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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. 

Gordan & MacPhail Glenburgie 10 Years Old

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Although Glenburgie is among the oldest of the active distilleries in Scotland it has remained out of the spotlight and as such could be considered among the "lesser known" of Speyside's distilleries. Whisky production is known to have occurred on the current site as far back as 1810, yet Glenburgie was actually opened in 1829 by William Paul who hired renowned industrial architect Charles Doig to design the distillery.

With most of its single malt production destined for Ballantine's or Old Smuggler brands of blended scotch whisky, a sighting of a Glenburgie bottling is a rare occurrence. Over it's lifetime, Glenburgie has changed hands 9 times and each owner has restricted its output to blending with only a small amount of single malt made available to independent bottlers. For a number of years Glenburgie produced 2 different styles of single malt on the same site. In 1958, then-owners Hiram Walker & Sons installed a pair of Lomond stills to produce a variant called Glencraig supposedly named after former production director Willie Craig. Until the stills were removed in 1981 Glencraig was occasionally available as a single malt but, like Glenburgie, most of the spirit was used for blending. The current owners, Pernod-Ricard (held by Chivas Brothers), expanded the distillery's annual capacity to 4.2 million litres following their acquisition in 2005. 

Discovered by chance at an NB Liquor store in Rothesay, New Brunswick, it's the first bottle of Glenburgie I've ever seen. This 10 year old expression was matured in refill sherry hogsheads and first fill sherry butts and bottled at 40% ABV by independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail.
 



Aberfeldy 12 years old

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Opened in 1898 by the sons of merchant whisky blender John Dewar, John Jr. and Tommy, the Aberfeldy distillery was built in Perthshire, Scotland near the legendary Pitilie Burn. Famed for its gold deposits, the stream is the water source for the distillery and is somewhat of tourist attraction in its own right appealing to both salmon anglers and prospectors who've panned gold here for nearly a millennium. The "golden dram" has long been the core component of Dewar's line of blended scotch whiskies and has been available as a 12 year old single malt expression since around 1999. Recently re-released as part of parent company John Dewar & Sons "Last Great Malts of Scotland" range, Aberfeldy 12 years old was aged in ex-bourbon barrels and then bottled at 40% ABV. 


It's been over 5 years since we last tasted this whisky and I was eager to sample it again to see what, if anything, might have changed aside from the labeling with the re-launch.

Lagavulin 8 year old

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Lagavulin_bot_2016_Vig_NoCl-001.jpgTo commemorate the 200th anniversary of their Lagavulin distillery, parent company Diageo recently announced the release of a limited edition 8 year old bottling. In an age where most Scotch whisky distilleries are owned by global conglomerates who seem to be in near constant competition to release the next "most coveted ultra premium" offering, the Lagavulin 8 year old is a welcome break from the trend. Affordable, widely available, and at a youthful age, this anniversary bottling stands apart from the cluttered commemorative landscape of "bespoke" crystal decanters, super aged and unobtainable expressions, or boutique NAS lines in fancy boxes. However, it's worth noting that Diageo is keenly working both ends of the spectrum on this special anniversary since they've also released a limited 8,000 bottle run of 25 year old Lagavulin aged exclusively in Sherry casks.  

For such an established and beloved whisky brand, an 8 year old commemorative bottling is a bold move. Bottled at a robust 48% ABV and solely aged in American oak, the anniversary bottling takes a risk and invites the consumer to try a more, dare I say, "essential" version of Lagavulin than what's been previously available in recent times through official distillery bottlings. Reflecting on the past, the inspiration for this expression comes from one of the distillery's earliest glowing reviews and endorsements courtesy of Victorian-era Britain's most famous whisky writer, Alfred Barnard in his 1887 book, "The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom."

The story goes that in the late 1880s, Mr. Barnard visited Lagavulin and fell in love with the distillery. After sampling an 8 year old expression he described it as both "exceptionally fine" and "held in high repute... [as] there are only a few of the Scotch distilleries that turn out spirit for use as single whiskies and that made at Lagavulin can claim to be one of the most prominent." Truly high praise for the quality of the spirit; it's important to remember that during those days most, if not all, of a distillery's single malt output was used for blending. Single malt whisky, as we know it, was uncommon as a product for sale and its availability was typically limited to those who lived and worked in the vicinity of the distillery. For the vast majority of whisky drinkers, in both the domestic and the export market, bends of malt and grain whiskies were the only options.

