Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Surpirse... It's a Whiskey Review!

     Okay, so it's not the article I had promised; that's still in the barrel awaiting some finishing remarks and pictures.  That's not quite ready to happen yet, but instead what I've got for you is a pair of tasting notes from a recent trip to the LCBO tasting bar.  I finally got to try my fair share of John Jacob Rye, and also a single malt from my favourite distillery Mortlach.

     First up, a small batch rye from Washington state.  Fremont Mischief Distillery is a new upstart distilleries in the Seattle area, producing a limited number of products, and successfully creating a name for itself.  Their backbone seems to be an 8 year old whiskey (coming from Canada; for the time being as they begin their own distillation with local grains), but they also produce a 2-3 year old rye named in honour of the master distiller's grandfather.  John Jacob Rye is listed as 'perfect for sipping with ice or as the base to your favourite whisky cocktail'.  Upon reading this I wasn't so enthused to get my hands on a glass.  At a recent trip to the tasting bar, I noticed the bottle and decided to tempt fate.  What ended up in my glass was far more than I expected.  Let me throw the notes below for you to peruse:

  • Colour:  Rich amber bordering on a yellow/goldish highlight
  • Body:  Thick and oily, not unlike good Canadian rye.  The drops seem to take forever to form and run slowly back into the glass
  • Nose: The first note I got was super sweet butter cream frosting and vanilla ice cream.  Lots of rye pepper and fruits, making the nose densely thick.  The pepper seems very hot like white ground pepper, but has a bright black fruit note like really good Tellicherry peppercorns.  There begins a subtle waft of fruits and an interesting counterbalance of fresh motor oil.  A little water brings out dried mandarin peel. and a caraway rye bread-y note.  In the background there seems to be a grapefruit candy note.  With time it turns more into a wheat sugary note, or a something like a sweet-grass note.
  • Palate:  The mouth feel is very smooth; luxuriously so!  The body does seem a bit thin here (showing its youth), but fruits abound!  Dried apricot shows up here, along with a peach brandy note too.  The pepper doesn't subside here, but instead turns into warmth through the dram.  Some baking spices are present here, but nothing really standing above one another.
  • Finish:  This part is sadly short.  Lots of rye bite and oak heat come through.  Vanilla pudding drifts away into oak warmth and the ever present wood spices.
  • Empty Glass:  This shows the age again, furniture polish and fresh oak (not so great), but behind all of it is dried pickling spices and dill (I think putting a few more years of age on this will bring out these notes more in the dram).
      All in all; I was very impressed with such a young whisky.  It's a really creamy and soft whisky with a reserved bite to it.  I did note an odd label on my bottle at the noting that the contents were actually 42%ABV, not the 40% listed on the bottle.  This leads me to believe the batches are pretty small and that this might be a bottle for the rye lovers to look for out there.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, priced at $57.95 is a little on the steep side, but worth checking out a dram at your local favourite whisky bar, should you run across it.

    Next up is my absolute favourite distillery... that is never bottled by it's owners (with a couple of exceptions).  Mortlach, the monster of Speyside with such notes as: aftershave, pork fat, double smoked bacon, and burnt car tires.  This is a backbone to Johnnie Walker blends in the blue and black range, typically heavily sherried, it provides that lip smacking and unctuous note in the black blend.  Sadly though, it will only usually be seen as an independent bottler' single malt as Diageo seems to not be willing to show off a tour-de-force type malt.  That being said, why would I review this now during the Summer?  Well the Dun Bheagan 12 year old bottling I ran across is anything but typically heavy sherry winter whisky.  This 12 year old hailing from cask #93392 and producing 907 bottles at 46% ABV, called to me on the shelf.  I'm a softy for this monster but, when I got it in my glass, the notes will speak for themselves.

  • Colour:  Light gold with pink highlights (looks like a good sherry cask; and there is no colour or chill-filtration being done here)
  • Body:  Medium-light with fast forming drips that run at a medium pace back to the pool below (wait a minute, this isn't seeming very heavy and brooding?)
  • Nose:  Holy cow!  Hold onto your socks for this one.  There is a wave of sweet floral (like the little flowers in my mum's garden), and red berries all over the place.  Wait a minute, this isn't Mortlach like I know it at all... this is like summer vacation Mortlach! Red fruits and sweet malt abound with notes of overripe strawberry all over the place.  A little water gets added and the beast begins to emerge.  Strawberry pork roast (can you do that? if not I' going to be the first), that thick pork fat note comes with a sly hint of salt (like play-dough).  The nose remains berry sweet, but with a salty (not briny) tang, herbal notes begin to emerge.  The herbs seem very strong like pine needles or spruce tips, but also very shy and drawn back at the same time.
  • Palate:  Sherry-berry sundaes.  The malt almost ends up a background player here, with wood spice rounding up the end.  The meatiness of Mortlach can be felt throughout the dram, but never over bearing.  There are hints of juniper and plum, with an almost mango undertone present.  With water it becomes richer, more earthiness and meatiness come forward now.  The wood spice sharpens and becomes a sort of all-spice note with a dried pine needles hanging about in the background.  Off in the distance amongst the pork roast and berries is a slight nod towards earwax.  This was one hell of a cask IMO!
  • Finish:  This is medium and very satisfying.  Still floral and sweet but with a firm backbone of wood spice and a slightly creamy thickness (think homemade ice cream)
  • Empty Glass: Strawberry jam and play-dough.  There is a surprising pop of spice tea and a hint of mint in the background.
    Well there you have it! I never though I'd see a Mortlach as a summer sipper; but the proof is in the notes.  The berry rich and sherry driven nose of this is intense and whimsical, something I could gladly enjoy over a Summer evening with good company.  This is a pretty expensive bottle for only a 12 year (coming in at a hefty $93), but the quality of the spirit shows itself an might be worth the investment.  You can find your own bottle at your local LCBO <HERE>.

