Thirsty Writer, Libations Marketer
Earlier this year, Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique from Taiwan was named the best single-malt whisky on earth at the World Whiskies Awards. In his 2015 edition of the Whisky Bible, Jim Murray awarded Japan’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 “World Whisky of the Year,” and was quoted as saying it was so good, it should be a wake-up call for Scotch distillers. The Spirits Business magazine called Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky, also from Japan, the most innovative spirit launch in 2014. And Whisky Advocate tapped Austria’s Broger Burn Out single malt as its choice for best world whisky. Notice a theme?
While American whiskey, spelled with an “e”—the rule of thumb here is to use “e” if the name of the country where the whiskey was produced also has an “e” in it—has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity, many whisky aficionados are stocking up on lesser-known labels from Japan, India, Taiwan, and even South Africa. Darren McInnis, one of the founders of the North Shore Whisky Club, along with friend George Chagnon, had the opportunity to try Japanese brands from Chichibu, Shinshu Mars, and White Oak distilleries. But he says one of his favorite whiskies is Amrut Fusion from India because it has a “very different profile, as it is made from Indian barley and matured in high elevations in tropical conditions.”
McInnis’s interest in whisky piqued with a trip to Scotland. “I am of Scottish descent, so I suppose I was destined to follow this journey at some point,” he says, adding: “There is something about relaxing with a dram and slowing life down, albeit briefly.” Wanting to learn more about whisky, he reached out to Chagnon and the two decided to start a North Shore Whisky Club. Now comprising about a dozen members and over 800 like-minded whisky aficionados on Twitter (@noshwhiskyclub), the club members keep each other in the loop on local tastings and events. “We set up bottle-share evenings at one of our homes to sample a little something from each of our cabinets and chat about it. Understanding the subtleties of various whiskies can be quite daunting for those just starting out,” says Chagnon.
The club also focuses on education through a growing network of liquor store owners, whisky producers, and brand ambassadors. This has led to more than a few special tastings, which help the members try before they buy. At one such tasting, the founders had the chance to try Balbair 1969 vintage while on a trip to New York. “In the future, I can see us leveraging our buying power to acquire rare or unique bottles,” says
Chagnon. On their personal list of dream bottles to own: McInnis wishes for Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt (the famous whisky left in Antarctica by polar explorer Ernest Shackleton on his 1907 expedition), and Chagnon hopes for Highland Park 1968 (his birth year).
So what does the North Shore Whisky Club recommend we drink? They say not to ignore Irish whiskey (Green Spot or Yellow Spot brands in particular). Also on their radar: Kavalan whisky from Taiwan, Sullivan’s Cove from Tasmania, and English Whisky Company from England. Some of these brands are tough to hunt down, but well worth it.
Originally published in the October 2015 issue of Northshore Magazine.