Islay Visits Part XXXVII – Figures !

Wednesday 30th July 2014 

It’s funny how figures (i.e. of the number variety) play an important part in your life and when you start thinking of them all sorts of things pop into your head . For instance when i opened the two Ardbeg 1978’s i thought back to 1978 , the year the two of us left School , 36 years ago this very summer ! It’s also 36 years ago that we both started work in the very same summer…..

Talking of summers it was 30 years ago this summer i had my very first holiday in Scotland , camping with my old mate Dave Embleton who also introduced me to the delights of Single Malts on that trip (my first Malt was a 10yo Macallan) . Wow 30 years of drinking Single Malt Scotch Whisky and according to some i still don’t have a clue about it……

This year has been very special so far ,this year we done our first Whisky Festival on the ‘other’ side of the table , serving up Amrut to the good people of Newcastle standing in for Mr Amrut himself Ashok. We must have done something right as he’s asked us to do another 3 ! We took our first trip together outside of the UK (my first flight ) to Toronto , where we done our first Whisky Masterclass on the ‘other’ side of the table at the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala, This one mustn’t have went so well as no one’s asked us to do another one…… LOL!!!! (only kidding Johanna , Melanie keeps telling me how good i was !) 

  Todays date is the most important figure , the 30th of July , it was on this day i got married to the most important Woman in my life , Melanie , Twenty years ago ! Where has the time gone ? For 15 of those twenty years we have been coming to this beautiful isle , this is our 37th visit (hence the part XXXVII of the title for those of you of a slow disposition…..) , 10 years ago we spent our 10th anniversary on the Isle ( at the Old School , Ardbeg ) , Ardbeg even had a special bottle on sale on that visit , the 1990 for Japan at £60 (not for our 10th anniversary i hasten to add…..)  .

So what are we doing today ? We’ll probably making a lot of people sick with our lovey dovey ness LOL ! We’ll definitely be going out for a meal at our favourite eatery tonight and i dare say a fair bit of Alcohol will be consumed along the way……

To My Gorgeous Wife , Happy Twentieth Wedding Anniversary Darling !

There are many more to come !!!! 

2014 Spirit of Toronto Photos

Johanna has upload the official photos of the 2014 Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala up onto Flickr  , you can see the full set at the Spirit of Toronto Flickr Page , here’s a little taster……

(Click on the photo to see full size version)

birthday_cake

our_hosts

islay_tasting_2

islay_tasting

room_with_a_view

All Images copywrite of Spirit of Toronto

Many thanks to Johanna and Charles for allowing us to use the images and for some more very happy memories !

Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt2

The Touristy Bit…..

Now that the serious side of the trip was over with the Completion of the Whisky show it was time to relax and do a bit of serious sight seeing . When we’d been originally invited Melanie and Myself had discussed things we’d like to see in Ontario and one thing came top of our list……. Niagara Falls ! So at the Hotel we asked the Concierge what trip to Niagara she recommended and she said the Gray Line one , So we booked it for the Sunday……

Sunday 4th May

Normally we would have been picked up at the Hotel for the tour but due to the Toronto Marathon being on and road closures we had to make our way to the Bay Street Bus Station which was no bother as the Subway went from outside the Hotel to about a Block along from the Station . The Subway is excellent , $3 to go anywhere on the System in nice , clean trains . There weren’t many on the bus , 15 , 6 of whom came from England ! Our guide for the tour was Grant .

We set off West along Queen Street West seeing quite a bit more of the City we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise before joining the Expressways to Niagara . On the way we got asked if we wanted to do an optional extra on the tour….. A Helicopter ride over Niagara . Seeing we thought we’d never have this chance to do it again even though Melanie has a fear of heights , So we were dropped off at Niagara Helicopters paid our fares and headed to the pad……

(Click on Photos to see full size)

Ready for Boarding

Ready for Boarding

Here we go !

Here we go !

So off we went ! 
Swinging west first stop was the Whirlpool then along the Gorge……

The Whirlpool

The Whirlpool

Along the Gorge

Along the Gorge

Then it was the Falls them selves before heading back along the Gorge

The Falls

The Falls

Back along the Gorge

Back along the Gorge

then it was back to the Whirlpool taking in views across the area

Out across the area

Out across the area

Back to the Whirlpool

Back to the Whirlpool

Then it was back to the Heliport to disembark…..