     So there you have a pair of very interesting bottles.  The first being a very small batch produced rye with some very interesting rich notes.  The second being a fantastic summer whisky for anyone looking something sweet and easily approachable (which I find very difficult to say about Mortlach).  Much more to come for the blog.  I'm coming out of summer holiday mode, and getting back to writing; slowly.  Still to come, a meeting of bloggers, a spirits show, the remainder of the Vintages releases from the LCBO for the summer, and a few more articles too.  As always: Keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

April/May LCBO Vintages Releases

    First off let me make the excuse of being very busy (even thought I can also say that's a lie), I've been fairly lazy.  I can't lie about that as this post has been in the barrel for about 2 months.  So it's not that I forgot to post something, although that has happened before... but rather I haven't gotten around to sitting down at my computer to write something.  I'll lay claim that I've been drinking too much wonderful whisky with friends instead of writing.

  Let's start with May.  The LCBO saw fit to not release anything interesting in April 2013, so we're skipping that month.  That being said, the LCBO in it's KGB like control of all the on-goings of the alcohol industry in Ontario seems to have forgotten about May too for the most part.  There is only a single bottle released this month (remember we're in May here), but the glimmer of hope dawns on the horizon, golden delicious hope no less.  Late in the month, a very special blend was released. A blend that has won some well garnered acclaim over the last couple of years, and an almost cult like following.

May 25/2013 Release:

    So what may you ask that has me all atwitter (HA, twitter pun... yeah that's kinda sad now that I look at it).  The blend in question is The Tweedale.  I've been hearing about this for a couple of years now and am really excited to get my hands on a glass of this.  It really is quite a special blend and I think the notes speak for themselves.

  • The Colour:  I'm going to call this early fall gold.  Like a golden delicious apple, bright and shiny with hints of amber running through.  There isn't a lick of spirit caramel here; the bottle even tells me so.
  • The Body:  A quick roll of the glass shows me a medium body.  The drops form slowly but run at a medium pace back to the glass.  Things are looking very up for this blend.
  • The Nose:  Well now this is where we separate the men from the blended boys (ones by the names of Johnny and Jamie's Son).  The nose shows both youth and age quite well (subtle hint that there is some older whisky in here).  Lots of fresh notes, like fresh cut sweet grass (think fresh cut hay but a wetter sweeter note to it).  There is a barley sweetness here, sort of like breakfast cereal sweetness, and a slight hint of sulphur-y sherry.  This isn't bad sulphur, this is more along the lines of gentle distracting sulphur, that tends to turn up the sweet notes in the nose.  In the background I get hints of wood smoke (very subtle), and a dry rubber note.  There are also notes of camphor or minty/menthol drifting in and out of the far reaches.  I even get a note of sweet wine (like Madeira), on the nose after it oxidizes a bit.  This is a wonderful nose.
  • The Palate: There is a sharp start to the palate, lots of pepper warmth with sweetness bubbling through.  There is a butter warmth and oat-y sweetness with a hint of mouldy barley (it's a sort of sourish sweet note that's not out of line, but in fact reflects nicely on the sweetness of the dram).  There is a slight peat smoke in the distance, but this is muddled by vanilla cream.  Towards the finish I'm getting a tartness like a fermented starch.
  • The Finish:  The finish is a chameleon!  It starts short and sweet, but soon reemerges with Szechuan pepper and vanilla cream (if you don't know what Szechuan pepper is; it has a very distinct flavour and slight numbing sensation to the tongue.  This is a core spice of Szechaun cooking and goes famously with grilled meats and pork in any form).  There is a slight numbing sensation and more of the fresh cut sweet grass in the finish.  This time it seems like week old lawn clippings where they have started to ferment with a sweet and slightly sourish note.  Quite nicely summed up with hints of vanilla nd gentle wisps of smoke.
  • The Empty Glass:  The empty glass reveals a whack of vanilla sweetness, custard-y and rich.  There is also a whack of sawdust, but it seems like soft woods, like basswood; reinforcing the sourish almost slightly bitter note that I found ran through the dram.
Okay, that's a lot to digest, and it might be worth reading over my notes again... but I'm going to say that The Tweedale Blend (Batch No. 3) is a cracker of a bottling.  This is definitely a bottling to look out for in your travels; I feel like this is one of the lost arts of the blend type bottles.  They just don't make them like they used to I guess is what I'm saying, but as it turns out someone is and is doing it with style and finesse.  I strongly suggest that you look out for this bottle at your local LCBO <HERE>.  Priced at $70/bottle for 46% NCF; it's a bit on the high side, but you paying for some excellent quality whisky in this dram.

Okay, what else have I missed..... well let's recount what happened.  Spirit of Toronto came and went and was a roaring success. The LCBO pretended to go on strike to sell out its shelves (or maybe that's just speculation on my part).  I finally got to meet some East Coast Whisky idols of mine.  I toured 40 Creek and Still Waters before the big Spirit of Toronot event (more on that to come shortly; with a very special set of notes).  I also sat back and learned to enjoy a dram with friends, summer arrived and blew us out with some heat.  Tamdhu reopened its doors as did Glen Keith, both of which I'm very happy to see operating again.  And then came Father's Day.... that bane of my existence with the LCBO.

