The Wine Society’s Exhibition 25yo Islay Single Malt

In these days of ever increasing Single Malt Scotch Whisky prices ( “it’s those damn BRIC countries causing a shortage and forcing us to put up our prices……” – Every Whisky Producer ) it’s really nice to find a reasonably priced bottle of 25yo Islay Single malt on sale ! It was by chance i came across this bottle , As readers of this blog and my Facebook / Twitter ramblings know on a recent trip to Toronto i took a liking to the locally produced Niagara wines , wanting to buy some in this country someone recommended the Wine Society as they stocked them (well one at the moment….)  , so i took a look , found the wine and also saw this Islay  in stock for the princely sum of £33 ! To purchase both (and a few others….) it required joining the Society , i was wary at first due to being in “another” Society in the past that got ridiculously expensive what with annual fees and the ever rising costs of bottles (of Scotch in this case….) . £40 to join….. for life not yearly , changed my mind  !  And they gave you back £10 in credit to your account ( take note “other” Society) , so the first order was sent off and was duly delivered this very Morn !

So What’s it like ?

25yo Islay

OK so it’s n un-named Distillery and it’s bottled at 46% , the notes on the back state “Islay malts are some of the strongest flavoured of all malts, pungent, weighty and heavily peated. This bottling shows typical rich, characterful flavour and the characteristic iodine and medicinal flavours on the finish” . I’m hoping either Laphroaig or Caol Ila but when i talked to my friend Willie ‘Two Glasses’ Jackson about it he thought Bowmore . He did like it and has bought “a few”…..

It is a lovely Golden colour so could be ex bourbon casks or well used sherry . It is quite oily in the glass , The nose is very subdued at first ,there is a peatiness with a slight Medicinal , a touch of seashore and floral as well . The Nose doesn’t actually give much away . On the palate i was expecting a touch of wood given the age , there are Wood spices and a lovely hotness to it , there is also the floral note i associate with Bowmore but luckily it doesn’t dominate (say like in the Bowmore 12yo O.b. which i don’t particularly like) , it actually adds something to it as oppose to making me dislike it . The Finish is long , hot , wood spices and the slight floral mentioned previously .

It is actually quite a nice 25yo , very drinkable , pleasant and not over-powering , a session dram and at £3 for a 25yo a very reasonably priced session dram ! If i was pinned down as to it’s origins , I’d have to agree with my Learned friend Mr Jackson and say Bowmore , but a very good Bowmore after my experiences of the distillery since the early 00’s ! Worth a punt at it’s price point……       

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Tale of Two Laphroaigs…….

Last Saturday while looking at the Laphroaig website i noticed a new batch of the 10yo Cask Strength had appeared , Batch 006 , being a huge fan of 001- 005 (i took 005 to Toronto with us for Johannas show) i ordered one straight away and decided to also go for the newly released ‘Select’ . Between Saturdays ordering and todays (Wednesday) delivering a load of horror stories about how bad the ‘Select’ was started to appear on the internet , including a review by Mr Whiskyfun himself , Serge (see here for Serges Review ) .

Two Laphroaigs

Slightly alarmed i was wondering whether i’d done the right thing in ordering it ? Oh well i’ve been drinking Laphroaig for nigh on 30 years – i started drinking Malts in the summer of 1984 in my early Twenties , Later on in that year i tried my first Islay , Laphroaig with a mixture of shock and delight ! – so why worry now ! So lets taste them using the standard 10yo as reference…….

Three Laphroaigs 

The Select

Quite pale in colour next to the other two , The nose is actually stronger than the standard 10yo given that they are the same ABV , not as pronounced a Laphroaig nose as other offerings , definitely new wood and vanilla but the farm yard / nettles / seashore is in there fighting to get out , eventually the peat surfaces as well . When left for a while it develops a strange Sweetness . On the palate a whole lot of wood and vanilla at first , very sweet for a Laphroaig , later on the peat appears alongside marzipan . A strange finish for a Laphroaig there is peat but the wood and vanilla soon dissipates it and only hangs  around for a short time .

In Conclusion it’s not your usual Laphroaig , i really can’t figure out why they put it out at 40% , if you want a Laphroaig at 40% you’re going to buy the standard 10yo and not something that , to my palate , is dominated by the new wood . Very disappointing ! 

