45% Abv 100% Colorado rye grain Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
The next review in the series of Woody Creek releases fresh into Alberta is the Straight Colorado Rye Whiskey. This is made with 100% rye grain grown in Colorado and distilled in the Woody Creek custom CARL stills. It is then matured in new American Oak for a minimum of 4 years. As an industry standard you will know it’s the rye bottle you are looking at by the green coloured label. Why green was chosen as the universal colour for rye whiskies is still unknown to me but it seems to be the consensus to use green labels on bottles of rye whiskey.
In the glass: A beautiful golden amber colour while resting in the glass. A slight swirl in the glass and I wait….and wait…..and wait for the legs to start. I almost gave up on them when they start to droop. Very long to move and thin when they finally do fall down the glass. A beautiful colour and legs that make you eager to dip in and try the whiskey ASAP.
Nose: Okay, this did not at all start how I initially thought it would. I find a very nice citrus note right off the hop. Orange zest and lemon peel to a slight, almost fresh cut kiwi note. I can easily say one of the most fruit forward Rye whiskey noses I can remember. Getting my giant schnoz right into the glass I find a more grassy note coming through. Like the smell from a golf course in the summer heat drying the grass after a morning shower. God I love that nosing note. It takes me back to chipping in for birdie from about 80 yards out…..oh yeah. The whiskey…..there is a bit of that rye baking spice but it leans more towards the cinnamon and almost toffee thats been melted down and worked on in the front window of an old timey candy shop. A very bright and inviting nose on this one. I wasn’t expecting the fruit forwardness but am very intrigued and pleased by it. There is zero heat on the nostrils and my mouth is very saliva heavy wanting to sip it right now!
Palate: Is this a juice? Did someone switch out my whiskey with some fruit juice? I kid, but the fruit forwardness is still there upon the first burst of flavour in the mouth. A sweet fruit blend of raisins and apples. It turns slightly after holding it in the mouth for a touch into a vanilla orange slice and a bit of the rye spice begins to show up for the first time. A pinch of pepper brings the mouth to attention while the vanilla note continues to evolve into a sweeter, butter toffee creaminess. That orange peel note comes back from the nose and lingers in the back of the mouth right as you swallow. I do notice that the apparent oiliness from the legs are there as this coats the entire mouth very nicely. The finish isn’t long by any means but it is beautiful. The bit of pepper mixed with a mandarin orange oil note sticks around the longest. As in the nose there is barely any notice of the ABV at all and definitely not any heat other than the slight pepper note on the palate.
This again, as I have stated, was a surprise for me. A very pleasant and welcome surprise. I do tend to enjoy a lot of rye whiskey I get to try, and this one may be one of the most unique and sippable rye bottles I have tried. The initial high fruit content and lack of any heat makes me want to get into the Cask Strength version as soon as these bottles are available. It will be a nice pour to sit with and watch the game, or to keep you going through the ever earlier Canadian winter nights. You can’t go wrong with including this bottle on your shelf. I have a feeling it will be reached for far more than others currently sitting there.
59.5% Abv Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
After a few of the Woody Creek lower ABV sippers, I am proud to introduce one of the “Big Boys” in the form of the cask strength version of their bourbon. This is one I was very excited to have the opportunity to review as I loved the 90 proof version expression. Again the mashbill used is 70% corn, 15% rye and 15% malted barley. I found that the malt really showed well in the lower abv version and am eager to see how the extra proof on this will play out with the maltiness.
In the glass: A deep orange oil colour. Medium oiliness in the legs. Some fall quicker than others but none disappear at all. Just swirling the glass to check colour and legs and so I can catch a whiff on the nose.
Nose: This nose was much heavier than any of the lower abv bottles that were previously reviewed. Although there are some similarities to the 90 proof expression, there are some subtle differences as well. The initial nosing is one of oranges and sweet toffee and vanilla. Getting further into it, more classic bourbon notes appear. Cinnamon and clove along with honeyed vanilla and a slight, dark cherry. What I pick up next I was not expecting at all…a bit of nuttiness but sweeter. There it is…peanut brittle. This for me has always been more of a Christmas treat than any other time of the year and I just recently saw freshly made peanut brittle on sale in a small shop. A touch of apple skin appears upon the deepest inhales. This nose is inviting while also showing there may be a slight bite behind it. Its not overwhelming in any way but it does hold your attention.
