Grain Henge is the brand name of the new whisky distillery from Troubled Monk, a brewery located in Red Deer, Alberta. This award winning team has been making craft beer using local ingredients since 2015. The name pays homage to the many functioning and abandoned structures littered throughout the Alberta prairie landscape that appear in photographs all over the world, helping to define our culture and identity.
Following in the tradition of a craft beer maker, Grain Henge will be released in small batches with very limited availability. It is common practice for a craft brewery/distillery combination to share equipment in their processes, and whisky production is often planned around the brewing schedule. This means that each batch of whisky is a unique creation unto itself, and often produces exciting results.
Meeting Creek is the first release from Grain Henge. Master distiller Garret Haynes used the mash bill from Troubled Monk’s Open Road American Brown Ale as inspiration for his first whisky release. The whisky is made with a similar combination of 2-row, amber, crystal, brown, and chocolate malts, but Haynes increased the quantity of specialty grains to accentuate the flavours he was hoping to bring forward in the spirit. The whisky was aged for 40 months in #2 and #4 charred New American Oak barrels, and bottled at 56.7%.
In the glass: Deep amber. Appears thin, but actually coats the glass very nicely.
Nose: Very inviting. Vanilla, with a hint of dark chocolate. Something tropical in there too. Even at 56.7%, you can bury your nose in the glass.
Palate: The oak comes through first with a pleasant hint of almond. Caramel and vanilla too, with a touch of honey sweetness.
Finish: Light spice from the barrel char remain. Sweet notes of honey cereal malt and chocolate linger for a long time.
This whisky was one of the biggest surprises of 2021 for me. At 40 months old and a high abv, I was expecting something abrasive and unfinished. Maybe a good starting place for a new distillery, but nowhere near a finished product. Meeting Creek has is the opposite of all those things. It has a shocking depth of flavour and refinement, and drinks very easily without water. Pure chocolate malty deliciousness. I will be searching for another bottle of Meeting Creek (they sold out in days), and I’m very excited to see what Grain Henge produces in the future. Absolutely backup bottle worthy. I’m already on the mailing list for the next release!
A Look At What The Future Holds For A Once Lauded Brand
What happens in the whisky world when a brand we collectively sing the praises of, and strive to have on our shelves, and in our glasses, starts to listen to their own press (or in this case social media). Usually there is a marked increase in price, as well as a forced scarcity for consumers which again hikes up, not only the price, but also the demand for their particular brand. We have seen it happen time and time again. From The Macallan to Ardbeg to Glendronach. One brand I fear is quickly joining this list is Bunnahabhain. I will try to show you, the reader why I believe this is the case and hopefully offer a solution or two as to how us consumers can fight this process.
When I first started my journey along the path of the water of life, I was lucky enough to make some quick friends that were already ingrained in the Whisky Fabric. As any eager new fan of whisky does, I would always ask what the next bottle I should look to acquire should be. Almost unanimously I would hear the answer come back in the form of the difficult to spell (and fearful to try and pronounce) name of Bunnahabhain and their twelve year expression. It was quoted as a magical daily drinker at an almost too affordable price. So of course, as a type of repayment of my dues, I too would offer up this bottle almost without question as a great bottle that both beginners, and enthusiasts alike would agree upon and enjoy all the same. While my love for “Bunna”, as it is affectionately called, started with this twelve year bottle, it only branched out from there. I soon found myself searching out ways to try as many releases as I could. At the same time, Canada’s Bunnahabhain Brand Ambassador, Mr. Mike Brisebois was admirably building up the awareness and profile of this brand. He did this through criss-crossing journeys pouring for eager fans at whisky shows and tastings. One benefit of these in person events is actual friendships were created and faces were put to names and social media tags and collectively an army of Bunnahabhain lovers was created. Obviously once the global environment shifted almost overnight, Mike was one of the first to shift to being able to keep the profile of his brands and the love growing by creating virtual experiences for fans new and established. It was through these virtual events that more and more limited edition bottlings and rare releases were consumed and again the folklore of Bunna grew at a rapid pace. This is what I like to call the “Brisebois Effect”. Through Mike’s hard work and never ending passion and promotion of Bunnahabhain the entire country has been collectively put under a sort of trance or spell. Now that Mike has parted ways with the company tasked with representing Bunna in Canada, the current reps are using his goodwill and results in hopes it will carry forward into the future. Time will tell if the Brisebois effect wears off or remains constant. One effect that this caused, was more of the limited and rare bottles were being tasted and talked about, the word of Bunna spread and the FOMO also grew to points where people were striving to obtain any release they could. The era of dusty Bunnahabhain bottles
sitting on shelves disappeared overnight. Every single new release was met with an insatiable fervour to the point where no one really questioned anything when it came to the quality of the products they were crawling over each other to get. This is seen with quite a number of other brands currently and it makes myself and others shake our heads when we see our friends and strangers alike posting their new bottles like trophies without even ever tasting the liquid inside.
