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Flavour Camp: Canadian Whisky & Gin

Everyone’s Whisky Muse is back with a whole new set of classes for 2023.

I have been attending Reece Sim’s whisky workshops for all of last year, not missing a single one. And in doing so have gathered a group of like minded individuals who have done the same. We call ourselves the “Mini Muses” and are dedicated to learning more about what goes into our cups. Not just drinking to chase a buzz, but to be able to taste and discern what it is we are having, and why it may be worth the price tag that is being asked of it.

Admittedly, the above is a work in progress and something you don’t master in one 1.5 hour class setting. Therefore to be able to get a refresher on all the various whisky sessions we took in 2022 of 2023, but in a whole new way is helpful.

This is Flavour Camp, a name with double meaning. One, we are all gathered to learn in a causal afternoon setting like a “camp”, where you even earn badges for each class you take. And “camp” in terms of how each whisky flavour profile can be categorized. (More on that later.) The goal is to be able to walk away from the class being able to discern between each.

The first whisky session was the last week of April covering Canadian Whisky. It was followed by a Gin class, back to back with an hour break. So the Mini Muses signed up and assemble to drink and learn.

The class is designed for all skill levels and all drinkers, giving you tasting notes for Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced connoisseurs; asking you to pick your own level and adventure. Therefore although you may have attended one class and completed it at the novice level, you may take it again and try to taste at a more advanced level.

The goal of each workshop is to teach you how to identify the flavours you are tasting. To be able to describe it and speak to it in a causal, conversational setting. And as always it starts with a little background history. In this case, discussing what Canadian whisky is and isn’t.

Canadian whisky is a spirit mashed, distilled and aged in Canada for at least three years. It must be fermented in wood and bottled at no less than 40% ABV, at no larger than 700 litres. It can use caramel colouring, but must be made with only cereal grains, yeast and water.

The Canadian whisky category includes rye whisky and all synonyms like single malt, single grain, rye, and blended.

Single malt is 100% malted barely, pot distilled at a single distillery. The outcome typically has flavours of toasted fruit.

The Single grain variety is made from 100% grain and malted barely or rye. It typically has a sweeter flavour thanks to the use of corn, with a vanilla essence.

Rye is defined by the use of some amount of rye, at 90%+. It is often spicy and herbaceous, like that of cinnamon.

Blended is mainly from a mix of grains and is typically column distilled. The result is sweeter fruity notes due to the column distilling progress.

Before us were cards set with 8 different blind samples of Canadian whiskies. With a basic understanding of the above the goal was to identify which category the whisky fell in or which flavour camp in belonged to, and ultimately use either as a way to determine the blind taster’s brand. Is it herbal? Or maybe fruity, spicy, or sweet? Does it have a toasty-ness to it? Or maybe is more earthy or peaty?

Towards the end of the class after you tasted all your samples, made notes, and scored each one from your most to least favourite. You then use your new found knowledge to make an educated guess as to which sample belongs to which whisky bottle; where the results are revealed overhead and you could see which Flavour Camp they belonged to.

The reveal is my favourite part, where the room unanimously cheers or jeers depending on their answer. Admittedly, my spirit palate needs work as I have yet to guess them all correctly.

I will not be offering too many of my tasting notes here, and instead invite you to attend one such classes for yourself and find the value I am speaking to throughout this post. After all the PowerPoint pictorials are an effective way to explain and learn of each Flavour Camp.

The following are a few of the notes I took on each Canadian Whisky.

Bearface is 100% corn whisky, where the distillers focus on the cask selection to create flavour in this expression. Specifically 3 types of non-traditional wood: American oak, French oak, and Hungarian oak. This is a rich and robust whisky with both sweet and savoury notes. Some tasted butter and bacon, with a hint of barbeque spice.

Wisers 10 year is a light blended whisky from Windsor, Ontario. Column distilled and designed with mixing in mind, it was the least expensive bottle that we were tried today at $31.99. It is aged in 3 barrels where the cask acts like a tea bag. The first cask is the most flavourful and would have most of its essence infused into the whisky. And the subsequent casking will leave a less and less pronounced flavour.