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

Melanie exiting the Helicopter

What an Experience ! The photos can’t do the journey justice , we had a perfect day weatherwise and i was so proud of my wife for doing it knowing her fear of heights , she was so glad she’d done it ! After buying a few souvenirs (we were tourists after all !) we headed back to the coach to head into Niagara Falls itself ! We were dropped at the Visitors Centre Car Park for a bit of a wander outside……  

The Top of the Falls

The Top of the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Melanie at the Falls

Myself !

Myself !

The American Falls

The American Falls

Closer View

Closer View

The Horseshoe Falls !

The Horseshoe Falls !

Awesome ! as our American friends say....

Awesome ! as our American friends say….

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

My Special Woman in front of the Falls !

At this point we were supposed to go on the boat to the falls but they weren’t running yet due to ice still being around , that’s the ice to the side of the falls in the Pictures above and on one of the viewing platforms below . So they took us behind the falls instead . This involved going down an elevator and along a tunnel cut in the rock . The portals are normally used to monitor the water going over the falls , it’s pretty impressive seeing the water from the footpaths but you don’t realise the full force until you go down below !   

A view from the Portals

A view from the Portals

From the Side

From the Side

From the Upper Viewing Platform

From the Upper Viewing Platform , the lower platform still Ice Bound

Now it was off to The Sheraton on the Falls for lunch in the aptly named Fallsview Restaurant….

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

Now thats what i call a Fallsview !

It was a very nice Buffet , a good choice and as you can see above we had a stunning view ! Afterwards we returned to bus to carry on with the tour , stopping to look at various views along the way including the American Hydro Electric Station below…..

 

Hydro Electric Power Station

Hydro Electric Power Station

After passing the Flower Clock and Fort George we made our way to Niagara on the Lake for a short stay . As tour buses aren’t allowed to stop in the town itself we were dropped in a car park and caught a shuttle bus in . It was a very pretty town that has been well preserved and has a lovely view across the lake .

 

Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake

Old Fort Niagara , USA

Old Fort Niagara , USA

We had one last stop to make on the way back to Toronto , at a winery . The Niagara area is absolutely crawling with wineries and they produce some stunning wines (as you’ll have gathered from these postings !) . We stopped at the Pillitteri Winery just outside of Niagara on the Lake . We got offered a tasting of one White (Riesling) and one Red ( Cabernet Merlot ) and the legendary Ice Wine ! To say the Ice Wine is sweet is an understatement ! We were told it is 25 on the wine scale….. Both the Red and White were nice but not to our taste And we asked if we could try the Pinot Grigio , this was to our liking and two bottles were purchased ! Boarding the bus for the final time we headed back to Toronto spotting Forty Creek Distillery on the way at Grimsby .

What a stunning day it had been ! Never to be forgotten especially the fantastic Helicopter flight . We freshened up once back at the Hotel and headed for the Epic Restaurant downstairs .We had the Lobster Tagliatelle (Butter Poached Lobster, Double Smoked Bacon, Blistered Asparagus,Parmigiano Reggiano, Chipotle Spiked Lobster Cream ) and of course some local wine ! Once again the food and service were exceptional . We headed off for another drink in the Library Bar before returning to the room for the night .

Monday 5th May 

Our last day in Toronto ! After a slight lie in i headed off to the Queens Quay LCBO to pick up some more wines and Canadian Whisky . On return we packed up our belongings checked out (leaving our cases to be picked up later ) and headed to the Watefront to meet up with Johanna and Charles for one last time and have lunch in the Pearl . Another first for us both , Dim Sum , what a great way to spend lunch ! Fantastic company and Great food , was well impressed with the offerings . We bid our farewells to Johanna and Charles , had a wander around the Shore and then hit the Subway up to Queens Park…..  

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

The Shore

Melanie on the Shore

Melanie on the Shore

The Buildings around the Park were very interesting , first thing that sprung to mind seeing this one was ‘Ghostbusters’ ! 

Who ya gonna Call ?

Who ya gonna Call ?

There was a reason for the visit to this area , not to look at the building which has been in the news since we arrived on Friday , not to admire the home of the Provincial Government (now dissolved for an election ) but to pay homage to the building that is featured on the cover of my favourite Album by Canadian Rock Gods Rush , Moving Pictures ! 

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

Legislative Assembly of Ontario

There was one more thing to do before departing the city for the airport , i’d been told to try a Canadian Legend while here by a few people and i finally got around to it and boy i’m glad i did , Tim Hortons Coffee !

Tim Hortons !

Tim Hortons !