The present state of where Bunnahabhain stands, especially in the Canadian whisky consciousness, is at a precipice as far as I am concerned. It’s a balancing act that I fear will be tipping away from the general whisky drinker’s glasses and will fall more towards a collectors shelf or bunker. Never to see a glass or even air through an open cork. We have seen the entire whisky industry witness immense growth, both in demand from the public as well as the wanted return on investment by the companies. Some companies definitely seem to be pushing this more and more than others and it’s a scary time to be a whisky fan as prices climb and quality is not keeping up. A big part of this is directly a result of the lower demand 10 plus years ago when all these age statement whiskies were being distilled. Now that demand has shot through the roof, the supply will not catch up any time soon, and this will lead to higher prices throughout the industry. Obviously any brand/distillery that has experienced an even higher rate of demand growth over the industry average will fall victim to this quicker and harder than others. This is where I see Bunnhabhain currently residing in terms of pricing. There are rumours aplenty (and proof starting to show) that in my local jurisdiction as an example there will be a 30-40% increase on the fabled 12 year old alone. One of the romantic notions about the Bunna 12 is the fact it is available for a price that almost anyone has no issue paying for it. Its price is what makes it a daily drinker for a lot of people. This doesn’t even take into account the second issue caused by the higher demand than production will see. That is the quality aspect of the whisky and releases. As demand has skyrocketed, brands like Bunnahabhain scramble to have more releases available to satiate the eager drinkers. What we see more and more of as consumers, are non age statement releases replacing age statements on certain releases as well as regular releases that have a lessened quality liquid inside due to the simple fact that there isn’t the same care and
time put into the casks during the maturation process due to the high demand. I am not inferring that the quality has dropped beyond palatable in any means, only that there is an undeniable effect that is bound to happen when demand for any product surpasses availability. One side note that I must make here is that of the Independent Bottler sector of the industry. They have been on the forefront of higher and higher prices for their releases of Bunnahabhain into the market. Yes, they usually are single cask releases and at cask strength, but they are also almost always still in sherry maturation and the ages keep dropping lower as the prices grow higher. Maybe they are partially at fault for what is happening currently in the same breath as the secondary market which is another beast on its own…a beast that needs to be slain without mercy. At time of writing, the disparity in pricing between provinces in Canada is laughable. Across one single provincial line there is a $50 difference in price for a bottle of the Bunnahabhain 12 year. Will the powers that be behind the brand exploit this to justify a huge price hike in the province with the lower current price? Will the price hike affect all jurisdictions across the world? If so they will be pricing themselves away from a huge number of the people that they built their current reputation on. We’ve already witnessed some divisive releases and others that have been decent, but not mind-blowing, recently and these came with an even higher premium priced bounty passed on to the consumer. With this all on the backs of re-releasing previous (I assume un-sold) Limited Editions in other provinces but at higher prices than the original retail cost, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify the battle to acquire a new limited release. What does “Limited Release” even mean anymore? The original releases that were deemed limited were all released under five-thousand bottles. Now we are seeing way more than double or triple that in the Limited Releases. So was it limited before or is it now? With triple or more bottles available and at a steep, and continuously climbing price point, anyone can see what the end goal is. Yes, I understand it is a business and the ultimate end game is making money, I just think there needs to be a balance somewhere to include the maximum amount of consumers possible enjoying the products. Alienating existing customers, especially loyal ones, is never a good move for a brand in any industry. The whisky industry can be even more cut-throat against brands that lose integrity in the customer’s eyes. I guess the big question is what will the customers inevitably decide to do. Here in Canada we were already low on the list of locales to receive
allocation of these sought after bottlings. That occurs even when on a per capita basis Canada is a leader in consumption of Bunnahabhain. So where does this end up?
