Wait a Second, That’s Not Beer

I like beer —anything heavier and I can easily overdo it.

I just don’t have the pacing right. So when I was asked to check out the Whitehorse Fine Malt Society, I didn’t respond with my usual enthusiasm. After all, I still had some foggy residual effects from a rabid Robbie Burns scotch night a few weeks earlier.

But my actual experience visiting the club was a pleasant surprise.

These whisky connoisseurs enjoy discussing every esoteric detail of the craft and coaxing nuance out of each droplet.

Micah Quinn is a key member. He tells me that the Whitehorse club is modelled after the Klondike Fine Malt Society, which he was a member of when he lived in Dawson. A Globe and Mail story from 2009 reports on a 1,500 kilometre road trip that club members took to secure a couple cases of double-matured Lagavulin from a liquor store in Inuvik. Needless to say, the three intrepid travellers returned to the Dawson club as heroes.

Only in existence since April 2012, the lore of the Whitehorse Fine Malt Society is still emerging. It is an informal club that meets monthly to dine together and appreciate the finer points of whisky. Each member is expected to host an event once per year and showcase a selected whisky — one that is not readily attainable in the territory.

This evening’s tasting highlighted an 18-year-old single malt from Japan called Yamazaki. Yamazaki means mountain in Japanese — very fitting since we sampled it in the shadow of Grey Mountain. The whisky is made at the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, the oldest in Japan, operating since 1924.

After examining the bottle and box, which were surprisingly bereft of information, we moved onto the tasting portion.

The drill is as follows:

Pour the whisky, observe the colour, swirl, smell and try to pick out elements in the eight major aroma categories on the Whisky Tasting Star. Then take a small sip and detect the flavours in these categories. After this, you can add a small amount of water (a straw full). This should change the nature of the whisky and bring out certain characteristics. Then you plot your points on the star to figure out how peaty or complex, or whatever, the whisky is and compare your results with other people.

I was the weakest link in the room on the sensory front. I got some honey notes and a whole lot of “whisky” notes, but none of the subtler aromas. The Yamazaki is a scotch-like whisky but with less of the peaty churlishness I expect in a Scottish malt (Laphroaig being my crude measuring stick).

Although the Yamazaki didn’t exactly transport me to Japan, the traditional Japanese music and big screen Japanese cultural video did have such an effect.

The hosts Adam Bacchus and Andrea Zimmerman also captured our stomachs with delicious sushi and gyoza.

I left with a warm glow, not only from the whisky, but also from meeting a new group of interesting people.

To see for yourself, find the Whitehorse Fine Malt Society on Facebook.

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