Scotch whisky

A WHISKY NIGHT

Shelves of whiskies at Boxcar Social

More than 50 single malts have rolled across my palate since Gentleman’s Portion launched in December 2012, but I’m still discovering new and tempting treats.

I’ve been invited to the latest iteration of Boxcar Social, our good friend John Baker’s string of whimsical coffee bars, which have morphed into some of Toronto’s most interesting spots. John says the concept behind Boxcar Social was simple: “Do what we love, do it with our friends, and do it really well.” They offer coffees from the best roasters in the world, interesting wines, a few craft beers and, of course, whiskies. The brilliant difference is that Boxcar switches from a friendly coffee spot somewhere around the cocktail hour, into a lively bar, where the focus is on whisky, wine and beer. The best part is that you can get a whisky at lunch hour, or a coffee after six, if you wish. Now, with their two Harbourfront locations, they have a full kitchen to back up their other offerings, and all the better for it.

But it is to the place on Temperance Street, in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, that I find myself on a fine spring evening. I’m meeting Ray Zwicker, Boxcar Social’s “whisky director.” (If I’d known that was a career option 50 years ago, my whole life might have been different.) Ray is a storehouse of whisky knowledge and not just Scotch. As soon as we meet he excitedly offers me a taste of a bottle he’s just acquired from a limited stock at the LCBO. It’s a Colonel E.H. Taylor Small Batch bourbon, hard to find and new to Boxcar. When I can get a word in, I tell Ray I find bourbon a trifle sweet, and we switch to a pleasant evening of tasting single malts from Scotland. My only request of him is that we try whiskies new to me. And he enthusiastically searches the shelves for different offerings.

First across my tongue is a Strathisla 12-year-old from Speyside. This is one of the single malts that go into the Chivas blend. There’s lots of spicy and fruity notes on the palate. An excellent start to the evening.

The distillery is one of the oldest continuously operating in Scotland, founded in 1786, with its water coming from the calcium rich Broomhill spring, completely lacking in peat to influence the taste of the whisky.

Next up is a younger offering: an eight-year-old from Glendronach, The Heilan’ – a  tribute to the local Scots dialect. The distillery is in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, with many fine old Georgian factory buildings still standing. The Glen House, where once the distillery managers lived, was built in 1771 and is now used as a corporate entertainment centre. I look forward to sampling a dram there one day. After the usual nosing and slurping, Ray puts a drop of water into my glass. Immediately memories of Terry’s Chocolate Orange come to mind. Earlier in the spring we’d been to the Chocolate Factory in York, original home of Terry’s, where we learned all about the iconic brands that were made there, and sampled a sliver of the exquisite candy. Chocolate and whisky go well together, so I’m not surprised the flavour comes through.

Finally we move to the rare Tomatin Cù Bòcan, named The Hellhound and matured in sherry casks. Although there is no age statement, Ray thinks this should be classed as a 10-year-old. Cù Bòcan is the name of the spectral dog, illustrated on the bottle, who is said to haunt the village of Tomatin in the Highlands. Although the distillery is noted for its peated whisky, one week a year they switch to this unpeated expression, and mature it in a mixture of oak, bourbon and sherry casks. The distillery itself has had a chequered past, opening and closing several times through its history since being founded in 1897. After going into another liquidation in 1985, it was bought by a consortium of long-time customers, the first distillery to fall into Japanese hands. Well, we’ll pass that news by and enjoy the citrus notes in the glass and a smoky taste that seems to grow on the tongue.

Ray has taken me on a fine journey through a selection of single malts. I ask him about his own favourites and he offers a Glendronach 12, matured in sherry casks, and a Dalmore Cigar Malt. My taste buds are sated, so I decline more and sensibly take an Uber ride home.

Here’s a complete list of Scotch whisky blends and single malts I’ve tasted and written about. This is all very hard work, but someone has to do it. Put any of these names into the search bar above and you’ll get to the stories I’ve told about each tasting.

PERSONAL TASTING LIST of 56 SCOTCH WHISKY BLENDS AND SINGLE MALTS

Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Ardmore Traditional Cask, Ardmore, Auchentoshan 12, Auchentoshan Springwood, Auchroisk, Aultmore 12, Benromach, Benromach, Black Grouse, Bowmore Legend, Bowmore, Craigellachie, Dalwhinney, Dalwhinnie 15, Deveron, Dewar’s White Label, Dougie MacLean’s Caledonia Selection, Edradour, Glen Breton Rare, Glencairn, Glendronach 8, Glenfiddich 30, Glenmorangie 10, Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky, Haig Clubman, Highland Park 18, Highland Park 25, Johnnie Walker Explorer’s Club, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, Johnny Walker Black, Johnny Walker Blue, Johnny Walker Double Black, Lagavulin 16, Laphroaig, Longmorn 16, McClelland’s, Mortlach, Old Pultney, Royal Brackla, Säntis Malt – Swiss Highlander Appenzeller Single Malt, Singleton, Speyburn Solera 25, St George’s English Whisky Ch 14, St George’s English Whisky, Strathisla 12, Te Bheag, The Balvenie New Oak 17, The Balvenie Signature 12, The Famous Grouse Smoky Black, The Glenlivet 15, The Glenlivet Nàdurra, The Macallan 12, The Macallan 17, and Tomatin Cù Bòcan.

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