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.