Wednesday, 25 July 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for July 2012

Well this month, there isn't a whole heck of a lot to report on in the magazines and public releases.  There are however many more items in the LCBO that deserve your attention and hard earned money.  So let's start into this with the public Vintages releases.

July 07/2012 Release:

Only a single bottle in this round.  Wemyss Malts brings the LCBO a 15 year old Caol Ila from their private collections.  Wemyss (said like 'Weems'), is a long standing family with a heavy passion for good Whisky.  Barley from the Wemyss estate is still prized today by many of the big distillers for both its quality and flavour.  They offer both independent single-cask  bottlings of major distilleries and a range of hand-crafted blends.  Currently the LCBO has one of each of their midst, the 8 year old blend known as 'Spice King' and the new arrival of the single cask Caol Ila 1996.  They specify right on their website: "All of our single cask offerings are non chill-filtered and free of artificial colouring, such as caramel." 

Delving into the Caol Ila we find a rich and creamy nose.  Filled with notes of big peat and smoke (both peat and wood smoke), hints of caramel and undertones of brine and minerals wash back and forth. Subtle notes of cinnamon and cloves peek through in the background.  Mouth-feel on this is fantastic,  deep and rich with similar notes from the nose carried on a gentle baking spices (cardamom, cloves and cinnamon) palate with hints of barley sugar.  Finish is medium-long and drying.  The peat in the finish carries you to rubbed oak nose with gentle notes of detritus vegetation and roasted nuts (seriously good stuff in this bottle).  So things are looking really up, 46% ABV, no colour, no chill filtration, and one hell of a Islay dram.  In fact possibly one of the best modern Caol Ila's I've had to date.  The quality and time taken in this dram shows itself over and over again, and the whisky becomes more-ish very quickly.  Not a bad deal for $150 for an indie bottling of an Islay king.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and you may also want to search out the Spice King <HERE> as it's an excellent example of a well-crafted blend.

July 27/2012 Release:

Making it's return this month is a fantastic Kentucky Bourbon.  Eagle Rare 10 (not really so rare if it's been released for the last three years consecutively...), is a big meaty 10 year old Bourbon.  Wonderfully rich dark, and complex; yet still wonderfully affordable.  The nose is heavy, laden with Cherries (all types [dried, macerated, overripe, fresh etc...]), vanilla is present, but muted whereas the oak and southern style sweet tea (look that up and make that for yourself one day; trust me on that) permeate.  Buried underneath there are hints of medicated rub (bay leaf , eucalyptus, and hints of camphor), also I found molasses and sweet corn.  The palette is just as good, featuring many of the same notes from the nose but with a little more vanilla and oak in the package.  Honey, herbs and worked leather make an appearance in the mouth too, making the palate on this pretty intense.  The finish is slow and drying, starting with a baking spice hint and turning up to 11 with a full on trip into a oak sawmill!  That's a hard one to explain, but think of worked leather (like horse bridals), old sawdust, linseed oil, the actual smell of the horses (animal but not bad animals), fresh cut lumber and old lumber drying in the sun, and so much more.  This is a great buy to get into American Bourbon, I know I've turned a few colleagues on with this particular dram.  Served at 45% ABV and  of course no colour added by law, check your local LCBO <HERE> as these bottles don't seem to last long at $48.

Last up is another Speyside single malt.  This time it comes from an independent group by the name of LombardsPebble Beach is one of the most iconic golf courses in the world (or so I'm told as I have a hard enough time completing a 9 hole mini golf course).  As such, it commands one of the other great Scottish innovations be presented in its name.  Pebble Beach 12 is a beautiful dram that emphasizes all things Speyside whisky; rich fruitiness, malty sweetness, and excellent finishes with drying notes making your mouth yearn for more.  The nose on this is fantastic, rich pralines and caramels dominate with notes of  coconut and hints of tropical fruits interspersed.  From a second fill Bourbon cask, this presents more of that rich toffee and floral palate and subdues the oak to the finish.  The palate is quite dry, contrary to the nose, and has the same caramel and red fruit flavours but with a hint of tobacco leaves and sweet candied orange peels.  Dutch cocoa powder and candied ginger come across in the finish with the oak playing second fiddle and some wood smoke buried in the distance.  This is a great dram for a great price from an exciting newcomer to the LCBO shelves.  I strongly suggest you check your local LCBO for anything Lombards as they certainly seem to take care in their bottling; and at $67 and 43% ABV (NCF NCA), this is a very good bottle to delve into the Speyside mystique.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> for your very own bottle.

