Today I’m drinking Canadian whisky which isn’t all that strange per say but I’m usually pretty attracted to the Scottish isles and her pungent little nasties. Lucky for me, tonight I get to have both.
Let me share a little story about a groovy little distillery in Saskatchewan called Last Mountain. While on the road, Ty had picked up some of their whisky and poured it for me on one of our YouTube episodes (https://youtu.be/2O-EwMHFKZ4).
My overall notion was “not bad” which actually means pretty friggin good for a Canadian style whisky. However, it seems as if the folks at Last Mountain were hoping for a little better than “not bad” so they asked if they could send us a bottle of their 2020 distillers release, reviewed here (https://youtu.be/q7f1dmvX15s).
The Master Distiller, Colin said “I know you’re a scotch guy but I believe you would appreciate the craft. I’m really quite proud of this one”. He was certainly correct as we named it Canadian whisky of the year, in Canadian Style. Since then I’ve had a love affair with Last Mountain, enjoying every expression I’ve come across so far, with the owner following up each time to ensure I was enjoying the craft, and if not, why I wasn’t satisfied and smiling. Either way always happy to engage and ask questions. You can find him on Instagram @TheWhiskyKnower.
This time we have the Smokey (we can argue spelling later) Single Malt, which is something of a cousin to the softy Canadian style whisky I’ve come to know and expect from Last mountain. Something to note about this little beast is the pungency actually comes from the barrel it was finished in. After being distilled in 2016 and left to age peacefully in freshly dumped bourbon barrels, this one was eventually selected to be further aged in a cask that was previously used by a famous Islay Distillery. One known for its somewhat medicinal peat with a bon fire type of character. This bastard came out of the barrel at a whopping 63.8% ABV and was eventually proofed down to 63% ABV to match the labels, which were based on notes from distillery owner Colin Schmidt. Either way there’s an unmistakeable note of ashy peat present throughout, truly you can’t miss it. It’s quite sharp and extremely spicy on the initial arrival but with a small ice cube or two, as recommended by Colin, you may find a more delicate and buttery Canadian whisky that no doubt will benefit drastically from that healthy sploosh of water.
This heavy hitter is absolutely Canadian with a little bit of nasty coming from the Laphroaig barrel… or whichever Islay barrel was chosen for this tasty experiment… *coughs* Laphroaig. If you love Saskatchewan malt and you love a little Scottish in your Canadian whisky than perhaps this Smokey single malt is right for you.
Lucky for us they now ship to Alberta so if you’re interested be sure to check them out.
When a brand new distillery releases their first whisky and it’s as well received as GrainHenge’s Meeting Creek, there is always a danger that the follow up release will be a bit of a letdown. Meeting Creek was the biggest and best surprise of 2021 for me: I believe I described it as pure chocolate malty goodness. The latest release, Elevator Row, had some big shoes to fill. I am very happy to say that the people at GrainHenge have done it again!
Elevator Row uses Troubled Monk’s Pesky Pig pale ale as the inspiration for its mashbill. The combination of 2-row and specialty dark Munich malt is aged for 43 months in both #3 and #4 charred American oak barrels. It was released at full cask strength (58.2%), and produced a limited run of only 440 bottles.
In the glass: Golden amber in colour. Similar to the original release, Elevator Row appears to have a relatively low viscosity and moves freely in the glass. It coats the sides nicely though, and clings there for a long time.
Nose: Lots of sweet malted barley. The sweetness is mostly reminiscent of caramels, but there is also some dried candied fruit. Touch of nutmeg.
Palate: It opens with dried candied fruit and Christmas cake. Caramel and roasted almonds and baking spices mid palate. Slightly creamy mouthfeel too.
Finish: Lingering sweetness, with some nice oak spice that sticks around for a long time.
This time, I’m not surprised. The relative youth of both the whisky and the distillery have no relation to the fantastic product GrainHenge is releasing. Garret Haynes has done it again, turning a well-loved brewery staple into a delightful, flavourful whisky. Elevator Row is a slice of spicy caramel Christmas cake. It’s a must have in my opinion, and I hope everyone gets the opportunity to at least try this fantastic dram.
