"The Cabinet" is a Winnipeg based scotch whisky tasting club that meets every two months to sample, discuss and enjoy scotch and occasionally other related malt-based beverages.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Budget

 The Cabinet met indoors in the hallowed Cabinet Chambers for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. It was wonderful. Outdoor meetings have their own charm and will continue to be in the mix, but it doesn't fully and properly feel like "Cabinet" unless we are ensconced in our natural habitat. We also had full attendance, which does not often happen.

The theme was "Budget". The Cabinet did not assess dues for 2021 as we weren't sure how many meetings we would be able to have, so buying was still from the remnants of the 2020 budget. With $200 (Canadian) left in the kitty, I was curious whether I would be able to find three bottles that would pass muster and stay within budget. I was also curious, as always, how price and enjoyability correlated. On the first question, the answer was mostly yes (two thirds), and on the second question, the answer was that price and enjoyability are poorly correlated.

We tasted the Glen Moray Port Cask ($50), Laphroaig Select ($65), and the Tomatin Cu Bocan ($85). These are all NAS whiskies ("non age statement", if you're not up on your acronyms). The Cabinet, although fond of many traditions, has come around to the opinion that age statements are not necessarily the mark of superior quality we once assumed they were. Several excellent whiskies are NAS, while several abhorrent ones have age statements. Age statements do, however, give you some sense as to what to expect because of the influence of the oak over time, but oh well.

The Glen Moray was a pleasant surprise for the price point. It's a very serviceable Speyside with no unpleasant surprises. You can drink it and say to yourself, 'ah, this is scotch', and that's it. Sometimes that's all you want, and for $50 you could do far worse.

The Laphroaig was the standout star of the evening. It's everything you expect from a Laphroaig, with the smokiness perhaps being even more pronounced than with some of the other expressions. In fact, I had the faint sensation of ash in my mouth. Marvelous! The Laphroaig Lore is almost three times the price, but is it almost three times more enjoyable? (This is a rhetorical question. How can something be almost three times better than marvelous?)

That brings us finally to the Tomatin. We had been disappointed by this distillery before, but we also believe in second chances. It's peated and the box promised smoke. Perhaps our palates had been fatigued by the Laphroaig, but we could not detect any smoke or peat character. This might also be because this is a big whisky with a lot going on. Usually we criticize whiskies for being too thin and dull. This is the opposite, but it is a muddled mess of flavours competing with each other. Not a symphony, but more like a loud grade school orchestra that's never practiced together. The most expensive whisky of the night, although at $85 not truly 'expensive', so no great loss either.

Ivan took many great photos, so I will include them all as I bid you Slainte! until the next time.









Thursday, September 30, 2021

B-List

The Cabinet met a few weeks ago for another outdoor pandemic meeting, possibly the last before we return to the Cabinet Chambers and our beloved rituals. Not that there is anything wrong with meeting outdoors, but it won't feel like we are fully back on track again until we are in our dark wood paneled subterranean lair. 

But the bonfire on the riverbank was lovely too, and nothing pejorative is meant by "b-list". The Cabinet Stocks are arranged more or less alphabetically, and when I opened the cupboard doors the first whiskies I saw all had names beginning with "b", so "b-list" it was. 

We enjoyed all three, and that's all I'm going to say. I've been away, so the meeting feels like a long time ago. Once normal meetings resume, normal blog posts will follow.





Slainte!



  

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Reunion

 


The Cabinet's last meeting was ten months ago, in September, and that was one of only three meetings for all of 2020. Then came the long winter of the second wave of covid, followed by the long spring of the third wave. But now it is summer and now we are all fully vaccinated and there is no fourth wave. Not yet.

So a joyful reunion was held in The Cabinet's summer quarters on the banks of the low and fast Assiniboine River on a misty smoky evening this week. As we have been hiatus and no dues were collected this year, no new purchases had been made. But that was not a problem as our whisky stocks have great depth, and from that great depth I pulled four recent favourites: the Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, the Laphroaig Cairdeas, the Ardbeg Uigeadail, and, most favourite of all, the Highland Park 18.

We toasted to members absent and members past, and we toasted to Pierre Albany, the Metis farmer who first owned this land in the mid 1800s, and we watched raccoons and pelicans, and we listened to the alternating murmur and howl of the city. 

Proper blog posts with whisky descriptions and rants about various noxious aspects of the industry will resume once we are truly back in our accustomed Cabinet rhythm. But for now it's enough to record that we enjoyed each pour and we enjoyed the night, as we always have and always will.

Slainte!



