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!


October 28, 2014

Gartbreck - Excitement builds for Islay's next distillery

Courtesy Gartbreck - artist's view
Earlier this year, I sat down, on a grassy knoll at Laphroaig Distillery, with Jean Donnay, entrepreneurial distillery designer and whisky maker, to talk about his exciting new project - Gartbreck, soon to be Islay's ninth distillery.
The occasion was Feis Ile, Islay's festival of whisky and music. Regular visitors to this blog may have read my previous posts about this fabulous week long event, one that Jean is looking forward to being directly involved with, once Gartbreck is operational and the whisky is flowing.

On my first day at Feis Ile, I spotted this vehicle and immediately went scurrying off to see who was driving it. I had been hoping to meet up with Islay's next whisky maker, so this was a fortuitous encounter indeed. Jean and his family spend some of their time in France, where he has another very successful distillery, and some of their time on Islay, where he's working diligently on the myriad of activities necessary to build a distillery.
We exchanged contacts and arranged to meet later in the week, and where better than Laphroaig distillery on Laphroaig Day, soaking up the sun, dram in hand, and looking out over a calm bay.
I asked Jean to tell me about the journey that brought him to Islay to build a distillery. This is his story.
Many years ago, he had been living in Paris, working in advertising and as far removed from the world of whisky as it's possible to be. He decided that he wanted some big changes in his life so he asked Martine, his wife to be, whether she'd like to go with him to Brittany, where he thought he might build a distillery. Of course, why not!
Carol, Jean et Martine
Initially, to establish a whisky business, he started buying barrels of whisky, having it bottled under his own label and selling it but, after nine years of intensive planning, he decided it was time to build. Jean does not have an engineering or design background, nor does he come from a long line of distillers or blenders. Rather, he is an intelligent and intensely curious man who decided to learn everything possible about how to make good whisky in a traditional manner, and to understand the best production practices and processes to achieve this end. Furthermore, he undertook the design of the distillery himself! The result was Glann ar Mor - a genuine Celtic Distillery producing very well respected Single Malt Whisky in a truly traditional manner.
So what comes next for a successful entrepreneur with a Celtic distillery in France? Impassioned by the success of Glenn ar Mor, an inclination for more adventure, and a belief in the great benefits of a maritime maturation climate, Jean decided to do it all again on Islay, an island he had come to love, and an already established whisky region.
The opportunity to purchase Gartbreck with its buildings and farm land, provided the perfect spot for Jean's next vision. Idyllically situated on Loch Indaal, across the water from Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte, and just a few kilometres from Bowmore, this is the spot where construction for the new distillery will commence in the Spring of 2015.
Jean's philosophy is clear. Gartbreck will be a small distillery, with its own floor maltings, producing malt peated to about 35ppm. Barley is already being grown on the estate, and the plan is to produce about 20% of the distillery requirement. Oregon pine washbacks and some wild yeasts will be used for the deliberately long fermentation process, designed for more flavour development. Small copper pot stills will be used to optimize the interaction between the spirit and the stills, and these will be direct heated, an authentic and now seldom used process, which was prevalent until the end of the 60's, but has been largely replaced by steam coils. Although direct heating is more costly, difficult and time-consuming, Jean is passionate about this slow heating method, especially for the wash still, and considers it essential for producing a balanced, oily, rich and complex spirit. Gartbreck will be the only distillery on the island to use this method, which will make for a unique visit, as well as distinctive whisky. The worm condenser will be 40 metres long, allowing a leisurely transformation from alcohol vapours to liquid. In fact, slow and steady will be the name of the game at Gartbreck.
Jean draws analogies to cooking. It's impossible to produce tender, succulent, slow cooked lamb shanks by just turning up the heat and making everything go faster. So it is, he proffers, with making whisky. Start with fresh barley and pure soft water, let it enjoy a long fermentation process to develop flavour, allow an unhurried distillation to bring out the best aromatic components and, equally important, use small, high quality casks for optimum interaction between the maturing spirit and the barrels. Last but not least, let the barrels enjoy the fine Islay maritime maturation climate. Jean favours predominantly ex-bourbon, a few ex-sherry, and some ex-Sauternes barrels to mature the planned output of about 60,000 litres a year. According to Jean, he was the first person in the industry to mature whisky in ex-Sauternes casks, a practice now common at many distilleries for special expressions.
Courtesy Gartbreck
Production will start in 2016 and it will be a few years before we can taste the mature fruits of Jean's labour but, if the whiskies produced at Glann ar Mor are any indication of things to come, we can expect exciting and important additions to Islay's already impressive range of Single Malt Scotch Whisky offerings.

