Kilkerran 8 Year Cask Strength (2021) review

Few distilleries have a more devoted following than Springbank, Kilkerran’s sister distillery. Fans will tell you that there is no other scotch that has a flavor profile quite like the “Springbank funk”. It’s that marriage of malt (a portion of which is peated), distillation, maturation and maritime air. To me, that funk has a slight gasoline note. I know that sounds gross, but then so are many other notes in scotch tasting. Whatever that funk is to each individual, it helps stir a devotion that few distilleries can rival.

With Springbank in such high demand these days, it’s hard for this small distillery to supply enough to make everyone happy. If you can find them, the 10 and 15 year expressions, in Alberta at least, are actually quite reasonable in terms of price. Beyond these age statements, prices quickly become very unreasonable. $500 for the 21 year old and $1000 for the 25 year old, no matter what the fanboys/girls say, is simply out of whack compared to the competition. That’s my opinion, but I’m sure I am not alone. The one thing I do commend Springbank for, as well as reputable retailers, is that their unicorn-like 12 year cask strength bottlings are a real bargain at about $130 CAD (in Alberta). That’s despite their low availability.

When we’re talking about value malts in Campbelltown, Glen Scotia and Springbank’s sister distillery, Kilkerran, also fits the bill. Kilkerran’s 12 year is pretty reasonable and is widely available. Their non-age stated “Peat in Progress” releases are an insane bargain. Let’s hope that this trend continues in Campbelltown.

In 2019, Kilkerran released what many argued was the best whisky of the year. The 8 year cask strength was matured in re-charred ex-Oloroso sherry casks and became an instant unicorn. It had all of the characteristics of a massive sherry bomb and could be found for as low as $100 CAD, if you were quick enough. This years release offers a similar value, if you could grab one.

The word on the street is that this 2021 edition of the Kilkerran 8 year does not measure up to the 2019 release, but for those of you who don’t know what that tasted like, what does it matter? The 2021 release, like the 2019, is matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, only this time they are not re-charred. It’s bottled straight from the cask at 56.9% abv. Joining me for today’s review is Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) from Park Whiskey Society.

Sean Kincaid’s review

Two years ago, Kilkerran shocked the world with what was then a lot of people’s favourite whisky of that year. An 8 year old heavy sherried, peated malt. This year they released another 8 year old and word spread quickly about it. Funny though that nobody who was talking about it could tell me how it tasted…cause no one opened it. Well, I stumbled across a store that still had it on the shelf a few days after it’s release so I said why not. Man am I glad I did.

Nose: This is a wallop up side the head. Reminds me of smoked pork ribs I did with a coffee grind/brown sugar rub. There’s earthiness like moist loamy potting soil or raked leaves in a cool autumn misty morning. Sweet smouldering tobacco leaves but also a bit of the lovely countryside village peat smell that escapes every chimney. This is complex and layered and young yet mature. This is wonderful.

Palate: On the sip, This is dank, deep Oloroso and paired with the Kilkerran spirit comes out swinging with notes of creosote, diesel, marine soot, and deep dark fruits. Like figs drenched in oily tobacco left out on the rocks beside the ocean on a summers day. A slightly sweeter berry…like blackberry or those Swedish berry candies. This is beautiful. This is dank. This is abrasive. This is my jam. I love those vegetal, dunnage notes with a fruity nutty nasty Oloroso.

With water added…

Both on the nose and palate the peatiness softens and the sherry comes to the fore. The nose gets more on the nutty side of Oloroso sherry notes mixed with some savoury almost roasted nut mix. On the palate, the nutty sherry shows too, but there is a bit more fruit showing and a slight hint of the S word. Yes a touch of sulphur but this is so inviting and not off putting in any way.

This instantly became a contender for whisky of the year for me and it still resides near the top even months later. Damn that’s good!!!!

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: Before my bottle was drained past the shoulder, it had a very strong burnt match, sulphurous smell, but that has faded into the background now. That funky gasoline note is definitely there for me. It’s like being on the car deck of a ferry. There’s a bit a dirt note, like turning over your garden with a spade. Lingering in the background are some BBQ smoke aromas and grilled meat slathered with a sweet sauce. I’m expecting more of the the cask influence on the palate, but for now I get cooked down dark stone fruits, lots of clove, ginger and a touch of nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate as well.

Palate: OK. Now we’re in sherry bomb territory. The entry is super oily and sweet. Liquid sultana raisins, a little bit of orange peel, rich honey. The transition into the development is nice and smooth. No falling off a cliff into waves of heat here. At the beginning of the development, those Springbank funk notes start to rear their head heads a little. A little bit of dirt. A little bit of ferry car deck again. I don’t lick the car decks of ferries, although if I did, it would explain a lot. Towards the back end of the development, it’s all booze soaked Christmas pudding to me. It’s just been steamed, soaked in brandy and then set alight. All the requisite baking spices, raisins, candied fruit, the lot.

Finish: It took a while, but I’m finally getting some European oak. It brings a bit of a spice and dryness to the finish. There’s a bit of bitter dark chocolate in there too. Mostly though, it’s that Christmas pudding, the outside slightly caramelized from being set on fire that takes ages to fully fade away.

With water added…

As expected, I’m getting a little more oak on the nose now. It’s more sherry bomb than Springbank although that gasoline smell does linger. Much more clove is present. The nutmeg and ginger have faded significantly. The entry remains unchanged, but the development is a little spicier and has quite a bit more oak. The Christmas pudding has faded away significantly, with only portions of it remaining such as sultanas and baking spices. The flavours aren’t as dark this time round. There’s a lot more dark chocolate bitterness as well, but it’s not overwhelming. The finish follows from the end of the development. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet.

Conclusion

Being a fan of Christmas cake and pudding, I rather prefer this without water. If you crave that classic sherry bomb feeling, adding a few drops of water should set you right. Either way, this is phenomenal stuff. Although I do love my sherry bombs, there is something to be said about a whisky in that genre that doesn’t bop you over the bed with a polo mallet with all that heat and spice.

This is a whisky whose flavour defies its age. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were vatting this one. I might have witnessed some casks greater than 8 years being poured into the tub. Either way, this is an amazing whisky and a definite contender for my top 5 for this year.

