Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mr. Moo’s Whisky Explorations: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Tasting

Although I have attended whisky tastings in the past, notably one at Jameson’s Whisky Distillery on a trip to Dublin, as well as Jura Distillery tasting at the Edmonton Petroleum Club last year, I never wrote about either as at the time, I honestly found whisky unappealing. Although Willie Tait, Brand Ambassador for Jura Distillery, is one heck of an interesting character, I found most of their offering far too smoky and peaty for my liking.

7 Scotches to Sample
I had been following the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of Canada on Twitter for quite some time now, or at least since my last trip to Calgary, mostly because their Twitter avatar is that of a faux fur moose, whom I hoped to meet one of these days. As it happened one weekend in April, they were coming to Edmonton to host a tasting at Happy Harbor Comics as a fundraiser for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada. Although still not convinced that whisky was really for Moo, I thought I would go to at least meet said faux fur moose.

Frighteningly easy to drink 9.73
Once I arrived at Happy Harbor Comics, I came face to face with Artie, travel moose to humans Rob and Kelly Carpenter. Not only does he enjoy drinking drams of scotch, but also he lives for travelling. His humans, Rob and Kelly, run the Canadian chapter of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and take him whenever they travel. Like many other faux furs, he’s charged with supervising the humans’ activities as well as navigating when they drive in unfamiliar surroundings.

Sinfully Seductive 76.109
That evening, there were 7 scotches to be sampled. Sadly enough, I knew so little about whisky up until that evening, that I didn’t even know why some whisky was called scotch and some was called whisky. I learnt that similar to other naming regulations such as the difference between champagne and sparkling wine, whisky that is from Scotland proper is called scotch, while whisky from anywhere else is called whisky. As common sense as you would think that would be, I honestly thought scotch was a completely different alcohol than whisky up until that point.

I have to admit I was prepared for the worst, in other words, to sit there for a two hour tasting that I wasn’t going to enjoy. Although I didn’t feel too bad knowing about the ticket price, knowing that the money was going towards raising funds for leukemia and lymphoma research.

Like a hug from your Mum 35.74
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society was started by someone in Scotland who had sampled several cask strength whiskies, and managed to convince some friends to share in the cost of purchasing a cask straight from a distillery. Eventually as more casks were purchased, they began bottling the whiskies, selling the bottles to anyone who was willing to pay to become a member of their group. Eventually they opened membership of the group to the public and thus the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was born.

Steak and ale pie 121.62
Buying a membership to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society gives you access to member only tastings, as well as the opportunity to buy their single cask bottles. Every month, they release several bottles of cask strength whisky, all limited in number. While some casks might be able to produce hundreds of bottles, others can produce as little as a hundred. These bottles are distributed to all the Scotch Malt Whisky Society vendors around the world, meaning depending on where you’re located, you might not be able to buy any at all! Although not all are scotch whiskies, as they have added whiskies from other areas such as Japan to their line up.

Eating ice cream in a humidor 4.178
What makes the Scotch Malt Whisky Society different from your run of the mill scotch available from any liquor store? None of their bottles are branded with the distillery names in order to encourage blind tastings. They want to encourage members to try a diverse array of scotches, so they give their scotches numbers and a themed names and descriptors in order to convey the essence of the scotch. The numbers on the bottles are divided into two parts, first the number before the decimal indicates the distillery the cask is from. The numbers are in order of the distillery they started buying casks from, so a number with a lower number had a cask purchased by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society earlier in it’s history, while a higher number indicates they started purchasing casks from that distillery later in its history. The second number after the decimal indicates how the number of casks they have bottled from that particular distillery to date. So if the number is “109”, that’s the 109th cask they have bottled from that particular distillery.

Youthfully Massive 33.61
The actual name itself “Like a hug from your Mum” is given randomly. From what Rob and Kelly told us, they pick a theme to go with, then try to build on that theme with their descriptions. So although the description of any particular bottle might seem somewhat odd, they do include the nose and tasting notes, albeit sometimes in a roundabout way. For example, this particular write up started with “the nose gave us happy, homey feelings ‘ like a hug from my mum” said the Malt-meister; mellifluous sweetness of maple syrup, marzipan and heather honey – but also marmalade on toast, jaffa cakes, leather and polished wood.” The rest of the write up included mentions of chewy textures and Arm and Hammer toothpaste….  So you can see what I mean, it takes some interpreting sometimes to get at what they’re describing.

