September 20, 2015

Like whisky? Like chocolate? Mmmmmm!

Close to impossible to answer "no" to both whisky and chocolate! Hope you can join chocolatier, Joanne Mutter, and me on Wednesday, November 4th, for a unique tasting of some fine whiskies paired with awesome chocolate. Check out JoJo CoCo website for all the details for this exciting new event. Tickets really are limited, so don't delay if you would like to take part and pleasure! Contact JoJo CoCo to reserve.
My next whisky tasting at Divinos on Preston Street is Thursday, October 29th. I've selected over 80 unique whiskies over the last few years, for tastings at this great location. You can expect another new set of wonderful whiskies, including an unfair percentage of Single Malt Scotches! If you haven't been to Divinos before for one of our tastings, we'd love to have you join us. The food is, not surprisingly, divine, and we work very hard to create some mouthwatering, memorable pairings of great food and great whisky. This one always sells out, so contact Divinos to reserve tickets. I'll look forward to meeting old friends and new for some more great drams, excellent food and more whisky education. I never run out of things to say!
In a few hours, I'm off to Scotland to reacquaint with my wonderful family, and spend some time in Speyside, where there's a wee Fall whisky festival going on.
Later in the trip, I'll be visiting a very fine winery, producing some of the best sparkling wine anywhere in the world. Camel Valley Winery is in Cornwall, England! Stay tuned for updates.
Back home in Ottawa, I have to give two plugs for amazing places I've just discovered.
El Camino on Elgin Street is my new favourite, fun restaurant. With a great vibe, fantastic, fresh, tasty food, a fun layout, and good looking drinks, this place is worth visiting. The fish tacos are amazing!
La Charrette is Ottawa's new, modern, versatile event space. Check out the link and let loose your imagination. This was the brain child of renowned Italian wine aficionado, Antonio Mauriello, who, with a creative team in the wings, has delivered an exciting new space for intimate Ottawa events.

Yes, we visited Newfoundland this summer and it was a blast! Later in the Fall, I'll  be waxing lyrical about the amazing scenery, wonderful people, great food, and some interesting drinks - other than screech!
 Eh, I should pack now.............
Great chocolate at JoJo CoCo

Cheers! Slàinte!

July 17, 2015

Kentucky Bourbon Festival Sep 15 to 20 - a "must do" for bourbon fans

Kentucky Bourbon Festival official glass
According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, more than 620,000 visitors explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail annually, visit the distilleries, and taste the elixir widely considered to be America’s National Drink. At the centre of Bourbon land is Bardstown, Bourbon Capitol of the World and, according to a 2012 Rand McNally and USA Today competition, the most beautiful small town in America. Bardstown is also the location of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival – a weeklong, fun filled, delicious, bourbon centric event, oozing with Southern hospitality. 
One of many distillery booths on the City Hall Lawns
Last September, I headed to Kentucky, to take in the Festival and immerse myself in bourbon culture. Whiskey, or whisky, depending on where it’s produced, is fiendishly difficult to perfect, but is a thing of beauty when crafted with knowledge, care and creativity. 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, where 5 million barrels are purportedly maturing. Regulations dictate that, for bourbon (a type of Whiskey), at least 51% of the mash bill must be corn, the rest usually comprised of rye or wheat and some malted barley. 
Whiskey grains
Maturation must be in new, freshly charred, oak barrels, which contributes greatly to the rich colour, aromas and flavours and, coincidentally, ensures a plentiful supply of used barrels, with a smidgen of bourbon residue, for maturing other whisky, including Scotch. 

