Bowmore 12 years old

bowmore12.jpgIt should come as no surprise to even the most casual reader of this blog that we've got big love for Bowmore. Established in 1779 on Islay, it's one of the few remaining distilleries that still runs its own floor maltings and peats their malted barley using a kiln on site. This hands-on approach allows the malt to be peated exactly to their specifications and allows the distillery to have greater flexibility when making custom peat levels for special or one-off whiskies. A few years back I visited Bowmore and tried my hand at turning and raking the barley before I stepped into the kiln for an epic smoke bath. To this day I can still recall the signature smell of Bowmore's peat reek.

On these cool and dreary November evenings, I tend to look for smoky, warming whiskies with lots of character to lift me from my doldrums. Which brings us to the bottle at hand; Bowmore 12 year old. Bottled at 40% ABV, it's not quite the same as being in the distillery on Islay but it's a damn sight cheaper! 

J.P. Wiser's Hopped Whisky


Hearing Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore speak about his latest creation, J.P. Wiser's Hopped Whisky, it's hard not to get swept up with his enthusiasm. A dedicated student of flavours, he's got advanced degrees in both brewing and distilling and his passion for whisky-making is palpable. At a media event at CC Lounge & Whisky Bar in Toronto, a few weeks back he explained that the idea for a hopped whisky was born from a conversation he had nearly ten years ago with a friend in the brewing sector that grows hops; "looking at how the hops were used, we realized there's an opportunity to use them in a different way, with whisky."

Made with a blend of five- to nine-year-old Canadian whiskies aged in three types of barrels: previous Canadian whisky fills, once used American bourbon casks, and brand new virgin oak casks , J.P. Wiser's Hopped Whisky is "dry hopped" at the end of its aging process. This technique is the same employed by makers of the ubiquitous and highly-popular IPA style wherein dried hops are steeped in the beer, imparting the juicy aromatics of hops without as much of the bitterness that's obtained from hops in the boil. 

"We went through 158 prototypes to make [it] before I hit upon dry hopping our whisky post maturation, like some of the best IPA's do...and I think it's going to be a game changer for Canadian spirits!" Flavoured whisky is a growing trend in the market and, according to Wiser's Master Blender, "it's partly a reflection of our [Canadian] palette. We're eating spicier foods, or trying things from different cultures, and so we're looking for something bold in whisky, too. But flavoured whisky isn't like flavoured vodka; the amplified flavours-whether honey, maple or toffee-are authentic to whisky. In other words, we're taking what's already in Canadian whisky, and just ramping it up a bit." 

With a new spirit came the need for a new bottle. Just as the hops in beer sometimes can go "off" and produce a skunky aroma with prolonged exposure to light if it's stored in a green or clear bottle, so too did the hopped whisky when it was put in a the standard Wiser's bottle. This led Dr. Livermore to continue innovating to make a specially tinted bottle to prevent "skunkification." 

For those of you who are imagining a clumsy mash of rye whisky and bitter hops, rest assured that the similarity of this whisky to IPAs ends with the dry hopped process and the coloured glass.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

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Earlier this week we were invited to attend the Canadian launch of Beam Suntory's latest premium blended whisky, Hibiki Japanese Harmony, at Kasa Moto restaurant here in Toronto. Assembled media guests were treated to a component tasting of 5 of the main whiskies from Suntory's Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries that were blended to make this expression of the Hibiki blend. Hands down, this was definitely one of the best component tastings and elemental deconstructions I've had the opportunity to enjoy.

Led by Suntory Brand Ambassador Gardner Dunn, we sampled the following cask strength whiskies in the order below before moving on to the main event: 

  • a sweet, almost Bourbon-like, 100% grain (corn) whisky aged in 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrels from the Chita distillery; 
  • a malt whisky aged in American white oak barrels made at the Suntory cooperage with a slightly oily body
  • a rich single malt whisky aged in a cask that formerly held Oloroso sherry and was reminiscent of a classic Macallans
  • a single malt whisky aged in a rare Mizunara oak cask that imbued complex flavours of sandalwood, estery fruit, with an interplay of new leather and smoke;
  • and finally, a single malt velvet hammer of buttery vanilla and smokey peat from Hakushu distillery. 

