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.
I will preface this review by saying that a) I am not a fan of almost all “flavoured” whiskeys and I was a little hesitant with this one at first. I poured this whiskey into a mini copitas tasting glass. It has a beautiful rich dark amber colour in the glass and after swirling a bit, the oily whiskey clings to the glass with slow, but thin legs.
Alright let’s get this going. I’ve let this sit in the glass for about 20 minutes. It’s something I do with most reviews I partake in. Sometimes even longer depending on age and proof.
Nose: First little whiff on the nose and it’s a touch sweet, but surprisingly I get some rye notes. The mash bill for Taconic Bourbons contain only 25% rye grain putting it in a medium rye’d bourbon. Those baking spices, nutmeg, allspice notes come through strongest up front. These notes are followed by barrel notes. The sweetness from the maple syrup soaked casks comes through with a hint of barrel char or slight smokiness. Then the bourbon notes come through with a nice citrus orangey note meshed with a nice vanilla and an almost tangy mouthfeel.
Pallet: On the palate it’s a very interesting whiskey indeed. It’s almost like the nosing notes work in reverse here. The bourbon notes hit first up front. The citrus and vanilla notes come through with a slight astringency and some tannic notes. All very pleasing on the tongue dance. As these notes start to mellow out a tinge, a nice maple note follows. With this a bit of caramel sweetness flirts about. A big surprise on the palate was the re-emergence of that rye baking spices note late in the delivery. It’s almost like the base bourbon/sweet corn and the much lower percentage rye grains are duking it out. This fight continues into the finish which was longer than expected and very pleasing. Begging you to have another sip before it fades completely. The other surprising part was that the sweetness in this whiskey wasn’t over the top in any way. I guess I expected a much more cloying sweetness but instead I got a well balanced maple influenced bourbon.
With water added…
The nose, with a touch of water, loses even more of the sweetness and brings those rye notes a bit more forward this time. The familiar (from trying the other Taconic Bourbons) bourbon notes come through strongest. On the palate with water, the sweetness shows up heavier, but still not at all cloying. More of a vanilla and maple sweetness. Like buttermilk pancakes with actual real maple syrup, not the artificial kind. With water this whiskey turns into a perfect breakfast whiskey.
I will fully admit again I was not going to like this at all. But the proof is in the pudding…the maple bourbon pudding. This is a fantastic and immensely drinkable bourbon. The maple barrels add just the right amount of influence on the already top notch bourbon and we are all the lucky benefactors of this unique and delicious marriage in a bottle.
46% abv 10 years in ex-Bourbon and 2-3 year Finish in PX butts and Hogsheads.
Dunville’s Irish Whiskey…..what can i say about thee…
Let’s start this off with a bit of personal history fist and then bring the facts of this bottle. I have a deep personal connection with Dunville’s that stretches back over a century. My great-grandfather emigrated to Canada in 1906 and stories circulate that he enjoyed the odd tipple from time to time. The original Dunville’s brand of whiskey was a favourite of his before he left what is now present day Northern Ireland.
I found out this information a few years ago when I stumbled upon a beautifully labelled bottle of Irish Whiskey in a green bottle. This was the Dunville’s 10 year VR PX. I instantly fell in love with everything about this whiskey. From the gorgeous floral themed label with the word BELFAST displayed, to the absolutely gorgeous whiskey inside. A 10 year Irish Whiskey that had a short yet beautiful and impactful Pedro Jiminez finish that instantly grabbed my attention and never let it go. Sadly, not long after finding this whiskey I was told it had been discontinued. Tears ensued. Then the folks at Echlinville Distillery (who resurrected the Dunville’s name and brand) reached out to tell me they were releasing a 12 year version to replace the 10 year. It did take longer than anyone would have liked to reach the “shores” of Alberta but it has finally arrived and I for one am celebrating for not just this 12 year but there are a couple other Dunville’s releases that accompanied it to Canada’s whisk(e)y mecca that is Alberta. Oh and by the way, as you can see in these photos, the bottles and labels are still as gorgeous as ever.
In the glass: Greeted by a deep gold and maybe a touch of red or pink hue. A most inviting colour to be sure. With a slight twirl of the glass, I have to wait a decent amount of time for legs to even appear, and when they do, they sit idle for a significant amount of time. When they do fall, they are even and very slow. Surely a sign of things to come.
