Blackadder A Drop of the Irish

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A couple of weeks back I tried my first whisky from the UK-based independent bottler Blackadder. A family run affair since 1995, Blackadder was founded by Robin Tucek, whose mantra: "Cask is King!" guides the company's practice of bottling single cask whiskies at full strength without colouring or filtration. 

Among the several product lines within the company's portfolio, "A Drop of the Irish," is the sole release dedicated exclusively to bottling single cask Irish single malt whiskeys. The name of the distillery is kept a mystery and, while an age statement may appear on some releases, the one I tried was non age-stated. 

It did however contain other interesting information; the one I sampled was bottle number 43 of 286 and was bottled in May 2015 at 60.4% ABV from a hogshead cask. 

Nose: Fresh cut apples and pears, caramelized bananas, sweet malty vanilla and a light note of toasted wood.

Palate: At full strength, it's full-bodied with an almost creamy texture. Big, "fancy" fruit salad flavours of mandarin oranges, caramelized bananas along with apples and pears drizzled in waxy honey. 

Finish: Medium long and fruity with loads of honey and a touch a oaky vanilla. 

Ballantine's The Glenburgie 15 Years Old

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A couple of years back I was turned onto Glenburgie during a chance encounter at a New Brunswick liquor store and since then I've kept my eye out for other bottlings of this somewhat hard-to-find Speyside single malt. 

So, when I discovered this distillery label release of Glenburgie 15 years old on LCBO shelves this past December, I leapt at the opportunity to try it. For the first time in Ontario, the so-called "heart of Ballantine's" blended Scotch whisky is available as an aged, stand-alone offering and is bottled at 40% ABV. 

Similar to Dewar's "Last Great Malts" product launch a couple of years back which released a handful of single malts typically destined for blending as stand alone bottles; the Chivas and Glenlivet Group is offering whisky enthusiasts access to the core malts that make up it's flagship Ballantine's blend: Miltonduff, Glentauchers and Glenburgie. Typically, these malts are only available through independent bottlers and so it was quite a surprise to me to see them all appear under their original distillery labelling and aged to a very respectable 15 years. 

I quite enjoyed the Gordon and MacPhail 10 year old expression but how would this older bottling, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon American oak, hold up to my reference point?

Bearface Canadian Whisky

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Sourced and blended whiskies might just be the next big trend in Canadian whisky. More and more of these sourced, non-distillery, bottlings keep popping up on the landscape.

After all, it takes a small fortune and several years to build, staff and launch a new distillery not to mention the lag time between the first run of spirit off the still and the requisite three years of waiting around for the liquid to age before it can legally be called "Canadian whisky."

Canadian brands like Whistle Pig, Signal Hill, Twelve Barrels, and now Mark Anthony Brands' Bearface Canadian whisky have bypassed the risk and sunk costs of operating their own distilleries and instead have sourced their whiskies from established Canadian producers. More than independent bottlers, these brands try to put their own spin on their sourced spirit through additional barrel finishing and blending.

Bearface is refreshingly upfront about its status as a sourced whisky, epitomized by it's "hide nothing, fear nothing" slogan. Using three types of casks in its production, Bearface is a single grain whisky that was first aged 7 years in ex-bourbon barrels "on the shores of Georgian Bay," before being shipped across the country to Mission Hill B.C. where it spent time in red wine casks made from French oak. But, for master blender Andres Faustinelli, that wasn't enough wood influence! 

Something was missing, so the finishing touch was a few months in bespoke new Hungarian oak casks to add a "unique spice finish", before it was finally bottled at 42.5% ABV. 

The whisky has a lovely reddish hue and the bottle packaging shows evidence of thoughtful and careful design touches from the Bearface branding on the cork and cap to the "claw marks" on the bottle and the "tear" out of the labelling. 

It certainly looks nice but how does it taste? 


Jameson Caskmates - Beau's Irish Red Ale Cask

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It's a rare treat for us in Ontario to have access to an exclusive bottling of anything, let alone an Irish whiskey and so, imagine my surprise to see that Jameson Caskmates' Beau's Edition had finally hit LCBO shelves this past December!

The partnership, described here in a post from early 2018, has yielded a transatlantic cross pollination of flavour between eastern Ontario's Beau's All Natural Brewing Co. and a giant in the Irish whiskey category.

Bottled at 40% ABV, this limited edition expression is unique to the Ontario market and features the classic triple distilled Jameson whiskey finished in casks that previously held Beau's Strong Patrick Irish Red Ale.  

Nose: Green apple and pear drop hard candies mixed with herbal resin tones accompanied by a delicate vanilla note. 

Palate: Butterscotch sweetness meets geraniums. There's a muddled fruity flavour that's hard to pull apart and quite a bit of resinous woody spice in this full-bodied dram.  A generous splash of water brings out more butterscotch and takes some of the heat out of the herbal and spicy elements.

Finish: Dry and medium long with bitter cocoa powder and loads of spice showing up on the warming finish. 


Overall: Jameson Caskmates Beau's Edition is an interesting experiment but I must say that it's not a particularly compelling dram. As I've written before, beer finishes seem to be a difficult trick to pull off for whisky makers as the hop flavours seem to concentrate and distort the flavour of the whisky and bring out bitter herbal notes. A resinous astringency and spicy herbal note dominate the palate on this one and, while the addition of water softens their presence by bringing out more butterscotch sweetness, I'm left with a dry, somewhat bitter, whisky lacking in nuance. For the price, $41.95 in the LCBO, it's not a bad whisky but beyond it's novelty it doesn't do much for me. 

Signal Hill Canadian Whisky

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Signal Hill is one of Newfoundland's most iconic historical landmarks. This rocky outcrop at the mouth of St. John's harbour was the site of possible Viking landings, fierce battles between the English and the French, and perhaps most famously, the world's first transatlantic wireless transmission by Guglielmo Marconi.

To celebrate the history of this unique place, Jonathan Hemi, Brian Meret and Kristina Cappellini of Globalfill Inc. and Crystal Head Vodka fame decided to launch the namesake Signal Hill brand of Canadian whisky back in 2014. 

However, it would be another four years before this vision became reality. After partnering with a legend in the Canadian whisky world, Master Blender Michael Booth - formerly affiliated with Corby Spirit & Wine Ltd.- along with Rock Spirits, the St. John's-based blending and bottling division of  the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation, the founders had a team in place with which to source, blend and package their tribute whisky. 

Nearly forty blending experiments later, they landed on the recipe for Signal Hill: a 95-5 blend of column distilled corn and pot distilled malted barley aged in three types of casks and then reduced with Newfoundland water to 40% ABV.

Interestingly, all along the way, none of the spirit from the new white oak, ex-bourbon, or ex-Canadian whisky casks used was chill-filtered and the final product is also non chill-filtered; a relative rarity in the Canadian whisky landscape. 

My bottle, which was graciously donated by the folks at Lux 9, is from batch 18025 and was bottled nearly a year ago on January 25, 2018. 


Glenfiddich Fire and Cane

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firecane.jpgFire & Cane is the fourth release from Glenfiddich's "Experimental Series" which seeks an answer to the question: "What would happen if we lightly peated our house style of whisky and then finished it in ex-rum casks?"
 
Malt Master Brian Kinsman was an apprentice at Glenfiddich when they first ran this peated spirit through the stills. Using peat from the surrounding Highlands to dry the malt, a grassy smoky flavour made its way into the spirit. Years later, and now master of his craft, Kinsman blended this aged smoky whisky with spirit matured in ex-bourbon casks. After marrying the aged peated and unpeated single malts, the mixture was placed in South American rum casks to finish for up to six months resulting in a non age stated single malt that's peated to 5 ppm and bottled at 43% ABV.

Nose: At first, a blast of pungent campfire smoke with a light bready note that gradually dissipates to reveal toffee, crème brûlée and apples.

The 2018 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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Season's Greetings!

ScotchBlog.ca's Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky is back with another holiday installment aimed at the price-conscious shopper with a whisky-loving recipient on their list. Whether you're looking for a hosting gift, a celebratory bottle, a gift for a new drammer or a seasoned enthusiast, this year's list has something for every taste. As always, this guide is written to give you a short-list of the best valued whiskies currently on LCBO shelves with high availability province-wide. With a price limit of $100, you are sure to find a gift idea in in this list that's bound to delight your recipient. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded title links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that the LCBO does provide inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on the distance between your chosen store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone ahead to confirm availability. 

Finally, each whisky listed below is available in the LCBO at the time of publication. The title link navigates to the LCBO page while the links in the description will direct you to one of our reviews of the whisky - if available - so if you'd like more detail, the full notes are a click away.