Instagram: Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid) and Paul Bovis (@paul.bovis)

Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection Ledaig 2007 (12 year) review

The whisky community, like many communities, has their share of people who are not just enthusiasts, but are geeks and all-out nerds. And they are proud of it. They help to drum up enthusiasm, always have time for you and are respectful towards the entire community, regardless of your experience level.

Although he no longer works for Distel, Mike Brisebois (@thewhiskyexplorer), more than anyone else, helped to put their products on the map. Now Tobermory (Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Black Bottle are household names from coast to coast. As Canada’s unofficial official whisky ambassador, his enthusiasm has helped to introduce countless numbers of people to the water of life. Now striking it out on his own, his Whisky Explorer Society will continue to spread his passion for whisky within Canada.

Since we are talking about Ledaig, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky) of The Whisky Heathens. From his home in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, he has probably tried all the Ledaig available out there and is the most vocal supporter of both Tobermory and Ledaig on social media.

With these two acting as major cheerleaders for the whisky under review today, it’s no wonder Ledaig (and Tobermory for that matter) does a brisk trade in this country.

And so to the whisky in question. This Ledaig has been matured in a re-fill sherry butt for over 12 years and was bottled by Signatory Whisky as part of their Vintage Cask Strength Collection lineup at 60.1%.

Nose: Since I popped this bottle back in late April of this year, it has mellowed significantly. Make no mistake, this is still a bold dram, but it is far less “burnt rubber” forward than it used to be. Usually, Ledaig is far more maritime than it is medicinal and that is the case here. In that regard, there’s a hefty dose of sea spray, seashells and weathered driftwood. Moving inland a little, there are some lovely BBQ notes of sweet smoke and meat on the grill. This bottle, coming from a re-fill sherry butt, is more distillate than cask forward but there is a little bit of fresh plum and earthy spices such as clove and nutmeg. There’s only a hint of dark chocolate so I’m guessing this is Oloroso rather than PX. Finally, there is a whiff of mint toothpaste to round this all out. This does not nose like a cask strength whisky, but I have a feeling that this will not be the case on the palate!

Palate: My prediction was correct. This is mellow for about two seconds before the heat takes over in a big way. On the entry, brief though it is, it’s sweet, a little bit tart and much more oily than creamy. Lots of rich honey, sponge toffee and orange and lemon peel initially. Then the proof, spice and oak kick in along with a strong mint toothpaste and mouthwash vibe. The initial sweetness is not entirely drowned out however, and it’s joined by a rich dark chocolate note that builds through the development. Bobbing along the surface are those salty and mineral maritime notes. Towards the end of the development clove and nutmeg are joined by ginger.

Finish: The oak is present, but by no means is it dominant or drying. The baking spices slowly fade, but do not disappear. The saltiness remains and does a hint of dark chocolate. All of this combines to give me a sort of spice cake note that I get off of a lot of whiskies like this. The citrus helps to cut through the dryness of the oak. It goes without saying that the finish is insanely long.

With water added

I let try this sit with seven drops of water in my remaining ounce of whisky for at least 30 minutes while my taste buds recovered. It’s quite a bit more cask forward now with stewed stone fruits, but the mint toothpaste is still there. The spices are a bit less earthy now. Allspice rather than clove and nutmeg. It’s also not quite as maritime either. The role reversal between distillate and cask continues on the palate. More stewed fruits, baking spices and dark chocolate. It’s also more orange marmalade than citrus peel. The finish is more citrus forward this time round and has a little bit more oak.

Conclusion

I like the contrast here between sipping this neat and with water. Although there is a reversal between distillate and cask dominance, one isn’t hugely victorious over the other in either case. Signatory had a Ledaig in the out turn previous to this one that was the same age and strength, but in a first fill sherry butt as opposed to a refilled one. It would be interesting to try a Ledaig along those lines someday, just to see what the contrast is.

Although special releases of Ledaig and anything besides their official 10 year expression are fiendishly difficult to find in Canada, it seems to be very popular with independent bottlers these days. It’s thanks to them that there will always be a Ledaig available on a shelf nearby.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Berry Bros. & Rudd Speyside 2000 (17 year) Sierra Springs Liquor review

Photo credit Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky)

When it comes to whisky, peated expressions, to most people, seem to be the biggest barrier to overcome. Some never do. And that’s totally fine. Everyone’s palate and preferences are different. That’s what makes this community so special.

I would argue that sulfured, sherry bomb-type scotch is another genre where people have a very black and white preference, both for and against. The burnt match notes you get off the strongest whiskies in this category are similar to the medicinal characteristics of some peated scotches. It’s something you either like or hate.

As for the whisky we’ll be reviewing today, I was making love-y eyes at this bottle for months before I pulled the trigger and spent almost $180 to get it into my greedy little hands. I did no research. It was from Berry Bros. & Rudd, it was matured in a single ex-sherry butt and was a store exclusive to Sierra Springs in Red Deer, Alberta. Many boxes checked there.

Then I did the research after I clicked on the “Pay now” button and my jaw dropped. This bottle elicited so much rage that the three reviews on Whisky Base averaged below 50/100. The reviews talked of notes of rotten eggs and multiple dead bodies (people, if this is what you want to write about a whisky, please just remove your fingers from the keyboard. It makes you look really silly).

Later, I heard that there were such vocal complaints about this whisky that the Berry Bros. rep had to get involved. Instead of backing away from my purchase, I decided to go ahead and take my chances. I was not disappointed. Yes, there a bit of a burnt match smell to it, but the bold flavours instantly melted away my regret.

In short order, a member of the local whisky community offered me his bottle for free, which I passed on to a friend of mine who loved it. Then another friend got hold of it and bought at least two bottles. A revival was in the offing. The moral of the story here is that sometimes whisky just needs to make it into the right hands before it is truly appreciated.

The bottle in question was distilled in 2000 at an unnamed Speyside distillery and was matured for over 17 years in an ex-Sherry cask of unknown type (assumed to be Oloroso). It was bottled in 2018 at 58.9% abv and was sold exclusively at Sierra Springs Liquor in Airdrie, Alberta. Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky and one half of @thewhiskyheathens) and Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) of Park Whiskey Society are collaborating with this review.

