Hi, I’m Davin de Kergommeaux. I’m a certified Malt Maniac and trained sommelier who has been analyzing, writing, and talking about whisky, as an independent commentator, for more than a dozen years. Whisky aficionados may have read my commentaries and tasting notes in Scotch Whisky Review, Whisky Magazine, Whisky Advocate Magazine, various lifestyle magazines, or many places on the web including MaltManiacs.org. In the fall of 2011, I was appointed Canadian Contributing Editor to Whisky Magazine.
Dave Broom’s latest book, The World Atlas of Whisky, released in October 2010, includes a chapter about Canadian whisky that I contributed. As well, I wrote all 45 Canadian whisky entries in Dominic Roskrow’s new book, 1001 Whiskies You Must Taste Before You Die. I followed this by writing the chapter about Canadian whisky in Roskrow’s latest book – The Whisky Opus.
My own book, Canadian Whisky: The Portable Expert was published by McClelland & Stewart in May 2012. This book is distributed to book stores in Canada and the U.S. by Random House, and is available world-wide through most on-line book sellers. It is also released as a Kindle e-book. In February 2013 it was named one of the three best spirits books in the world at the Gourmand Awards in Paris. Books from 171 countries competed.
I grew up with whisky and knew those beguiling aromas from childhood for almost two decades before ever tasting it. As a young boy once said, “It reminds me of uncles.” In the years that followed, whisky travels, purely for research purposes I assure you, have taken me all over Scotland and the British Isles, Europe, Japan, India, Taiwan, the U.S. as well as coast to coast across Canada. More on that subject a little later.
Given my background in all things whisky, I am often asked to judge at international whisky competitions, including the World Whisky Awards. Since 2003, I have served as a judge for the annual Malt Maniacs Awards. These are long-standing and highly respected whisky competitions. I am also the founder, head judge, and co-ordinator for the Canadian Whisky Awards.
But whisky is also about individual taste. This is why I also lead tutored tastings for individuals and groups. It seems people like what they hear since my master classes sell-out well in advance. That’s been the case since 2009 at the Victoria Whisky Festival, in B.C., prompting organizers to bring me back again in 2013 for Whisky 101 and a look at the winners of the 2012 Canadian Whisky Awards. My master classes at many other whisky events right across Canada and into the U.S. have been equally popular.
Now here’s the thing. After a decade and a half of writing mostly about Scotch whisky I still find more Canadian whiskies than Scotch single malts in my liquor cabinet. Heck, I can still afford them, and they certainly taste pretty good. But it’s a sad fact that Canadian whisky doesn’t get its due. I am committed to changing that, using a “kill-rumours-with-facts” approach, and believe me, there are plenty of myths and misunderstandings about Canadian whisky out there. I work hard to help serious whisky fans, wherever they may live, to discover one of Canada’s best-kept secrets: the hidden riches of Canadian whiskies.
No-one else has taken on this important task. Yes, many drinks writers dabble in Canadian whisky but I am the only one focussed on writing seriously and credibly about Canadian whisky anywhere in the world. As I am not under contract to any Canadian distiller or distributor, I write and comment independently. This also explains why this site you are visiting is still the only non-commercial website dedicated primarily to Canadian whisky.
When I said earlier that I grew up with whisky, I intentionally omitted one key word. I actually grew with Canadian whisky. My commitment to guiding others to the best Canada has to offer has deep roots. Lest my Malt Maniac colleagues think I’ve gone daft, let me emphasize that yes, I still love well-made malt whisky too, but every man and his dog (and the occasional cat) is already writing about it. More than that, it’s the cultural thing. Canadian whisky is to me what smoked eel is to a Dutchman, ouzo to a Greek, sauerkraut a German, lambic beer a Belgian, Cognac a Frenchman, or vegemite to an Australian. And if you don’t live in Canada, you probably haven’t had the chance of tasting the really good stuff. So let me tell you about it through my tasting notes.