For those of you not yet riding the Carn Mor train I suggest you go find yourself a ticket as quickly as possible. I’d recommend starting with an offering from their Strictly Limited range since new batches from various regions are released fairly regularly. Many notable and pungent weirdos come from their line and they carry some soft and more elegant little lovelies too, all with a common trait, quality. Consistent prices and reliable picks are pretty much guaranteed and based on their consistent track record of delicious and rare drams, there’s a chance they’ll have an expression that may fit your taste and budget..Enter stage left: a lovely expression from MacDuff (affectionately known as Glen Devron or The Deveron in some circles).
This particular MacDuff was distilled in 2011 and matured in a bourbon barrel for 10 years before being bottled at a monstrous cask strength of 57.4%. According to legends, the importers, RareDrams will be picking individual expressions from other distilleries and releasing them as a mini series of sort, set to promote the core range of and individual characteristics of each distillery contained within. Lucky for us here in Alberta our portion of the cask (picked by Bob Kyle) has been released to the western market at cask strength while the rest of the cask will go elsewhere and to other markets, with no gaurentee they will be bottled at cask strength..I could go on for another six months talking about the history of MacDuff, the post war whisky boom and the additional stills that were added in the 1990’s but that’s a topic more suited for Bearded Dave, the history professor.
What we know for sure is that at 57.4% this lovely MacDuff isn’t too sharp at all, quite the opposite. On the nose are notes of dried tropical fruits and wet wood. The palate is juicy and sweet with tons of butter on the finish..A touch of water should help spare this one along for a little while longer. You may find the nose is tamed quite a bit as notes of sweet bourbon vanillas and burned butter sauce comes to the tip of the tongue with a touch of zesty tanginess in the background. The alcohol bite has been almost completely removed as hints of fresh almond comes through with a touch of musty wood on the finish.
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.
Located in the heart of Turner Valley, Alberta, Eau Claire Distillery is part of the distilling revolution that is spreading quickly through Alberta. Open since 2014 and originally focusing on white spirits, their single malt whisky has generated a cult following among Canadian whisky fans. Their farm to glass philosophy allows them to showcase the very best ingredients that Alberta has to offer.
Now in its fifth release, this batch is a blend new Hungarian oak, ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon barrels. There is no age statement, but has to be at least three years old and is bottled at 43% with no chill filtration or added color.
Nose: The orchard fruits stand out straight away. Fresh cut red apples mostly, but also a slice of pear. There is also a dominant, grain-forward note that reminds me of a young Irish single malt. I get a touch of barley sugar candies along with that. There is a light honey note that has settled into the background as this sits in the glass. There’s some orange in here, but it’s more like a mandarin rather than a navel orange. Ginger and cinnamon are the only spices I get. I’d say the vast majority of this whisky matured in ex-Bourbon, but there is enough of that Hungarian oak to tingle the nose a little. I can’t say I am getting any ex-Sherry influence at all.
Palate: The one thing I notice right away is how creamy this feels right off the bat. One of the creamiest mouthfeels I have had in a long while. It’s creamy honey poured over apples and pears on the entry. That stays on the palate for the whole experience. The development is all about the grain and oak. Malted cereal and barley sugar dominate initially, but then the Hungarian oak kicks in. It’s not overpowering and there’s a nice balance between the wood, the sweetness and the grain. Clove joins the ginger and cinnamon.
Finish: The Hungarian oak is nicely balanced by the lingering sweetness in a nice medium finish. Earthy nutmeg joins the other baking spices here, giving me an early Christmas vibe. As the finish progresses, I’m getting a cocoa powder note that actually builds rather than recedes. The creaminess hangs on to the end.
With water added…
The new Hungarian oak is much stronger now, as is the youthful grain note. This isn’t an issue for me seeing as I love young whisky when it’s presented like this. That barley sugar note is strong with this one now. The orchard fruits are still there, but are in the background now. The palate is still creamy, but the youthfulness of this whisky is really starting to show now. It’s too grain-forward and the oak is a little dominant for me. I’m missing a richness that I enjoyed without water being added. The sweetness barely hangs on during the back end of the development. With water, the finish is the best part of the experience. That cocoa note, which love, remains on the finish.
This was my first whisky from Eau Claire and I like what I see from here. The youthful maltiness and the choice of barrels really works. Too much ex-Sherry and Hungarian oak would have swamped the delicate character of this whisky. Also, I never would have guessed that this was only 43%. What surprised me the most was how creamy this dram is. I would definitely recommend this without any water added as the balance was thrown off a bit. Overall, this was everything that I love about a young whisky and can’t wait to try their next release.
