BEAM Spirits Confidential – Toronto , June 26, 2013 by Wendy Harker – Whisky News

BEAM Global Spirits & Wines

 BEAM Spirits Confidential – Toronto , June 26, 2013

By: Wendy Harker (representing Whisky Intelligence)

“Every time it rains, it rains Bourbon from Heaven”

(Dean Martin, When You’re Drinking ‘Bourbon from Heaven’)

On June 26, 2013, I had the great pleasure of attending Spirits Confidential – Toronto.  This was a Beam Global event that showcased the breadth of their spirited products held at the very hip and urban venue, Evergreen Brick Works.  It was an all-day event, split into an afternoon session for trade insiders and media and an evening session open to the public.  Beam Global’s portfolio is a palate seducing wish list that includes bourbons and other whiskies, rum, tequila, cognac, and vodka.  Spirits Confidential was also a special occasion to meet Master Distillers, Blenders and Brand Ambassadors.

Fred Noe

On this occasion, it was notably significant to have the opportunity to meet Fred Noe, Great-Grandson of Jim Beam and seventh generation Beam family distiller based in Clermont, Kentucky.  The Beam family name is synonymous with bourbon where their legacy of producing innovative and premium quality whiskey is still going strong. The Small Batch Bourbon Collection is a stellar foursome comprised of Booker’s, Baker’s 7, Knob Creek and Basil Hayden’s.  The Jim Beam brand carries a variety of bourbon whiskies like Devil’s Cut, Red Stag, and Jim Beam Black to name a few.  It is impossible to not share a deep appreciation for Mr. Noe’s family history and the baton of greatness that is being passed on from one generation to the next with bourbon expressions wearing the Beam name.

The afternoon event began with an exclusive invitation to an hour long Masters VIP Tasting of eight different spirits.   The principal spirits and presenters were:   Jim Beam & Small Batch, Devil’s Cut, Fred Noe, Master Distiller; Cruzan Rum, Cruzan Single Barrel, Don Nelthrop,  Assistant Master Distiller, Son of founder, Donald Nelthrop;  Marker’s Mark, Maker’s 46, Greg Davis, Master Distiller; Cooley’s Irish Whiskey, Kilbeggan 18 yo, John Cashman, Master Ambassador; Canadian Club, Canadian Club 20 yo, Dan Tullio, Master Ambassador; Courvoisier, L’Essence de Courvoiser Cognac, Patrice Pinet, Master Blender; Laphroaig, Cairdeas Port Wood Edition, Simon Brooking, Master Ambassador; and, Sauza Tequila, Sauza Tres Generacions Plata Tequila, Karina Sanchez, Master Ambassador.

At registration, I was given a chip with #5 on it which represented the table where I would begin the exclusive tasting circuit.   The eight site-tables were arranged in a circle comprised of ‘give or take’ groups of 10 guests moving from one table to the next with a bell announcing the end of each presentation.  To get the ball rolling, I was happy to discover that table #5 was Canadian Club and hosted by CC’s dynamic Brand Ambassador, Mr. Dan Tullio.  Without a second to waste, Dan launched into a brief historical synopsis of Hiram Walker, the Windsor Distillery and then introduced our palates to a sample of Canadian Club 20 year old, aged in sherry casks, 40% abv., $49.95.  The CC 20 awakened and warmed up my taste buds with its lingering notes of toffee and cloves.  I felt it was the perfect whisky to begin the afternoon journey of tasting premium Beam spirits.

Each presentation was educational and held something of particular value to me.   Of the 5 Bourbon/whiskies that were presented, the one that I hadn’t previously tasted was the Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition, 51.3% abv, NCF.  I was thrilled when I saw it on the table.  This bottling is a limited port finish release created for the Islay whisky festival, Feis Ile 2013.  It has been double matured in bourbon and port wood casks.  This is a unique Laphroaig with its’ all natural pink hue colouring after being aged in port barrels. The Laphroaig was presented by the animated Simon Brooking, Brand Ambassador who gave an engaging and tactile session. I very much appreciated having the opportunity to sample this Islay whisky because it is not available at the LCBO; and, on the Laphroaig website, “sold out” marks the spot.  On my palate, I thought it was a balance of extracted sweet berry fruit that complimented Laphroaig’s signature back bone of brine and peat.   I was impressed that the port had such strong character to pop out like that.  My only regret was that I didn’t have more time to taste and think about it.