  My mother told me if you don't have nothing nice to say, don't say nuthin' (That's a Forrest Gump quote for you there).  So I'm finding it really hard to do that about the LCBO's "selections" for Father's Day 2013.  Some good selections were made this year, such as the Bowmore Darkest 15, while others were questionable at best, like the typical Macallan 20-something-or-other for $1000+.  The only bottle that caught my eye was a little rye called John Jacôb from Fremont Mischief Distillery in Washington, but I still have yet to find and taste this.  Unfortunately it will go by the wayside as having 'peaked my interest' but not gotten any farther for the time being.  I'm going to still hunt it down and try it as I can't leave you wondering, so if anyone has samples that they'd like to trade out shoot me a DM on twitter @ScotchGuyTO.  For the time being I'm going to conclude this post and start the next one about Spirit of Toronto, 40 creek and finally meeting the Lassie.  Keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass ladies and gents, and I'll see you shortly with a special presentation. In the mean time, enjoy  the kitty facepalm as my condolences for not blogging more often.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

March LCBO Vintages Releases

 Well, another month and another list of bottles arrives on our shelves, but is anything worth your hard earned money?  Let's see what we've got this month, and should anything find its way into your basket while you're perusing the wares at your local LCBO.  This month is a bit slim on the bottles, but there is the usual St. Patrick's Day releases of some Irish gold.

March 02/2013:

So in the early month we've got a big name bottle!  Another Balvenie superstar, and another new bottle to our shelves.  This early release brings us the new model of Doublewood from Malt Master David Stewart.  The 17 year old Balvenie Doublewood is the older sibling of the standard Doublewood 12 year old bottling.  Finished primarily in Bourbon casks, this imparts the rich honey and floral notes that the Balvenie is known for.  The second finishing in "European Sherry Oak" (notice there is not specific Country or Sherry type associated to this), imparting the spice and depth to the whisky.  On the nose, there is no shortage of depth to this dram, loads of vanilla and rich red fruit honey (if you've ever had honey from a farmers field near a strawberry patch or a raspberry patch, this is what I'm thinking... there is a floral ester note of the fruit deep within the honey).  Next up to bat is the hard sherry nose (this part I'm not sold on), lots of sherry spice and oak come through with some very interesting fresh notes of tart apples and smooth cream.  The nose is quite elegant and composed, but a little overwhelmed with oak spice for my palate.  In the mouth we get a more robust burst of dry sherry influence and warm oak leading the way.  There are date squares, warm cinnamon apple cider and cardamom vanilla pudding.  A lot of spices as it seems that the oak takes the reins over the spirit, the background noise seems to settle down and come shyly forward after some time.  This isn't a shy whisky, but the finer Balvenie notes seem to take quite a while to develop and show themselves. Finally, after a long settling period, I'm seeing the more delicate floral notes and subtle honeycomb and stewed fruits, but they're really covered up by the sherry spice here.  There is still a lot of polished wood and vanilla cream, with some more wood spices (like cloves, cinnamon and mace), but there seems to be an overburden of oak here that I'm not crazy over.   The finish is all oak spice and vanilla/butterscotch cream, smooth and well composed.  Fans of the 12 year old will definitely like this; sadly though I'm not a fan of the Doublewood, and in this revision there is a bit too much oak in body and it sort of distracts from the subtle spirit. So we're looking at a pretty bottle of 17 year old whisky, served at 43% (little light in my books but I'll let it slide), and coming in at only $167.95..... wait, give me a second to check my notes... yeah, that's $170 for a bottle in the teens!  Okay, this one seems like something targeted towards their die hard Doublewood fans looking to indulge, and at these prices I don't feel it's worth it (so it doesn't get recommend).  Should you be a Doublewood fan looking for that next step up into the Balvenie range, this is your chance to check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

March 16/2013 Release - St. Patty's Day Pile-Up:

 Well another green day rolls around and another rush of Irish whiskies hit our shelves.  In this usual yearly review we see some Cooley bottles, a Jameson or two and the occasional oddity. This year we see a couple of Cooley bottles (one unlisted), and also the return of a grand Jameson bottling.

 First up is Inishowen peated Irish blend.  This Cooley blend is a delightfully peated blend.  Featuring a 30% peated malt, the nose comes across and sweet, fruity and smokey.  Lots of fruits show up on the nose like: peaches and apricots, also some sort of dried fruit blend (like a trail mix sort of thing).  The smoke wafts in and out of the nose, taking beautiful sweet cereals with it.  In the mouth this is a very soft and subtle dram.  Hold it in your mouth longer than you think you need to, and you'll be rewarded with a richer palate.  The fruits and grains are forefront in the blend and the soft peat smoke sort of builds the entire way through the dram, leading up to a smokey swallow. The finish is strong and short, lots of vanilla cream and peat smoke here, the fade is sadly all too quick on it.  The balance of this whiskey is excellent, and at only $35/bottle you're in for a real treat at this price.  I've reviewed this last year in the March 2012 release, and was still blown away by the quality for the price.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for you bottle.  I'd strongly suggest grabbing one before they disappear until next year.

Next up is an 8 year old pure pot still single malt, also from the Cooley distillery stables.  Locke's 8 year old is an excellent introduction to Irish single malts.  I also reviewed it last year in the same post (link <HERE>), but I feel like I failed to get across it's character.  The nose on this is malt-city if there ever was such a thing.  It's a super malt; loads of malted barley and bready notes.  There is also an oily component that is allover the front end that seems to go hand in hand with that pot sill character (something like machine oil).  Slightly subdued to the oily malt are rich fruits, golden fruits like nectarines, pears and the like dominate the nose.  In the mouth the smoothness is divine, with more malty syrup and fruits, that machine-y oil note hasn't disappeared, but is definitely subdued becoming more earthy/mineraly.  The finish still show cases that smoothness filled with vanilla and dried oaky fruits.  This is a heck of a dram to get you into the Irish mood, and should be tried if not grabbed at the first chance you see it.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your dram.  Unfortunately it's only 40% and looks to be coloured, but once you put it in your mouth I'm sure you'll forget all about that.

