Dram Mor Ben Nevis 8 year review

Dram Mor is an independent bottler located in Dumbarton, Scotland. The Macdonalds started their brand in 2019, and now ship bottles to over 24 countries around the world. The focus of this review is their 8 year old Ben Nevis expression. 

The Ben Nevis distillery is located on Loch Linnhe in the Highlands region at the base of Ben Nevis, which is the highest point on the British Isles. It was founded in 1825 by Long John McDonald, and was purchased by Nikka in 1989. The distillery focuses on 10 year expressions of its own spirit, and supplies whisky to many independent bottlers across the industry. 

This Dram Mor Ben Nevis release matured for 8 years in oak barrels, and then finished for an unspecified period in a very unique first fill white port pipe. This produced 169 bottles, and presents at a cask strength of 53% abv. This whisky is a pale yellow/gold, with a low viscosity that moves easily in the glass. 

Nose: Raisins, but not the dark sweet flavour normally found in a sherry finish. It comes across more like white wine to me.  There are undertones of milk chocolate, and some pepper in the background. 

Palate: The first flavour that presents is a salty sweet caramel. Very clear and bold, unmistakable. The white port influence comes through next. Some milk chocolate notes also, but they are quite subtle. Light smacking of the lips to allow in some air brings the chocolate to the forefront. 

Finish: The finish is more milk chocolate, creamy and sweet. There are some light oak notes too. The flavour that lingers on the palate at the end is pepper with a hint of ginger spice. 

With water added…

Softens the white wine on nose. On the palate, I get less obvious caramel and more nutty oak. The milk chocolate remains at the finish, but the pepper is muted. 

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Ben Nevis in general, and was really looking forward to trying this expression. It’s rare to see a whisky finished in a white port pipe. Unfortunately, I am not a wine drinker, and I found that the white port influences did not match my personal palate well. The milk chocolate notes that were present throughout the experience were delicious though, and the oak and pepper on the finish complimented those chocolate notes perfectly. While this bottle will not land on my own shelf, anyone who enjoys a wine or port cask finishes will undoubtedly love this release. It’s great to see independent bottlers like Dram Mor finding new and exciting ways to deliver whisky to the community!

Instagram: @woodley_dr

Eau Claire Single Malt Batch 5 review

Located in the heart of Turner Valley, Alberta, Eau Claire Distillery is part of the distilling revolution that is spreading quickly through Alberta. Open since 2014 and originally focusing on white spirits, their single malt whisky has generated a cult following among Canadian whisky fans. Their farm to glass philosophy allows them to showcase the very best ingredients that Alberta has to offer.

Now in its fifth release, this batch is a blend new Hungarian oak, ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon barrels. There is no age statement, but has to be at least three years old and is bottled at 43% with no chill filtration or added color.

Nose: The orchard fruits stand out straight away. Fresh cut red apples mostly, but also a slice of pear. There is also a dominant, grain-forward note that reminds me of a young Irish single malt. I get a touch of barley sugar candies along with that. There is a light honey note that has settled into the background as this sits in the glass. There’s some orange in here, but it’s more like a mandarin rather than a navel orange. Ginger and cinnamon are the only spices I get. I’d say the vast majority of this whisky matured in ex-Bourbon, but there is enough of that Hungarian oak to tingle the nose a little. I can’t say I am getting any ex-Sherry influence at all.

Palate: The one thing I notice right away is how creamy this feels right off the bat. One of the creamiest mouthfeels I have had in a long while. It’s creamy honey poured over apples and pears on the entry. That stays on the palate for the whole experience. The development is all about the grain and oak. Malted cereal and barley sugar dominate initially, but then the Hungarian oak kicks in. It’s not overpowering and there’s a nice balance between the wood, the sweetness and the grain. Clove joins the ginger and cinnamon.

Finish: The Hungarian oak is nicely balanced by the lingering sweetness in a nice medium finish. Earthy nutmeg joins the other baking spices here, giving me an early Christmas vibe. As the finish progresses, I’m getting a cocoa powder note that actually builds rather than recedes. The creaminess hangs on to the end.