Photo credit: Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky)

Josh Ward’s review

I first caught wind of this gorgous secret Speyside from Sierra Springs when Paul and Sean directed me to some absolutely insane reviews, which posted notes of “ichorous discharge from the underbelly of an African wildebeast” and “bile, wildebeast, dead bodies (many of them), black eggs, snot, decay and rot”. Seems they were of the notion that this whisky was to be dumped and discarded because it was SO nasty that it couldn’t be consumed by any self-respecting individual. Much different for me, I’m looking for that nastiness and I fully embrace those oloroso style sulphur bombs. Much to my excitement a sample showed up on my doorstep and I was on the phone to order a bottle before I finished the glass.

Nose: The first note that hit my nostrils was of wood decay, beautiful and nasty with thick and pungent waves of sulphur and a distinct note of dry, abrasive sherry. Tucked away behind the powerful cask influence was a hint of sweetness, both sultry and alluring.

Palate: The taste exceeds anticipation with all the expected notes from the nose coming at you immediately. Sherry city was built in a sulphur spring and it’s a place I really love to visit. It’s brash and it’s heavy and it’s perfect for anyone who loves it raw and unapologetic.

Finish: The finish is slightly sour with meaty notes of BBQ and charred sherry wood that lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts.

With water added…

I finished the dram and poured a second but this time I added a healthy dose of water. Water certainly doesn’t hurt this one, especially at 58.9%. I’d say there were 15 drops in my 2 ounce pour. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I’d have to add another drop or two of whisky, quite frankly the devil in my moustache encourages such blasphemy.

Once the water settled the sulphur did too. It’s tame now but still present with sherry sweetness shining through. A touch of burnt caramels swirling around the nose and mouth are wonderfully pleasant with beautifully moist and righteously magnificent notes of sweet and sulphuric sherry, it’s everywhere, just toned down and mellowed appropriately.

Conclusion

Something this unique only comes around every once and a while, I’ll definitely be grabbing another bottle.

Sean Kincaid’s review

This bottle has had an adventure already around these parts. From some absolutely horrible reviews that were posted online to a few of us actually trying this and loving it. This is the perfect example of not judging a whisky by other people’s reviews. So I will now go ahead with a review of this whisky for you all to judge it by.

That super dank delicious deep Oloroso goodness. Woody and bomb levels of sherry. This is the greatness that an active fresh Oloroso cask can impart on a spirit.

Nose: Deep dark fruits, nuttiness, dunnage warehouse, a touch of rubbery sulphur. A true sherry bomb whisky that makes me want to dive right in. Almost a dusty note. Dusty and savoury combined. Like smoked spare ribs with a smokey, but fruity rub and then left for awhile. Then eaten.

Palate: Even more of that dank Oloroso, from all sides. Spices, dark fruits, figs, plums, maybe a touch of cherry and chocolate. Leather, dunnage floor. Hefty sherry and at cask strength doesn’t need much water at all. This is what a dank sherry bomb can and should be.

Finish: Decent length. That Oloroso sticks in your gums and I just want to pour another and another. That dank sherry sticks around and leaves your mouth feeling coated long after you swallow.

Conclusion

What a whisky this is. I hope those that hated this learned their lesson and leave the glorious dank sherry bombs for those of us that love it.

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: When I first poured this into the glass it was like a match where the wood was a sliver of a sherry cask stave, lit on fire and then doused in Oloroso sherry. More than anything, this is probably the smell that the people who hate this bottle found so off-putting. Like this year’s Kilkerran 8 year, there is a whiff of gasoline as well. Like peated scotch, this has some notes that might knock you sideways, but as you spend time with bottles like this, you learn to both appreciate what this adds to an experience while at the same time nosing past it to get at the other notes. The European oak that I get off this is musty and wet. Ever since I opened this bottle I got a good amount of dried cranberries. It’s still there, but dark chocolate has overtaken it now. Stewed plumbs lurk behind the cranberries. It’s also a bit nutty. Almond perhaps. Nailing down the spices is a bit of a challenge. After nosing around my spice bottles, I’m settling on allspice and a touch of ground cloves.

Palate: The entry is tart and sweet and extremely short-lived. Dark caramel, medium dark chocolate, dried cranberry, half and half creamer and a bit of orange peel. Then the oak and spice kicks in. Big time. The front end of the development is a little bit overwhelming with the oak, chili flakes, cracked black pepper and earthy nutmeg. A touch of sweetness from the dark chocolate and that tart cranberry and citrus help to cut through the intensity of it all. By the time you get to the back end of the development, your tongue acclimatizes to the heat and the dark chocolate really starts to shine through.

Finish: This is insanely long and is presented in three acts. The first is the fading spice and oak. It’s a little bit drying. The retreat of spice reveals the second act: rich dark chocolate. The third act takes a while to kick in. As the chocolate fades, that tart cranberry note is revealed, making my mouth water uncontrollably. No, not to the point of drooling because, you know,…gross.

With water added…

That burnt match smell is starting to come back on the nose, but the dark chocolate is rising up to meet it in equal measure. The cranberry note has faded significantly and I’m getting a decent amount of caramel now. Water hasn’t done much to tamp down the speedy onset of the development, the heat or the oak, but there is just enough sweetness to keep this ship from keeling over. The dark chocolate is much stronger here than without water. The first half of the finish remains unchanged, but the third act of cranberry is not as strong. Instead, this is a dark chocolate lovers dream. It’s lovely and bittersweet.

Overall conclusion

This is probably one of the strongest sherry bombs out in the wild today. If you love this kind of stuff, this is the bottle for you.

I personally would like to doff my cap and thank Sierra Springs for going out on a limb to bring in bottles like this as well as defend their decision, regardless of the people who hated on this whisky so intensely. Here’s to hoping more people discover this bottle.

Instagram: Paul Bovis (@paul.bovis), Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky and @thewhiskyheathens) and Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid).

