Friday, April 17, 2015

Velvet Fig: The review... sort of?!

This little girl was raised in a small town where gardening & growing your own fruits/veggies was the norm. Summers are short (Jun-Sept) so I ate fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and lots of apples. The climate simply does not allow for growing citrus, bananas or any other 'exotic' delicacies. Also, we were not a rich family so 'store bought' items were rare or reserved for special occasions. 


Don't laugh but I always got a Sunkist Orange in my Christmas stocking and I would wait patiently for weeks before I ate it. 

It has always been in my nature to try everything so the first time I went to Toronto, when I was 13, my cousins made fun of the fact that I ate a kiwi with the peel on and why wouldn't I, I had no idea you weren't suppose to? (and I still do to this day). I moved to a much larger city when I was 18 and would go to the market every day to buy fruit and vegetables I had never tried before: Asparagus, eggplant, avocado, pomegranate and figs just to name a few of the first discoveries.


My favorite story was when I did buy avocado and figs for the first time. I asked the clerk what the avocado was: A fruit. I grabbed one and put it in my basket. What's that I stated pointing to a display of fresh figs. He looked at me quite strangely and asked where I was from. I happily explained (from that day forward when I came in he was always very helpful in pointing out different items that I might enjoy trying).  I got back to my little apartment, took out 2 figs and the avocado. I sliced them all open and chose to start with a piece of the fig. Oh... heavenly, juicy and absolutely mouthwatering. It was so good! I picked up the sliced avocado and put that in my mouth: bland, chalky and the peeling was like eating a piece of leather. I spit the whole thing out and stared down at the green muck. (yes, you read correctly, I ate the peel as well) DISGUSTING! It took almost 10 years and a friend's party before I would go near once again and thankfully that encounter was a much better one. I've loved avocado ever since.      

I continued to buy the fresh figs every time I could get my hands on them. They became a very memorable part of my food sensory discoveries in those very formative years of my life. Some people would reach for chocolate, I would always reach for fresh fruit because really for me they were much more special. 
THE ART AND BEAUTY OF THE FIG
Fast forward to late November 2014 when I notice some bloggers posting reviews of a whisky called 'Velvet Fig' from Wemyss Malts. I read a few of them, looked up the whisky on a few websites and it didn't appear, at that time, that it would be coming to Canada -> Bollocks! Like I usually do at the end of every year, I make a goals list for the following. So, Velvet Fig was added to my 'must try' list for 2015. Word started to spread in early January that supplies were limited and that it would soon be gone. Crap! I quickly decided I had to reach out and find a bottle, but laws don't allow whisky to be sent to Canada (archaic & stupid). I made arrangements with a 'Whisky Brother' from the fabric to have the bottle delivered to his home address in UK and I would pick it up on a trip to Scotland in May. (AMEN!!!)

But as always the lovely #whiskyfabric is a wondrous thing and I have true friends that are genuinely happy to share their whiskies as was the case with this one as well. Rick Culver (@rmculver) from Ontario and Franck Debernardi (@LaCaveDeCobalt) from France were kind enough to ensure a few samples of the Velvet Fig got to me. The first dram of the Velvet Fig I enjoyed with Rick and Rob in Kingston. No notes. Nothing but three friends sitting down together and enjoying the discovery of a new dram. Fabulous experience and I highly recommend doing that from time to time. JUST ENJOY THE MOMENT. It was a lovely dram that the three of us enjoyed together.

The second time was alone at home, on a cold blustery night in March while Graham walked the dog and I huddled on the couch with a soft blanket and wool socks. I needed a 'warming' dram and went into my whisky room to get a smoky Islay when Franck's distinctive hand writing caught my eye. I grabbed a Glencairn and poured the Velvet Fig. I went back to the living room, enveloped myself in my blanket and proceeded to watch TV. At first I was simply paying attention to the program and not to my glass. I held it up to my nose during a commercial and that's when the magic began. 

