Monday, May 11, 2015

So you think you are an whisky expert do you??? Really...

THAT DOES IT!!!!!!! 

Monday May 11th 2015 at 7:35am, the Lassie reads a tweet and feels a HUGE snap in the sagittal plane where her cerebral cortex sits (that's for you Ken!) that caused a plethora of blasphemous French words to fall out of her mouth like the notes of an angry opera!? Just so happens I was home alone and like the proverbial tree in the forest, nobody heard me... but that doesn't mean I won't say something about it now... Gotta love when Lassie decides to lose her shit.

Expert... Defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: "Having, involving, displaying special skills or knowledge derived from training or experience."

Wow that is a loose definition. I mean really anyone could be considered an expert with that vague description. I have several years experience using a bathtub, almost 48 for that matter, I guess that makes me a bathtub expert! 

So, I asked all day what people thought a whisky expert was. Many, MANY great answers which I appreciated because dialogue and input means everything to me sometimes. It gives me perspective and ideas. 

Well in my perfectly warped world here is how one becomes an expert.

1. Curiosity: It usually starts with an introduction, realization and then a desire to learn more about a subject that one finds interesting. It's a lifelong insatiable curiosity that fuels them passionately for decades, if not their entire lifetime.

2. The learning phase: You must first be a pupil in order to become the master! Thus begins the journey of amassing loads of knowledge, information and a deep understanding of the subject. Their mind is a sponge due to memorization and the love they are developing. Just like the curiosity phase, the learning phase is a constantly evolving one because they see the importance of seeking new approaches and directions. A true expert is willing to have an open mind and realizes that there is no "one way" to do things.

3. Experience: Once this person has begun to accumulate the loads of information about their valued subject matter, it's usually combined with getting experience. The application of everything they have learned, making mistakes with the ability to accept and learn from them, constantly learning more and continuing to apply themselves. The example I love to give is Jiro dreams of Sushi 

Jiro, 86 years old, is widely considered to be the greatest sushi chef in the world. To apprentice with him you must first be able to properly hand squeeze a towel. Only once the student demonstrates the right technique can they be allowed to touch fish, then it's 10 years or so learning to cut and prepare fish before they are allowed to cook the eggs and so on. 

4. Communication: This phase is also never ending and morphs as the individual becomes comfortable with the subject matter. The more knowledge and experience they gain, the better they become at communicating. 

5. Teaching, mentoring, and reaching expert level: Although many of you may have started sharing your level of knowledge for quite some time, in my books you are still classified as being at a certain level of proficiency on said subject matter. 

Once a person is widely recognized AND called upon on a regular basis AND  has begun to pass along their knowledge, skills and experience to others have they reached the stage of "expert". A good teacher elevates their students with the hopes that someday they will surpass them. And again, I will stress that an open mind and willingness to learn from others is still part of the process. 

All these things combined form a life long investment, learning process, and in the end, legacy of a subject an expert holds dear to their heart.

Examples of some of the people I consider experts in one or more fields of whisky (alphabetical order): 

Helen Arthur, Parker Beam, Dave Broom, Lew Bryson
Chuck Cowdery, John Glaser, Davin de Kergommeaux, John Hall, Michael Jackson, Martine Nouet, Charles MacLean, Jim McEwan, Jimmy Russell, Masataka Taketsuru, Michael Urquhart, Serge Valentin, Bessie Williamson.

You will note that the average age of some of the people mentioned is about 65 years old. THAT should tell you something. 

So to the guy on twitter since 2013 who bought 16,000 followers, has "whisky expert" as part of his written blurb and constantly sends messages to distilleries stating their whisky is the best because he, the Canadian Whisky Expert, said so...  Please -> You are not even close to being an expert.

To the creepy guy in the fedora with the fancy whisky book -> I WILL NEVER CONSIDER YOU AN EXPERT for way too many reasons!!

To the multitude of people flooding Amazon with their mediocre e-books and/or whisky books written in their 20's or 30's based on "research" they did and reviewed by their friends -> Don't call yourself a whisky expert, yet...

To the hundreds of whisky bloggers who can't even take the time to spell correctly, simply cut/paste information from marketing emails or distillery websites and pump out reviews daily -> You are NOT experts.

To the thousands of people who go to whisky festivals to stand for 20 minutes and argue with EVERY ambassador and whisky maker because you took the weekend whisky making course in Colorado -> You are not EXPERTS!

And lastly, the biggest of my pet peeves: 

To the useless people who spend the majority of their entire existence on the Malt Maniacs Facebook page, twitter or on whisky forums doing nothing better than being judgmental, putting down everyone else, bullying ambassadors & reps, having close minded attitudes and refusing to learn anything further than the end of their own noses -> YOU ARE NOT EXPERTS!!! 

This is really not up for debate with me. I truly feel becoming an expert takes a combination of time, patience, mistakes and lots of experience. The rest of us, ME INCLUDED, rank somewhere between complete amateurs, enthusiasts, geeks or very proficient.  AND... that's ok, I would even say that's awesome. But feel free to let me know what you think...

As always I'm on my own journey, forever learning and morphing into something different as time goes by. I can only aspire to some day down the road, being considered an expert by my peers BUT for time being if you or anyone else calls me that, I will correct you immediately. I am no more and no less a whisky student constantly learning, still...

At this rate I still have about 20 years in my apprenticeship and I have wonderful mentors helping me along the way. It will be long while yet before you see me agree to the term "whisky expert" and never will you see it on my business card!

Thanks for listening...  