These aforementioned whiskies, along with at least 5 others, were blended by the Suntory Whisky blending team to produce Japanese Harmony. A family affair, the blending team is led by third and fourth-generation Suntory family members: Master Blender, Shinjiro Torii, who is the great-grandson of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii; and, fourth-generation Chief Blender, Shinji Fukuyo. As explained by Mr.Dunn, the American White Oak malt whiskies are used for the base note, the Mizunara and sherry cask malt whiskies act as "the dressing" while the smoky malt whiskies provide subtle accents to create depth and further complexity. Finally, the grain whiskies may be considered as the "dashi," or broth and constitute between 60-65% of the blend. 

Bottled at 43% ABV, Hibiki Japanese Harmony will soon replace the 12 year old expression of the Hibiki blend and will serve as the "introduction" to the existing 17 year and 21 year bottles.  

Talisker 10 years old

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Established in 1830, Talisker distillery is located on the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebridean Scottish Isles. Owned by the global drinks conglomerate, Diageo, Talisker is a featured player in their "Classic Malts of Scotland" collection as it represents the somewhat amorphous "islands" whisky-making region. "Made by the sea," Talisker is well-known and loved the world over for it's balance of peppery sweetness and peat smoke. The 10 year old expression is bottled at 45.8% ABV and commonly appears on the whisky lists of bars, restaurants and lounges the world over. 

It's worth remembering that ubiquity does not always mean boring or dull flavours in the whisky world. Sometimes, when a product is well-crafted, it's common availability is reflective of the universal human demand for greatness. It was this impulse that guided my hand when perusing the shelves at the Gothenburg Systembolaget, the Swedish liquor commission, to select a gift box trio from the "Classic Malts of Scotland" collection that contained Caol Ila 12 year old, Clynelish 14 year old and Talisker 10 year old. With this selection I was looking for not only a great deal, but also to get re-acquainted with whiskies that I'd loved before.

Upon my return, I poured a healthy dram of Talisker and then fired up the blog to compare my current tasting notes with what we wrote about it only to be confronted with a "No results found" message. Perhaps, I'd mispelled it...again, no results. I had it right the first time; somehow we'd overlooked this benchmark bottle in our reviews. A blindspot, no doubt, that I shall now remedy.  

Bowmore Black Rock & Gold Reef

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The duty free shopper is a hotly contested demographic for distilleries. Given the restrictions faced by many travellers on the dollar value of duty free purchases and their home country's attendant alcohol import limitations, many travellers will only be able to select one 1L bottle of spirits to bring home and avoid paying duty. This creates a very competitive space for distilleries who must attempt to attract the attention of the harried, jet-lagged, and "baggage-weight conscious" traveller in an international airport. In recent years, whisky advertising in duty free has gone from quiet rows of bottles to floor-to-ceiling banners along terminal walls, to flashy kiosks, to interactive displays and exclusive "nosing" lounges within duty free locations. Along with the uptick in marketing dollars spent to attract affluent global travellers, producers have created a line of bottles unique to the duty free market that have supported and, in some cases, supplanted the shelf space previously dedicated to the traditional core range.

As an Ontario-based whisky blogger one of the giddiest pleasures of international travel is the liquor selection of the airport duty free shops. There's always the chance of finding a great deal on an old favourite or being exposed to something that you missed in the LCBO when it came through. Perhaps even more tantalizing is happening upon a mystery expression from a loved distillery that's been made exclusively for travel retail. Evaluating the options; looking at the rows of bottles in the duty free, is a bit like playing "Let's Make a Deal." You can only bring one back into Canada without paying duty so, do you go for the tried and true or do you take a gamble and go with the tube of mystery liquid? 

In my travels, these tubes, cartons, or boxes of mystery spirit all bear a similar sounding pitch; this bottle is exclusive and premium and if you buy it so are you. Words like: "premium," "luxurious," "exclusive," or "reserved solely for the discerning traveller," and "collectable" adorn the packaging and inform the messaging of the supporting terminal dominating advertisements. Coupled with this high status language has been the removal of age statements from the packaging. While non-age-statement offerings are becoming more common across the industry for a number of reasons, in the travel retail market it's another missing piece of information when trying to decide what to buy. Pressed for time, limited by import restrictions, snowed by marketing, and unable to sample the wares, it seems that the traveller is set up to make a choice that's best for the distilleries but might not be right for the buyer or the recipient. To me, there's something ill-fitting about the ubiquitous claims of luxury and prestige when combined with the vagueries of product information and tasting notes that generally accompany travel retail bottlings. 