What does the future hold in the grand scheme of the relationship between Bunnahabhain and their dedicated following in Canada? There are two ways I can see this going. On one side, you have the Customers seeing what Bunnahabhain/Distell and their reps on the ground in this nation are doing and taking a stand against it. It can’t be one or two small groups calling for action while the rest continue on the road already paved with greed and FOMO. If real change in the attitude taken by Canadian supporters happens and their overall sales start to plummet would the mother company notice? Would they even care at all? These big brands make their living off the core range and entry level products that are usually plentiful in shops across the country. If those core range products are price-jacked and their sales drop off a cliff, will we see even less allocation for the higher demand special bottlings? Will we be punished for finding other options to spend our hard earned cash on? Does it matter all that much for those lucky enough to afford Limited Release after Limited Release, when they can (in Alberta) order them directly from the distillery and when all is said and done, shipping and duties paid, the overall cost is a mere ten bucks higher than the shelf price of the limited quantity that do show up in stores six months to a year after initial worldwide release? Time will tell what happens on the consumer side of this coin. The Other side of the coin is the brand. The owners and reps count on the goodwill previously established off the backs of a couple people to last through many years? Or do they not even care, and will continue the attack on the consumers’ pocket books, regardless of how many of their fans drop by the wayside? The recent push by the reps across Canada to try to force a “grassroots” campaign in promoting the very lowest cost and entry level releases by using….sorry paying influencers to produce ingenuine and forced looking “ads” on their personal social media pages, all came across to many observers, as a desperate attempt to spur a rush to stores to sell these products. Imagine if they had a single sole person to do that for them in an actual genuine manner? Oh wait…..
When it comes to the future of Bunnahabhain in Canada, I do believe they will always be here. There is a deep love amongst the whisky culture in Canada for their products. I do also believe there will be an increase in price across the board for all their products and that in my opinion will be a shame. I have stocked up on my favourites before the seemingly inevitable rise happens. I also know that if they release something super special or something that potentially would be right up my alley, I can turn to the distillery store and have it shipped directly to my house. This by-passes multiple levels of price mark ups and even paying asinine duties and shipping rates will still end up very similar to the shelf price when they arrive in stores.
I recently made a post on my social media (January 19th, 2022) and posed a fairly similar point for discussion. The return I received on that post was a very mixed bag and some very hard stances from both sides of the discussion. Some said they would stay the course and continue the undying support for Bunnahabhain, and I commend their dedication. Others are playing a game of wait and see and will make their decision with every release that comes and will possibly leave the core range alone as well with a significant enough increase in price. Others still, were adamant that they have already seen the shark being jumped and have moved on altogether, while still enjoying a core range bottle that’s on their shelf already purchased at the long gone appropriate prices. I would absolutely hate to see what was once said to be “an everyman’s whisky” turn into another “luxury” brand, who only prides themselves on catering to the so called “elite”. Especially when they were built up through the support of the everyday drinker. As for myself, I will leave you with this. Maybe the water skis are on the feet and the tow rope is in hand. The boat is speeding through the water and we all wait to see if Bunnahabhain does indeed jump the shark.
Glen Grant is a Speyside distillery located near Rothes and the river Spey. It was established in 1840 by two brothers, John and James Grant. It was taken over in 1872 by James ‘The Major’ Grant, who was a legendary innovator. James Grant was the first man in the Highlands region to own a car, and under his management the distillery was the first to use electric lights and the tall slender stills that continue to define Glen Grant today. The distillery remained a family-run business until 2006, when they were purchased by the Campari group. Glen Grant continues to be one of the best selling single malts across the globe. The 15 year batch strength Glen Grant is aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 50% abv.
In the glass: Light yellow-gold, appears thin. Doesn’t coat the glass, moves easily.