When it comes to whisky, peated expressions, to most people, seem to be the biggest barrier to overcome. Some never do. And that’s totally fine. Everyone’s palate and preferences are different. That’s what makes this community so special.
I would argue that sulfured, sherry bomb-type scotch is another genre where people have a very black and white preference, both for and against. The burnt match notes you get off the strongest whiskies in this category are similar to the medicinal characteristics of some peated scotches. It’s something you either like or hate.
As for the whisky we’ll be reviewing today, I was making love-y eyes at this bottle for months before I pulled the trigger and spent almost $180 to get it into my greedy little hands. I did no research. It was from Berry Bros. & Rudd, it was matured in a single ex-sherry butt and was a store exclusive to Sierra Springs in Red Deer, Alberta. Many boxes checked there.
Then I did the research after I clicked on the “Pay now” button and my jaw dropped. This bottle elicited so much rage that the three reviews on Whisky Base averaged below 50/100. The reviews talked of notes of rotten eggs and multiple dead bodies (people, if this is what you want to write about a whisky, please just remove your fingers from the keyboard. It makes you look really silly).
Later, I heard that there were such vocal complaints about this whisky that the Berry Bros. rep had to get involved. Instead of backing away from my purchase, I decided to go ahead and take my chances. I was not disappointed. Yes, there a bit of a burnt match smell to it, but the bold flavours instantly melted away my regret.
In short order, a member of the local whisky community offered me his bottle for free, which I passed on to a friend of mine who loved it. Then another friend got hold of it and bought at least two bottles. A revival was in the offing. The moral of the story here is that sometimes whisky just needs to make it into the right hands before it is truly appreciated.
The bottle in question was distilled in 2000 at an unnamed Speyside distillery and was matured for over 17 years in an ex-Sherry cask of unknown type (assumed to be Oloroso). It was bottled in 2018 at 58.9% abv and was sold exclusively at Sierra Springs Liquor in Airdrie, Alberta. Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky and one half of @thewhiskyheathens) and Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) of Park Whiskey Society are collaborating with this review.
Josh Ward’s review
I first caught wind of this gorgous secret Speyside from Sierra Springs when Paul and Sean directed me to some absolutely insane reviews, which posted notes of “ichorous discharge from the underbelly of an African wildebeast” and “bile, wildebeast, dead bodies (many of them), black eggs, snot, decay and rot”. Seems they were of the notion that this whisky was to be dumped and discarded because it was SO nasty that it couldn’t be consumed by any self-respecting individual. Much different for me, I’m looking for that nastiness and I fully embrace those oloroso style sulphur bombs. Much to my excitement a sample showed up on my doorstep and I was on the phone to order a bottle before I finished the glass.
Nose: The first note that hit my nostrils was of wood decay, beautiful and nasty with thick and pungent waves of sulphur and a distinct note of dry, abrasive sherry. Tucked away behind the powerful cask influence was a hint of sweetness, both sultry and alluring.
Palate: The taste exceeds anticipation with all the expected notes from the nose coming at you immediately. Sherry city was built in a sulphur spring and it’s a place I really love to visit. It’s brash and it’s heavy and it’s perfect for anyone who loves it raw and unapologetic.
Finish: The finish is slightly sour with meaty notes of BBQ and charred sherry wood that lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts.
With water added…
I finished the dram and poured a second but this time I added a healthy dose of water. Water certainly doesn’t hurt this one, especially at 58.9%. I’d say there were 15 drops in my 2 ounce pour. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I’d have to add another drop or two of whisky, quite frankly the devil in my moustache encourages such blasphemy.
Once the water settled the sulphur did too. It’s tame now but still present with sherry sweetness shining through. A touch of burnt caramels swirling around the nose and mouth are wonderfully pleasant with beautifully moist and righteously magnificent notes of sweet and sulphuric sherry, it’s everywhere, just toned down and mellowed appropriately.
Something this unique only comes around every once and a while, I’ll definitely be grabbing another bottle.
Sean Kincaid’s review
This bottle has had an adventure already around these parts. From some absolutely horrible reviews that were posted online to a few of us actually trying this and loving it. This is the perfect example of not judging a whisky by other people’s reviews. So I will now go ahead with a review of this whisky for you all to judge it by.
