Whiskylassie goes 10-4-10

This is the seventh installment of my 10-4-10 series of interviews… Ten people who are swirling winningly in the wide world of whisk(e)y answer ten questions. I am thrilled to present prominent Canadian whisky persona – the Whiskylassie to my readers.

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1. Tell the reader a bit about “Whiskylassie”.

Whiskylassie is the alter ego of Johanne McInnis. She is the superman to Johanne’s Clark Kent and has been for about 8 years. Whiskylassie writes a blog that is candid, funny at times and she is definitely passionate about sharing her crazy whisky adventures. She loves to travel around the globe visiting friends, distilleries and getting into as much whisky trouble as possible. Lassie was one of the three people who coined the term #whiskyfabric which has been used worldwide on social media to describe the very tight knit and interesting whisky community that exists.

2. While many have read your blog and/or follow you on other social media, some might be unfamiliar with all your writings.  What one or two pieces would you recommend that really speak to who you are when your Whiskylassie hat is on?

My two most favourite posts are the ones that seem to also resonate the most with my readers:

I think the posts demonstrate two sides to the crazy but sometimes very poignant whisky lassie 😉

3. What are you up to these days in the whisky world?

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Well, Johanne is super busy as she writes many freelance articles for some fantastic magazines such as Cask & Still, Whisky Quarterly, as well as a few websites such as Scotchwhisky.com and Tapsmagazine.ca  whereas Whiskylassie is booked at many whisky shows where her classes are sold out. The blog is not as active as usual as a result, but she’s working on a special little piece about a very interesting head to head experiment she conducted over the course of a couple of months. Stay tuned for that one.

4. What was the first whisky you tasted that stands out to this day? Why?

My very first whisky was a Canadian icon – Gibson’s 12. It’s what my dad drank, so there is a bit of an emotional attachment to that one. It’s still one of the best little whiskies on the Canadian market and I love it to this day.

5. How many distilleries have you visited? Which was the most informative?

At last count, I have visited over 75 distilleries in the UK, Canada, the United States and France. I would have to say that my first visit to the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor Ontario was so exciting that I literally walked away with an adrenaline headache. My educational background is chemistry so the tour which was provided by the master blender Don Livermore was a whisky geek’s dream come true. I highly recommend going if you are near Detroit or Toronto. Stupendous and super educational.

6. Do you have a wish list of whiskies that you want to taste this year? And they are?

I have what I call a unicorn whisky list every year. I have made it a point for 2017 to accomplish two things: 1. Canada its 150th birthday, so I’m going to try and taste as many new Canadian whiskies that I can get my hands on including one that Wayne Gretzky’s distillery produces. The other goal, is to venture into a category that is still pretty new to me: Bourbon. I’m going to be attending the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September of 2017 and I am super excited about that.

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7. If you were setting up a home bar at an “average Joe” cost, what would you include? 

Setting up a whisky bar, I would include the following: 

  • 2 Canadians: Stalk & Barrel Rye and JP Wiser’s Last Barrels.
  • 2 Bourbons: Basil Hayden and Buffalo Trace.
  • 10 Scotches: Auchentoshan three wood, Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 year old, Tomatin Portwood 14 year old, Benromach 15 year old, AnCnoc 16, Scapa 16, Oban Little Bay, Springbank 15, Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg 10. 
  • 4 Irish: Teeling Small Batch, Redbreast 12, Writer’s Tears and Bushmills Black Bush.
  • 4 World Whiskies: Hibiki Harmony (Japan), Brenne 10 year old (France), Three Ships 10 year old (South Africa) and Macmyra Single Malt (Sweden).
  • 4 Blends: Compass Box Spice Tree, Wemyss The Hive, Chivas Regal 12 and Monkey Shoulder.
  • 4 Independent bottlings: Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15, Cadenhead’s Clynelish 1992 (heavenly), Samaroli Altt a Bhainne 8 year old, Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) Bumblebees by the Sea (Clynelish) and Wemyss Marmalade Appeal 1988 (Glenrothes).

Grand Total:  30 whiskies even if the average person could only afford 1/3 of these, they would end up with a fabulously stocked and envied whisky bar. 

8. Do you have a special or funny experience that you would like to share?

Special or funny experience…  Hmmm, easily the first solo trip over to the UK that I took. I had been over for about 4 weeks and was running out of clean laundry. I asked the lady of the house where I was staying if I could use her washer as I had only brought two pair of pants for my 7 week trip. She looked at me in complete disbelief and replied: “Whaaaa?” To which I continued, it’s not a big deal, because I can wear them for 3-4 days before they really need washing and there’s some days where I don’t wear pants so it’s fine really. Her eyes became even wider and she said: “I’m thinking in Canada the word pants must mean something else!?!” So I picked up a pair of pants from my pile of clothes on the floor. To which she started to laugh uncontrollably…  and said: “Those my dear are trousers”. Still not quite getting it I said: “What are pants then?” to which she explained in the UK, pants are your underwear…  I can see why now she was mortified if she thought I was wearing my underwear for 3-4 days until they “really needed washing” or worse, walking around without any underwear at all…  Oooopsy!

9. Do you spend much time exploring bourbon or rye? Any favorites?

As stated in an earlier question, I’m just starting to really dive into the bourbon category. Here in Canada, the availability was limited for quite some time, so it’s going to be a great year of bourbon discoveries for this whisky lassie. As for rye – or yes!!! I love ryes. My favourites at the moment are: Stalk & Barrel, Lot 40 and Michter’s.  All fabulous examples of how tasty rye whiskies are.