10yo Cask Strength Batch 006

A very rich Gold colour almost going on Orange Marmalade , A more traditional nose to this one ! Maritime / Seashore , hospital antiseptic and peat intermixing beautiful in the nasal passages ! Now that’s more like it on the palate , seashore , medicinal , peat , nettle , touch of pepper , stir once and swallow ! Excellent finish , Long , medicinal and seashore with a bit of bite .

A very good Laphroaig , don’t think it’s as good as 004 (my Fav) but at some point will have to put it up against some others . My personal preference when drinking Laphroaig is either the 10yo CS or the excellent 18yo .

10yo

Almost Golden Syrup in Colour  , a lot weaker on the nose compared to the other two but definitely Laphroaig , this is actually more seaweedy than the other two as well . Doesn’t stand up to the Cask Strength but this is a dram to have early on in the evening before others or through a session . I still seem to remember it being more of a monster 30 years ago…… 

Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt2

The Touristy Bit…..

Now that the serious side of the trip was over with the Completion of the Whisky show it was time to relax and do a bit of serious sight seeing . When we’d been originally invited Melanie and Myself had discussed things we’d like to see in Ontario and one thing came top of our list……. Niagara Falls ! So at the Hotel we asked the Concierge what trip to Niagara she recommended and she said the Gray Line one , So we booked it for the Sunday……

Sunday 4th May

Normally we would have been picked up at the Hotel for the tour but due to the Toronto Marathon being on and road closures we had to make our way to the Bay Street Bus Station which was no bother as the Subway went from outside the Hotel to about a Block along from the Station . The Subway is excellent , $3 to go anywhere on the System in nice , clean trains . There weren’t many on the bus , 15 , 6 of whom came from England ! Our guide for the tour was Grant .

We set off West along Queen Street West seeing quite a bit more of the City we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise before joining the Expressways to Niagara . On the way we got asked if we wanted to do an optional extra on the tour….. A Helicopter ride over Niagara . Seeing we thought we’d never have this chance to do it again even though Melanie has a fear of heights , So we were dropped off at Niagara Helicopters paid our fares and headed to the pad……

(Click on Photos to see full size)

Ready for Boarding

Ready for Boarding

Here we go !

Here we go !

So off we went ! 
Swinging west first stop was the Whirlpool then along the Gorge……

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

Along the Gorge

Along the Gorge

Then it was the Falls them selves before heading back along the Gorge

The Falls

The Falls

Back along the Gorge

Back along the Gorge

then it was back to the Whirlpool taking in views across the area

Out across the area

Out across the area

Back to the Whirlpool

Back to the Whirlpool

Then it was back to the Heliport to disembark…..

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

What an Experience ! The photos can’t do the journey justice , we had a perfect day weatherwise and i was so proud of my wife for doing it knowing her fear of heights , she was so glad she’d done it ! After buying a few souvenirs (we were tourists after all !) we headed back to the coach to head into Niagara Falls itself ! We were dropped at the Visitors Centre Car Park for a bit of a wander outside……  

The Top of the Falls

The Top of the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Myself !

Myself !

The American Falls

The American Falls

Closer View

Closer View

The Horseshoe Falls !

The Horseshoe Falls !

Awesome ! as our American friends say....

Awesome ! as our American friends say….

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

At this point we were supposed to go on the boat to the falls but they weren’t running yet due to ice still being around , that’s the ice to the side of the falls in the Pictures above and on one of the viewing platforms below . So they took us behind the falls instead . This involved going down an elevator and along a tunnel cut in the rock . The portals are normally used to monitor the water going over the falls , it’s pretty impressive seeing the water from the footpaths but you don’t realise the full force until you go down below !   

A view from the Portals

A view from the Portals

From the Side

From the Side

From the Upper Viewing Platform

From the Upper Viewing Platform , the lower platform still Ice Bound

Now it was off to The Sheraton on the Falls for lunch in the aptly named Fallsview Restaurant….

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

It was a very nice Buffet , a good choice and as you can see above we had a stunning view ! Afterwards we returned to bus to carry on with the tour , stopping to look at various views along the way including the American Hydro Electric Station below…..

 

Hydro Electric Power Station

Hydro Electric Power Station

After passing the Flower Clock and Fort George we made our way to Niagara on the Lake for a short stay . As tour buses aren’t allowed to stop in the town itself we were dropped in a car park and caught a shuttle bus in . It was a very pretty town that has been well preserved and has a lovely view across the lake .

