Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Years Old

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yRichOak14yo.jpgReleased in 2010, Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Years Old appeared in Duty Free shops and finally popped up on LCBO shelves last year. This limited run expression is Malt Master Brian Kinsman's experiment with virgin oak finishing techniques. 

Aged 14 years in ex-bourbon casks in the traditional manner,  the liquid is then finished for up to 12 weeks in new European oak before spending six weeks in new American oak and bottled at 40% ABV. This is a significant twist on Glenfiddich's finishing process which typically has the spirit finish in an ex-"something" casks, e.g. sherry, bourbon, port, or wine. In fact, this is the first virgin American and European oak double finished whisky in the world.
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Imagine my surprise seeing a bottle of Grant's labelled with a sticker bearing the words "A Travel Exclusive," that I had yet to try, on the shelf of a Duty Free kiosk at the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia?

"Finally," I thought, "something other than rummy Thai whisky or Johnnie Walker and Chivas!" Bending over to inspect the carton, I noticed the price: $17USD for a 1L bottle of the Distillery Edition of Grant's Blended Scotch Whisky. A quick scan of the shelves showed nothing else boasting that level of value from a brand I've historically known and loved. What's more, it's bottled at 46.3% ABV - higher than most other blends, including those from Grant's - and it's non chill-filtered; I was sold!

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

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irish_tee3.jpgTeeling Whisky is a relative newcomer to the Irish whiskey scene. Brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling "resurrected" their ancestral family brand in 2011 as a small batch craft distillery. In fact, theirs was the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. 

With corn making up the bulk of the mashbill, the single grain whiskey is distilled through a column still and, in a bold move, is fully matured in ex-Cabernet Sauvignon red wine barrels sourced from California. After an unspecified period of maturation, the non chill-filtered whiskey is bottled at 46% ABV.

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve

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It should come as no surprise to you, gentle reader, that we at ScotchBlog.ca are very fond of Forty Creek and it's ever-innovative whisky maker, John Hall. Since launching his distillery in 1992 he's brought new life to the Canadian Whisky landscape and has arguably been responsible, in large part, for its renewed interest among consumers.  His whisky even caught the attention of global drinks giant Gruppo Campari who purchased Forty Creek outright for a whopping $185.6 million with the condition that he stay on as Chairman and whisky-maker. In short, if you're not drinking Forty Creek whisky yet: what's wrong with you?

Fans of the brand are likely familiar with the Barrel Select and Double Barrel Reserve editions, but what about the Copper Pot Reserve? According to John Hall, "it's made in the same style as Barrel Select  but it's 'amped' up in flavour, delivering a bolder and richer taste profile."  The Copper Pot Reserve begins it's life as component grain spirits.  Corn, rye and barley spirits are distilled separately in a traditional copper pot still and then each spirit is aged in white oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years. After sufficient maturation it's time to mix and marry the blend. It is in the selection and blending of these separately aged barrels that this first generation whisky-maker's versatility and artistry shine. 

In addition to the "amped up flavours",  the Copper Pot Reserve also boasts a higher ABV of 43% compared to the other two, which are bottled at 40% ABV.

The GlenDronach 15 year old Tawny Port Finish

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I received this bottle of GlenDronach 15 year old Tawny Port Finish as a birthday gift from the SB crew. They know my tastes well, so when one of them saw the label notes describing a "fruit laden whisky to enliven the tastebuds" and dessert flavours:dried fruits, fine dark chocolate, "fruit shortcake drenched in vanilla custard;" there was no doubt that this would be my b-day bottle.

Released in 2011, this version was designed to replace the 20 year old variant and, as of last year, was replaced by the 18 year old edition. Suffice to say, there's been some experimentation with this finishing technique. Matured in European oak and finished in "the finest tawny port casks," the whisky is non chill filtered, of natural colour, and bottled at 46% A.B.V..

Since 1826, GlenDronach has produced scotch whisky in Forgue by Huntly near continuously with just a short, 6 year, break between 1996-2002 despite changing ownership half a dozen times. In 2008, the distillery was acquired by BenRiach whose Master Blender Billy Walker now performs double duty for the two distilleries. 

This past Saturday, January 24, 2015 I attended a Robbie Burns Day celebration hosted by Johnnie Walker at Toronto's majestic modern-day castle, Casa Loma. Upon arrival, guests were treated to 2 varieties of Johnnie Red-based cocktails with an inspired collection of hors d'oeuvres. Just before dinner, a pipe band struck up a tune and lead the procession of guests to the dining room where we were entertained by a troupe of Highland Dancers. 

As Emcee for the evening, the knowledgeable Mortlach Brand Ambassador Georgie Bell introduced each course and provided some tasting notes on the whisky pairing. Before long, the haggis was piped in followed by a toast to the "bard" and more dancing. We finished off the evening with a decadent chocolate course paired with my personal favourite of the Johnnie range, Gold label. 

I had a great time revisiting the Johnnie line, mingling with guests and, as you can surely tell from the pictures, the food was delicious. Thanks to Amy at North Strategic for the invitation.
 