Hospitals and Japanese Restaurants 29.132
The first sample of the night was the aptly named “Frighteningly easy to drink 9.73”. I wasn’t expecting scotch to taste sweet, but this particularly one did, and was very smooth and easy to drink. Considering my past experiences with whisky, this was a very pleasant surprise. The second sample of the night wound up being my favorite of the evening, “Sinfully seductive 76.109”. The smell was very light, while the taste was sweet and fruity, a hint of pepper and was so incredibly easy to drink, I forgot I was drinking scotch with a 59.5% alcohol content! I liked this particular bottle so much I wound up bidding and winning the heel when it was auctioned off at the end of the night ie. The remainder of the bottle is called the heel). Next up was “Like a hug from your Mum 35.74”, which wasn’t like any hug my mum would give me. In fact, it was a bit of a strong hug, with a woody honey smell and woody taste. Midway through the night, we tried “Steak and ale pie 121.62” which although I found very spicy in both smell and taste, enjoyable once a few droplets of water were added, which brought out a slightly sweet flavor.

My won bottle of Sinfully Seductive 76.109
Had we started the evening with the next few scotches, I probably wouldn’t have been as thrilled. “Eating ice cream in a humidor 4.178” smelled very smoky, although there was a mild caramel taste underneath. However, it was less ice cream taste that I had hoped for and more humidor tasting. “Youthfully massive 33.61” smelled incredibly peaty and tasted like I was drinking smoky, wet wood. This was the kind of whisky that I had tasted before and disliked. Lastly “Hospitals and Japanese restaurants 29.132” smelled and tasted unbearably smoky and was even worse when diluted with water, burning as it went down my throat. Although many at my table seemed to enjoy these last two, they definitely were not up my alley and I was glad that we started with the ones that we had, as I was more open minded to trying these by the time we got to them.

Overall, Rob and Kelly were fantastic at leading this scotch tasting, as they were energetic and enthusiastic. Unlike other tastings I had been to, they didn’t delve too deeply into the makings of whisky, and just tried to encourage everyone to find the one that they enjoyed most, emphasizing that different scotches had different characteristics, and some would appeal to others, while some would not. The bonus of not knowing what distillery each bottle came from until after we had tasted the scotch, was that no one had any preconceived notions of what it should taste like. Nor did they take things too seriously, encouraging everyone to have fun with experimenting with adding water to their scotches, and going back and re-tasting the ones we had tasted previously to see how the flavor had changed throughout the night.

My Scotch Malt Whisky Society Membership Kit
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and have even bought a membership myself since then, which runs for $220 Canadian Dollars for the initial membership, then $120 per year to renew. Memberships and Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles are only available at Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, Alberta. The membership kit also comes with 3 sample sized bottles of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s offerings, a Scotch Malt Whisky Society pin, and a booklet that tells you all about whiskey with space for tasting notes. As well, members also receive the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s magazine, Unfiltered, and can access member only venues located around the world. Although they are working on finding a partner bar here in Edmonton, for now, you can visit The Brasserie Kensington to try some of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society offerings, even without becoming a member. Not to mentioned that The Brasserie Kensington has wonderful food and foie gras to pair with scotch – as I can attest to from my previous visit.

So look forward to more posts on Mr. Moo’s Whisky Explorations. Thanks again to Rob and Kelly of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for a fun and informative evening, and for showing me scotch can be a friendly drink for Moo!

Scotch Malt Whisky Society
104-1240 Kensington Road NW
Suite 160
Calgary, AB  T2N 3Py
Twitter: @SMWSCanada

Kensington Wine Market
1257 Kensington Road
Calgary, AB  T2N 3P8
Twitter: @KensingtonWM

The Brasserie Kensington
1131 Kensington Rd NW
Calgary, AB  T2N 3P4

Twitter: @The_BrassKens

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