My notes are based on a composite of several tasting sessions. (No, this is not about upping the volume. It’s because your senses of taste and smell vary from day to day so what you taste one day you may not on another.) I taste each whisky in the company of other whiskies and repeat this several times in different combinations. This lets me compare them, one to another. Most whiskies are tasted blind at least once. I don’t stress myself by trying to find every flavour in a single tasting session. For a really analytical tasting I’ll dilute the whisky 50:50 with water. This helps to tease out all the little nuances in the nose. For sipping though, I prefer full bottle strength. I also like to leave my emptied glass out overnight so all the alcohol can evaporate and leave just the flavours behind. Nosing the empty glass tells me a lot about the whisky. And if this is something you have never done, I recommend that you try it. (Free connoisseur tip #1!)
My rating scheme consists of 0 to 5 stars, in half-star increments. Whiskies are rated as sippers, so decent vodka gets between zero and half a star, top mixing whiskies, 3 stars, and stellar sipping whiskies (like the 25-year old version of Alberta Premium) get 5 stars. Modified whiskies, such as White Owl or Revel Stoke are not rated. You can figure out the rest. But it’s not about cost and age; it’s actually about aroma, and flavour, and balance. Remember, even the most inexpensive whiskies go through at least half a dozen quality panels before they are released, so the chances of finding a one-star whisky are usually pretty remote.
I use stars instead of numbers because they give clearer indications. Besides, there is so much score inflation these days, that frankly, I don’t want to contribute to it. Sometimes I wonder if some people give high marks to average whiskies in an effort to draw attention to themselves and maybe get some additional consulting assignments. It’s too bad, because there was a time when numerical scores were quite useful, but with whisky after whisky scoring in the 90s they’ve become kind of meaningless. Anyway, for my own reference I do score all the whiskies I taste but transfer that numerical score into the 5-star rating system that you will find in these notes.
All the photos here are my own, with a few exceptions that are noted. When I first began publishing this site I stated the age of a whisky exactly as it was stated on the label. However, looking at my google search statistics tells me that most people search for XXX 10 year old, rather than XXX aged 10 years, so I have adopted the former approach. Unless stated otherwise, prices quoted are to the closest Canadian dollar at my local liquor store (LCBO) at the time the review is published. Most Canadian whiskies are much less expensive in the US, where surprisingly, there is a much broader selection. But, often the very best tasting whiskies don’t make it across the border and are available only here in Canada.
Wait a minute! You’ve got this far into this introduction and you have just remembered that I said something earlier about being a sommelier. What’s that about? Why in a whisky blog, would I start out talking about my sommelier training? Since I hardly drink wine any more, friends who do are often surprised to learn I studied about it. That training presented me with a very disciplined way to discover scents and flavours, and to appreciate the complexities, both the bold notes and the more fleeting ones. And it’s frequently the same with Canadian whisky, as time and again those fleeting notes tell the story. My training as a sommelier gave me a better and deeper appreciation for whisky. But be warned! If we ever sit down to dinner, don’t ask me to choose the wine. For more than a decade now it’s been nothing but whisky, whiskey, whisk(e)y.
Whisky/Whiskey/Whisk(e)y??? The Fake AP Stylebook says “You don’t spell whisky, you savour it.” That just about sums up my attitude. I’m a Canadian so I generally use current Canadian spellings. If you are not and don’t and want to drop me a line about “whiskey” I won’t get my shorts in a knot. I probably won’t even notice, but I probably would notice “whisk(e)y” because it’s just so brutishly inelegant.
Finally, may I ask one little favour? Simple and humble though it may be, this blog is the fruit of years of dedicated research, travel, and analytical tasting, all of it done at my own expense. Please respect my labours by giving credit if you decide to use bits of my little scribblings elsewhere. And please, please, PLEASE! do not transfer my research into wikipedia or similar free-for-all on-line sources without clearly crediting the source. Unless otherwise stated, all the material here is original and subject to copyright protection © 1998 – 2012. That said, as we all know, in the age of instant online accessibility, copyright relies largely on the ethical cooperation of you, the thoughtful web surfer. Thank you.