Vancouver is a great town for whisky lovers; we’re lucky to have quite a few great events over the year (mostly in the winter months). For now, though, Vancouver Island holds the title for BC’s best malt event – the Victoria Whisky Festival. A four-day program encompassing dinners, masterclasses and of course the Grand Tasting hall, it receives a lot of support from distilleries and independent bottlers. It’s possible to taste some seriously good stuff here.
After last year’s close call when it came to getting tickets, I made sure to reserve them nice and early for the 2012 festival when they went on sale in November last year. Despite calling the ticket line the minute it opened, it was several hours before we got a call back and by then many of the packages had sold out. However my wife (my whisky partner-in-crime) managed to score some great events and as the day rolled around we couldn’t wait to get started.
After a somewhat damp ferry ride, the first event of the weekend on Friday night was one of the big ones – the Amrut Grand Tasting hosted by Ashok Chokalingham, brand ambassador for the distillery. Ashok is a great host and had some really excellent whisky to share.
From the #1 spot at bottom left to #8 at bottom right, the lineup was as follows:
#1: Amrut Single Malt (46% ABV)
#2: Amrut Cask Strength (61.9%)
#3: Fusion (50%)
#4: Intermediate Sherry (57.1%)
#5: Two Continents 2nd Edition (50%)
#6: Portonova (62.1%)
#7: Mystery 1! (63%)
#8: Mystery 2! (40%)
We didn’t try them in order; as Ashok talked about the distillery, how whisky is made, cask types and so on, we tried what best fit the narrative when it was time to sample another. It was an enjoyable talk, with interesting discussions on such subjects as how tasting notes from different cultures differ, the staggering number of people that Amrut employs at a single distillery, the use of whisky as medicine and more!
Of course, it always comes back to the whisky. And really, what a great set of drams they were. I’m a big fan of Amrut and have been for a couple of years since I first tried their stuff, and it’s always a treat to taste something new from them. There were 3 expressions here I’d never tried before – the Two Continents 2nd Edition, Portonova and one of the mystery malts, which turned out to be from a special bottling for the Whisky Exchange’s 10th anniversary.
The concept behind Two Continents at first sounds like a bit of a marketing gimmick, but does in fact affect the whisky. It’s matured first in Bangalore India for four years, then a further two years in Europe. The climate in Bangalore is hot and humid, and that has a marked effect on the progress of maturation – basically it’s much, much faster than would occur in a more temperate climate. So the two different geographical areas will indeed change the character of the liquid. As it turns out, Two Continents was a light, sweet whisky, with lots of dried fruit and marzipan in the taste. Bottled at 50%, it’s slightly higher than the first release and is matured in second-fill bourbon casks instead of “ex-grain casks”, whatever they are… grain whisky I assume but that’s not a common thing to be matured in at all!
The Anniversary bottling was slightly heavier than the Two Continents, medium-bodied and well-balanced at the cask strength of 63%. The Portonova was the stand-out of the new whiskies for me though; the unusual port finish (the spirit is matured in both virgin and ex-bourbon casks, then spends just a few months in port pipes before being returned to the bourbon) gave it a wonderful taste of summer fruits and berries. It was tied for my favourite of the night with the standard cask-strength. As we began nosing the precious dark-amber liquid, Ashok said we were the first people in Canada to try it; as he said that I sneaked a taste so I think technically I was the first person in Canada to give it a go! Sadly he said the bottles were destined for Alberta and not BC… yet again you lucky Albertans get the good stuff.
The two hours or so flew by and much fun (and whisky) was had. Yet this was only the beginning of the weekend, and many more great experiences lay ahead!