Warehouse at Woodford Reserve
While Bourbon is delicious on its own, it is an exquisite element of countless cocktails and a key ingredient in Southern cooking. The Festival week offered up a myriad of cocktail tasting opportunities, including the challenge between acclaimed restaurant and distillery mixologists to select the official 2015 Kentucky Bourbon Festival drink. The winning concoction, by mixologist, Jason Stark, involved bourbon, rum punch bitters, ginger, pomegranate, orange, apple, champagne, and a flaming orange peel garnish!
Mixologist Jason Stark
Joy Perrine, the veteran Bad Girl of Bourbon, chatted to capacity audiences imbibing delicious cocktails. At the Kentucky Bourbon House, I tasted Rosemary’s famous Mint Julep, using mint that she grows herself, of course.
Rosemary's mint - for Juleps
A fabulous Bourbon cooking school evening showcased Chef John Varanese from Louisville, who whipped up a four course meal, featuring various Jim Beam bourbons, while instructing, telling anecdotes, flambéing, mixing and creating in front of about 300 guests. An entourage in the kitchen created the same meal for everyone, along with another collection of tasty cocktails.
Cocktail hour!
No dessert is safe from bourbon!
The Kentucky Bourbon All Star Sampler offered up food, music, an opportunity to chat with Master Distillers, and a wide array of whiskeys from the big distilleries, as well as head turning products like quinoa and barley whiskey from Corsair. This event, as well as “Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz”, and “Boots and Bourbon” are hot sellers at the festival.
Quirky displays are everywhere!
An appliance store - decked out in bourbon
There’s no shortage of outdoor and free events – concerts, 550lb barrel rolling competitions, arts, crafts, food stalls, distillery booths, barrel making demonstrations, hot air balloons, contests and a whole town decorated in “bourbonalia”. Add some great September weather and safe ride programs and it’s very difficult not to get into the spirit! 
Cruiz Raney can make a barrel in 45 minutes
A glamorous closing gala kicked off with two hours of mingling, cocktails, bourbons and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a tasty bourbon-laced meal, live music, a bottle of bourbon on every table, and bourbon bars around the perimeter. About 600 people attended the event and, as far as I could see, there wasn’t a glass of wine or a bottle of beer in the building! Now that’s a bourbon festival!
Roses in ice at the gala
Outside of festival events, I spent two days with some other Kentucky Bourbon Trailblazers, touring eight distilleries, where it wasn’t all about bourbon. Pecan topped, cream filled, bourbon laced chocolates appeared on a regular basis!
Tranquil grounds at Maker's Mark
At Maker’s Mark distillery, an expansion project to duplicate capacity and meet increasing demand was underway. The mash bill here uses wheat rather than rye; labels are printed by a hand operated press; and bottles are hand dipped in 360 C red wax, at rates up to 30 bottles a minute!
Hand dipping my own bottle
Warehouses or rick houses are similar at most Kentucky distilleries and can store about 20,000 barrels. Our tour guide at Barton’s described how temperature variations on the different floors create completely different maturation conditions. On the top floors, summer heat, expansion and contraction, and pressure build up can result in alcohol increase – a reverse “Angel’s Share”!
Aromas from Barton's waft through Bardstown
At Heaven Hill, a large family owned distillery, over one million barrels are aging in warehouses. 88 different whiskeys are produced and 1200 different spirits are bottled and distributed worldwide.
One of the tasting bars at Jim Beam Distillery
Jim Beam is the largest distillery in the area, and produces a wide range of well respected bourbons, most of which can be tasted in the Enoteca style tasting room. Another set of dizzying statistics include rack house capacity of more than 650,000 barrels, and 90 million bottles of spirits bottled and shipped annually to 100 countries.  
Everything's gleaming
At Four Roses the emphasis is on distillery recipes, yeast strains and mash bills, offering many possibilities for different expressions. As well, this is the only major distillery in the area to use single storey warehouses, with different maturation results.

Beautiful pot stills at Woodford Reserve
My visit to Woodford Distillery, with its impressive old buildings, brand new visitor centre and triple distillation copper pot still production, was superbly timed to absorb lovely aromas from a batch of barrels being opened and poured over charcoal for filtering.
Bourbon flowing from the barrel at Woodford Reserve
Buffalo Trace is the home of Sazerac Rye, Pappy Van Winkle, Blantons, and other fine whiskeys. Also produced here is a liqueur called Bourbon Cream, surprisingly delicious over ice, with copious amounts of root beer.
Buffalo Trace
Wild Turkey has a funky and fabulous new visitor centre and a Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell, who still goes to work every day after 60 years in the business!
Tasting bar at Wild Turkey
On my last day in Bardstown, I wandered around my new favourite American small town, smiling and waving at now familiar faces, and chatting to new found friends. There’s something about whisk(e)y that encourages camaraderie and friendship, and that’s not a bad thing. If the 2015 Kentucky Bourbon Festival (September 15 to 20) is calling you, best to book accommodation soon. Bardstown is a small town, and over 50,000 visitors attend the Festival. Check out the link for all the details of this year's festival.
Bardstown's finest help keep everyone safe and happy
If you go.......

