Malt Maniacs, Canadian Food Blog Awards, & Happy 2011
Happy New Year?Yes, Indeed!. . . please, indulge me.Since 1998 I have been one in a group of friends who are crazy mad about whisky. As with so many whisky fanatics in the late ‘90s, our interest soon drew us together on the internet. The whisky web was still in its infancy then. Blogs were unknown and websites were few and far between, so we started our own, enjoying the excitement of sharing views, tasting notes, and newfound “knowledge” with each other and our growing readership. And it was Scotch single malts, all the way. Publicly we eschewed blends, bourbons, and Canadians, although I suspect, even back then there were secret subversive sippers among us.From the beginning, the Malt Maniacs, as we called ourselves, was an international collective that coalesced around maltmadness.com, the website of Dutch malt fanatic, Johannes van den Heuvel. What began as a conversation among Johannes; New Yorker, Louis Perlman; and Australian, Craig Daniels, soon counted Krishna Nukala in India, Klaus Everding in Germany, Serge Valentin in Alsace, Ho-cheng Yao in Taiwan, and a whole band of others, including me, as participants. We met in Scotland four or five times, sharing drams and competing to find and provide the best whiskies for our tasting sessions. That was our goal: to find and share the best. And always, “the best,” meant Scotch.We looked for guideposts, but soon grew tired of buying new, “award winning” whiskies only to find they couldn’t hold a candle to many in our own collections. Something was wrong. So, about eight years ago we had the audacity to launch a new whisky competition. For those inaugural awards, we extended invitations to all the Scottish distilleries, and low and behold, some 67 bottles arrived for us to "pass judgment" on. Terrifying! But a dozen of us worked through them, and found some true gems. Then we told people about them on our website, maltmaniacs.org.We could not have imagined the reaction. Within a couple of years, whiskies no one had ever heard of began to sell out on the strength of our awards. Like the World Whisky Awards, and a couple of other competitions that began around the same time, we did everything we could to maintain the integrity of our competition and in so doing managed to tap into pent-up consumer demand for impartial opinion. The Malt Maniacs Awards have been so well received that to keep them manageable, we now have to limit entry to a maximum of 3 whiskies per producer - and we receive single malt whiskies from all over the world.All over the world, hmmm. “The naivety of those Irish, Japanese, Indians, and Taiwanese (!!??),” we thought, “trying to compete with the Scots.” But then a funny thing happened. The Irish won a few medals. And so did the Japanese, the Indians, and the Taiwanese. In fact, in our blind tastings, twelve judges confirmed that some of these whiskies simply blew many Scotch single malts out of the water. Oh, there were great Scotches too; fabulous ones in fact, but Kavalan, Amrut, and Yamazaki were right up there with them. Suddenly it was OK to like non-Scottish whisky. And I mean really like it. Building on the momentum of interest in foreign ‘Scotch’ I began devoting more tasting time to Canadian whisky.Six months ago, canadianwhisky.org came on line. Among other things, the website unreservedly celebrates the very best in Canadian whisky while offering honest opinions to help readers find Canadian whiskies that suit their palates. I am the face of the site, but it really is the work of three people. You can read about me on the aptly named “About Me” page, but that won’t tell you about programmer-extraordinaire, Jamie Pold, who is responsible for all the little technical bells and whistles that keep the site working and simple. In fact, he’s probably in there tweaking right now, as you read this. And designer Greg Cosgrove, a self-employed graphic artist, designed and developed the site, choosing colours, layouts, and searching his library to find an appropriate typeface. He also prepared all the graphics for our inaugural Canadian Whisky Awards. Yes, we’re a team, but I get all the props.Why do I tell you this? Because right now Greg, Jamie and I are totally stoked on the fact that our fun little project has itself been nominated for an award. That’s right, the folks at Canada’s Beer and Buttertarts website have nominated canadianwhisky.org for a Canadian Food Blogs Award. And suddenly I know why all those distillers get so excited about their Malt Maniacs awards. Not only have we been nominated, but we have made it to the finals as one of only five blogs competing in the wine and spirits category. And it’s the names of the other competitors that make us feel that in being nominated we’ve already achieved something worth shouting about.Billy Munelly, with his Billy’s Best Bottles has a long and strong reputation among the wine cognoscenti. Edmonton wine writer, Melissa Priestly, takes readers on an erudite jaunt from Okanagan rattlesnake country to Peruvian pisco stills in her voluminous Cellar Door blog. “Wine Made Simple” is the motto of Jesse Willis and Jeff Jamieson’s Vine Arts Enterprise, a Calgary wine blog that strays into beer and spirits from time to time. And Japhet Bower takes “a non-pretentious, slightly profane approach when it comes to reporting on booze” on The Jolly Inebriate.I didn’t know the protocol for nominees. Immediately I wanted to brag about our nomination but given how vociferously the Malt Maniacs have decried those who try to influence awards, I was unsure how to proceed. To influence the results was certainly not my intent. A note from awards administrator, Sheryl Kirby, assured me that the judges would ignore anything I might say before the winners are announced. “You are more than welcome to write something about the awards and your nomination,” she told me. “All of the category winners (with the exception of People's Choice) will be determined by a panel of judges, and the judges will not be revealed until the judging is complete, so there is no way that reader support for your blog would make a difference in terms of the final outcome.”OK Sheryl, I’m taking you at your word and assume I won’t be shooting myself in the foot by letting readers at canadianwhisky.org know that they should check out each of these blogs, nor by revealing that among the nominees, my pick for Wine and Spirits Blog of the Year would go, but by just a hair, to Melissa Priestly’s Cellar Door. But honestly, a win by any of these blogs will contribute to the credibility and prestige of the awards themselves. From Greg, Jamie, and me, thank you for nominating us. Links to all the wine and spirits nominees will take over part of the homepage links on canadianwhisky.org for the next week or so.To all those readers and bloggers who have supported our website over the past six months, a huge thank you to you as well, along with best wishes for the New Year. Response to our website has exceeded all expectations and our own inaugural Canadian Whisky Awards have themselves, generated tremendous response. We’re certainly starting off 2011 on the right foot with this nomination. Look for more from canadianwhisky.org, this year, mostly because there’s a wealth of big new whiskies coming from Canadian whisky producers in 2011. And now, we’re more motivated than ever to get the word out.Happy New Year, and cross your fingers for us!