The Whisky Pilgrimage…Episode 1 – A Long Journey…

Happy New Year to all!

Might as well get right into it. It’s resolution time.

It’s been an awful long time since I’ve provided a post for the site. I enjoy writing, enjoy whisky…and yet for most (all?) of 2011 I managed to avoid generating any content. I would like to turn it around in 2012.

One of the reasons that I’ve struggled for consistency is that it is difficult to come up with topics for the site.

Curt is a prolific reviewer, has lined up some great interviews, run a handful of great tastings, and is always up on the latest and greatest. If this sounds like a tough act to follow, you’re not wrong. But I’ve since realized that’s hardly the point.

When Curt asked if I’d make the odd contribution to the site he knew that I wouldn’t be up on deeply involved in finding new drams, that I wouldn’t provide much in the way of structured tasting notes, and that I will not be able to keep pace with all that the whisky world has to offer. He likely understood this better than I. We all have our place in this little collective, and class clown antics aside I am not really sure quite where I fit into this all.

So, in the spirit of resolutions and self discovery, I’ve decided that in 2012 I am going to embark upon a Whisky Pilgrimage.

For the next 12 months I’ll be doing a hands on experiment in hopes of answering questions both big & small. What are my tastes? Do price and age really matter to me? Do I appreciate the basics any more? Can I truly claim to appreciate the elaborate and sophisticated? Can I confidently state my opinions by virtue of experience rather than by inference? Heady questions indeed!

What makes this a pilgrimage? Apologies if I take a liberal interpretation of the word, but I’m calling this a pilgrimage because by my view, pilgrimages are journeys which are spiritual in nature. This is a pilgrimage about spirits. Close enough, right?

While I won’t be travelling in the physical sense, I’ll be trying drams from a variety of profiles and locations. I’ll get into the specifics below, but to summarize I’m going to get into some variety I normally wouldn’t bother with and will be making a point of trying things that I have never tried before.

Pilgrimages have a certain stripped down, ascetic quality. Through discipline and humility comes enlightenment…something like that anyhow. I’m going to impose a number of conditions upon myself – some of which are downright draconian – in hopes that these conditions will inspire breakthroughs.

Without further ado the specific rules will be as follows.

The year will be divided up as follows:

– Winter (Jan-Mar): Sherry Matured Whisky – a personal favourite which bears further exploration. Building up my fortitude for what lies ahead!

– Spring (Apr-Jun): Speyside / Highland Whisky – a region & style I’ve struggled to appreciate

– Summer (Jul-Sep): Blended Malt Whisky – the “lesser” brother of single malts. Does it deserve a kinder reputation?

– Fall (Oct-Dec): Peated Whisky – Peated, not necessarily Islay…hearty drams to warm the soul & close out the year

Every month I will seek out & purchase a new whisky in the designated profile, and at least one selection for every profile must be entirely new to me. This means that at the beginning of the season I’ll only have one bottle to work with, and by the third month of the season, I’ll have three. For every profile I’ll be limiting myself to a budget of ~$150. In order to meet my budget I will have to be resourceful and hunt down the best value for my dollar (not necessarily in terms of volume). I will gladly look into any recommendations sent my way.

That will be it for my whisky purchases this year. I’ll remain a full participant in Liquorature related debauchery and I expect that I’ll come to value those evenings even more as a result of my experiment. I’m sure that there will be ATW tastings, social get-togethers, and lovely evenings spent chatting out in the communal backyard. For these, I’ll draw upon the remains of my humble collection – about 50 oz total if I’m being generous – which I must now jealously guard. I don’t fancy that I’ll be a strictly devout pilgrim, but I’ll do my best to stick to the pilgrimage ethic!

Two nights every week I will pour myself 1.5 oz in whatever combination I choose from the seasonal profile. The only rule is to do whatever strikes my fancy. If this means a straight up dram, comparing one against another, exploring Glencairn vs. Riedel, blending several together, marinading a steak, trying chilled vs. room temp, a cocktail (god forbid!)…ANYTHING is up for trial.

This experiment certainly lends itself to creativity. Directly relevant to ATW I will writing about what happens all along the way. I’m currently enjoying a dram of my January sherry selection while I type this, and the next time I sit down with a dram, will be typing up a little piece on my selection.

Until then, cheers!