But I digress. On a trip to China in March of this year, David and his partner Jason brought us back 2 bottles from Bowmore's new travel retail range: Black Rock and Gold Reef. Purchased at Pudong Airport in Shanghai for nearly $100 CDN each, the 1L bottles are reduced to 40% ABV and 43% ABV respectively. The new range takes it's inspiration from "the magical and remote island of Islay" and the trio includes the aforementioned bottles along with the White Sands 17 Year Old. We sampled them side by side and found it to be a helpful way of assessing these two non-age-statement releases.

Bunnahabhain 12 year old

bunnahabhain_12.jpegLocated on the northeast coast of the isle of Islay, Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced 'Boon-a-havin' and meaning "foot of the river" in Scots Gaelic) was established in 1881 and has been producing whisky ever since. The distillery is perhaps most famously known among whisky enthusiasts for being the only one on the island that produces unpeated spirit as part of their house style. 
Bunnahabhain 12 year old, the distillery's youngest in the core range, is back on LCBO shelves this summer after a nearly 2 year absence. "Un-chillfiltered" for extra body and depth of flavour, the whisky is bottled at a respectable 46.3% ABV and contains no colourants or additives. 

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 2003

In the world of independent bottlers there are many names and labels, but few are more recognizable or reliable than Gordon & MacPhail. One of their most recent releases to hit LCBO shelves was a "Distillery Label" edition of single malt Scotch whisky from one of Speyside's old guard distilleries, Glen Grant. The Distillery Label series is a testament to the enduring relationship between Gordon & MacPhail and the industry. In the past, they partnered with distilleries to "officially" bottle the whisky under license and used a unique distillery label for each client. Today, these relationships with distillers allows Gordon & MacPhail to bottle whiskies at various ages, strengths and vintages that may differ from the "house range;" with each bottle bearing their traditional label design from those early days.

Bottled at 40% ABV, the whisky was distilled in 2003 and then matured in ex-bourbon casks until 2014. With this bottling Gordon & MacPhail have produced an expression that is more or less in line with Glen Grant's house style but, at an atypical 11 years old, it exists outside of the distillery's core age ranges.

ScotchBlog's 2015 Father's Day Gift Buying Guide

With Father's Day less than a week away on Sunday, June 21, 2015 we at have compiled our yearly Father's Day Gift Buying Guide with a list of suggested gift bottles. But, 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 Grandfather, Dad, Step-Father, or Father-in-law whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, examine your intended recipient's existing collection. What types of whiskies occupy the shelves? Blends, single malts, bourbon, Canadian whisky? This will help you avoid duplicates (unless you've already been given a clear signal to buy yet another bottle of the fave) and will lend some context to your decision-making. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) 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. 

Those of you lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end of the article 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 are always here to help! 

We've tweaked the format a bit this time around and have forgone the price bracket approach in favour of grouping our "best-bets" by a broadly defined categories of "whisky-drinking Dad." If your Dad, Step-Dad, Grandfather, or Father-in-Law enjoys whisky you likely have some sense of what type of whisky he enjoys and his level of engagement with his dram. This year's format offers up 3 different whiskies for each "Dad-type" ranging from: Dads who rock the CC and Cola, to brand loyalists, to the backyard barbecue grillmaster, to those who prefer a single malt with the company of a cigar, to smoke-loving peat freaks, and those with a serious collection.

As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. With many of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle if we've reviewed it, so if you need a little more detail please click away.

Ok, enough of the preamble. Are you ready to get started? Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think about your Dad. What's your Dad like?

Ardbeg Perpetuum

Ardbeg distillery witnessed its 200th anniversary on May 30th and as in years past, Ardbeg Day was celebrated around the world with a new commemorative whisky. Released on the final day Islay's annual Feis Ile, Perpetuum is the result of Whisky Creator Dr. Bill Lumsden's inspiration from the differing styles of whisky his predecessors have created over the last 200 years. The whisky contains a blend of spirit, some from as far back as the 1970s, the standard 10 year, and a healthy dose of sherry cask and re-fill cask matured whiskies. Non chill-filtered, it shows natural colour and is bottled at an unconventional 47.4% ABV. 

