Friday, February 13, 2015

Time to trust the bus driver my brother!!!

I was having a great conversation with my brother this morning and we always seem to come back to the fact that sometimes we really wish the crystal ball would simply tell us what the hell we are doing here? Or as he puts it: "Stop the bus I want to get off".

Ever take a minute to look back at your life and ponder: How did I end up here? Maybe you are one of the lucky few who decided at a very young age what your path in life was going to be and that’s exactly what you did. I personally tend to think that’s a rarity and that most of us start off in our formative years with an “idea” of where/what we want to end up being. 

If you don't know me well here is my story in 60 seconds or less: I recall graduating from high school with the hopes to continue on to university to get a degree in psychology. That I would move back home, open my own practice, get married, have the kids, drive a Jeep, dog and a lovely house with a white picket fence. Happily ever after, right?!  Not exactly…

About 6 months before graduation one of my best friend’s committed suicide and not long after that I found out I was pregnant at the age of 17. At the time, it just about destroyed me. I felt like I was watching a mirror shattering in slow motion and life as I knew it was over. My friends left for university whereas I stayed behind in our small town and went to work for as long as I could. People were quick to judge and I could see it in their eyes as they looked at me with pity, I was "that stupid teenager that got pregnant and would never amount to anything but a burden to the social system". I gave birth to my first daughter and then moved from that small town to start a new life. I continued to work as best I could with nothing more than a high school diploma. I soon became a single parent but still managed to made ends meet and we never went without. I waited until she started kindergarten before I decided I was still getting that degree. 

Problem #1: I wasn’t sure I still wanted to be a psychologist as I had discovered while working with the public that I really didn’t like people. Don’t get me wrong, I am social but I simply realized I wasn’t a people person so after a bit of research I realized I loved working on my own and that chemistry was a passion. Somewhere in those following four years I got married, had a second daughter and yet somehow still managed to go to college and graduate at the top of my class as a Chemical Engineer Technologist with a ten and five year old in tow. It was hard work but I never gave up on myself. 

Problem #2: The local market was flooded with people in my field and nobody was hiring. We had bought a house so I polished up my resume and started pounding the pavement. I found a temporary job (6 months) replacing someone on maternity leave as a cashier for the federal government. She never came back so I got the job permanently but continued to look for work in my own field.  

Problem #3 College, children and an identity crisis added to a crumbling marriage which led to a separation and Problem #4: Finding myself. I had worked so hard for the last 15 years just to stay afloat and prove that I was not a statistic that I lost myself miserably along the way. I went from being my mother’s child straight into a child’s mother to a wife and employee. I was 35 and had no idea who the hell Johanne McInnis was. I had to get off "the bus" and after some therapy and alone time I found her. Not only did I find Johanne but I started liking her again and with that came positive life changes. Sometimes that led to heartache for others because it may have seemed like I was being selfish at first, but the reality was I needed to put me first otherwise everyone including me would have suffered horribly as a result. 

I met Graham, my current partner for the last 10 years. I discovered I LOVED writing, acting, sailing, hiking, travel and WHISKY. All things I did not get to nurture as a result of being thrust into the role of parent so young. My career took off and after several great promotions I am working in my 20th year with the same employer doing project management analyst. A far cry from my actual degree yet I mostly love what I do.  

What have I learned from all this? 

In my case and looking back over 30 years later, I’ve realized many times over that sometimes life has something else in store for you and as shitty as things can seem you have to hold on to the strap above your head and trust that the “bus driver” is not lost and knows exactly where you are going. It really comes down to trusting that you will end up where you are supposed to and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other in good and bad times.    

I’ve also come to appreciate that every once and a while it’s important to stand still, look back and appreciate the road you’ve seen. Had you told me in my 20’s that by the time I was 48 I’d be a whisky writer/presenter and doing everything I am today I would have laughed my head off in complete disbelief and told the person they were on some really good drugs.  

So here I am, 2015 - a dedicated contributor to the #whiskyfabric enjoying every road, every friendship and every fiery debate. My life never turned out the way it was supposed to, and thank goodness for that. Can you see me as a psychologist!? Those poor patients!  hehehe...

In 5 years from now what will I have to say about this grand adventure and where will it lead me next? Who knows but don't you want to stick around to find out. I certainly do...
Bus driver, let’s go… I have a few friends to pick up before my next adventure! 



Friday, January 23, 2015

You ready to join the revolution?

As a self-professed whisky geek there are very few whiskies that I will try but NEVER drink again. I can count 3 times in my 30 years of imbibing where I can clearly remember a whisky that fits in that category. The first and worst was with a blend and it was truly disastrous. As I recall it combined spitting, several expletive comments and a mad dash to the bathroom to pour the contents of my glass down the toilet immediately followed by brushing my teeth. Ahhh blends! Now, honestly, ten years ago I would have said I prefer single malts over blends but that was before the 2nd revolution. All I knew back then was Johnnie Walker, Bells and Teachers. Whoa whoa whoa!!! Wait a minute Lassie, back up the truck did you just say this is the second revolution? Yes, that's exactly what I said.

History lesson time my friends: Let's go back to the mid 19th century. Irish whiskey was queen -> Yes, you read correctly. The whiskey from Ireland was the world's sweetheart and Scotch was mostly crap. Now don't send me hate mail because these are the facts... However; the Scots got really smart and started distilling grain whisky. They in turn blended those with their single malts which created a milder product much more suitable to the foreign palate. By the mid 20th century Johnnie Walker was now king and blended Scotch whiskies were being drunk all over the world. Then came the disastrous 80's where the bottom of many whisky distilleries fell out. Closures, mothballs, bankruptcies and loads of whisky barrels sitting in warehouses occurred. Not long after that, the birth of "age statement" whisky was born. (That's the Cliff note versions...)