– The Whisky Pilgrim

4 thoughts on “The Whisky Pilgrimage…Episode 1 – A Long Journey…

  1. Canuckonomist


    That sounds like a great way to do this. I’ve been an Islay guy most of my scotch life (read: ~6 years) and I’ve never ventured too far from Laphroaig QC as a bottle to own, but after a friend bought me back a bottle of Edradour’s Ballechin #4 (Highland) 2 years ago, I decided to venture out. My own boring pilgrimage aside, being an economist, I respect your strict budget, and the desire for a quality/price ratio in choosing your scotches. Being young and from Ontario, the price factor means I have to do the same, with a vengance. I can’t afford to waste $100 on a dud if I’m going to take the plunge for a good scotch.

    To that end, I’ve got some tips where the wealth of reviews on the internet can help (many of which you already know).
    (and of course, this site!)
    My technique with using these websites is to properly tare your preferences to a reviewer or two. Search for a reviewer who loves what you love, but also dislikes what you dislike. (this may be obvious to you.) Adam and Chris (@lawhiskey) have tastes similar to mine (they love Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and didn’t much like Longmorn 16, or Macallan 10, amongst others). From this, I learned that Auchentoshan 18, Ben Nevis 1993 Signatory and Aberlour A’bunadh would be great hits (they have!), and reaffirmed my belief in the value of Laphroaig QC. Let’s just say the only drams that haven’t impressed me since taking this approach are some I’ve tried at bars on whims (Jura Superstition, Macallan 10).

    Best wishes on your pilgrimage.

    1. Clint

      Hi there – thanks very much for the comment. It is always good to get an outside perspective. I’ve spent a bit of time browsing connsr and I’m quite fond of Ralfy too. I will have to give lawhiskysociety a peek.

      In addition to the types of resources you’ve listed I have the unique advantage of sharing my back yard with ATW mastermind and all around good fella’ Curt. His early participation in forums like this developed an interest in whisky into a passion, the result being this bustling site you see today. I think he’d agree that the good times and conversations with others are a huge part of the whisky experience.

      So, thanks for adding to the conversation here – I’m due to find a “midrange” sherry for February and will definitely check out those sites. If you have any recommendations I’d love to hear them.

      Speaking of which, Laph QC is an obvious short list candidate for Pilgrimage Peated season. What does a bottle set you back in Ontario? It’s roughly $40 in Alberta (recently spotted for $36 by Curt I believe, not sure where)

      1. Canuckonomist

        Hopefully it was helpful. I found my way to the Whisky Basics section after posting it, and noticed a number (if not all my tips) there, so I kind of felt a bit like a heel. You’re lucky to know Curt. It was his beautifully detailed reviews of Aberlour A’bunadh and Springbank Claret Finish (I managed one of the last one in Toronto…) that led me to those gems. As for the cats at LAwhiskey, it’s a VERY extensive review set. Adam has 2000+ reviews, and Chris I think is coming up on 1500… The marks can be harsh, but it’s really all relative–anything B+ and higher that I’ve tried have been excellent, and there are a few A- bottles under $100 that are now top 3 bottles for me.

        As for recommendations, Ontario prices have forced me to spend roughly $90/bottle to build a decent cabinet, so these recommendations may not be feasible under your budget. That said, if they fit, they were real stars in my eyes. I don’t have many sherry recommendations, but these are the general ones I can give without sounding redundant (see Curt for the A’bunadh and the Springbank… I can’t add, but I’ll concur):

        1. Auchentoshan 18 – A perfect lowland. Grassy/vegetal, vanilla, mouth-coatingly viscous (not too thick). Makes me invision the wheat fields of the prairies, and I’ve only been out there a few times. It’s only 43%, however, so it loses a small mark for that.
        2. Ardbeg Uigeadail – I had this one imported for $90 from MN thanks to a friend. Probably unfeasible (It’s $150/bottle and by special order here in ON), but pure magic if you get it. My #1 bottle at the moment.
        3. at the LCBO in ON, we’ve picked up a 17 yr. (1993) Un-chillfiltered Signatory bottling of Ben Nevis. It’s a fantastic example of a very fresh, citrus-y, vibrant Highland. Bottled at 46%.

        $40 for Laph QC? Geez. It’s $70 here. It used to be $65, but just recently went up. Perhaps I need to be in touch with some of my Edmontonian friends to import me some next time they make their way out there. If it was $40 here, that would be my daily dram, without a doubt.

        1. ATW Post author

          Thanks for the kind words, gents. We only do this cause we love it, right? A great way to meet great people over one of mankind’s greatest inventions ( I do NOT say that in jest…just look at the way alcohol has helped shape the world we live in).

          Nice to have someone drop in and share some tips, thoughts and an Eastern perspective. Thanks for that. Hope you come back often. If you make it out this way (perhaps to visit your mates in Edmonton) we’ll definitely share a dram.



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