That super dank delicious deep Oloroso goodness. Woody and bomb levels of sherry. This is the greatness that an active fresh Oloroso cask can impart on a spirit.
Nose: Deep dark fruits, nuttiness, dunnage warehouse, a touch of rubbery sulphur. A true sherry bomb whisky that makes me want to dive right in. Almost a dusty note. Dusty and savoury combined. Like smoked spare ribs with a smokey, but fruity rub and then left for awhile. Then eaten.
Palate: Even more of that dank Oloroso, from all sides. Spices, dark fruits, figs, plums, maybe a touch of cherry and chocolate. Leather, dunnage floor. Hefty sherry and at cask strength doesn’t need much water at all. This is what a dank sherry bomb can and should be.
Finish: Decent length. That Oloroso sticks in your gums and I just want to pour another and another. That dank sherry sticks around and leaves your mouth feeling coated long after you swallow.
What a whisky this is. I hope those that hated this learned their lesson and leave the glorious dank sherry bombs for those of us that love it.
Paul Bovis’ review
Nose: When I first poured this into the glass it was like a match where the wood was a sliver of a sherry cask stave, lit on fire and then doused in Oloroso sherry. More than anything, this is probably the smell that the people who hate this bottle found so off-putting. Like this year’s Kilkerran 8 year, there is a whiff of gasoline as well. Like peated scotch, this has some notes that might knock you sideways, but as you spend time with bottles like this, you learn to both appreciate what this adds to an experience while at the same time nosing past it to get at the other notes. The European oak that I get off this is musty and wet. Ever since I opened this bottle I got a good amount of dried cranberries. It’s still there, but dark chocolate has overtaken it now. Stewed plumbs lurk behind the cranberries. It’s also a bit nutty. Almond perhaps. Nailing down the spices is a bit of a challenge. After nosing around my spice bottles, I’m settling on allspice and a touch of ground cloves.
Palate: The entry is tart and sweet and extremely short-lived. Dark caramel, medium dark chocolate, dried cranberry, half and half creamer and a bit of orange peel. Then the oak and spice kicks in. Big time. The front end of the development is a little bit overwhelming with the oak, chili flakes, cracked black pepper and earthy nutmeg. A touch of sweetness from the dark chocolate and that tart cranberry and citrus help to cut through the intensity of it all. By the time you get to the back end of the development, your tongue acclimatizes to the heat and the dark chocolate really starts to shine through.
Finish: This is insanely long and is presented in three acts. The first is the fading spice and oak. It’s a little bit drying. The retreat of spice reveals the second act: rich dark chocolate. The third act takes a while to kick in. As the chocolate fades, that tart cranberry note is revealed, making my mouth water uncontrollably. No, not to the point of drooling because, you know,…gross.
With water added…
That burnt match smell is starting to come back on the nose, but the dark chocolate is rising up to meet it in equal measure. The cranberry note has faded significantly and I’m getting a decent amount of caramel now. Water hasn’t done much to tamp down the speedy onset of the development, the heat or the oak, but there is just enough sweetness to keep this ship from keeling over. The dark chocolate is much stronger here than without water. The first half of the finish remains unchanged, but the third act of cranberry is not as strong. Instead, this is a dark chocolate lovers dream. It’s lovely and bittersweet.
This is probably one of the strongest sherry bombs out in the wild today. If you love this kind of stuff, this is the bottle for you.
I personally would like to doff my cap and thank Sierra Springs for going out on a limb to bring in bottles like this as well as defend their decision, regardless of the people who hated on this whisky so intensely. Here’s to hoping more people discover this bottle.
When I was asked to review a couple of samples from Penelope,I was excited. I had been seeing these bottles all over social media and the first thing I was noticing was the eye-catchingdesign. The bottle is a beautiful elongated design that is reflected in the simple and elegant foiled letter ‘P’ on the label.
Just a quick foreword, I take a bit of a different approach when tasting a new whiskey and writing notes. I do this as blind as possible. I do not read up on the whiskey until I have captured my notes and had two different occasions to sit down and explore the whiskey in front of me.
Penelope Bourbon Four Grain 40%
This whiskey has a soft golden syrup color as I swirl the glass around. It is intriguing how golden the color is.
