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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.

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.

J.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel Rye

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Recently awarded "Best Canadian Rye" at the 2017 World Whiskies Awards and a Silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Whisky AwardsJ.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel Rye is the creation of Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore. Responding to the demand for more "rye-forward" expressions of Canadian whisky, Dr. Livermore formulated a blend of 5 whiskies aged in 3 different barrel types for maximum flavour and smoothness.

Using a combination of virgin American White Oak to bring out vanilla and caramel flavours, first-fill Bourbon casks to emphasize dried fruit notes and Canadian whisky barrels to further express the grain characteristics, Triple Barrel Rye is the first of its kind in the Canadian whisky landscape.

Nose: Intense aromas of rosewater, green apples, rye spice and dusty grain.

Palate: Smooth and buttery, the medium-bodied dram shows toffee sweetness topped with melon, green apple and dried tropical fruit flavours spiked with cloves, cinnamon and cardamon pods. 

Finish: Lingering with warming spice, vanilla tones, dried fruit and nuts. 

Overall: Bottled at a respectable 43.4% ABV, Triple Barrel is an easy-drinking dram at a very affordable price. Showing big rye flavours with loads of zesty spice alongside green apples and rosewater all wrapped in mouth-coating vanilla and toffee notes; this whisky is delicious on its own or in a cocktail. Regularly $31.95 in the LCBO, Triple Barrel is on sale for $29.95 until the end of the month.

Jameson's Caskmates owes its origins to a chance meeting between the master brewer of the Franciscan Well craft brewery and the master distiller of Jameson's at a pub in Cork, Ireland. The brewer was looking for some casks to condition his latest stout and thought some ex-Jameson barrels would be interesting to test as a finish. By all accounts, the resulting stout was delicious and it led the distiller from Jameson's to ponder, "What might happen if we finished some of our whiskey in these stout casks?" 


Using the standard, triple distilled, Jameson's blended Irish whiskey, the newly "stouted" whiskey casks from the Franciscan Well were filled and left to finish for nearly 4 months. The result, as they say, was a whiskey "greater than the sum of its casks." The colour looked the same but a subtle stout influence appeared in the whiskey's flavour profile with new aromas of coffee, chocolate and butterscotch. 


From that experiment the idea for Caskmates took off and the folks at Jameson's recognized that they had a fantastic opportunity ahead of them. Not only could they innovate on their product line with a new beer cask finish but they would also reach out to select brewers around the globe to build new partnerships under the framework of the Caskmates program. Jameson's would provide their ex-whisky casks to brewers, who would in turn use them to condition their ales for a few months and then the brewers would ship the casks back to Jameson's to be used to when finishing the next version of Caskmates. 


Within months, Jameson's established a series of partnerships with craft brewers that would see the Irish whiskey giant loan out barrels on an unprecedented scale. For Jameson's, the appeal was two-fold: the possibility of developing more prosperous relationships in existing mature markets and the opportunity to experiment with dozens of styles of beer soaked barrels for future, limited runs of Caskmates unique to the brewer's country or region of origin. A partnership with a brewer in Kenya, for instance, would yield a beer conditioned in Jameson's casks for the local market and, later, a special version of Jameson Caskmates finished in those Kenyan ale-filled would be made available exclusively for Kenya. 


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So when Jameson's reached out to Steve Beauchesne, co-founder and CEO of Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, about participating in the Caskmates program he was understandably, "over the moon!" The chance to partner with a leader in the spirits business on a cask exchange program is the stuff of fantasy for most Canadian brewers; after all, Ireland is a long ways off and "what are the odds they'd look here for a partner?" mused Steve at a meeting in downtown Toronto earlier this year, "but I think they took notice of our use of organic ingredients and our experimental, collaborative approach to brewing and I think that spoke to them." 


To most Canadians, the eastern Ontario brewery is probably best known for their flagship "Lug Tread" lagered ale but the award-winning, innovative, craft brewery has a varied product line with upwards of 50 different beers made each year. But before fully committing the sole Canadian brewery to the partnership, Mr. Beauchesne and team "traveled to Cork and met with Jameson's fifth generation cooper Ger Buckley to learn more about their process.


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It was to be a meeting of the minds as Ger's experience and passion for his craft confirmed for Steve that the venture promised to be a fruitful partnership for both parties. "There's a bit of urgency to the process when you're working with beer casks," chuckled Ger at our meeting, "as the wood can go a bit funky if it's exposed to air for too long." Since the casks are broken down for transport, it's up to Ger to put them back together again for use at Jameson's, "there's no room for error when repairing and reconstructing a barrel...it has to be water tight as the cost margins are so narrow!" said Ger in between the bangs of his hammer as he assembled a barrel for my education.

For the Caskmates partnership, Steve had just the beer: a seasonal Irish Red ale named  "Strong Patrick"they've produced every year since 2012 in honour of St. Patrick's Day. All organic and brewed to 6.7% ABV from roasted malt, Pilgrim hops and Irish Red yeast, about a sixth of the total volume of beer was finished in Jameson casks for about 4 months before being re-introduced to the rest of the beer prior to bottling. According to Steve the result was "really the best [version] we've ever made," with its bold take on the style, brewed stronger than usual, and with a creamy texture, with flavours of toasted caramel, coffee notes and a mild bitterness at 24 IBU.