Roger’s Whisky Hidden Treasures Secret Speyside 8 year review

Today I’m reviewing something a bit mysterious. When dealing with independent bottlers, some distilleries are keen not to have their names on the label. This can be for various reasons. For example, some distilleries,  such as Glenfarclas, prefer to have absolute control over their brand and don’t wish to see that identity diluted by putting their name on another company’s label. Other brands sell off casks that don’t adhere to a flavour profile in their official bottlings. They may not wish to be explicitly associated with that particular cask.

The reasoning behind keeping the whisky in this bottle a secret as to it’s origins remains…well…a secret. Roger Tan, the person behind Roger’s whisky happens to have a  bit of an interest in ancient civilizations, such as the Mayans, whose temples he has visited while on vacation. Melding this with the secrecy behind this whisky’s origins led him to create the Hidden Treasures series, of which this one is the first. 

With the help his friend, Andrew (aka @whiskyhobo), they developed the label that you see here. Intricate, shiny and fiendishly difficult to photograph, it incorporates elements of whisky, distilling and the lost Mayan culture. Also note the Roger’s Whisky logo. A circular dragon with a Glencairn in the center. Apparently, there is a clue in the label as to it’s origins. I’m not the most observant or knowledgeable person in these matters so I’ll just leave that to others. Maybe you can find the clue that will unlock the secret!

This Roger’s Whisky Hidden Treasures bottle comes from a secret Speyside distillery and has been aged for eight years in a single ex-Bourbon cask. It was limited to 285 bottles and is 56.1% abv. This whisky was imported by PWS Imports and was made available to their exclusive Single Cask Clan members only. To join the club, DM @singlecaskclan on Instagram.

Nose: Ever since I opened this bottle, it’s had quite a bit of alcohol on the nose so it’s difficult to get right into the glass. Even having to hold my nose up higher, this has turned into a classic ex-bourbon cask matured scotch. It’s a lovely fruit bomb. Orchard fruits such as ripe Royal Gala apples and Barlett pears are at the forefront. Pineapple, mango and papaya linger in the back. With more time in the glass, the ex-Bourbon cask starts to come into play with vanilla wafers and light caramel. Some milk chocolate is in there as well. There aren’t a huge array of spices here except for some cinnamon and ginger. I’m not getting a lot of oak on the nose, but I think it will turn up in the development.

Palate: The entry has a bit of heat to it almost straight away. There’s a good dose of ginger in  there for sure, but some sweetness in the form of vanilla cream and tart apples helps to cut through the spice. As I smack my lips during the development, I get fresh pineapple and mandarin oranges. The ginger is joined by a tiny bit of cracked black pepper and some cinnamon to ramp up the spice, but the heat doesn’t get out of hand. The caramel turns to sponge toffee and the milk chocolate darkens a little toward the end of the development. I’m really not getting much oak until the very end of the. This is just fruity, tart and spicy.

Finish: For a cask strength whisky, the finish isn’t really all that long. The spice fades away fairly quickly. The oak, toffee and chocolate linger a little longer. At the end, I’m left with a little bit of tang from the fruit that makes my mouth water for more.

With water added…

That vanilla wafer note I got without water added has moved to the front now and the fruit has taken a back seat. The extra cinnamon that get’s introduced, along with the apple, almost gives it a homemade apple sauce kind of note. I’m not really getting a lot of tropical fruit now. The entry is much more measured. That spice I got right off the bat has been tamped down significantly. The apple note isn’t as strong here, but some orange has taken its place along with a little bit of milk chocolate. The oak is much more detectable during the development now, but it doesn’t overwhelm the experience. The development is more chocolate than fruit forward, particularly towards the end. The finish is a little more bitter and oak-driven, but the citrus tang prevents it from being too drying.

Conclusion

To be honest, I was not a fan of this whisky initially. The nose was shy and a bit vegetal, there wasn’t much fruit and the development and finish were not very satisfying. What a difference a bit of time has made to this bottle. Now it’s the fruity, ex-Bourbon Speysider I was initially expecting it to be. 

Along with a couple of other bottles in my collection, along with some samples and shares, I’m developing a bit of a liking for ex-Bourbon scotch lately. I think my heart will always be rooted in ex-sherry, but I think I can carve out some space in my heart for ex-Bourbon as well.

Instgram: @paul.bovis

Rodger’s Whisky Vintage Selection 6 Year Heavily Peated Ben Nevis review

Today, we’re reviewing the first in a series of Single Cask Clan bottles that are available to members only. Up to bat in this review is the first of two bottles from Roger’s Whisky. The Single Cask Clan is based in Canada, is free to join and gives you access to exclusive bottles from all over the world. DM @singlecaskclan on Instagram for more information.

Rodger’s Whisky is a friendly reminder that not all players in the scotch independent bottling space are based in Scotland. Roger Tan was born and raised in the Netherlands and has been in the world of whisky as a fan, investor and photographer for over 25 years. In 2020, he added independent bottling to his resume. His first release included two 12 year Caol Ila casks. The first was finished in first fill PX sherry octaves and other in first fill Oloroso.

This second set of releases includes the bottle we have poured today. This single cask six year, heavily peated Ben Nevis was exclusively matured in ex-sherry casks and bottled at a healthy 58.4%. Both Sean Kincaid and I are reviewing this bottle. See our thoughts below.

Paul’s review

Nose: Sadly, my bottle is about 3/4 empty already, but as it was quickly drained, it has gone through a few phases. First, there was the bacon, then it got real sea-brine forward (Nicole, aka @blackcatwhisky suggested Oysters Rockefeller). Now it’s a glorious mashup of the two with a few extras thrown in. The brine note now, to me at least, is very much a low tide in an ocean marina kind of smell. The bacon starts to shine through as you let it sit in the glass. It’s a rich, smoked bacon that’s super crispy. There’s a little bit of a medicinal note that has started to crop up now. It’s not Laphroaig-like, but it is present. The European oak is rearing its head now as well. I’m expecting more of that with water when I get there. Getting back to the saltiness of this whisky, there’s some sea salt milk chocolate. The fruitiness is some cooked down plums. Finally there’s just a little bit of the Ledaig kind of burnt rubber, but not as much as I got when I cracked the bottle.

