This past March 27 was a day filled with both solemnity and mirth, as well as no small amount of whisky.
For those not in the know, March 27 was the 11th annual International Whisk(e)y Day, celebrated the world over, wherever whisk(e)y is to be found.
That mysterious (e) in the name is to ensure that no country feels left out, whether they make Irish Whiskey or Scottish Whisky, or any other spelling.
Longtime boozers may recall the works of Michael Jackson (the booze writer, not the funky pop star).
Michael Jackson came to prominence in 1977, when he published The World Guide To Beer, which is still considered to be required reading for any student of the craft. He later published The Malt Whisky Companion in 1989, which shortly became the authoritative tome on the subject.
Tragically, Michael Jackson passed away from Parkinson’s Disease in 2007, a loss felt by the entirety of the beer and whisky industries that he was integral in shaping over the decades.
To recognize his contributions to the world of whisky, the industry honored him with the creation of International Whisk(e)y Day, held on his birthday every year, with fans being encouraged to donate to a charity performing Parkinson’s research.
In accordance with the gravitas of the occasion, I made a donation to the Parkinson Alberta Society, before retiring to a well-stocked whisky bar with a few drinking companions.
While the late and great Michael Jackson was from the UK, his writings were of the whiskies of the world, so my tradition on this special day is to sample whiskies from around the world. This year, I decided to skip the obvious examples of Scotland and Ireland, opting to sample from neighbouring countries that are not known as whisky hotspots.
I started my journey of exploration with the Puni Nova whisky from Italy, a country better known for its fine wines than for spirits.
The Italian love affair with booze goes back to the toga-wearing party animals of ancient Rome, but has traditionally concentrated on wines, with perhaps the occasional grape brandy. Whisky is a new addition to the Italian booze industry, with the first distillery opening on the banks of the Puni river in 2010.
The Puni distillery is located in the heart of the Alps mountain range, in a lush and verdant valley that has been famous for rye crops since the middle ages, which lend spicy notes to the whisky, nicely complementing the toasted herbal finish. Look for it at selected well-stocked booze merchants in Alberta for around $75.
Looking to the other side of the Alps into France, we find a more developed domestic whisky industry, with the first French whisky distillery opening its doors in 1987, growing to close to 40 operating distilleries today. I was able to sample the Armorik Classic Single Malt, produced in the Brittany region of France, and available at only the finest booze merchants here in Alberta. A very soft and subtle whisky with hints of vanilla from the aging in French oak barrels.
Moving to the Nordic countries, the Mackmyra distillery is Sweden’s first whisky distillery, and opened its doors in 1999 with a whisky made from locally grown barley and aged in Swedish oak barrels. I found plenty of vanilla and dried fruit notes on the tongue, with a slight caramel finish. While it is a small distillery, we are lucky there is a distribution agent in Calgary, making this fine Swedish whisky available here in Alberta.
The last international whisky I sampled was the Millstone 100 Rye Whisky from the Netherlands, which was by far the most fragrant of the bunch, with aromas of orange blossom and lemon peel wafting from the glass, followed by cardamom spice on the finish.
I was delighted to find a Dutch whisky here in Alberta, something I have not seen since a trip to Amsterdam back in the days of my squandered youth. The Dutch have a long history of distilled spirits, the most famous example of which would be Gin, invented by a Dutch chemist in the 16th century.
So, even if your whisky tastes do not stray far from Johnnie Walker or Crown Royal, consider International Whisk(e)y Day as a chance to broaden your horizons, and perhaps even pay homage to the late and great Michael Jackson, booze author and reviewer extraordinaire, by raising a wee dram in his honor.