So fruity, silky and mouthwatering that I was immediately whisked backwards in time to a small backyard where a cat was lazing in a sunbeam. We were all outside sitting on patio chairs, shoes off, enjoying the summer afternoon. Franck, his lovely wife and their two beautiful and very smart little girls. I was in France... I snapped open my eyes and stared at the Glencairn. I smiled, turned off the television, leaned my head back and continued back to that very special afternoon. Watching the kids, laughing, speaking in French and getting to know Franck & Jennifer. Sharing stories, whiskies and having one of the best meals I had while in France cooked by both of them. Franck's Veal Osso Buco melted in my mouth and it was followed by Jennifer's French apple tart. It was so delicious it would have made my grandmother cry. Truly a fantastic day spent near Paris. I remember saying goodbye at the train station and wishing I had more time. Sometimes you meet people that you click with right away and there's a sense that you'd end up being good friends. The train ride back to Paris was spent trying to draw Llewella & Doriane, his two sweet & very bright little girls. (I suck at drawing though... hehe) Back at my Paris hotel that night, I spent a full hour skyping with Graham describing the day I had had. It was another fantastic day brought to me by #whiskyfabric

The wind howled and I opened my eyes again in the darkened living room. I noticed a few tears that had started to well up but laughed and wiped them away. I stared down once more at the now empty glass and quickly realized the whisky had transported me back in time to a very happy place with some extraordinary people I was fortunate to have met. But in the here and now my notepad was blank, the Velvet Fig was gone and I hadn't registered anything drinking the whisky?! 

I have always said that whisky is more than just a liquid that is consumed, taking notes or grinding out reviews!? It's about moments in time, sharing and living life to the fullest. Whisky has done that for me and so many of you as well. I giggled as I went back to the whisky room and pulled out what was left of the Velvet Fig sample. I sat at my desk and nosed/tasted it again, this time paying attention to the whisky. But once again I was distracted and transported back to that moment in the city market where that bright eyed 18 year old girl with her whole life ahead of her was chattering to the clerk and buying fresh figs. I relived the moment of bringing them home (as described above) and I sat back laughing at myself for being such a country bumpkin... and so naive but at least very eager to learn about everything! After all, we didn't have the interweb back then. It dawned on me that moment was 30 years ago. Memories are powerful aren't they?

I realize I'm still holding a pen in my hand and look down to find... an empty glass AGAIN. Look at the notebook to see where I wrote four words: This is really good. So, the initial review of Velvet Fig from the Lassie, sort of... 


Nose: Rich, sweet and really fruity. Ability to transport you to a time/place associated with blissful fond memories.

Palate: So silky and tasty that it may cause you to forget to write anything down because you are too busy enjoying it. Seems to cause a second dram to be poured.

Finish: Delightful and causes a bit of embarrassment when you realize the glass is empty. Leads to blaming someone else for the dram being gone?!

Probably my best review ever!  Now I have no choice but to wait patiently for May 17th when I will be reunited with my bottle of Velvet Fig and promise to do a full review of it, this time trying desperately to pay attention to the elixir in the glass instead of floating away on the aromas. Pinky swear....

Velvet Fig - Wemyss Malts, if you haven't already gotten your bottle... you might be out of luck. 

Plenty of much better reviews out there I'm sure, just get on the google machine and look up "Velvet Fig review".... 



#AwkwardLassie

PS -> This coming to NB in November 2015 ;)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Celebrate Whisky Festival Halifax - 2 years later...

Was talking to a friend the other day and he stated: "I had the Dark Horse again last night, I think it's finally growing on me." Considering the first 2 or 3 times he tried it he was really convinced he didn't like it, I gave him huge props for sticking with it and having the open mind to go back to it a few times. These sort of little conversations always remind me of the type of people who review things once  and because they don't like it, it's banished as horrible for the rest of their lives to never be revisited again. Sad...

Me, well I have the total opposite mind set (as if that should suprise any of you?!) So time to revisit for the Lassie!!! Two years ago I reviewed an east coast whisky show that takes place in Halifax Nova Scotia. I gave it a C+ as far as the parameters I used: Cost (accommodations, events, classes, etc.), Venue (locale, food, geographic location), Classes (quality, type, time) Main Event (availability of whiskies, venue, services, knowledge of the exhibitors), Overall personal experience (people, place, whisky). Scoring explanation: A (90-100, exceptional value), B (80-90, great value), C (70-80 Good value), D (60-70) Some value, F (FAIL - little to no value). If you would like to compare the first review to this one you can find it here: Celebrate Whisky 2013

Celebrate Whisky started in 2012 so this is the 4th show they have put on in the Halifax area. Unlike many of the whisky shows I've ever attended this one is actually organized by the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission for profit. This year's event took place on Friday March 27th.