It was one of the best Coffees i’ve ever had and it went down well with the Chocolate Donut ! We headed back to the Hotel , picked up our cases and got a Town Car to the Airport . Remember the earlier story about the security check at Manchester ? Well Toronto was exactly the opposite , joking and laughing , good hearted banter – take note Manchester, even when i set off the Alarm with my belt (Stop laughing Ashok !) We settled down in the Bar / Restaurant next to our gate and had a bite to eat and a drink . Interesting Concept at this place , ordering everything through the iPads mounted on the Table , just a shame in the land of Blackberry they weren’t Playbooks !

Our Plan awaits....

Our Plane awaits….

So at 20 to Midnight we departed Toronto for our overnight flight back to Manchester…….

Once again many thanks to Johanna and Charles for the invite and their fantastic Hospitality and welcome , you made this a special 5 Days for us ! And of course the City and People of Toronto for giving us a great , great time , Slainte !  

All the Photos are available to view at Flickr
Melanie has Photos available to view on her own Flickr Page

Islay Visits…… Go West to Toronto ! Pt1

Last September we were just starting to plan our 2014 visits to Islay when a rather intriguing e-mail popped into our inbox from Johanna Ngoh inviting us to take part in the 2014 Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala , needless to say we accepted and this is our little adventure……..

The first thing i needed to do was get a passport as i have never had one (never been out of the UK ) and that was an experience and a half ! I had to go down to the local office in Durham for an “interview” (not an interrogation as they said at arrival…..) , it is a weird interview , a friendly , nicey nicey interrogation , basically trying to catch you out for being not what you say you are .

So to the trip , our flight was from Manchester , so after work on the 30th April we drove down to spend a night in a hotel beside the Airport .

Thursday 1st May 

The day of departure , my first flight ! I have to say departing from an Airport is not as good as fun as departing from Kennacraig ! Checking in was ok but the people at the security security check really need to lighten up ! (check out the end…..) Why so surly ? We were flying with Air Transat so headed off to our gate to await departure , on the way we stopped off at World of Whiskies and wasn’t impressed with selection or price , i can pick up The Signet for £110 at my local Tesco !

So to my first flight…… I wasn’t too nervous but any nerves i did have vanished as soon as we got into the air , i really enjoyed the take off (i did love roller coasters as a kid…..) and seeing the world from up in the air was fantastic . The Cabin crew on Air Transat were Fantastic and even though the flight was over 7 hours it (excuse the pun….) flew over…..

We arrived at Pearson Mid afternoon and headed for the customs clutching our Declaration form , i thought this bit would be fun , (a) seeing if our bottles had made it through baggage handling and (b) seeing how customs would react to 10 bottles of Single Malt Whisky ? (a) they did and (b) they weren’t particularly bothered or interested ! Just one question for seasoned travellers , is it always such a long walk from the arrival gate to exit  of the airport ? We decided to get a limo from the Airport to the Hotel as it was only $5 more and you may as well arrive in style ! The first view of Toronto are stunning , the Skyscrapers along the Lake Shore , our driver was great , pointing things out and giving us tips for the trip .

We arrived at our Hotel for the stay and we have to say photos don’t do it justice , we were staying at the Fairmont Royal York opposite Union Station……

(Click on photos to see full size )

Fairmont Royal York

We were both trying to think of a way to describe it , sort of ‘Pretty Woman’ meets 1930’s glamourous Hollywood movie hotel  place , Amazing is a pretty good word as well !

Fairmont ReceptionYou get the most beautiful of people stopping here as well…….

Melanie in the Reception area

We were originally staying on the 2nd floor but due to a lack of hot water in the room got moved to the 13th floor on the Friday , it was a bit of a shame as we had a nice view out of the window…..

2014_05_01_View-from-the-Window 

After we freshened up we headed down to one of the many bars in the Hotel to have a drink and a bite to eat , we ended up in The Piper’s Gastropub , Melanie got to try her first Ontario wine ( Crush Pinot Grigio ) and i got to try my first Canadian Whisky (Collingwoods) , Melanie went for the Royal York’s Signature ½ Pound Beef Burger and i went for the Bison Burger , they were , as our American friends would say , Awesome . It was at this point we realised that we were effectively eating after midnight UK time . We have to say the service was fantastic here , the waitress went beyond the call of duty , when she asked us if we wanted dessert Melanie asked about one she’d dropped off at the next table , it was a special the chef done for that regular customer , we decided to pass but 10 minutes later she returned with one……

Pudding   

It was a Chocolate Moose in a Chocolate Cup , Chocolate Ice Cream in a Chocolate Shell served with fresh fruit and a chocolate sauce , How good was it ?