In the non-publicized Vintages release there is so, so much more to be found.  I have noted bottles from Lombard's, MacArthur's, Dun Bheagan, and Berry Brothers to name a few.  Let's list a few that have come in and I'll get to posting some more notes here shortly of the few that I've tried.



Dun Bheagan:

Berry's Selection:

Okay, so that about wraps up most of this round.  I'll be posting some notes for some selected drams above soon and as always: Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of our glass.

Monday, 16 July 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for June 2012

Well here we are again, Father's Day rolls around and the LCBO rolls out the red carpet and opens up their wallets asking us to part with exorbitant amounts of our hard earned money on special bottlings that are a gift for your father.  The question is , is it really worth it?  I'm not saying your father isn't worth it, I'm saying that what the LCBO is asking you to spend isn't necessarily worth what they're asking.  Let's see what they've touted as the best of the best for your dad, and I'll; give you a suggestion for a suitable replacement at a better value.

June 09/2012 Release:

This is the primary father's day release and features the big movers and shakers of the industry and some big items that are explicitly shown off for the 'wow' factor.

Up first is the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Gran Reserva.  This isn't the regular 21 year old Rum Finish (nee Havana Cask or the purple 21 denoted as 'Rum Finish' only), but a new bottling... right?  Wrong, this is the exact same thing with a few minor changes.  New old name (IE: Gran Reserva), less information (no more cask specification), new fancier bottle/package and most importantly... $70 extra dollars?!!!!  What happened here?  This is a beautiful bottling and a beautiful bottle, but I don't see the reason for the 40% increase in price.  Delicate flavors of rum, banana leaves, herbal vanilla all intermingle with the common Glenfiddich fruity palate creating something great. I do have concern though that Glenfiddich have now priced their upper echelon of the core range out of reach of the common person.  Don't mistake me, this was my favorite Glenfiidch, but a 40% increase in cost is not inline with the enjoyment of the spirit or giving a gift.  This is one to grab a glass when your out at a bar, not a purchase; but in case you happen to feel flush check the LCBO Sku #981381 for a listing of bottles.  $236.95 is asking way too much for what you're getting; a chill filtered, mass produced and coloured 40% bottle of rum finished Scotch

For shame LCBO, taking all your customer's hard earned money so that they can impress their father one day a year. 
Alright, let's recommend something along the same profile that is just as complex and far more affordable.  Mac Na Mara rum finish is a Gaelic blend from Pràban Na Linne distillers that features the same great notes (herbal vanilla, banana leaves, hints of citrus), and combines this with their own blended spirit (which is richer than Glenfiddich IMO).  This creates something more with sweet baked cookies and hints of smoke on the nose, great depth with hints of citrus and vanilla in the mouth and an oily medium finish.  This is what a rum cask should be like!  The rum comes from Guyana (one guess as to who that might be... *El Dorado* Cough Cough*).  Guyanese rum is demerara based (typically), and it gives the spirit an incredible depth with deep rich molasses, and heady herbal and burnt sugar flavors.  Non-chill filtered, as all their products are, Pràban Na Linne takes great pride with their whisky and you should feel proud giving this away as a gift.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and grab one for yourself because at $33.95, this won't last long.

Next up, the monster king of all premium blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label.  No age statement, heavy filtration and a gob of colour added.... i think you see my train of thought already!  $289.99?! When did this go up $40 too, when i bought my bottle, (from the duty-free for $146, I figured it was a treat for myself and I was saving $103 over the LCBO's already outrageous price.  Now at $290, this is a blatant rip-off!  Johnnie Blue caters to the people who want to be told what to drink, want to be told that they're super special and want to be told that they have the best of everything.  That's a nice feeling to have, but let's come back to earth for a moment.  This blend is heady and heavy on the nose, almost a whisky perfume as it were, but without an age statement at that price, what are you really getting yourself into?  Notes of orange, bitter tangerine peel, wood smoke, light peat, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and nuts dominate the nose.  The palate is intense and deep.  Lots of the same notes appear, with the dried fruits and roasted nuts/grains taking the backbone, smoke and peat layer across the blend.  The smoothness is so good, it's artificial.   And then something happens; it all disappears.  The finish is medium and drawn out, at first.   The problem arises from the age, the longer that whisky sits in your glass, the less desirable notes remain.  It seems to over-oxidize quickly; moving from the orange notes out in front into the bitter pith notes taking over everything with staccato notes of smoke backing it up.  The mouth feel moves from smooth to oily and empty (like an over watered whisky).  It starts to come apart at the seams in less than 30 minutes in the glass, and by 1 hour, it's nothing but bitter candied orange peel, wood smoke, and some brown slightly flavourless liquid.  Johnnie Blue seems to decompose faster than an ice cream cone on a hot Toronto day!  Sadly, this is something that I cannot comment further on, maybe it's my bottle or maybe my palate, but I've had this on a few occasions and find that the blend seems to be so delicate even a swish changes the consistency.  And don't ever add water to this, it will literally deconstruct in front of your nose.   All that complaining aside, the LCBO has tonnes of stock of this at all times for those people who need a whisky to tell them their special <HERE>.  You don't need me to tell you that your special; you should know that already.  For a better deal the LCBO does carry 200 mL bottles for $70 (blargh, can't believe that is a better deal!); but you'll have to check in your local stores as I can't find the codes for it.

