March 13, 2014

Does Whisky make you Mad?

Lagavulin 16 - one of the whiskies served at last week's Bachelor Party
Now that I have your attention, I'll shamelessly admit that I brought you here to learn about something other than whisky.
As the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada will benefit from any direct action on your part, I make no apologies for this ruse!

In about three weeks, I'll be joining a jolly group of about 40 thespians of The Savoy Society of Ottawa on stage at the Algonquin Commons Theatre for a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta - Ruddygore. I'll be playing the wonderfully ludicrous part of Mad Margaret, one of an outrageous cast of characters who sing and act their way through a zany plot with great music.

Mad Margaret (me), Sir Despard Murgatroyd (Stuart MacKinnon) in Ruddigore (1990) at Centrepointe Theatre.
Here's the synposis............... 
The Baronets of Ruddygore have been cursed by a witch. Each Baronet must commit a crime a day - or die in torture. To escape his dreadful fate, Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd disguises himself as Robin Oakapple, a farmer. Robin Oakapple is in love and wants to marry - but his future plans appear doomed when his true identity is revealed. 

Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a handful of operettas back in the 1800's. The more well known ones are HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado. The Savoy Society has been around since 1975 and has performed all of the 12 main Gilbert and Sullivan works on a quasi revolving basis.
As I've been with Savoy, on and off, since 1981 (ouch!), I've performed in four different Ruddigore productions over the years, playing three different roles. It's been - eh - a few years since I last played Mad Margaret.

My sons - one now an Engagement Manager at a Management Consulting Company and the other the Co-Founder and Artistic Designer of a clothing company.
Back in 1887, when it was first performed, audiences were shocked by the title Ruddygore, and it was subsequently renamed to the more obscure Ruddigore. The stage director for this production, the talented and knowledgeable Richard Langlois, decided to create an authentic production, using the original name. 127 years later, my local community centre seems reluctant to put up a poster! Checkout the link on Richard's name for a You Tube rehearsal clip.
For all the goriness of the title, this production is a delightful and highly entertaining romp, in a beautiful new theatre, with some extremely talented folks on stage. And the Children's Wish Foundation will be the beneficiary of donations to the wishing wells, as well as a donation from Savoy. Over the years, approximately $80,000 has been contributed in this way to worthy causes like Children's Wish.   
Pirates of Penzance 2008 Ruth (me), Frederic (Gavan Quinn), Pirate King (Rejean Dinelle-Mayer)
Photo Spencer Studio.
Performances are on April 3rd (7:30pm), April 4th (7:30pm), April 5th (2pm and 7:30pm) and April 6th (2pm). Tickets are available online at the theatre website or in person at the Algonquin Commons Theatre Box Office located at E104 in the Student Commons building. Tickets (including fees and taxes) are $36.50 for adults and $19 for children 12 and under. 
Do come out and see the show - and then go home and have a nice dram or glass of wine. That's what Mad Margaret will be doing!

Check back soon for Mad Whisky events during April, May and June!

February 12, 2014

An Olympic fever dram, The Macallan 1824 series, and talking to a haggis

I'm not in Sochi, but I may as well be, given the amount of time I'm spending watching the Olympics. I love winter Olympics, although it's a bit ironic that I convert from a pretty active person into a couch potato, while watching all these amazing athletes push themselves to the limit.   Eight years ago, we were living in France, and I took myself off to Bardonnechia to watch the inaugural Snowboard Cross event. My husband had meetings he needed to go to, so when I say "took myself off" I mean that I hopped on a  train from Geneva and went to the Olympics alone. Who does that!
That's how much I like winter Olympics.

So, needless to say, with even more inaugural events going on, coupled with Canada's great performance in Sochi, it's just easier to stop work, call out for pizza and ignore emails. I jest, but I'm definitely procrastinating more than usual. And I have noticed that Canadian twitter activity has diminished in the last week, except for athletic references. This is not necessarily a bad thing!

