In-Depth Review: Taconic Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels

Image credit: Taconic Distillery (@taconic_distillery)

In writing more of these in-depth reviews, I’ve really enjoyed researching not only the history and stories behind the brands, but also the related histories of the regions in which the spirits are made. This week is no different. We’ve reviewed the entire core range from Taconic Distillery over the past two years, including their Maple Barrel finished Bourbon. Located in the Hudson River Valley of New York, farm to table whisky production has existed in the region for over 350 years!

The history of whisky distilling in the Hudson Valley dates back to the late 17th century, when Dutch settlers established the first distillery in the region. The Hudson Valley was well-suited for whisky production due to its incredibly fertile soil. In the 18th century, the region became an important center for whisky production, with many distilleries operating along the river itself. Farmers were also known to distill their excess grain into whiskey. Hudson Valley’s proximity to large towns along the eastern seaboard of the United States allowed distilleries to grow and flourish.

However, the American Revolutionary War had a significant impact on the Hudson Valley’s whisky industry. Many of the distilleries in the region were destroyed or abandoned during the war, and the industry struggled to recover in the years that followed. Despite this, some distilleries were able to rebuild and continue operating, and its whisky industry began to recover in the early 19th century. One of the key developments that helped this revitalization along was the advent of the steamboat, which made it much easier to transport grains and other raw materials to distilleries, as well as to ship the finished products to market.

In the 20th century, the Hudson Valley’s whisky industry continued to thrive, with many distilleries operating in the region. However, the industry faced a number of challenges, including increased competition from other regions, changes in consumer preferences and, of course, a little thing called Prohibition.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in craft whisky, and many new distilleries have opened in the Hudson Valley. Distilleries, such as Taconic, are using traditional production methods and local grains. Now sporting over 180 distilleries in the state with a fair number in Hudson Valley, the region’s whiskey history has, once again, come full circle and shows no signs of slowing down.

I’ve seen a lot of barrel finished Bourbon’s lately, but this one is new to me…stout beer! This Taconic Straight Bourbon was matured for at least five years in new American oak before being finished for six months in ex-stout beer casks. It’s bottled at 45% ABV.

Nose: Like the Maple Barrel Bourbon, the finishing cask isn’t super strong on the nose. Rather, it helps to enhance existing scents and add an extra depth of character here and there. More than anything, I’m getting a slightly funky dark chocolate vibe from the stout finish. Not sure how else to describe that. Over time, a rich coffee note comes up as well. That’s got to be the stout talking as well. I think the finishing cask is enhancing the toffee from the original maturation in new American oak. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now I’m getting a cooling menthol.

The Bourbon is still shining through though. Don’t get me wrong. There’s still that toffee along with cinnamon and vanilla. There’s still a hint of orange, which I get off of their core range bourbon, but it’s lightly grilled this time around.

Palate: Not super sweet on the entry. Quite creamy though, with a hint of honey and a light squeeze of orange. That citrus builds during the development. A few shavings of semi-sweet baker’s chocolate give this a slightly sweet/sour/bitter flavour, although heavier on the latter two. Perhaps a touch too heavy. The spicing on the back end of the finish is cinnamon, along with a touch of nutmeg and allspice. Not finding any clove. The richness really builds as you hold this in your mouth for longer. Doing that will give you that rich coffee from the nose. Almost chocolate covered coffee beans. There’s a a small dollop of nutty rye bread as well.

Finish: More than anywhere else, this is where you taste the actual beer. Again, it’s subtle and helps to tie together all of the stout notes that were acquired through the whole experience. There’s some lingering toffee, but not a huge amount of spice. That chocolate and coffee sticks around for a long time though, along with some lingering citrus.

With water added

Quite the transformation on the nose, I must say. Very dark roast coffee and citrus forward. That funky dark chocolate has stuck around. This is very close to Terry’s dark chocolate orange now. A bit of sour cherry has joined the mix too. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect on the palate!

This isn’t as characterful as I had hoped it would be, now that I have taken a sip. I’m missing that lovely chocolate and coffee that I got without water. Towards the end, I’m getting a woodiness which, combined with the cinnamon, isn’t to my taste.


Although this fell apart on the palate with water added, up until that point, this was very characterful and unique. Taconic’s Bourbon is the perfect base for cask finishes and I have enjoyed every one I’ve tried so far. It’s this nice balance between the initial maturation and the finishing cask that makes these all so compelling.

Out of all of them, this was the one I was most hesitant about as I am not a fan of stout or beer finished whiskies in general. I never got on with that Lagavulin Offerman Guinness cask finished scotch. This is something entirely different, perhaps helping me turn the corner towards beer cask finished whiskies after all.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

In-Depth Review: Hansen Northern Eyes Whisky

It seems that I have a little mini moonshining theme going on these days. Although Dariusz Plazewski, founder of Bimber Distillery (subject of my last two reviews) and Shayna Hansen, co-founder of Edmonton’s Hansen Distillery, grew up in different times, under different circumstances, and nearly half a world away from each other, their deep family connections to moonshining are uncannily similar. Shayna’s family moonshining roots were established during a time that made the financial crash of the late 2000’s a mere blip by comparison.

