bottle.  The whisky was aged in refill bourbon casks and bottled at 43%.

Before today I had never tried Balblair and I genuinely enjoyed this whisky.  My first thought upon bringing the glass to my nose was that it smelled “dry”.  Not dry as one would describe the sweetness (or lack thereof) in wine, but rather dry as in the absence of moisture.  While I was able to pick out smells of unripe pear – you know the kind when you cut it and get mad at yourself because it’s not ready to eat yet – the predominant scent was that of cut grass.  Not green fresh-cut grass, but rather dried grass being raked after a couple of days after being mowed.  The palate delivered sweetness that was not evident (to me) on the nose.  I was able to taste candied orange, shortbread and something toasted.  It was reserved, but had a pleasant burn that I was not expecting based on its 43% bottling.  The Balblair 10 Year Old didn’t do anything crazy, but it didn’t have to.








%d bloggers like this: