Calgary is a good place to be if you’re a whisky fan in Canada. Both prices and selection are among the lowest in the country. And there was even more reason to visit this past week, as Kensington Wine Market held their annual Spring Single Malt Festival. KWM has a great place in the Scotch community; Andrew Ferguson is their passionate and knowledgeable “Scotch guy” and the amount and quality of the events they put on is seriously envy-inducing for an out-of-towner like myself!
KWM is not a large store, and the festival is not a small one with almost 120 different whiskies to try this year. So things get a little cosy as close to a hundred enthusiasts (plus exhibitors and staff) pack into the aisles between the wine bottles and make notes, chat to each other and try everything on offer.
While a little crowded, the festival experience was as good as any of the larger events of this type I’ve attended. With my complimentary engraved Glencairn in hand I had some great chats with some of the exhibitors and other guests (including the most passionate Bruichladdich fan I’ve ever come across!). During the event, all whiskies are discounted too so it’s a great buying opportunity if that’s what you’re looking for.
Speaking of the whisky, there was some genuinely great stuff on offer. The Canadian branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society had their latest bottlings, including a pretty unusual Armagnac finish (A4) which was as rich as you’d expect. Their 105.17 “Wowee!” lived up to its name – a classic cask-strength sherry bomb with intense fruits. Hopefully I can grab my membership soon – co-founder Kelly told me they’re opening up in BC in October. Summer hasn’t really started yet but now Fall can’t come soon enough!
The Glenfarclas table had some real treasures. First off I tried the KWM-exclusive 1997 Family Cask, bottled at 56.3% ABV, which was outstanding; a great example of the Glenfarclas house style, very sweet, orangey, and with the punch of a good cask strength. Next I had the standard 30-year bottling, and while I enjoyed it had much less impact than the ’97. Finally, one of the jewels of the distillery: the Chairman’s Reserve “175”. Created for the distillery’s 175th anniversary, this whisky is a blend of four long-matured casks, the ages of which add up to 175. It’s bottled at 46% and was divine. Sadly the $700 asking price was just a bit out of my range!
Marlene from Eclipse Wines & Spirits was showing a range of single-cask whiskies from the independent bottlers Adelphi. This was my first encounter with the company and I was pretty much blown away by their amazing quality. The 1984 Linkwood was a beautiful sherried Speyside with an amazing mahogany colouring, and tasted absolutely delicious with rich fruits and nuts, a pronounced oakiness and a long finish. The 10-year-old Bowmore was a huge winner too, wonderfully smoky and oily with a huge impact.
Some of my other highlights:
– BenRiach 1978 Virgin Oak finish – another bottle sadly out of my price range, this one was delicious with strong toffee and vanilla. It reminded me of the bourbon cask-finished bottle I got from the distillery at Aberlour.
– Bruichladdich Black Art 2nd edition– Jim McEwan’s secret recipe does the trick for me, glorious complexity from this one.
– Old Malt Cask Littlemill 19-year-old – Really quite unusual, I got a strong blueberry flavour along with honey and lemon. Very light and delicious.
– Compass Box Great King Street – A very nice blend from the always-reliable Compass Box, one of my favourite whisky makers (try their Spice Tree if you haven’t already). I’m not that big of a fan of grain whiskies or blends in general, but I enjoyed this quite a bit.
– Bowmore Laimrig – I get the feeling that a lot of the whisky “establishment” don’t really enjoy Bowmore’s current crop of whiskies too much. Personally I’m a huge fan of their standard 15-year-old “Darkest”, and the Laimrig is more or less a cask-strength version of that. I thought it was great.
– Glendronach 21-year-old Parliament – I’m also a big fan of Glendronach; like Glenfarclas their stuff has a recognizable house style but there’s still variety across the range. The 21-year-old is more complex and oaky than their 12-year-old but has the same kind of creaminess to mark the family resemblance.
– KWM Glendronach 1972 cask 711 – Now this one wasn’t actually officially included in the festival, but Andrew saw me looking longingly at the bottle on the shelf and generously got me a sample. It was wonderful – incredibly unique, with a strong influence of almonds and raisins, no mustiness or over-oaking in evidence. I would have bought a bottle on the spot if I was able to. Andrew told me there are only 18 bottles left, and I can’t imagine they’ll last much longer. Do yourself a favour and grab one before they disappear.
We headed out just a couple of minutes before the end, and on the way to a tasty pub meal I remembered that I’d forgotten to try the Port Ellen that was out on one of the KWM tables, and the Ardbeg Blasda I’d been meaning to try later on, and some of the Duncan Taylor bottlings at the Purple Valley table… maybe I’ll have to attend the Fall festival too!