With water added…

The new Hungarian oak is much stronger now, as is the youthful grain note. This isn’t an issue for me seeing as I love young whisky when it’s presented like this. That barley sugar note is strong with this one now. The orchard fruits are still there, but are in the background now. The palate is still creamy, but the youthfulness of this whisky is really starting to show now. It’s too grain-forward and the oak is a little dominant for me. I’m missing a richness that I enjoyed without water being added. The sweetness barely hangs on during the back end of the development. With water, the finish is the best part of the experience. That cocoa note, which love, remains on the finish.

Conclusion

This was my first whisky from Eau Claire and I like what I see from here. The youthful maltiness and the choice of barrels really works. Too much ex-Sherry and Hungarian oak would have swamped the delicate character of this whisky. Also, I never would have guessed that this was only 43%. What surprised me the most was how creamy this dram is. I would definitely recommend this without any water added as the balance was thrown off a bit. Overall, this was everything that I love about a young whisky and can’t wait to try their next release.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Dram Mor Inchfad 14 Year review

Inchfad is the name of a certain style of release that comes from the Loch Lomond Distillery. It’s actually hardly ever used anymore and was only used by Loch Lomond for a brief time in the mid 2000s. It was always a heavily peated release that befit the Inchfad name and this one shows that side well.

This was brought to us by the independent bottler, Dram Mor, a company who have had their first outturn in Canada recently. Mostly young to teenaged whiskies, they are showing off some unique and interesting cask profiles along with some unique distillate character from a number of distilleries. I have been fortunate enough to have tasted through a number of previous and current releases from Dram Mor and one thing I can say is they always have interesting drams to taste.

This Dram Mor 14 year was finished in a first-fill PX cask and was bottled at 54.7%. A total of 274 bottles were produced with 42 of those making their way to Canada.

In the Glass: A darker maple colour, and a nice glass coating texture. A quick swirl reveals some slow legs that seem to hug the glass nice and tight. I am already getting a waft off the glass and I need to dig right in.

Nose: An initial note of peat smoke fills my nostrils. A smoke that seems almost like it’s coming from damp wood but not oceanic wood. Oh WOW, there is a funk on this nose as soon as the peat wafts and settles. An almost barnyard funk. Like wet hay after a rainstorm has passed and the sun is shining down and trying to dry out the bails. A slight touch of vegetal/barn funk as well. This is so intriguing and I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I love it. Bring me that funk!!! Digging down and now the sweetness shows up. Definitely PX sweetness showing through now. Syrupy caramelized apples, maybe a bit of raisins in a reduced brown sugar sauce, ready to pour over some sticky toffee pudding. Some toasted maltiness comes through near the very end of the nose. Man this nose has a bit of everything, the smoke, the sweetness and oh Billy that FUNK. I cant wait to start sipping on this.

Palate: Right from the start, it prickles the tongue in the way a peppered rim of a glass from a caesar would. Then surprisingly, the sweetness comes in full force. Orange peels and caramel come in, bringing along some tartness from a cherry-like note. The ABV does not show itself except for that initial hit. The smoke starts to come through and dances around the tongue with the sweetness, transforming into a touch of old leather. A bit of ginger and cinnamon shows up just as that peat smoke starts to awaken a bit more. The funk from the nose is tamped down a but, but shows up in a malty note, almost like an oatmeal with brown sugar dusted on top, but eaten next to the barn where the animals sheltered all night. The funk man….the funk. Upon a swallow, the cinnamon and malt notes stick around for a bit, I’d say medium to almost shorter, however that peat smoke and pepper cling on for even longer.

Conclusion

This one is interesting to say the least. I don’t think this one will be for everyone and definitely not for the faint of heart. That funk is everything special to me, in my heart, that I love finding in new whiskies. The nose and palate align but differ just enough to make this a thinker. A dram you wanna sit back with and sip over an hour or so with nothing on but some Righteous Brothers on the turntable and the lights turned way down. The dichotomy of that setting with this dram will awaken all the senses and truly let this wonderful whisky shine through.