The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1939, was a time of great economic hardship for many North Americans. Unemployment reached as high as 25%, and those who were able to find work often earned very low wages. Many people struggled to make ends meet and were forced to find creative ways to make money. For some, this meant turning to illegal activities such as moonshining.

Moonshining involves the production of alcoholic beverages in unauthorized locations, often in the woods or in remote areas where law enforcement is less likely to discover the operation. During the Great Depression, many people turned to moonshining as a way to make a living, or at least supplement their income. The demand for alcohol, especially inexpensive alcohol, was high during this time, and moonshiners were able to meet this demand by producing and selling their own homemade spirits.

Despite the risks, moonshining remained a popular activity during the Great Depression. In some areas, it was even considered a necessity, as many people could not afford to purchase alcohol from licensed retailers. In rural areas, where the availability of legal alcohol was often limited, moonshining was a way for people to access the beverages they wanted.

The government attempted to crack down on moonshining during this period, but these efforts were often unsuccessful. Moonshiners were able to evade law enforcement by operating in remote locations and using stealthy tactics to avoid detection. In addition, many people were sympathetic to the plight of the moonshiners and were willing to turn a blind eye to their activities.

The end of the Great Depression in 1939 marked the beginning of the end for the moonshining industry. With the economy improving and people having more disposable income, the demand for illegal alcohol decreased. Additionally, the government implemented stricter laws and increased enforcement efforts, making it more difficult for moonshiners to operate.

Today, moonshining is still illegal in Canada and the US, although it is not as prevalent as it was during the Great Depression. While it is no longer seen as a necessity for many people, it remains a popular activity for some who are attracted to the illicit nature of the enterprise and the DIY aspect of producing their own alcohol.

For Shayna’s family, and many families like her’s, what started as a necessity in order to survive, continued through the generations as a hobby and finally as a legal business in Hansen Distillery. Sometimes breaking the law has benifits. There. I said it.

Released nearly three years ago as Edmonton’s first home-grown whisky, Hansen Distillery’s Northern Eyes Rye is distilled using 100% rye grain that originated from Blue Acres Farm near Stettler, Alberta. Each bottle comes from a single, charred, new American oak barrel and is aged for a little over three years. It’s bottled at 43% and sitting in my glass, just waiting to be nosed!

Nose: The first thing that stands out to me is this very subtle smokiness, which is something that I get on some young whiskies that have spent their entire life in new American oak. There is definitely a dill note in here, but it’s not strong. Also present is this nice, slightly dusty hay shed character. This is one of those rare instances where I get both caramel and sponge toffee at the same time. It’s not a very citrusy rye. That note is just lingering in the background. After this sits in the glass for a while, I get lightly toasted rye bread with a scraping of honey. Besides the usual cinnamon, I’m not getting other baking spices on the nose, which is kind of surprising given that this is 100% rye.

Palate: The entry is this nice balance between sweet and sour. A little bit of orange, caramel and vanilla, all in equal measure. Honey starts to creep in at the start of the development, but only just a tad. What I do get in spades is this remarkable note of dried tobacco leaves that you should only get in much older ryes. I had to keep going back for more sips to make sure my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me, but it keeps coming back. It’s subtle to start and just keeps building. It’s not smacking you in the face, though. This bitterness introduces a lovely balance along with the sweet and sour from the entry. This unique profile distracts from the fact that this is quite mild on the heat and baking spices, that latter of which I would liked to have seen more of. Towards the end of the development, the caramel has clearly become sponge toffee.

Finish: The tobacco note really helps to lengthen this out more than is usual for a young rye. A little bit of black pepper starts to seep in at the beginning as well as a tiny amount of bitter dark chocolate. There is still a little bit of honey left from the entry to prevent this from becoming too sour and bitter.

With water added

Demerara sugar has pushed the toffee and caramel into the background on the nose. There’s a slight leather note in here now. Again, shocking for such a young whisky. There’s some menthol too. Honey is much more prevalent on the entry compared with no water added. It’s creamier too. That sweeter entry is really drowning out that tobacco note and that lack of spice is still there as well. The experience just isn’t as characterful now.


To say that this does not have a young rye profile is certainly an understatement. Although I would have liked to have seen more spice, I know that these notes are much stronger in their five year releases (having tried a small sample recently). That tobacco note was so surprising. If there was such a thing as a cigar blend rye, this would be it.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Sample Review: Pike Creek 21 Year Old Canadian Whisky – Oloroso Cask Finish

Image credit: Danh Tran (@whiskytran)

Time for a blast from the past. OK. OK. Three years ago. Courtesy of Danh Tran (@whiskytran), the sample in my glass is the Pike Creek contribution to the 2019 Rare Cask series (formerly Northern Border collection). This is a 21 year corn-heavy blended Canadian whisky that has been finished in ex-Oloroso casks and bottled at 45% abv.

Nose: This is corn-heavy Canadian whisky through and through. Corn flakes, caramel corn. You know…corn! The cask finish is what really sets this apart from other old Canadian whiskies. It’s actually quite subtle, but that good ‘ole milk chocolate fruit and nut bar is definitely detectable. Slight hint of prune as well. I’m not really getting much in the way of spicing, other than cinnamon. After sitting in my glass for a while, I’m getting a pretty heavy vanilla note.

