Good times aside, consuming rye whisky in chess-set quantities is not something I’d necessarily recommend across the board. Fine whisky, like fine wine, deserves to be sipped and savoured.
Just so we’re crystal clear, “whisky” is an all-encompassing term for barrel-aged, grain-based, distilled spirits. Scotch, bourbon and rye are all, technically, “whiskies” though each has specific criteria relating to origin and formula. Bourbon, for example, is unique to the U.S. and must contain at least 51 per cent corn distillate. Scotch refers to whiskies made in Scotland, while a single-malt Scotch must hail from one single distillery, be distilled from barley and aged for a minimum of three years.
As for the whole “whisky” vs. “whiskey” spelling thing, you’re bound to see it both ways. The former version is considered more traditional and generally applies to Scotch and rye, while Irish and bourbon “whiskey” is more typically the norm.
But enough talk about spelling. Here are five neat places to check out when you’re in the mood for a dram:
The classic lounge in the Hyatt Regency Hotel has everything you look for in a whisky bar: armchairs upholstered in rich brown leather, a cozy fireplace mounted with a taxidermied buffalo and a great selection of Canadian whisky, Irish whiskey, bourbon and single-malt Scotch.
Try this: Crown Royal XR (Extra Rare) Canadian Rye
“It’s got a nice, honey-like, fruitish finish to it, a little bit sweet but not too sweet. It’s great in Manhattans and on the rocks.” -Tracy Burton, bartender
(700 Center St. SE., 403-717-1234, calgary.hyatt.com)
This family-owned operation on the westside of downtown is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In that time, it’s become whisky central in Calgary, earning international accolades for its extensive collection of single-malts (at present, its got around 290 in stock, including a 1966 Springbank that has been known to sell for more than $6,000 USD per bottle on the open market). Buchanan’s weekly Whisky Wednesdays are a great way to expand your whisky knowledge. Each week starting at 3 p.m., the bar offers a tasting trio of Scotches organized by region, age, flavour profile or distillery. Prices vary, but on average you’ll pay around $17 to $25.
Try this: Tullebardine Old Vine Zin Single-Malt Scotch
“A fantastic, spicy, light, floral, versatile whisky. It’s cheap, it’s approachable and it’s unique.” -James Buchanan, general manager
(738 3rd Ave. S.W., 403-261-4646, buchanans.ca)
Steak joints are usually a good bet when you’re looking for top-drawer whiskies. Bold proteins like beef, game and ribs pair well with the intense flavours of Scotch, bourbon and rye. This Stephen Avenue spot is a warmly lit room with a big, central bar.
Try this: Woodford Reserve Bourbon
“It’s in the medium price-range, very smooth, just enough vanilla without being overly sweet or artificial-caramelly tasting. There’s no colouring added. It’s great straight up or in a Manhattan.” -Will Turner, bartender
(118 8th Ave. S.W., 403-269-3160, tribsteakhouse.ca)
Not surprising, this longtime favourite of the fine-dining business crowd stocks a great selection of single-malt Scotches.
Try this: Glenrothes Select Reserve Single-Malt Scotch
“It’s full-bodied, less ‘peaty’ and smooth to the finish.” -Kyle Wheeler, floor manager
(107 8th Ave. S.W., 403-265-9595, thebelvedere.ca)
Where else would you go to sip Irish whiskey? This Stephen Avenue pub is the closest thing to Ireland you’ll find in this city with lots of nooks and crannies where you can settle in and enjoy the old-world charm of the historic Molson’s TD Bank Building.
Try this: Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey.
“It’s sweet, with a caramel taste, and really smooth. It’s not common and people come here seeking it out.” -Jen Dean, manager/bartender
(114 8 Ave. S.W., 403-262-0708, jamesjoycepub.com)