A night out for double-fisted drinkers
Ninth annual Hopscotch Festival aims to please fans of both whisk(e)y and beer
by Kate Zimmerman for Vancouver Sun: In Good Spirits column

It must be a pretty good job, jetting from metropolis to metropolis as “global brand ambassador” for the best spirit in the world. The 18-year-old Single Malt Highland Park Whisky, from Scotland’s remote Orkney, received that designation in July from the 2005 Spirit Journal. “Ambassador” Gerry Tosh is charged with making sure everybody knows about it.

Tosh conversed with the Sun last week by e-mail from the Marriott Hotel in Moscow, where it was minus 2 and snowing. This week, he’s here in the flesh (and, likely, the rain) to promote whisky generally and his company’s products in particular as part of Hopscotch 2005, Vancouver’s whisky and premium beer festival.

The nine-year-old festival takes place Friday at Rocky Mountaineer Vacations Station, 1755 Cottrell Street, and is expected to draw at least 1,800 people. Satellite events took place this week and included Tosh giving a seminar on “Whisky and Women.”

So I wrote to him, “I’m a woman, and I’m not a scotch fan. Persuade me.”

Tosh knew it wouldn’t be easy to pour me a seductive glass all the way from Moscow. Yet he persisted.

“Scotch for me has everything you'd want from a spirit,” he wrote. “It has history. Highland Park was started in 1798 by a man called Magnus Eunson. He was a priest and would make whisky illegally and then hide the casks under the pulpit of his church. (Scotch) has tales of smuggling, murder, love and perseverance. It has extreme variation in flavours from the super smoky Islays to the sweet and refined Speysides. But what I like best about scotch whisky is that most people who drink scotch can tell you a great story about why it’s their favourite.”

Tosh believes whisky choice comes down to individual taste. Far be it from him to claim that Canadian whiskey is inferior to the Scottish product, or even that scotch whisky must be drunk pure for a full appreciation of its virtues.

“I enjoy my whisky neat, with ice, with water or even in cocktails,” he wrote. “The connoisseurs would suggest that adding a splash of water helps open up the whisky by unveiling hidden aromas.”

One thing Tosh said definitively is that there is a crucial difference between whisky and wine tastings. “I throw people out of my tasting who spit my whisky out.”

Hopscotch is aimed at both the public and those in the business of booze-slinging. From 2 to 5 p.m. it’s a trade show where makers of beers and whiskies hawk their wares to people working in the hospitality industry. From 6 to 11 p.m., it’s open to the public and is meant as an educational event, “to spread the word about whisky,” said festival director Shelley Hamer-Jackson. Public speakers includeTosh on the wonders of whisky, Backwoods Brewing and Romy Prasad of Savory Coast Restaurant offering a food and beer pairing, and spokesmen from the beer consultant group Just Here For The Beer, discussing the history and sociology of beer in Canada.
Some might find the partnership of whisky and beer a strange brew. Hamer-Jackson, not surprisingly, doesn’t.

“They are very different products, but the people who are going to buy the scotch and drink the scotch are also going to buy the premium beers,” she explained.

Among those beers are the Christoffel Blond, voted best beer in the Netherlands for three years running; Hostan Premium Lager from Czechosolvakia, brewed since 1363 in Znojmo, Moravia; La Choulette Ambree Bière de Gard, which took 96 points in the World Beer Championships; and Young’s award-winning Double Chocolate Stout. Yes, you read that right.

Speaking of dessert brews, Tosh said “you have not lived” until you’ve tried Highland Park 25-year-old scotch with vanilla ice cream.

The $30 Hopscotch admission entitles visitors to five tasting tickets, copies of Whisky Magazine and Beers of the World magazine, and admission to the seminars. More information can be found at www.hopscotchfestival.com.

Just Here for the Beer

Beer consultant Colin Jack doesn’t need a brewski to loosen his tongue when it comes to his favourite topic.

That may make him a typical Canadian.

“Beer and Canadian society go hand-in-hand,” said Jack. “When people think about Canada, they think about hockey, maple syrup and beer.”

Jack and his partner, Zayvin Haqq, from the consulting group Just Here for the Beer, will happily elaborate at their public seminar Nov. 4 at Hopscotch, from 7:30 to 8. Just Here for the Beer consists of three beer sociologists, historians and beer lovers who give seminars and tastings. (See www.justhereforthebeer.com for details.)

Among the tidbits Jack and Haqq will spill is the fact that the beer round here dates back to the explorers -- the Vikings, the English and the French -- who were well-supplied because the minerals and vitamins in it were thought to combat scurvy.

The first Canucks were also the source of the country’s original micro-brews, said Jack -- the first thing settlers built when they arrived at their destinations were a church and a pub.

Here’s another nugget to mull over while waiting for the head to subside on your cold one: according to Jack, over 180,000 people in Canada are directly and indirectly employed by the brewing industry. They include not just bartenders and servers, he noted, but also the doctors, lawyers, police officers and exotic dancers whose work is fuelled by people who drink beer.

Bus it

A bus is being laid on for Hopscotch participants.

For $2 per person, the bus starts out at 5:30 Friday at the Irish Heather in Gastown, then proceeds to the Seabus terminal, Burrard Street Skytrain Station, Doolin’s Irish Pub at Granville and Nelson, the Library Square Pub, underneath the Vancouver Library, and then the Main St. Skytrain. It departs for the same spots from the Rocky Mountain Vacations Station at 10:30 p.m.

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