Palate: Creamy milk chocolate and honey on the entry giving me a lovely mouthfeel to start. The transition to the development is slow and steady. The spices from the Oloroso really start to kick in mid-way through. A really nice dose of clove as I hold this in my mouth for a while. As I sip this more, I’m getting a substantial raisin note floating overtop of the spice. A little bit of citrus is arriving about half way through. The back end of the development is mildly drying as I head into the finish.

Finish: This is very baking spice rich to start, but that fades pretty soon after I swallow. This gives way to cocoa powder, which dissipates nice and slowly along with some lingering citrus.


This was kind of a steal when it was on the shelves. If memory serves me correctly, these were about $90-100 CAD in Alberta. Not bad, considering it’s age. I’m glad that the finish was subtle, so that the distillate still sbone through. The main contribution that the finish offers is the extra spice on the palate, which kicks the experience up a notch.

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In-Depth Review: Bridgeland Distillery Glenbow Canadian Single Malt Whisky

Image credit: ONI Studios (@oni_studios)

On opening a new distillery, the playbook usually calls for vodka and gin first, in order to keep the lights on while whisky is being distilled and aged for at least three years (by Canadian rules, at least). Many distilleries have made a name for themselves by travelling down this path, producing gins and liqueurs, in particular, that are unique, tasty and, above all, award winning. If anything, the hype generated from these creative offerings only builds the anticipation of a future whisky release that much more.

But there is an alternate path. One that draws upon the rich cultural history of the distillery founders and the spirits that are intertwined in decades, or even centuries-long traditions. This is exactly the approach that Bridgeland Distillery took when they opened their business back in 2018. Peruse the shelves in the distillery itself or browse the online store and you will find no sight or mention of neutral grain spirits or juniper berries anywhere. Instead you will see bottles labelled “eau de vigne”, “grappa” and brandy.

Among other things, it was this unique approach to spirits that garnered them Distillery of the Year at the Alberta Spirits Awards. Although whisky is always an important milestone for a young distillery, Bridgeland’s grape-based spirits are not a means to an end. Instead, it’s a nod to founders Jacques Tremblay and Daniel Plenzik’s Quebec and Italian cultures respectively. As well as their own personal backgrounds in winemaking and viticulture (grape vine cultivation), it made sense to head in that direction instead, leaving the production of gins to others.

Perhaps the only distillery in Canada to be producing it, Bridgeland makes several types of grappa, which is an Italian spirit derived from the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. Brandy, which they also make, is derived from the grape juice, so nothing is wasted! Although Bridgeland tries to keep their ingredients as local as they can, Daniel and Jacques had to look one province over to the Okanagan region of BC for their grapes.

Whisky connoisseurs are becoming increasingly interested in the characteristics of a distillery’s new make. Bridgeland is more than happy to pique these people’s curiosity by offering several bottlings of their new make. Malted barley will  become their single malt. They usually offer a corn mash new make which also contains malted barley and/or wheat, which is used for their Taber Corn Berbon. Most intriguingly, Bridgeland is bottling their St. Paddy’s triple distilled new make in the Irish single pot still style. This includes a mash of malted and unmalted barley and a decent percentage of malted oats. They’re not the only ones in the province making this, and that’s no bad thing!

Speaking of whisky, let’s tack toward todays’s review. In mid-2022, Bridgeland started bottling their very first single malt using barley from a single field at Hamill Farm near Penhold, AB (south of Red Deer), which was then malted at Red Shed Malting (also in Penhold). Named Glenbow, Bridgeland’s single malt is named after a town of the same name. The rock quarries around Glenbow produced the stone that was used to construct many of Calgary’s first buildings. The whisky was matured for two years in new American oak barrels treated with a #3 char. The final year was spent in ex-Balcones Bourbon barrels from Texas. It’s bottled at 45.5% abv.

Nose: Lovely, rich malted cereal note for starters. The toffee sweetness from the initial maturation sits nicely along side it. A light red stone fruit is coming up now. That’s the new American oak talking again. I always get barley sugar candies on young single malt and this is no exception. A little bit of allspice for the spicing as well as cinnamon and dried ginger. The vanilla takes a while to reach out to my nose, but it’s there now. The citrus is present without being overbearing. This has a slight floral character to round everything out. Overall, this is light, yet characterful on the nose. Let’s see what a few sips offer.

Palate: Sweet, creamy honey is all over the entry and doesn’t let up throughout the whole experience. This brings me back to their Taber Corn Berbon, which has over 30% malted barely in their mashbill. Those rich cereal notes greet me again at the beginning of the development along with a bit of a floral twinge. There’s a lingering youthfulness, but there are other layers of flavour to compensate for it. As I sip this more, the fresh citrus from the nose has transformed into slightly bitter marmalade. This helps to offset the sweetness. The spicing on the back end of the development has become slightly darker and earthier with a dusting of nutmeg and even clove. I sense the beginnings of a spice cake note as this heads into the finish. This is something I get from American single malts, which are usually (but not always) matured in new American oak.

Finish: That spice cake character comes to fruition, but fades relatively quickly as the honey reappears. The black pepper isn’t overpowering, but you feel it all over your tongue. It’s also warming as you swallow.