My favorite 80's show, MASH, quote: 

Radar: Is 12 year old scotch ok for everybody?
Colonel Blake: Yeah, fine Radar, perfect.
Radar: (as he hands him a glass) Uh, I ran out of ice sir so I used bourbon.

Blends took a back seat as aged statements demanded the stage. The blended whiskies became the bottle to have on hand if your grandfather came over or if you had a friend who liked mixing it with coke. 

Then comes the 2nd revolution of the 21st century (oh good you are still paying attention). 

Recognize that guy? Well if you don't you are still a single malt snob or worse you've been living in the mountains off the grid for the last 15 years?! John Glaser, ex Johnnie Walker International Marketing Director, who founded Compass Box Whisky Co. in 2000. This highly respected man has been featured at least 5 times as Whisky Innovator of the year and the range of Compass Box spirits have won close to 75 awards including package design. This company has rocked and pushed the limits of definition to the point where the SWA had no choice but to pay attention and as a result changed some of their rules and regulations... which of course caused the rest of us in the whisky world to wonder what exactly Compass Box Whiskies were all about?  

Still have no clue what I'm talking about? Awwww man now I seriously feel for you at this point ;) 

Behold the loveliness:
These John Glaser creations are the not bland harsh young whiskies thrown together for the sake of mass consumption! Au contraire my whisky frère, these are small batch, high quality blends. I will even go as far as saying these are a whisky art form. Yes, yes, I know there are many, MANY blends on the market that are not even fit to clean your garden shears but the same can be said for wine, beer or any other spirit on the market. What I'm saying is, from a chemistry perspective, blending is a far more complex and creative process and when done right demonstrates a deep understanding of distillery whisky & flavour profiles. It's the difference between buying a canned spaghetti sauce and watching an Italian display the magnificient relationship between garlic, fresh vine tomatoes and basil by creating the most delicate yet delicious marinara you've just tasted. 


Still don't believe me? Well then I will tell you from personal experience what it feels like to create your own blend. You see on my fabulous trip to the UK in 2014 I had the pleasure and honor of attending the Compass Box School of Blending. We spent the better part of a day with a hands learning experience about the fascinating process of making a blended whisky. 

The first thing we did, of course was enjoy a few whiskies, as one should on a Friday morning :)

Then we proceeded to learn about many of the core whiskies that Compass Box has on the market. This involved an intense hour of schooling about what goes into each of the five whiskies we had before us. 
Many opportunities to ask questions, take notes and truly understand the compositions for Asyla, Oak Cross, Spice Tree, Peat Monster and Hedonism. Then it was our turn to use all the tools and information we were provided to create, name and bottle our own blend. If I wasn't already brimming ear to ear like a true geek we then relaxed while we were offered the opportunity to sample some of the whiskies of years gone by. Glass in hand the room came to a hush as we sat in an enlightened state of pure whisky bliss as we sipped the holy grails of the Compass Box world. I think I may have cried a little when I experienced this one: 

At the end of the day I left an even bigger fan and/or geek. If ever you have the chance to speak to John Glaser he's a lovely man who truly is passionate about his whiskies (and he's got great taste in music -> Miles Davis poster in his office). He takes the time at almost every whisky show I've ever seen him at to spend it with the people who come to the table. Mr Glaser never rushes, always has an ear for every fan and is more than happy to introduce a novice to the core line. 

One of the greatest things I love about Compass Box is the fact that I use them to demonstrate to "blend nay-sayer friends" that it's not crap. So, I have a tendency to say: What shall I pour and when they say surprise me, I do... I usually pour a Spice Tree, an Oak Cross or as of late The General. The absolute joy I get listening to them go on about what a great single malt they are nosing/tasting followed by the shocking gasp when I say: it's a blend, surprise is simply devilish! I dare say, often they sit speechless until finally they ask for the price and whether it's available at our local liquor establishment. A few months down the road, I'll notice they have a bottle in their own collection and no longer badmouth blends. But then again, it goes to show that good whisky made by innovative people doesn't need a number on the bottle nor does it have to be a single malt to have value for money appeal. 

I'd also like to mention John is not the only one who is doing this. He may have started the 2nd revolution but since then many companies have also been producing some really amazing blends. This is currently my top 10 list:

1. Blue Hanger: Any of them
2. Chivas: 18 year old
3. Cutty Sark: Prohibition
4. Douglas Laing: Big Peat, Timorous Beastie
5. Duncan Taylor: Black Bull 12
6. Monkey Shoulder: Any of them
7. Spencerfield Spirits: Pig's Nose, Sheep Dip
8. Springbank: Campbeltown Loch 21 (My newest discovery - DELISH)
9. Tweeddale: Any of them
10. Wemyss: Lord Elcho 15, The Hive 8, Velvet Fig

And I SHIT you not when I say the following: I practice what I preach. I own a blend from every of the above ten above mentioned. If you don't believe me, let me know and I'll happily post a picture to you.

Are you still complaining about single malt prices going through the roof? I'm not. I know where the value for money is (for me) and right now it's in good quality blends. Then again, I don't put much thought into age statements. I simply am a consumer who loves and shares good whisky. 

So: VIVE LA RÉVOLUTION and let me drink blends! Be damned the people who don't know any better or who choose to wear whisky blinders because in the end that means more for those of us with open minds and wallets. 

Now, if you'll excuse me there's a Compass Box Cocktail waiting with my name on it to start my lovely weekend.  

Cheers #whiskyfabric and until next time.