Friday, 30 May 2014

Another Christmas in the Canada

So the missus and I have been on our travels again. Yeh, this time it was back to Canada for Christmas with the in-laws. I won’t be doing a play-by-play (at least that’s not the intention), but we do have a lot to get through, so let’s knuckle down, shall we?

Canada, home of the moose. Where, judging by the clothes, people are an unusual shape – I was once given a Canadian hoody as a gift (that said “Salty” on the front in big letters) which had extra-long arms and hand holes that were too small for my hands, but then bloused over the biceps. The head hole was similarly too tight, but there was definite blousing over the chest. It all suggested this particular cut was for an effete superhero, someone big of chest and bicep, but small of head and hands – Captain Salty, presumably. That’s not to mention all the shirts my brother-in-law gets for me that are – get this – slim fit, and of the correct neck measurement, but for some reason are MASSIVE. MASSIVE! And I’m 6 foot 3.

I tried to wear one of the shirts to work recently, with just a jumper. Looking in the mirror, I turned to Mrs Cake and asked, “is the collar on this shirt humourously large?”  I looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, only with shit hair, stubble and dark circles under my eyes.

Anyway! I was very much looking forward to going back to Calgary, and to getting away from work for an extended period. Sure, I knew there were going to be awkward moments, even dull ones, but that would be offset by the fun times and by the alcohol. Yes. It was a chance to delve a little deeper into the world of Canadian whisky. I had planned to delve a little into American bourbon too, but that didn’t happen. So, Canadian whisky.

Too much just isn’t an option this time

Better too much than not enough, I am known to say. I even abbreviate it to BTMTNE. Repeat that to yourself a few times, get used to it. It takes a bit of practice.

Sadly, there is such a thing as too much when you’re talking about just the right amount of booze booze to drink for the duration of your holiday. You don’t want to be leaving some behind, or trying to stretch your meagre weight/space allowance to covering half empty (I mean, half full) bottles you weren’t able to finish. Or just chugging it down to get it out of the way… unless you’re a Neanderthal. You’re not a Neanderthal, are you? No, this blog is about enjoying alcohol in a relaxed, sophisticated way (most of the time. Sometimes. Well, it’s supposed to be…)

So, two and a half weeks. That would be spent at various people’s houses, in various places, beer would tend to be available… one bottle of whisky should suffice, right? One?

Mrs Cake and I took a stroll through the snow to the Liquor Depot in Woodbine, Calgary that same day we arrived. We had a few hours to kill before we could permit ourselves to go to bed (in an attempt to defeat jetlag), and a small mission was just the job.

The moustachioed assistant was very enthusiastic in recommending Lot 40, a single pot still rye that he said was good enough to fool the casual scotch drinker (we’ll see about that), but at 50 dollars it wasn’t in my plans just yet. I wanted something cheap, since I was going to be drinking it all in a short space of time – relative to how quickly I normally drink my spirits, which is around 3 months, but then I always have several bottles on the go at once…
My choice was Alberta Springs 10 (40% ABV), which I’d read some good things about in my pre-trip research. It was something around 25 Canadian dollars for 75cl, and I worked it out at the time to be equivalent to £16.19, so that’s pretty cheap. Sometime later I found that I could have gotten it even cheaper from another liquor store, but the Liquor Depot was the only one available to me at that time. And it doesn’t seem to matter as much when you’re dealing in currencies that aren’t as valuable as your own.

To my immense surprise, it didn’t take me very long to drink this at all. Seriously, I really thought it might last the whole holiday. I didn’t even open it on the first night, opting instead to polish off a few beers that had been in the mother-in-law’s fridge since my last visit two years ago, and then try the Finlandia vodka that was part of the welcoming committee she pulled out of the cupboard and instructed me to help dispose of.

Nevertheless it lasted about a week. The killer was the third evening at Mrs Cake’s dad’s where I brought it out on our return from an ice hockey match. He usually brings the booze out, but I don’t like to take liberties, so rather than wait I just put the Alberta Springs on the table and Mrs Cake and her dad both joined me in indulging and then refilling. He even liked it, which surprised me a little as he only seems to like Glenmorangie – and he always drinks it with ice.

On our arrival, two days previously he had brought out all the bottles he wanted me to help him dispose of – you see, people seem to keep bringing him peaty stuff, and he doesn’t like it. I got to finish off bottles of Bruichladdich Peat and Highland Park 12 – as well as try a sampler bottle of Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or, which he had a few of (it seems you got them free with the Original over there).

I was pleased to be able to finish the Highland Park, but you may remember from a pre-Christmas post (though that was an extraordinarily long time ago now) that I had advised Mrs Cake to buy him a bottle of that for Christmas. Fail. We ended up going to the liquor store later (before the planned Christmas with her father – Christmas is complicated with broken families) and getting his favourite, while I would be taking the Highland Park we had bought back home with me – every cloud, indeed.

As for the Bruichladdich; well, I like Bruichladdich, but I wasn’t all that impressed with this expression. Shame. It’s possible it had been sitting in his booze cupboard (already open) for a couple of years.

With Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with the brother-in-law (Brian) and family approaching, and then a couple of nights in the mountains, I knew I was going to get a chance to try another cheap brand. We went to the budget Liquor Superstore where there was a brand at nearly 45% ABV for only 18 dollars. Well, you know me; I was tempted because I like to try the cheap shit – especially if it is particularly strong (which it never is), but instead I went for the Canadian ’83, which I’ve seen attributed to Seagram’s, though nowhere is that name mentioned on the label – or indeed anywhere on the funky, dimpled bottle. It is a standard 40% ABV, and this time the 75cl cost around 20 Canadian dollars, which I worked out to be £12.38.

It stood by my side as Brian and I constructed a Barbie dream house for two hours on Christmas Eve. It fuelled me through the obligatory all-day Christmas session, where at the end, I still felt sober enough to drive (though I didn’t drive, incidentally). It accompanied us to Canmore, where we were based for my first ever skiing trip, and lasted all the way to New Year’s Eve - our last night, that we spent with friends playing Cards Against Humanity

I suppose you must be wondering what the verdict is on these two products. Were they any good? Which is best? Well, first let me apologise for failing to get any tasting notes down – I didn’t manage to get anything specific, but I can tell you, for the minimal outlay, they are very good. Of the two, I did prefer the Alberta Springs. It elicited the most consistent response from my tastebuds with its reliably sweet complexity.

By contrast I’m not sure what was going on with the ’83. On some occasions it was flat and uninteresting, while on others a pleasant sweetness emerged that I could enjoy almost as much as its predecessor.

Even so, the Alberta Springs wasn’t able to break into my top 3 of Canadian whiskies (in ranking order; Crown Royal Black, Crown Royal, Windsor Canadian), all of which are encouragingly affordable, though Crown Royal Black pushes the envelope slightly. I was able to bring a couple of Canadian whiskies back with me, as we’ll see in the next section, so maybe one of those will.

That’s all from me for this week. I’m off to Spain this weekend to hopefully replenish my stocks of brandy, orujo and absinthe, as well as pick up a Duty Free only Highland Park… and spend time with my family, of course! So I might be back posting next weekend, when we’ll look at Part 2…

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