Instagram: @seankincaid

SINGLE CASK NATION WESTPORT 2005 (16 YEAR) REVIEW

What is a Westport anyway? Or a Williamson? Or Orkney? What’s going on here? Last we checked, these aren’t distilleries in Scotland. Or are they? Welcome to the world of distillery aliases. Westport is Glenmorangie. Williamson is Laphroaig. Orkney is almost always Highland Park. A few brands, especially those with a sizeable official bottling line are very protective about when independent bottlers can use their name. In these cases, they still sell on their casks to brokers and bottlers, but under an assumed name, if you will. There’s a bit more to it than that, I think, but as they say at my job, it’s good enough for government work!

This is our last SCN review for a little while, but I have to say that this initial release has been pretty epic. I doff my cap to Single Cask Nation for ignoring the roaring sherry trend and going with mostly second fill casks including many ex-Bourbon bottlings. Those ones, in particular, have been very illuminating for me. This Westport was distilled in May 2005 and dumped into a 2nd fill Oloroso Sherry Butt. It was bottled in May 2021 at 50.6% abv with a total out turn of 577 bottles.

Nose: This has a very citrusy nose with the zest and flesh of an orange. Some pineapple is in there too. I’m having a bit of a hard time digging past the citrus initially. Once my nose acclimatizes, I get a few Oloroso notes, but they are quite muted with this being a second fill cask. There’s a little bit of dark chocolate and some sultana raisins. I’m getting the faintest whiff of Christmas cake. It’s mostly cinnamon and ginger for the spicing. Again, the refill cask is, not surprisingly, giving me very little oak. As I nose this over time, I get a little bit of light honey and some Gala apples.


Palate: Quite light and sweet initially. Definitely a very strong Glenmo vibe off of this one for sure. Citrus, honey, crisp apples and a bit of toffee on the entry. The development gives me a bit of that Christmas cake note that I got on the nose as well as a good hit of baking spices. Those are earthier now with a nice hit of clove and nutmeg. There’s maybe a bit more oak than I usually like on the back end of the development, but this is a 16 year whisky, after all. There’s enough spice to tingle the tongue, but it’s not overpowering in any way. Overall, a nice balance here.


Finish: The finish is medium to long and only a little bit on the dry side. The oak is not too dominant and is balanced nicely by the remaining sweetness from the entry. The baking spices fade mid-way through the finish leaving oak and bit of dark chocolate at the end.

Conclusion

This is certainly a very good whisky in its own right, but out of all of the SCN releases I have reviewed recently, I find myself gravitating towards the ex-Bourbon matured expressions. My favorite of the six that we reviewed here was the Teaninich, which is the first one I tried. I hope that scotch lovers keep their options open to ex-Bourbon expressions such as these, rather than just going by the color of the liquid in the bottle. After trying these SCN releases, I’m definitely a convert!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

SINGLE CASK NATION BLAIR ATHOL 2011 (10 YEAR) REVIEW

Aside from comments on social media or in online tastings, this is the first time I’ve attempted formal tasting notes. As a relatively new whisky drinker, this is an intimidating task. It is especially nerve-wracking to be asked to post a review on the Park Whiskey Society website, which is a page I have gone to for over a year to read about some of the amazing options available to whisky lovers here in Alberta. 

When I first found this site online, I was amazed with each individual’s ability to detect such a wide range of scents and flavours in each dram. As a novice, I could only really pick up on sweet, spicy/peppery, smoky, or “holy crap that burns my eyes”. To read someone commenting on vanilla, or stewed fruits, or lemon zest made me feel like a very inadequate member of the group. 

It’s amazing what a few months and a few dozen (hundred?) drams can change. My best suggestion to new whisky drinkers: join a group like the Park Whiskey Society. There are many local whisky club options, and the people in these groups are generous, kind and always willing to share a sample or an opinion. Also, get involved in as many whisky tastings as you can. When you find a whisky you like, buy it. If it’s a limited release or special cask, buy two. You’ll regret it if you don’t. 

Single Cask Nation is one of the most successful independent bottling companies in the world, and they have very recently returned to the Canadian market. They have provided 6 distinct releases in the last 3 weeks, including this beautiful Blair Athol which spent 10 years maturing in a 2nd fill PX sherry butt. Blair Athol is a small Highland distillery that primarily supplies whisky for the popular Bell’s blend in Scotland. This whisky is bright copper in colour, and is bottled at a generous 55.3%. 