Slainte Gartbreck! The whisky world awaits with great anticipation!

September 08, 2014

Caol Ila - tranquil, with a touch of TCP! Feis Ile 2014

The still house at Caol Ila offers one of the nicest views on Islay, overlooking the Paps of Jura across the Sound of Islay. The distillery, despite being the biggest producer on the island, has a tranquil feel to it and, even on Caol Ila Day, with large crowds streaming in to the grounds, it still managed to project a laid back feeling. The car park is not very big, so visitors parked in a big field near the village of Keills, and mini-buses shuttled back and forth all day long - a great idea.
The day offered up various whisky tasting experiences - straight up, blind, with food, on the sea, with music, in cocktails, in the warehouse, with the operators. Something for everyone!
We opted for a morning tasting with new Distillery Manager, David Wood. I had met David on my previous trip to Islay, when I had a great visit at Lagavulin, where he was Brand Manager. The tasting was in the old cooperage, which was packed with people keen to taste the collection. Not surprisingly, we bumped into our Swedish friends, unmistakeable in their custom made Hawaiian shirts.
Two of them had been coming to the Feis for five years, each time in an annual custom designed shirt. Peter Sjögren, is Marketing Manager and Partner of Svenska Eldvatten, an independent bottler in Sweden, and a good person to follow on Instagram if you like to drool over photos of rare whiskies.
David started his tasting by passing round some new make spirit, and inviting us to rub it on our hand. The unmistakeable aroma of smoke and that unique Caol Ila medicinal nose was very evident, even from this spirit straight out of the still, and not yet whisky. (Scotch whisky has to mature in oak casks for at least three years before it can be called whisky).
The Caol Ila character comes, in part, from concerto barley, malted, then dried with a peat level of around 39ppm; and a  distillation process involving lots of copper interaction. Maturation is mainly in refill hogsheads, with more emphasis on the spirit than the barrel. Of the 7 million litres produced annually, about 20% goes to malt whisky, the rest to blends. To put these volumes further into perspective, Port Ellen Malting works, also owned by Diageo, produces about 550 tonnes of malt a week, and 350 tonnes of that goes to Caol Ila.
loading the malt into trucks for the distilleries
On to the whiskies. We tasted five,
Caol Ila 12 year old. Possibly one of the most distinctive Single Malt Scotches for my nose. Aromas of TCP (an antiseptic introduced in 1918 and popular in the UK), lemon, lime, smoke, tarry seaspray; smoky and medicinal on the palate, with a long, spicy finish. As David explained, the aim is for un-influential casks to let the whisky character shine through. And it does.
Distillers Edition. Caol Ila finished in Moscatel (fortified Spanish wine) casks, which adds a fruity and mild toffee character, with the smoke kicking in afterwards. A nice combination.
Caol Ila 25 year old. Elegant with age, golden raisins, subdued but evident Caol Ila character, beautifully balanced. I'll take this medicine any day!
Stitchell Reserve. A tribute to Billy Stitchell, who retired after a very long career. (Read about my great tasting day with Billy on a previous visit). 59% ABV, about 15 years old, perfumed nose, beeswax, apple crumble and custard, spice on the palate and a long finish. Slàinte Billy!
David Wood - Caol Ila Distillery Manager
Feis Ile 2014. A 55.5% ABV 12 year old Caol Ila. 1500 bottles produced from four hogsheads. A powerful dram, perfume, peat, slight saltiness and Caol Ila on the nose; big, spicy and balanced. For lovers of strong, straight-up Caol Ila, unadulterated by special casks.
And what's required after all that Caol Ila tasting? Scallops in Caol Ila.
Typically, in my culinary neck of the woods, we eat just the white scallop body, but at the seafood stand set up for the day, they were served with the coral - the orange "tail" - attached to the body. It's not quite as flavoursome, and I didn't love the texture, but "when in Rome"......
The queue, as always during Feis Ile, afforded the opportunity to meet and chat with new folk. Bobby had been an operator for four years and I asked him how he liked the job. "Oh, it's fine" he said, "but it can be lonely work, especially on the night shift". The distillery has a number of sophisticated, computer-controlled automatic processes. Even although Caol Ila is a big producer, it doesn't need a big team to operate all the production equipment. Lonely it might be, but I'm certain that Bobby looks out, now and then, on that great view from the Still house across the Sound and considers himself a lucky fellow.
After lunch, we did some blind tasting to benefit a local charity, then went off to the cocktail bar, where our new acquaintances, Diageo Whisky Ambassadors, Colin Dunn and David Sinclair, were concocting delightful cocktails, using Caol Ila of course.
Some tranquil time by the water, with dram in hand, ended our day, then it was back to the car park/field, where we rescued some stranded tasters, who had missed their ride, and drove them back to Bowmore.
In my next post, I'll be writing about Gartbreck - soon to be Islay's next distillery. If you enjoy these stories, consider signing up for email updates. You'll only receive one when a new story is posted. Just fill in your email address in the box at the top of the blog in the right hand column.

GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

We'll be visiting Caol Ila for one of our great experiences during the whisky tour to Islay (and Jura) in late August 2015. This will be a small group tour with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. Hope you can join us!


September 04, 2014

Bruichladdich rocks!

If there was a wager for the biggest party of Feis Ile, my money would be on Bruichladdich Day. Most Feis Ile Masterclasses, led by notable whisky worthies, allow one or two dozen people to attend. At best count, some 400 people enjoyed Jim McEwan's morning class on Sunday, May 25th. We arrived well before the appointed hour - a happy little journey from Port Charlotte just along the road. All seemed quiet and gentle as we wandered around the back and into warehouse 12, where the event was to take place. The room was packed with long rows of tables, each one filled with six glasses of golden elixir per place setting.
We were definitely not the first to arrive and quickly scouted out a couple of prime spots. I'm 115lbs soaking wet and could barely (no pun intended) ease my way between the tables to the chosen spot near the front. Once there, it was time to settle down and and stay put. We were going nowhere. With about 2400 drams in the room, the air was heady! Language barriers notwithstanding, everyone was getting to know his or her surrounding neighbours, and the room was a veritable global conference.
The rumours started before the announcement. The impressive looking camera crew, already in action, was from CBS 60 minutes, there to film the day for a Fall program.
Sound checks were performed by a couple of very fine folk singers, who performed during the class and the rest of the day. Robin Laing and Norma Munro were wonderful, delivering songs with great passion, including a couple of songs, by Robin, specifically about Bruichladdich - one about Black Art and the other entitled The Whisky Cathedral. The latter, sung later in the morning, had its chorus enhanced by 400 voices, after a few drams........
"In the warehouse at Bruichladdich, I drink therefore I am. A whisky cathedral where angels are singing, in praise of glorious drams".
The restless crowd, anxious for the main man, (a current day rock star-like whisky legend), roared its appreciation when Jim took the stage. Looking dapper, sprightly and happy to be there, he engaged with the crowd from the get-go. Funny, like a stand up comedian, enthusiastic and confident, like a motivational speaker, involved, like an old friend, he had the entire crowd eating out of his hand.
With stories from the past and present, introductions to other distillery folks, and revelations about the whisky selections, Jim McEwan showed, once again, why he is a unique personality in the whisky industry. Bruichladdich General Manager, Duncan McGillivray, retired now after a 40 year career, was up on stage for some well deserved appreciation.
Adam Hannet, Assistant Distillery Manager and Blender, was also in the limelight, introducing one of the whiskies and checking out centre stage, which he'll be inheriting from Jim.
On to the whiskies - some of which were glorious.....
The first one was distilled in 1984 and matured in a bourbon cask. This was one of the most brilliant whiskies I have ever tasted. I'm not going to do it the disservice of breaking it down into minute elements. It was aromatic, with some vanilla and ginger, elegant, smooth, beautifully balanced, full bodied, reminiscent of crème brûlé. Outstanding. 49.3% ABV after 30 years in the cask.
Jim called number two "Sorcery". It wasn't released, but had been pulled from the cask just for the class, 51% ABV, cask and age not revealed - Madeira, cognac, PX - a mystery! It was beautiful. Jim decided that the colour was Serengeti Sunset. Dried fruits. Luscious. Excellent.
The third one was from a 1986 distillation, matured in a PX sherry cask. Deep amber in colour with a mature sherry character, rich fruit, Christmas cake, oily, smooth and sweet, with a spicy finish. Fabulous.
It wasn't yet noon and we had tasted three brilliant single cask old gems.
Things went a little sour for me on the next one. It was a 2001 Port Charlotte rarity, matured in a Chateau d'Yquem (Sauternes) cask. Either I had a bad glass or a rotten part of the barrel or something, but this one seemed unbalanced, musty, and unappealing. I sniffed some others around and they were all a bit off. Not sure what happened there. Moving on.
Next up was the brilliantly unique Octomore 1695, quadruple distilled festival bottle. Historical records show that the first (and possibly the last) time any whisky was distilled four times was in 1695. At 69.4% ABV, this one packed a mighty punch. A very peaty nose gave way to a smooth, but fiery, whisky on the palate, with a very long, smoky, spicy, smoky again, finish. A bit of water brought out more smoke and a vegetal flavour. This was a really interesting and historically fascinating whisky. I'm sure it was gone by the end of the day.
I have little recollection about the 6th whisky. We were well over time - not that anyone minded - and were invited to raise our last dram and our country flags then join the big procession over to the main courtyard, where the gates had now been opened and hundreds more had arrived to enjoy the dramming bar, cocktails, Islay Ales, food stalls, arts and crafts, pipe bands, dancing, singing, rock music and folk music. This was a party!
Some new friends suggested that we try out an amazing buffet for lunch, a fundraiser for a local charity. It was magnificent! I spoke to one of the photographers, who had just returned from a  particularly war-weary, hostile part of the globe. Bruichladdich Day was providing a welcome change of perspective. We met up with family, enjoyed some more entertainment, then decided to head back to the cottage. With a few whisky vouchers still in hand, we opted to give them to some Danish guys. We couldn't find any Canadians and the Danish flag was red and white. Logical, no? Turned out these were the same folk who had arrived one short at Lagavulin the previous day, enabling us to snag a spot for Georgie's Masterclass. What goes around, comes around.
Click here if you'd like to read my previous post about Bruichladdich. 
Next, I'll be writing about Caol Ila Day. If you enjoy these stories, consider signing up for email updates. You'll only receive one when a new story is posted. Just fill in your email address in the box at the top of the blog in the right hand column.