A few weeks ago, at the Victoria Whisky Festival, this whisky won the prestigious title of Canadian Whisky of the Year. Reasonably available at the LCBO, and under $40, Lot 40 is a fantastic 100% rye whisky, with a luscious mouth-feel and a spicy character. This is a grand Canadian dram to sip and savour while toasting your favourite athletes.

The Macallan 1824 Series

Two weeks ago, approximately 600 people turned out for the official Ottawa launch of The Macallan 1824 series. Although some of the product has been in the LCBO for quite a few months, this was an opportunity for a large number of people to taste the new collection of colour coded Single Malt Scotches from the great Speyside distillery. In recent weeks, about 3000 people have had the opportunity to taste the four Scotches, as the event made its way across Canada.
The tastings were led by Marc Laverdiere, Canadian Ambassador for The Macallan, and a congenial man with a friendly style and an obvious passion for his work. In Ottawa, attendees were treated to a cocktail made with The Macallan Gold and some tasty nibbles by Tulips and Maple, followed by a sequential tasting of The Macallan Gold, Sienna, Amber and Ruby.
The whiskies increase in colour and flavour intensity, mainly a result of different cask types, but also a factor of age. With no age expression on the bottles, the distillery has more leeway to marry whisky of any age to create the range. The emphasis is on cask previous contents, whether sherry or bourbon, first fill or subsequent fill, married together to create four different whiskies, at four different prices. As the whiskies flow from the lighter, crisp Gold to the rich, chocolatey Ruby, it's reasonable to assume that there are more casks of older whisky in the higher priced, richer flavored  products.

Many consumers like the comfort of buying a whisky with an age expression. If you buy a 15 year old Scotch, you are assured that the youngest whisky in the bottle is 15 years old. With the 1824 series, the distillery can add younger whiskies into the final pre-bottling marriage, if it suits the target flavour (and price) profile. The aim is for consumers to judge and enjoy these Scotches, without getting wound up about age.
My observation is that most tasters try to guess the age anyway, and then relate that to the price, as well as to other comparably aged whiskies. Time will tell whether the new strategy is a winner or not. Certainly, the 1824 series offers up four completely different whiskies at different price points. Current LCBO pricing is $64.95 for Gold, $99.95 for Amber, $174.95 for Sienna and $299.95 for Ruby.

Here are my notes on the range.


Youthful, fresh, citrus notes, peardrops, nutty, white pepper; a warming finish.


Fruity, apricots, vanilla, ginger, smoother on the palate, a medium finish.


Elegant, raisins, figs, fruitcake, a whiff of carbolic soap, cedar, warming and spicy.


Rich, a melee of dried fruits, chocolate, cocoa, spicy cloves, a long warming finish, a cognac quality.

Talking to a haggis

Robert Burns birthday has come and gone. We celebrated well at our house, with eloquent speeches, well articulated poetry, beautiful singing and piano playing, fine piping, Scottish dancing and a veritable feast.
Front and centre of the feast was, of course, the previously mentioned haggis and a grand beast he was.
I chatted to him in the way that one does at Burns Suppers.............


Enjoy the rest of the Olympics!

January 21, 2014

On Burns Suppers, Haggis and January Whiskies

For a' that, an a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that.

Robert Burns was a hopeful man.
Saturday, 25th January marks the 255th anniversary of his birth, and celebrations are taking place all over the world. There are probably fifty going on in the Ottawa area. I know of at least a dozen. Scots in particular love to honour the occasion with attendance at Burns Suppers, formal and informal, but events are not exclusive to Scots, by any means. The universal appeal of celebratory and ceremonial events, especially those involving food, drink, dancing and entertainment is indisputable.
This year, I'll be singing at one in Kanata, and we're hosting our own Burns Supper in oor wee hoose, complete with our real live bagpiper (thanks Denis!), the best haggis in Ottawa, a Strip the Willow (raucous Scottish dance) and much ceremonial celebration of Rabbie's life and works.

I grew up in a Burns loving household. My Dad was a "Burns man", so I was weaned on Robert Burns' poems and songs. If I ever lose my memory, I'm certain that The Address to the Haggis will be the last thing to go. So appealing (and possibly incomprehensible) is the old Scots dialect that our Christmas Day dinner host requested that I recite "Fair fa' your honest sonsie face....." etc to the Christmas turkey!