Palate: This is actually quite sweet and tart on the entry as well as very oily. This coats your whole mouth in a hurry. It’s honey, plum compote and orange zest. This lasts for about a second and a half and then it’s just a mountain of brine, peat, oak and sherry. The brine is like the juice from fresh cooked shellfish. Then the smoke and salt from the bacon overtakes that. Next in line is the peat. Citrusy with lemon and orange peel. Finally comes the European oak, coming in much hotter than when I first opened this bottle. Overlying all of that are the sweeter notes that I got from the entry as well as a healthy dose of earthy baking spices (cinnamon ad clove). Nothing wins out here. The balance is near perfect.

Finish: Long. The tongue tingles for a good, long while. Mostly a sourness from the peat, oak and dark chocolate at first. Particularly when I smack my lips and suck in some air during the development, the finish is dry at first, but the citrus zing that lingers helps to make my mouth water again. There’s just a touch of the sweetness that I got on the entry that helps to balance this all out. I should be getting a stopwatch out to time how long this finish is.

With water added…

The nose is now much more oak forward, as I was expecting. The medicinal note has faded and the bacon and sea brine are using a microphone to make themselves heard. The notes aren’t as varied with water, but the ones that remain are bolder. The arrival is much more measured and the transition to the development isn’t as sharp. The sweetness is more prominent during the first half of the development until the oak and baking spices kick in big time. As I swallow this, the spicing has some red chilli flakes and black pepper. It’s almost a little too hot for me. Still, this transition to spice is slow and builds gradually. The finish is just as long and the dark chocolate is very much at the forefront here.

It will depend what kind of preference for spice you have regarding adding water or not. If you want a dram with a lot of spice, add water. Otherwise, stay put. Either way, it’s delicious.

Sean’s review

Nose: The very initial breath immediately picks up the peat notes. It’s also not nosing like a cask strength whisky at all. This is savoury peat. Meaty peat. The peat immediately reveals that sweet, syrupy Sherry note that I swear is PX but is simply stated as Sherry on the bottle. As the label suggests this is campfire style smoke and there’s something else in there. A touch of sourness (in the most appealing way possible), almost like a handful of copper pennies, or freshly sewn copper tubing. All I know is this nose makes me immediately want to sip and I found it really hard to nose it without sipping long enough to get proper notes.

Palate: This is opposite of the nose where I get the PX sweetness up front and then it welcomes in the peat and smoke notes. This is savoury in the best way. Let me set the scene. Breakfast is served. All on one big plate where you have cinnamon french toast (cinnamon and malty notes) dabbed with a dark red fruit compote (PX sherry notes), which is then drizzled with heavy, thick maple syrup. Also on the plate is a helping of Maplewood smoked bacon, fresh out of the oven (big savoury notes) and the syrup is running on to them. Lastly there are a couple fried eggs glistening and waiting to be devoured (touch of sulphur and that copper note). Now eat (drink) up and enjoy as this is one of the best young whiskies I have had in a really long time. Does not show it’s youth at all. In fact there’s almost a dusty, leathery note I find as well which on a 6 year old whisky isn’t usual. Damn that’s good!!

Conclusion

Darn it. I should have bought two of these. For those that have not drained their bottle their bottle quite as quickly as I have, I assure you that the best is yet to come. There is an almost perfect balance between sweet, salty, sour and spicy.

It’s hard to believe that this whisky is only six years old. There’s a depth of flavour and balance that is usually reserved for bottles that are twice this age or more. Roger’s next couple of releases sound pretty tempting already and it’s hoped that Canada will be able to see some bottles of this as well.

Instagram: @paul.bovis and @seankincaid

Douglas Laing’s Rock Island – Sherry Edition review

What is it about blended scotch and blended malt that turns some people off? Is it the level of the shelves many of them are placed on? Or the low price they are being offered for? Or even the false notion of their lack of quality?

It is true that some blends are not always of the highest provenance, but I could easily say the same of some single malts. And believe you me, you’ll be far more disappointed given the prices so many single malts go for these days.

When I first got into scotch, one of my first bottles was the Johnny Walker Green Label. Bottled above the JW baseline of 40% and even indicating the distilleries that it came from, I really loved this one a lot. Far more than the first bottle of scotch I ever bought (Oban 14).

Then something happened to me. I went through some weird phase where I saw blended scotch as being beneath me. Like it was a lesser product only meant for the newbies. After a year or so of this inexcusable snobbery, I got to know a crowd in the local community who were singing its praises.

After this, I decided to get out of my head and give blended scotch and blended malt another try. I have never looked back. The number of blends I have in my collection is still small, but is steadily growing…and that’s a good thing.

Before I go any further, let’s define some terms. Blended scotch is a mixture of grain and single malt. Blended malt, however, only consists of single malts from different distilleries. Any age statement that is on the tin denotes the youngest whisky that is part of the blend.

In particular, blended malt scotches are going through a bit of a renaissance these days. One of the companies leading the charge is the independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co based in Glasgow. Their Remarkable Regional Malt lineup of blended malts includes Scallywag (Speyside), Big Pete (Islay), Epicurean (Lowlands), Timorous Beastie (Highlands), Gauldrons (Campbelltown) and Rock Island (Islands). Each one exemplifies the character of its respective region, but Rock Island is a little different than the others.

When you talk about a blended malt coming from the Scottish isles, that’s a pretty all inclusive proposition. Traditionally, Rock Island brings in malt from Orkney (read Highland Park), Islay (your guess is good as mine, but there’s probably Caol Ila in there), Arran and Jura. 

The Sherry Edition, sitting in my glass, is not just a sherry cask finish. All of this whisky was matured exclusively in ex-sherry casks. This is an NAS whisky, but the minimum has to be three years. This is bottled at a respectable 46.8%.

Nose: Well, there’s peat in here. Surprisingly, I’m actually getting a lot of notes that remind me of a Ledaig matured in a refill sherry butt. It’s the slight burnt rubber note that’s tipping me off in that direction. But there is no Ledaig in here, so let’s turn off that road. There is definitely quite a “walking out on a tidal flat” note about this. The salty air, the seaweed drying in the sun, crab shells not yet picked clean. A sweet smokiness lurks in the background. Perhaps from a BBQ smoker rather than a campfire. It’s hard to get past these peated whisky notes, but there is some lingering fruitiness in there. Smoked raisins, plums and some lemon peel. There’s just a little bit of the Highland Park heathered peat and honey, but it does become more prominent over time. Earthy spices such as ginger, nutmeg and a hint of clove are in there too. I could nose this all night, but I’m just dying to take a sip!