Enchanted by the spirit and the beauty of the Lagavulin bay, Barnard wrote, "[there's] no prettier or more romantic spot could have been chosen for a distillery." I have to say, we couldn't agree more completely.

This bi-centennial bottling isn't an attempt at a re-creation of what Barnard tippled. Quite frankly it would be an impossible task without a time machine since nearly every aspect of production from equipment to process has changed over the decades. Rather, as Dr. Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach at Diageo, explained in an interview with Forbes magazine, "we wanted to produce a whisky that tasted great--and something that was at an affordable price for a special bottling. So when we fell upon Barnard's tale of tasting an eight-year-old Lagavulin, everything fell into place. The challenge was to find the casks that would deliver against the promise. And we believe to have done that. But to be clear, it's not a recreation of what Barnard tasted...it's really an homage."

To those who might question the merits or price point of a younger version of a favourite whisky, Morgan offers a compelling rationale for the anniversary bottling, "the obsession with age statements and older whiskies is really a product of the late twentieth century. And we should remember that the majority of Scotch that's consumed around the world today doesn't carry an age statement. The fact of the matter is--as Lagavulin 8 Year Old demonstrates very clearly--is that older isn't better. It's simply different [and] in my experience, if you select your casks carefully, you can find many wonderful whiskies aged six, eight, or ten years that have very specific tastes and flavors that are lost with excessive aging--because the wood character begins to dominate. Age has become a lazy way of defining quality and price. And that's demonstrably not how it should be."

I'm convinced but, as they say, "the proof of the whisky is in the drinking!" 

Ok, maybe nobody says that but me...

Scapa Skiren

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skiren.jpgSkiren is the latest single malt release from the Scapa distillery to hit LCBO shelves. Located on the remote island of Orkney, just off the northern coast of Scotland, Scapa is arguably one of the lesser known distilleries in the realm of Scotch whisky. Since most Scapa's yearly one million litre single malt output is consumed by the Ballantine's family of blended whisky, the distillery releases very few official bottlings. Lighter than its neighbour distillery Highland Park, Scapa uses a Lomond-style wash still and long fermentation times to produce an oily, unctuous, spirit that's a close reflection of the grain and expresses fruity notes like pear, a twinge of salt on the palate and a chocolatey finish.

It's been a while since we've seen anything from this distillery in Ontario. Scapa attracted the attention of whisky geeks in 2008 with the spectacular 16 year old expression and, later, the delicious 14 year old that replaced it. However, from about 2013 until just recently, it's been difficult to track down a bottle of either aside from the occasional independent bottling. To the surprise of enthusiasts, Scapa announced a relaunch of the brand in 2015 focusing on no-age-statement releases and a new visitor centre where guests can still find some of the prized 16 year old for sale. While NAS bottlings usually make us skeptical, our love for this hard-to-find spirit demanded that we get our hands on a bottle.

Skiren, meaning "glittering bright skies" in Old Norse, is bottled at 40% ABV, bears no age statement and was matured in 100% first-fill American oak barrels. 

Lot No.40 Single Barrel Cask Strength

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Last week I was granted access to Corby's Pike Creek warehouses just outside of Windsor with Dr. Don Livermore, the Master Blender responsible for Lot No. 40, acting as guide. The sixteen rectangular, cinder block built, flat-topped warehouses aren't much to look at from the outside, but behind the walls of these utilitarian structures stand some 1.6 million barrels of whisky.

Inside, the warehouse is a delight to the senses of any whisky geek. Stacked to form a corridor from end to end of the building with cells branching off laterally, the barrels stand 6 high upon wooden palates. The damp, musty, smell of earth and wood sweetened by boozy apple and butterscotch is both figuratively and literally intoxicating. In fact, anyone working in a warehouse must wear a monitoring device that measures the ambient alcohol content in the air. While that may sound like a fun rush, you're more likely to pass out or worse from rapid asphyxiation. Only after the warehouse has had time to "air out" from opening the large rolling doors at either end of the building will Maturation Supervisor, Donald Campbell allow entry. Since the warehouses were purposefully built without electricity or heating so as to mitigate the risk of fires and allow the whisky to seasonally age there's no way to speed up the process by using conventional powered air ventilation. Without electricity there's no background hum of lights or rumble of vents and, for me, a sense of tranquility in that quiet space. Would that I could write all of my tasting notes from inside a whisky warehouse...