Fly to Louisville, Kentucky. Bardstown is an hour’s drive.


Kentucky Bourbon Festival:

Kentucky Bourbon Trail:

This article was first published in Taste and Travel International magazine Spring 2015


Local liquor store - partial bourbon collection

April 15, 2015

Whisky, Ottolenghi, Verdi and VILP

Some gems from a recent Montreal tasting
I can't be accused of inundating the blog-sphere with posts lately, but here goes with some upcoming whisky events, and other stuff that's been keeping me happily occupied.
Private and corporate events continue to be popular. (Do get in touch if you have some celebratory event on the horizon, crying out for a wine or whisky tasting).
Selections from a recent private party

Whisky Events 

Friday April 24th. The Arnprior Optimist Club will be hosting their 5th annual whisky tasting.This year, we'll be enjoying five lovely Single Malt Scotches, fabulous home cooked food, great fun, a bit of whisky education and more than a few anecdotes. 7pm, $65. Contact Dan or Chris for tickets.
Setting up for a tasting at Divino Wine Studio
Thursday May 28th. Divino Wine Studio, Preston Street. 18th premium whisky tasting and wonderful accompanying dinner.
Coincides with Feis Ile - Islay's annual whisky festival. We can't be there, but you can bet that there will be an Islay whisky somewhere in my lineup. Contact Divinos for tickets.
Selections from our January tasting at Divinos
Friday June 12th. Army Officers Mess annual whisky tasting, lots of food, always a good time. If you're a member, you know how to get tickets.
Last September I spent a fun filled week at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. I highly recommend it for Bourbon fans. You can read about my exploits in the print Spring Edition of Taste and Travel, available at Chapters, Indigo, airport lounges and other places where people ponder travel and sustenance.
This previous post recommends some yummy, locally available Bourbon, and gives a few highlights of the Festival.
Saturday May 2nd. Spirit of Toronto.
If you find yourself in Scotland in May, you'll be in the vicinity of two of the world's best whisky festivals - Feis Ile - Islay's whisky and music festival, 22nd to 30th May and
Spirit of Speyside, April 30th to May 4th.
(There are numerous stories on this blog about Islay Distilleries and Feis Ile 2014).

Yotam Ottolenghi

Despite the fact that the online spell checker tried to change his name to Toyota Lengthily, this is my new all time favourite chef. Author of Plenty, Plenty More, Jerusalem and others, this man is a genius.
If you're a fan, or you decide to try out some of his vibrantly colourful, tasty recipes, you might wonder where to buy some of the wild and wonderful ingredients. In Ottawa, look no further than the Mid East Food Centre on Belfast Road, a gem of a store filled with all the quince paste, pomegranate molasses and black sesame seeds you can eat - and much, much more, I hasten to add.
  Some more of my Ottolenghi successes from Plenty More............

Verdi (how did he get into the picture)?

Occasionally, when I'm not spouting forth about wine or whisky, I sing. On Monday, 27th April, It will be my privilege to sing Verdi's Requiem at the National Arts Centre, along with 150 other choristers of the Ottawa Choral Society, and the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of the amazing Jordan de Souza. Verdi's Requiem is magnificent! Do come and listen. It will stir and soothe your soul!

Very Important Little People

My granddaughters of course!What better excuse for not blogging!

Cheers! Slainte! Happy Spring!

December 20, 2014

Single Malt Scotch picks at the LCBO and some super Scotch Tastings Dec 28, and in January

I thought I had run out of time to put out a few suggestions for Scotch picks for Christmas and New Year, but a neighbour recently mentioned that she loves to shop on Christmas Eve - all that frantic jollity, panic, and bemusement at depleted shelves of everything.
In any event, and because I'm frantically trying to get over a nasty cold and not out partying, I decided to while away some of this Saturday evening before Christmas by mentioning a few tasty Scotch picks, currently available at the LCBO, many in limited quantity and only at some stores. So look online for Ontario stores near you that might have what you want, or go talk nicely to your friendly neighbourhood LCBO person and ask if he or she can source the product.