With water added

The malty character of this whisky is much stronger now. The cracked black pepper has come forward a bit, tickling my nose a little. The honey is much more apparent now. Interesting that the entry isn’t as sweet (given what I got on the nose), but that warming, peppery sensation kicks in much earlier on the palate. That marmalade note is stronger, yet more bitter. There’s a nice balance between that, the spice and the sweetness. I’m missing that spice cake though. The finish is certainly longer.


Given the light character of this whisky, it was a smart move to transfer this to ex-Bourbon barrels after the first two years. Further maturation in new American oak would have swamped the delicate character of the distillate too much, I think. While this whisky was almost a bit too sweet for my palate, I really loved the bitter marmalade and particularly the black pepper, which helped to tamp that down a bit. Balance was the name of the game here and that’s always something that I appreciate.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

In-Depth Review: Bridgeland Distillery Taber Corn Berbon Spirit

Image credit: Bridgeland Distillery (@bridgelanddistillery)

When any small business opens its doors for the first time, making sure that they stay open depends upon a variety of factors. One of the most important is establishing a sense of community around your brand. Located in the heart of Calgary, the community of Bridgeland-Riverside’s small-town feel and independent spirit spans over a century. Although businesses have come and gone over the years, residents are fiercely loyal to local establishments and appreciate the creativity and diversity of their shops, restaurants and public spaces.

Having grown up in the Bridgeland community, Bridgeland Distillery co-founder, Daniel Pleznik knows this all to well. Bridgeland’s success has been recognized by all of the awards that their spirits have won over the last few years, including the 2021 Alberta Spirits Awards’ Distillery of the Year. But its sense of place within the local community has garnered a strong local following that allows the distillery to thrive and innovate.

That sense of community also translates to long-lasting partnerships further afield. The term grain-to-glass gets mentioned a lot when discussing craft spirits, but many times it’s just mentioned in passing without delving into what it means for each distillery. For Bridgeland, it means establishing relationships with local farms in order to source grains that are grown, harvested and even malted within the surrounding rich farmlands of southern Alberta. The barley for their Glenbow single malt whisky (review coming soon), for instance, originated from a single family farm (Hamill Farms in Penhold, south of Red Deer).

Bridgeland Distillery’s logo, which depicts the nearby Reconciliation Bridge (formerly Langevin Bridge), is itself a reflection of the surrounding community. It is both a symbol of its ability to connect the population of Bridgeland-Riverside in a literal sense as well as bringing Calgarians and Indigenous Peoples together to remember past harms and heal historical injustices. It is times like these when inclusive communities make this world a better place.

The Bridgeland Distillery spirit in my glass today isn’t yet a whisky, but it’s well on its way to becoming one. The Taber Berbon Spirit is their take on a Bourbon-style mashbill, but with a very unique twist. Using 60% corn from Molnars Farm in Taber, 32% malted barley and 8% wheat (the latter two from Hamill Farms), the mashbill lacks the rye grain that typically gets used in this style of spirit. The high barley content reflects an interesting little trend that features a grain that usually exists as less than 10% of the mashbill in most Bourbons. This release is aged in new American oak (#4 char) for one year and is bottled at 45% abv.

Image credit: Bridgeland Distillery (@bridgelanddistillery)

Nose: This nose will be very familiar to those that have tried other high-barley Bourbons, such as those produced by Boulder Spirits. Yes, there is a slight buttery popcorn vibe, but lying underneath is an almost Scotch-like feel. This presents itself in the form of light tropical notes of mango and mandarin orange as well as barley sugar and a light scent of cocoa powder. The dusty grain bin note that I get from young wheat spirit is very faint. The barrel has obviously not fully taken hold, but there is a little bit of vanilla and sponge toffee sweetness to let you know it’s there.

Palate: The entry is buttery with a slight honey sweetness. A little vanilla cream is in there, for sure. The transition into the development introduces orchard fruits alongside the citrus. Mostly ripe pears. Mid-development brings back that cocoa powder I got on the nose. What starts out as light caramel transitions to dark sponge toffee at the end of the development.  This is actually spicier than I was expecting, given its proof and mashbill with cinnamon, ginger and even a grating of nutmeg and a crack of fresh black pepper.

There is definitely a youthful grain character to this spirit, yet it doesn’t come off as harsh in any way. That’s a testament to the new make, which I really should try sometime. There’s so much going on here that it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate on it all.

Finish: Medium in length and a lovely balance between sweet, spice, sour and bitter. It’s really a combination of all the notes from the development fading in unison.

With water added

The char from the barrel is a little stronger with a few drops of water. The citrus shows up as a lemon/lime drop candy note. There’s a fresh cut hay character as well. Honestly, I would never guess that I’m nosing a spirit that was made with a Bourbon-style mash right now. There’s a nice floral nature to this too. The entry is a little sweeter with floral honey. Gone is the pear, replaced by quite a strong apricot note. The cocoa powder has faded significantly, but the dial has been turned up on the ginger.


This one caught me completely off guard. I had a preconceived notion that this was going to be a light, sweet spirit with a strong grainy youthfulness. That did not turn out to be the case whatsoever. There are some youthful moments here and there, but the quality of the new make and the uniqueness of the mashbill gave me some delightfully unexpected turns along the way. I will keep a very keen eye on this spirit as it transforms into a whisky. So should you.