Burns Suppers should include.......

  • The Selkirk Grace (although not written by Burns)
  • A piped procession of the haggis, followed by the Address to the Haggis, and consumption of a wee dram by those in the procession.
  • A traditional menu of Scotch Broth or Cock a' leekie soup; followed by haggis, mashed neeps (turnips) and champit tatties (mashed potatoes); then Scotch trifle.
  • The toast to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns.
  • A Toast to the Lassies.
  • A reply to the Toast to the Lassies.
  • Music, poetry readings and dancing, whether performed or participatory.

The Best Haggis in Ottawa

It can't be a well kept secret, because Stephane Sauvé of the Glebe Meat Market, makes about 3000lbs of haggis at this time of year. I've been buying his haggis for several years now, and it is consistently delicious, moist, perfectly seasoned, authentic haggis - the very stuff of which Burns wrote "Oh, what a glorious sight, warm, reekin', rich." Not everyone leaps at the chance to consume  a savoury pudding encased in an animal's stomach and containing sheep's heart, liver and lungs, mixed with onions, oatmeal, suet, stock and spices. But it is tasty, fabulous stuff. Trust me!
It's also fiendishly hard to make. Apart from getting the recipe, moisture level and seasonings just right, not to mention the difficulty of nipping down to Loblaws to pick up hearts and lungs, there's also the business of encasing the contents in an animal's stomach and ensuring that said contents don't burst during the cooking process. Nowadays much haggis is made with synthetic casings, but this is not the case at the Glebe Meat Market, where well sterilized cow stomachs are used. 

Stephane first started making haggis about 15 years ago, and spent several years in research and trial and error before coming up with the perfect haggis. In the early years, he asked many Scottish acquaintances and customers to try out his creations, until he got the unanimous "thumbs up". According to Steph, it's very difficult to find properly sterilized sheep stomach, but he's had great success with cow stomachs.
While the Glebe Meat Market is not the only source of haggis in the city, I've always been delighted with the product. Steph makes them to order, in various sizes, for pickup, fresh or frozen. Try it. You'll love it!


Robert Burns, with his eighteenth century precursor to an ENJOY RESPONSIBLY message, had this to say about Scotch whisky..........
'Twill make a man forget his woe;
'Twill heighten all his joy. (John Barleycorn)
He also said......
Wi' tippenny we fear nae evil;
Wi' usquabae, we'll face the Devil! (Tam O'Shanter)
And, indeed, Tam O'Shanter did encounter a bit of trouble, on his way home, after too much whisky.
Assuming that, unlike Tam, you've left your trusty horse at home for the evening, Burns Suppers are great occasions to sample a few favourite drams. If you want to pair some whiskies with a traditional dinner, here are some of my suggestions.
With the soup, I'd suggest something sweet and gentle. Glenkinchie Distillers Edition, Auchentoshan Three Wood, The Macallan Amber, a young Aberlour, Balvenie or Glenfarclas all come to mind.
The haggis calls for your favourite whisky. Although I'm a huge fan of smoky Islay whiskies, I wouldn't rush to pair those with a plate of essentially sweet food - mashes and haggis. A hint of peat would be fine, though, so Highland Park 18 or Bowmore Darkest 15 year old would be nice to pull out for some favoured guests.
Others I fancy are Glendronach 15 or 18, full of lush sweetness; Aberlour 18, elegant and sweet; Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera Vat, nice and affordable; the elegant The Macallan Fine Oak 15 year old; rich Oban Distillers Edition; beautifully balanced Glen Grant 16 year old; the list goes on. I'd basically look for a decent bodied whisky, with inherent sweetness, and stay away from too much peat and special cask finishes other than sherry. But ultimately you should drink what you love and if something isn't working with the haggis, a drop or two of water will change the character, and all might be well.
Try a drop of Glenmorangie Nectar d'Or with the trifle. Or match sweet with sweet and go for some Glayva or Drambuie.
If there's room for oatcakes and cheese, especially stinky blue cheeses, then bring out your favourite Laphroaig, Ardbeg or Lagavulin and enjoy. I love Old Pulteney 17 year old with a good cheddar. Aberlour a'Bunadh, with its cognac like persona, would also enjoy centre stage at this point.