Last up in the releases book is Jameson Gold Reserve.  This is a sort of frankenwhiskey (I sort of consider all Jameson to be frankenwhiskey), as it has been blended and refined and blended again to create a smooth and luxurious mouth feel.  The Gold Reserve is a triple wood finished, with a high percentage of pot still whiskey in the mix.  So when I say mega blend let me break it down; Jameson is a mix of grains and malts, and a mix of pot distilled and column distilled, and a mixture of various cask finishes.  So this particular blend is a high percentage of pot still whiskey giving it a beautifully sweet rounded nose, it's also the only horse the Jameson stable to use virgin American oak (also Bourbon and Sherry finished casks).  This provides a unique variant in the mix of rich vanilla and honey into the final product.  On the nose there is a whack of wood notes, lots of fragrant wood with vanilla and caramel (kind of like caramel ripple ice cream good), loads sweet malt and subtle baking spices carry across the nose.  The palate is oily and rich, filled with yellow fruits, rich warm oak and sweet malty breads.  The finish on this is rich and inviting, but sadly short.  Big notes of caramel (salted), come off the palate and some pepper heat with a slight wood smoke note round out the finish.  This is a great dram, but sadly the price point is a bit exorbitant.  At only 40% ABV and $96/bottle you're looking at quite a pricey investment.  I happen to have the trio pack of the 12 Special Reserve, the Gold Reserve and the 18 Master Selection.  So I sort of lucked out at the tasting notes, and am quite excited now to delve into the 18 year old selection.  I've never been crazy of the regular Jameson blend, as it's about as interesting as the paint thinner it smells like.  So walking into this tasting expecting that, and coming away being more than pleasantly surprised, I'm more than pleased to recommend this to anyone.  The pricing is quite high for a blend, but you're going to get a great bottle out of it; I'd strongly suggest you try a dram from a friend or a quality whisky bar.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

The last release doesn't contain any whiskies sadly, but I've got a couple more recommendations that weren't published in the books.  These were the few bottles that were doled out to the shelves that no one noticed, expect the hardcore whiskiphiles (I think I'll coin that term).  There were a couple of Cooley bottles that caught my eye while I was wandering the shelves of my local liquor monopolies.

First up is Connemara Turf Mór, Gaelic for big peat, is the heaviest peated version of Connemara.  I wasn't sure how I felt about peating the sweet supple Irish whiskies, and my first introduction was a wallop!  Connemara cask strength set my palate in motion, with its rich sweetness and heavy peat smoke, it really caught me off guard.  I though the smooth Irish whiskies might not stand up to such a strong character but soon realized they themselves are quite a strong and robust character.  Two leading characters in the play tends to cause pandemonium or coherence, and in the case of Connemara, the coherence is sublime.  In the new addition to the small batch range; Turf Mór (big peat Irish style), is built of sweet and savoury notes and a finish that goes on and on like a rousing folk song, sung by the masses in a Dublin pub.  Served at a whopping 58.2% ABV and non chillfiltered with no colour added; well you can see where this is leading already. $86.70 will net you a ticket for this roller coaster ride of peat and I'd strongly suggest you check your local LCBO for this one <HERE>.  They also have the standard cask strength available for $96.70 <HERE> (same sort of stats: no chillfilteration, no colour, and 57.9%ABV).

Also of note from the Cooley stables is Tyrconnel Madeira finish.  Tyrconnel is a fantastically crafted single malt.  Their cask finishes have been real hits around here such as their port finish, the last one I recall a few years back, was excellent.  This one should bring more of the same; lots of rich fruits and sweet malt with a dangerously drinkable whiskey, makes for a bottle that tends to disappear all too soon from our shelves.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, priced at $79.95 and served at 46% ABV this is on the pricey side.  If I get my hands on one, I'll be letting you known about the tasting notes.  On the other hand, the same applies as the Jameson bottle above, once you have it in your glass you'll gladly forget about the overpriced bottle.

So that's the lot for the month of March, April showers bring whisky flowers (does that really work here.... sure it does)?  Sadly though, leafing through the early April vintages catalogue doesn't inspire much hope.  Maybe the coming month will bring about a bottle review or two instead... I'll figure something out soon, but until then; keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

February LCBO Vintages Releases

I'll apologize in advance, as this may end up being slightly shorter than expected, there were some pressing things in my life this past month.  On the other hand, there weren't many bottles put out his month and the bottles that were released aren't actually that deep sort of brooding Whisky.  In fact this month has been all American Whiskey, and all the bottles are simple everyday drams at reasonable prices.  As a matter of fact I've reviewed two of the three bottles already, so I'll use those reviews as reference.  Let's take a look into what was released to us at the start of the Month.

February 02, 2013 Vintages Release:

The first bottle up is Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey.  This is a richly flavoured Rye, lots of fruit and spice and quite sweet in the American Whiskey tradition.  This was released previously in June 2012 (Review can be found HERE).  I recall it being quite fruity and peppery hot, which I previously liked very much, but now I'm not quite sold on.  It is still a great Whiskey, but I feel it could use some further years of aging and mellowing.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for a bottle to call your own.  Priced at $46 it's not a bad deal and served at at 45% ABV it's quite the punch.

Now that I look at the LCBO site, scratch that last remark.  I don't see any bottle listed for item #205666.  Maybe I really am that far behind the 8 ball and completely missed this bottle, or maybe that speaks to the spirit within.

Okay in light of that situation, the next bottle has no fear of leaving our shelves anytime soon as it seems to show up yearly in the releases.  Eagle Rare 10 year old is a wonderful introduction to American Bourbon.  This was reviewed twice previously by myself in both October 2011 and July 2012 (Link <HERE>).  I do adore this bourbon as it exemplifies the American bourbon nose.  There is a ton of cherries and woody vanilla.  It's so incredibly smooth which may be dangerous when tasting as a bottle seems to disappear faster than you realize.  There really is quite a lot going on the bottle and I really suggest you grab one; at $48 and 45% ABV they are well worth the investment as an everyday bourbon.  Check your local LBCO <HERE> for a bottle.  Now also to note, I see the earmark for the Eagle Rare 17.  I have no idea when it will be in, but you can bet I'll be on that one as soon as they show up.

