Thinking out of the Box?

One more time, NB Spirits Festival in Fredericton (New Brunswick) lived up to whisky aficionados’ expectations. Four days of tastings, meetings and out the box thinking.

When knowledge and education meet banter. “Le fun” as they say in Québec.

Here’s to independent bottlers

Dinner whiskies & menuThe NB Spirits festival launching dinner featured a selection of whiskies from Gordon & MacPhail and Hart Brothers, alongside from the superb Jack Teeling 21 Ye old. The menu, designed in coordination with Mendy, Fredericton Delta Hotel chef, showcased autumnal pairings. The cream of roasted potimarron (a tasty variety of pumpkin) with a scallop tartar and a chestnut cream found a stunning harmony with Benromach Peat smoke.

A more classical pair, Mortlach 15 and a wild mushrooms risotto played on earthy notes enhanced by the sherried maturation. The sweet offered a delicate duo: an openly tart & sharp lemon meringue pie echoed the citrussy profile of Dailuaine 14 Ye old (Hart Brothers) which, although being cask strength, proved smooth and refreshing. I am not used to tasting bourbon matured Dailuaine (rather rare I think). This one was delicious.

Festive inspiration

Duck lunch with whiskyThe lunch on Friday might be inspirational for the next festive meals. The menu had a je ne sais quoi of Christmas, although this was not anticipated at all. The way Red Breast 12 mingled with the fruity sauce of the seared duck was really enchanting: the black currant reduction, enriched by dice of sautéed pears, enhanced the whiskey fruitiness. Once again, the root vegetables performed well, an anytime combination with a great variety of whiskies. The sweet, an orange crème brûlée, responded to the candied citrus flavours of Poit Dhubh, one of Sir Ian Noble’s Gaelic Whiskies which has been finished in sherry casks. Again, with a sherried whisky, choosing orange as the driving flavour is a safe option.

Dance to the whisky

dance-montageThe challenge was a tough one. Much earlier in the year, I had told Frank Scott, the charismatic organizer of the festival that I wanted to host “a dance and whisky tasting” as the third part of my sensory trilogy: art, music and dance. The two first sessions, performed the previous years, went so well that dance had to be imagined. Poor Frank tried to make me change my mind but he knew I would not give up and he took the almost impossible mission on board. With the canny help of Johanne McInnis (this girl is amazing!), a professional dancer accepted the challenge.

Sarah Clarke-Rowinski is the owner and director of x-treme dance studio. With three other dancers, she teaches contemporary dance, Jazz and hip hop to children as well as adults.

She had never “danced to whisky”. This mother of three and busy entrepreneur is also a tee-totaller. But this was not a problem. She was on the dance side, I was on the whisky one. We had to join in a sensory vision of the combination.

Inviting an audience to taste whisky while watching a performance and listening to music is a very complex stimulus as two senses are mobilised as well as the taste. So I decided to go for single malts with a rich aromatic palette, a genuine complexity and the same age, to work on an equal basis. The tasting menu was an attraction in itself: Auchentoshan 18, Glenmorangie 18, Bowmore 18 and Laphroaig 18.

How can each of these four great single malts be related to a dance? The concept puzzles a lot of persons. And yet, it is very clear for me: starting from my tasting notes, I pay attention to the way the aromas are displayed, to the main flavour character (floral, fruity, oaky or spicy). These precise descriptions generate images, emotions, colours, sensations which can be “translated” into movements and music.

I worked remotely with Sarah, detailing each whisky and underlining some keywords. Then I guided her to a style of dance and music, we chose the music together and she created her choreography. She sent me video samples, we discussed them and talked about the costumes too. We were ready to perform.

A video has been taken which will be soon arranged in a video clip. I will post it later. For the moment, I can only show static photos.

Sarah danced with her colleague Britney… I first presented the whisky, then everyone could enjoy the show and the tasting at the same time.

Four sensory portraits

1 Contemporary Ballet and Auchentoshan 18 Yr Old

Nose: Light, floral, grassy. Orange blossom. A delicate aniseed note brings a pleasant tone. Very perfumy. green tea, grey pepper. Gentle and complex.

Palate: Sweet, light and refreshing. Very smooth, silky texture. Citrussy (candied lemon). Getting nutty. Grassy. Lemon grass, green mint, green tea, dill, like a delicious herbal tea. A slight salty taste.

Finish: Long and lingering. Gently spicy.

Comment: A lovely whisky. Smooth, slow and delicate

Colours: Spring like colours, light green, pale yellow, a soft white grey.

Flavours: Cereal – green tea – lemon

Atmosphere: Herbal shop, zen garden, notions of nature, pure, light, quiet, slow motion

Sarah danced on Chet Baker’s pure trumpet solo of “Almost blue”, nearly decomposing the movements in slow motions, which made the whisky more aerial and soothing.

2 Flamenco and Bowmore 18 Yr Old

Nose: Complex and deep. The influence of sherry is precise. Dark Chocolate, dried fruit (sultanas and prunes), dark fruit (blackberry). Then comes a note of old oak floor.

Palate: Satin like texture. Again dark chocolate and dark fruit, delicately framed by smoke. Parma violets, licorice and cocoa.

Finish: Long and dry. Soft spices and a touch of bitter chocolate.

Comment: A rich and deep whisky with sherry accents. The marine influence is dimmed by oak and fruit but the smoke hovers on sherry.