Nose: Sweet fruits, but more subtle than a traditional PX cask. A hint of musty malt that reminds me of the old bookshelves in my grandma’s basement. In a good way. Something else sweet too, like the inside of a candy bar. I spent a long time nosing this whisky. It’s complex. 

Palate: Rich and sweet, quickly turning to a ginger spiciness. This is followed by cereal malt, and hint of dark chocolate bitterness. The high abv might make it too hot for some. A couple drops of water mellowed the malt and spice and brought out something that reminded me of Christmas fruitcake. 

Finish: Medium-long, with lots of spice. Again, more ginger than pepper. The fruit at the end is cherry or cranberry, and leaves a very pleasant aftertaste. 

This is one of my favourites of the SCN initial releases. It is more complex than your average PX sherry bomb. The combination of the sweetness from 2nd fill sherry cask, the mustiness of the malt, and the ginger spice allows this dram to activate and please the entire palate. 

I am still learning about my own personal palate, and the unending flavours that appear across the whisky spectrum. You may agree with the notes above, or taste something completely different. But I know what I like. And I like this whisky. The SCN Blair Athol 10 is backup bottle worthy. 

Instagram: Dave Woodley (@woodley_dr)

Single Cask Nation Glen Elgin 2010 (10 year) review

This being my third Single Cask Nation review, I’m starting to see where their philosophy lies. Looking at their releases in the Canadian market at least, roughly 3/4 are from second-fill barrels. This has allowed me to discover the true nature and character of each distillery with the cask only providing a light touch. First-fill ex-sherry is very much en vouge at the moment, but SCN is bucking the trend in this regard. Will it catch on?

This Single Cask Nation Glen Elgin 10 year old was distilled in March 2010 and was matured in a second-fill ex-Bourbon hosghead. It was bottled in October 2020 at 61.3% abv with a total out turn of 293 bottles.

Nose: A very fruity nose that goes in all kinds of directions. Most prominent is pineapple, but orange is not far behind. I’m getting quite a bit of zest, but also the flesh or an orange as well. Lying underneath are some crisp red apples. I’m mostly getting ginger for spicing, but not a whole lot else. Not surprising as, like the Teaninich and Tomatin before it, this is a second fill Bourbon hogshead (or barrel in Tomatin’s case). I got a little bit of a white grape note when I first poured this, but that has almost completely dissipated now. There is a small amount of vanilla. As I nose this over time I discovered a faint toasted sugar note. Nothing to report in terms of oak. Once again, this is very distillate forward. I see a trend forming here with the SCN releases. They’re wanting the distillate to shine through.

Palate: Almost right away, I’m getting pears poached in syrup. Almost stronger than I got on the Teaninich. The first sip was shockingly easy to drink. On the first couple of sips, that pear note was almost too dominant in its sweetness. On subsequent sips, more notes come forward to balance this out. My tongue is starting to tingle so I have to slow down. Initially, the nose is light and sweet with honey and a little citrus zing. Then the orchard fruits start to come forward during the development. Mostly pear, but now joined by apple. Then I get more citrus mid-development with a good amount of ginger and clove as well as a sprinkling of black pepper. I’m surprised how much oak I’m getting on the back end of the finish, but it’s well balanced and not overpowering in any way.

Finish: A lovely long finish with a little bit of everything. First a bit of oak and fading spice from the development. Then the apple and pear comes back along with a little bit of dark chocolate. Lastly, I get a faint hint of citrus that makes me want to go back for more.

With water added…

I’m not getting as much apple on the nose and the pineapple and orange have been turned up a little. I’m getting some cinnamon along with the ginger now. About six drops of water to my remaining ounce of this has allowed me to get much deeper into the glass. It’s calmed down the alcoholic bite quite a bit. On the palate, the orange is balancing out the apple and pear a lot more on the front end of the development. The added cinnamon that builds through the experience is giving this a bit of an apple pie filling vibe. The skin is still on the apples, giving it a slightly bitter note. The finish hasn’t changed an awful lot, but the spice stays around for longer.