February 16, 2013 Vintages Release:
That sums up the first release, and in the second batch there is only a single bottle.  Don't fret as this bottle is a sort of overlooked and well worth it kind of bottle.  What may come as a surprise to most and a disappointment to others, we receive W.L. Weller 12 year old.  I have to admit, I saw the W.L. Weller come up in the searches and just about lost my marbles; but sadly this is only the 12 year old variant and not the Sazerac Antique version.  I have had the antique collection variant and will vouch that is is beyond amazing; but let's not loose focus here.  What we have is a 12 year old 45% ABV Kentucky Straight wheated Bourbon.  This isn't the prettiest bottle on the shelf, but what dwells within is a rich and hearty trip to the south.  Loads of fruit on the nose, cherries, apricots and melons.  There is also a ton of fruity vanilla (Mexican vanilla seems to bear this trait to my nose), with a heavy hit of burnt toffee and creamy milk chocolate.  In the palate there is even more to love, chocolate and wood spice mingle easily over the tongue with cherry cough drops and prosciutto melon hors d'oeurves hinting in the distance with a vanilla cream sauce paving the way.  There is a rich earthiness (but not a dirty note), more like mineral oiliness that makes the mouth feel seem thick and rich.  The finish shows another side though, very light, crisp and short making this a very easy to drink bourbon.  There is a the warm oak and more vanilla caramel in the finish with some hints of new leather, but nothing quite as heavy as you'd think (it is a wheated Bourbon and as such tends to be a bit lighter in the body department).  This is a star in disguise, and should be on anyone's shelf or bar.  Served at 45% ABV and priced at only $45; I'd strongly suggest you search out a bottle at your local LBCO <HERE> because once you've tasted it, you'll want more.  I had mentioned that this might disappoint some people, and by that I mean the collectors that snatched up every bottle of Van Winkle Lot 12B that appeared on our shelves within a week.  Now the secret to this is that Julian Van Winkle is their master distiller.  That name is sending up flags for collectors everywhere as they drained the LCBO of stock a while back including the standard 10 year old variant.  This is very, very, very similar to the famed Lot 12 'B' bottling and exhibits the same remarkably wonderful nose and drinkability.  So should you have a bottle of 12B sitting that you don't want to open, try this and know what you're missing... then open your Van Winkle bottle and compare.  I do have a bottle myself of both Van Winkle offerings that came in last year, and I will be doing that comparison myself at some point.

So that does it for the February offerings, some good Bourbons to be had, and much more to come for March.  The usual St. Patrick's collection of Cooley bottles will be back and some new interesting bottles.  Keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass and I'll be seeing you sometime soon.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

January 19/2013 Vintages release

Well mid way through the month, and I've finally got all my reviews in hand.  It's been a while and I'm sorry for the delay, but I can't be everywhere and at work at the same time.  There are quite a few bits of ground to get through so let's check into whats on tap for us.

 First up will be Gordon & Macphail's Whisky Liqueur.  Yes, I do diversify my interests and there are some really interesting spirits out there, but Liqueurs don't usually do it for me.  I've sort of grown out of the super sweet mixers and sippers, but as I recently tasted this at an event, it should be included.  Dunkeld Atholl Brose is the name of Gordon & Macphail's Whisky Liqueur.  There is a whole story of the last lord of the Isles that fled from persecution and was foiled by a mixture of whisky, honey, herbs and oats.  But I'm not reading into that currently (you get a reprieve from the history lesson for now...), I'm more into the beauty of the liqueur.  It's quite sweet (to be expected), but over shaved ice it would be a real after dinner treat.  The nose is sweet and filled with a complex note of eucalyptus, menthol and roasted oats.  There is a sweet honey note and some hints of herbs (like cardamom and clove), but I found it a little cloyingly so.  Hence the ice comment (I can add ice to this because it's not straight whisky but a liqueur).  My dad has always been a fan of Drambuie with shaved ice, so I'm thinking this might make a much higher quality replacement to that after a rich meal.  This is a well crafted liqueur, and should you be into such things you're looking at $50 for a half litre bottle.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

  Enough about that, lets get down to the good stuff.  First up is one of my favourite Speysiders... err Highlanders... wait... High-Speysider? (Everywhere I see their bottles they're credited as both, so I'm not really sure anymore.  I'll stick with Highland as that's what it says on my bottle). Glenfarclas 105, a cask strength 10 year old sherry monster.  Be ready for a slap in the face with a whopping 60% ABV!  This is a strong and brutish dram, but don't think of it as being all brawn and no beauty. When you get over the muscle flex there is an incredibly beautiful floral, spicy, sort of warmth in this whisky.  The nose on this is fantastic, hugely rich with oily sherry, grape and malt almost overwhelming everything.  The longer you play with this, the better it gets; and it takes quite a while to loosen up but can be convinced with some water.  There is a deep rich raisin and sweet spice cake note, the grape note settles and sweetens quite a bit (much akin to crape syrup), and there are tonnes of sweet malt and deep sherry oak spice.  In fact there are lots of spices in the nose and the palate; think of a bulk foods store or even a spice shop.  The nose and palate both exude an oily note that becomes some sort of toasted oily nut (like Brazil nuts maybe).  There is so much happening in that glass it's almost hard to put a name on everything.  Think of this as like putting your face out a car window on the highway... awful hard to smell the fields of flowers, but if you slow the car down and take your time you'd be surprised what you pass along on your journey.  This is a journey in a glass (so to speak), and comes highly recommended. Yes it's expensive at $82/bottle, but you're getting a hell of a bottle of Scotch!  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