A slightly less perturbed Lassie.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Gin review.... Yes, you read correctly - GIN

Aye, the mother's ruin...   Gin
Cruikshank's - The Gin Shop

My first encounter with it was when I was 16 while my best friend Louise was babysitting. She wanted to show me the very impressive bar in the house. The kids were asleep so we tiptoed down to the basement and Louise turned the lights on. My eyes almost popped out of my head. It was a wall to wall liquor shelving unit filled to the brim. This couple obviously travelled a lot and had amassed thousands of bottles of...  everything! Louise, trying to impress me I'm sure, walked over and started picking up bottles and talking about them like she knew what they were. We were 16!!!?? I finally called her out on it when she picked up a weird shaped green bottle. I said: "You don't have a clue what you are talking about". Incensed, she yelled: Yes I do, my mom drinks this. And the conversation continued until finally I threw her a "double dog dare ya!" to make a cocktail with it.  We went back up the stairs where she proceeded to get ice, some glasses, a lime and some pineapple juice. She poured two cocktails and after the first sip I thought I was going to be sick. "I forgot to add sugar" she announced as she put a full teaspoon in my glass. That, only made it worse!!! We drank the glass and I essentially was sick for the rest of the night. Gin, pineapple juice and sugar DO NOT MIX with spaghetti!!! I swore I would never drink gin again.

Fast forward to a few years after Graham and I had been dating and we inherited a bottle of Tanqueray. Graham made a gin martini. I think I recall telling him the pineapple juice incident but he handed me the cocktail none the less. To which, I sipped and immediately spit out and dumped said gin drink. Strike 2!!! I spent the next 8 years avoiding all gins. Turning down, politely I might add, any gin offerings until I was in Scotland last year. While at Springbank Distillery, the master distiller mentioned they made a superb gin called Old Raj. I smiled and stated I wasn't a gin fan. He promptly ordered a G&T from the bar for me. Fuuuuuuudge! So, with my usual polite Canadian way, I took a sip and prepared to repeat my speech when the reality was, it was actually a very delicious cocktail. Gavin told me it was available in Canada. Excellent!  Found out once I was home, not on east coast...  Grrrrrr......

A few months ago, I started writing a regular column for a magazine. My articles cover Craft distillation. So, I thought it might be great to start doing a bit of research and try some gins. But wait, I thought, I really don't know anything about gin!?? So, in true Lassie fashion I put out a call to friends who were gin drinkers to come to my house and take part of a blind taste panel, and come they did -> 14 of them! 

Here is what took place as well as the results of that evening.  AND... what I learned from the night.

I prepared a questionnaire for each person to answer. Questions like: Is gin your primary drink of choice, if not what is. What is a fair price range for a bottle of gin, what do you base your buying on, how often do you drink gin, etc... Then everyone received a scoring sheet: Nose, palate, finish.  Add 1/2 ounce of water and repeat the process.  Two flights of four gins served blind. Pick the best top 4, they move on to the cocktails competition where we will rank them in order of least favorite to favorite and then reveal what all the gins were.

I had craft gins as well as "big brand name" gins on hand. I had hardcore "I only drink this brand of gin ever" in my field of 14. AND... I had one coloured gin, so to make it fair, I coloured a second to ensure people wouldn't guess that one.

Flight 1:  Hendrick's - Scotland, Victoria's Gin - Canada, JR's dry organic Canadian gin - Canada and The Lakes Gin - England. 

Flight 2: Ungava - Canada, Dodd's - England, Thuya - Canada, Noteworthy - Canada.

Nose/Palate comments were quite interesting to read, as some took the panel VERY seriously while others were honest but cheeky. 

Top 4:  Hendrick's - all 14 picked that one, JR's dry organic Canadian gin - 10 votes, Dodd's Gin - 9 votes and rounding up the top was Ungava with 7.  Food & water break followed by the cocktails round!

Gin & Tonic was chosen and the recipe was simple: 1 part gin, 3 parts tonic, lime slice, ice. 

Order of top 4 for a Gin & tonic made with Fever Tree Tonic water: 

1. Hendrick's
2. Dodd's
3. Ungava
4. JR's Organic Canadian

Now a few notes are in order. Many participants thought the tonic was a bit too strong and all were in agreement that JR's Organic was a beautiful gin on its own (many said they would probably drink it straight!). So I've contacted the distillery and requested a recipe they could recommend to try with their gin as many people really loved it, just not with the Fever Tree Tonic.  

It was no surprise to the group that Hendrick's came out on top overall in both rounds and many want and would buy the Dodd's saying it was a beautiful clean gin. It was lovely to introduce Ungava as many had seen the bottle at the liquor stores but had never tried it. I think a few people will be buying that one as a result of our experiment. 

So...  what did this Whisky Lassie learn:

1. Gin drinkers are as unique and serious about their elixir as whisky drinkers are.

2. Although the clear winner was Hendrick's, which I guess I consider a 'commercial" gin, many of the participants really enjoyed the craft gins and stated they had found some new favorites to enjoy. 

3. Gins might be absolutely fantastic in one cocktail but completely wrong for another due to the botanicals, etc (Gin & pineapple juice is never good).

4. Of the 8 gins I tried with the panel, I really only loved one enough to say I would continue drinking it. Problem is, it's not available here in Canada. Boo!  So will be sourcing some on my next trip to UK. 

5.  The most important one for this Lassie:  Don't turn your nose up at any new opportunities to try gin. Some of them are quite delicious!! ;)

Inviting friends over to imbibe is always so much fun. I want to thank: Eric, Steffan, John, Alex, Graham, Frank, Ross, Brendan, Krista, Linda, Melanie, Donna, Keltie and Heather for taking part in another of my crazy hair brain schemes. I appreciate your palates, your time and all the lovely comments.  Huzzah!

So, that's that on gin, for now... and now back to our regularly scheduled whisky programming...  ;) 

Thanks for tuning in!