Colours: Black, burgundy, tawny.

Flavours: Fruit – chocolate – smoke

Atmosphere: Warm Summer or Indian Summer, sensual, extreme

Britney executed a sensual flamenco on an interesting music from the South of Italy, the Tarentella di Gargano. Tarentellas are rhythmical (nearly bewitching) songs from the baroque period which were supposed to cure people stung by venomous spiders. This specific one had an Andalusian style, fierce and sensual. The staccato of the flamenco steps brought out the oaky tone of the sherry finish.

3 Jazz & Glenmorangie 18 Ye Old

Nose: Floral and grassy. Hay, honeycomb and lime tree herbal tea. Fresh and sweet, with a citrus fruit character.

Palate: Velvety texture, smooth and round. Creamy. With that same herbal character, lemon balm, candied lemon and grapefruit then lemon marmalade. With a touch of mint and licorice. Some tropical fruit (lychee).

Finish: Dry, soothing on light cereal notes, but keeping that plant infusion profile.

Comment: Elegant, refreshing, soothing and lively at the same time, with a lovely herbal character.

Colours: Bright Orange, rich yellow, soft green.

Flavours: Citrus fruit – herbal – tropical fruit

Atmosphere: Early summer morning, or sunset. Cheerfulness and harmony with elegancy.

Britney danced on Melody Gardot’s full of life song called “Les étoiles”. She sings both in French and in English (if the stars were mine) but we thought the song in French was so refreshing and lively it perfectly conveyed the harmonious sparkling aromatic display of Glenmorangie. The dance was light, fast-paced and brisk, like the movements of a gymnast.

4 Orientale dance & Laphroaig 18 Yr Old

Nose: Rich, profound. Malt soaked into smoke. Smoked meat, candied citrus, crystallised ginger.

Palate: Powerful, invading, invigorating. Oak and smoke are entwined and lead the dance. Sweet malty notes, citrus fruit, smoke with an earthy touch. Some vanilla sweetness too. Seaweed and brine. salted pebble. A real delight.

Comment: A solid and robust marine character. Stands the storm!

Colours: Dark green, emerald, grey, black, golden

Flavours: Smoked meat – seaweed – sweet cereal

Atmosphere: Wintery gale, lots of movement, wind. Wild, untamed.

The wild character of Laphroaig called for an exotic dance, nearly tribal. Instead of going for a classic belly dance, Sarah created a captivating choreography which evoked the swirling of the smoke, punctuated by rhythmical drums. The dance illustrating the character of wild elements, sea storm and wind. The music was at the crossroad of traditional arabic melody and modern hip hop influence. Natacha Atlas is a young belgian/algerian singer who has remixed an oriental song called Lesh Nat’arak.

BRILLIANT ! To be honest, I am not certain everyone got the “aromatic translation”. But everyone loved the whiskies and enjoyed the superb performance of the two dancers. A win-win moment? I do think so.

More on Sarah’s company:

The vatting game

Blending & Vatting WhiskyAnother highlight of my NB Sprits Festival activities was the vatting session which I hosted with the Whisky Lassie. Johanne McInnis is a sparkling and witty whisky blogger who is always up for the “out of the box” gigs. We went for a game, educational yes but the fun had to be there. The game purpose was to demonstrate that blending is an art which requires skills and training and that no amateur (and certainly no whisky journalists) should boast to he or she has the ability to be a blender or a cask selector.

We had eight single malts, divided into production region (hence a blind blending) and the participants had to create their own vatting, give it a name and pour it in a 100 ml bottle which they would take home. The amazing observation we draw from that workshop is that, with the same ingredients, you end with different recipes. Second statement: the hard thing is the dosage, all our participants experienced it. The master-blenders can sleep well: we did not spot an unrecognized genious !

Good news for Gartbeck Distillery.

Gartbreck distillery modelThe 9th Islay distillery will see its foundations spring out… in the spring. The works will start between April and June. After facing various ordeals which slowed down the building schedule, Jean Donnay now feels financially secured and work can start.

Wishing you good luck, Jean & Martine. Two other distillery projects are on the rails on Islay: one distillery between Laphroaig and Port Ellen initiated by The Whisky Exchange in London and one on the Bunnahabhain road, by Loch Ardnahoe under the control of Hunter Laing (independent bottler in Glasgow). 2016 should be a lucky year for Islay whisky.


2 thoughts on “Thinking out of the Box?”

  1. Dear John
    Thank you very much for your message. So happy you like my “dance” pairing. I enjoyed so much that workshop and the dancers were fantastic. I will carry on my sensory tastings as I believe in them and a message like yours is really comforting.
    Hope to welcome you at the next one.
    All the best

  2. * amended:

    What a wonderful blog on the 2015 NB Spirits Festival as seen through the eyes of author and a key presenter at this years festival, Martine Nouet.

    You can’t do / attend everything – although it seems some folks do! :- ) – but reading this, I must admit I very much regret not attending ‘Dance to the Whisky’.

    Martine Nouet offers the reader what can only be described as extraordinary nosing and tasting notes on all the whiskys offered (and I’m a big fan of them all) and right out of the gate, I was stunned by the pairing of the Auchentoshan 18 with Chet Baker’s “Almost blue” as having spent considerable time with each over the years, I can definitively say; ‘a match made in heaven’.

    There’s so much more that could be said on this marvellous blog but I’ll leave it with the single word that’s clearly apropos… brilliant.

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