  Another returning bottle left over from the Robbie Burns celebration; Isle of Arran Robbie Burns Single Malt.  This is a simple fruity and spicy bottle of great quality single malt whisky, at a reasonable deal (LCBO rules apply here).  What you're getting is a non chillfiltered, no colour added Isle of Arran 8 year old single malt (or so I've been told through the rumour mill), that is endorsed by the World Burns federation.  Coming in at only 40% for $42 doesn't seem like a great deal until you taste the spirit.  What's in the glass is a fruity and spicy malt that will get you hooked, and keep your attention.  The nose is very forward fruity, lots of pears and green apples with notes of vanilla and toffee.  The palate is lively and spicy, lots of baking spices (more cassia and cardamom), and quite a punch of heat like ginger and pepper.  The finish is short, but very rewarding with lots of wood spice and fruit preserves.  This isn't a deep contemplating dram, but rather a light-hearted single malt that doesn't always take itself seriously.  Treat this as a gateway malt to an evening of tasting, it makes a great first dram to warm up your tastebuds before delving into the bigger malts of the evening.  This, for me, was the gateway malt to the Arran distillery profile.  I bought my bottle a couple of years back for $38, and dug into it right away.  It was an eye opener, and really got me into researching the drams a little deeper.  I'd suggest you check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and at only $42 it's a pretty slick deal well worth hunting for.

  Tomintoul 16 is the next bottle on our listing.  Tomintoul (pronounced Tome-in-tool), is a gentle Speysider which is owned by the independent company Angus Dundee (as of 2000 when it was purchased from Whyte & Mackay).  Their 21 year old was released to our shelves not that long ago (review HERE), and the 16 is no newcomer to our shores.  I'll admit that I like the 'Speyside-Glenlivet' moniker on the label; it gives you a peek into the heritage of the dram. I'm not so crazy over the colouring and the 40% ABV, but seeing as this is a nit-picky thing for me, I won't hold it against them.  I'm quite a fan of gentle whiskies and this is a great example.  I feel the asking price of $95 is a bit high, but then again the 21 is only $125, so it's not far off the mark; and most importantly you're supporting the little guys in the industry.  What's in the glass is a great floral-sweet dram.  Very soft nose with hints of field flowers and honey, some notes of fresh leather and distant roasted nuts.  In the mouth it's very full with more fruit creme and honey taking the reins.  There's a lot going on in the palate, rich roasted nuts, linseed oil and ripe pears.  There are hints of barley sugar and rich custard, with subtle notes of wood spice and candied orange in the background.  The finish is quite nice, still quite fruity and spicy with a running vanilla cream and subtle wood smoke in the background, very light but medium in length.  Either way, should you feel flush enough to grab a bottle at the LCBO prices, check <HERE> for the 16 year old and <HERE> for the 21 which is a sublime sipper.  I don't think you'll be disappointed in either dram.

  Last but not least is the marketing juggernaut 'Thor' from Highland Park (I think you can see where this is going already...).  It's a limited edition 16 year old from the 'Valhalla Collection', arriving in a smug wooden 'Viking Ship' package, proclaiming itself to be a great warrior god of old. Pfft, yeah you guys really cooked up some stories for this one.  The case features a pair of Norse bowsprits carved from oak surrounding a glass oval bottle (similar to the modern HP bottles but with thicker more natural glass to give it some character).  Be forewarned though, it's huge!  It will take up a small end table in any room.  It's so large that when I first noticed it, it was blocking my view of a hand-blown XO cognac bottle in a display case (think of something around the size of a Louis XIII bottle).  Let me just say that at almost foot across, this packaging is more than a little excessive. To top that off the price tag rests at $250; I both appreciate what they've created, but feel that the marketing monster has fattened itself on all your ideas.  Checking the bottle I'm rewarded with 52.1% ABV, but the colour leads me to point the finger at some heavy colouring.  My unrequited jabs aside, what lies within the bottle is what we're interested in, so I'll delve into my notes on that.  It's a great spirit, with good depth of character.  The nose is vibrant and expressive with lots of hot notes and earthy tones.  There are notes of fresh cut ginger, macerated plums and sweet barley syrup, but behind this there are notes that I'm not crazy over.  There's a metallic earthy note, and a slight violet sharpness note (these typically arise in bad whisky).  There is also the stereotypical HP aromatic smoke and subtle peat, and that drying sensation that makes my mouth start to water.  The earthy note is fine with me, in fact it's quite nice and deep (like wet garden soil), but it's the metallic notes and the violets that make me worried as these are precursors to bad whisky in my previous experience (see most Bowmore DB's from the 80's).  In the mouth there is a very strong dry burn with overly hot ginger snap cookies... it needs some water to relax.  Upon hosing the mighty Thor down, we are rewarded with herbal vanilla and dark yellow fruits (like ripe peach and mango), mingling on a warm malty base.  There is still quite a kick of baking spices (especially cinnamon), and wood in the finish making it very dry and intense but not overly long.  I also found an orphan note of mint (which is a marker of excellent old school style whisky), but it seems out of place here; almost placed there to fool us into believing this is better quality than it is.  I dunno... I'm not sold on the marketing ploy and the whisky itself isn't what I expected after hearing so much about this.  As great as it should be, it never seems to live up to what they sold to us.  It looks like what we have is a Thor cosplayer (Wiki reference HERE);  it's a great outfit but underneath is just another kid from the block looking to show off to his friends at a comic convention.  Should you feel the need to toss $250 away, please contact me personally and I'll recommend 2-3 bottles far more worthy of your hard earned money and time.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> to see the boat bottle in person.

