Thursday, January 21, 2010


Christmas in Toronto. Not the most romantic notion of the holiday season, even if "Silver Bells" is your favourite Christmas song. The rampant consumerism of the holidays is visible on a whole new scale in the T-dot, and though I wouldn't normally trade the snow-covered firs of the Maritimes for the festive green and red-lit CN tower, we were there to introduce some extended family and friends to our new daughter. We do always enjoy our time in the city, however, and use it as an opportunity not only to visit loved ones but also to get our fix of good restaurants and ethnic food.
Before leaving, my wife asked me if there was anything in particular that I wanted to do in the city while we were there. I gave only two answers:

1) Visit the LCBO in Rosedale
2) Visit a nice whisky bar somewhere in the city

I'll explain the Rosedale LCBO thing in a later posting, but I had read about a couple of great whisky bars in Toronto and hadn't yet had the opportunity to visit them. I'm sure that an article in "Whisky" magazine from a couple of years ago made mention of a bar in the beaches area of Toronto with a phenomenal whisky selection - particularly single malt Scotch. A little bit of surfing brought me to the following website:

In another stroke of good fortune, my best friend Edan also happened to be in Toronto over the holidays visiting his brother's family. He was my travelling companion during a trip to Scotland in 2004 and the man who introduced to the myriad pleasures of quality whisky. Fate, the Spirit of Christmas, Magic of the Holidays - whatever it was, all of the pieces were falling into place, and we weren't going to pass up the opportunity to share a dram together.

We decided to meet late in the afternoon on the 28th of December. A light snow was falling and weather reports indicated the possibility of a storm arriving in a couple of hours. Making our way to the Beaches area, we looked for the pub and did a bit of sightseeing around this pretty unique area of the city, with its brightly coloured townhouses along the main streets and lots of interesting little shops. After parking in a residential area which reminded me a lot of the Westmount region of Montreal, we walked down to Kingston Road and into Feathers.
The atmosphere of an old British pub envelops you from the moment you step inside. A combination of bench/booth seating with more traditional tables, it is a mix of dark wood with red upholstery. Gentlemen playing darts, large photos covering the walls with images of Scottish landscapes, and decorative wallpaper all added to the local pub character. It's the sort of place where you know the owner chooses to spend a lot of his own time.

Edan and his companion Helen had already arrived and staked out a booth for us. As we had our four-month old baby in tow, the extra seating space was a godsend. Edan quickly pointed out the huge cabinet full of single malt whisky bottles behind me and we were both overjoyed to see a large range of malts not commercially available in Ontario or New Brunswick. In particular, Feathers boasts a large variety of the Flora and Fauna bottlings - whiskies from some more obscure distilleries in Scotland that are not sold in a significant fashion on the international market. This range of whiskies contains some exceptional malts (see "Diageo Calling" posting), so both Edan and I decided that with the limited time available to us, this is where we would focus our collective sampling energy.
When the whisky menu arrived, it was immediately obvious that Feathers lived up to the hype. Over 400 malts available and my curiosity was piqued even further when the waitress said that they would have to retrieve one of the bottles we requested from the "malt vault". With a little luck, your blogger will someday have the opportunity to visit this whisky equivalent of an extremely well-stocked wine cellar. We had the time to taste four different whiskies during our visit and I took only rudimentary tasting notes, as the real purpose of the visit was to catch up with some old friends (who weren't in bottles!)

Royal Brackla 10 y-o
Nutty on the nose and palate, very sweet start but becomes complex with lots of flavours; pepper and spice on the medium/long finish. This was my favourite of the day and I wish it was more readily available on the international market. Another relatively unknown gem in Diageo's immense whisky portfolio.

Mannochmore 12 y-o
This speyside distillery is located near Elgin, with the bulk of its production used in blends. It also produced the infamous Loch Dubh. The malt is creamy with honey and floral notes. Nothing really distinguishable and the least memorable dram of the day.

Bladnoch 10 y-o
This lowland distillery lives up to the regional stereotype: Light and sweet. Don't be fooled; this malt has surprising complexity. After several different owners, this distillery was bought in 1995 by an Irishman, Raymond Armstrong, and production re-started in 2000. If they decide to keep with a 10 y-o bottling, it would be due for release this year. The flora and fauna bottle we sampled would have been produced during United Distillers/Diageo's tenure.

Inchgower 14 y-o
Edan and I sampled this malt for the first time at the Scotch Whisky Heritage Center in Edinburgh. At that sampling, it was certainly distinctive: Awful, and no word of a lie, reminiscent of old sneakers. At the time, we thought maybe the bottle had gone off, but didn't bother to try another dram. I decided to give this one another chance at Feathers. My opinion of it has improved considerably, but no doubt these tasting notes make it sound better than it really is:
Vanilla on the nose; nutty, mincemeat and Christmas cake on the palate, with a bitter aftertaste.

The prices of drams at Feathers are divided into several categories based on age, rarity and cost of the bottles. All of the drinks in this posting were $7.50 CDN, very reasonably priced considering how difficult it is to get your hands on these whiskies.
I got my Christmas wish to visit a fantastic whisky bar in Toronto. Feathers lives up to its reputation and won't disappoint if you decide to stop in!