“I don’t buy any funny stuff at $300 (£128) a bottle because I can’t sell it at these prices,” says Ian pragmatically. “We’ve got about 212 whiskies right now. By the time you leave, it might be 230. I’m just waiting to hear about some real crackers
coming in.”When it comes to the ordering and purchasing of fine single malts, or any quality alcohol beverage in Ontario, waiting is something publicans like Innes know only too well. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is the government-run organisation that decides, for the most part, what is available to consumers and licencees alike. As the largest single purchaser of beverage alcohol in the world they are in the very lucrative business of acquiring fine wine, spirits and beer from more than 60 countries for the province of Ontario. But, like any governmental agency, things do not happen with any haste. “They’re just so slow, that’s my biggest problem with the LCBO,” says Ian. “That and the fact that UDV (United Distillers & Vintners), the biggest producers of single malts, only seem to concentrate on core brands [in terms of marketing] and don’t really pay much attention to lesser-known products.”“I’ve had lots of difficulties with UDV. If it wasn’t for independents, like Signatory, I wouldn’t have any unusual whiskies,” he says, referring to Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky, an independent whisky merchant, founded in 1988, that specializes in single malts, many cask strength, from current, dormant or closed distilleries. One of the most attractive things offered by the Feathers is the monthly single malt tasting evenings. Crowds of 50 or more sign up for these events which cost about $35 and will include tastings of 10 whiskies that will share a common denominator such as cask strength, a new import or malts from defunct distilleries. “I call them Whisky Challenges, not so much tastings,” points out Ian. “Everyone receives a sheet with the names and descriptions of the whiskies and their designate of Lowland, Highland and Island categories. Participants earn three points for correctly identifying each whisky and one point if the region is correct. Scotch nosings can be so boring, but this way everybody learns something, tastes some great malts and has a bit of fun.”For something completely different and unique, head for Allen’s, Toronto’s New York-style Irish bar owned and operated by the equally unique John Maxwell. A native New Yorker, Maxwell came to Toronto in 1979, from London, England where he lived for more than 10 years. He taught English, before working as the manager of the Joe Allen bar in London. “I had my first serious whiskey experience with Bellows Partners Choice, a blended American whiskey,” Maxwell recalls. “When I came to Toronto I opened the Joe Allen bar and decided to offer an extensive selection. We started with 40 whiskies.” In 1987, Maxwell opened Allen’s on the Danforth, an east end neighbourhood, and has enjoyed a loyal following ever since. Perhaps because of his American roots, or more likely because of his wide-ranging interest in the subject, Maxwell stocks the city’s most comprehensive selection of bourbons which, along with the finest Scottish single malts, Irish whiskies and Canadian ryes, makes Allen’s, without question, Toronto’s best all-round whisky bar. His Canadian ryes include the phenomenal Tangle Ridge Double Casked 10 Year Old, reputed to be Canada’s only 100 per cent rye whisky, Hudson’s Bay Royal Charter 12 Year Old, and bourbons like Ancient Age Barrel 107 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky and Old Rip Van Winkle Handmade Bourbon (107 proof), Booker’s and Eagle Rare 10 Year Old. Maxwell dubs Ireland’s Jameson his everyday drinking Irish whiskey for its unbeatable value. Asked about his Scottish favourites, Maxwell gets lyrical. “I’d choose Lagavulin for the same reason. But I’m also mad about the Irish Connemara, Tyrconnell and the 12-year-old Redbreast. For a special treat, I have a few heralded favourites, the Longmorn 15-year-old and if I was on a desert island, give me a case of my favourite Islay malt, Caol Ila 1974, 22-year-old. It’s subtle, sophisticated, not an unrelenting blast of the sea, beautifully moderated by other flavours and notes.” he says. Subtle, sophisticated? That’s a fair comment on Allen’s itself.