McClelland's Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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The McClelland's brand of regional single malts is a fairly common sight on LCBO shelves nearly everywhere across the province. Named after 19th century Glaswegian whisky firm, T&A McClelland's, it's four expressions are inspired by Scotland's "key whisky distilling regions": Lowland, Islay, Speyside, and Highland. Bottled at 40% ABV, all the whiskies share the same $45.20 price tag making them among the cheapest Scottish single malts around. But without a distillery name or an age statement, is it worth a gamble?

Given that the Morrison Bowmore Distillers' "McClelland's" product line isn't a distillery nor owns any distilleries, there's much speculation that it's regional single malts are actually unnamed whiskies from the parent company's distillery holdings: Auchentoshan, Bowmore, and Glen Garioch. Being a lover of Bowmore, I tested this theory with the Islay expression and it was a let down. 

Could the Highland expression be better?

Nose:  Sharp; redolent of wood shavings and damp cardstock with a whiff of vanilla buttercream icing. A little time in the glass reveals a delicate fruitiness.

Palate: Light-bodied with flavours of thinned caramel, more wood shavings, fruit lozenge, ginger, and a dash of cocoa powder.

Finish: Plenty of hang time here the cocoa notes are stretch out by squirt of lime to become a sour, burning tootsie roll whose smoldering embers steadily release a mouth-coating reek of whisky-soaked ashtray.

Overall: Truly unpleasant and that finish tastes like someone cleaned out my throat with an old bong brush. There's not much appeal here for me and the cheap-ish price still doesn't make it go down any easier. If McClelland's Highland expression really is Glen Garioch, (and I don't think it is...) I can understand why they'd rather not say.

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

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Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt whisky produced by William Grant & Sons and contains a mixture of single malts from the brand's Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries. Matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, the whiskies were then vatted for around 6 months before being bottled at 43% ABV.

Created by the now-retired legendary Master Blender, David Stewart, in 2005, Monkey Shoulder was conceived as a blended malt whisky made for mixing. In fact, the brand is the title sponsor of the annual "Ultimate Bartender" competition which tests participant bartenders on 7 crucial skills needed to earn the top spot. 

With no less than twelve cocktail recipes featuring Monkey Shoulder listed on their site, it's evident that the spirit plays nicely in a mixed drink - but how would it hold up on its own, neat?


Johnnie Walker Green Label

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Strolling through the LCBO earlier this year I was intrigued to see Johnnie Walker Green Label back on the shelves. After vanishing a few years back it was rumoured that parent company Diageo was discontinuing the expression in favour of replacing it with a non-age-stated (NAS) blend variant. Given the trend for the "majors" in the industry toward NAS bottings it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility that Green Label would come back as a shadow of it's former self. 

Yet, the rumour never came true. The age statement was kept and so was the formulation of the blend. The blended malt comprised of aged spirit from Diageo's Talisker, Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Linkwood distilleries. Containing whisky from nearly all of Scotland's whisky regions, Green Label is one of only two of Johnnie Walker blends to bear an age statement in the core range and is bottled at 43% ABV.

Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye

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Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye is the "ultra premium" offering from Highwood Distillers' "Ninety" whisky product line. While Highwood Distillers may not be an immediately recognizable name on LCBO shelves, fans of Canadian whisky may be more familiar with the Alberta distillery's other brands: Centennial, Century Reserve, Potters, or maybe even White Owl? 

Using the term Canadian Rye in the "traditional" sense, Ninety is a blend of mostly, if not all, corn whiskies aged for 20 years in charred oak barrels and is bottled at 45% ABV.

Nose: Quite sharp on the nose, especially for a whisky of this age and ABV, then a blast of wood shavings with custard and damp cardboard lingering behind. 

Palate: Medium-bodied and showing a slightly sweet mix of thinned honey and gingerbread studded with candied fruit on entry. But it's not long before this gentle sweetness is overtaken by woody spice that's both fiery and bitter with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. 

Finish: After the thunderous spice hit, the finish resonates with bitter heat before flattening out with muted toasted oak and vanilla tones. A splash of water certainly improves the flavour here by dampening the heat yet it does nothing for the bitterness and doesn't substantially change the finish. 

J.P. Wiser's 15 Years Old

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New to the Wiser's core range, J.P. Wiser's 15 years old is billed as "a complex whisky with a hint of rye spice," meant to be sipped and savoured. Bottled at the standard 40% ABV and, like many of Wiser's whiskies, this expression made from a blend of separately distilled and matured grain whiskies combined by Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

Nose: Inviting aromas of toasted oak and spice atop a strong toffee note with a hint of green apple.

Palate: Full-bodied and smooth; like liquid dessert. Mouth-coating caramel, buttery toffee, and dried fruit notes are complemented by a hit of mint and clove-laden spice that keeps things from getting overly sweet.