Two years ago I raved about this great little booklet. This year I came to the show without my satchel and found having a glass, my cellphone and the booklet cumbersome. It was down right stupid on my part because I also had no pant pockets. Lessons learned! Like previous years, the booklet had a layout of the event, where products would be & price. They also did the silent auction again and had the on-site ordering desk for purchasing at the show but, as with previous years, the products could be ordered but not picked up until 3 full weeks later. Massive disadvantage for people who do not live in the Halifax area.

COST: Accommodations: No hotel was associated with the event for 2015 but there was one very nearby. Rates were $139/night however I did some online research and booked for $109. Savings of $20.

Events: Nothing changed from two years ago: No master classes offered. Whisky panel discussion (5 brand ambassadors) $140 but included your general admission ticket. Main showcase ticket $100. Both sold out within hours of the tickets being made available.

Total cost for lodging & whisky festival for me = $209.00


TOTAL COST SCORE: B


VENUE: Casino Nova Scotia is situated right on the harbour front of downtown Halifax. Easily accessible with a range of services available: Casino, restaurants, parking but no free wifi.

Location: It is on the water seconds and within walking distance to everything Halifax has to offer. This is a new venue for the show and it was well chosen, in my opinion.


TOTAL VENUE SCORE: A


CLASSES: Sigh, nothing new. Whisky Panel event which ran from 5:00-7:00pm that night. It featured: Mike Nicolson - Diageo, Frank Biskupek - Scotch Brand Ambassador, Dan Volway - Beam Suntory, Ruaraidh MacIntyre - Glenmorangie/Ardbeg and Bob Scott - Glenora Distillery. As mentioned tickets were $140. I did not attend, but spoke to 3 people who did. All reported back with the same review: A bit dull, disjointed & a few thought the only worthwhile speaker was Mr. MacIntyre & his products on offer. They all mostly felt the last whisky was a bit rushed and two stated, it would be the last year they attend the panel unless next year's schedule is completely different. "Been there, done that"

I am really disappointed that two years later, there is still nothing added to this show? No classes, no luncheon, dinners or grand master classes - NADA. Classes give people the opportunity for a more intimate hour with the people of the industry as well as the whiskies. This works and exists at EVERY other show I have ever been to so why isn't Celebrate Whisky doing the same??


TOTAL CLASSES SCORE: F


MAIN EVENT: I purchased my ticket online the morning they went on sale. It sold out within 2 hours and from what I heard the waiting list was quite extensive. The evening of the show I arrived about 15 minutes early to a lineup (no surprise) but the irritating part was 'we' seemed to be in the way of the people trying to get in/out of the casino on a Friday night. It was a bit chaotic and seem to anger a few people, me not so much. When I finally arrived in the area of the showcase, I thought to myself... oh this is going to get packed and really loud and hot but that was not the case. At no point in the evening was I shouting, the flow of traffic and temperature were quite comfortable and the layout was quite easy to follow. Food in the middle, tables all around, water towers clearly marked and clockwise pattern for numbered tables. Just one little downfall - you could not see the table numbers. They should have been placed much higher for all to see.

The food was lovely with a variety of choices but I have to say based on previous years not quite as good as what the Lord Nelson put on as a spread.

Selection of whiskies was more than adequate (200 different ones) with a great balance available for all levels of whisky enthusiasts: Beginner, Intermediate and Geek. Top 10 highlights for me: 

10. Kavalan Soloist FINO
9. Balblair 1983
8. Michter's Single Barrel Rye
7. Highland Park Freya
6. Teeling 21 year old Silver Reserve Single Malt
5. Tomatin 25 year old 
4. Amrut Intermediate Sherry
3. Bain's Cape Mountain 
2. Jim Beam Distiller's Masterpiece
and...

