Whisky Rocks; Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Whisky Rocks taking place in LCBO stores to November 10 is a chance to discover more than 140 whiskies featured in 330 locations across the province. A number of the products have Limited Time Offer savings for this period. There’s no better time to stock up before the holiday rush, starting with those of Scotland, a whisky lover’s wet dream.

On the well signposted Speyside whisky trail in the craggy heather covered Highlands you’ll find over a dozen distilleries within a 20-kilometre radius, many welcoming you in for a tour that ends with a complimentary wee dram. At The Glenlivet you can even take a walk on the wild side following the legendary smugglers trails where illicit stills were hid. Long ago an illegal whisky distilling trade flourished in the hidden glens and birch woods of Speyside. A small still could be set up and easily dismantled should the excise man come round. The peat fires and clear running river waters established the unique flavours of genuine Scotch whisky so well known today. (www.maltwhiskytrail.com)

The Glenlivet Trails

The Glenlivet Smugglers Trail

When I visited Speyside with my friend Anita we stayed first at the historic Craigellachie Hotel that’s pretty much in the epicentre of the region. We were following Scotland’s Golf Whisky Trail, a marriage made in heaven of two of Scotland’s most celebrated exports, in scenically stunning landscape. Speyside is renowned for offering the best of Scotland: its food, whisky, landscapes, fishing, shooting, skiing (but not like in Canada), hiking and golf. Our itinerary took in challenging Scottish Highland and coastal links courses as we followed the River Spey with the smell of whisky never too far away.

The Craigellachie Hotel, built in 1893, is steeped in character with beautiful views of the surrounding areas including the River Spey and the famous Thomas Telford Bridge built in 1814. We were greeted with a shot of whisky before we even saw our rooms. This was a harbinger of what was to come. Their Quaich Bar offered over 600 different whiskies and we spent one night doing our best to sample the selection.

The Glenlivet

The Glenlivet

We also spent a few nights at Minmore House Hotel, a stone-built country house on the Glenlivet Crown Estate surrounded by 90 square miles of glens and moorlands of the Grampian Highlands. Their restaurant served up very fine Scottish dishes using only fresh local ingredients including vegetables and herbs from their own kitchen garden. Sadly I’ve heard they’ve closed.

Still open in the warmer months (April to September) and a highly recommendable place to visit is Ballindalloch Castle, one of the most renowned castles in Scotland. Located in the heart of Speyside, near to the distilleries of Glenfiddich, Cragganmore, Glenlivet and Glenfarclas, it’s surrounded by majestic hills. The tumbling waters of the Rivers Spey and Avon flow through the grounds. Still a much beloved family home, Ballindalloch is one of the few privately owned castles to have been lived in continuously by its original family, the Macpherson-Grants who have resided there since 1546. They joined us for dinner the night I was there and for breakfast the next morning.

Glenfiddich Stills

Glenfiddich Stills

The castle is open to visitors during the day and the estate contains attractive cottages that are available to sporting parties, corporate guests and holiday travellers. There’s a golf course on the premises as well and, in good country estate sporting form, opportunities for anglers and hunters. The rivers offer excellent salmon and sea trout fishing and the woods have plenty of partridge, pheasants and roebuck to shoot. I passed on the opportunity to hunt for my dinner.

LCBO whisky sales are projected to top $601 million in 2012-13, more than $21 million higher than in the previous year. It’s not just Scotland that’s making an impact. Canadian whisky is expected to account for a whopping $403 in sales, obviously the vast majority. Irish whiskey is up almost 23 per cent over last year and leads the whisky segment in growth. American whiskey grew 16 per cent over the previous sales period.

Revived and entirely new Canadian whiskies debuted this fall. Some are clearly geared to the younger market namely the spiced, sweetened versions but others with a twist – or dollop of maple syrup – are more serious.

Featured Whisky Reviews

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old, $60.25 (LTO to November 11) – Deep amber coloured it has distinctive wood flavours from aging in three kinds of oak – former bourbon and sherry casks and new American. The aged whiskies are then blended into a unique solera vat handcrafted from Oregon pine which is always kept at least half full so whiskies from decades of previous blendings form part of the mix. The result is a full flavoured, rich, complex and mellow dram. Balanced with notes of honey and raisons, it’s intense and gripping on the palate with a long smooth finish.

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Years Old Highland Single Malt, $236.95 – Finished for up to four months in bourbon barrels that once contained rum, this single malt has impact and power. Rum toffee and ripe banana aromas whiff from the glass, followed by a taste that’s deep, big and full with flavours of fig, vanilla toffee, brown spices, ginger and molasses. The finish is long and spicy.

Glen Parker Speyside Single Malt, $37.35 – This value priced Speyside from Angus Dundee Distillers sadly has been delisted. Stock up while you can. Smooth, rounded and gentle with a hint of heather, smoke and oak, it has malty, fruity, vanilla flavours. This is an easy to enjoy dram for its price and its delivery. It’s a shame to see it go from our markets.

Collingwood Canadian Whisky, $29.95 – Triple distilled and aged in white oak barrels before resting with toasted Maplewood to complete its maturation, this handcrafted Canadian whisky is amber coloured with spiced rye and bourbon flavours. Ultra smooth with peachy fruit tastes and a spiced mellow bourbon overlay, its gentle enough to be enjoyed straight up but can enhance a cocktail too.

Gibson’s Finest 100th Grey Cup Limited Edition, $34.95 – Created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, this is Canadian whisky with an overlay of maple syrup just noticeable on the high notes. Lively and firm on the mid-palate it has a sugar maple finish with a bit of a bite. Not sure it will become a Canuck classic but hey vive la difference.

Check out all my reviews on WineAlign – Margaret’s Whisky Picks.

Whisky Rocks

Tasting with The Trews

And think about going to Barrie on November 8th. The Trews are giving a special benefit concert with proceeds going to Dixon Hall, a United Way member agency for its music school program. More info inside the LCBO’s Whisky Rocks online magazine. www.whiskeyrocks.com

November 21 – 23rd, Canada’s oldest and most prestigious whiskey festival is taking place. The NB Spirits Festival in Fredericton hosted by Frank Scott of the Lunar Rogue pub (named a Great Whiskey Bar of the World by Whiskey Magazine) is the spirit event in Canada to attend according to many whisky lovers and makers that I know.


Margaret Swaine

Chabasse XO Cognac