On the nose, there are those immediate soft hints of vanilla, straw, lemon, powdered sugar, and wax candy wrappers. When I let this sit and come back an hour later, some faint oak notes had developed.
The palate is very surprising, having a hot and light spice to it with a dry snap. Not as sweet as you would expect with the nose. There are hints of warm strawberries in straw with a gentle citrus note. There is a lovely dry leather and dusty finish to the whiskey. Very unexpected and intriguing.
I tried this whiskey also in a rocks glass and found that there were additional cereal notes and tart green apples. There was more of that corn sweetness when water was added to the whiskey. The finish retains that dry snap on the finish.
Now the facts about this whiskey. This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (75%), wheat (15%), rye(7%), and malted barley (3%). This whiskey has been aged 2-3yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.
Penelope Bourbon Barrel Strength 58.3%
The color on this whiskey has a burnt orange quality, which has me thinking I will be greeted by some strong bourbon flavours.
On the nose, there is that immediate push of caramel, butter, and an interesting underlying mustiness that makes me think oak barrels and leather – that worn leather of horse bridle. At the edge of the nose, there is a faint hint of menthol. With some time, I get additional sweet notes of caramel popcorn and honey glazed nuts.
The palate for this whiskey I do find to be hot and with a dry note to it. There are some sweet notes of candied fruit peels, citrus notes and some of that bitter of the pith from an orange. On the finish, the orange notes becomes more pronounced with a medium-dry finish.
When I tried this whiskey in a rocks glass, I found that the nose did indeed go sweeter, with tones of Roger’s syrup and warm toast. With a bit of water, there are some beautiful chewy leather notes and dark chocolate (92%) notes – that dry and bitter bite from the cacao.
Now the facts about this whiskey. This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (76%), wheat (15%), rye (6%), and malted barley (3%). This whiskey has been aged 3-4yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.
To catch-up on the idea behind these whiskies.
The back-story to this whiskey is rather interesting. Two friends who had a passion for drinking bourbon and taking that passionand translating their knowledge of the restaurant industry, supply chain management, tech, and e-commerce into a brand. Rather than building a distillery, they took the approach of working with established businesses to produce their product. This includes sourcing their distillate from MGP Inc. and working with Castle & Key on the bottling and blending of their end product. If you don’t know about MGP – do yourself a favor and go read up on them!
Seeing the craft distillery explosion happening in Canada currently, we are seeing this start with the building of distilleries,so having a company develop a brand and sourcing each stage of their product from other producers is intriguing. Without a doubt, it will be worth watching how this bourbon develops further.
Today I review a local product from a spirits company located just down the highway from me, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This product interested me a lot when I first came across it, because Great Plains Craft Spirits is doing something that I have always wondered why it hasn’t been done more often, especially considering the mature whisky stock that exists in this country. That is… source that well aged stock and use it for blending and finishing to create your own profiles. Why build a distillery when there is an apparent plethora of whisky amongst the distillers here already sitting in casks waiting to be transformed into something more interesting. In this case, Victor Mah, Vice President of Great Plains has done just that and acquired himself some 17+ year old Canadian corn whisky distilled in 2000 at the defunct Potter’s Distillery in Kelowna, British Columbia prior to being purchased by Highwood Distillers and moved to their Distillery in 2006 which is located in High River, Alberta. From there, they transferred this whisky from ex-bourbon barrels where it spent its entire maturation up to this point, into Brandy casks from Bodegas Osborne in Jerez, Spain and finished it for 12+ months. The reason I added the plus sign is because they experienced some delays in the labeling process that in turn extended the finishing time a few extra months. Oops… I don’t think it hurt any.
As excited and grateful to receive this whisky from Victor, some apprehension existed because no matter how patriotic I wanted to be, it still is Canadian corn based whisky. A northern grain that typically lacks depth unless it is really well aged and similar to Highwood’s brands, typically becomes a rather uninspiring product that falls rather flat. That being said, they typically proof everything down to 40% ABV, so seeing that Great Plains has bottled it at cask strength, this reinstilled some anxious anticipation. Don’t get me wrong here, there are some fantastic corn based Canadian Whiskies out there, especially those created by the Whisky Doc – Don Livermore out in Southern Ontario from Hiram Walker. Along side the Doc’s bottlings though, Great Plains found their whisky winning a Gold Metal at the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards including the accolade of ‘Best New Whisky’. Some very high praise on the biggest stage here in Canada.