1. Duncan Taylor Bunnahabhain 34 Year Old



Quick notes: I wrote: "Nose: wow... Wisps of smoke and dark chocolate, spent coffee grains, scorched hazelnuts. Dark chocolate covered cherries. Palate: Gorgeous mouth feel, silky, rich and fruity with hints of anise seed or fresh gingerroot. Finish: A bit woody with a nice smoky exhale. Long, lingering and satisfying finish. DELISH!" NSLC was bringing in 8 bottles exclusively available for order through the show. Cost $750.00. I know this whisky will make my top 5 best whiskies of 2015. It was simply exquisite and if I had the means, I would buy a bottle of this in a heartbeat! 

ENJOYING THE TOMATIN RANGE 
The top 5 were whiskies I spent at least 10-15 minutes nosing and tasting, and even better usually with friends and I often wonder if that adds to the experience of true enjoyment when it comes choosing the top whiskies tried? 

Best table for the night: Tomatin. They did not limit themselves to simply serving their core range (again I will stress the importance of having whiskies at the table for all levels of enthusiasts). They had: 12 French Oak (Exclusive to Canada), 14 Portwood, 18, 25, Cù Bòcan & Cù Bòcan 1989. 

One of the more busy tables was Innovative Beverages providing a vast array of different products: Glencadam 21, Smokey Joe, Penderyn's, Mackillops Choice Tamdhu 1989, Arran's Devil Punch Bowl III & Bere Barley. Also available to sample was Wemyss Malts: Spice King, Hive and Peat Chimney which were exclusive to the show. Canadian whisky was well represented with Stillwaters Distillery introducing their whiskies for the 1st time to the residents of NS and no show would be complete without the presence of Forty Creek whiskies, however it was the first time in many years John Hall wasn't there and honestly for me, that felt bittersweet.  :(



TOTAL MAIN SHOWCASE SCORE: A


Overall Personal Experience: Knowing full well that this particular show is still really young compared to some of the others I attend, I applaud the change in venue and the organizers did a great job with whisky selection; however, I feel the show is still too 'little'. This year's venue was truly better for the show itself but there wasn't really one place for all to congregate after the show because many people were staying at various hotels in the city. So after the show was over, people seem to scatter and go there own way. Graham and I ended up going for a bite with a few friends. It was low key, the food was good and the company was great but we were back to our hotel and in bed quite early considering how late we have stayed out for some after show shenanigans. It was awesome seeing some of the Halifax peeps - Phlis, Craig, Saravana and Greg and it was also lovely to make a few new friends: Tim, Paul, Mike & Graham. Missed out seeing Robert, Jeff or Bruce sadly. It was a great night to walk about, talk to people and share many great discussions and drams.   

OVERALL PERSONAL EXPERIENCE SCORE: B

Recommendations (they seem to fall on deaf ears unfortunately): NSLC needs to do something differently when it comes to the ability to purchase at the show. Yes, there is an order desk but you can only pick up the whiskies 3 weeks later. 

If an on-site store is not possible, in this day and age and with the use of technology there really must be a better way to do this? Is there not a way to have one store close at hand, say Port of Wines carry the inventory for the show and as the purchases are being made at the event fax them over to the store in question so that orders could be picked up the next day? 

And classes or at least a luncheon or supper before the show? Why is this not being done? 

There are many opportunities for the NSLC to make this show better. I do hope they listen for feedback and I encourage anyone who has attended this year or in previous years to let them know what they can do to make the show better. But then again, maybe you or others may think the show is fine just the way it is. If that's the case please leave your comments here as well as I'd be curious to see what other people thought. 


SCORE FOR CELEBRATE WHISKY - REVISITED
  

Well, the score hasn't changed since the last time I reviewed it which for me is a bit unfortunate. I was really hoping the show would get better with time. I admit I did like the new venue as there was ample space to move about and the selection of whiskies was great but and it's a huge one: No ability to buy what I really liked because of the 3 week delay AND please do something different for next year's show. The whisky panel has overstayed its welcome and needs to go or needs to be improved upon. 

I will gave this show another 2 or maybe 3 years before I review it again, after all... It's really important to revisit things just in case "they" are different or get better, or didn't I mention that already? ;)




Lassie