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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. 

Aultmore 12 year old

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You can be forgiven for not recognizing the name Aultmore in the pantheon of Speyside whisky distilleries. Known locally as the "rarest of Speyside," the spirit from Aultmore distillery has long been a key component of Dewar's Blended Scotch and until recently, nearly all of the distillery's 2.1 million litre yearly output has been blended out with only a scant amount of single malt made available to independent bottlers. 

Founded in 1897 by distillery magnate Alexander Edward, the distillery owes its name to a Gaelic phrase, "An t-Allt Mòr," meaning "big burn" referring to its water source, the Auchinderran burn located in the oft mist-shrouded area known as the Foggie Moss. Located just north of the town of Keith on the rolling road to Buckie, the distillery has led a mostly quiet life aside from a few closures attributed to the "Pattison whisky crash", the First World War, and a renovation in the late 1960s. The distillery changed owners four times over its life so far yet it has long been associated with John Dewar & Sons Ltd., now a subsidiary of global drinks giant Bacardi Ltd.

Despite its rarity, for more than 100 years it's known to have been a secret dram of locals and Buckie fishermen, who knew to ask at nearby pubs and inns for "a nip of the Buckie Road." In fact, with the exception of the 2004 release of a 12 year old at 43% ABV, there have been no original distillery labelled bottlings of single malt from Aultmore in recent history. A handful of independent bottlings of Aultmore have surfaced now and again but those were always destined to be limited runs with a set number of bottles.

Picking up on the growth opportunity and global demand for single malt, John Dewar & Sons Ltd. announced the release of the "Last Great Malts" range in late 2014 which would finally offer distillery label bottlings from 5 of the company's distilleries. Aultmore alone is scheduled to have 12, 21 and 25 year old offerings rolled out through travel retail and conventional shops. 

Whisky fans may quibble with the marketing aspects and the similarity of the Last Great Malts strategy to that of Diageo's successful Classic Malts of Scotland product range but, from where I sit, this new range is a welcome addition to the landscape and I'm hopeful in my expectations that it won't be a collection of throw-away and garbage whisky.

The emphasis on quality is apparent in this new release of 12 year old Aultmore. From the packaging, to the on-trend practice of bottling non chill-filtered with natural colour at 46% ABV, this whisky has all the markings of a "new classic" but how will it perform in the glass?

The Last Minute 2015 Gift Buyer's Guide

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With less than a week remaining for the pre-Christmas shopping season we've got plenty of price conscious last minute whisky and whisky-related gift ideas for the drammers on your list. Ranging from under $30 to $120 any of these gifts will inspire both delight and admiration in your recipient. 

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

  1. Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some flavour profiles to provide a frame of reference in determining which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal to. 
  2. For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that 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. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: fucking 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. In fact, spend the money on anything else. For the $15-$30 you spend on whisky stones, I guarantee your recipient would prefer that you took him/her out to a nice whisky bar and bought them a dram or two of "the good stuff" from the whisky list and then sat there and spent time with each other. 

Bowmore 12 years old

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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! 

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.

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Recent Comments

  • Ryan commented on Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask:

    Hi James, I greatly prefer the A'Bunadh over the 16yr. But as you've probably noticed, I've got a real affinity for big, bold sherry bombs! :) In my opinion, the A'Bunadh is THE best variation of Aberlour on LCBO shelves. From a value perspective, the higher price is more than compensated by the higher ABV.

  • James Peach commented on Aberlour 16 Years Old Double Cask:

    Thank you for the review and interesting to hear it was once bottled at 43%ABV. I do wonder if there are any such bottling lurking on the shelves anywhere. Surely a bargain in this day and age however, at 40%ABV I feel it is a different proposition (perhaps I'm jaded, but at the minimum ABV I have found many bottlings wanting and I have found I am invariably disappointed) and perhaps the couple of extra $'s for A'Bunadh to be the more worthy purchase. How would you compare the two on both an absolute and value basis?

  • Stuart commented on Forty Creek Heart of Gold:

    I have an unopened bottle available if someone is still looking. email whisky@hfour.ca

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