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In-Depth Review: Apogee 12 Year Pure Malt Whisky (Bimber Distillery)

When you think about the rules and regulations surrounding the Scotch whisky industry, you might assume that they are rigid, well defined and so old that they were scribed with a quill. The answer to this is both “yes” and “no”. Let’s average that out and say “sort of”. Prior to 2009 there were quite a few vague rules that could be exploited by distilleries regarding what was in the bottle, how expressions could be named and so on.

Although tighter regulations were probably being discussed behind the scenes, one distillery in particular blew all of this into the open. That distillery is Cardhu, and its owner, Diageo.

The Cole’s Notes version of this brouhaha starts in the early 2000’s when the Cardhu 12 year old single malt became roaringly popular in the Mediterranean region and particularly in Spain. It sold so well, that stocks at Cardhu were being depleted at an alarming rate. Because the distillery comprised an important component in Diageo’s popular Johnnie Walker blends, there was simply not enough Cardhu to go around. What to do.

The answer, with no communication to the whisky-buying public whatsoever, was to blend in single malts from some of Diageo’s other distilleries, call it Cardhu Pure Malt instead of Single Malt and hope that no one of any consequence would notice. They did.

Previous to 2009, the term pure malt was loosely defined enough that it could be used to describe a single malt…and blended malt. This is what landed Cardhu in hot water. The howls of protest came from all sides, but most notably Glen Grant & Sons who accused Diageo of hoodwinking the public. Because pure malt could mean two different things, there was a concern that Cardhu’s actions might erode public trust in Scotch whisky regarding what was really in a bottle.

To cut a long story short, Diageo eventually backtracked, renamed the expression back to Cardhu Single Malt and stopped blending in other distillery’s whisky into it. Finally, in 2009, the Scotch Whisky Regulations were passed and the distinction between single malt, whisky made from 100% malted batley from a single distillery, and blended malt (same definition, but whisky from two or more distilleries) was codified into law.

Thus, a loophole was closed, but a new opportunity presented itself. Both independent bottlers and distilleries alike took advantage of the new blended malt definition to produce some truly excellent concoctions. Some chose to release blends that originated from a single region such as the Highlands or Islay. Others used the whole of Scotland as their canvas. The benefit to the consumer was a new whisky avenue to explore at a pretty affordable price. In the end, everybody benefited.

Recently, Bimber distillery, based in London, brought back the term pure malt for their Apogee 12 year blend. However, unlike certain other distilleries of days past, they were completely transparent about what was contained within. This is a blend of single malts from undisclosed Speyside and Highland distilleries aged at least 12 years. The blend was then finished in casks that previously held Bimber’s own single malt whisky (which we will cover in later reviews). It’s bottled at 46.3% abv and is sitting in my glass, just waiting to be tasted. Let’s dive in!

Nose: Incredibly orchard fruit-forward right from the start. Crisp red apple like a Pink Lady or Ambrosia. Poached pears in syrup as well. Lovely, rich barley sugar sweets appear after nosing past the fruit. Plenty of cinnamon shows up, but it mingles well with the fruitiness. Over time, the apples are cooked down. With the cinnamon, it’s like apple pie filling. Now the tropical citrus flavours come forward. Orange zest and some candied pineapple. There’s gotta be some Sherry casks in here, because I’m getting a whiff of Christmas cake.

The character of Speyside and Highland whiskies, combined with the Bimber cask finish is delivering an unsurprisingly fruity experience thus far. Very interested to see how this evolves through the rest of the experience.

Palate: Very sweet on the entry. Almost too cloyingly sweet. Sweetened orange cream, vanilla and toffee mostly. Very mouthcoating though. The development brings back that poached pear and apple pie filling, the latter with the crust as well. The sweetness gets tamped down slightly come mid-development as the baking spices from the cask start to take hold. Clove and a touch of ginger appear alongside the cinnamon. A faint black liquorice note comes in at the end of the development. I’m not a fan of liquorice by itself, but in spirits, it helps to add an extra, darker depth of flavour.

Finish: The fruitiness starts to fade a bit, but liquorice and baking spices remain. A sponge toffee sweetness starts to make itself known early on. I usually get that note much earlier in the experience. The finish is on the medium side.

With water added

The pears are fresh and ripe now on the nose, rather than poached. The cinnamon remains along with a bit of dried ginger. Quite a bit of vanilla too. The sweet entry doesn’t last as long and is slightly thinner.  Barley sugar appears initially during the first half of the development, but nutmeg is presented alongside the other spices to tip this close to the Christmas cake edge at the end. That liquorice note is still present on the finish, even with the extra baking spices.


This is quite a sweet whisky from start to finish and it nearly becomes too much so here and there. That being said, for the rest of the experience, there are some lovely rich, dark flavours that help to pare the sweetness back a bit. It will be interesting to taste the Bimber single malts that I have yet to review to see which of these flavours are coming from the cask finish. In terms of price, this is on Alberta shelves for less than $90, which is an excellent price considering there’s a 12 year age statement on it.