Last week I had the good fortune of sampling Perpetuum and revisiting the brand's current product line at Ontario's first and only Ardbeg Embassy, The Caledonian in Toronto. Still decked out in Ardbeg Day related regalia, the tasting room was full of tongue-in-cheek futurism, from the magnetically levitating Ardbeg branded whisky glasses, to the Space Pod which held one of the vials of Ardbeg "space whisky" sent to the International Space Station as part of a zero-gravity maturation experiment, to the Ardbeg "Haar," or cold mist, generator that vapourized Ardbeg for guests to inhale through a straw, all overshadowed by the vaguely sinister 200th anniversary banner depicting two hands and forearms - a human and some sort of robo-Celt-bot - poised in an act of Slainte!  

Suppressing anxieties of the coming Singularity, my thoughts returned to the flight of Ardbeg in front of me: would Perpetuum appeal to those beyond the Ardbeg Committee fan club members and collectors or was this an instance of "all sizzle and no steak?"

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

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Located on the northeast coast of the isle of Islay, Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced 'Boon-a-havin' and meaning "foot of the river" in Scots Gaelic) was established in 1881 and has been producing whisky ever since. The village of Bunnahabhain and its distillery are accessible by following a single track road north from Port Askaig with the Sound of Islay dropping away on one side and green rolling hills rising on the other. Venturing out to this relatively remote and picturesque distillery, with the Wyre Majestic wrecked and rusted upon the rocks of the harbour, you have the unmistakeable feeling of travelling back in time. 

Bunnahabhain's latest release 'Ceòbanach' harkens back to an earlier time in Islay's history. Pronounced 'kyaw-bin-och' and translating as 'smoky mist' in Scots Gaelic, the name is a reference to a time on the island in the 1800s when the air was thick with foggy sea air and smoke from the peat fires that warmed people's homes. Inspired by this sense of place and time, Ceòbanach is Bunnahabhain's latest small batch experiment with making a peaty whisky. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for over 10 years, bottled at 46.3% with natural coulour and non chill-filtered, this expression is a departure from Bunnahabhain's typically un-peated house style; itself a rarity on Islay, the land of peaty whiskies!

Glenmorangie Tùsail

Tùsail is the latest addition to Glenmorangie's award-winning "Private Edition" collection. The brainchild of  Dr. Bill Lumsden, the Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, Tùsail (pronounced to-SAIL and meaning "originary" in Scots Gaelic) is an experiment to explore the role of a distinctive variety of barley's influence on Glenmorangie single malt.  A carefully-selected parcel of Maris Otter barley was floor-malted by hand using traditional techniques, distilled, aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and then bottled, non chill-filtered, at a respectable 46% ABV.

It's been a big year for the "now-rare" strain of  two-row "winter" variety of barley as both Glenmorangie and Brittany distillery Glann ar Mor have released single malt whiskies showcasing the grain's rustic and nutty flavours. Originally bred at Cambridge University in 1965, Maris Otter is a cross of "Proctor" and "Pioneer" barleys and was developed for use in brewing. Over time Maris Otter's popularity was eclipsed by higher yield strains and the once ubiquitous varietal fell into disuse. By the late 1980s, uncertified seed and cross-pollination had put Maris Otter at risk of extinction. This greatly alarmed some in the brewing industry, who still depended on its unique flavour to produce
their cask-conditioned ales. Reacting to these concerns, two English seed merchants formed a partnership to rejuvenate the variety, and in 1992, began a program to build the stocks back to an acceptable standard. 

When Dr. Lumsden heard of their efforts the rest, as they say, is history. He explains: "When we heard the story of those determined to preserve such a flavoursome grain, their ethos - and the barley itself - seemed the perfect match for a Glenmorangie single malt. I knew its deep flavour profile would provide an intriguing contrast to Glenmorangie's more delicate house style, creating a whisky to enchant connoisseurs. The result pays homage to the Maris Otter variety, with rich, rustic flavours of nut toffee, sweet barley malt, ginger, cinnamon, molasses, and dates, complementing the more familiar Glenmorangie notes of peaches, oranges and smoked pears."

Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Years Old

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.
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

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

It should come as no surprise to you, gentle reader, that we at 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.


Whisky Wheel

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