GrapeScot Islay Tour 2015

We'll be visiting Bruichladdich for one of our great experiences during the whisky tour to Islay (and Jura) in late August 2015. This will be a small group tour with terrific events at each of the distilleries, an opportunity to meet some wonderful whisky people, great accommodations, transportation, food, cultural activities and some very fine whisky. Hope you can join us!


September 02, 2014

Domaine Perrault - a little Ottawa area winery with big personality

For a really nice Ottawa area outing, set  the GPS to 1000 Perrault Road, Navan, home of the delightful Domaine Perrault Winery.
The winery started up in 1999, and now has six acres of vines and about 6000 plants. Although grapes are brought in from Niagara to produce some of the more traditional, familiar wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Malbec, and red blends, it is the interesting range of cold climate varietals groomed to handle Ottawa winters, that produce some very tasty and interesting wines at Perrault.
When I visited about seven years ago, shortly after the wine retail store opened, I left with one bottle of wine. This weekend, I left with ten, and almost none were made from "common or garden" varietals. Grape varietals like Frontenac Gris, Louise Swanson, Marquette, Saint Pepin and others have been craftily grown and tested, and some are offered as straight varietal wines, allowing unique opportunities to taste something different from the norm. The winemaker behind all this magic is Bernard Martineau, an oenologist with 40 years of experience.
There are 14 or 15  wines available for tasting - pretty much the entire collection and, here's the thing. There's no fee for tasting, and no requirement - implied or otherwise - to buy any of the wines. Instead, there's a delightful atmosphere in the little tasting room, kind of like dropping in to visit some friends. I would bet money that no-one leaves that place without buying something, especially since the wines are eminently affordable. Perfect marketing, perfect customer service.
Julie Ricard is the super-friendly, knowledgeable, competent  sommelier/host/Jill of all trades who runs the visitor centre, pours the wine, delivers the wine-speak, handles group events, liaises with the outside world and, in short, seems invaluable. It was super busy when we were there, and although Julie seemed highly capable of juggling multiple balls and knowing who needed to taste what next, Denis Perrault, ("I'm just the owner") was helping out and pretty much manning the cash register the whole time - a comforting job for an owner of a small Domaine!
We took a quick look around the winery - a tiny, wee, climate controlled, multi-purpose building that leaves you shaking your head wondering how they can produce 23,000 bottles a year. But they do, and most of that is sold at the winery.
Some personal favourites.............
Zanibel - An off dry white with delicious aromas and flavours of fresh pears and other tree fruits, perfectly balanced with the right amount of acidity to balance the slight sweetness. $14
Gabrielle - a dry, medium bodied red made with the Marquette grape; aromas and flavours of ripe red fruit and  toffee cooking on the stove; unusual and delicious; nicely balanced, good for sipping in these dog days of summer, and a good food wine. $16
Marilys - a rich, fruity rosé, strawberry jam and a bit of that same toffee I detected in the Gabrielle. Perhaps I was just having a  toffee day! In any event, lovely nose and flavours, a full bodied rosé, versatile $15
Go visit Perrault. You won't be disappointed and I'm certain you won't leave empty-handed. Groups are also welcome for special occasion tastings at very affordable prices.