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In-Depth Review: Kingsbarns Balcomie Single Malt Scotch

Image credit: Darryl Holtby (@whiskeysith)

Years ago, when my wife and I were looking for our first house that we would own together, we were obsessed with this British documentary series called “Build a New Life in the Country”, where a couple or family bought a run down, severely dilapidated heritage farm or house in the countryside to get away from it all. Some episodes ended in success, some ended with a partial completion and more than a bushel full of financial uncertainty. Regardless of the outcome, there was always a good story to tell.

As I was researching Kingsbarns, memories of the themes of that show came wafting back to me. The big dream, the creative ambition, the desire to start a new life, unexpected costs, not enough money. Yet, a happy ending (though a bittersweet one for the founder).

The initial idea of creating the distillery lay in the mind of Douglas Clement, who was a golf caddy in and around St. Andrews, long time home of The Open PGA major tournament. Over the years, he noticed that after a hard day on the links, many golf tourists wanted to visit a distillery, have a tour and a drink, and walk away with a bottle as a souvenir. Only problem was, the nearest distillery was 50 miles (80 km) away. Douglas’ desire to fill that niche lead him to pitch his idea to several golf contacts whom he caddied for. With this initial investment in place, he was able to secure a long-term lease from the nearby Cambo Estate for the East Newall Farm, as well as obtain planning permission from Fife county council. The farm was quite run down, but had lots of character and potential for a distillery and visitor’s center.

With this initial investment and a £670,000 (~ 1 million Canadian dollars) grant from the European Union, Douglas still did not have enough capitol to realize his dream of turning the farm into a distillery. Fortunately, William Wemyss, a golfing friend whose family had interests in a number of industries, including an independent bottling company (Wemyss Malts) and a French winery, offered a substantial grant to keep the project going. To keep the dream alive, Douglas and his investors sold their interests in the distillery to the Wemyss family. Now working for Wemyss, he became the Kingsbarns visitor’s center manager and director, opening the center on St. Andrew’s Day 2014. Douglas chose to leave the distillery in 2018 to pursue other ventures and later that year, Kingsbarns released their first whisky.

Although no longer directly involved with the distillery, except of course in spirit, Douglas decided to get a tattoo on his forearm to commemorate the first distillery release. Although he was not able to independently realize his dream of serving whiskey to the golfing masses, his vision had ultimately created something that made all of Fife proud. That, in and of itself, is substantially rewarding.

In my glass today is the second core release from Kingsbarns. Called Balcomie, this is a non-age stated (NAS) single malt whisky made from 100% Concerto barley from county Fife. It spent its entire life in ex-Oloroso American oak Sherry butts from Jerez, Spain and is bottled at 46%. This is non-chill filtered and contains no added colouring.

Nose: Fresh, minty and slightly floral. There are a couple of layers of fruitiness in here. Tropical notes are dominant. Combined with a confectionary sweetness, it’s almost like candied pineapple and ginger, the latter of which tickles the nose a little. A less prominent fruitiness comes in the form of poached pears in syrup sprinkled with cinnamon. Lovely mint milk chocolate bar, like the ones sold at the old-style chocolate shop near the house where I grew up (the now defunct Lee’s Chocolates for those who lived around the west part of Vancouver). Much of what I’m nosing is the result of this near-perfect balance between spirit and cask. For a lighter spirit, ex-Sherry casks can simply overpower a whiskey. That is not the case here.

Palate: A sweet and zesty one right from the start. Initially, I get creamy, rich honey and barley sugar on the entry. As this transitions into the development, the citrus comes to the fore along with a slice of fresh ginger, which tingles the tongue a bit. That floral note from the nose comes back as the experience approaches the mid-development, giving the spirit a slight gin character. Throughout the whole development, that poached pear is prominent, this time with some dark chocolate sauce drizzled over top. For an ex-Oloroso cask, the dark baking spices are quite faint. A good thing really, as this gives the spirit a chance to shine. Instead, the cask is delivering with that dark chocolate.

Finish: The citrus and syrupy sweetness leads to a juicy finish, which dries out slightly at the end. That pear and dark chocolate continue all the way through. The cask is, again, only exerting a light touch.

With water added

The ginger note is quite strong on the nose now.  Floral honey is in there too. The poached pear is absent, replaced by a barely fresh one. After I nose this for a while, I get dark chocolate ginger, quite the contrast when compared to the chocolate note I got without water added. The stronger ginger character continues on the palate and the floral nature of the development is turned up a bit. Still a ripe pear rather than poached.


Whether you like this scotch will depend upon the expectations that you had when you purchased the bottle. Those who read the label, saw the word “Sherry” and were expecting a whisky heavily laced with dark spices and dried fruit, disappointment will soon set in. Lowland spirit is a light, fruity and floral thing. Swamping it with an active Sherry cask would erase that character almost entirely. These Oloroso solera casks instead impart just enough of its signature to let you know of its presence without reaching for the ten pound lump hammer. In the end, the result is a supremely balanced young Scotch that I am salivating to try at cask strength (coming soon to Alberta, I hear). For those who are interested in trying all facets of Sherry cask matured Scotch, and those lovers of Lowland Scotch in general, this one will put a smile on your face.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Correction: I made a couple of errors in the timeline regarding Douglas’ founding of the distillery as well as his time at Kingsbarns after him and investors were bought out by the Wemyss family. I have made these corrections in the text. Sorry!