Before I get rambling too far on a tangent, lets get back to the whisky I came here to review.
ABV – 54.5% / Age – 18+ years / Mash – 100% Corn / Region – Western Canada / Cask – 17+ Years – Ex-Bourbon & 12+ Months – Brandy Casks
My first impression of the this bottle was that the label is far too busy and I am afraid that someone who isn’t an enthusiast and is less knowledgeable or confident in what they are looking for might actually get intimidated at first glance. I quickly received affirmation on this theory when I set it out on the table at our last club tasting. It sat there as a pre-dram for the evening along with a few household names but was completely passed over because no one identified with it. It wasn’t until I was able to announce to everyone exactly what it was before it started to fill their glasses. I think a more inviting and simplistic label would help correct that.
Lucky for Great Plains though, the golden spirit inside is fantastic, and as soon as it was opened, I am not sure it was put down until it was killed that same evening. This tells me that those casks that once held Brandy for 15 – 20 years did their job nicely. Although, personally I would like to see it finished for an additional year, but that’s just me ;).
Right off the bat, it is very approachable for its proof and I get a bit of dustiness and old whisky qualities that I am not even sure what to attribute to. As I go back to it repeatedly, I enjoy it more and more, getting lots of wonderful oak and grain notes, sweet butterscotch, mandarin, and a creamy nuttiness. Long story short – very appetizing, nothing astringent, and ready to drink!
Remember before you take a sip, this is a cask strength whisky so if you don’t have a seasoned palate maybe have some water available. Just a couple drops can make a world of difference. For me, the stronger the better! At first sip, I get a tone of spicy oak and grain like qualities which most will identify as a ‘Rye’ characteristic. This is because our Canadian whisky brains have been brain washed over the years thinking we were drinking ‘Rye Whisky’ when in fact it was most likely a corn whisky. That’s a history lesson for another day though. After I swished this spirit around my mouth and went to my second sip, that’s where the qualities of the nose started to transcend nicely to the palate. Beyond that, subtle rancio and dried fruit notes show up as it rests in your mouth. With a couple drops of water, the sweetness was lost a little and the spice sharpens a bit, so I preferred it without.
The finish was really quite simple for me, basically going from dry spicy oak and grain to a light lingering sweetness from the brandy. Medium in length in the throat but unfortunately doesn’t hang around very long on the tongue.
This is very satisfying pour and one I will recommend to everyone looking to try something new. Even more so since its price point is only just north of $100 CAD. A great value.
Great Plains Spirits should be proud of themselves. They hit the mark nicely on their first release which has me really excited for the next one. As far as I know, they have even older whisky aging in both Cognac and Armagnac casks just waiting to be dumped and put on the shelf along side this one. Exciting stuff and I highly recommend!
The Bardstown Bourbon Company is a compelling one to me. Mostly because of their willingness to be innovative and creative, and to explore and push the boundaries. In a vast world made up of numerous methodologies and inventive capabilities when it comes to distillation, blending and finishing, it is clear, Bardstown’s goal and passion is to light up the world and create a product that can effectively stand out in a saturated whiskey climate. I respect tradition but I am not a traditionalist when it comes to whisky. I am a huge advocate of being bold and daring when it comes to the creation of whiskey and love to see those who are willing to experiment and risk being criticized for their efforts. Its important for Craft distilleries maintain modern approaches and be the visionaries in order to keep the house hold names humble and in check. Needless to say, Bardstown is well on their way to effectively doing so and being recognized as a distillery people can rely on for a quality product.
A great example of the innovative minds behind the Bardstown brand is, they have become the first distillery to develop and offer a full Napa Valley style destination and experience providing an all-inclusive look into their genius on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. A place that sits firmly atop my list to visit when go!
Okay, on to the bourbon itself. The Fusion series as I am aware, would qualify as their entry level expression. It composition is made up of 60% of their own bourbon and 40% of a sourced bourbon from a fellow Kentucky distiller. Combined in the 60% are two bourbons; one of which is aged 2 years and 3 months, carries a mash bill of 68% corn / 20% wheat / 12% malted barley, and makes up 18% of the blend; the second is aged 2 years and 1 month, carries a mash bill of 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% malted barley, and makes up 42% of the blend. The remaining 40% which is a sourced bourbon is 11 years and 7 months old and carries a mash bill of 74% corn / 18% rye / 8% malted barley.
