My Gay Toronto - Bellini's 8 1/2

Booze, like Be-llini, is even better aged

On September 12 I celebrated my 55th birthday. I now qualify for certain seniors’ benefits. After the shock wore off, I spent my morning attending a whiskey tasting. It was to announce the coming availability of four expensive and well-crafted whiskeys from Bruichladdich (pronounced ‘brook laddie’), a distillery located on Islay (pronounced ‘eye la’) in the Hebrides Islands off the coast of Scotland.

Brand ambassador Jim McEwan was in Toronto to launch not just the whiskies, but also his latest creation, The Botanist. It is a dry gin, retailing for about $50 a bottle, and what a bottle – clear glass with embossed lettering listing all the magical ingredients. As we sipped, Jim spun the tale of how he found an ancient still, an old piece of junk that he cleaned up and dubbed Ugly Betty, and how Betty is capable of producing such a fine concoction. He spoke of the juniper berries forming a blanket on the alcohol over which he added orange peel, mint, coriander, aniseed, coconut, and honey, and how the berries burst under the low heat, releasing their flavours as they sink to the bottom of the still, and how the still slowly condenses drop by precious drop. I admit, I was floored. Gin never tasted, or sounded, so good.

onestly, listening to Jim speak about the olden days of Bruichladdich in that delightful Scottish brogue reminded me of How Green Was My Valley, which I realize is about Welsh miners but I’m apt to mix my British Empire lore when I’m drinking.

Then it was on to the whiskeys. Jim told us how the distillery opened in 1881 and how they still use the same equipment, a testament to the old ways. Fine liquor takes time and care to craft, and these whiskeys were very fine. Their scent is aromatic and their viscosity is phenomenal. Jim instructed us to stick our fingers in the liquid and hold it up to see how long it would take for the droplet to fall, but it didn’t. “Imagine that viscosity clinging to your tongue,” he said as we took a sip. “We truly are the slowest distillers in the world.”

The first whiskey was their signature brand, The Classic Laddie, which comes in an adorable periwinkle bottle. It was good, but Jim seemed prouder of Black Art, which comes in a black bottle with a six-point star etched on the glass. It looks like something Allister Crowley might enjoy. But it was the next two that really spoke to my palate – Port Charlotte Scottish Barley, and Octomore, which is billed as the world’s most heavily peated whiskey. Peat is burned to create the dense smoke used to dry the barley and the smoky flavour carries over into the whiskey itself. I love smoky flavours, and these two whiskeys were transcendent. Oh, to be able to afford such fine product! Knowing that the Octomore was $220 a bottle, I broke with custom and downed the whole glass at once. Well, why the hell not, it was my birthday.

After sandwiches, I thanked Jim and publicist Catharine Simard for inviting me. Catherine handed me a bag with a bottle of The Botanist in it, so sweet of her. I was pretty drunk by this time, and it was still only 1pm. How would I ever be able to stay standing for my birthday table dance at Flash?