You came to my blog looking for good buys and good information; so I'll give you an alternative buy for the bottle of Blue Label.  Let's shift gears and go on those Blue label characteristics like the  smoothness, rich fruitiness and the fantastic balance. There is another bottle at less than half the price (also a blend), that fulfils in all respects, is served at higher proof (45.6%), and would be a welcome present that won't break the bank.  Berry Brothers and Rudd, owners of a fine wines and spirits shop in London for a great number of years, has dabbled with their own blends to purvey to their clientele.  Cutty Sark is just that, a tailored blend that doesn't tell you how it is or how to enjoy it the 'right' way.  This is one of those pour and contemplate life whiskies, great depths and a wide array of elements make it an excellent dram to sit and relax over.  The nose on this is deep, more heavy on the sherry notes which brings the almond and wine notes to the front, but doesn't overstep the sandalwood and spice notes buried within.  Rich worked oak and delicate floral notes like jasmine and heather break up the weight.  In the mouth, a rich full-bodied explosion (what Johnnie Walker Blue should be like), fills your mouth with rich exotic spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom), oak and roasted nuts and grains, and in the background a sour note (like macerated cherry or plum), and a slight hint of menthol or eucalyptus.  The finish is long, and goes on and on.  Your mouth will water after the first sip, yearning for another.  This is what a good blend should be like.  The LBCO over ordered their stock and are now clearing this bottling out at only $124.95, so this is your chance to grab a bottle now and hold it until that special occasion comes around, or that special someone gets their present.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle now.

Well now, we are on a roll!  Slightly bumpy and off-kilter roll of rants and disappointed mumbling; but a roll nonetheless.  Next up is another mega bottling, this one actually being worthwhile!  Please take this next set of tasting notes with a grain of salt, as this is a single barrel bottling what I nosed may not be in any other bottle.  The LCBO offering is a slightly higher proof than any other I've seen, so I'm not sure if this is exclusive to the LCBO or what the story is.  The Balvenie 15 single barrel is to The Balvenie whisky range, what Lynryd Skinner's Free Bird is to hard rock.  It is but a shining, poignant, and rare example of what The Balvenie flavour profile is really about.  The incredible nose on this gives us the honeycomb, soft ripe barley, creamy floral and vanilla nose balanced with apricot preserves, polished oak, pineapple and ground star anise spice.  I've said before that I'm not a great Balvenie fan (only the Caribbean cask and the Portwood 21 really do it for me), but this exemplifies the standard.  This is what I wanted to smell when I picked up a glass of Signature or Doublewood.  This is the nose that goes on and on, the mouth feel matches the nose and adds things like vanilla cream cookies, floral wildflower honey, hints of citrus, ripe yellow fruits (like mango, Meyer lemon , pineapple persimmon)  and ripe barley come together to make this one of my favourite Balvenie expressions.  Alas though, this is not to be forever.  This is a single barrel expression, and what I get here, may not be in the next barrel.  With less than 350 bottles/barrel turnover, the chances of finding this intense nose again are slim (good, but slim).  This is a great buy in the lineup at only $145.95 (believe me that's cheap coming from the LCBO), and serving at 50.5% ABV.  Unfortunately it is chill-filtered and coloured (no where can I find it specified otherwise, and it makes me wonder what was lost in the process), but all in all this is a fantastic bottling.  I strongly urge you to try this at an LCBO tasting bar or at an actual bar to see what the Balvenie really can be like.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