 

Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake

Old Fort Niagara , USA

Old Fort Niagara , USA

We had one last stop to make on the way back to Toronto , at a winery . The Niagara area is absolutely crawling with wineries and they produce some stunning wines (as you’ll have gathered from these postings !) . We stopped at the Pillitteri Winery just outside of Niagara on the Lake . We got offered a tasting of one White (Riesling) and one Red ( Cabernet Merlot ) and the legendary Ice Wine ! To say the Ice Wine is sweet is an understatement ! We were told it is 25 on the wine scale….. Both the Red and White were nice but not to our taste And we asked if we could try the Pinot Grigio , this was to our liking and two bottles were purchased ! Boarding the bus for the final time we headed back to Toronto spotting Forty Creek Distillery on the way at Grimsby .

What a stunning day it had been ! Never to be forgotten especially the fantastic Helicopter flight . We freshened up once back at the Hotel and headed for the Epic Restaurant downstairs .We had the Lobster Tagliatelle (Butter Poached Lobster, Double Smoked Bacon, Blistered Asparagus,Parmigiano Reggiano, Chipotle Spiked Lobster Cream ) and of course some local wine ! Once again the food and service were exceptional . We headed off for another drink in the Library Bar before returning to the room for the night .

Monday 5th May 

Our last day in Toronto ! After a slight lie in i headed off to the Queens Quay LCBO to pick up some more wines and Canadian Whisky . On return we packed up our belongings checked out (leaving our cases to be picked up later ) and headed to the Watefront to meet up with Johanna and Charles for one last time and have lunch in the Pearl . Another first for us both , Dim Sum , what a great way to spend lunch ! Fantastic company and Great food , was well impressed with the offerings . We bid our farewells to Johanna and Charles , had a wander around the Shore and then hit the Subway up to Queens Park…..  

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

Melanie on the Shore

Melanie on the Shore

The Buildings around the Park were very interesting , first thing that sprung to mind seeing this one was ‘Ghostbusters’ ! 

Who ya gonna Call ?

Who ya gonna Call ?

There was a reason for the visit to this area , not to look at the building which has been in the news since we arrived on Friday , not to admire the home of the Provincial Government (now dissolved for an election ) but to pay homage to the building that is featured on the cover of my favourite Album by Canadian Rock Gods Rush , Moving Pictures ! 

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

There was one more thing to do before departing the city for the airport , i’d been told to try a Canadian Legend while here by a few people and i finally got around to it and boy i’m glad i did , Tim Hortons Coffee !

Tim Hortons !

Tim Hortons !

It was one of the best Coffees i’ve ever had and it went down well with the Chocolate Donut ! We headed back to the Hotel , picked up our cases and got a Town Car to the Airport . Remember the earlier story about the security check at Manchester ? Well Toronto was exactly the opposite , joking and laughing , good hearted banter – take note Manchester, even when i set off the Alarm with my belt (Stop laughing Ashok !) We settled down in the Bar / Restaurant next to our gate and had a bite to eat and a drink . Interesting Concept at this place , ordering everything through the iPads mounted on the Table , just a shame in the land of Blackberry they weren’t Playbooks !

Our Plan awaits....

Our Plane awaits….

So at 20 to Midnight we departed Toronto for our overnight flight back to Manchester…….

Once again many thanks to Johanna and Charles for the invite and their fantastic Hospitality and welcome , you made this a special 5 Days for us ! And of course the City and People of Toronto for giving us a great , great time , Slainte !  

All the Photos are available to view at Flickr
Melanie has Photos available to view on her own Flickr Page

Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt1

Last September we were just starting to plan our 2014 visits to Islay when a rather intriguing e-mail popped into our inbox from Johanna Ngoh inviting us to take part in the 2014 Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala , needless to say we accepted and this is our little adventure……..

The first thing i needed to do was get a passport as i have never had one (never been out of the UK ) and that was an experience and a half ! I had to go down to the local office in Durham for an “interview” (not an interrogation as they said at arrival…..) , it is a weird interview , a friendly , nicey nicey interrogation , basically trying to catch you out for being not what you say you are .

So to the trip , our flight was from Manchester , so after work on the 30th April we drove down to spend a night in a hotel beside the Airport .

Thursday 1st May 

The day of departure , my first flight ! I have to say departing from an Airport is not as good as fun as departing from Kennacraig ! Checking in was ok but the people at the security security check really need to lighten up ! (check out the end…..) Why so surly ? We were flying with Air Transat so headed off to our gate to await departure , on the way we stopped off at World of Whiskies and wasn’t impressed with selection or price , i can pick up The Signet for £110 at my local Tesco !