August 27, 2014

GrapeScot Islay Whisky Tour, Scotland, August 23rd to 30th 2015

Islay and tour overview

Islay is a beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, and one of five official Whisky regions of Scotland (the others are Highland, Lowland, Speyside and Campbeltown). Just over 600 square kilometres in size, it is nevertheless home to 8 working distilleries - Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich, Kilchoman and Bunnahabhain. Construction starts this year on Gartbreck, Islay’s newest distillery. Bowmore (1779) is Islay’s oldest distillery. Ardbeg and Laphroaig both celebrate their bi-centenaries in 2015. The island has a rich history, diverse landscapes, and a friendly population of about 3000 residents, augmented by some 60,000 annual visitors. There are no big highways and no malls; road trips are often slowed down by sheep. It is a wonderful, marvellous place that all whisky lovers should visit. It will touch your heart.
Our 2015 Islay tour will include wonderful tastings and experiences at each of the distilleries, including a trip to the neighbouring island of Jura to visit that distillery. Jura, larger geographically than Islay, is home to about 200 people and 7000 deer! Time and weather permitting, we will also visit a number of important sites, including the 8th century Kildalton Cross, Finlaggan –  an important meeting place for the Lords of the Isles, the pristine beaches of Machir Bay, and the Mull of Oa for a beautiful walk, and cliffs that fall 200 metres to the sea. We’ll stay in a fine establishment, enjoy some of Islay’s best food, and meet some wonderful, iconic whisky people. In late August, we can expect highs and lows of 15C and 10C.
Our home for the week will be in the town of Bowmore, Islay’s centrally located capital. With a population of around 900, it’s home to Bowmore Distillery, a number of restaurants, pubs and cafés, the island swimming pool, and some great little shops and historic sites. We will stay at The Bowmore House, where we will enjoy comfortable accommodations, great breakfasts and Islay hospitality.


Sunday 23rd August 2015

The 8 day, small group tour will start in Glasgow. There are various routings from Ottawa to Glasgow, and starting the tour there allows participants to join from anywhere. From Canada, you can recover from jet lag, or explore other parts of Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, or the rest of Europe, before or after the Islay Tour. The Edinburgh Festival takes place in August and some might wish to take in a few events.

In Glasgow we will board our mini coach for the week around 9am to enjoy the journey to Kennacraig, where we’ll catch the 1pm ferry to Port Askaig in the North East of Islay. The 2hr ferry crossing offers wonderful views of the Paps of Jura and Caol Ila Distillery. From Port Askaig, we head south west across the island to centrally located Bowmore, the capital of Islay, where we’ll be based for the week. We’ll arrive around 4pm, leaving you time to settle in or explore the town, before a group dinner in Bowmore.

Accommodation will be at The Bowmore House, where we’ll enjoy comfortable rooms, wonderful breakfasts and great hospitality. The Bowmore House is the #1 guest house on Trip Advisor.

Monday24th August 2015

 Bruichladdich Distillery – We’ll start our whisky week with a custom tour and warehouse tasting
Lunch at Kilchoman Café
Kilchoman - custom Manager’s tour with a range of Kilchoman drams
Visit beautiful Machir Bay on the west coast of Islay
Return to Bowmore
Free evening

Tuesday25th August 2015

Bunnahabhain Distillery – a custom tour with Distillery Manager Andrew Brown, and a number of exceptional Bunnahabhain drams
Ferry and bus to Jura Distillery, Craighouse
Lunch (not included) available at The Antlers or The Jura Hotel Restaurant, both beside the Distillery. (Ferry schedules might necessitate a packed lunch)
Jura Distillery – for a custom tour and tasting of Jura’s wide range of whiskies
Return to Islay, Dinner at The Bridgend Hotel 