Palate: There it is! A bit of a bite from the unadulterated proof of this whiskey hits straight away. It brings with it a nice punch of flavour as well. I like that the heaviness of the first sip is countered with sweetness from the get go. A nice honeyed toffee sweetness. A little bit of fruit shows up next. Orange cloves and apple cinnamon all together. Fruity spices lend some weight in the mouth. That maltiness that I found and loved from the 90 proof version is still there but maybe not as prominent. The chocolate note doesn’t show up with it either. Just a nice weighty malt note that holds with it a bit of the spice. Upon the first swallow that cinnamon spice kicks up a notch but all it does is make my mouth water even more. Oak tannins from the new American oak come through on the finish with black pepper and more vanilla. This holds on for a decently long time and is quite nice. The hint of peanut from the nose only starts to show a bit after swallowing and letting the finish brood for a bit. It’s a nice added touch that again I didn’t find much of at all at the lower abv.
What’s exceptional about this bottle is that while the higher proof brings with it more spice and heat, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this will be a sippable bourbon that can please any fan of the genre. It will stand up to ice or water drops and will be amazing in a rocks glass. Its classic enough to hold onto bourbon fans and unique enough that it won’t be boring to anyone. I can’t wait for these to be unleashed on the public and start hearing the way people take to it.
When compiling a list to publish as a gift guide for whisky lovers, I decided to organize it into two lists. The first one, which is already published on the website, was for gifts that were whisky adjacent but not alcoholic in nature. These were gifts that any whisky lover would love to receive to enhance their collections or their experiences in the whisky community. This is the second part, which will be alcohol related gifts of various sorts, and will include some unique and interesting ideas for the whisky lover in your life.
Two Stacks Whiskey “Dram in a Can”
The first entry on my gift guide is one near and dear to my heart. As a huge Irish whiskey fan, having this product land on shelves locally just in time for the holidays, is like Christmas itself. The “Dram in a Can” from Two Stacks Irish Whiskey is pretty much as it says on the tin. It’s roughly 3oz or 100ml of their “First Cut” blended Irish Whiskey which is sold in full size bottles. The big difference is that Dram in a Can is highly portable and therefore has a lot more options of how and where to enjoy them. Immediately coming to mind are, golf bags, camping trips, house parties and outdoor pond hockey games with family and friends (ed note: also top office drawer at work). Of course, I must say, enjoy any and all libations responsibly, and never when needing to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. A delicious blend of 5 different types/styles of Irish whiskey make the contents in these cans easily drinkable and shareable and the best part? Small enough to not worry about leaving it behind or forgetting where you put it, like a full size bottle would be. There are not many new products coming to my local market that have me as excited as these little cans of Irish Whiskey. The absolute best part about these as a Christmas gift idea…..they fit perfectly in a stocking.
Whisky Advent Calendars
Next up we have an always popular idea for a gift that will make any whisky fan happy to receive. In a way, it might bring back childhood memories at the same time. When I was a kid (and now with kids of my own), one thing I looked forward to every single year during the holidays, was getting a chocolate advent calendar. Every day I was excited to see what each one would hold. Well, now spirits companies have brought the adult version to the market in various styles. These include small tastes of whatever their chosen spirit is. These come in almost any style you can imagine, Irish, Scotch, American, world and independent bottled whiskies as well as gins and even beers. They usually contain roughly an ounce per day and almost always have a few hidden gems in their selections. Putting one of these under the tree for the whisky/spirit lover in your life will ensure a gigantic smile and a gift that keeps giving even after Christmas has been packed away again into the storage areas they reside for 11 months of the year.
Bottle and Glassware Gift Packs
When I was at the beginning of my whisky journey, I always looked at the glassware that other people would use in their videos and posts on social media. The ones that always drew my attention were the ones branded from the distilleries and brands I was starting to love. The first Christmas of being a full fledged whisky lover, I received a gift of a bottle of Ardbeg 10 in a beautiful presentation box that looked like a beast was trying to break its way out. The best part for me were the two green mini-glasses with Ardbeg branding on them. I had already tried the whisky before, but receiving that gift pack made it even more special for me. I still, to this day, use those glasses anytime I pour myself Ardbeg at home. These gift packs are released more around the Christmas holidays than almost any other time throughout the year and they will make a great gift.
Another stocking stuffer idea, one that you can personalize, is those little mini-bottles that almost every liquor store has for sale. These are the actual branded mini bottles that usually hold 50 ml of whisky in them but can also come in sizes up to 300 ml. Sometimes, these come in pre-packaged packs from a single distillery or in theme packs (4 peated drams, Canada border collection etc.) Some brands even release gift packs of two or three mini (250 or 300 ml) bottles in ornate gift boxes and I have been very fortunate to have found some of my favourite whiskies ever due to these packs being gifted to me. If you want to add a personal touch for the whisky fan in your life, you can visit a few stores and pick out various single mini bottles and put them together in a homemade tasting pack or even drop them in his/her stocking as a nice added touch. Again, I have found some of my very favourite whiskies from having these mini taster bottles appearing with my name on them come Christmas morning.