So to my first flight…… I wasn’t too nervous but any nerves i did have vanished as soon as we got into the air , i really enjoyed the take off (i did love roller coasters as a kid…..) and seeing the world from up in the air was fantastic . The Cabin crew on Air Transat were Fantastic and even though the flight was over 7 hours it (excuse the pun….) flew over…..

We arrived at Pearson Mid afternoon and headed for the customs clutching our Declaration form , i thought this bit would be fun , (a) seeing if our bottles had made it through baggage handling and (b) seeing how customs would react to 10 bottles of Single Malt Whisky ? (a) they did and (b) they weren’t particularly bothered or interested ! Just one question for seasoned travellers , is it always such a long walk from the arrival gate to exit  of the airport ? We decided to get a limo from the Airport to the Hotel as it was only $5 more and you may as well arrive in style ! The first view of Toronto are stunning , the Skyscrapers along the Lake Shore , our driver was great , pointing things out and giving us tips for the trip .

We arrived at our Hotel for the stay and we have to say photos don’t do it justice , we were staying at the Fairmont Royal York opposite Union Station……

(Click on photos to see full size )

Fairmont Royal York

We were both trying to think of a way to describe it , sort of ‘Pretty Woman’ meets 1930’s glamourous Hollywood movie hotel  place , Amazing is a pretty good word as well !

Fairmont ReceptionYou get the most beautiful of people stopping here as well…….

Melanie in the Reception area

We were originally staying on the 2nd floor but due to a lack of hot water in the room got moved to the 13th floor on the Friday , it was a bit of a shame as we had a nice view out of the window…..

2014_05_01_View-from-the-Window 

After we freshened up we headed down to one of the many bars in the Hotel to have a drink and a bite to eat , we ended up in The Piper’s Gastropub , Melanie got to try her first Ontario wine ( Crush Pinot Grigio ) and i got to try my first Canadian Whisky (Collingwoods) , Melanie went for the Royal York’s Signature ½ Pound Beef Burger and i went for the Bison Burger , they were , as our American friends would say , Awesome . It was at this point we realised that we were effectively eating after midnight UK time . We have to say the service was fantastic here , the waitress went beyond the call of duty , when she asked us if we wanted dessert Melanie asked about one she’d dropped off at the next table , it was a special the chef done for that regular customer , we decided to pass but 10 minutes later she returned with one……

Pudding   

It was a Chocolate Moose in a Chocolate Cup , Chocolate Ice Cream in a Chocolate Shell served with fresh fruit and a chocolate sauce , How good was it ?

10 mins later

A Few mins Later…..

We then headed up to Library Bar for a drink , while sitting there we got a text from Johanna saying her and Charles were meeting Angus Macraild in the Library bar for a drink…. They were just next to us ! After a good old natter and a few more drinks we called it a night , it was actually the next morning for us (4am UK) and headed back to our room .

Friday 2nd May

Our first full day in Toronto , after a bit of a leisurely lie in we went off for a bit of an  exploration , first off down to the Shore then slightly west via the CN Tower to the Theatre District and finally caught a cab to the Distillery District .

CN Tower

CN Tower

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

The Distillery District was a beautiful area , lots of great shops and places to eat .

Melanie at the Distillery District Distillery District

In the Distillery District

In the Distillery District

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

We had Lunch in the Pure Spirit Oyster House and Grill, a very nice bar , luckily we just managed to order lunch before the electricity went off in the District , they did still managed to serve us , we both went for the Pure Spirits Pappardelle (lobster, wild mushrooms, black truffle cream sauce ) and a glass of the Local wine .

Melanie two drinks !

Don’t know where she got this idea from ?

Lunch !

Lunch !

Lunch was superb and the service was excellent (this seems to be the standard in Toronto , maybe most of the UK hospitality trade should take note…..) . After another wander around the area we headed back to the Hotel to change rooms and get ready for a meal out with Johanna and Charles . Not only were we moved it appeared we’d been upgraded room wise……

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

The Lounge Area

The Lounge Area

The Bedroom and Lounge area were now separate and we now had two bathrooms ! After a freshen up we met up with Johanna and Charles who took us to The Keg for a bite to eat with Angus and our old friend Ashok . I went for a 10oz Prime Rib and Melanie went for the Grilled Shrimp , i was surprised how rare looking it was even though i’d asked for medium but it was pure melt in the mouth steak . After much drinking and talking we all headed back to our hotels for ‘Show Day’ .