10 mins later

A Few mins Later…..

We then headed up to Library Bar for a drink , while sitting there we got a text from Johanna saying her and Charles were meeting Angus Macraild in the Library bar for a drink…. They were just next to us ! After a good old natter and a few more drinks we called it a night , it was actually the next morning for us (4am UK) and headed back to our room .

Friday 2nd May

Our first full day in Toronto , after a bit of a leisurely lie in we went off for a bit of an  exploration , first off down to the Shore then slightly west via the CN Tower to the Theatre District and finally caught a cab to the Distillery District .

CN Tower

CN Tower

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

Sculpture at the Rogers Centre

The Distillery District was a beautiful area , lots of great shops and places to eat .

Melanie at the Distillery District Distillery District

In the Distillery District

In the Distillery District

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

A Spot of Lunch in Pure Spirit

We had Lunch in the Pure Spirit Oyster House and Grill, a very nice bar , luckily we just managed to order lunch before the electricity went off in the District , they did still managed to serve us , we both went for the Pure Spirits Pappardelle (lobster, wild mushrooms, black truffle cream sauce ) and a glass of the Local wine .

Melanie two drinks !

Don’t know where she got this idea from ?

Lunch !

Lunch !

Lunch was superb and the service was excellent (this seems to be the standard in Toronto , maybe most of the UK hospitality trade should take note…..) . After another wander around the area we headed back to the Hotel to change rooms and get ready for a meal out with Johanna and Charles . Not only were we moved it appeared we’d been upgraded room wise……

The Bedroom

The Bedroom

The Lounge Area

The Lounge Area

The Bedroom and Lounge area were now separate and we now had two bathrooms ! After a freshen up we met up with Johanna and Charles who took us to The Keg for a bite to eat with Angus and our old friend Ashok . I went for a 10oz Prime Rib and Melanie went for the Grilled Shrimp , i was surprised how rare looking it was even though i’d asked for medium but it was pure melt in the mouth steak . After much drinking and talking we all headed back to our hotels for ‘Show Day’ .

Saturday 3rd May – Showtime ! 

I’d had a bit of a restless night worrying about my first ever presentation in front of an audience so to relax we done a bit of exploration to the north of the hotel via Osgoode House and the City Hall – where there appeared to be some filming going on and preparations for the next days Marathon .

Melanie at Osgoode House

Melanie at Osgoode House

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

An LCBO Brown Paper bag

After a visit to one of the Legendary LCBO shops We hit a Red Lobster for a spot of lunch , Melanie went for the Ultimate Feast and i went for the Fire-Grilled Lobster, Shrimp and Scallops , We love our seafood and this place is the ‘clachan a choin’ ! We headed back to our hotel to prepare for the Whisky Gala……

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So it was time ! We were picked up from the hotel and taken to the Roy Thomson Hall , i have to say it is a pretty impressive place to have a Whisky Festival ! First up Johanna gave us a tour of the venue showing us where the Islay Lounge would be and then took us down to the room where our Masterclass would be . We spent an hour setting up and then we were ready !

Waiting for the Masterclass

Waiting for the Masterclass

Melanie surveying the scene

Melanie surveying the scene

The Line up !

The Line up !

Gordon at SoT 2014

 

(Photo Courtesy of Johanna Ngoh © Spirit of Toronto )

Johanna introduced us to the Room  and then the First Dram she’d sneaked in , I actually thought it was a Bowmore but it turned out to be a 1950’s White Horse Blend ! No one got it ! We then went onto the Drams i’d fetched across for the tasting , the first 4 were known but i kept the 5th Blind , The format was Johanna introduced each one , then i talked a little about what each dram meant to me and why i’d included it , Melanie interjected with a few personal stories of what different places meant to her on Islay . One person got the blind bottle but we’re not including him as he is a Malt Maniac ! you little cheat Nabil , LOL !

The full line up for the Masterclass was….