The final Christmas gift Idea I have for you is one that is one I personally value a lot: supporting local companies and distilleries and adding a little local flavour to Christmas. Year round, the distilleries in your area are always fighting for recognition against the gigantic and well-established brands from around the world. In my area alone, a number of fantastic distilleries have been producing fabulous spirits for the past few years and I have been very honoured to even become friends with some of the owners and people that work for them. I see the undying passion these individuals put into each and every release that comes out into the market. Buying a bottle or two from a company in your own area keeps the money in the community and spreads the word even further each time. A lot of these companies will even offer tours and tastings at their distilleries and giving a gift of a tour/tasting is a unique way to allow your whisky fan to enjoy the spirits of a local brand with a group of family or friends (just make sure they include you in the visit).
Let’s take a break from the core range today and take a look at a Woody Creek special release. Wheated bourbons, aside from the Weller releases (if you can find them in your state/province) and Makers Mark, were a rare sight up until a few years ago. That has now begun to change. Alongside four grain bourbons (some with oats instead of wheat), craft distilleries are leading the charge here and the expressions offer something different from the mainstream bottlings…like this one!
This Woody Creek Wheated Colorado Bourbon has a mashbill of 70% corn, 15% wheat and 15% and has been aged for six years in new American oak. It is bottled at a healthy 47% abv.
Nose: The first thing that hit me straight away was the lack of a dusty grain note that I get on most wheated bourbons. It’s not that it isn’t there, but it’s just lurking in the background. What I do get is the sweetness that I normally find in this type bourbon. Werthers original candies for sure, but also a little bit of the sponge toffee filling in a Cadbury’s Crunchie bar. In that way, it’s sort of like a bourbon matured single grain scotch. Again, this being a bourbon, I would expect to see a cherry fruitiness, but instead I’m getting strawberries and a hint of blackberries as well. In terms of the spicing, I get the traditional cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. I’m expecting nutmeg and/or cloves to show up on the palate. I’m really not getting an awful lot of oak here. As I nose this over time, I am getting more of that grain note, like sweet feed that horses love, but should not really get too much of.
Palate: With all of that sweetness on the nose, coupled with the lack of rye in the mash, I was expecting this to be overly sweet the whole way through the experience. That is initially the case, but this whiskey has some surprises in store for me. The entry is quite sweet for starters. The vanilla custard note alone really coats the front of my mouth right from the get go and that continues through the development as well. Between the entry and the development, I get that Crunchie bar toffee note again mixed with red berries and peaches, this time slightly cooked down. What really surprises me is how spicy this bourbon is on the palate. It’s not super spicy, but certainly more so than any other wheated bourbon I have had. It’s almost effervescent on the tongue. Underneath that spice is more of that grain forward note that I usually see in wheaters. The back end of the development sees some nutmeg start to creep in as well as a touch of clove. I am getting some oak, but again, not a lot. I love the balance all the way through.
Finish: The early part of the finish has quite a bit of character. The oak and dark baking spices carry over from the development and are joined by a heavy hint of dark chocolate. That Crunchie bar vibe sticks around as well. It’s slightly drying, but not overly so. As the finish progresses to a medium/long length, it becomes more oak forward, but there is enough chocolate and toffee to prevent it from acquiring that wet oak feeling that can be a bit of a put off for me.
With water added…
I’m getting much more of the dusty grain bin note as well as some faint vanilla, which I was missing entirely on the nose without water added. I’m getting some light sponge toffee, but this is lacking that Crunchie bar vibe that I was digging earlier. Definitely more oak here as well. That subtle fruitiness has also faded. The entry still has that vanilla custard, but it is tinged with orange now and slightly sour. The development is just as spicy, if not more so than without water, and more oak forward. It’s not quite as sweet either. When I smack my lips to let in some air, I get a bit of roasted peanut now. The baking spices stick around for a lot longer on the finish and the dark chocolate has morphed into a cocoa powder note that I really love. This note actually pairs better with the oak at the backend of the finish than the notes I get without water being added.
As Sean Kincaid has noted in the first three Woody Creek reviews, this is a surprising set of whiskies thus far. They take what you might be expecting from a traditional bourbon and American rye and throw you a couple of curveballs to keep you interested. To me, this is the definition of the craft distillery ethos. Take what you already know from drinking “mainstream” whiskey and give you something familiar, but also slightly new. Still to come is the cask strength rye. You definitely will want to tune in for that.