Nose: Sweet vanilla and stone fruits, like peaches and cream. Soft and reminiscent of summer. Maybe a touch of lemony citrus.
Palate: Surprisingly creamy mouthfeel. Honey and oak. Orchard fruits again, but more pear than peach. Something slightly bitter too, but not unpleasant.
Finish: Oak and pear. Slightly drying, with an interesting pepper finish.
This whisky, on its own merit, is an enjoyable dram with some nice flavours. When you take into consideration the price of the bottle (~$85), it is almost a must-have. It is also bottled at 50%, which sets it apart from other 15 year old choices. This is an easy decision. The Glen Grant 15 deserves a spot on your shelf. It will have a spot on mine.
Its snowing here for the first time this season in the mighty northern Alberta. It also looks like multiple pages of various Christmas decorating magazines have come to life in my house due to over eager kids super excited for Christmas to arrive. I was more than happy to oblige their wishes to make the house more festive as soon as Remembrance Day was complete. My wife also sent me daily texts and post-it note reminders to have my Christmas wish list ready asap.
That leads me to writing this first part of the Whisk(e)y Lovers gift guide. The first part here today I will focus on what I call whisk(e)y adjacent gifts. What I mean by that is not actual bottles of whisk(e)y, but gifts that any lover of the water of life would enjoy receiving to possibly have more fun, or enhance their love for uisce beatha. I will preface this list with the caveat that these are gifts (pricing, websites, availability) that are in my market of Canada. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be found in other markets but different channels may be needed to find these or similar gifts for the whisk(e)y lover in your life.
Topping my list, for the simple reason that I received my first one as a Christmas Gift from my loving wife, is one of the most unique and fun gifts you can buy a whisk(e)y lover. A mini barrel that can be used in various ways. The best part of this gift is it can be used as often as you want and multiple times. I have had mine less than two years and I have done 4 separate experiments with it. i strictly use mine to do “finishing” projects, where I will season the barrel with a wine or other spirit, and then dump that and add the whisk(e)y to it and have the flavour of the initial seasoning product affect the whisk(e)y. I will be writing an article in the near future that will delve fully into my process of how to use a mini barrel for finishing projects. You could also take it to another extent and actually use a mini barrel to age new make or young whiskies. These mini barrels will affect the contents in a hyper quick fashion (even when using it as a finishing project) so attention and care is a must. I know a few people that have done this with “white dog” or unaged spirits. Yet another use, and one familiar to Steve (@parkwhiskeysociety) is using a mini barrel to age and/or marry a cocktail. Steve did this with a 8 Litre barrel that had been seasoned with sherry previously and made the BEST cocktail I have ever had in my life. When ordering from my preferred supplier as noted above, they offer a few different options to make the mini barrel you order a simple or deluxe as you wish. You can pick from a plain wood barrel or a “alligator” level charred barrel. You can also choose to have a wooden spigot or a metal one. And the coolest way to make the gift of a mini barrel even more special is to have an etching done on the barrel end. My wife chose to have our family Coat of arms and motto put on the end of my barrel, so even when its sitting idle or in the process of an experiment it looks great on my shelf. Urban Barrel Company not only sells the mini barrels, they also sell various other products as well so peruse their site and see if anything else captures your fancy. I highly suggest looking at adding some of the cleaning tablets to your order as they will “clean” the inside of the barrel before each additional use and ensure a safe and fun project each and every time. One more thing I love about Urban Barrel Company is not only do they have amazing products but they have even better people behind the products. They helped my wife through every step of the process from ordering to delivery and were amazingly friendly and helpful. They also did not hesitate to offer up a couple 2L barrels as donations for prizes for the Irish Invasion 2 tasting I co-hosted to raise a ton of money for charity. Amazing People, Amazing Products and guaranteed to be an Amazing Gift.