Dewar's 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky

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Dubbed The Ancestor, Dewar's 12 year old blended Scotch whisky contains up to 40 aged malt and grain whiskies  
that were "double matured." After the initial blending and marrying, the blend was left to mature in oak casks for an additional 6 months before being bottled at 40% ABV. Dewar's 12 is undoubtedly chill-filtered and likely contains colouring. 

Nose: Lightly floral and fruity with aromas of red apples and raisins accompanied by a whiff of marzipan and vanilla

Palate: Slightly oily in texture, it's full-bodied and mellow with a rich caramel tone and a gentle nuttiness. There's more red apples and raisins here too; bobbing along with a sprinkling of warming woody spice.   

Finish: Medium long with bitter chocolate, anise, raisins and dark dried fruit flavours that evaporate into an almost flat and mineral-like, drying finish. A splash of water brings out more sweetness in the finish while simultaneously dialing up the bitterness of the anise.

Overall: I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by this blend from Dewar's. There's a decent amount of malt in the mix with the grain component only really showing itself midway through the finish. Well-balanced, not overly complex, yet compellingly quaffable and food friendly. Good value buy at $47.25 in the LCBO; recommended.

Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky

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Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky is the creation of French Master Distiller Jean-Marc Daucourt whose family name is typically associated with Cognac rather than whisky. Building upon the family tradition of distillation, Daucourt studied Scotch whisky production in Scotland for a number of years before launching his own uniquely French whisky. 

Using a combination of wheat and malted barley grown in Brittany in the north west of France and limestone-filtered spring water from Gensac in Grande Champagne, the Master Distiller sought to make a whisky evocative of the French terroir. The spirit was distilled in an alembic still, traditionally used for Cognac, and then aged for 5-7 years in a combination of French Limousin oak, cherry and acacia casks before vatting and bottling at 40% ABV. 

The Singleton of Dufftown 12 Years Old

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Dufftown12.jpgFounded as the Dufftown-Glenlivet distillery in 1895, the distillery was one of six operating in its namesake town of Dufftown. Except for a brief shutdown during the second world war to comply with rationing efforts, Dufftown has been an active distillery with most of its single malt production ending up in the blends of its various owners over its lifetime. Under its current owner, Diageo, a larger portion of Dufftown's malt output has been directed to "The Singleton" line with a core range of aged statements and a handful of NAS bottlings.

The Singleton of Dufftown 12 years old was matured in a 50/50 split of European and American oak casks for 12 years and bottled at 40% ABV. 

Nose: Inviting aromas of toffee, drizzled over toasted coconut mixed with dried apples, raisins, apricots and nuts accompanied by wood shavings and a sort of mossy dampness

Springbank 13 Years Old

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On a recent trip I was lucky enough to track down a new-to-me expression of Springbank. Here in Toronto, it's a bit difficult to find much selection from the Campbeltown distillery on LCBO shelves so I always make a point to seek it out when travelling. I was thrilled to find one the 9,000 bottles distributed worldwide for this limited run of Springbank "Green."

Released in 2015, this edition of Springbank's yearly "Green" bottling was produced using organic barley and was fully matured in sherry casks for 13 years. Free from artificial colouring and chill-filtration, the whisky was bottled at 46% ABV. 




Yellow Rose Double Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

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It's not often you see a cask finished bourbon and rarer still on LCBO shelves. I find it's always a bit of a gamble when buying whiskies with wine or port finishes; doubly so when it's bourbon! Yet despite all of the bad experiments I've tried over the years I'm still lured by the thrill of hitting upon one that gets it right. 

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to Yellow Rose Distilling, a relatively new distillery from Houston, Texas, by way of a sample swap. 
Double Barrel Bourbon was among the first offerings to market after their launch in 2012 as a limited run. The bourbon was first aged in new oak barrels then finished in ex-Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels between 2-5 months before being bottled at 43% ABV.

Nose: Roasted peanuts, plum, brown sugar, and an almost bready dark chocolate aroma. 

Palate: Smooth and full-bodied with juicy cherry and orange flavours sweetened by brown sugar and a smear of peanut paste. 

Finish: Refined and somewhat dry. The warming finish shows a moderate length with candied fruit and roasted peanuts in the skin! 

Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask

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aberlour-16-year-old-whisky.jpgAberlour's 16 Year Old Double Cask is part of the Speyside distillery's core product range and has remained relatively unchanged for several years with one notable exception; the alcohol content. Past bottlings available on LCBO shelves were listed at 43% ABV whereas the current Aberlour Double Cask range has been reduced to 40% ABV. 

It's been a while since I've had this one and I thought I'd try it out again to see what, if anything, might have changed in the flavour profile. Like the 12 and 18 year old, this expression was matured in a combination of first-fill Bourbon casks and Sherry butts.

Nose: Inviting aromas of malt, cherries, pink bubblegum, and toffee spiced with nutmeg. 

Palate: Light to medium-bodied, the palate bursts with cinnamon, estery cherries and orange zest that almost seem to tilt the dram into a dry "rye-like" fruitness yet it's restrained by a subtle sweetness in the form of buttery toffee and toasted coconut.

Finish: Dry and tannic with dark chocolate and dried fruit notes appearing late into the long, warming, finish. 

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