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.
Few distilleries have a more devoted following than Springbank, Kilkerran’s sister distillery. Fans will tell you that there is no other scotch that has a flavor profile quite like the “Springbank funk”. It’s that marriage of malt (a portion of which is peated), distillation, maturation and maritime air. To me, that funk has a slight gasoline note. I know that sounds gross, but then so are many other notes in scotch tasting. Whatever that funk is to each individual, it helps stir a devotion that few distilleries can rival.
With Springbank in such high demand these days, it’s hard for this small distillery to supply enough to make everyone happy. If you can find them, the 10 and 15 year expressions, in Alberta at least, are actually quite reasonable in terms of price. Beyond these age statements, prices quickly become very unreasonable. $500 for the 21 year old and $1000 for the 25 year old, no matter what the fanboys/girls say, is simply out of whack compared to the competition. That’s my opinion, but I’m sure I am not alone. The one thing I do commend Springbank for, as well as reputable retailers, is that their unicorn-like 12 year cask strength bottlings are a real bargain at about $130 CAD (in Alberta). That’s despite their low availability.
When we’re talking about value malts in Campbelltown, Glen Scotia and Springbank’s sister distillery, Kilkerran, also fits the bill. Kilkerran’s 12 year is pretty reasonable and is widely available. Their non-age stated “Peat in Progress” releases are an insane bargain. Let’s hope that this trend continues in Campbelltown.
In 2019, Kilkerran released what many argued was the best whisky of the year. The 8 year cask strength was matured in re-charred ex-Oloroso sherry casks and became an instant unicorn. It had all of the characteristics of a massive sherry bomb and could be found for as low as $100 CAD, if you were quick enough. This years release offers a similar value, if you could grab one.
The word on the street is that this 2021 edition of the Kilkerran 8 year does not measure up to the 2019 release, but for those of you who don’t know what that tasted like, what does it matter? The 2021 release, like the 2019, is matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, only this time they are not re-charred. It’s bottled straight from the cask at 56.9% abv. Joining me for today’s review is Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) from Park Whiskey Society.
Sean Kincaid’s review
Two years ago, Kilkerran shocked the world with what was then a lot of people’s favourite whisky of that year. An 8 year old heavy sherried, peated malt. This year they released another 8 year old and word spread quickly about it. Funny though that nobody who was talking about it could tell me how it tasted…cause no one opened it. Well, I stumbled across a store that still had it on the shelf a few days after it’s release so I said why not. Man am I glad I did.
Nose: This is a wallop up side the head. Reminds me of smoked pork ribs I did with a coffee grind/brown sugar rub. There’s earthiness like moist loamy potting soil or raked leaves in a cool autumn misty morning. Sweet smouldering tobacco leaves but also a bit of the lovely countryside village peat smell that escapes every chimney. This is complex and layered and young yet mature. This is wonderful.
Palate: On the sip, This is dank, deep Oloroso and paired with the Kilkerran spirit comes out swinging with notes of creosote, diesel, marine soot, and deep dark fruits. Like figs drenched in oily tobacco left out on the rocks beside the ocean on a summers day. A slightly sweeter berry…like blackberry or those Swedish berry candies. This is beautiful. This is dank. This is abrasive. This is my jam. I love those vegetal, dunnage notes with a fruity nutty nasty Oloroso.
With water added…
Both on the nose and palate the peatiness softens and the sherry comes to the fore. The nose gets more on the nutty side of Oloroso sherry notes mixed with some savoury almost roasted nut mix. On the palate, the nutty sherry shows too, but there is a bit more fruit showing and a slight hint of the S word. Yes a touch of sulphur but this is so inviting and not off putting in any way.
This instantly became a contender for whisky of the year for me and it still resides near the top even months later. Damn that’s good!!!!
Paul Bovis’ review
Nose: Before my bottle was drained past the shoulder, it had a very strong burnt match, sulphurous smell, but that has faded into the background now. That funky gasoline note is definitely there for me. It’s like being on the car deck of a ferry. There’s a bit a dirt note, like turning over your garden with a spade. Lingering in the background are some BBQ smoke aromas and grilled meat slathered with a sweet sauce. I’m expecting more of the the cask influence on the palate, but for now I get cooked down dark stone fruits, lots of clove, ginger and a touch of nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate as well.