Breaking the Status Quo at the LCBO

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During a three month period early last year, I'd been stopping by my local Liquor Control Board of Ontario store weekly, waiting patiently for new whisky releases. Each time I surveyed the shelves I was let down, finding that not only were there no new products to be found, but also that the shelves under the large words "single malt" were slowly becoming bare.

These sad few months inspired me to embark on a quest to understand why we in Ontario have the dubious honour of both paying some of the highest alcohol prices in the world as well as being unworthy of having year-round accessibility to unique and interesting whisky products. Let me start by saying that the results of my investigation have left me fuming over the disadvantaged position Ontarians are in.

While the LCBO is proud to show off the upsides of having a crown corporation provide booze to the citizens of Ontario, there can be no argument that consumers are losing out; both regarding the money from their pockets, and the products on the shelf. Full LCBO privatization is not something that any government has been receptive to. As such, the solutions presented within this article are focused on working with the current system to build and improve upon it.

To illustrate this, let's compare LCBO operations to those of privatized specialty alcohol retailers in other markets. I recently had the fortune of interviewing Andrew Ferguson, Co-Store Manager and Whisky Expert at Kensington Wine Market (KWM) in Calgary. As a private retailer, he has much less clout in the industry than a behemoth like the LCBO would, yet KWM outshines even the best LCBO store in numerous ways.

The 2014 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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Regardless of whether you celebrate anything at this time of year or not, it is highly likely that you or someone you know will be looking for a few tips on what to get a whisky lover. Be they friend, family, coworker, or neighbour, your intended recipient should receive something that fits your budget and that they enjoy. It is with that in mind that we delve once again into the mire of the LCBO's "selection" to choose a handful of bottles in three price ranges with the aim of enabling you or whomever you share this with, to walk away with just a little extra smugness that you absolutely nailed it when choosing that gift. 

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:

  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some benchmark bottles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to. 

  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
For those lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. We truly are always here to help! 

Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. Please don't buy your loved ones whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Alright, let's get to what should be bought, shall we? 

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend

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The Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Limited Edition Canadian Whisky was created to celebrate the brand's history and its relationship to British royalty. Seventy-five years ago, in 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth journeyed across North America and were gifted a bottle of Crown Royal to enjoy as they toured the continent by train.

Seeking to commemorate the occasion, Crown Royal Master Blender Joanna Scandella was asked to hand-select whiskies from the brand's extensive stock including a special whisky from the historic Coffey rye still, residing in the company's distillery in Gimli, Manitoba to make this one-time-only blended Canadian whisky. Our bottle, generously provided by North Strategic for Diageo Canada, is encased in a gold and silver coloured carton with a magnetic enclosure. The bottle itself, which is taller and broader than the standard offering and topped with a large plastic gold crown cap, is contained within a soft silver bag embroidered with gold accents and is a variation on the iconic purple bag long associated with the brand. Along with the deluxe packaging is a certificate of registration indicating the batch lot and bottle number which, in our case, reads 0008 and B47R4 respectively. 

Compass Box Oak Cross

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Compass Box Whisky Company is no stranger to controversy within the sometimes staid world of Scotch whisky. Whiskymaker John Glaser has been not only challenging popular attitudes toward blended whisky but his innovative approaches to maturation has also ruffled some feathers. In 2005, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) threatened legal action to halt the production of Compass Box's wildly successful "Spice Tree" blend. The whisky had undergone a secondary partial maturation stage in casks containing additional, flat French oak inserts (also known as 'inner staves') which violated the SWAs interpretation of the laws regarding traditional practice in the production of spirits in European Union countries. In response, Compass Box altered the production process for subsequent releases of "Spice Tree" wherein the secondary maturation stage takes place in casks containing toasted French oak heads instead of using the new inner staves.

But opportunity can appear at the strangest times, even in the depths of defeat. With the green light from the SWA on the use of new French oak heads, the conditions were set for the development of the Oak Cross blend. Made up of Highland single malts from Alness, Brora and Carron, the blend is subject to two maturation processes. The first occurs in a mix of first-fill and re-fill American oak ex-bourbon casks before a portion is selected for additional maturation in the Oak Cross marrying casks that contain new French oak heads on American casks. Adding new heads to a cask doesn't sound like a big deal, this type of maturation happens all the time in the wine industry, but for whisky - especially blended whisky - this remains an oddity. To date, Compass Box remains the only company to release a blended Scotch whisky matured in this fashion.

Bottled at 43% ABV, free from colouring additives and non chillfiltered, Oak Cross is billed as a food-friendly whisky capable of performing double duty as an aperitif with a splash of chilled water in the winter and "full enough" to act as a digestif in summer months. 

The Macallan "M"

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The Macallan M- Box Open.jpeg"Conspicuous consumption or classic construction?" 