In-Depth Review: Broken Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon – Cask Strength

Image credit: Jeremy Pue (@jeremypue)

How you place your product in a particular market is something that every entrepreneur thinks about very carefully (or should do, at least!). Think about Apple with its Macintosh, iPod or iPhone or any number of social media platforms, for example. Some filled a niche that was untapped. Others filled a niche no one had even thought about.

Let’s think about the American whiskey industry and the market it serves. Up until recently, it was dominated by a few really big firms that served up a stable of brands that could be found on most shelves for a pretty decent price. Yes, there were a few premium brands and limited releases, mostly of older whiskey, but that was pretty much it.

With the explosion of new whiskey distilleries in all corners of the United States over the past decade, some have chosen to fill niches in the small batch, craft whiskey space. Others have tried unique mashbills or grain-to-glass approaches, special cask finishes or a combination of these. More often than not, all of this comes with a premium price. In many cases, this is understandable due to the lack of productions of scale, but the cost to many consumers can be prohibitive.

This brings us back to Broken Barrel. Instead of attempting to place their expressions in the now crowded, premium-priced craft whiskey market, Broken Barrel founder Seth Benhaim looked to those buyers who bought more affordable bottles distributed by the big brands. That market seemed like a prime target for something new, but not so out of left-field as to be difficult for buyers to understand. After all, stave finishes had been popularized by expressions such as Maker’s Mark 45 and barrel finishes like Woodford Reserve Double Oak.

Offering multi-stave finished whiskey (something that had only really existed in the premium market) for an affordable price was a magic bullet for Broken Barrel. Combined with savvy marketing and a proven track record with Seth’s initial venture, Infuse Spirits vodka, Broken Barrel became an instant success that is now available in 40 states (and now Canada) after only around five years in the market. Consider that niche fulfilled!

Offered at around $80 CAD in Alberta, the Broken Barrel Cask Strength Straight Bourbon, which is in my glass today, certainly impresses with its appealing price tag. It has a mashbill consisting of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley. Aged for at least two years in new American oak, the whiskey is then dumped into a tank along with Broken Barrel’s signature Oak BillTM of cask staves: 40% French oak, 40% ex-Bourbon, and 20% ex-Sherry. After the cask stave finish is complete, it is bottled at a healthy 57.5% abv.

Nose: Four words…uncooked Christmas cake batter. And I mean that in the best possible way. This takes me way back to my childhood (waaay back. Man, I’m old) when I helped my mom make Christmas cake in November. You’d store it in a cool place to let all the flavours sink in. Like their Heresy rye that I reviewed earlier, the Sherry and French oak staves are speaking the loudest. Dried figs, sultana raisins and medium dark chocolate from the ex-Sherry staves. Cinnamon, from the new American oak maturation and ex-Bourbon staves, as well as allspice from the French oak are in there too. Like their rye, there is a youthful grain note (corn/frosted flakes here), but the stave finish more than balances that out. But I keep coming back to that rich cake batter, really just a combination of all these notes…corn flakes excepted, of course.

Palate: The entry is surprisingly light and creamy at first, but also very sweet. Regular Kraft soft caramels, I think. The development builds slowly. For a cask strength Bourbon, there is not the stereotypical, abrupt spice wave. The early to mid-part of the development is more youthful than the back half, but there’s not a harsh graininess, which is tempered by the staves. That second half rewards you for keeping it in your mouth that long. Lovely rich, dark notes, but also a moderate drying once the spices kick in. Speaking of which, I’m getting a dash of earthy nutmeg and clove on top of what I got on the nose. A pinch of dark coffee and cocoa powder. The caramel has transitioned to sponge toffee. Toasted walnuts as well when I smack my lips to let in some air.

Finish: Wonderfully balanced and medium to long in length. Those dark baking spices continue to dry out the experience, but there is enough toffee sweetness to counteract it somewhat. The slight bitterness comes from the fading cocoa powder. Really couldn’t ask for more here.

With water added

This is nosing more like a young Bourbon now. I’m not getting as much of the ex-Sherry staves, but some of the spices from the French oak remain. The dried fruits are strawberry and blackberry now. Quite a bit of vanilla as well. The initial character of the entry and development is much the same as without water added, but the back half has a spicier kick. The extra heat actually gives the finish a bit more personality and helps to lengthen it a bit.


At its price point, this whiskey is a steal. Maybe one of the best values you can find on the Bourbon shelf. This is proof, once again, that Seth’s process turns a young whiskey into something totally unexpected. Water gives off more classic Bourbon notes and, without, highlights the staves more. This lets you choose your own adventure, depending on the season.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Sample Review: Writers’ Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey

Along with The Irishman, Writers’ Tears falls under the Walsh Whiskey umbrella. In the traditional Irish Copper Pot style, this whiskey contains both malted (60%) and un-malted (40%) barley. It’s non-age stated, sourced from an unnamed distillery and then blended and bottled by Walsh Whiskey at 40% abv.

Many thanks to Darryl for supplying this sample and the photo. You can follow him on Instagram at @whiskeysith.