Pallet: The entry is luscious and oily. Big Seville orange marmalade note right off the bat. My favourite, especially with thick chunks of orange peel. The really good stuff is slightly more sour and bitter than sweet. A good dose of ginger and dark chocolate as well. It’s slightly salty and mineral as well. The development is actually quite light on the peat. It’s mostly a sour note in the form of lemon peel. The influence of the European oak is kept in check by the marmalade and dark chocolate that are carried over from the entry. This is joined by raisins and dark stone fruits along with a good dose of ground cloves. Towards the end of the development, there’s the beginnings of a rich, warm, spice cake fresh from the oven.

Finish: That spice cake note carries over from the development and lingers all the way through the finish. At the end, it’s like a gingerbread cookie you rescued from the oven just in time. All of this helps to balance out the oak. Given the light color of this whisky, I’m not surprised this whisky is not aggressive in that department. A citrus zing and some dark chocolate are also in the mix. There’s a bit of wet ash right at the end.

With water added…

With water, the earthy baking spices and oak start to make their presence more well known. The clove note is really shining here. Interesting. That orange marmalade note, although still present on the entry, actually builds during the development. Now that spice cake is being slathered in marmalade towards the finish. Also, that burnt rubber note follows from the nose now, but it’s not very strong. The finish is pretty much unchanged with no noticeable differences.

Conclusion

I love this whisky both with and without water. I’m not a fan of overly oaked whiskies, but I was actually craving some of it as it was barely present without water.

Personally, I think this would be a great introduction to peated whisky for those that aren’t fond of or want to start to explore the genre. There’s enough peated notes on the nose and pallet to introduce you to the standard flavours without blowing your mind (and taste buds) with iodine, heavy ash and smoke. As an added bonus, the sherry influence adds a good dose of flavours that will be familiar to those that like ex-sherry finished or matured scotch.

As for me, I am very much looking forward to more of what the other Remarkable Single Malts have to offer.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey – Port Cask review

Unless you’re deep into the American single malt world, here’s something you probably haven’t tried. It’s a 100% single malt whisky, matured in virgin oak barrels and finished in ex-ruby Port casks. Before this review, neither had I.

I bought this bottle as I was really intrigued how the interplay between virgin American oak and the musty spicy European oak would play out. With ex-bourbon and port casks, you would expect the port to hold court, for the most part. Would the virgin oak be in more of a fighting mood? Would this be a Connors/McEnroe affair? Would I scroll through YouTube to see what that looked like? Would I later question how the heat affected my ability to write this today? Let’s find out.

Like the regular single malt expression and the peated malt, this Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey – Port Cask was aged for at least three years in virgin American oak before being finished in ex-ruby Port casks and bottled at 46%.

Nose: Compared to their straight up single malt I reviewed earlier, the heavy virgin oak notes are very muted. Not surprising given the port finish. After letting this sit for about 45 minutes, there is a very strong red grape note mixed with a little bit of grape bubblegum. It’s not overly spicy. Mostly cinnamon with just a touch of ginger and allspice. The European and American oak are nicely balanced. There’s a little bit of a milk chocolate fruit and nut bar. After nosing this for a while, I get a slight mustiness bubbling up from the background. I’m finally getting sponge toffee and some vanilla.

Pallet: Quite sweet and slightly tart on the entry. Definitely concord grapes with the tartness from the skin. There’s also a good dose of stewed rhubarb fresh from the garden. It’s also a little bit confectionery. Like a grape danish dusted with icing sugar. A little bit of creamy milk chocolate is in there as well. The development isn’t in a hurry here. Those creamy, tart, grape and rhubarb notes start to bump up against the oak barrels mid-development and are joined by some orange zest, especially when I smack my lips (That always seems to happen, doesn’t it?). At this point, the balance between the oak and the rest of this whisky is thrown off just a touch and doesn’t really come back into line. Some people may like this oak bite, but personally, it’s not to my taste. The spicing is a little bit of cracked black pepper and ginger, both in equal measure

Finish: Speaking of balance, the major thing thing the finish has going for it is a balance between the dryness of the oaks and the tart, juiciness from the port. The later definitely wins out and makes my mouth water quite a bit. To this whisky’s credit, as I sip it more and more, I get that ginger snap cookie note that I loved so much in the regular single malt expression.

With water added…

Now the nose is coming alive. It was a tad muted without water. The grape notes have been taken over by the spicy European oak. The sponge toffee is a little darker. Just how I like it. I’m also getting a faint black tea note as well. Orange pekoe, maybe? Like the peated malt, the oak dominates from the entry to the finish. There is still enough tartness on the finish in the form of grape skins and orange zest so that it isn’t overly drying. The ginger snap cookie note is still there at the beginning of the finish, but it’s been left in the oven just a touch too long. There’s some medium dark chocolate in there as well.

Conclusion

Whether you will like this whisky with water added will really depend if you don’t mind a good dose of oak or not. Personally, it’s not for me. What I do like about all three single malts that are available to us from Boulder Spirits is that each of them is vastly different, but they are tied together by the virgin oak. Each one displays the affect of this maturation to varying degrees, but they are all interesting.

Out of the three, I’m surprised to say that the regular single malt is my favourite of the three followed by the peated malt and the port cask. Their regular single malt, actually called American Oak, tops the list as it stood up against a few drops of water so well.

Stay tuned for the final expression that’s available in Canada at the moment. Their (not so regular) bourbon.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey review

There was a time, not so long ago, when pretty much everybody associated single malt whisky with Scotland. No longer. In America specifically, single malt whisky production is among the fastest growing spirit categories today.

This fast growth comes at a price, however. Any product that grows so rapidly and is being produced by so many companies with little agreement regarding standardization runs the risk of fracturing in one way or another. Back in 2016, a group of single malt distilleries such as Westland (Seattle), Balcones (Waco, TX) and FEW (Evanston, IL) were concerned by the lack of transparency and standards in their fast-growing category and wanted to do something about it. The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) was born.