Thursday, January 7, 2021

Pandemic Whisky Santa

 


For what I shall refer to as "obvious reasons", The Cabinet was only able to meet three times last year, once indoors before the unnamed obvious reasons came into being, and twice outdoors afterwards. Manitoba winters are long, dark, and cold, and the obvious reasons have conspired to become even more obvious (or, more accurately, foolish people have made them so), so with The Cabinet Chambers sealed, we will have to wait until spring to meet again. This is a very long time to be without the joy Cabinet brings, so on a foul winter's evening the week before Christmas, with an Arctic wind gathering strength, Pandemic Whisky Santa set off, powered by four tiny cylinders to visit each member's doorstep and distribute a few drams from the stocks. 

Let us all raise a glass to 2021 - may our hopes for the new year be realized, and if not, may our glasses be filled whenever we have need!

Slainte!

Monday, September 14, 2020

Comfort

 


The Cabinet met last week to pursue the subject of scotch whisky as comfort. I assume that there is no need to explain the reason for this. If you are in doubt, you are invited to follow the news closely for a few days. We met outdoors again, this time around a small bonfire on the banks of the Assiniboine River as it is dark by 8:00 already. Loudly argumentative Canada geese provided the soundtrack while a whitetail doe and her three fawns raced back and forth nearby.

Some whiskies are challenging, some are boring, some are unusual, and some are undrinkable, but relevant to the theme, some are comforting. They are comforting simply because there is a high probability that they will be enjoyable in a way that makes you feel at ease. You will not have to decode layers of obscure flavours, nor will you have to debate whether to add water or whether you want another one. You will want another one. That was the hope anyway. 

So with this in mind, we tasted the Oban Little Bay, Scapa Orcadian and Old Pulteney Huddart. The first two were familiar to us and therefore selected as safe bets for the theme, and the last one was new, but from one of our favourite distilleries, so confidence was high that it would be suitable.

The Oban Little Bay is a delight. An understated but pleasant nose, a full, even chewy, mouthfeel and that lingering finish that makes you feel you really getting your money's worth. We did want another one, which we allowed ourselves after the other two were sampled. The Orcadian was a disappointment however. We did not want another. It had an oddly oily mouthfeel and a mildly discordant flavour profile. Nobody thought it was bad, but it did suffer next to the Little Bay. The consensus was that oxygenation in this old half empty bottle had done it some harm. And then finally we tasted the Huddart, apparently named for the street in Wick where the distillery is located. This was also a delight. Old Pult never disappoints. Here was another full-bodied whisky with depth of flavour and a lovely long finish. We would have had another, but with a second go at the Little Bay already planned, that would have put us over our four dram maximum. We are gentlemen of restraint and refined judgment after all. Next time.



The fire was so wonderful and the vibe so pleasant and comfortable that we can add this to one of the several pandemic silver linings. Even once we are permitted to breathe in each others faces again in the tight quarters of the Cabinet Chambers, some meetings will still be held around the fire, by the river, with the geese and the deer.



Slainte!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Highland Park




The Cabinet met last night for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic in Canada. We met in the virus-free fresh air along the banks of the Assiniboine River, we sat spaced apart, and we refrained from speaking moistly. The meeting happily coincided with the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the Manitoba Act, creating Manitoba as Canada's fifth province. The history of this is far more interesting than you might guess, but is also beyond the scope of a scotch whisky blog. Curious individuals can begin here: https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/manitoba-act

The Manitoba Sesquicentennial does, however, provide the basis for a tasting theme. There is a strong connection between the Red River Colony which became Manitoba and the Orkney islands. The Hudson's Bay Company governed the territory before Canada's purchase of it in 1869, and 80% of its employees were from the Orkney's. Most of these men settled in the Red River Colony after their terms with the Company were completed and many married Cree and Ojibwa women, so they can rightly be counted among the founders of Manitoba. 

Happily, the Cabinet is very fond of Orkney whiskies, with the Highland Park 18 year old and the Highland Park Dark Origins being particular favourites. To this line-up we added the Magnus and the Valfather, both also from Highland Park. We have Scapa whiskies in our stocks as well, but it made it made sense to compare the Highland Parks side by side.