First up, let me mention a superb, bargain basement Scotch tasting at the Highlander Pub at 2pm on December 28th. Led by my good friend and dedicated whisky aficionado - Emmett Hossack, this event will include
Auchentoshan Virgin Oak - a brilliant whisky matured in new oak, toasted casks, with a Bourbon-esque feel to it,
Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean cask - a very tasty dram
Glenfiddich 21 year old Gran Reserva - elegance personified
Ardbeg Corryvreckan - a whirlpool of smoky based tastes
and a surprise blended Scotch.
With some tasty bites and Emmett's well researched accompaniment, this will be a great event - and all for $40. Presented by The Scottish Society of Ottawa. Call 613 562 5678 for tickets - limited to 40

In the New Year, join me for whisky chat at The Glen Pub in Stittsville and their annual Burns Supper
and/or on January 29th at Divinos for our next premium whisky tasting - also close to Burns night.

Carol's Single Malt Scotch Whisky Picks at the LCBO

Under $70

Glenmorangie Original - an elegant, easy drinking malt
Glendronach 12 year old -sherry sweet and a good dram
Compass Box Spice Tree - a blended malt (same as a Single Malt but sourced from several distilleries), sweet and spicy
The Glenlivet French Oak Reserve 15 year old - lots of flavour from this great buy
Laphroaig Quarter Cask - smoke and toffee from this great Islay distillery

Under $80

Old Pulteney 12 year old - a nice whisky from this north westerly, maritime distillery. Good luck finding it!
Laphroaig 10 year old - smoky, a classic
Auchentoshan Three Wood - packed with flavour, hard to find
Glenfiddich 15 year old - uniquely bottled from a solera system, always delicious and always containing whiskies much older than 15

Under $90

Talisker 10 year old - lovely peaty character, a gem of a whisky
Glenfarclas 105 - this year's unsung hero. Cask strength, loaded with great flavours, from a unique distillery, a steal at the price

Under $100

Dalwhinnie 15 year old - classic Highland Scotch
Aberlour a'Bunadh - cask strength, cognac like, packs a delicious punch
Bowmore Darkest 15 year old - smoke and Cadbury's fruit and nut bars in a  bottle. Hard to find.
Ardbeg 10 year old - another great peaty Islay whisky
Auchentoshan Virgin Oak - very few left. Brilliant. Think bourbon and spice.

Under $110

Balvenie 14 year old Caribbean Cask - finished in rum casks
The Glenlivet 18 year old - elegant

Under $150

Lagavulin 16 year old - Islay, peaty elegance
Aberlour 18 year old - Rich and delicious, beautiful whisky from Speyside
Lagavulin Distillers Edition - another one for the Lagavulin lovers

Under $200

Ardbeg Uigeadail - Huge, peaty, packed with flavours, cask strength.
The Macallan Sienna - elegant, sweet, beautifully balanced
The Glenlivet Archive 21 year old - speaking of elegance and flavour.....
Highland Park 18 year old - one of my possible "stuck on a  desert island" whiskies, a touch of smoke and a huge array of flavours
Jura 21 year old - love this distillery
Ardbeg Corryvreckan - another peaty biggie from this great Islay distillery

Under $300 

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 year old - delicious, head to the tasting on Dec 28 to try it out
The Macallan Ruby - top of the line from the newish Macallan collection
Old Pulteney 21 - fabulous whisky if you can find it, lots of character

Over $300

Glenmorangie Signet - beautiful Single Malt, beautiful packaging
The Glenlivet 25 year old - share only with great friends
Bunnahabhain 25 year old - rare and wonderful

In the interests of putting this out in a timely fashion, and allowing me time for my hot toddy and an early night, this will be my first post ever not embellished with enticing photos.
If bourbon is also on your list, check out my previous post for some bourbon picks
Happy shopping,
Merry Christmas!
And the very best of health and happiness for 2015

November 20, 2014

There ain't enough Bourbon in Kentucky! But there is in Ottawa!

Bourbon flowing at Woodford Reserve
Dierks Bentley's country rock song Bourbon in Kentucky laments insufficient bourbon supplies to aid his broken heart. With about 5 million barrels maturing in rickhouses in Kentucky, that's one mighty big broken heart, Dierk. But come on up to Ottawa. We'll cheer you up. It has been decreed that Ottawa Bourbon week is November 21st to 27th! With numerous venues showcasing some of Kentucky's finest, this is a great time to get to know a fabulous type of whiskey - wonderful on its own, exciting in cocktails and superb to cook with.
One of the bourbon shelves in Bardstown liquor store
In September, I spent an unforgettable week in Kentucky visiting distilleries, and immersing myself in bourbon events at the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival. This festival is an absolute "must" for bourbon lovers and you can read about it in my story coming up in Taste and Travel Magazine Spring 2015.
Meanwhile, head out to some of the Ottawa Bourbon events next week and taste a few!
Like all whiskies, bourbon is created from grains, yeast and water. Lovingly made from corn (at least 51%), a bit of malted barley, and rye or wheat, it's matured in freshly charred oak barrels, and is deliciously rich in flavour.  Each distillery has its own specific mash bills and slightly different production methodologies, resulting in a rich range of products to experience. Although it can be made anywhere in the US, and only in the US, 95% of it is created in Kentucky.