  • 1950’s White Horse Blend
  • SMOS 1979 28yo Bunnahabhain
  • Signatory 1978 23yo Port Ellen
  • Ardbeg 1976 27yo Sherry cask 2398
  • My own 4yo Port Charlotte Bloodtub R23

I have to say the hour absolutely flew over ! I thoroughly enjoyed it in the end , i think having Johanna and Melanie at my side helped an awful lot ! The room seemed to enjoy it as well !! We moved upstairs into the Islay Lounge with the remains of these bottles and added a few more……

  • Ardbeg ‘Very Young’ Committee Release
  • Bruichladdich ‘Drambusters’ Valinch 1990 16yo
  • Whiskybroker ‘Islay Malt’ 1990 21yo (Bunnahabhain)
  • Bladnoch Forum Caol Ila 1980 30yo
  • Laphroaig 10yo Caskstrength Batch 005

To say they went down well was an understatement ! We met lots of people from the social media sites including a long time friend from the SOI days , Wendy Harker , glad to finally see you in person Wendy ! We were looking after half the Islay Lounge so i didn’t get a chance to look at the other half , there was also a Whisky and Oyster bar and they seemed to be doing a roaring trade serving fresh oysters with Islay Malts .

Our Supplies ran out with over an hour to go so we got a chance to explore the show and have a bite to eat (great food Johanna !) , we met up with Ashok as well and had a dram with him and Wendy and also got a small gift off Wendy , Some Canadian Bacon for a post show snack (was delicious ) and some Maple Syrup to take home , many thanks Wendy .

Ashok at the show

Ashok at the Show

Relaxing

Relaxing at the show

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

The Geordie Nation at Spirit of Toronto

Friends of Amrut !

Friends of Amrut with our Leader !

Thanks to Ashok for the photo !

Though i didn’t manage to try many drams i have to say the Gibsons 18yo was outstanding (a bottle was later purchased….) , well worth hunting down . After the show we headed back to the Fairmont for a post show drink with Johanna , Charles and Angus then headed off to bed for a well earned rest !

I have to thank Johanna and Charles for inviting us over for their excellent Whisky Gala and giving us the chance to share our love of Islay , you have a fantastic show Guys !!!! Also thanks to everyone one at the show for making us feel so welcome and all the kind words expressed to us during the show and later on Facebook and Twitter , i’m glad i didn’t balls it up !

More photos may be published here when i scrounge or pinch them (kidding about the latter !)

To Part Two, the touristy bit  

Islay Visits goes West……. Even More Further West Than Usual !

Since last September we’ve been hiding a big secret !

Let me explain….. As everyone knows we spend every possible holiday on Islay , usually a weeks break in the Spring around about May time , our two week Summer vacation and sometimes a long weekend in the autumn/winter .Our friends who know this have been puzzled by the fact when we’ve been asked when we’re back we’ve been saying not until summer (a long time no visit for us !) and when they’ve wondered why we haven’t been able to tell them causing more bewilderment ! And what perplexed them even more was when i said i’d applied for my first passport , 2 and 2 were put together and 5 was arrived at . So lets go back to September…….

We were about to book our two stays , the Spring one at the start of May and the Summer one slightly earlier than normal in the middle of July , We couldn’t get our normal summer place – Maol Buidhe – as the owners take it then so we went for a new place Lyrabus Croft Cottage just outside of Bridgend . We were about to Book a place in Port Ellen for the spring trip when an interesting e-mail arrived in my inbox from a distant land .

It was from the organiser of a Whisky Festival , She’d really enjoyed reading about our adventures on Islay over the years , 2014 was the 10th Anniversary of their Whisky Festival and they were planning on having an Islay theme , She was wondering if Melanie and myself would be interested in being Special Guests at the event and host an Islay Whisky Lounge ?

Now to say we were slightly shocked was an understatement , this type of thing never happens to us , people offering to fly us half way round the world and have us as Special Guests . We’re not Whisky Icons like a few i could name !

So after letting it sink in for a while , we replied to Johanna taking up her terrific offer of being guests at The 10th Anniversary of the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala in Canada !

So a few firsts in May for me , First trip out of mainland UK , First Flight , First time using a Passport , First time being a Special Guest at a Whisky Festival ! Good job i’ve got Melanie to keep me right !!!!  

So the next “Islay Visit” will be from Toronto , i’m still classing it as an Islay Visit as it’s about Islay and it’s Whisky ! We’ll be taking some Classic Islay Whisky along with us to sample In the Islay Whisky Lounge as we talk about all things Islay and tell the good people about the wonderful piece of Heaven we love off the West Coast of Scotland ! 

We’ve also found out since that a good friend of ours will be there exhibiting , so it’ll be good to see Ashok there !  

A Link to the Spirit of Toronto Whisky Gala Site