I’ve been meaning to dedicate a post to the in-store tastings at the SAQ Signature (Québec’s liquor board stores). I’ve only attended a few thus far but I firmly believe they provide an essential service, especially for those who are not part of a scotch club or don’t always have the money to fork out for larger tasting events (and to be truthful those aren’t always an ideal setting).
Most sessions do not require a reservation and cost between 10-20$ at which you can sample anywhere between 3 to 5 offerings and these type of sessions exist across all products, so there are tastings for rum, gin, whisky and wine. There is usually a table set with a tray of fresh copita style glasses, water pitchers and a spittoon, an on the other side the discard glasses. The atmosphere is very much like a 5 à 7 (cocktail hour) relaxed, hang-out style, it’s actually kind of fun to see a bunch of people gathered around drinking scotch around the massive inventory of the Signature SAQ location.
That said it’s not perfect
- The spittoons are placed on the same table in such close proximity to people being served drinks that trying to use it gracefully is impossible. Granted the portions aren’t huge but still, I think use of the spittoon would be more open if placed elsewhere.
- On two of the three tastings I attended, I was discouraged from using fresh glasses for each serving. While I understand the logistics involved especially when offering 4-5 different products this created 2 problems. It’s hard to make sure you remove all traces of the previous whisky using only water provided from the pitcher. Second if you do managed to rinse the glass well you still end up with water in it that dilutes your next whisky meaning you don’t get a neutral start. It’s a state run store, and they provide this service across all kinds of events, having loads of glasses should be an easy enough thing to accomplish and shouldn’t be such a burden.
- Space, as much as I love the standing around having a cocktail atmosphere, it does get cramped, it’s hard to navigate, sometimes people bum-rush the table. There isn’t much room to take notes, also you have people coming to shop as well so you are constantly worried if you should get out of people’s way. It would be great if they cleared space in the cellar downstairs for it it would make more sense.
- From what I gather these tastings are a way to showcase new or future releases but so far there have been a couple of occasions (Laphroaig Cairdeas for example), where some of the bottles sampled we’re no longer available for sale in store, defeating that purpose.
Let’s end on the positives:
- The ability to taste expensive whisky at an affordable price, this is an expensive hobby full of unknowns, this provides you a rare opportunity that no bar could offer you at the same price point
- Great selection, so far rather the whisky on offer has been rather varied, last tasting had Jura, Glenmorangie, Caol Ila and Laphroaig.
- Staff friendliness, I have to say despite my apprehension for the SAQ’s model as well as the seeming random way in which they provide choice to consumers . The in-store staff is incredibly nice and accommodating and this is generally true of most locations.
- The ability to bring seemingly random people together, truly this is the one of the top things for me, I’ve seen , young, old, businessmen, blue collar workers and indie rock nerds (girl in the Swervedriver shirt, I would have asked you to marry me 12 years ago). On my first tasting two older women shot the shit with me about whisky and asked me questions about what we we’re tasting. They probably would not have done so in a different setting.
I hope this reaches some people who have been curious about these events and how they go down. I hope to see some folks there.
P.S. To the guy in the red coat in my photo. I’m sorry you moved into the shot last minute and I didn’t want to weird anyone out and take more photo’s if you’re offended let me know I’ll take the photo down.