Next up on our gift guide is another one I have a lot of experience with. These are the hip flasks produced by RagProper. These are the “modern glass flask” and they claim that you can taste the difference and I fully agree. A little bit of backstory before I explain exactly why these are the absolute best flasks available. I came across this company long before they ever produced a flask when they launched a campaign on Kickstarter. It immediately caught my attention and everything they were claiming seemed to me to make sense so I backed them on their project, and kind of forgot about it. Once the project was fully funded and after a delay or two in production (they made sure they were as perfect as possible) I received my flask in a beautiful box with two lids (more on that in a bit) and a silicone funnel to help fill, as well as an extra silicone sleeve that I added on to my initial Kickstarter order. From the very first time I used my flask i knew for a fact their claims were true and this changed the flask game forever. Here’s what makes this so. The main thing is that these are made of the same glass that almost all premium spirits are bottled in. Therefore their is no metallic “taint” to the taste of whatever you put inside. This glass is also very durable (as I have repeatedly found out myself) and adding on the silicone sleeves or the higher end leather “jacket” there is an added layer of protection. All their sleeves leave open a space for their “Easy Pour Window” which is literally as it sounds, a window that allows you to see the contents of the flask so you know when it needs a refill, as well as, and more importantly, allows you to see the level when filling to prevent any over-filling and wasting any of the precious liquid gold you are putting into the flask. This window also allows you to see inside and ensure the flask is clean before filling again, which no metal flasks allow you to do. As I mentioned above, they also come with two lids. One is metal and for looks alone is my pick, however for some specific uses, they include a plastic lid as well which makes the entire flask undetectable from say metal detectors when entering certain events or venues. Both lids come lined inside with cork as most bottles are sealed with and this cork is high grade and have stood the test of time in my experiences. I also mentioned that you can pick from a removable silicone sleeve or a non-removable leather encasement. I in fact have one of each and each one has it use but I do feel the leather bound flask is classier and just has a better feel. My silicone cover flask I use for keeping in my golf bag or on hikes etc. The last part that comes included in the package is a silicone mini funnel with an air breather built in which makes filling extremely easy and fool proof. The only choice you really need to make once the sleeve and colour are chosen, is what size you want or need. These flasks come in 100ml (3 ounce) or a 240ml (8 ounce) version. There are also gift packs that come with one of each size which I love. The RagProper website also does offer accessory packs that include extra lids, lid seals, funnels and cleaning accessories. If a new portable drinking device is something your whisk(e)y lover could benefit from or if their old beaten and gross metallic flask needs to go, this is the place to go for a new and better (in all ways) flask.
When it comes to the way we all enjoy our favourite drams, there are so many choices for the vessel we use to pour from bottle into, and then from the vessel to our senses that awaken with each nosing, each sip, each swallow. Some are befitting of a certain time or event style, while others are more apt for specific reasons like diving deep into the dram itself, say for reviewing or even the first experience with a new whisk(e)y. Just as there is no “right” way to drink whisk(e)y, there is also no “right” glass to choose to use. There is a new glass that has come out in the last couple years that I personally find to be a step above for various reasons. Its the Tuath (pronounced TOO-AHH) and it was specifically rolled out as THE IRISH Glass. The glass is conical in shape like most copitas, Glencairns etc. The Tuath is slightly taller in stature than a Glencairn and with a slightly wider opening. These help promote more of the abrasive alcohol vapours out of the glass while keeping more of the flavour notes concentrated inside the glass. Yes, I know, most nosing/tasting glasses also claim this and I, myself, was skeptical of these claims…until I tried one for the first time. I was surprised as it did concentrate the pleasant notes inside the glass, while also having a better feel in the hand. The less-rounded sides of the Tuath along with the flared lip and the outstanding base all come together in harmony for a glass that is both classy in looks and practical in use and feel. Now that base itself is a true work of art both in style and usefulness. It is styled after the island Skellig Michael, which is just off the coast of my all time favourite place in this world. The base is also a perfect fit for your thumb whether left handed or right handed, and makes for a perfect little perch to hold the glass and swirl the whisk(e)y to your hearts content. Its this base that truly makes the Tuath stand out from any and all other whisk(e)y glasses. I truly love this glass and i sing its praises whenever I get the chance. And of course it works well with all types of spirits, not just Irish Whiskey.