Conclusion

Before I tried these three SCN ex-Bourbon barrel releases, I was very much in the sherry bomb and peat monster camp. I’m still very solidly in those two camps, but these samples have opened my eyes to just how magical ex-Bourbon cask matured whisky can be. The tropical and orchard fruits just shine through, particularly in these SCN releases and has me wanting more.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Single Cask Nation Tomatin 2006 (12 year) review

Unlike the Teaninich that I just reviewed, Tomatin is definitely a familiar name if you have perused the whisky shelves with any frequency. From the Legacy, all the way through their high age stated bottles, Tomatin is a very familiar and affordable Highland scotch whisky. Tomatin likes to advertise themselves as “The lighter side of the Highlands”. This moniker may hold true when it comes to their official bottlings, but that is not case if you pick up an independent bottling of the stuff. I found this out in a big way when I reviewed this zesty little number!

This Single Cask Nation Tomatin 12 year was distilled in 2006 and matured in second fill bourbon barrels. It was bottled in 2019 at 58.1% abv with an out turn of 219 bottles.

Nose: For a second fill bourbon barrel, I’m getting quite a bit of vanilla. Even stronger than the expected tropical fruits is the fresh cut apple note I’m getting right off the bat. I have to say, for such a high abv whisky, I can really get my nose pretty deep into the glass. This nose is quite cereal rich for it’s age with a good amount of barley sugar thrown in for good measure. As well as pineapple, I’m getting quite a lot of citrus oil expressed from a fresh orange. A grapefruit note comes up after a while in the glass. As far as spicing goes, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger and a hint of cinnamon.

Palate: I was expecting a wave of citrus here and I get that big time. The entry, after the first couple of sips, is quite measured and sweet with honey and vanilla wafers before a wave of citrus breaks early in the development. This, along with its high proof really tingles the tongue so I would sip this slowly if I were you! The sweet and sour note continues throughout the entire development with the latter transitioning from orange to grapefruit as the experience progresses. That maltiness and barley sugar continues from the nose and apexes during the mid part of the development. The sweetness fades during the second half of the development, but doesn’t disappear completely. The spice builds to a crescendo at the end of the development with cinnamon, ginger, cracked black pepper and clove. There just a bit of oak at the end, but it is pushed into the background will all of this spice.

Finish: This is a very long finish that is spice and citrus forward. Most of the spice and sweetness fades during the first half of the development. This leaves the citrus to continue the journey alone for the most part, with some oak tagging behind it. The tail end of the finish is a little bit sour and bitter in equal amounts. It’s not in your face. Not all whisky needs to end with a sweet note.

With water added…

This has become a bit floral now. The vanilla remains, but I’m not getting as much apple as I did without water added. I’m still getting some of that nice maltiness. I’m getting some earthy allspice and the ginger has faded quite a bit. The cinnamon remains though. A nice digestive cookie note comes out after some time in the glass. The palate still possesses quite a bit of citrus zest, but there is more sweetness to balance it throughout the entire development. The sweetness is mostly a rich honey. On the second half of the development, the spice is still pretty strong, perhaps even stronger than without water. Interesting that I am getting a bit of apple, starting mid-way into the development and continuing into the finish. This is still quite a spicy, citrusy finish, but that extra apple and honey sweetness helps to balance things out a bit more. The finish is still sour and bitter, but there is enough sweetness there to right the ship a little.

Conclusion

This is not a whisky that everyone will enjoy. If you are dead set against adding water to your whisky, you had better like a good dose of citrus. The addition of water and the added sweetness it brings really transforms this one quite a bit. To be honest, I’m glad that the Teaninich I just reviewed and this one are so radically different. Seeing that these two are both from second fill bourbon casks of some sort, and thus quite distillate forward, you get an idea just how diverse Highland scotch whiskey can be.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Single Cask Nation Teaninich 13 year

Today we start a series of reviews on the Single Cask Nation bottlings that are starting to hit the shelves here in Alberta. Single Cask Nation started as a discussion between friends. This quickly progressed into one of the most popular independent bottling companies in the world.

