Tuesday, November 30, 2010

15th Annual New Brunswick Spirits Festival

Recently, I attended the 15th Annual New Brunswick Spirits Festival held in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada at the Delta Hotel.  I thought I'd post a note as to how it was.  Maybe you might attend in the future?

First of all, you get a lot of value for your hard earned money.  Let's consider the costs of attendance. 

$25 buys you a ticket to a tasting of whisky and cheese pairings, five whiskies and cheese to be specific.  And get this:  the tasting will be lead by Martine Nouet, a renowned whisky critic and the first editor of Whisky Magazine in France.  If you visit the Whisky Magazine website you will note that nearly every whisky tasting note is by Martine.  Her tasting notes are well written and in the same league as those of the late, great critic, Michael Jackson. 

Her current passion is pairing whiskies with cheese, as well as cooking with the spirit.  She resides in Islay and may be launching a cooking school in the upcoming year. 
(Below is a picture of your whisky blogger and Ms. Nouet.)
Needless to say, her astute views on whisky are worth hearing.  I can confirm this, as I was an attentive listener on Thursday, November 25th:

Ms. Nouet commenced the tasting by suggesting people pour a tiny little bit of whisky on the top of their hand and note the scent.  I never heard of that before.  We all got a kick out of that and then moved on to what she terms the three moments of pleasure:  eye, nose, palate!

Glenfiddich 15 years old Solera
Ms. Nouet selected Camembert, a soft creamy cheese of Normandy.  It certainly complimented the classic, and always impressive, Speyside taste of the Glenfiddich 15yrs.  She also suggested a bite of oat cake or apricot as a suitable pairing for this scotch.

Tyrconnell Irish Whiskey
This light and very sweet Irish whiskey was paired with Brie.  I could not appreciate the pairing, as I found the whisky too sweet for my liking.  However, no one else in attendance seemed to mind.

Balvenie Portwood 21 year old
Wonderful sherry nose ushers in a most memorable taste experience.  Rich sherry with delicate braids of dark red fruit, developing complexity as it dries upon the palate.  The Balvenie was paired with Canadian cheddar.

Highland Park 15 years
An excellent single malt having plenty of heather which Martine thought was best complimented by smoked Gruyere cheese.  This whisky and the smoked cheese worked well.

Laphroaig Cairdeas
An incredible whisky!  The complexity that we, whisky lovers, forever seek.  A real show stopper!  A tiny sip explodes upon the palate with peat, smoke and rich citrus like grapefruit and limes.  Wow!  Ms. Nouet made a mind blowing cheese pairing:  Shropshire blue.  This is an English cheese that can be best described as cheddar infused with Danish blue.  Take a sip of whisky and then a bite of this cheese and you are in heaven!  Needless to say, the whisky promptly sold out the following evening at the Festival's on-site liquor store.

. . .

Ms. Nouet is a person who genuinely loves whisky.  You can tell that she is not in it for money.  There is nothing slick or commercial about her presence.  Just integrity and European sophistication.  A refreshing change from 'brand ambassadors' who flash megawatt plastic smiles, in sharp suits and the latest coiffure while recounting the minutiae of whisky production without any real understanding of what he or she is talking about.

. . .

So, for $25 you were able to attend the above noted tasting.  A bargain right?  How about this?  For $10 more, you could attend another whisky tasting held following Martine's expert seminar.  I chose the Highland Park tasting, but I did have choices.  Gordon & MacPhail or Chivas & Glenlivet.  $35 for two scotch tastings!  I chose Highland Park.  Mind you, it was not an easy decision as I have always admired Gordon & MacPhail, an independent bottler, that seem to always have great scotch to tempt the serious whisky nut.

Marc Laverdiere is the Highland Park brand ambassador, and again like Ms. Nouet, is a genuine whisky fan.  I think the story on him is that he was a retired civil servant who approached his favorite distillery, Highland Park, about being a brand ambassador, and convinced them with his charming French accent!  People like him and Ms. Nouet make the best brand ambassadors because their affection for their respective whiskies is genuine.  They make a connection with the consumer that newly minted MBAs simply can't achieve.  Take note spirits industry.

Mr. Laverdiere walked us through Highland Park 12, 15, 25 and 30yrs.  The whisky that stopped me dead in my tracks again was the 25yr old.  Just simply one of the greatest single malts widely available today.  I bought a bottle the following evening and will provide a more detailed tasting note once I have had a chance to become acquainted with it.  But for now, I can say you will taste concentrated caramel, hickory, toffee and smoke.  The ultimate whisky gift for the holiday season.

Mr. Laverdiere spoke about the blending process of Highland Park whiskies.  The distillery chooses fifty casks that are blended to make various bottlings (ie. 12, 15yrs, etc.).  He pointed out that while the single cask or barrel whiskies have lately been in vogue, there is a risk.  You are at the mercy of a particular cask.  If it isn't great, you will suffer for it, as I can attest with Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.  By blending fifty different, high quality casks, the distillery is able to achieve a high standard of quality that is more elusive for distilleries working only with a single barrel.

. . .

The showcase of the Festival takes place the following evening where for the price of $60 in advance you can sample as many different whiskies as you wish.  Technically, you can purchase a ticket at the door for $70, but that is provided it does not sell out, as it has for the past three years.

For me, this was the great discovery of the evening.  Clynelish Distiller's Edition, 1992.  Sherried greatness with some cranberries, oak and spices ending in smoked mackerel.  Excellent complexity of sherry flavors.

I also tried the Highland Park Earl Magnus 15 yrs and was knocked over by it.  I went to buy a bottle but all sixty had sold out within an hour!

The NB Spirits Festival, as well as any festival enables its participants to sample a wide range of whiskies.  A great way to experiment a little without making the mistake of buying a bottle of something you dislike.  So, next time there is a whiskey festival, give it a go, you may make a great discovery!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2010. All rights reserved.


  1. I also attended a tasting with Marc as the presenter and really enjoyed his informal but knowledgeable and entertaining style. Did he give away all kinds of loot for people asking good questions?

  2. Not this year, but last year people who posed good questions got nice little 'minis' of Highland Park. Hmmm, I'll have to remind him of that next time I see him.