This is what I pondered hustling downtown on a typical Toronto November night. Frankly, I was a touch surprised, albeit pleasantly so, to be invited back to another event for The Macallan after what many have called a rather scathing indictment of The 1824 Series. While I stand resolutely by those statements, I must confess that the concept of the evening makes sense, and is something that I genuinely feel should become more common in our local and national experiences.

Rather than stepping into a bar, cellar, or restaurant surrounded by the typical trappings of whisky tastings such as old wood, leather seats, and dim lighting, Ryan and I stepped into Harry Rosen's store in First Canadian Place in the heart of Toronto's financial district. Known for being Canada's carrier of top-end men's attire, this co-branding exercise was designed to launch The Macallan Lounge experience.

The core concept: enjoy a fine dram while shopping for fine clothing, thus simultaneously achieving sartorial and sensory advancement. Aside from the obvious gender-specific intent of the marketing, I must say that the idea of imbibing while shopping is one that appeals to me on a personal level, as well as making great business sense. After all, what better way to add value to the act of shopping while also loosening a man's financial restraint mechanisms to aid in the sale of a Canali suit?  

For those of you looking to enjoy The Macallan Lounge and its "Scotch and Shop" experience, it runs daily at the First Canadian Place location until November 21, 2014 each weekday from 3pm to 6:30pm. For those looking to find out what it's like to indulge the pinnacle of the 1824 Series, read on.

Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon

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In 1987, legendary Jim Beam (now Beam Suntory) Master Distiller Booker Noe introduced his own signature bourbon to the Small Batch Collection. His Kentucky Straight Bourbon was one of the first widely available straight-from-the barrel, uncut, unfiltered and unadulterated bourbons to hit the shelves. Unlike many other cask strength bourbons, Booker's bourbon is subject to slight batch variation and can therefore appear between 59% and 67% ABV and may be aged between 6-8 years. It is this commitment to "authenticity" of product in an era of flavoured whiskies and bland, watered-down, non-age-stated whiskies that has kept connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike enamoured with now deceased Master Distiller's namesake bourbon for over twenty years. 

We've loved every bottle of Booker's that's ended up in our collective glasses and so a review of this whisky is long overdue. The bottle in this review is from Batch No. C06-K-8, was aged 6 years and was bottled at 65.2% ABV. 

Ardbeg Supernova 2014

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Ardbeg Supernova.JPGTo say that there is a buzz surrounding this whisky would be to call Toronto's ex-mayor Rob Ford moderately unfit to lead. Rarely has there been such fever-pitch clamour for a newly released whisky, so when we were offered the opportunity to wade into the fray to get our noses on it with a media sample, how could we say no? 

For those that have yet to get swept up in the peat and PR tornado, Supernova was originally released in 2009 with an eye to being the most heavily peated whisky of all time; a title quickly usurped by Bruichladdich's Octomore series. It all seemed to be an experiment in chest puffing pavonine posturing, except that the whisky was quite good from any point of view. This naturally led to its own sub-cult following, which promulgated enough allegiance to warrant a second release the following year. 

However, from then on the cries for more fell on deaf ears, until now.

Recap: Whisky Live 2014 Toronto

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On Saturday, October 18, 2014 I attended Whisky Live Toronto at the Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. The all-inclusive event featured dozens of booths pouring several whiskies each, a delicious buffet, live entertainment and masterclass sessions available for purchase. The well-attended event seemed mostly geared to those who are new to the world of whisky but there were a few gems available on-site for long-time whisky enthusiasts.

Compass Box Asyla

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Compass Box Whisky Company's founder and chief whiskymaker John Glaser is on a mission to change whisky enthusiasts' perception of blended scotch whiskies. The American ex-pat, based in London, has been making "small batch, artisinal," blended whisky since 2000 and has evolved a core product range of 5 different blends. 

Asyla is the lightest tasting offering in the range and is a 50/50 blend of malt and grain whiskies married up to 24 months in first-fill American oak casks reportedly from bourbon-maker Buffalo Trace. The natural coloured and non-chillfiltered blend is made up of 40% malt whisky from Diageo's Teaninich distillery,10% from Glen Elgin with the remainder of the recipe coming from the Fife mega-distillery, Cameronbridge.

Marketed as "the ideal Sunday afternoon-in-the-garden whisky," the aperitif styled Asyla is bottled at 40% ABV and is Mr. Glaser's proverbial "desert island dram." Playing on the plural for "asylum," the whiskymaker presents Asyla to the drinker with series questions to ponder while enjoying his dram: "Is whisky an asylum? A refuge from the vagaries of the day? A sanctuary? Can it transport us from one to the other?" 

The act of enjoying whisky as a gateway to relaxation and contemplation is a familiar trope among enthusiasts and the marketing departments of distilleries alike; yet I think Mr. Glaser, by way of his label, is providing us with some instruction on how to approach Asyla. A mindset hewing to a sort of reflection or "engaged" relaxation rather than a passive drinking experience is necessary to contemplate Asyla. There's no doubt that whisky can offer refuge, or mental escape but the shuttle to sanctuary and tranquility is not one fueled by alcohol alone. 

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