Preview of Jamie Kennedy's Summer Tastings on the Terrace with the Balvenie

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Last night I had the privilege of attending an exclusive preview of Jamie Kennedy's Summer Tastings on the Terrace with the Balvenie at the Gardiner Ceramic Museum in Toronto. Located on the 3rd floor of the Ceramic Museum the Terrace offers a magnificent view of Queen's Park North, the Royal Ontario Museum and unobstructed sunlight.

Balvenie@theGardiner 020.jpgUpon entry I was met with the smoothed-out sounds of jazz and light piano music over the P.A.  while servers distributed a refreshing sparkling blueberry drink; which I suspect was just Perrier and pureed blueberries. As guests steadily made their way into the waiting area we were treated to smoked white fish and chive canapes, lamb and spinach meatballs (thoughtfully delivered on skewers as they were quite fatty), and pork liver pate with prune compote on crispy wafers.

Balvenie@theGardiner 004.jpgFinally, the doors opened and I beheld three serving stations and legions of pre-poured flights of Balvenie. Immediately I seized upon the one of three Balvenie's I had yet to try: the 15yr Single Barrel.

Balvenie@theGardiner 006.jpgApproaching cask strength at 47% it had a light mouthfeel with an uncommon heat at 15yrs. Notes of oak and heather-honeyed sweetness on the nose. Honeyed malt on the palate with a strong oak presence. I must confess I'm not a big fan of this variation of the Balvenie.

As I sipped, the reps from Balvenie explained that their choice of Jamie Kennedy as the Summer Tastings chef was based on his committment to local craftsmanship and his work ethic, both of which are shared by the Balvenie. Balvenie has a definite sense of pride in the fact that it grows its own barley, malts its own own traditional floor maltings, has coopers to tend the casks and a coppersmith to tend to the stills.

Jamie admitted that prior to this experience he was unfamiliar with how to pair whisky and food preferring to stay with the tried and true wine pairings. However, after tonight's samplings I think he's got a good grasp of it! Later in the evening I cornered the charismatic chef and asked him how long it took him to suss out the appropriate pairings, and in a seemingly off-hand manner he quipped that it took him "about two days."

First up, was the "British Columbian Spot Prawn Bisque with Tangle of Prawn and Greens" paired with the Balvenie DoubleWood: matured first in traditional oak casks then finished in sherry casks - very aromatic with sweet fruit and nutty sherry notes with dominant sherry on the palate smoothed out with oaky vanilla and honeyed sweetness before a long lingering raisin-like finish.Balvenie@theGardiner 011.jpgThe tangle of greens was spinach and collard greens and despite the fact that the brown and aromatic bisque had NO whisky in it, it paired quite well. The bisque served as a palate pleasing bridge picking up the nutty tones of the whisky.

Next, I ventured over to the Grilled Oysters with Sweet and Sour Chive Mignonette where Newfoundland's native son Rick Mercer was heartily enjoying the pairing with the Balvenie 15yr Single Barrel. Not being a huge fan of oysters I approached this pairing with a critical palate. However, I was once again won over by the combination. The minerality of the oysters seemed to bring out another dimension of the whisky that I had originally missed. A splash of water to the malt seemed to help this pairing quite a bit and the complexity of the oyster dish and the malt was inoffensive and I found myself wishing for another sampling, however there were none to be had.

Balvenie@theGardiner 010.jpgHoping to avoid a similar disappointment I quickly made my way to the last station manned by JK himself.

Balvenie@theGardiner 009.jpg While in line I compared notes with Glen and Julie Powell of Le Gourmet TV, who were both equally impressed with JK's pairings, before sampling the final dish: Crispy pain d'epices (spiced bread) with seared duck liver and candied apple in cider. At first I envisioned a savory spiced bread yet I was delightfully surprised to find that instead the bread was more like a fruitcake and seasoned with allspice, which paired amazingly with the Balvenie Signature Malt 12yr: A strong bourbon aroma tempered by nutty sherry notes - very rich. Long honeyed sweetness on the palate with sherry and an extended warm and lingering finish.

The sweet apple and spiced bread provided a great bridge for the whisky and the fattyness of the duck liver was an inspired antidote to the astringency of the whisky. All in all, this was THE pairing of the night. So much texture, flavour, and wonderful complexity here. I had to go back twice to revel in the flavours! :)

Balvenie@theGardiner 018.jpgAs I chowed on my second helping of duck liver I bumped into Ed Patrick, President of the  International Order of Companions of the Quaich. After introducing myself, I asked what he thought of the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Glen Breton to keep the "Glen" prefix. He replied that the Scotch Whisky Association was being silly and that Nova Scotia had just as many glens as Scotland and shouldn't be punished for it. Moreover, he chastised the SWA for introducing the term "Blended malt" changing the labelling from Vatted or Pure Malt. Simply put, a Vatted or Blended Malt contains no grain whisky, whereas a traditional blend contains a combination of malt and grain whisky. In any case, he added, that while they sought to alleviate confusion in the market they've been responsible for quite a bit of it!

Overall I was tremendously pleased with the event, the pairings were terrific, the servers were attentive and the whisky flowed freely. IMHO teaming whisky with food is very difficult as the distinctive characteristics of single malts tend to either overwhelm the food or conversely get lost in the food's flavours. Kudos to the chef!

This is a great venue and concept. I highly recommend that you take advantage of this limited time offer to visit the Gardiner on a Friday night beginning June 26 - August 28.

And yes I can hear you thinking: "But what was in the Schwag Bag Ryan?"

A beautifully hand-crafted journal by Rustico Leather with 96 rough-cut pages hand-sewn to top-grain leather to be filled with my tasting notes. Awesome.

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