Last up is another overpriced, mega name brand, chill filtered Super Scotch.  The Macallan 25 Sherry Oak.  $799.95.  43% ABV, original colour.  This is supposed to be the cream of the crop for the LCBO shelves, but what I see is a monster price tag cash grab.  Let me first admit a couple of things; this is not a bottle to buy (unless you burn money in the winter to keep warm), this is not a Macallan that I've tried yet, and finally I do have a soft spot for Macallan as it was the first sherried whisky that I fell in love with.  That aside, let me put on the crazy whisky drinker rant pants and tinfoil hat one more time and go to town (I promise it's the last).  This is a fine example of the Macallan, I hear it's beautiful and drying on the palate..... but where do you get off charging more than any other store I can find online?  I searched 25 wine/spirit search engines for North America and find that the LCBO is the highest price.  The US seems to get this bottle for anywhere i the 620-700 range (LINK; LINK; .  Calgary has the same bottle for $548 (LINK) and $600 (LINK).  BC has it for $765 (LINK).  So answer me this LCBO big wigs, why the discrepancy  Why does a bottle that is shipped 756 miles further West get a $200 price break.  Should anyone from the LCBO want to get a hold of me please email my blog and I'd be glad to go over why one of the world's largest buyer of wines and spirits (ref your own site HERE), cannot seem to get a fair price for its buyers.  That aside (and I apologize to my readers for the outburst, but this leaves me more than frustrated), this is a monster sherry and it commands your respect.  Should you be so interested in something like this, may I suggest a seat sale at Porter and a trip out west, I hear the country is beautiful.

June 23/2012 Release:

Up first is a big Kentucky bourbon with a rye twist.  Blanton's Gold, similar to the regular Balnton's uses a corn, rye and malted barley mashbill.  Secret proportions create a bourbon with a smoothness that can't be missed.  The proportions of rye create a rich fruitiness in the blend, and further ageing give this a richer edge over the standard single barrel.  The nose is fragrant and deep, with loads of rich dried fruits (macerated red fruits).  Dried cherries, Vanilla, oak and honey permeate your senses.  The mouth feel is luxurious and intense, hot peppery bright rye cuts into the tongue, with notes of dried apricots, wildflower honey and butterscotch follow soothing the burn.  The finish is long with notes of rich oak, burnt caramel, dried wildflowers.  Boy oh boy, this is a keeper!  I really enjoyed the special reserve, and the single barrel expressions and I continue to be impressed with the 'Gold' edition.  I have to give commendation where it is due, the Blanton's website has THE most comprehensive listing of information I have ever seen.  Listings of the mashbill contents, char type, entry proof of the new make spirit and so much more are provided for your inner whisky nerd pleasure.  This is a fantastic resource for the end connoisseur (you and I), as this means there is nothing to hide.  Legally there cannot be colouring in Kentucky bourbon, albeit they freely admit using chill filtration, but serve the spirit at 51.5% ABV this is a great value for money ($100).  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

Second bottle is another southern monster.  Sazerac Straight Rye is a heavy hitter.  True to the rye name, this is a strong willed, sweet and spicy dram; so much so that this may be a little more suited to making a Sazerac cocktail rather than drinking straight.  Sweet rye fruits, vanilla candy and licorice dominate the nose with notes or hot pepper, white pepper and a little alcohol burn vying for background attention.  In the mouth a big spicy punch from the rye with some short citrus follow up.  Short finish revealing the hot oak and more white pepper spices.  This is a hot one that can use some water to settle it, but what better way to dull down a hot monster than some ice (yes I knowwhat I say, keep the ice out of your glass.... but trust me on this), with a twist of citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit or tangerine all go excellent with the big fruity-sweet nose here).  Sit and sip that on your balcony, terrace or porch in the evening and recant your tales of labour from the day tou your loved ones (or pets for that matter).  This is a great rye, but falls victim to what I feel most Canadian "ryes" do, all heat and punch with no substance.  There is substance in this glass, just not enough for me to make it more than a mixer.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> and get yourself a bottle.  Chill filtered, coloured and served at 45%, not a bad deal at $45; but be warned there are better deals out there to be had.

So there we have it, a few rants and some interesting notes sums up the June releases.  There are some good, but mostly overpriced releases this round.  I tried to offer some alternative options in the more reasonable range of pricing, and hope that my rants haven't turned too many people away.  It's very hard to explain the LCBO to people who have choices in their liquor stores, or have never heard of Government run liquor monopolies.  The frustration that entails and the pricing fixes that we endure in the love of our spirit would frustrate any Whisky lover.  That aside, more is on the way including tasting notes on Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams coming in time for the holidays this year.  So as always, keep your stick on the ice; and the ice out of your glass (except where noted :P).