Nose: Classic Irish Copper Pot character. When I first poured this into my glass, I got a white wine note, like a Chardonnay. After a while in the glass, this has faded substantially. This is replaced by juicy, fresh cut apple and graham crackers. I’m guessing that these are first fill Bourbon casks as I still get a good dose of cinnamon and a touch of vanilla. This is a little bit floral as well. The oils from a freshly expressed orange peel round this out. Quite an expressive nose for such a low ABV.

Palate: The entry is oily and coats the mouth immediately. Very strong high-quality apple juice vibes (like the stuff you find in hoity-toity organic food markets) initially and that carries through to the end of the experience. Subsequent sips dial that back a bit, however. The vanilla and cinnamon reassert themselves during the development. The peel and flesh of a navel orange as well as ripe pear float on top. The spice and citrus make the tongue tingle a bit. Smacking my lips reveals a slight toasted walnut note at the end of the development

Finish: A nice dark chocolate starts to form at the beginning of the finish. The sweetness from the apple, the bitterness from the chocolate and the fading spice end the experience with a nice balance.


I’ve been meaning to try Writers’ Tears for a long time and now I see why this whiskey has such a devout following. It drinks beyond its proof, has a lovely mouthfeel and possess a nice, balanced finish. Darryl has sent me a number of core expressions and special releases from this brand and I’ll pepper them in here and there to see what different maturations and barrel finishes do to this impressive base.

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In-Depth Review: Broken Barrel Heresy Kentucky Straight Rye

Founded five years ago by Seth Benhaim, Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. is the perfect example of one successful product building upon the popularity of another. His first venture, Infuse Spirits vodka, included fruits and other ingredients straight into the bottle. Although this was something Seth had seen behind many a bartender’s counter, he wanted to make this kind of craft presentation available to everybody. The end result was a vodka that stood in stark contrast to the big brand’s offerings, which contained mostly artificial flavouring.

From this starting point, Seth’s love of whiskey, combined with a desire to do something similar to Infuse Spirits, led him to start a similar experiment with Bourbon. This time the infusion would be not with fruit, but with wood. Since much of the resultant flavour of whiskey comes from the cask, one way of imparting unique flavours would be to experiment with a variety of barrel finishes, but this can take a lot of time to yield results and is certainly not cheap.

Instead, Seth decided on a more unique and time efficient approach. Stave finishing involves breaking down existing casks and placing the staves into the whisky itself. Seth didn’t invent this process, but his contribution was to scale up the concept, use multiple stave types and sell the resulting whiskey at an affordable price. 

An initial experimental phase involved placing bits of stave from a single cask type into large bottles filled with Bourbon. These bottles were then blended together. Over countless iterations, Seth settled on a stave combination that used 40% ex-Bourbon, 40% French oak and 20% ex-Sherry. This Oak BillTM now forms the backbone of most of Broken Barrel’s core range, which was first released in 2017. More recently, rye has joined their core lineup as well

Speaking of which, it’s the rye that I’m reviewing today! It has a mashbill of 95% rye, and 5% malted barley. Aged for at least two years in new American oak, it is finished with Broken Barrel’s signature Oak BillTM of cask staves: 40% French oak, 40% Ex-Bourbon, and 20% ex-Sherry. Then it is bottled at 52.5% abv.

Nose: Such a rich nose for such a young rye. The Oak BillTM has clearly left a major mark on this whiskey. Even though ex-Sherry only makes up 20% of the finishing staves, I get the notes from that type initially. Milk chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, nutmeg and a touch of allspice. There’s some sweet cinnamon in there too. I think I’m going to get some more spices on the development, but we’ll have to see. There are light citrus and floral notes underneath all this. The rye bread note reminds you that this is still a young whisky, but there is so much more to balance it all out. I can’t wait to sip this.

Palate: On the entry, the milk chocolate and cocoa don’t wait around till the development to make themselves known. That citrus carries forward from the nose. The transition into the development is slow and steady. A little bit of the rye bread and graininess starts to creep in, but there is more than enough of the character from the entry as well as the spices, which join in mid-way through the development, to have it overpower in any way. The fruitiness bobs along the surface the whole way through the experience. There’s a rich sponge toffee sweetness that lasts just as long as the fruit. Towards the end, clove joins in with the rest of the spices from the nose. This is spice rich, without the intense heat. Something that I am rather fond of.

Finish: This becomes longer as I sip it more. Besides the fruitiness, everything else fades in equal measure. Because of that toffee, the finish doesn’t really dry out at all. With the baking spices and cocoa (though not the chocolate), the richness of the finish persuades you from going back for another sip so quickly. Instead, just savour the experience.

With water added

Interesting. The spicing actually fades a bit on the nose. I was actually expecting the opposite. The sponge toffee and cinnamon are much more pronounced as well. It’s more dark chocolate than milk chocolate now. Overall, it noses a little more light and youthful. This theme carries over into the entry and development. Those intense, dark notes are mostly absent. It’s sweeter and spicier than without water added. It’s not that I dislike it, but I liked it far more than without water added.


This is the perfect cold weather dram. The richness of this rye far exceeds its age. Many of these notes are present only on much older, and far more expensive ryes. The stave finish, anchored by the ex-Sherry and French oak really takes this dram to another level, and with a fantastic price point to boot.

Instagram: @paul.bovis