Before I knew it, the hour long Master VIP Tasting was over.  Fortunately, there was a fun filled afternoon to look forward to.   I headed over to a large open concept building where booths representing the Beam portfolio filled the venue.  As I stepped into the hall, it felt both daunting and amazing to think that one company owned such a distinctive stable of spirits.  I decided I would begin the next tasting chapter with another Canadian whisky named Alberta Premium Dark Horse, 45% abv, $29.95.  As I got my bearings, a dram with a lot of rye running through my veins felt like a good thing.   This portion of the event was relaxed, casual and filled with its fair share of pleasant surprises.  I welcomed the opportunity to talk with the Brand experts and to learn as much as I possibly could from them.

Wendy Harker & Greg Davis

It was a real pleasure to catch-up to Maker’s Mark Master Distiller, Greg Davis.  The signature seal of the red wax bottles were on full display, with an oak plank stretched across the right corner of the table. This striking display told the story of what makes Maker’s 46 different from Maker’s Mark.  In the final 2-3 months of aging, seared French oak staves are inserted into barrels of Maker’s Mark whisky to draw out more flavour notes and to give this bottling its unique characteristics.  The chance to retaste Maker’s 46, 45% abv, reminded me of how much I really liked it.  So much so, in fact, I bought a bottle the next day!

My next stop was with John Cashman, Brand Ambassador of Cooley’s Irish Whiskey.  In January 2012 Cooley Distillery was purchased by Beam Global.  I am a fan of Irish whiskey and the brand produces a couple of my favourites like Tryconnell and Greenore; other well known whiskies under Cooley’s umbrella are Kilbeggan and Connemara.  I asked John what we had to look forward to from Cooley’s and what have been some of the changes it has experienced now under Beams wing.  He said that the distillery will now be able to hold onto their younger aged whiskies that would have otherwise been sold to other companies.  He added that this will also give the distillery the opportunity to produce older aged whiskies and develop new finishes.  This had me wondering if the increased volume of in-house whiskies would also increase limited releases.  I asked him about Cooley’s Poitin, a Single Pot Still New Make whiskey which is also currently being aged in barrels.   I asked if he thought the barrel aged whiskey would be released in 2014?   Shaking his head, John non-specifically predicted that it would be later than that.  He also talked about how they had been faced with the obstacle of marketing and distributing on a global scale. But with Beam Inc, they would now be able to reach a worldwide market. I was left with a good impression that we were going to see some exciting new releases from this distillery.  And, the quality, creativity and Brand heritage that Cooley’s is known for was very much intact.

Not all of the brands at this event were owned by Beam Global.  Grouped together at one end of the hall were three Scottish Whiskies: Highland Park, Macallan and Famous Grouse.  I wondered what their relationship was with Beam Global and asked one of the Brand Ambassadors.  The whiskies are owned by the Edrington Group with Beam Global being their Canadian distribution partner.

I approached the Macallan table and was equally delighted to find the knowledgeable and hospitable, Marc Laverdiere, Macallan Brand Ambassador, and The Macallan 1824 Series: Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby.   The bottled series uses a range of woods for flavour and colour and is without age statements.  As of the first week of July, the series is a new release at the LCBO with Canada being one of the worldwide markets to receive the entire collection.   I was grateful to have the opportunity to sample the four new expressions.  Of the four, Sienna was my favourite; the whisky has been aged in 100% American oak sherry casks and bottled at 43% abv. I tried to savour my sample with its lingering finish and flavours of plump fruit, honey and warming spicy tones.   It felt like a lovely treat.

With the afternoon coming to an end, it just seemed right to finish my day with a dram of Baker’s 7, one of the bourbons from the Small Batch Collection.  It was my personal way of toasting the namesake of the event and to ponder the past four hours that seemed to slip through my fingers.  I felt that I had been navigating myself through a series of complex whiskies and brand relationships.  One lasting thought was that while under the umbrella of the powerhouse of Beam Global, the cultural beginnings and the rich heritage of bourbon and other whisky brands that comprise its portfolio have remained preserved.  These gems of whisky symbolized a blend of ingenuity and traditional value while at the same time delighting and challenging my senses of taste and smell.  It is also important to recognize the hard working experts like the Master Distillers, Blenders and Brand Ambassadors that are so personable and willing to answer questions and share their knowledge.  The spirit of this event was one of generosity and fun.

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