Wednesday26th August 2015

Bowmore Distillery –the very special Craftsman’s Tour
Lunch (not included) in Bowmore
Visit to Gartbreck Distillery, possibly in production by 8/15
Visit to the beautiful Mull of Oa, and 1 ½ hr hike
Return to Bowmore
Free evening

Thursday27th August 2015

Caol Ila – Custom tasting and whisky and chocolate pairing
Lunch (not included) in Port Askaig
Visit to Finlaggan
Return to Bowmore
Dinner at Yan’s in Port Charlotte

Friday28th August 2015

Lagavulin – Warehouse and tasting experience
Mini bus or walk (optional) to Port Ellen
Lunch (not included) in Port Ellen
Port Ellen Malting Works and/or visit Kildalton Cross
Dinner at Islay Hotel in Port Ellen  

Saturday29th August 2015

Laphroaig Distillery - in depth tour, warehouse & cask tasting, bottle from your favourite cask
Lunch  at The Old Kiln Café at Ardbeg Distillery
Ardbeg Distillery – a special experience with rare dram tastings from several decades
A very special evening at The Bowmore House with dinner, and whisky pairings by Martine Nouet, one of the world’s leading authorities on food and whisky.

Sunday 30th August 2015

Our final day. Breakfast, mini coach to Port Ellen for the 1pm ferry back to Kennacraig, and onwards to Glasgow.
From the southern ferry, and weather permitting, spectacular views of Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig can be seen.

Tour Price (Canadian Dollars)

Based on double occupancy, $4200 per person
Single supplement $600

The tour price includes

  • Accommodations for 7 nights at The Bowmore House, rated #1 on Trip Advisor.
  • 5 dinners (3 courses, 2 glasses of wine) in some of Islay’s best restaurants, to which some special guests will be invited.
  • 7 wonderful Scottish breakfasts at our home for the week.
  • 2 lunches at both of Islay’s famous distillery cafés – Kilchoman and Ardbeg.
  • Exceptional customized distillery and whisky experiences at 9 distilleries.
  • Cultural/walking outings to Kildalton, Mull of Oa, Finlaggan, Machir Bay, and more as time permits.
  • All ground transportation, in a comfortable mini coach, with a professional, local Islay driver, from and to Glasgow, and on the island for the organized part of the tour, i.e. most of the week. On the 2 free evenings, there are many dining establishments in Bowmore and numerous taxi companies, should you wish to travel to one of several other towns for dinner.
  • All ferry costs to and from Islay.
  • All taxes and gratuities.
  • Travel agency fee.
  • Carol, born and raised in Scotland, Ottawa based independent whisky ambassador and Islay lover, accompanying the group to guide, translate, facilitate, talk whisky and extol the virtues of Islay.

Not included in the price

  • Air fare
  • Transfers pre and post tour
  • Travel insurance, cancellation and medical insurance

Reservations, cancellations and refunds

  • GrapeScot is pleased to be partnering with TravelOnly, an exceptional Canadian travel agency, which will manage all sales, registrations and payments, and assist participants with any other trip related travel requirements. Mary Lynn Villeneuve, ACC, Travel Consultant, will be happy to assist you with all your travel needs. +1.613.924.1404 TICO #4316071
  • A deposit of $500 per person is required to reserve a place on the tour.
  • Final payment of the remaining balance is due by 75 days before departure.
  • Cancellations made before final payment is due are liable to a forfeit of the entire deposit of $500 per person
  • Cancellations made between 75 days and 45 days before departure are liable to a further charge of $1500 per person.
  • Refunds cannot be made to any passenger who cancels after 45 days before departure or to any passenger who does not complete the tour for any reason.
·         The above itinerary is as planned, however we reserve the right to make adjustments depending upon weather, distillery schedule changes, ferry time changes, and other constraints.

GrapeScot articles on Islay and the distilleries

Islay   Bowmore   Lagavulin   Ardbeg   Bruichladdich  Caol Ila   Laphroaig   Bunnahabhain   Kilchoman  Jura   Feis Ile 2014   Ardbeg at Feis Ile  Laphroaig at Feis Ile  Bunnahabhain at Feis Ile  Lagavulin at Feis Ile  Caol Ila at Feis Ile  Bruichladdich at Feis Ile

Coming soon – Gartbreck Distillery and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival on the blog