One of the first things you notice at a whisky distillery is the sweet smell of fresh bread with a hint of beer. The aroma hits you before you enter, drawing you in as it drifts out the door. “Men drink whisky because they think it’s cool,” says Jan Westcott, president and CEO of Spirits Canada. “Women want it to be an experience; it’s more of a journey.” I couldn’t agree more, which is why I spent six days travelling the American Whiskey Trail on a liquor pilgrimage of sorts, quaffing my way through almost a dozen distilleries until my head buzzed. Unladylike? Hardly.
During a moment of sobriety early in the trip, I learned that George Washington, the father of democracy, was also one of the first whisky distillers. Then Montreal’s Bronfman family took centre stage, bootlegging barrels of Seagram’s across the border to thirsty southerners during the Prohibition era of the ’20s.
As I flew westward from our first stop at what used to be Washington’s distillery in Mount Vernon, Va., over the peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, I could imagine horse-drawn carriages lugging barrels of illegal Canadian spirits along this very route. (Actually, our hold on the market remains—cue the national pride.)
The next day, at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, nestled in the heart of Kentucky, I found myself separated from the group, sipping whisky on a wraparound porch overlooking bluegrass-covered rolling hills, rocking gently on a wooden chair. Sure, I’ve tossed back a few whisky shots in the name of speedy intoxication, but I’ve never really savoured the experience. In fact, sipping room-temperature whisky from a shot glass should have been my idea of a nightmare, since I usually opt for an ice-cold vodka cocktail. But as the
amber spirit warmed my chest and the breeze cooled my cheeks, I decided I actually liked it.
My liquor-soaked adventure wrapped at the 21c Museum Hotel, in Louisville, Ky., for a boozy tasting at its award-winning res- taurant, Proof on Main. I had seen a slew of distilleries at this point and was happy about this development: no touring of grounds, no smelly fermenting-grain mixture—just a one-stop ticket to flavour town, with tipples like high-proof Angel’s Envy bourbon by master distiller Lincoln Henderson.
After a four-course dinner that was light on sustenance and heavy on alcohol—two glasses of wine for each course, plus sporadic sips of innovative spirits—we ladies took to the rooftop patio to continue the party. We sipped whisky on the rocks, smoked vintage 1993 Macanudo cigars and danced to the Rolling Stones. At the same time, five floors below us, some of the guys in our party enjoyed an entirely different evening: They slathered on mud masks and sweated out toxins in the hotel’s sauna and steam room. That’s the power of whisky.
Find out what you need to know about whisky tasting on the next page…
BUT WHAT GLASS SHOULD YOU USE?
To add to your glass collection… Whisky glasses are oft favoured by distillers.
At home… A short rocks glass is the classic choice.
At a tasting... A stemmed glass lets you swirl to release the aromas.
To celebrate… A shot glass. Enough said.
WHERE CAN YOU GET A DRINK?
These cool bars have great whisky selections.
- Glenora Inn & Distillery, 13727 Route 19, Glenville, Cape Breton, N.S.
- Whisky Caté, 580 Saint-Laurent Boulevard, Montreal
HOW SHOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE TASTE?
Warm Call it "notes of Christmas spice and stewed fruit."
Bright Call it "hints of citrus and fresh apple."
Sweet Call it"essence of caramel and toasted marshmallow."
MIX UP A MAD MEN COCKTAIL
The second-best way to enjoy good whisky (other than straight up and ordered with attitude) is with a classic cocktail. Vintage Cocktails (Assouline) recipes are called from the days when simplicity was chic and drinks weren’t Day-Glo. Our Favourite? The refreshing Whisky Sour.
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