By the end of the evening our affection for the 18 y.o. and the Dark Origins were confirmed. The other two unfortunately fell short of that high mark. The Valfather is a solid whisky though, well enough crafted to be enjoyable, but just not Highland Park's best. The Magnus, on the other hand, was a disappointment. While broadly identifiable as a Highland Park, it is much thinner than any of their other offerings. There's a reason for this - it's 40% abv versus 47% for the Valfather. And therein lies a little sleight of hand. The Magnus sells for $50 here and the Valfather for $89. The extra water alone accounts for $8 of the price difference. Another element is the fact that it just comes as a naked bottle without a cylinder or even a box. Ultimately, as far as cheap whiskies go, it's a reasonable choice, but if you can afford $105 (all figures in Canadian dollars), the Dark Origins is by far the best value for money. If you can find it. It is no longer available in Manitoba. Given the history, there should be special allocations of Orkney scotch for Manitoba drinkers. The Cabinet will consider drafting a letter to the relevant authorities.

Slainte!


Thursday, February 6, 2020

Ten


The Cabinet met two nights ago to mark the tenth anniversary (plus two weeks) of its founding. On January 15, 2010, three friends met in the basement of a creaky old house on the banks of the Assiniboine River. The basement was still a couple years away from its renovation and was filled with bulky plastic children's toys and old student furniture and was decorated, perhaps incongruously, with posters from the National Film Board and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The intent of this meeting was to explore an idea for a new kind of scotch club. The scotch clubs we knew were all one of two types. The first type were the clubs that appeared to be little more than pretentious forums for the airing of ludicrous adjectives. "I say Reginald, do you detect that shimmering note of finely wadded oregano root layered over the ten day old Hunan tangerine peel zest and mingled with the essence of combusted squirrel penis shavings?" The second type were the clubs that were simply thinly disguised booze-ups. "Bro! Gonna slam some scotch tonight! You in?!"

There had to be a third way. The first type of scotch club was likely to make me vomit quietly into my mouth. The second kind was likely to make me vomit noisily into a wastepaper basket. And thankfully, there was a third way. If you are thinking of starting a scotch club of your own, and you would like to keep vomiting of any kind to a bare minimum, here are the basic principles of that third way:

1) Meet on weeknights.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but weekends create two problems. The first is that people, especially with spouses and families, are generally busier on weekend evenings and spouses are generally less happy to see you disappear on your own to "scotch club". The second is that the temptation would be strong to have just another and then another. Having to work the next morning is a powerful restraint. At least if you're over 30 it is.

2) Limit the pours to four.
Four is plenty. After that you're tasting less and less anyway. After that driving home becomes more difficult, if not outright dangerous, illegal and stupid. After that it becomes a booze-up. We all have lots of other opportunities for that. Scotch club is not one of them. Four is plenty.

3) Limit the membership.
It depends on your space, but I have a hard time imagining more than a dozen working very well. Even at ten, conversation tends to splinter into sub-conversations and the atmosphere changes from that of a meeting to that of a drinking party. From an organisational standpoint, collecting dues and scheduling meetings becomes more of a headache as well. A cap of eight works very well for us. This also allows room for guests.

4) Make your membership diverse.
Too many people from one profession or industry is a bad idea. Different backgrounds, different interests and different opinions all lead to more interesting conversations.

5) Charge dues annually to fund the buying.
Some clubs have members simply bring the bottles, but this leads to most of the evening's tasting being from one or, at the most, two bottles. We enjoy tasting a range drawn from the stocks we've built up. Having a single buyer also allows for a better overview of the balance in the stocks. Moreover, the pooled fund allows The Cabinet to buy much more expensive bottles than any one member would likely bring on their own. And it prevents anyone from being accused of being cheap by always just bringing discount blends when it's their turn.

6) Disparage snobbery.
Scotch whisky is a convivial drink meant to be enjoyed rather than described to within an inch of its life. By all means, identify the aromas and flavours, but don't make a cult of it.

7) Don't meet too often.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It does. Every two months is perfect. There's such a thing as too much absence as well.

8) Lock up the stocks.
Keep the stocks in a locked cabinet that is only opened at meetings. This requires no explanation.

And that is more or less it.

To mark this occasion we sampled our ten year old scotches, the Scapa 10, the Ledaig 10 and the Arbeg 10. The Scapa was dark cherry coloured 59% cask strength assault on the mouth, but a friendly assault full of dense malt and caramel, balancing the burn to a surprising extent. The Ledaig was much lighter in alcohol, colour, body and mouthfeel, with the principle distinguishing features being smoke and sweetness, but not to excess in either. And the Arbeg needs no description. I can scarcely imagine a reader who cannot immediately bring to mind those delectable old bandages and burnt tires. Mmm.

We were pleased to be joined by James and Ron as guests and thank the former for his sketch of us and the latter for the marvelous snacks.

Here's to the next ten years! Slainte!