Reifel Rye is a newer product, just released in Canada 6-7 months ago. It came about with the desire to create a product that was high in rye at 90% plus. The addition of a little bourbon and Sherry in the mix helps to balance and blend out the rye. It also makes it unique, with a cost effective solution that lends savings to the consumer as well.

Dillion’s Rye is a 4 year old whisky fermented in triple oak, one of which is new Ontario oak. The result is that it has an interesting floral undertone to it.

Macaloney’s is based out of Victoria, BC. At
$139.99, it is the most expensive whisky in the line up today with an ABV of 58.3%. It is a single malt aged exclusively in a cherry cask. In actuality this vintage has been discontinued and we were enjoying one of the last bottles here today.

And that is another reason why I love these sessions so much. It allows you to try limited release spirits, or to be the first or last to sample others, teaching you to fully appreciate what you have before you. By myself, I would not be able to source such bottles or know where to go to look for them.

Two Brewers is a new world single malt whisky at 9-11 years old. Where everything is done on a batch by batch release. Originating out of Whitehorse, Yukon it is the second most priciest bottle of the day at $125 for an ABV of 46%. With 14 different mashes, mainly malted barely which is double distilled and aged in ex-bourbon and virgin oak. The result is a toasted whisky that is fruit forward with a lemon zest.

Shelter Point is 100% malted barely. Double distilled in ex-bourbon and finished in an ex-BC wine cask of Syrah, foch, and Pinot noir. Listed at $85.99 for an ABV of 46%.

Lot 40 is a bigger and bolder 100% Canadian rye whisky from Windsor, Ontario. The distillers experimented with different casks to create this.

From here class breaks to set up for the next session and to give your palate and tolerance a rest. Our group of Mini Muses bee-lined it to the nearest cafe for some quick bites.

A couple of pressed sandwiches and lemon bars at Milano were all we could muster, with little surrounding options.

In truth cafe eats were not enough, so I took the initiative to order the group more food from Uber East. I just made the mistake of bringing it into our next session, where the distraction and scent of fried chicken, and a side of brussels sprouts, and mac & cheese distracted the class. Not only in the action of eating so much rich food, but with the scent of it as well. Because as you may know, scent affects taste.

Faux pas made and lesson learned. So for the next, upcoming session in May, we have already made plans to order from Uber Easts ahead of time and then have a picnic in the park. Everything nearby and accessible within an hour would not fill, especially considering how much we drink in class, as we are not ones to waste liquor.

But I digress back to Flavour Camp. For 2023, not only are we reviewing whisky, but Reece is now hosting workshops for the other spirits as well. Same as concept above, where you get a history lesson on the spirit and are introduced to the Flavour Camps with the goal to learn more about each and how to define it, but with different spirits like Gin today and Tequila for the next session.

Comparing Whisky to Gin they both have 7 Camps, with a few that vary based on spirit. For Gin we would classify it as either classic dry style, citrus, fruit, floral, herbaceous, savoury, and/or toasty.

Gin is a type of distilled alcoholic that is characterized by its distinct favourite profile primarily from Juniper and other botanicals. For it to be classified as gin it must have juniper in it. And although botanicals are more common, gin can also have absinthe, amaro, and vermouth in its composition.

There are 2 different methods to making gin, easily classified as the more expensive method versus the traditional. Both look at how do you get the botanicals into it. As an example, whereas vodka wants to pull out flavours, gin harnesses the flavours.

The traditional and more pricey methods include steeping it like tea and adding plates into your still so the steam rises and the botanicals are infused through vapour infusing. The result for both is a more gentle flavour.

The modern, less expensive method is also easier to control. It uses concentrated mixes that you blend in and create as you go, diluting one into the other. The compounding method also falls under this, which is a combination of steeping and vapour infusion to extract flavour. Once again this is easier to control and a cheaper method.

There are 10 classics gin botanicals including the must have juniper berry. They fall into categories like seed for Coriander and Cardamom. Dried lemon peel and Orange peel fall under citrus. Roots include Liquorice root, Angelica root, and Orris root. And for bark we have Cinnamon and/or Cassia bark.

For the defining portion of our class we had 8 samples of gin and were tasked with smelling and tasting each, working through each camp of flavours. This was best described in the analogy Reece gave, “Gin is a symphony of different flavours, where it is hard to identify each instrument as the whole spirit itself.”

