Whisked Away

In the interest of maintaining balance in the universe, posts about Kennedy and posts about Bush, posts about jazz and posts not about jazz, we follow-up the last post on teetotaling with a review of a new book about whisky. Comment-leaver “Canadian Trad” takes it on.

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Taste in clothes and taste in booze don’t have to line-up. One man might choose to sip vintage port in a velour tracksuit and Crocs, while another might don a 3/2 sack and shell cordovan loafers to down a few Jägerbombs. Historically though, drinkers who wore the Ivy League Look have been associated with particular beverages, including G&Ts, Bloodys, Dark ’n’ Stormys, cheap beer, and, my personal favourite, whisky.

In my experience, few solitary pleasures surpass a quiet evening at home nosing a dram or two while reading or just pondering the meaning of it all. Now, I’m not a true connoisseur: my budget is modest, my nose can’t pick out every note in a glass, and, frankly, I rarely have more than a few drinks a week. But I really enjoy trying different scotches, bourbons, ryes and other whiskies. I’m just an equal opportunity whisky enthusiast on the hunt for bottles that titillate my palate without emptying my wallet.

Released on May 1st, Whisky: The Connoisseur’s Journal was produced by La Maison de Whisky, a major French whisky importer and retailer. I have never associated whisky with France, but, according to a 2016 study, French adults drink an average of 2.15 litres each a year. While that seems like a trifling amount—not even three ‘fifths’—that’s more than anyone else drinks.

This isn’t just a French whisky book, it is also a whisky book in French. Like Canadian government publications, this book is fully bilingual with English text on the left hand side of the page and French on the right. This is certainly a selling point for francophiles and also for Canadians trying to bone up on a second official language to increase their mating or job prospects.

The book has four main sections. The first is a guide to enjoying whisky. It includes recommendations on storing your whisky collection, glassware, and how to use all of your senses to extract the most pleasure from a drink. There’s even a part on hearing, believe it or not. Some may complain that this is overthinking it, but the French are known for taking pleasure seriously. While I often just drink my drink, taking the time and effort to eek out every scintilla of nuance in a glass can be delightful.

The second section contains a chronology and a history of whisky. These are entertaining and informative, but they are too short and many significant contributions were omitted. Canadian whisky, to cite a not entirely unbiased example, is entirely unmentioned in the book. Il faut corriger cette lacune, mes amis. Canada’s contributions to whisky were crucial. For instance, in 1890, Canada was the first country to require that whisky be aged. Barrel aging is what gives whisky its colour and much of its flavour. Without it, you’re basically left with rough, less bland vodka. Canadian whisky was also the top selling whisky category in the United States from the Civil War (the American one, Canada has only had civil skirmishes) until the bourbon boom hit in 2010. But is it any good? Before anyone brings up the “brown vodka” slander, go pick up a bottle of Lot No. 40 ($27-45 US) and give it a taste. It is incredible, especially for the price. Of course, we don’t export the best stuff. You’ll have to come up and pay our exorbitant liquor taxes to get those bottles.

Next is the Cellar Notes section—the “journal” part of The Connoisseur’s Journal—in which 106 pages are provided to help you track your personal whisky history. This is the most valuable part of the volume in my view. Cellar books or wine journals are commonly used by oenophiles to keep track of the wines in their collections and to keep tasting notes on the vintages they have tried. Most whisky drinkers simply rely on their memories.That’s fine, of course, through our memories may fail us even when we aren’t in our cups. I prefer to log my impressions. I use my notes to help me select future purchases and to reflect on past pleasures.

The final section is called The World’s Finest Whiskies. It includes very brief descriptions of 50 distillers (41 Scottish, 6 Japanese, 1 Indian, 1 Irish, and 1 Taiwanese) and recommends several whiskies to try from each. A few additional bottles are suggested from broad categories that are largely unrepresented by the selected distillers, including American Whiskey, Blends, New World Whiskies, Grain Whiskies, and Micro-& Craft Distillery. Most of the recommendations are rare and dear, such as Springbank 1966 ($3,000+ US online) and Glenmorangie 18 years 1987 Margaux finish ($1,207+ US online). They do recommend a few deals, though. WL Weller 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, for one, has a pedigree worthy of its own post and is a steal at $24.99 MSRP. Unfortunately, people have caught on to this and it can sometimes retail for ten times as much. Another reasonably priced bottle is Laphroaig 10 (around $50 US). This is a classic peated Islay Single Malt. It tastes like a fire at a band-aid factory on the beach, in a good way.

While I enjoyed reading the recommendations and the historical sections in this book, their brevity makes them insufficient for anyone embarking on a serious whisky education.  However, if you are looking for an elegant volume in which to record tasting notes and track your collection, pick up Whisky: The Connoisseur’s Journal. — ANDREW MCCALLUM

17 Comments on "Whisked Away"

  1. That is the most accurate description of Laphroig I have ever read.

  2. Theo Forman | May 27, 2018 at 12:35 am |

    I have discovered that the indisputable pleasure derived from whisky is nothing compared to the pleasure derived from giving it up.