Palate: OK. Now we’re in sherry bomb territory. The entry is super oily and sweet. Liquid sultana raisins, a little bit of orange peel, rich honey. The transition into the development is nice and smooth. No falling off a cliff into waves of heat here. At the beginning of the development, those Springbank funk notes start to rear their head heads a little. A little bit of dirt. A little bit of ferry car deck again. I don’t lick the car decks of ferries, although if I did, it would explain a lot. Towards the back end of the development, it’s all booze soaked Christmas pudding to me. It’s just been steamed, soaked in brandy and then set alight. All the requisite baking spices, raisins, candied fruit, the lot.
Finish: It took a while, but I’m finally getting some European oak. It brings a bit of a spice and dryness to the finish. There’s a bit of bitter dark chocolate in there too. Mostly though, it’s that Christmas pudding, the outside slightly caramelized from being set on fire that takes ages to fully fade away.
With water added…
As expected, I’m getting a little more oak on the nose now. It’s more sherry bomb than Springbank although that gasoline smell does linger. Much more clove is present. The nutmeg and ginger have faded significantly. The entry remains unchanged, but the development is a little spicier and has quite a bit more oak. The Christmas pudding has faded away significantly, with only portions of it remaining such as sultanas and baking spices. The flavours aren’t as dark this time round. There’s a lot more dark chocolate bitterness as well, but it’s not overwhelming. The finish follows from the end of the development. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet.
Being a fan of Christmas cake and pudding, I rather prefer this without water. If you crave that classic sherry bomb feeling, adding a few drops of water should set you right. Either way, this is phenomenal stuff. Although I do love my sherry bombs, there is something to be said about a whisky in that genre that doesn’t bop you over the bed with a polo mallet with all that heat and spice.
This is a whisky whose flavour defies its age. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were vatting this one. I might have witnessed some casks greater than 8 years being poured into the tub. Either way, this is an amazing whisky and a definite contender for my top 5 for this year.
Irish blended whiskey Bottled and matured by The Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Company
Lets start with the Whisky’s make up..
Bottled at 46% ABV
40% 9 year old Grain – Bourbon Cask
30% 17 year old Malt – Bourbon Cask
26% 13 year old Malt – Bourbon Cask
4% 28 year old Malt – Sherry Cask
Officially a NAS bottling but by definition this would be a 9 year old.
Before we get into the meat and potatoes of this review (see what I did there…Irish….potatoes), I will first add a bit of a disclaimer. I am a fervent lover and defender of the Irish Whiskey Realm. One of the earliest moments of my journey through the water of life was visiting the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland and inadvertently learning a lot of whiskey history on a trip around the Emerald Isle a few years ago with my wife. It ingrained a deep respect and growing love for whiskey produced from all corners of Èire. Now knowing a tiny bit about where I am coming from, I will start off by saying, this is one of my all time top Irish whiskies I have ever had.
Without further ado here….we…..go…
JJ Corry is not a distillery. It’s not an independent bottler in the most commonly known way. What they actually are, is known as Whiskey Bonders. An almost lost art in the whiskey business and one that was prevalent in pre 1900 Ireland. Whiskey Bonders fill or buy filled casks and mature them in their own warehouses or in this case, an old barn like structure built on a family farm. This allows for the micro climate significant to the region of County Clare where they are located right on the famous Wild Atlantic Way to play a unique part in the maturation of the whisky.
Nose This has a clean crisp nose. Starts off with a big whiff of grassy citrus notes – like freshly cut, dew kissed grass in an apple orchard. Oh, so fresh smelling! A bit of orange peel or peach tang shines through as well accompanied by a bit of coconut. A bit of sweetness in the way of honey shows, the longer you hold it under your nose. A touch of mature wood notes show up right at the tail end of the nose right before it eagerly forces you to tip your head back and get your first taste.
Palate The first thing you notice as soon as this enters your mouth is that it feels oily and not at all “light” like people generally find Irish whiskey can be. On the front there is a grassy, creamy and fruity flavour leaning towards the white or tropical fruit territory, like pears or peaches similar to the nose. Maybe even a bit of mango with that coconut note coming through again. This is just the first half of the sip. Towards the back of the mouth, right as you begin to swallow you get hit with a hint of pepper and baking spice. Like lightly buttered rye bread dusted with pepper and cumin. The way it evolves from beginning to end and never loses it power, while also maintaining somewhat traditional Irish whiskey flavours is probably why I love this whiskey the most.
Every single time I pour this for someone I let them sip it before saying a word. Then I tell them that to me “this is what Irish whiskey should be”. It’s old, triple distilled single malts blended with some younger grain in a ratio that allows all parts to shine and come together beautifully to create a strong yet nuanced, and balanced yet evolving glass of whiskey. I have had my eye on this company for a couple years, so being able to locate find their expressions in our part of the world is very exciting for me. I can only hope future releases find their way to me as well.