Here are a few of my favourite (bourbon) things..............

Highly affordable, relative to some other types of whisky, here are some of my favourite picks currently on the LCBO shelves. I tend to like higher alcohol bourbon - 45% and up rather than 40%. It brings out more of the rich caramel, spice, fruit, vanilla flavours, and makes for tastier cocktails.
In no particular order...............
Blanton's Original LCBO # 255349, 46.62% ABV, $65. Save the bottle for something decorative.
1792 Ridgemont Reserve Vintages #208918, 46.85%, $49.95. The official bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And the one you can savour in your bourbon cocktail in the brand new Beckta 2.0 bar!
Elijah Craig 12 year old LCBO #547729, 47% $42.95. My bourbon of choice for an old-fashioned.
Woodford Reserve Distillers Select LCBO #480624, 45.2% ABV, $47.95. This bourbon is made in pot stills.
Pot stills at Woodford Reserve
Maker's Mark 46 LCBO #225565, 46.4%ABV, $49.85. These bottles are hand dipped in hot red wax and adorned with labels printed by a manual operated printing press. And the mash bill contains wheat rather than rye.

Four Roses Small Batch LCBO 256230, 45%ABV, $39.95. Master Distiller Jim Rutledge is passionate about his mash bills and yeast selections.
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve, 9 years LCBO #255232, 59.2%ABV, $54.90. Packs a punch. Part of the small batch collection from Jim Beam
Jim Beam Devil's Cut LCBO #272161, 45% ABV, $29.95. Toasty and affordable.
Bookers. I mention this teasingly as there is none left in Ottawa until the Spring. My favourite Jim Beam whiskey. Two bottles were snagged for a tasting I'm doing on Nov 27th at The Crown and Kilt Pub in Renfrew. Worth the drive to taste the Bookers!
Tasting bar at Jim Beam Distillery

And a couple of fave cocktails...............

Whether you like your cocktails sweet, sour, savoury or strange, bourbon is a fantastic base. There are literally thousands of possibilities for interesting concoctions, limited only by the imagination and a general understanding of the various elements needed to balance or skew the final product. With some sweet syrups, fresh citrus, countless interesting bitters, alcohol, fun garnishes and the right glass, creating cocktails is an art/science combo that's making a big comeback. If you fancy getting into it, pick up some old fashioned and martini glasses, a Boston shaker, a muddler, some measuring spoons, a jigger or two, a Hawthorne strainer and have fun.
Cocktail paraphernalia

Old FashionedA classic and one of my faves.
Muddle a tblsp simple syrup, a few dashes of angostura bitters, a cherry and an orange wedge. Add ice, 2oz water and 2oz bourbon, stir it up and add a maraschino cherry. Play around with the proportions to your own taste.
American Cocktail (from the incomparable Joy Perrine)
Combine and shake 2oz bourbon, 3/4 oz maple syrup, 1 oz fresh orange juice, 1 oz cranberry juice, 1 tblsp fresh lemon juice, strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with an orange twist.
These are simple and tasty to make at home. Check out the events listings for Ottawa Bourbon week. Mixologists are at the ready to delight you with new concoctions.
Cocktail competition at KBF

Cooking with Bourbon................

In Kentucky I was wowed by the fabulous flavours of bourbon in every type of dish from appetizers to desserts. Delicious in sauces and gravies, bourbon is an absolute staple in Southern cuisine, and an essential ingredient in my kitchen at this time of the year. Turkey with bourbon gravy. Yum! Google on "cooking with bourbon" and you'll get over 9 million results.
Not everything is healthy!
Check out the Ottawa Bourbon week for some culinary events to please the palate.
I'll be back soon with some Scotch whisky picks!