  Well there we have it, January has been finally completed, lots of interesting bottles, but not a lot of substance (IMHO).  There are much fewer bottles coming in February (Thank goodness), but still some very good things coming our way.  So ladies and gents, until next time keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A Tale of 2 Taketsuru's

Another review from one of our own members; Tom Alexander.  This time he takes us on a trip to Japan to taste a couple of the older blends from Nikka distillery.


Well, right now I am supposed to be in Park City, Utah - at the Sundance Film Festival. Seeing films. Partying with celebrities. Freezing my ass off. However, my flight was cancelled (at the last minute) and it was impossible to fly out until tomorrow morning, a serious problem both on a personal and professional level. I am seriously pissed. So what to do in the meantime? Well, drink whisky and write about it, of course - what else?!?

Masataka Taketsuru is perhaps the key figure in the history of Japanese whisky, having learned the art of distilling in Scotland, and then bringing that knowledge back to Japan as master distiller for Yamazaki. After he left Yamazaki, he founded Nikka - and this range of blended malts is named after him.

On the bottle, the spirit is referred to as “Pure Malt”, a term that is illegal to use for Scotch distilleries, who must refer to it as “blended malt” - that is, the blending of malts from two or more distilleries (note the term “blend” is not the same as “blended malt”, as blends - Johnnie Walker, Grant’s, etc. - are a combination of malt and grain whiskies, whereas blended malts have no grain whiskies in them at all. Confused yet?) Taketsuru whiskies come from the two distilleries owned by Nikka: Yoichi (a heavier, oilier style) and Miyagikyo (lighter and fruitier). It does not use malts from competitor Suntory (nor vice versa).

Our vertical tasting today compares the 17 Year Old and the 21 Year Old. There is also a very good 12 Year Old, not written about here (but which is available at the LCBO - sadly, the older expressions are not. But you can also get the single malts Yoichi 10 Year Old and Miyagikyo 15 Year Old through the LCBO).

The colour of the 17 Year Old is medium-to-dark amber, with bright yellow highlights. When  you nose it, right off the bat it is very fruity, across a wide range: apricots, plums, dates, blueberries, papaya. Lots of malt. Milk chocolate. Dunnage warehouse with damp floor. Some oak and leather, a little honey and the faintest hint of smoke. With a drop of water, more malt and a little more smoke. Rich, fruity, malty and delicious.

Saltier on the palate than you would expect. Very creamy mouthfeel, and yet you get bitter tea. Very oaky as well, more than you would think from a 17 year old. And lots of malt as well, with tons of honey. Peat is a little more prevalent here, but it is not coming at you in waves of smoke. With water, the heat turns up with some cinnamon and, believe it or not, now the smoke comes! Incredibly complex, layered, ever-evolving in the mouth.

We have a deep oaky finish, pencil shavings, lots of spice and blood orange. This is such a gorgeous whisky - the epitome of malt and wood in all its essence. Not a singular malt style but rather, showcasing the complexities prevalent when the distilled spirit combines with oak. Absolutely wonderful. This won the World’s Best Blended Malt Award at the 2012 World Whiskies Awards.

How does the four more years in wood compare? Well, in the glass, we see dark amber with yellow highlights - only slightly darker than the 17. On the nose we get purely dark fruits right away - dates and raisins, as if pulled right out of a fruitcake. Cocoa. Pure malt underneath the rich oak. Herbal as well with mint and a wee bit of smoke. Again, dunnage warehouse with damp floor. Water tames all those dark fruits and brings out the malt, herbs and smoke.

Saltier than you would expect in the mouth, and with some peat. It then becomes hotter in the mouth and with more herbs like oregano and sage. Wow. Of course, very malty with a honeyed sweetness. A drop of water really spices it up, similar to the 17 year old.

We get more herbal notes on the finish, which is mouth-drying with some brine. Long and deep with lots of oak. This is a huge whisky, very much for after dinner by the fire. Like the 17 year old, this showcases the incredible range of flavours malt whisky can bring, but this one does so under a heavier layer of dark fruits and oak (if you can imagine heavier than the 17 year old). This whisky has won numerous awards, including World’s Best Blended Malt at the World Whiskies Awards three out of four years running.

So how do they compare? Well, to be honest, one seems to have simply aged in oak for another four years (rather than being distilled or aged in a different way). I know the 21 Year Old is finished in first- and second-fill bourbon barrels, and I presume from the taste profile that the 17 Year Old is as well. But these are both absolutely fantastic - rich and fruity, full of oak and malt, sweetness and spice. Do I have a favourite? Well, after spending a good chunk of the afternoon with both of these, I’m giving a slight edge to the 17. In the 21, you have such a richness of oak and dark fruits, it slightly (only slightly) obscures the other qualities that come through from the spirit. In the 17, there is a bit more balance between the spirit and the wood, and hence a further complexity is revealed. But don’t take my word for it - if you ever get the opportunity to enjoy either of these (or the 12 Year Old, which doesn’t quite reach the heights of these two but is very enjoyable), take it. These two are among the best whiskies you will ever have. And now I feel much better about my wasted hours at the airport this morning. Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

January 05/2013 Vintages release

  Well here we are in a new year.  Someone once toasted 'I hope the best of 2012 is the worst of your 2013'.  The LCBO has seen fit to start the year of with only a single bottle of whisky, but boy what a dram it is!

  The first, last, and only dram this round is another bottling from isle of Arran distillers.  The Cask Strength 12 year old is a fantastic offering and a great bottle to finally hit our shelves!  I've been pretty excited to see this coming, and I'm really looking forward to getting my teeth into this one.  If your new to the blog, or haven't heard my ranting on about the big players in the whisky trade; I apologize in advance and I'll try to keep it short.  I've got nothing but praise to sing for Isle of Arran, they abide by some very simple wishes of the whisky community: No chillfilteration, no e150a colouring, and providing you (the connossieur) with higher proof than the standard 40% ABV.  These hallmarks in a bottle make the investment worth while because it shows respect for the whisky drinker (IMO).