And if you really are going to serve all of these suggestions at your Burns Supper, then do please invite me!
Whatever you're doing in and around the 25th, raise a glass to Rabbie Burns. And with Valentines Day on the horizon, you need look no further than  Burns' love songs to woo someone special.
And I will love thee still, my Dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.


January 12, 2014

Raise the Macallan Toronto Feb 5 and 6

The response to the Raise the Macallan events in Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver was overwhelming, and all three locations are sold out for all sessions. I guess Canadians enjoy Scotch whisky, appreciate The Macallan, are curious about new expressions, and love free events!
If you're in the Toronto area, there are still spots available for the six sessions at the Shangri-La Hotel on February 5 and 6. Click this link to register.
I'll look forward to meeting many of you at the Ottawa sessions on January 28.

January 02, 2014

Raise the Macallan - FREE Scotch tasting Jan 28

Happy New Year! 

I hope 2014 brings you good health and happiness.

What better way to kick off the New Year than to sign up for a FREE Single Malt Scotch Tasting.

Raise the Macallan

On January 28th, 2014, The Macallan is introducing Ottawa to the new 1824 Series - Gold, Amber, Siena and Ruby - four Single Malt Scotches from one of Scotland's most beloved distilleries.

Join renowned Brand Ambassador, Marc Laverdiere, at the 4th floor gallery of The Canadian Museum of Nature, 240 McLeod Street, for an exclusive tutored tasting of the 1824 series, preceded by a cocktail reception, featuring a special Scotch cocktail and some tasty bites by Tulips and Maple.

This exclusive event is part of a cross Canada presentation. To attend, you must register at Eventbrite by January 21, 2014 for a specific session.
Session 1 5:30pm to 6:30pm
Session 2 7:00pm to 8:00pm
Session 3 8:30pm to 9:30pm
Note that prompt arrival is requested, and that cocktails will be served 15 minutes prior to the tasting session start time.

Don't miss this one! Hope to see you there.


December 16, 2013

Dec 30th at the Highlander Pub & Hogmanay Party at City Hall

Happy Christmas Season to everyone!
If you fancy a great Single Malt Scotch tasting before the year ends, I'll be presenting four super whiskies at the Highlander Pub, 115 Rideau Street, on December 30th at 2pm. In the line-up will be Auchentoshan Three Wood, Glenfiddich 15 year old Solera Vat, Highland Park 25 year old and Laphroaig 18 year old,  accompanied by some yummy food prepared at the Pub. Maximum 40 participants, $50, call 613 562 5678 for reservations.
 If you're looking for the best party in Ottawa on New Year's Eve, come to City Hall, from 6pm onwards, for a fabulous Hogmanay Party, presented by The Scottish Society of Ottawa. Live bands include Scotland's own Wolfstone, as well as the Glengarry Pipe Band, and many more great Canadian bands. Fireworks, family fun, Scottish food, beer, whisky and much more is on the agenda. And, best of all, it's a FREE party for all, (apart from modest charges for food and beverages). Check out this link for all the details. Hope to see you there, to ring in the New Year - twice!

October 15, 2013

November Whisky Tastings

Hope everyone in the Ottawa area is enjoying the splendid Fall - warm days and cool nights, blue skies, vibrant trees, morning mists, and perhaps a wee dram to help the evening chills.
Here's what I opened for a post Thanksgiving turkey dinner digestif.
Unmistakably Lagavulin, this 15 year old Single Cask whisky, bottled specifically for the 2012 Islay Jazz Festival, was big and fiery on the cask strength palate, then beautifully soft and elegant with a couple of drops of water. Top notch Single Malt Islay Scotch Whisky - 5 quaichs from me.