If there was ever a one-stop-shop that could handle all your shopping needs and wants for the whisk(e)y fanatic in your life, this is it. Yes it is definitely geared towards the Irish whiskey fans more than anything else, but there are fantastic items throughout this amazing website that I guarantee would make any fan of this wonderful liquid smile for ear to ear. This entire wessite has items big and small, budget conscious and super high end. Items you would expect a whiskey merchandise store to carry and even more unique items you wouldn’t expect or that may surprise you. There is a whole line of Fine art prints that include a type of splash art that has images of different brands of whiskey. There is a variety of branded wall clocks, glassware and home decor like wooden coaster sets and piggy banks and candle holders. They have messenger bags and miniature metal distillery figurines and full on home bar set ups. I truly ask if you are looking for something truly unique for a gift, something that you know will be unexpected and cherished, you must visit this site and take a look around. They do ship to North America I know that for a fact as I have received a couple packages myself. The quality of the items and the true passion for whiskey from the owners is exuded through their products and is second to none.
5. Sample Bottles
Richards Packaging (Various Locations) or Uline or Amazon
Prices vary depending on quantity and size
One of the absolute coolest aspects of diving headfirst into my local whisk(e)y community was seeing first hand the generosity of the people involved in it. One way that this was shown was the constant wanting to share “samples” of whiskies with fellow enthusiasts. If someone had a bottle open of something I wanted to try or vice-versa, we would strike up a conversation, and agree on a trade, or sometimes even just bottle up a few and drop them off. This especially became an important facet of the whisk(e)y fabric when the pandemic hit. Most of us increased our buying habits and also had no real way of sharing stuff with each other. None of this would even be possible without the unsung hero of the whisk(e)y community that is the almighty sample bottle. The “brand” of sample bottle that seems to be the go-to and preferred style is called the Boston Round. These come in a huge variety of sizes, colours etc. with the most common being clear or the brown variable. For sizes the 1 ounce or 29ml size are by far the most common sizes, but some like to have larger ones for sharing larger portions with each other and then on the flip side there are plenty of half ounce sizes that are used for the super premium (read: expensive) alcohols that are shared. I cant tell you how many friendships have blossomed through the simplicity of the sample bottle and exchange between new friends. I myself have been lucky to have shared some absolutely fantastic whiskies I wouldn’t ever otherwise have been able to try and I forever savour those that people share with me and I know everyone else in the whisky fabric feels the same. One last word of personal advice, if at all possible try to get the bottles that come paired with the “poly-cone” lids. These lids allow for a tight seal and will not leach any unwanted foreign notes into the contents. The other option are usually lids that look identical from the outside but inside just have a glued in seal that kind of looks like the rubber seal in the top of a pop lid. The glue used in these lids will leach into the whisk(e)y contents inside the bottle. Don’t worry about buying too many sample bottles as a gift. There is no such thing and no matter the quantity purchased there will always be the need for more some time in the future.
This is just part one of my gift ideas for the whisk(e)y lover in your life. In part two i will summarize a handful of actual unique alcohol products that may be new to the market or maybe unheralded or under the radar of most people. This list above encompasses a few ideas that i know personally i would love to get as gifts. I know one of my favourite things about christmas and the days that follow is seeing all the gifts my fellow whisk(e)y enthusiasts opened. Hopefully i will see some of these under the trees of some of you out there.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s no secret that I have an immense love for all things Two Brewers. From the people behind the brand, to the always increasing profiles of their whisky, to the absolutely unique and interesting things that they continue to try with each release, it easily takes my top spot of all Canadian whisky brands.
Release 27 is exactly what I am talking about. If you know the story behind how Two Brewers started, and clearly by their name itself, it was started by the people who were already established in the beer business with Yukon Brewing. They took that background and absolutely shoved it into the formation of this whisky.
Release 27 has Vienna, Munich, Honey and roasted malts. These are all primarily malts used almost exclusively in the beer brewing industry. Some of this whisky started out in virgin oak barrels to start, and then spent the rest of its time in ex-Bourbon barrels. They were married in ex-peated barrels for 19 months. It has 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 yr old mashes in it with roughly 1/3 being 10 years or older. Yup I’d say that’s pretty experimental and unique cask usage and now I will let you know what all of this ends up like in a finished bottle of whisky.