The ASMWC has two major mandates. The first is to act as a lobby group that is trying to get an official Standard of Identity, like bourbon and rye, written into law that establishes a specific category of American Single Malt Whiskey. Given how government works, this will be no easy task.

In the meantime, the ASMWC’s second major mandate is to establish an interim set of standards for American single malt. These include the stipulation that the whisky is made from 100% malted barley which is distilled at one distillery. In addition, the whisky must be mashed, distilled and matured in the United States with a barrel entry proof of no more than 160 in oak casks not exceeding 700 litres. Finally, the minimum bottling strength must be the usual 80 proof.

This is definitely a very basic set of standards, but over the years, the eight founding members of the ASMWC have been joined by over 100 other distilleries who have agreed to abide by them and to help lobby for the Standard of Identity.

Amongst the ASMWC members, the biggest variation in their production revolves around the casks that they use to mature their whisky. Boulder Spirits, who is a member of the ASMWC and whose single malt is in the glass today, have chosen to mature their whisky in virgin American oak casks treated with a #3 char. This introduces notes that will be familiar to bourbon and rye drinkers, but with a single malt twist.

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey is matured for at least three years in these virgin oak casks before being bottled at 46%.

Photo credit: Ryan Negley (IG: @theryannegley)

Nose: Most of the notes that I am picking up in the foreground are associated with the virgin oak this was matured in. Sponge toffee, rich vanilla, a hint of cherry bubblegum and cinnamon. I’ve got my spice bottles out for this one as there’s some other stuff in here I want to identify. It’s not earthy like nutmeg or clove or citrusy like ground coriander. I’ve settled on allspice and just a touch of ginger. Yes, I’m talking to myself. Over time, I notice a brown sugar note. As for the actual single malt, I’m getting malted cereal and some barley sugar (aside: if you haven’t had barley sugar before, go to your local English sweet shop and discover what you have been missing!). Just before I take a sip, I get a little bit of fresh cut grass and wintergreen. As I said earlier, this is very virgin oak forward, but there are enough notes to remind you that there is, in fact, single malt in here!

Pallet: On the entry, I’m getting a very strong spice cake vibe that carries all the way through the rest of the experience. This has opened up hugely since I popped the cork a few months back. Back then it smelled and tasted young. Now it’s a different and tastier animal all together. Let this be a lesson to never do an in-depth review until your bottle has been drained past the shoulder. OK, back to the matter at hand! The entry is creamy and has a bit of a malted cereal note to it as well. That spice cake is now more a ginger cake (like, heavy on the ginger) on the development the longer I sip this. The youthful malted cereal note rears it’s head up here, but, rather than detract from the experience, it adds to it as it gets mixed into the ginger cake notes and the oak spice. When I smack my lips to let in air, I get a little bit of citrus and some walnuts.

Finish: Pretty darn long. Ginger cake and ginger snap cookies carry right on through. The bitterness from the oak was there on the first couple of sips, but is barely detectable now. There is enough of it along with some sponge toffee on the edge of burning to counterbalance the sweetness though.

With water added

How interesting. On the nose I’m getting a bit of a rich, sweet BBQ sauce note. The sort of sauce that you would cook up at home. As I give this more time in the glass, that fades and I get more cinnamon and more fresh cherries than cherry bubblegum. The spicing gets a little earthier so I’m leaning more towards clove than allspice now. Over time, the baking spices increase on the nose. That ginger cake note is tamped down on the entry and finish and the oak becomes more prominent, but it’s not over oaked like the peated malt was. If anything, I like this balance with water better. Towards the end of the development into the finish, I get a definite dark liquorice note. Not the cheap Twizzlers candy. I’m talking the real stuff now. I don’t like liquorice, but here, it just adds on to everything I am liking about this experience. Over time, the development is more spicy ginger snaps cookie than ginger cake.

Conclusion

I’ll be very honest with you. I came into this review expecting to not like this whisky and was thinking of ways to word this in a diplomatic way that I didn’t like it. From my first few drams, I just thought it tasted too young. What a difference time has done to this bottle. I actually see my Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask bourbon shaking in the corner of my cabinet, afraid that I had found a new distillery favourite.

It’s strange how their straight up single malt didn’t collapse with water added in the way that their peated malt did. Having not tried this with water, I was really expecting the same to happen here. Once again, thankfully, I was wrong.

I would love to try their bottled in bond and, if available, cask strength expressions sometime just to see what time and a bit more (or a lot more!) abv does to the signature of this whisky. I bet I won’t be disappointed!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Photo credit: Ryan Negley (IG: @theryannegley)

Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt review

When whisky drinkers think of peated single malt whisky, they immediately think of the Isle of Islay. Although the most iconic peated single malt brands call that island their home, there is a whole world of peated whisky out there to explore. And not just in Scotland. Almost every whisky producing nation has it’s take on peat, it seems.

For those who are newer to the world of whisky, the basic difference between peated and un-peated malt is the burning of peat bricks (literally chunks of dried peat from bogs) when the malted barley is being dried. The smoke from the burning peat gets introduced into the barley. The phenols infused into the barley from the peat smoke gives peated malt it’s distinct smell and taste. Typical notes introduced as a result of this process include iodine, tar, ash and smoke.

The strength of this peated signature in the malt is directly related to the amount of time the malt is exposed to peat smoke. For example, Laphroaig exposes their malted barley to 15-30 hours of peat smoke. Some go higher. The standard measure of how “peated” the barley has become is its phenol parts per million, or ppm.

Different distilleries have different takes on peated single malt. Some distilleries take a great deal of pride in making the most peated single malt possible such as Bruichladdich and their Octomore series. Many of their releases are 150+ ppm. Most of the major Islay distilleries are in the 30-50 ppm range.

Boulder Spirits has taken a different approach. Rather than creating a heavily peated whisky, they keep their peated level quite low by mixing low ppm peated malt (35 ppm or so) with non-peated malt. The result is a whisky that has an earthy, rather than medicinal flavour. For those who have shied away from peated single malt in the last, this serves as a gentle introduction to what the genre has to offer.

The Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt was matured for at least three years in a #3 char virgin American oak barrel before being bottled at 46%.