  3. Thomas Mukherjee | May 27, 2018 at 6:29 am |

    Canada’s contribution to booze is immense. During Prohibition, Canada was a major supplier to the US. A favorite Canadian whiskey is Spice Box. Cheap, cheerful and so sweet and spicy it can be guzzled like soda, causing negligble consequences the following day.

  4. Old School Tie | May 27, 2018 at 10:15 am |

    Technically, only scotch should be referred to as whisky. Whiskey with an extra ‘e’ is the Irish spelling and is traditionally used to describe American product too. That is how I understand it. I am currently quaffing some reasonable Japanese stuff, Nikka, which incidently has a nice little squarish bottle.

  5. Canadian Trad | May 27, 2018 at 11:01 am |

    @Paul Thanks. That’s cobbled together from my own experience and things I’ve heard from other peat fans.

    @Thomas I’m not usually one for flavoured whisky or whisky-based liqueurs, but I do enjoy a spiced rum on occasion. I might have to try a dram of Spice Box.

    @Old School Tie There’s no strict rule, though Scottish, Canadian and Japanese tend to be “no e.” Enjoy your Nikka!

    @Theo Forman Each person must choose their pleasures carefully. Always good to hear that someone has found something that works for them.

  6. As this is an Ivy-loving site, and as the Japanese are arguably the greatest Ivy-lovers, I think it only appropriate to give a special mention to Japanese whisky. I’ve been told that their single malts, like Yamazaki for example, are now considered among the finest in the world.

  7. whiskeydent | May 28, 2018 at 12:34 pm |

    Finally, something in my wheelhouse.

    I have some general thoughts:
    1. The 106-page Cellar Notes might get me through college. The parts I remember, at least.
    2. It’s a shame that Canadian and other new world spirits were omitted or given little attention. Perhaps their search engine didn’t catch “whiskey,” the often-used spelling over here and in my nom de net.
    3. Has Mr. McCallum tried Monkey Shoulder, a blend of three Speyside single malts? I’ve found it has the individuality of a single malt at the price of a bland such as Dewars.
    4. Though normally a loyal scotch drinker, I drink Flor de Cana rum during Austin’s scorching summers (forecast in the 100’s this week!). It’s made in Nicaragua has none of the molasses taste that burdens other rums. Appropriately enough, It’s so smooth it almost takes like a Canadian.


  8. Canadian Trad | May 28, 2018 at 11:07 pm |

    @Mitate I haven’t had much Japanese whisky, but I’ve enjoyed what I have tried.

    @whiskeydent I do enjoy Monkey Shoulder, though it is a bit overpriced up here. I’d put it up against a 12 year Glenlivet, Glenfiddich or Mccallan. Have you heard of that august Austin institution known as The Whiskey Vault? If not, check them out on YouTube.

    • whiskeydent | May 28, 2018 at 11:24 pm |

      I can’t believe I haven’t heard of a Whiskey Vault in Austin. I shall investigate immediately

  9. A friend with whom I’d become acquainted later in life recently passed away at 90. He drank whisky more often and in quantity than anyone I’ve ever known (and that’s saying something!) He was a pleasurable drinker and found so much joy in cocktails that it was hard to find fault with this behavior. He could still navigate his boat after hours of drinking the same as when we awoke refreshed in the morning. When we spent time together, I wanted to appreciate cocktails as much as he, but I always bumped up against a limit where I had to back away. Fortunately, I have other friends for whom having given up drinking was as much a pleasure. They still speak with pride of how they don’t consume alcohol even though they haven’t had one since sometime in the 1980’s. I visit both camps, and often find a zest for life in each. But, it seems I eventually yearn for the other and return as if I can’t decide whether I’m a drinker or a committed teetotaler.

  10. whiskeydent | May 29, 2018 at 10:13 am |

    @Canadian Trad
    I have now watched several of the Whisky Vault videos and will continue to do so. They’re classically Austin, odd ball humor mixed with deep insight. We are very serious about not appearing serious. Thanks for the rec.

  11. Canadian Trad | May 29, 2018 at 11:43 am |

    @whiskeydent Happy you enjoyed them! If you make it out to the distillery they’re opening, let me know how it is.

    @Jerry Every man must find his own limit and stay within it. Mine is frankly pretty low. I find anything after about three to generally have rapidly diminishing returns. Quality over quantity is, usually, my whisky watchword.

  12. whiskeydent | May 29, 2018 at 11:51 am |

    @Canadian Trad
    Driving out will be easy. Getting home without a detour to the jail is another matter.

  13. Canadian Trad | May 29, 2018 at 12:30 pm |

    Definitely take a cab/Uber/bus/trolley/rickshaw/etc.

  14. whiskeydent | May 29, 2018 at 1:47 pm |

    @Canadian Trad
    I’m surprised a Canadian didn’t suggest a dog sled. Regardless, I thought you should know that the Whisky Vault lads have started a new separate web site: https://whiskeytribe.com

    I’d also bet they’ve shared a dram or four with Ivy Style advertiser Criquet Shirts (whose web site appears to have some issues currently). They mine the same vein of Austin snark.

  15. whiskeydent wrote: “…the price of a bland such as Dewars.”

    Typo or Freudian slip? Or deliberate? :o)

  16. whiskeydent | June 1, 2018 at 3:45 pm |

    I have an amazing ability to deliver typos that work as puns.

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