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Whisky in Calgary

Selection of spirits at Vine Arts. Courtesy Vine Arts.

Selection of spirits at Vine Arts. Courtesy Vine Arts.

Whether whisky is your drink of choice or you’ve been curious to try it, deciding on a whisky to drink with thousands of varieties and price points available can be intimidating. Where Calgary chatted with Gabriel Cardarella — a trained whisky expert and the global brand ambassador for Dewar’s Blended Scotch Whisky — to get his advice on drinking and buying whisky.

What is the difference between a whiskey blend and a single malt?
“Single malts are rarely sold on their own, they’re usually used in blends,” Cardarella explains. “Single malts have a really unique character because they’re made just with yeast, water and barley. It’s what makes something like the Last Great Malts collection really special, it’s the first time that many people can taste whiskies straight from some of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.”

One of the whiskies in the collection, the Aberfeldy single malt Scotch whisky, is made with water that has gold deposits in it. “It bridges the gap between sweet, delicate whiskies and aged whiskies,” says Gabe. “If someone said they had never tried whisky before, I’d give them this one: it’s approachable and honeyed.”

What do the different age expressions of a whisky — 12 year, 15 year, 18 year, etc — mean?
“Younger whiskies tend to be vibrant, nice, light and sweet. With older whiskies you can’t avoid a smoky or woody flavour, they tend to linger longer on the palate,” Cardarella says. “70% of a whiskey’s character comes from the barrel. Age of a Scotch does not necessarily indicate the quality of the Scotch, but the material of barrel it’s stored in — and the type of the liquor that was stored in the barrel previously — has a lot of impact on the flavour.

How does someone who has never tried whisky or think they don’t like whisky approach it?
Inexperienced Scotch drinkers needn’t be intimidated by ordering Scotch in a restaurant. “There are no rules to follow,” says Gabe. “You might see someone ordering their Scotch ‘neat’ — no ice or water — and think that’s how you have to drink it ‘properly,’ but it’s not. That how they drink it, not how you have to drink it. Water is to whisky what air is to wine: you can add water to your Scotch! Water brings forward characteristics and flavor and gets rid of heavy alcohol flavours. Scotch can be personalized: add water, mix it with coconut water, or green tea — anything that gives it a flavor that you like. Don’t be afraid to try it your own way. There’s great whiskey everywhere, find one that you like and drink it in a way that works for you. You’re paying for the Scotch, drink it how you want.”

The Last Great Malts series includes a bottle of $15,000 Scotch, the Royal Brackla 35. What goes into pricing a bottle like that? “Every year a whiskey is casked, it loses 2-4% of it’s volume to evaporation,”Cardarella says. “That means that the greater the age of the whiskey, the less bottles of it can be produced.”

Places to Drink Whisky in Calgary
Brasserie Kensington is one of only 22 bars in the world that can serve the exclusive whiskies of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to non-members. These whiskies have complex flavour profiles that will help whisky drinkers of any level of experience find one that suits their tastes. Plus, the cozy dining room is the perfect setting to sip on whisky.

Buchanan’s is an old-school, distinguished spot for whisky with a cozy bar stocked with over 200 whiskies including Japanese whiskies and single malts.

One18 Empire serves whisky-focused cocktails and dozens of whiskies including single malt varieties and exclusive selections from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. They explicitly offer their whiskies neat, with water, or on the rocks, so choose the style that you most prefer. The sleek restaurant and lounge is laid-back yet has an upscale Mad Men feel to it.

Places to Buy Whisky in Calgary
Kensington Wine Market Thanks to owner Andrew Ferguson’s status as a Keeper of the Quaich, this is one of the best places in the world for whisky due to its access to exclusive and rare Scotches — including the Royal Brackla from the Last Great Malts Collection. It is also a retailer of Scotch Malt Whisky Society memberships.

Vine Arts This boutique wine and spirits store has a well-curated whisky collection including the Aberfeldy from the Last Great Malts collections.


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