In the glass, this has the appearance of a lighter Red style beer (hehehehe) with medium to long legs that slowly fall down the glass.
Nose: This hits with malt up front. I guess that’s not a surprise knowing what’s making up the whisky. There is some nice honey sweetness. Almost like a raw honey type note. Behind that follows some vanilla and caramel. Funnily enough, as I start to pick up the wood/cask influence I also get a whiff of fresh dark roasted coffee. I swear I pick up that fresh virgin oak cask influence right at the end on a deep inhale. The nose on this whisky has me curious and very interested in diving in.
Palate: First sip and immediately I get all that malt up front as well. Malt with a honey glaze over it. Like Honey Nut Cheerios with extra honey. There’s a slight tingle and even though it’s only 46% abv, it almost drinks heavier, which I am totally okay with. This whisky reveals layers upon layers as it moves back on the tongue. I swear I can taste a faint actual beer note on my tongue right now. Bourbon type notes pop up mid palate, some dark fruits mixed with a slight blood orange/mandarin taste and then that spice from virgin oak comes through. Cinnamon and clove and a slight hint of spiced up toasted coconut just as it starts to fade into the finish.
Finish: The finish on this beautiful whisky carries the spice notes through and the sweetness returns with that mandarin orange and cinnamon. This is the only time that I even slightly think I catch a whiff of any smoke at all, but it’s long after the swallow and it’s found on the residual flavours left in the mouth.
Wow. What a whisky. Layers, balance, beautiful cask usage, experimental malt usage. The proof is in the bottle. Literally for me as this one is being drank faster than most bottles I open. I am saying right now, this is my sleeper hit of the year in whisky. I love this bottle!!
Two Brewers Release 28
Type: Special Finishes ABV: 46% Released: September 2021
This one is a mix of 7 year old and 10+ year old mashes. All of the Whisky is a standard malted barley mash. It spent 5 months in virgin oak barrels, then it was moved to ex-Bourbon barrels. Finally, it spent 2 years in Hungarian oak sherry barrels. After spending 2 yrs in sherry barrels, it was blended with a standard 12 year old mash. Clearly this is NOT your standard sherry casked whisky.
In the glass this has a dark copper to light rust colour. Thin but long lasting legs coat the glass and clearly hint at an oily masterpiece awaiting me.
Nose: On the nose I am immediately hit with familiar sherry notes, but not at all a sherry bomb. This is dusty sherry spice-coated fruits with a nice malt backbone. Even the fruits aren’t the typical plums, raisins and prunes. Brighter fruits, more lush ripe juicy fruits. I even find a faint note of Nag Champa incense at the tail end of the nose. That sherry sweetness fills out the very end of the nose right before I take another whiff. I have no idea what to expect on the palate now but I am excited to find out.
Palate: Just a small sip to wet the palate and the beautiful sherry spice comes across strongest. Very mouth coating and viscous. A bigger sip and let it rest a bit and the fruity side of sherry comes through stronger. But again, I’m not finding the typical darker, drier fruits. Juicy almost sub-tropical notes of creamy ripe mango, like a mango milkshake. I also get that Hungarian oak spice with some added cinnamon. There is also a slight saltiness, which I can’t explain but it’s there, sitting right after the spice. There is a beautiful play between that salt and the sweetness and it’s gorgeous. As this starts to fade on the swallow, that spice and salt meld as they fade and turn into a salted dark cocoa/chocolate note. I find this as I chew on the finish and let it build up again.
Finish: The finish is long and bold and that dusty old style sherry finally shows right at the end and that cocoa/sherry is what carries on through the whole finish.
This one on first sip was surprising as it wasn’t at all what I expected from the sherry casking. I am so happy it isn’t a simple sherry cask whisky. This one you need to sit with and contemplate. This isn’t a background whisky at all. It needs your attention and demands it. Two Brewers shows, once again, why they deserve to be at the top of the Canadian whisky landscape. No one else is doing the things they are doing and we are the lucky recipients of release after release of absolutely stunning whisky. Look for a future review of release 29 which the cold northerly air has whispered to me could be even more special than normal.
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.
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!
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.