It was there, among the barrels, in an unexpected stroke of good fortune that Dr. Don offered us a special sample of Lot No. 40; non chill-filtered, straight from the cask without any added colouring or water and bottled at the robust strength of 55.8% ABV. 

The Macallan Select Oak

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THEMACALLAN SINGLEMALTSCOTCH 5010314067090 HERO.jpgThe Macallan's Select Oak expression is exclusive to the travel retail market and is often found in 1L bottles reduced to a strength of 40% ABV. Bearing no age statement, the Select Oak label is light on details except that it forms part of the 1824 Collection and that it's composed  of "an exceptionally wide and unique combination of five cask types, delivering extraordinary smoothness, remarkable sweeness and depth."


Intriguing, will a pentamerous blend of different casks yield a quintupling of flavour or will the result be a muddled mess of Macallan?


Nose: Wafts of sweet boozy caramel and plums underpinned with toasted wood.


Palate: Straight-forward with flavours of dried fruits, heaps of butterscotch and caramel. Even thought it's only 40% ABV, the dram comes off punchier than you'd expect. Sure, it's smooth but it feels almost as if the body has been stripped away, or hollowed out even, leaving a thin mouthfeel with edges of hot, woody, spice.

Finish: Brief with a dry finish that resolves with prunes, and an almost dusty allspice heat.

Craigellachie 13 year old

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Built atop a rocky cliff that overlooks the Spey river as it winds past the town of Aberlour, stands Craigellachie distillery. Founded in 1891 by a consortium of whisky merchants led by Peter Mackie, owner of Lagavulin, and whisky titan Alexander Edward, the distillery was designed by the prolific architect Charles Doig. Since that first run of spirit in 1898 most of Craigellachie's (pronounced Krai-GELLaKee) output has been destined for blending. Originally, the spirit went near exclusively into Mackie's iconic "White Horse" blended whisky. These days, it's found a new home as a core component of Dewar's line of blended whiskies.

With only a handful of official single malt bottlings released and a relative scarcity of independent bottlings, Craigellachie has retained a lower profile than most other distilleries in Speyside among consumers. Known for its lightly sulphurous and meaty character, due in part to the use of cast iron worm tubs to condense the spirit, aged single malt expressions of Craigellachie are now more widely available as part of Dewar's Last Great Malts collection.   

Bottled at 46% ABV and non chill-filtered, this 13 year old expression is the first distillery label single malt to be released since the early 2000s.


Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky

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Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky was first introduced in 1879 by a family-run company of Aberdeen tea blenders Charles, David and Gordon Graham who branched out into whisky blending. In a stroke of marketing genius the Grahams' decided to package their creation in a distinctive black bottle made of German glass and aptly named the blend "Black Bottle." At that time the blend was mostly comprised of Highland whiskies made with malted barley from New Pitsligo in Aberdeenshire which used local peat in the production process. 

The outbreak of the First World War spelled the end of the iconic black glass bottle as trade with the German manufacturer ceased and Gordon Graham & Co. were forced to revert to a standard green glass bottle. Over the next century, ownership of the blend changed hands and with each transaction the recipe was altered. 

The latest owner, Burn Stewart Distillers (now owned in turn by South African alcoholic drinks conglomerate, Distell), acquired the brand along with Islay distillery Bunnahabhain in 2003. The Islay-heavy recipe was retained and, for the next ten years, they continued to make the blend as their predecessors had done. Domestically, the whisky was doing well but it remained a mystery as to why it was failing to gain traction in any of its export markets. By 2012, Black Bottle was exported to over 30 countries yet approximately 80% of its sales were realized solely in the UK. 



In an effort to revitalize the brand, Burn Stewart Distillers announced in 2013 that Black Bottle would once again be sold in its traditional black glass bottle. However, the change in packaging wasn't the only tweak the company had in mind. Master Distiller Ian MacMillan was charged with re-creating a blend that was more in keeping with the original "north-east" recipe. Speaking after the announcement, MacMilllan is reported to have claimed that "Black Bottle lost itself in Islay...and [that] the challenge was to develop a liquid that was more in line with the original character of Black Bottle while maintaining all of the quality for which the brand is renowned. I wanted to reintroduce a richness to balance the smokiness of the blend and in turn allow each component to contribute to the overall flavour."

The new recipe contains malt from just one Islay distillery, Bunnahabhain, and a host of unpeated Highland and Speyside malt and grain whiskies. In addition to the revised formulation, the blend has undergone a further change as it is now also married in new American oak casks prior to being bottled at 40% ABV. 

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