Last week, a capacity crowd enjoyed a great Fall whisky tasting at Divino Wine Studio.  As always, the food pairings concocted by Cristian Lepore and his team were outstanding. Here's one of the brilliant whiskies, we poured.
Oban 15 year old Distillers Edition

On to November, and three more public tastings..........

On Sunday November 3rd at 2:30pm, The Scottish Society of Ottawa is holding a Whisky Masterclass at the Blackburn Arms Pub, 2586 Innes Road. Pete Bradford, a cooper from Prince Edward County, makes oak casks for the whisky and wine trades. He will talk about the impact of oak on whisky, the differences in toasting, charring and much more. Three one ounce pours of excellent single malts from different casks will be served along with appetizers. $40 per person. Call the Blackburn Arms Pub at 613.830.4829 to register.

On Thursday, November 7th, at The Crown and Kilt Pub in Renfrew, I'll be leading a whisky tasting, with food pairings, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Renfrew Highland Pipes and Drums. We'll be pouring four great whiskies, including this one.
Tickets, $75, can be obtained from Rocky Mountain House or can be reserved by calling 1 866 372 2210 or 613 432 5801.

On Thursday, November 21st from 6pm to 9pm, I'll be at Arc The.Hotel presenting some fine Single Malt Scotch Whiskies for Lung Cancer Canada's Inaugural Ottawa Fundraiser. A fabulous evening will feature savoury bites by four of Ottawa's top chefs, live Jazz music and much more. Check out the link for more information and to buy tickets.

Hope to see you at a tasting or two. And please drop us a line if you want to explore a wine or whisky event of your own.

Slainte! Cheers!


September 24, 2013

October Whisky Tasting at Divino's - and a few pics from Manotick.

Join us on Thursday, October 17th, 2013 at Divino Wine Studio for another great whisky tasting, paired with fabulous food from the amazing culinary team led by Chef Cristian Lepore.
The photo's a bit of a tease, but we don't want to give it all away, do we! But I will tell you that, in the lineup, we have a 21 year old Single Cask Speyside, a stunning Canadian whisky, a delicious Distiller's Edition, a new entry from a well respected Speyside Distillery, and a wonderful mouth-watering 15 year old from Islay. Hope you can join us for a fun, educational and delicious evening at Divino's.

Last week I was at Watson's Mill in Manotick to lead the Annual Fundraiser Whisky Tasting. A capacity crowd enjoyed four totally different whiskies, food nibbles by The Mill Tavern, and a great evening of laughter and conversation.
Photo Courtesy Maureen McPhee

I'm always pleased to serve Glenfiddich 15 year old, a unique whisky, utilizing a Solera system, which produces luscious flavours, and a whisky older than its years. I'm doubly pleased if it's on the bill these days, as $2 from every bottle sold in Canada is donated to Wounded Warriors Canada - a very worthwhile Charity.
The Arran Malt Sauternes Cask was elegant and delicious, Laphroaig Quarter Cask pleased the peat loving palates in the room, and Blanton's Gold Edition Single Barrel Straight Bourbon provided a rich and spicy finish. In my world, these are all four quaich whiskies.

Photo Courtesy Maureen McPhee
Hope to see you at Divino's in October!

September 03, 2013

Watson's Mill, Manotick, Whisky Tasting

Photo by James Watt, Manotick
GrapeScot is pleased to be heading to Manotick on Friday, September 20th to lead another Whisky Tasting fundraising event at historic Watson's Mill
Watson's Mill is a unique 1860’s grist and flour mill, on the shores of the Rideau River.  A working industrial heritage site in greater Ottawa, it has a remarkable history linked to local politics, the building of a country, and a tragic love story.  The WMMI mandate is to preserve Watson's Mill as a working historic grist and flour mill, and a social, cultural and educational focal point for the community and visitors.
Photo by James Watt, Manotick
The tasting starts at 7:30pm and features four nice whiskies, appetizers by The Mill Tavern, a little education and some good company. Tickets, which sell out quickly, are just $45 and can be purchased  by calling 613-692-6455. All proceeds go to Watson's Mill programming.
Hope to see you there!