I have remained sequestered in my wine cellar while the third wave of the pandemic rocks Alberta, emerging only to accept the grocery and booze orders from the intrepid delivery services that have been a lifeline for so many of us over the past 13 months.
In addition to my regular beer and wine deliveries, I received a special whisky delivery last week, in recognition of the 13th annual International Whisk(e)y Day, celebrated the world over on March 27, 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 the isolation of my windowless cellar for a bit of solo whisky tasting.
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 our growing selection of craft distilleries right here in Alberta.
The Eau Claire Disitllery in Turner Valley kickstarted the craft distilling movement in Alberta back in 2014, and have grown in leaps and bounds ever since. Like most distillers, they started with production of vodka and gin spirits that do not require aging, which generates cash flow in the early years, while their first batches of whisky were aging in oak barrels at least 3 years prior to bottling. The Eau Claire Distillery has since gone through 4 annual releases of single malt whisky to great acclaim, and most recently released their first blended whisky, known as Rupert’s Exceptional Canadian Whisky, at a budget-friendly price tag of only $40 at your friendly neighbourhood booze merchant.
Whisky snobs may rave about their single malts, but 90% of the whisky sold worldwide are blends, so the Rupert’s Whisky is in good company. Made from locally grown grains that are harvested by hand using horse-drawn plows in Turner Valley, the Rupert’s Whisky is an easy drinker with notes of tobacco and maple sugar on the nose, a spicy heat on the tongue, and a long finish with hints of smoked leather and dried fruits.
Looking west to Calgary, the inner-city Bridgeland Distillery has a delicious Bourbon-like spirit called Taber Corn Berbon. This spirit was aged for one year in oak barrels, so cannot legally be called a whisky in Canada, thanks to its less than 3 years in oak prior to bottling. Think of it is a whisky-like spirit, made from a blend of 60% Taber corn, 32% Penhold barley, and 8% Penhold wheat. The corn gives the spirit a sweeter flavour than barley or rye whiskies, with hints of buttered popcorn on the nose, followed by dried apricot on the tongue and a smooth finish. Much like Scotch Whisky must be from Scotland, Bourbon Whiskey must be from the USA, and unlike Canadian Whisky, Bourbon has no minimum aging requirement. If you like Bourbon Whiskies, Taber Corn Berbon will be right up your alley.
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.