As I destruct everything Bardstown has blended here, it looks like they are combining some youthful bourbons to add some liveliness and edginess with an elder bourbon that can act as a back board, providing stability to the pour. The two different Bardstown mash bills are interesting as they have taken a decently high rye – bourbon which should bring a lot of spiciness to the table and a high wheat – bourbon to potentially tame it and provide some softness especially considering the 11 year bourbon is also a rye – bourbon. In my opinion, I might have gone a little higher with the Wheat – bourbon to increase the potential for softening the back of the palate where the pepper like spiciness usually lies the heaviest and adding a nice creamy sweetness to the fore palate. That being said… I am no expert so who am I to tell the experts what to do!
ABV – 49.45% / Age – 2 – 11 years / Mash – See above / Region – Kentucky Bourbon / Cask – New American Charred Oak
Time to taste the Bourbon!
A very soft nose with subtle notes of vanilla sweetness, wet leather and very light fruitiness. Honestly, very pleasant but not a ton there to unpack.
On entry, there isn’t a lot of present but quickly uncovers a little vanilla, brown sugar and tart cherry similar to that of a cherry simple syrup made with a demerara sugar. Now brace yourself because the palate drastically changes toward the back and into the finish with a punch of pure pepper which is what that 38% rye – bourbon is bringing to the table.
The finish is dry, oaky with pepper for days with a bit of bitter black tea. It is fairly lengthy but mainly because of the peppery spice.
Overall, its a perplexing pour. Youthful with a mix of distinguished behaviors coming from the elder bourbon. Not very complex but not a lot of Distiller’s entry bourbons are. I am curious to see how it performs in cocktails because I think that spiciness will provide some interesting character to classics like a Manhattan or Sour. The price is a little up there but what everyone needs to consider is that this is a craft distillery still in the infancy stages, and it is not cheap to build and run a world class facility so just like we support local boutiques, we pay a bit more to support the passion and potential Bardstown Bourbon Company represents.
This bourbon isn’t going to please everyone, but what does? I would recommend it because I believe in the brand. I have been closely watching Bardstown release all kinds of interesting expressions over the last while and to date, have only tried a couple different expressions myself, thanks to some samples from good friends. Its unfortunately not available in Canada which I really hopes changes in the future because I would really love to dive further into their products. Until then, samples will have to do!
This is the 3rd single malt release from Alberta’s own Eau Claire Distillery. A distillery operating since 2014, located the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Turner Valley, Alberta. This single malt comes from 100% Alberta grown Barley and is aged in New European oak and American ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour and weighing in at 43% ABV.
A fairly subtle nose with nothing immediately jumping out. Digging a bit deeper though, there is some sweetness shining through. Red fruits and caramel sweets. Following that comes a rich, almost earthy note mixed with some woodiness. Almost like sawdust covering a fruit basket sitting on a warehouse floor. The youthfulness of this malt may be why none of the flavours immediately jump, but once you get your schnoz deep into the glass, you can pull out some wonderful notes from each cask types used in the aging of this whisky.
Surprisingly nothing too sweet right up front. Youthfulness again shows up but this time as a bit of heat. When the heat subsides an oaty semi-sweet note comes through followed by a hint of the caramel from the nose. Maybe even a bit of vanilla or possibly very light banana. That slight earthy note again comes up way in the back with some bitterness. A sweeter note shows towards the finish like a chalky sweet candy, similar to those rockets that come lined up in the transparent wrapper. As the finish goes on (medium to long) more of that caramel lingers with a bit of non-citrus fruit.
After sourcing out a sample of Batch 001 and a bottle Of Batch 002, this Batch 003 offering is noticeably different. In a good way. It leaves me waiting impatiently to see what Batch 004 and 005 and 010 and 020 will herald. If the quality keeps increasing from Eau Claire and the kindness and hospitality from their people behind the scenes doesn’t disappear they are quickly going to ascend to the top of the Canadian spirits landscape.
– Reviewed by Sean Kincaid
Check out their website for more information on their distillery and all the quality spirits they have to offer.