Whisky and Winnipeg

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Combine the two for an iconic experience

By J.A. Shapira

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For anyone who knows me or has read any of my articles, you know that one of the most common topics I discuss is whisky. Whether it be Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, Japanese or Canadian, whisky is a subject matter that is, and always has been, very close to my heart.

From my first dram of The Balvenie 10 years ago to the 16 year Lagavulin I had last night, there is never a shortage of whisky in my home and it would be a very sad day if there ever was.

As summer leaves us behind and the icy cold Manitoba winters begin to move in, one of the most common questions I’m asked by friends and family is for recommendations on whisky to drink on a cold winter night by a warm fire as the sounds of Miles Davis or Coltrane play over the Crosley record player. Aside from cognac and port, a dram of whisky is one of the most iconic winter spirits that mankind has ever produced. It’s warming sensations and exceptional flavour profiles can really bring on the fond memories of a Christmas past and it goes without saying that whisky evokes certain feelings of warmth and relaxation not found with other spirits such as beers, wines and shots.

What is a Dram?

In the last paragraph, there’s a good chance that if you’re new to whisky, you’re already slightly confused by the term “dram.” Just as you would say “I’d like a glass of water please,” when it comes to whisky you would ask for a dram.

Technically, a dram is no more than a teaspoon, or 1/8 fluid ounce. However, in most cases when you ask for a dram you’re going to get at least 1oz, or in my home, maybe two.

How to Drink Whisky

The goal of learning to drink whisky (of all types) is to do it in a manner that allows your palate to grow. Rather than shocking the senses with a Lagavulin, we begin with less peaty drams that lack the same potency as some of the Islays. While I will recommend one Islay Scotch below, ideally you want to begin by drinking a dram without such a harsh flavour profile so you won’t be scared off and will continue to try other malts.

“There is no bad whisky. There are only some whiskys that aren’t as good as others.”

― Raymond Chandler

There are a few steps to consider when drinking a dram of whisky. Regardless of what kind it is, you typically want to follow these steps:

While every Scotch aficionado I know will hate me for saying this; add one or two ice cubes to the glass before pouring. The reason I say this is yes, it will mutilate the whisky by watering it down, but for your first dram that’s not a bad thing. It will lighten the harshness many complain about and the chill will eliminate some of the burn, making it easier for you to enjoy it.

“GODDAM.  I love whisky.”

― Rod Christie

Once you’ve poured your dram of whisky into a glass (for beginners I’m going to recommend you use a rock glass as it won’t release the same compounds you’d find with a Glencairn or Copita), it’s time to begin the initial nose.

Bring the glass to about chin level and move it side to side as you take a light breath in through your nose and slightly through your mouth. You may notice a little burning sensation and if so lower it slightly if needed. If you don’t get much of a nose, try bringing it up closer to your nose and doing this again. You should notice that the aromas will change slightly.

After you’ve nosed the whisky a few times, bring it up to your lips and allow a drop of the liquid gold to touch your lips and slowly enter your mouth. This is where most people will either love or hate it. Bear in mind that if you’ve followed these directions, your dram will be far less powerful than it’s intended so this will give you a general idea of where your palate is sitting. If you love it, keep going and let it sit on your tongue and swish against your cheeks before swallowing. If you find it too strong take a breath of air in and slowly continue the process.

While I’m sure my unconventional advice will generate a lot of commentary, I would urge you not to listen to peer pressure. Whisky appreciation is a process and if you attempt to run before you can walk, you’re sure to fall.

I’m in no way suggesting you add ice or drink from a rock glass long-term, I’m simply suggesting it as a way to begin your journey, because if you ask any whisky lover, it’s one of the most sensational experiences you’ll ever have.

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whisky is barely enough.”

― Mark Twain

Three Whiskys to Try in Winnipeg

Winnipeg liquor marts are home to a wide and interesting array of whiskys from around the world. Here are three of my favourites to recommend to newcomers and non-aficionados.

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Laphroaig Quarter Cask – Scotland

An exquisite dram, the quarter cask is a doubling of peat, smoke and sweetness due to the double maturation in two American oak barrels. Still-maturing whisky is transferred from the standard oak cask into quarter casks, where it’s left to mature just a stone’s throw from the Atlantic shore. Using smaller cask size is what causes increased contact with the oak, creating a soft and velvety edge to complement Laphroaig’s distinctive peatiness.

“Happiness is having a rare steak, a bottle of whisky, and a dog to eat the rare steak”.

― Johnny Carson

On the nose the sensation is toffee and caramel, caused by the vanillas and tannins of the American oak, plus a dryness from the wood oil. The finish is long and alternates between this sweetness and smoke.

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2 Gingers – Ireland

Relatively new to Winnipeg, this Irish whisky is predicted to remain the fastest growing spirit in Canada over the next few years according to Nielsen Liquor Track. When Ken Folliard, the founder and former pub owner was inspired by his fiery-haired mother and aunt to start his own whisky company, his motto of “Bring your own luck” began to work for him. Aged for four years instead of the standard three, 2 Gingers offers a resplendent flavour profile and aroma that’s hard to beat.

“It is true that whisky improves with age. The older I get, the more I like it.”

– Ronnie Corbett

This is one dram I recommend for beer drinkers and women as well.

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Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye – Canada

Brand new to the Winnipeg market, this rye is one of Canadian Club’s newest premium drams. Exclusively rye, it’s an affordable, yet delightfully lavish bottle for everyone from the average joe to the Winnipeg warrior. Enjoyed neat or on the rocks, this is a great option for cocktails as well.

Now that you’ve had this quick intro to whisky, I highly recommend checking out the whisky bar at Toad in the Hole or one of the finer establishments such as 529 Wellington or Prairie 360 which carries a lovely selection of fine whiskys.

Whisky Bars in Winnipeg

Prairie 360˚
Behold Winnipeg’s most incredible view at the aptly named Prairie 360˚ Skyline Restaurant and Lounge. Located on the 28th – 31st floors of Fort Garry Place, the former revolving restaurant features a Whisky Bar and piano room on the 28th floor. Open all week from 4 p.m. – late, enjoy a dram and a bite to eat in the lounge.

The Toad in the Hole
The Toad in the Hole Pub has been an Osborne Village staple since opening its doors in 1990, the Toad features great pub grub and a wide selection of premium domestic and import beer. The expansion and addition of a whisky bar catering to a 25yrs plus crowd brings newbies and connoisseurs together to relax in a warm and comfortable environment with a choice of over 160 whiskies from Ireland, Canada, America and Scotland.