Bruichladdich Octomore 8.1

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When searching for strongly peated single malt whiskies, a few Islay distillery names are bound to immediately spring to mind: Ardbeg, Laphroaig, or maybe even Caol Ila. Perhaps not well known outside the circles of connoisseurs and stinking reek-fiends, is Bruichladdich's Octomore series of "super heavily peated" single malt whiskies. This limited edition Masterclass bottling isn't the "peatiest" they've ever made but at 167 parts per million its nearly four times more "peaty" than any other standard Islay whisky currently on LCBO shelves. 

As with all of Bruichladdich's whiskies, the entire production cycle from distillation and maturation to bottling is performed on-site; a point of pride for the Islay distillery. Octomore 8.1 Masterclass was matured for eight years in first-fill American oak casks and was bottled without colouring and un-chill filtered at a potent 59.3% ABV. 

Nose: Pungent aromas of tarry smoke, peat and iodine with a light wisp of buttery vanilla but, every now and then, I swear I get a whiff of Oreo cookie wafer! 

Palate: A wallop of peat smoke, more tar, and charred meat register first. With time, more delicate flavours begin to emerge in the relatively light-bodied dram: malty sweetness, vanilla, cantaloupe, candied citrus, and cocoa.

Ezra Brooks 7 Year Old

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It was the price tag that first caught my eye; $47.70.

I was on the hunt for a bargain table whisky to bring to the a meeting of the club. Stalking the spirit aisles of the LCBO, I noticed an unfamiliar brand: Ezra Brooks 7 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and I remember thinking something like, "Hmmm, a 7 year old bourbon under $50, ok, what else we got...waitaminute, a 7 year old, 50.5% over-proof bourbon under $50 in the LCBO!?"

And then, 

"Who or what is Ezra Brooks?"

The brand dates back to the late 1950's and was the creation of Frank Silverman of the Hoffman Distilling Company in Lawrenceburg. The story goes that he came up with an idea to add a bourbon to the distillery's product line to compete with the ascendant Jack Daniels which was suffering from it's success and was under stocked to meet demand resulting in market shortages and strict allocations. Looking to capitalize on the whiskey boom, Silverman pretty much copied everything about the whiskey right down to the charcoal filtration and honed in on the action. 

Ezra Brooks was made at Hoffman until the late '70s and then was revived in 1993 when the brand was picked up by Luxco. This year, Luxco opened it's Lux Row Distillery in Bardstown and moved production from Heaven Hill to the new location. The change in address is bringing about a change to Old Ezra too as the new product site showcases not only a redesigned label but also an increase in the ABV to a muscular 58.5%. 

The new Old Ezra is due out this month in American markets but who knows when it will appear up here... but in the meantime and, in between time, let's see how the old Old Ezra stands up to its reputation as a sippin' whisky.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon

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Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon is a yearly release by Heaven Hill Distillery, the same producers behind the much-loved Elijah Craig, Parker's Heritage, Bernheim et al.. Single barrel offerings are special because they've not had their "rough edges" or unique characteristics blended out for the sake of consistency and so every batch is a little different. Every year since 1995, the Master Distillers select an assortment of barrels from their vast warehouses in Bardstown, Kentucky to be bottled as part of the annual single barrel edition. Each bottle is then marked with the serial number of the barrel from which it's drawn along with its vintage date.

It's uncommon to see single barrel expressions of anything in the LCBO, so I leapt at the opportunity to score a couple of my own this year. My bottle, from the 2018 release, was from barrel #547 and was put in oak on April 12, 2010 for just shy of 8 years before bottling - unblended - at 43.3% ABV. 









The Hakushu 12 Years Old

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Surrounded by forest at the foot of Mount Kaikomo in the southern "Japanese Alps,"Suntory's picturesque Hakushu distillery has been making single malt whisky since 1973. The highly awarded distillery has three core expressions the 12, 18 and 25 year old and occasionally produces limited runs of peated or sherry matured expressions. 

Suntory's single malts are a relatively uncommon sight on LCBO shelves and, as of May 2018, they've become even harder to find. Whether they're a victim of the success of the Japanese whisky category or simply the result of poor forecasting, the Hakushu 12 year old single malt and the 17 year old blend are being pulled from "certain markets" and will have limited availability in others. Moreover, Suntory's CEO Takeshi Ninami said it could take up to a decade for Beam Suntory's Japanese whisky distilleries to meet demand from consumers and retailers. 

I found this bottle on a trip to Buffalo a couple of years back at Premier Wines & Spirits; it's bottled at 43% ABV and is most likely chill-filtered and contains some colouring.

Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Canadian Whisky

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A few weeks back I happened upon a massively marked down bottle of Stalk & Barrel Canadian single malt whisky at an LCBO in Ajax. While I can recall enjoying some of the Stillwaters Distillery's whiskies in the past, I could never really go in on the price point. It always seemed to be too high for such young spirit given what else is available. 

But this time I had a sign; I had to try it! 

The Concord, Ontario micro-distillery has taken a real hands-on approach to their whisky-making and do everything: mashing, fermenting, distillation, and warehousing on site. The single malt is made from 100% Canadian two-row malted barley and is aged in ex-bourbon casks for at least 3 years. Each barrel is bottled individually as a single cask offering in individually numbered bottles, offered at either cask strength or at 46% ABV. 

My bottle was number 128 from cask 109 at 46% ABV, it's natural coloured and non chill-filtered.
Father's Day is this weekend and if you're running short on options this year for what to get your whisky-loving Dad this year, we've listed the top 5, commonly available, value bottles in the LCBO under $100! 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check LCBO stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) before heading out to your local store. Remember, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 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 some of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle - if we've reviewed it - in case you want a little more detail.  


Crown Royal Bourbon Mash

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Crown Royal's Bourbon Mash made a bit of a splash when it was first released a few weeks back owing to the fact that the Canadian whisky giant was perceived to have committed a faux pas by using the word "bourbon" in the product name as a descriptor of the whisky's mash type. American and Canadian whisky bloggers alike leapt into the fray and, within days, parent company Diageo announced a compromise of sorts: in the USA it will be re-branded as "Blender's Mash" and it'll remain Bourbon Mash here in Canada.  

Controversy aside, this first release from Crown Royal's new Blender's Series was selected to showcase one of the  component whiskies that make up the iconic Canadian whisky brand. Don't let it's affable, easy-going style fool you into thinking it's a "simple" whisky; making Crown Royal is a surprisingly complex bit of blending!  The company's team of Master Blenders select from 50 or so whiskies of differing ages, barrel conditioning, and grain types, to create each batch of Crown Royal. 

These whiskies are divided into two main "streams": base whiskies and flavouring whiskies. The base stream is derived entirely from all-corn spirits made either by continuous distillation or by batch process in a column still after a longer fermentation time and are aged for various time periods in a variety of barrels thereby creating a range of options from which the blenders can draw.

The flavouring stream contains a high rye whisky (the same found in Northern Harvest Rye) and two other whiskies made using a mash bill style typically employed by American producers whereby different grain types are combined, mashed, fermented, and distilled together. Like the base stream, the flavouring whiskies are also aged in varying barrel types for different durations.

As you've probably guessed by now, the Bourbon Mash is sourced from one of the flavouring whisky streams. Made from a mash bill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye and 4.5% malted barley, it's distilled by way of a short column still then aged in a combination of new charred American oak and ex-bourbon barrels for at least 3 years. The whisky was then blended with a number of other vintages from this stream and bottled at 40% ABV.

So, while it may not be a bourbon per se, it's certainly made in that style.

Aultmore 18 Year Old

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Aultmore distillery has switched hands many times since originally opening in 1895. However despite its long history, Aultmore only produced its first single malt bottling in 2004. Located in the Speyside region, the distillery sources its water from the peat-imbued springs of the Foggie Moss.  The Aultmore 12 year old has been available at the LCBO for a few years, but this 18 year old expression is just now available at $199.95. Part of Dewar's "Last Great Malts" range, it was first launched in 2015.

Nose: Brilliant pale gold; a complex nose, with caramel, fruity, buttery notes contributed by lengthy barrel ageing. Cereal, fruit salad, vanilla, citrus, peach. Very inviting. Adding water brings notes of fresh cut grass clippings. 

Palate: Honeysuckle, watermelon, yet earthy. The spirit is sweet and smooth. An oily mouthfeel leads rich sweet notes of fudge, caramel, and sherry, followed by some nutty flavors. A herbaceous backdrop evolves into spice on the palate.  More delicious cereals appear, with vinous (Riesling and Chardonnay) character and orange blossom.

Finish: Sultana, citrus and honey linger on the light, smooth finish.

Overall: If you're one who likes complex and earthy whiskies, that have just a hint of the garden shed in their profile, this is great. Although for $200 at the LCBO, I would simply prefer to buy two bottles of Talisker. 

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