Introduction to Whisk(e)y with Hunter

When standing in front of imperious and daunting whisky walls as a customer, I oft times felt the urge to buy bottles that I knew. The comfort of spending my money on something that I knew was at the least popular was comforting; it at least indicated that other people enjoyed the bottle I was considering. The individual self I am referring to with respect to the previous passage is that of seven years ago, an individual who was intimidated by the variety of whisky choices available while still wanting to be adventurous. I wanted to experience the excitement of unique tastes, but what I was absolutely unsure of was what I actually liked. My first single malt was a patently poor spirit, but I forced myself to enjoy it. Something similar can be said for my first bourbon experience, but not my first Canadian whisky experience, of which in retrospect I would consider to be quite quality. What is funny about this is that I undertook a search for more single malt and bourbon experiences even though my initial impressions were objectively poor, and, perhaps one might even consider them self-forced. Further, considering that my first Canadian whisky experience was good one might imagine I would further pursue experiences of that sort.

Looking back, I believe what I lacked was a basic understanding of what each spirit had to offer, alongside a belief that certain whiskies were clearly superior with respect to others, hence my lack of Canadian whisky pursuit. No matter the number of articles or posts on whisky that I read, I still had not a clue of what kind of whisky I actually liked. Thinking back, the kind of information that may have been helpful back then would be a fundamental understanding of tastes, outside the abstraction that one might glean from readings. Through this class, Introduction to Whisk(e)y, I attempted to provide such a foundational understanding of different spirits from around the world. It should be obvious that such an approach is difficult, for even within specifically classified spirits such as bourbon, Irish, single malt, etc., finding an appropriate representation is a challenge. Every classification is of itself an umbrella definition for what one should expect experience wise, so no spirit truly reflects the entirety of a distinct spirit class. Instead of trying to craft the perfect tasting to perfectly express each category I have simply chosen what I felt would hopefully, going forward, equip people with the tools to make their own informed decisions. If that was done, wonderful, otherwise, my only other hope was to offer the attendees an enjoyable and diverse whisky tasting, and I daresay this tasting did less than that.

Royal Canadian Small Batch Whisky
Canadian whisky is generally in the territory of sweet, and this whisky holds a fair amount of candied sweetness. Thicker, opulent, toffee driven in style, and easy to drink, this spirit typifies most standard Canadian whiskies. What this bottling does not embody is the new era of true Canadian ryes, of which are a fair amount drier, spicier, and less sweet. $49

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2009
Bourbon at the zenith, this bottle is the Michelin star restaurant chef’s pick. Only the finest bourbon goes into these bottles, and each one is a unique treat. Though bourbon’s reputation in the eyes of malt whisky aficionados is that of sweet personality like its Canadian brother, bourbon more often falls into a spectrum of dry through to sweet character due to the mixing of corn and other grains, the most common being secondary grain being rye. This bottle is spicy, leather toned, peanut brittle-esque, and wonderfully herbaceous. A personal favourite. $53

Jim Beam Pre-Prohibition Rye
Disregard the pre-prohibition part and you have a fairly standard yet excellent quality rye. Peppery, clean, dry, dill tones flitting around, a true stunner for the price. The beauty of rye is the usually clean personality it holds, this one showcasing that character deftly. One thing with rye that is consistent, you always are looking for another thirst-quenching sip. $33

Nikka Coffey Grain
Japanese whiskies, in my humblest opinion, are almost always of the most approachable nature. Everything about Japanese whisky is about expressing ease of enjoyment, silky softness, and a highly polished, no sharp edges spirit. This sometimes leaves one wishing for a bit more depth, but that wish is quickly assuaged by a caressing, sultry experience that settles ones mind into a chaise lounge with silken covers and down pillows. Butterscotch pecan pie with a drizzle of citrusy reductions, sharp lemon tart and vanilla extract, this ephemeral yet hedonistic spirit is full of life. $87

Powers Green Label Pot Still
Crowd favourite of the night for the class, this easy-going pot still spirit is oily, thick with white orchard fruit juices, and quaffable. This makes me thinks of a breakfast fruit bowl, all fruits working at full sugar levels, offering the entirety of their juicy, even slightly overripe character. Pot still whisky from Ireland seems to tend towards this fruity, juicy roundness, and, once more in the general sense, is very easy for a most to get into. $68

Cadenhead Auchroisk 2006 – 10 Year
To identify Scotch in a singular bottle is likely one of the more difficult enterprises, and I reckon I failed with this bottling. That said, this Auchroisk is extremely interesting and uncanny of itself. Imagine acidity in whisky, it is such a weird tone that it puts one off balance. Lime and apple jelly, balsamic vinegar, tangy to the nose and that style follows to the palate. Off memory, I just remember this single malt being out of the ordinary and definitely a spirit worth revisiting. $105

Paul John Classic Cask Strength
Another stunner from the Indian single malt distiller, I’m so consistently impressed by the folks at Paul John I wanted to show them a little love with the international pick of the night. Though international whisky is so nebulous, one can get a feel for motifs when it comes to each distilleries approach. Paul John appears to be assailing whisky from the side of scotch single malt, offering a beautiful, barley forward approach. Big grain presence, perfumed and delicately floral, honeyed, everything about this spirit is just well put together. Give it a try and be impressed by the price and execution. $90

Wemyss Kiln Embers
Scotch whisky is not solely represented by single malt, but also by blends (as well as blended malts). To hit two birds with one stone, I threw in a peaty blend, one in which the smoky, earthen tones of peat combine with the single malt grain concoction so as to express the unique versatility of blends. One might imagine that given the application of blends can be that of a conceptual creation, where a single spirit from one singular distillery is not capable of crafting more than a singular expression of their basic spirit as it is a natural limitation of most distilling apparatuses in Scotland (discounting Lomond stills). That said, if a certain spirit does not hold all the characters one hopes for a product, marry it with something else to create the perfect monster. This is the path to artistry; allow blends to show their Luddite single malt cousins the door. Hark, is that the future I hear? $75


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