Nose: This is a lovely intersection between peat and virgin oak. If I was forced to make a comparison between this and an Islay distillery, I would say it’s closest to Ardbeg. Much less peated of course! A faint whiff of Montreal smoked meat and campfire ash from the previous night. It’s ever so slightly briney. From my recent trip to Salt Spring Island, BC, we took several walks through cedar-rich forests. I’m getting that smell here too. As this sits in the glass for longer, some fresh herbal notes come up. Mostly Italian parsley and a bit of cilantro. There’s enough sweetness and spice to balance things out. A surprising hint of dark cherry lurks in the background. Some sponge toffee and a little bit of vanilla is in there too. For spices, I’m getting cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. Before I take a sip, some orange zest presents itself. The more time you give this in the glass, the more the notes of the virgin oak come to the fore. If you want the peat, drink it sooner! Otherwise, give it time! Speaking of time, it’s time to take a sip!

Pallet: The entry is rich and creamy. Dark toffee, dark chocolate, slices of lemon peel. It’s just a tad ashy. Some grilled cherries and rich vanilla. That cherry note becomes a little more sour as the entry transitions into the development. The volume on the orange and lemon zest gets turned up during the development along with the spices from the oak, but the sweet notes from the entry tame them just enough. Towards the back end of the development, this gets a little drier, but not overly so. After several sips, a peppercorn steak sauce note tingles the tongue along with a little bit of crushed red chilies. I’m getting something different with each sip.

Finish: Quite a long finish. It’s slightly drying and bitter from the oak and near-burnt sponge toffee. Some of the dryness is counterbalanced by the citrus which is fading from the development. Some old leather, a bit of ash and that cedar forest note come on at the end.

With water added…

I’m not so fond of the nose with a few drops of water. It’s a little too oak forward and swamps all of those other notes that make this whisky so unique. This sentiment carries forward through to the entry and, particularly, the development. It’s just too heavily oaked for my taste. For the first time, the youthfulness of this whisky is starting to rear it head. The finish is much the same.

Conclusion

This is definitely a better whisky without water added. Sipped neat and given some time, this is another reminder for the “age is everything” cohort that that adage simply does not ring true. For lovers of scotch, the addition of exclusive virgin oak barrel maturation introduces notes that come both from the single malt and bourbon worlds, creating a hybrid that can be found nowhere else at the moment.

If you have always been shy of peat, this is the perfect whisky to finally take that plunge. It’s not going to slap you across the face and even has some notes commonly associated with bourbons, if that’s the realm you’re coming from.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Kavalan Single Malt – Solist, ex – Bourbon Cask


I remember the weekend of September 28th and 29th, 2018 like it was yesterday.  I had the absolute pleasure of attending the very first Banff Whisky Experience in Banff, AB . The days were filled with amazing master classes and the evenings each hosted a grand tasting with 77 distilleries and a plethora or drams represented.  After an amazing Friday evening and night out in Banff with some of the grandest whisky personalities,  soon came a late Saturday morning rise for myself.  I am sure we can all relate to those nights when the morning had somehow slipped away, and well… waking at 11 AM, freaked out and realizing my first master class for the day was about to start at noon!!  I did what I do best and that’s pulling myself together, looking like I had all the beauty sleep in the world, haha.  Might have learned a trick or two about that over the years (yay for concealer !) .  
My first class that day was called “KAVALAN – The Single Malt from the other side of the world –  being presented by the late and great J. Wheelock.  God bless his soul!  As I settled into my seat and started gazing over a beautiful tasting mat of 8 whiskies, I quickly noticed the majority of them were Kavalan single malts from Taiwan.  The theme of the class was essentially de bunking non age statements whisky (N.A.S.) and to say the least, I was all ears!

 
Sitting before me along side the Kavalan spread was a large bar of dark chocolate bar and seeing that I kind of slept though breakfast, I was salivating at the idea of hammering it back. As noon swept across the clock though, and Jay’s introduction commenced the tasting, my eyes were quickly focused on the whisky in front of me. And then it happened… upon my first sip of this rich, deluxe, beautiful, viscous, and tropical whisky, I was sold!  It was love at first sip.

Kavalan is known to have one of the most comprehensive lines and offering of Sherry Whiskies , however there are a few that were matured in alternate ways. Kavalan “Solist” Ex Bourbon Oak is a cask strength whisky that was fully matured in fresh hand picked ex-bourbon oak Barrels by Kavalan’s master distiller, Ian Chang at the time.


Whisky romance 101: I am not sure about you, but when I am drinking a high end Whisky such as Kavalan – you better believe I am taking my time with it.  I am not afraid to say I love drinking whisky alone because it gives me some real one on one time to enjoy and unpack all it has to offer. A whisky date!, as I like to refer to it.

Tasting and Reviewing the Whisky

Upon pouring this whisky into a proper whisky drinking glass (in my case a copita), I see a bright shiny, viscous, and oily whisky that has legs for days, coating the glass and presenting a color that’s described by the distillery as “Cattle Egret” which is a Melanesian bird that dawns a beautiful golden colouring downs its neck and wings. The oily residue on the glass reminds moves around reflecting the light reminding me of a kaleidoscope… I am now extremely intrigued.

Nose

Lush tropical fruits, floral frangipani, blooming Jasmine mist and young coconut cream . One the second nosing I get kiwi, melon, green apple, with oak and vanilla.

Palate

The texture is rich, smooth and silky. I get lots of notes of vanilla and oak as well as the Kavalan signature tropical notes I mentioned above and also mango and pineapple. On my second sip the whisky tasted sweeter and I got a full essence of a vanilla ice cream cone with hints of ginger, nutmeg,  and woody notes.
With a couple of drops of water I got notes of white chocolate, raspberry and cream soda .  What a delight!

Finish

The finish is sweet and spicy like white pepper sprinkled on biscuits that lingers on the palate.

Conclusion 
For such a high cask strength whisky (58.6%) it is very luxurious , smooth and elegant, drinking well below it’s ABV.
This Taiwanese single malt cask strength whisky has won a ton of accolades – most recently including double gold at the international spirits challenge 2019 and gold at the San Francisco Spirits competition in 2019.

  • Review written by Zahara Amiri