"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Hopscotch 2014

Mr. Gateau's cousin, Ursula, continued my education in the ways of fine Scotch whiskey Friday night by inviting me to join her at the Hopscotch Festival featuring whiskeys, spirits, and beers from local and international vendors. To prepare myself, I carefully carbo-loaded all day, eating a blueberry muffin, a leftover twice-baked potato with cheddar and bacon, and a gingerbread cupcake.

As has happened to me several times before in my life (first sushi at the venerable Hatsuhana in New York, first taste of bison prepared at the Four Seasons restaurant), Ursula has ruined my ability to drink ordinary Scotch by training me on superior examples such as Macallan Ruby. It turns out, we have similar taste in beverages, and both prefer deep, warm notes like treacle, molasses, raisin, spice, plum, and so on in our libations. This made it easy to taste a variety of offerings, because we wanted to try the same things.

We set off with our official festival-issued shot glasses and started with some Nikka Japanese whiskeys, Pure Malt Red and Pure Malt Black,which were smooth and had interesting wood notes. They were good, but neither got us terribly excited. We decided to taste the Johnnie Walker Blue, which the gentleman behind the counter was extolling as the finest blended whiskey ever in the history of the universe. It was smooth and pleasant, but we agreed it had little character. For the price of a handful of dollar-equivalent tokens, we now would never need to be tempted to buy a full pour at some swanky bar.

Then we tracked down Ursula's white whale -- The Balvenie 21 Year Old Portwood. This was loaded with character -- smoothness, but also the warm depth of aging in port casks. It's a good thing they weren't selling bottles of it that night, because I was feeling loose enough at that point to probably drop a bundle on something so nice.

We stopped for snacks -- samosas, cheese, spring rolls, summer rolls with spicy sauce. All hit the spot.

Then we decided to try a couple of beers. I had my eye on two -- Smoke and Mirrors Imperial Smoked Ale from Coal Harbour Brewing, and Valley Trail Chestnut Ale from Whistler Brewing (if you couldn't tell, Vancouver and environs is having a big microbrew moment, and we could have done nothing but sample beers from city-based breweries all night). The Smoke and Mirrors was fantastic -- rich, smoky, but not overpowering, with gorgeous deep chocolate notes. I'm planning to include a couple of 650 ml bottles on our Christmas Eve bar, because I think it will be the perfect drink with Christmas desserts. The Chestnut Ale was a little disappointing, because it was quite flat. The scent of it was sweet and redolent of chestnuts, while the ale itself wasn't too sweet on the tongue, but that flatness made it cloying nonetheless.

There were any number of bourbons, rums, and gins I would have liked to sample, but at this point my tastebuds were feeling a little fatigued, and I wasn't there to get hammered. Also, the place was getting packed, and it wasn't worth having to press through crowds and skirt past booths selling things like caramel vodka to get to the good stuff.

We decided to cap off the night with the one absinthe on offer, Taboo Absinthe from Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery. I love absinthe -- anise anything is a favorite, and the other herbal and wood notes just make it even better (I even have a few absinthe perfumes from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab). When water was added to the green liquid and it turned that gorgeous opalescent pale gray-green, we could smell the aromatics from a few feet away. It was so aromatic and strong that it demanded to be sipped slowly, so we took our complimentary shot glasses up to a perch in the forum bleachers and contentedly looked out over the crowds until every last pale green drop was gone. I'm thinking about picking up a bottle, and maybe even some of the classic absinthe accessories. I think this would be a fun way to end a dinner party with friends.

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