What we have in the glass today is from one of many hidden gems in the vast Diageo portfolio. Teaninich distillery hails from Alness in the northwestern part of the Scottish Highlands. Its whisky is mostly used for the Johnny Walker line of expressions along with an occasional release as part of Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series. Teaninich is starting to become popular with independent bottlers recently and it’s not hard to see why!

This Single Cask Nation Teaninich 13 year old was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019 at 56.2% abv. It spent its entire maturation in a second fill bourbon hogshead with a total outturn of 277 bottles.

Nose: This is an ex-Bourbon matured Scotch as I live and breathe. I feel like I’m walking through a fruit market somewhere in the Caribbean. Very fresh and crisp notes in that regard. Pineapple is the standout, but that is joined with a healthy dose of the flesh of a fresh coconut that has been just been cut open. Fond memories of the Dominican Republic and Hawaii creeping in there. Fresh ginger root and orange zest features prominently as well. As I nose this over time, some ripe pear comes into focus as well as a bit of a digestive biscuit undertone. The toffee and vanilla are very light. It is really about the tropical flavors on this one. I have to say that as I have been nosing this over the past 20 minutes or so, the orchard fruits (pear joined by apple) are rising up to meet the tropical ones.


Palate: The entry is immediately tart with freshly chopped pineapple and mandarin orange. Ginger and cracked black pepper bring the heat at the beginning of the development. What follows from this can only be described as a pear bomb. The skin of a pear. The flesh of a super ripe pear. Pears poached in syrup. The whole thing. It doesn’t blow the initial tropical flavors away though as they float over top of all of this. The development is initially drying, but subsequent sips coat the mouth a lot more. After quite a few sips (I just can’t stop), I’m getting a nice malted cereal note along with a touch of that digestive biscuit I got on the nose. This is definitely on the sweet side, but there is enough spice to cut through all that. Over time, the pear bomb fades a bit and the malty/biscuit notes come to the fore. This is a fantastic evolution.


Finish: The spicy nature of this dram sticks around for a while as does all of that pear. There is really not that much oak to speak of. Not surprising given this is a second fill hogshead. One thing I have been missing is a chocolate note of some kind during this entire experience. Towards the end of the finish, I finally find some. The pears are now definitely poached with medium dark chocolate drizzled over top.

With water added…

The nose isn’t as expressive now as it once was. The ginger is definitely in full effect now. It’s also a bit earthier too with hints of nutmeg. The tropical fruit is still there, but is a bit muted now. It’s mostly orange and pineapple and I’m missing the coconut. The entry isn’t quite as tart, but the spice comes on much stronger. It takes a few sips to get used to all of that heat. Once that fades mid-development, those pear notes start to emerge. Stewed pears mostly, sprinkled with cracked pepper. I like that balance between sweet and savory. On the finish, I’m finally getting a bit of oak. The initial part of the finish is still quite hot, but calms back down into poached pears and chocolate once more. The chocolate note is now quite dark with a few dried red chilies added to the mix.

Conclusions

People who live and die by their ex-Sherry matured scotch should really give this one a try. They complain, sometimes rightly, that ex-Bourbon matured scotch is a little on the light side, lacks the spice and has too many classic Bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla and cinnamon. This one aims to be different. Yes, the tropical fruit notes are there in abundance, but there is enough spice to cut through the sweetness, with some surprises thrown in to make all of this a standout dram. More than anything, this is a much bolder affair that most ex-Bourbon matured scotch. Sherry heads, this one will change your mind!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Value Dram Reviews – Deanston 12 Year

Before I get into the review of this lovely whisky, I just want to highlight a small, yet significant change to the name of this review series. Changing the word “Budget” to the word “Value” implies that you are getting the maximum bang for your buck. “Budget” can be misconstrued for “Cheap”, which I was not going for in the first place. Although the majority of the reviews in this series will involve whiskies under $100, there are some above that amount whose quality punches far above its price, delivering exceptional value in the process. In keeping with the original premise, these whiskies should be readily available in Canada and definitely available in Alberta. Now, on to the review!