  First up a little history lesson (everyone needs a little lesson from time to time).  Arran distillers is a relative newcomer to the whisky industry (distillation started in 1995), and is one of the few independently owned distilleries on the market.  Situated on the Isle of Arran, between Ayrshire and Kintyre, the distillery was built there for a couple of reasons.  The primary reason being that the micro-climate supplied by the Gulf Stream allows Arran malts to be matured slightly faster, providing greater reward for their work.  The purest water in Scotland was also found at Loch na Davie just north of Lochranza (where the distillery was built), supplying them with a fantastic quality source of water to begin the spirit construction from.  Their distillery manager, James MacTaggart, worked with Bowmore for 30 years. In his capacity as Arran's manager, he has been given a chance to run free with the spirit.  Their bottles proudly proclaim that within lies nothing but a pure spirit, with no chill filteration and no colour added to cloud your judgment.  Without any monkeying around; what's in your glass is a reasonable facsimile of what's in the barrel.

That aside, what we have here is a full on, high proof (54.1% ABV), limited edition bottling of their 12 year old spirit (12,000 is sort of limited).  This is a combination of first and second fill sherry hogsheads, giving a wonderful rich fruity overtone to the spicy Arran spirit.  Let's delve into the glass and see what we have.

The nose is wonderfully expressive, with huge amounts of sherry taking the forefront.  This is a great sherry nose, loads of red fruits and yellow fruits here.  As it settles, more peaches and apricots start to poke through along with macerated raisins, loads of baking spice (cloves, mace, nutmeg, and the like), sweet malt, and vanilla.  In the mouth, it's an explosion!  It's quite hot for the first sip, but settles quickly on the tongue.  It becomes very creamy and starts to stack up the spices.  There is quite a bit of peppery heat at the full 54%, but it's not unpleasant.  The baking spices seem stronger and sweeter now, with more cinnamon, mace and nutmeg driving the palate.  There is a subtle trickle of briny salinity throughout the palate and sweet barley sugar shines through underneath, bringing with it green pears and toasted oats.  The finish pushes the green fruits and spices back a bit, becoming more mulled in character.  Orange zest and worked oak provide a bitter note to counter act the sweet burnt sugar and spice cake notes.  The finish is quite long and very rewarding on this. Okay, I'll admit I'm a little taken with this one.  It's a hell of a dram but I feel it's a little overshadowed by my love of the distillery.  I thinks that's with good cause too; especially as they seem to be consistently be putting out said quality of product.

So that's all for the start of January, more to come soon.  Some interesting reviews coming up of a pair of Japanese blends. So as usual; stay tuned to this channel... err blog. Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

December 8th/2012 Vintages Releases

So I missed my December deadline (Yeah, yeah so shoot me... I'm a busy guy sometimes), but then again there wasn't a whole lot that you would have missed with it.  This was the last release before the new year arrives for the LCBO, and in it is only a single new bottle.  Let's check into what was released and what's returning to the shelves.

First up is the re-stocking of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Kentucky Bourbon.  This was reviewed in February of last year (Link Here).  It's an 8 year old beauty, with an equally great mouth filling rye rush of fruits, pepper and punch.  I still think it's a great deal even at the $50 asking price.  Lots of flavour to be found in this bottle and the nose alone is almost worth the price of admission.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for a location near you.

Next up is a new pricing on The Balvenie 21 Portwood (Reviewed March 2012).  Somehow, even without ordering more stock, the LCBO has found it in the infinite wisdom to increase the price to $244.95 on this bottle.  That's clearly out of the range of most buyers, and should be off your radar to buy... trust me that's too much for too little whisky.  In stead I strongly suggest that you check around for a dram at your local bar or mooch one form a friend.  It's a worth dram, just not worth what they are asking IMO.  Now if it were non-chillfiltered and cask strength.... that's a different story.  Sigh, the wishes of a small time blogger against a global drinks giant.  A man can dream.

Last up is the only new bottle for this release.  The Benriach 12 Sherry Wood finish.  This is from an artisan run distillery, which means that there is no chillfiltration and a slightly higher ABV (46%).  This means that for you, the connoisseur, you'll get slightly more from your bottle.  More flavour and more value are two things close to my heart being an Ontarian; I need to get the most for the least from our liquor stores.

The colour is deep and rich amber with mahogany highlights.  The nose is thick with rich sherry red fruits, caramel and baking spices, rum soaked raisins and hints of dutch cocoa powder.  The mouth feel is good, a little overly sweet for my tastes lately, but still very good.  Loads of sherry sweetness comes across right away, followed by more sweet malt and then countered with nutmeg, roasted figs and more cocoa powder (not dutch this time, meaning no acidity).  The finish is medium and still adeptly sweet, but much better balanced with the spicy oak notes and vanilla residue.  This is a great introductory dram to how good a whisky can but it's going to lack challenge for experienced drinkers.  This to me sits perfectly as an after dinner dram, something about the sweetness is a little over powering for my regular drinking palate.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, priced a little on the high side at $67/bottle.

So that sums up 2012; lots of good news for everyone including a new blog spot, new Whisky group, and tonnes of new friends of twitter.  It's a great feeling to look back at what I started off hand and realize that what was a single point of interest has become so much more with so much to offer our Whisky community.  I feel privileged to be included in (to quote a fellow blogger @WhiskyLassie), the #Whiskyfabric.  Keep your eyes peeled to our blog as there is so much more coming down the pipe including destinations, bar reviews, bottle reviews, rare whisky and so much more.  So in conclusion (and you should know this by know); keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.