For the fearless imbibers who have delved deep into the world of Old World red wines, craft beer, dessert wines and beyond, whisky is the ultimate in flavour w-- both powerful and subtle -- when it comes to beverage alcohol. (Sorry, marshmallow-flavoured vodka... next time.)
Which is why so many of the city's palates are fired up for the second annual Winnipeg Whisky Festival. Taking place Friday, Feb. 21, the event is presented by Manitoba Liquor Marts as a fundraising event for the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Like the Winnipeg Wine Festival and Flatlander's Beer Festival, the event raises much-needed funds for a local charitable organization. And similar to the other two events, a wide spectrum of sippables from many corners of the globe will be poured for those in attendance.
As is evidenced by the increasing number of brands/varieties occupying Manitoba Liquor Mart shelves, whisky is a burgeoning category. "The overall whisky category is growing, and is up four per cent in the past year. Within the whisky category, there are some sub-categories showing strong growth. Two notable areas of growth are bourbon (27 per cent growth) and single malt scotch (12 per cent growth)," explains Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries event co-ordinator assistant Aaron Alblas.
Organizers expect there to be a bit of crossover attendance-wise between the festivals. "The Winnipeg Whisky Festival appeals to connoisseurs of all kinds... it is a great opportunity for beer and wine lovers to broaden their knowledge, explore new products and discover the whisky industry," says Alblas.
In some ways, however, the Winnipeg Whisky Festival differs from the other two events. To begin with, tickets are far pricier -- regular admission is $210 each, far pricier than the Winnipeg Wine Festival or Flatlander's. (There's also a VIP option for $315 that includes a pre-fest master class/tasting conducted by a master distiller or brand ambassador to be determined.)
Why the pricier admission? Well, to begin with, whisky is more expensive than either beer or wine, and the dozens of drinks being sampled at the Winnipeg Whisky Festival include some pretty high-end stuff from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the U.S., and beyond.
"Attendees of the whisky festival also enjoy an all-evening gourmet buffet as well as passed hors d'oeuvres, both of which are not found at the other festivals," says Alblas.
Still too rich for your blood? Consider the ancillary events being staged this year. A mere $25-40 gets you into a handful of events being held around town on the evenings of Wednesday, Feb. 19 and Thursday, Feb. 20. Whether you're looking to learn some whisky-based cocktail recipes, taste through different house styles or bend the ear of a master distiller, there are plenty of well-priced ancillary events that are sure to sell out.
Speaking of which, while the main festival isn't yet sold out, organizers expect the event will once again be near or at capacity by the time the date arrives. Check out www.winnipegwhiskyfestival.com for details, including a list of the whiskys being poured at the fest.
Since I'm still a whisky rookie, no starred ratings this week...
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CANADIAN CLUB CLASSIC WHISKY (Walkerville, Ont. -- $26.49, Liquor Marts)
Fairly deep gold in colour, the Classic was aged blended for 12 years in mostly re-charred bourbon barrels. There's plenty of vanilla on the nose here, with hints of toffee and spice as well. It's a fairly simple whisky -- low in spice and high in creamy vanilla notes, with a slightly peppery note on the short finish.
JIM BEAM DEVIL'S CUT KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY (Frankfort, Ky. -- $33.39, Liquor Marts)
Medium-gold in colour, there are some intense lacquered-wood aromas as well as hints of pear and floral notes. At 45 per cent alcohol it's a high-octane, intense bourbon, with big alcohol obscuring banana candy, white pepper and spice components on the palate. Not much subtlety here. Kid Rock is their spokesman -- coincidence?
GENTLEMAN JACK RARE TENNESSEE WHISKEY (Lynchburg, Tenn. -- $36.99, Liquor Marts)
Medium-plus gold in colour, the Gentleman Jack is "charcoal-mellowed" twice -- once before aging and the second after. There's a hint of spice that's immediately evident on the nose, with caramel, butterscotch and pear notes. It's mellow, but offers good complexity, melding vanilla, spice, white pepper, dried apricot and a light smoky note with modest sweetness. Tasty stuff.
TULLIBARDINE SOVEREIGN HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY (Blackford, Scotland -- $58.72, Liquor Marts)
The palest of the lot, the Tullibardine shows toasted almond, red apple skin, malt and light peat notes on the nose. Lacking the sweetness of its North American counterparts, this single malt whisky is lean and sharp, with no residual sweetness but loads of subtlety and complexity. White pepper, apple skin, pistachio, malt, peat and smoke are well-balanced, with quite a lengthy finish.