When we are talking about Deanston, it’s useful to talk about their owners, South Africa’s Distel Group, and their other brands. Whether it be Tobermory (and Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain or the blended scotch, Black Bottle, all of their 10 and 12 year old (and Black Bottle’s standard offering) expressions offer exceptional value for money. Although I don’t have the details in front of me (editor’s note: “He’s lazy”), the quality of their whiskies come down, in part, to their cask management program. Whether it be ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and everything in between, their base offerings showcase a perfect balance between spirit and cask that you simply don’t get from old, tired wood. With a potential takeover by Heineken in the works, it will be interesting if the potential new owner stays the course or tries to appeal to a mass market and moves in a similar (and in my opinion, controversial) direction to what Brown Forman is doing to Glendronach. Only time will tell. Fingers crossed.

When it comes to Deanston specifically, it has only been in operation, with some shut-downs, since 1965. Formerly a cotton mill, their electrical turbines on the River Teith power not only the distillery and all of their operations, but also generates a surplus that can be sold back to the national grid. Score one for clean energy.

Deanston has become a very popular brand in Canada thanks to Mike Brisebois, Distel’s former national brand ambassador. I’ll say this every time I review a Distel product: These brands wouldn’t be as popular in this country if it wasn’t for him.

The Deaston 12 year old, our whisky under review today, is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46.3% abv. The bottle says no chill filtration. A quick visit to their website confirms that it has no added color, but I just wish they would proudly say that on the packaging.

Nose: This is a classic ex-Bourbon matured scotch, if ever there was one. This is tropical fruit all the way with pineapple mostly, but also ripe mango and the oils expressed from an orange. When I first opened this bottle many months back, there was quite a bit of honey on the nose. The tropical character has since taken over, but the honey note becomes just a bit more prominent the longer this sits in the glass. What I love most about this whisky is the significant malted cereal and barley sugar notes that I get as soon as I pour this into my glass. Over time, I also get a slight floral note. It’s not overly perfumed, but just enough to slightly offset (and compliment) the sweetness. The vanilla and toffee notes get stronger over time. In terms of spices, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger, but not really any spices that are earthy, like nutmeg or clove.

Palate: Right from the get go, the honey character is far more prevalent on the entry, eclipsing the topical notes by a wide margin. The honey note is deep, rich and creamy. Subsequent sips give me some vanilla and medium toffee. Thankfully, some acid and a bit of bitterness come through in the development to offset this sweetness. First, it’s the maltiness with a little bit of barley sugar, then the acid from the tropical fruit shines through. Finally the oak, ginger and a bit of clove give the experience a spicy kick. This progression of flavors is remarkable for a 12 year old whisky. As I smack my lips, I get some medium dark chocolate, a hint of nuitiness and a lot more citrus. As I continually sip this (and trust me, it’s hard to stop), I’m picking up a slight saltiness which is weird as this is not anywhere near the sea.

Finish: This is a medium finish in perfect balance. Not too dry and not too creamy. The sweetness from the entry holds. There’s enough citrus to make the mouth water. A little bit of ginger spice and some oak bitterness. That saltiness actually builds during the first half of the finish before fading away. Again, that was quite an unexpected note.

With water added…

Interesting. I’m still getting those tropical fruits on the nose, but a super ripe peach has joined the party as well. The vanilla and honey notes are much stronger with water. There’s a little bit of citrus herbal tea. The ginger note has increased as well. I feel like I could make an interesting, hot winter drink with all this! That herbal tea note definitely carries over onto the palate and the ginger note has increased. The palate is much less sweet now. That malty cereal note is bobbing along the surface. The finish has lengthened and, like the palate, is much less sweet. There’s a little bit of menthol and it’s a tiny bit herbal too. Italian Parsley perhaps.

Conclusion

This is definitely a tale of two whiskies. It’s rare to see that much of a change with just a few drops of water. Part of me wishes that I could have just a little bit less sweetness without water and a little more with. I do appreciate the contrast though.

To me this is a value dram because of how much dense flavour is packed into such a young whisky. The ex-bourbon cask allows for the subtle flavours of the distillate to shine through in a way that would be potentially masked by an aggressive sherry influence. For the price, this is a steal of a whisky.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

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)