Upon walking into Via Allegro, be sure to look left, but be equally sure to mind your jaw lest it fall agape at the sight you will behold. For it is there that Toronto's most impressive tower of whisky resides. This is the domain of manager Joseph Cassidy and it is his philosophy that governs the approximately 750 whiskies on hand.
However, rather than attempting to provide everything under the sun, Joseph aims to ensure that it is the unique bottles that have primacy of place stating that "the whiskies must represent the individual regions that they come from and still be unique". To ensure this, private bottlings and cask strength whiskies are a key focus as there is "a different flavour in each bottle, and one that can't be easily found again". It is this philosophy that has resulted in Via Allegro winning Whisky Magazine's "Supreme Whisky Award" for having the best whisky list in the world.
Our purpose for attending this Etobicoke establishment was to attend an all Speyside tasting courtesy of Joseph and Diageo. A flight of six of the region's finest were on offer on this day.
First up was Cardhu which was successfully paired with a wood smoked gouda; the dried apricot notes and dry finish of the whisky playing well against the creamy texture and nutty body of the cheese, further reinforcing my stance that the time has come for whisky to replace wine at the bookends of a meal.
Following this was the Glen Elgin 12 year old with its faint nose of white chocolate and honey and smooth, lightly smokey palate featuring a near perfect amount of salt and peat. It is truly a shame that this single malt is not available for personal purchase in Ontario, as it certainly has a place on my shelf once I can locate a bottle.
Now came the time for the chef to begin flexing his cullinary muscle as Cragganmore's 12 year old single malt was expertly paired with one of the finest risotti I have ever had. Here the saltiness and ripe fruits of the whisky played perfectly against the earthiness of the mushroom and mascarpone risotto, serving to heighten the flavours of each, while simultaneously cleansing the palate in preparation for the accompanying pairing. For this was a fine one-two punch of whiskies and food, as the plate also carried a seared sea scallop adorned with a lightly wilted fennel salad to be paired Johnnie Walker's Green Label blended malt. For those who don't know, this blend is comprised of Cragganmore, Caol Ila, and Linkwood, and as such it was the floral notes of the Linkwood which worked well against the fennel while the salt and iodine of the other components played off the scallop to pleasant effect.
After a brief break in the action it was time for the star attraction of the day: a whole pressed roast lamb paired with an elusive 28 year old cask strength Convalmore. Bottled in 1977 and hitting hard at 57.9% ABV, the nose of explosive vanilla, honey, and heather combined with the gamey and herbacious aromas eminating from the lamb to devastating effect on my resolve, leaving me salivating at near Pavlovian proportions. Upon tucking in, the spice, smoke and lightly viscous nature of the Convalmore paired perfectly with the expertly roasted lamb, while its dry, faintly smokey finish left the most delightful lingering notes of black cherry and almonds on the palate. Truly a treat, and exactly the kind of joy one hopes to find when pairing whisky with food.
The closer for the flight was Johnnie Walker's Blue Label blended malt. While reaffirming my belief that it is worth nowhere near its pricetag, the sweet, orange peel notes of this blend provided an excellent finish to the flight, leaving the palate cleansed in spite of the somewhat muddled flavours it has to offer. Thankfully for yours truly, one of the members of Scotchblog.ca was unable to attend, allowing me to round out my day with one more dram of the Convalmore.
All in all, this was easily the best way to spend a Saturday afternoon: sampling a sextet of Speyside's finest paired with some of Toronto's best Italian cuisine while enjoying the encyclopedic knowledge and convivial company of Joseph Cassidy. In closing, I must point out that if there is a specific whisky you hope to find, be certain to call ahead and inquire as to its availability when making your reservation, as the most unqiue bottles typically see their time on the shelf last less than a month. That said, even if you don't find exactly the whisky you are hunting for, be sure to ask for Joseph's advice as you will most certainly be presented with a malt and experience to remember. Thus, do not wait to make your arrangements to attend Via Allegro, as I for one cannot wait until I make my return to continue working my way through the list.