We would start by determining if the gin was a classic dry and then work though the other Camps: citrus, floral, savoury, fruit, herbaceous, and toasty. In order to work at a more advance level we could then boil it down to each individual flavour. The method is to teach you a frame work of tasting spirits blind, so that you can become a better taster. And the in turn are able to make recommendations to others on the flavour camps they like. This also sets a foundation for making cocktails and exploring food pairings. All things I wish I was more skilled in, and now get a chance to thanks to Flavour Camp.

For example the St George gin is a classic style gin that was also herbaceous with 12 different botanicals.

We were also taught how to taste gin properly starting with the nose. You want to keep your mouth open while nosing, being cautious to not over sniff, as to not go nose blind.

When it is time to taste, you want to sip and not shoot. Gin does not need to aerate, as it coats the palate.

And then you want to acknowledge the finish. How is it? Balanced? Does linger for a long time?

After the initial taste we were given the green light to mix. Gin has an intense taste by itself, so although we were encouraged to have our first taste as is, we were given tonic and soda for mixing and dilution after. It was also recommended that we reset our nose by smelling our elbow pit, as we are use to our own scent. And then to rest our palate by eating one of the Pringles made available for each student.

The following are the gins we had and my notes on them.

Saigon Baigur is from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. The group was surprised to learn that the Vietnamese produced gin. And once again that is the beauty of these classes: discovering unique bottles and trying what you might otherwise not get a chance to. This was created with the terrain of Vietnam in mind. The bottle resembles a dragon egg which is a source of power, prosperity, and rainfall. The gin itself is a grain spirit with Juniper, Dragon fruit, Chilli lime peel, Buddha hand citrus, Saigon cinnamon, Lotus flower, and Green and black peppercorn. It has a savoury undertone to it despite the sweet and floral list of ingredients. It was recently listed at BC liquor stores and we are probably a handful of the first folks to try it.

I was excited for the Copperpenny gin. Our class was the firsts to try it at Flavour Camp as Reece took it fresh from the still, 2 days before. Our Camp was in April and at the time it was set to launch in May. What sets this one apart is the use of 600 Fanny bay oyster shells in the distilling. And fun fact: this is only Cooperpenny’s second gin. Despite the 006 numbering, the others before 005 were deemed not good enough to put to market. For 006, I found the oyster shells gave it a fishy taste, familiar in Chinese sauces.

Masahiro was released this year from Japan. They use a pot still to have the gin more flavourful and it uses a spirit only found in Okinawa. It is made from indica rice black Koji yeast and water, offering it a light and sweet tone, with a subtle fermented note.

St. George Terroir is from Alameda California and is inspired by the California trails. With the chosen wild botanicals it is an ode to the wild beauty of the Golden State. It is a grain based spirit where you can taste the toasted coriander it uses. It is ideal in a herbaceous Martini with olives, as a cocktail crafting gin.

Forbidden is from Kelowna, BC and as such is apple based. It is made in a hybrid still and has a sweet and lighter flavour.

Citadelle is from Cognac, France. It is a wheat based gin that is lighter and sweeter. It is made with an open flame pot still and progressive infusion. And at $37.99 for the bottle, the most economically priced gin. This too is designed with cocktail making in mind.

Malfy is from Turin, Italy and is made using an Italian winter wheat. The distiller has not disclosed how this is made, outside of a low temperature vacuum still. It can be sipped, but is too designed to be mixed with flavours of Sicilian pink grapefruit and hint of rhubarb.

The popular purple coloured gin, Empress from Victoria, BC now has a new coloured gin to add to its portfolio. This rosy number is inspired by Victoria’s old english style flower and gardens. It is a classic dry style gin that is corn base. It uses contact maceration with the inclusion of rose petals and black current. It is great for floating cocktails due to its hue and because it does not have any sugar in it, so floats higher that tonic or soda. And it will naturally stay afloat until you mix it all together.

And that concluded our classes for the day. Finishing the two Camps above we had collected 2 badges. And after we attend 6 or more sessions and collect their badges, we are then entered for a chance to win a case of liquor, plus $500 cash! That chance and hope is, but a bonus on an already informative and fruitful class! So be sure to sign up for the next one using the link below.


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