10. And most importantly, from this New Englander, how did you come to be a Patriots fan? Go Pats!

How did I become a Pats fan… Well, way back in 1978 when I had just turned 12, two of my best friends loved watching football. Living on the east coast of Canada, we were very limited in what the NFL broadcast this way so naturally on Sunday’s the ritual became go to Kenny’s house and watch the Patriots. The AFC playoffs were against the Houston Oilers. I remember the game being quite brutal, the Pats defense was hitting them hard but by half time the Oilers were leading by 21-0, then in the last quarter the Pats came back with 14 points and we were on our feet. Then with about 5 minutes the Oilers intercepted and that was pretty much the end of the game. It was a pretty exciting event and I was hooked. I remain (Still) a hardcore Pats fan so of course the win this year was pretty cool, sort of looked like that very first game I watched 39 years ago 😉 and was even more exciting that I could have imagined.

Thank you Johanne for participating. I am going to have to work my way through the whisky list for the “Average Joe” bar! Suffer as I must for whisky knowledge…..All the while continuing my obnoxious in-your-face celebration of the NE Patriots Super Bowl LI comeback win.

I raise a glass to Whiskylassie and #whiskyfabric community!

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Group Tastings…Insightful?

For anyone who has taken the time to read my blogs during the past few years it is obvious that I prefer group tastings over my own drinking alone of one sample of whisky at a time. Besides the fact that I lead a number of tastings during the year, over time I have come to learn more about whisky nuances in group settings where four (sometimes more) whiskies are sampled and compared.

So, you say, what are the benefits here? Well, my palate has dulled with age, sad to admit. My whisky vocabulary does not flourish like a bouquet of wild flowers – a skill that many of the bloggers and whisky tasters that I follow excel at. I know what I like when I taste it and what flavor profiles tend to bore me. The benefits of group tastings, broaden my world, and are many:

  1. Discussion about whisky with a group of tasters is stimulating, social, and informative
  2. Comments on the nose, palate, and finish expands and gets each taster thinking and evaluating his/her impressions
  3. No two tasters have exact descriptions
  4. Individual preferences are fascinating to learn about
  5. Comparing a few whiskies side-by-side highlights strengths and weaknesses of each whisky
  6. When a group does not know the price of a whisky and simply compares several, I find, the impressions more honest.
  7. As someone who enjoys writing about whisky, the information culled at group tastings gives me more to write about. Some of the best fun is hearing the stories a few glasses of whisky brings out in tasters.

During the months of December and January I led six tastings – three formal and three more casual with family and friends. Here is an example of one that falls in between the formal and the casual. The setting was a holiday dinner get together. There were five of us and we all planned to stay over at the host’s home to alleviate driving late at night. No driving takes the pressure off the tasting. Really.

The whiskies chosen were all open bottles that I had in the scotch cabinet and were slated to be on the heel slayer list. Obviously, because I owned them, they were whiskies that I enjoyed at one point or another during the year. Several may have popped up at other tastings,  but what would tasting them side-by-side reveal!

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The order of the four whiskies: McCarthy’s Whiskey (USA), Single Cask Nation Westland 2 YO, 1st fill Oloroso Barrel (USA), Benromach 15 YO (Speyside), Aberlour A’bunadh Batch 28 (Highland). No one knew the price of the whiskies and except for me, hadn’t tasted any of them before.

The two West Coast American whiskies were up first. My thinking was that they would be lighter than the two Scotch single malts. The notes are a combination of each taster’s comments.

  • McCarthy’s Nose: roasted, earthy, butterscotch
  • Palate: earthy, leather, charcoal, not too much peat
  • Finish: lingers but with alcohol, dryness, works well with the lemon pound cake dessert
  • Westland’s Nose: floral, buttery, vanilla, shouts out butterscotch, cinnamon, maple syrupy
  • Palate: spice and burn, black pepper, more cinnamon, more complex, softer with a drop of water –  less harsh and brings out some vanilla
  • Finish: buttery, better with the water
  • Benromach’s Nose: sweet, cinnamon
  • Palate:  alcohol up front, dirt in the butterscotch, kiss it up to God, hint of soap, nutmeg, smooth, give it the three second rule
  • Finish: all agreed “doesn’t linger”
  • A’bunadh’s Nose: cherries, black licorice, fruity,, rich and smooth, decadent
  • Palate: cinnamon with sherry, a bite to it!, rum raisin and figs
  • Finish: spice cake, sweet sherry, lasts and lasts

The results – preferences from favorite to least favorite:

  • Taster#1               Taster #2             Taster #3            Taster #4           Taster #5
  • McCarthy             Westland             A’bunadh           Benromach       A’bunadh
  • Westland              A’bunadh            Benromach        A’bunadh          Westland
  • A’bunadh             McCarthy             McCarthy           McCarthy           McCarthy
  • Benromach          Benromach         Westland            Westland           Benromach

Reviews the results of tasting scores always intrigues me. If I was to go shopping based strictly on the results, I would purchase the A’bunadh and not the Benromach. Perhaps tasting this combination together diminished some of the individual high notes, maybe not. Maybe I don’t enjoy such and such as much now. How can indivudal preferences be all over the place? Makes me wonder….and that is the tickle to group tasting for me!

By the way can you guess which taster I am?

I raise a glass to tasting new whiskies as well as tasting open bottles and comparing each with a group of friends!

Did someone say March is less than two months away? How did that happen?