Saturday 3rd May – Showtime ! 

I’d had a bit of a restless night worrying about my first ever presentation in front of an audience so to relax we done a bit of exploration to the north of the hotel via Osgoode House and the City Hall – where there appeared to be some filming going on and preparations for the next days Marathon .

Melanie at Osgoode House

Melanie at Osgoode House

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

After a visit to one of the Legendary LCBO shops We hit a Red Lobster for a spot of lunch , Melanie went for the Ultimate Feast and i went for the Fire-Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops , We love our seafood and this place is the ‘clachan a choin’ ! We headed back to our hotel to prepare for the Whisky Gala……

header1

So it was time ! We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the Roy Thomson Hall , i have to say it is a pretty impressive place to have a Whisky Festival ! First up Johanna gave us a tour of the venue showing us where the Islay Lounge would be and then took us down to the room where our Masterclass would be . We spent an hour setting up and then we were ready !

Waiting for the Masterclass

Waiting for the Masterclass

Melanie surveying the scene

Melanie surveying the scene

The Line up !

The Line up !

Gordon at SoT 2014

 

(Photo Courtesy of Johanna Ngoh © Spirit of Toronto )

Johanna introduced us to the Room  and then the First Dram she’d sneaked in , I actually thought it was a Bowmore but it turned out to be a 1950’s White Horse Blend ! No one got it ! We then went onto the Drams i’d fetched across for the tasting , the first 4 were known but i kept the 5th Blind , The format was Johanna introduced each one , then i talked a little about what each dram meant to me and why i’d included it , Melanie interjected with a few personal stories of what different places meant to her on Islay . One person got the blind bottle but we’re not including him as he is a Malt Maniac ! you little cheat Nabil , LOL !

The full line up for the Masterclass was….

  • 1950’s White Horse Blend
  • SMOS 1979 28yo Bunnahabhain
  • Signatory 1978 23yo Port Ellen
  • Ardbeg 1976 27yo Sherry cask 2398
  • My own 4yo Port Charlotte Bloodtub R23

I have to say the hour absolutely flew over ! I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end , i think having Johanna and Melanie at my side helped an awful lot ! The room seemed to enjoy it as well !! We moved upstairs into the Islay Lounge with the remains of these bottles and added a few more……

  • Ardbeg ‘Very Young’ Committee Release
  • Bruichladdich ‘Drambusters’ Valinch 1990 16yo
  • Whiskybroker ‘Islay Malt’ 1990 21yo (Bunnahabhain)
  • Bladnoch Forum Caol Ila 1980 30yo
  • Laphroaig 10yo Caskstrength Batch 005

To say they went down well was an understatement ! We met lots of people from the social media sites including a long time friend from the SOI days , Wendy Harker , glad to finally see you in person Wendy ! We were looking after half the Islay Lounge so i didn’t get a chance to look at the other half , there was also a Whisky and Oyster bar and they seemed to be doing a roaring trade serving fresh oysters with Islay Malts .

Our Supplies ran out with over an hour to go so we got a chance to explore the show and have a bite to eat (great food Johanna !) , we met up with Ashok as well and had a dram with him and Wendy and also got a small gift off Wendy , Some Canadian Bacon for a post show snack (was delicious ) and some Maple Syrup to take home , many thanks Wendy .

Ashok at the show

Ashok at the Show

Relaxing

Relaxing at the show

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

Friends of Amrut !

Friends of Amrut with our Leader !

Thanks to Ashok for the photo !

Though i didn’t manage to try many drams i have to say the Gibsons 18yo was outstanding (a bottle was later purchased….) , well worth hunting down . After the show we headed back to the Fairmont for a post show drink with Johanna , Charles and Angus then headed off to bed for a well earned rest !

I have to thank Johanna and Charles for inviting us over for their excellent Whisky Gala and giving us the chance to share our love of Islay , you have a fantastic show Guys !!!! Also thanks to everyone one at the show for making us feel so welcome and all the kind words expressed to us during the show and later on Facebook and Twitter , i’m glad i didn’t balls it up !

More photos may be published here when i scrounge or pinch them (kidding about the latter !)

To Part Two, the touristy bit