Nose: OOOOOOOH there it is, so familiar yet not the same. It starts off almost tropical citrus fruit sweet. Papaya and mango and even some slight notes of peaches. This rather quickly slides to more of a strawberry or ripe cherry pie note. And then the beautiful PX influence comes in strong. Citrus peels and sweet raisins (like the ones in cereals) followed by a nutty coffee note like a fruity dark roast thats been freshly ground. The spices come next with a touch of cinnamon and baking spices. Like Christmas at Grandma’s a couple days before Santa’s visit and she is hard at work prepping all the baking and food that will very soon disappear. I love a solid PX influence on an Irish whiskey nose. A bit of the citrusy fruits and some toffee/caramel along with a touch of old leather in a shop at the very end of the nose. Its everything I loved about the nose on the former 10 year but amped up and stronger. If the palate follows suit I will be in Irish Whiskey heaven.
Palate and finish: The very first thing I notice when I just sip a tiny amount to get my palate ready is the mouthfeel. It sits heavy in the mouth in weight not in hotness. In fact the 46% thats this is bottled at might be the perfect abv (if you aren’t going to bottle it straight from the cask). The first note I find is caramel drizzled apple slices. And it’s inviting for more and more. The Irish malt comes through next and I can taste some grass and maybe a hint of tea. A switch is flipped and instantly a sherry oak note comes through, firing on all cylinders. It’s spicy PX all the way. Baking spices and sweet cinnamon with a touch of dryness from the oak. The orange citrus note makes a comeback followed by that PX raisin note and even a bit of light red fruits like strawberries again. The one consistent thing from start to finish is the creamy mouthfeel and this takes it straight through to the finish. This lasts on the palate long after I swallow. The spice/oak tannin tames down and I find a nice nuttiness hanging around. It’s still drying but my upper cheeks are still tingling with sweet spice. The nuttiness, sweetness and creamy feel meld into a double double coffee note.
I won’t deny I went into this one already expecting to drink a very fine Irish whiskey. What I will say is even my high expectations were blown away. The PX finish on this one has so much more of a varied influence on the whiskey than the former 10 year. It isn’t nearly as sweet either, which I like, as it truly let the various notes come and go without fighting through a blanket of sweetness. This was just the neck pour as well, so i feel that as it opens and maybe evolves a bit it might, just might, get even better. This unfortunately seems to be a limited release here in Canada, or Alberta anyways, so if you were humming and hawing over this, go grab one right now. Dark Cloud seal of approval.
45% Abv Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
Woody Creek Distillers are a new and exciting brand that will be gracing our store shelves (and home bars) very soon. They are located just west of Aspen Colorado and are very connected to their local ingredients. They have a vodka that is made from potatoes that they grow themselves. The grains that go into this bourbon are sourced from trusted Colorado farms and are then distilled on their very own custom CARL stills. The launch of Woody Creek into Alberta and Canada is being made possible by PWS Imports and there are some very unique and interesting launch events planned for the near future.
Todays spirit is their 4 year aged Colorado Straight Bourbon. They place their bourbon spirit into deeply (#3 level) charred new American oak barrels and keep it there for a minimum of 4 years. They use a mash bill of 70% Corn, 15% Rye and 15% Barley, all of which is grown in Colorado. This release has been brought down to the very drinkable abv of 45%. This is the first in a series of reviews of the Woody Creek products that will be available very soon.
In the glass: A nice darker gold colour with a touch of orange that seems to enhance light shining through it. A fairly viscous looking oiliness that coats the glass nicely. Some skinny but long struggling legs attest to the viscosity of this dram. It looks nice and inviting before even trying to find the notes.
Nose: The very first thing I notice while just bringing the glass up towards my nose is a great oak note. The classic bourbon notes start showing through next. The honeyed spices show, with a slight cinnamon and toasted baking spice like allspice and nutmeg. As the spice wafts off, I find a unique note I have never found in a bourbon before, that of the taste of maltesers candies. A malt note combined with a bit of darker chocolate. I’m hungry now. Deep down I am finding almost a sage like note, one that reminds me of climbing the mountains in the interior of BC. A dried sagebrush bush that your leg brushes against and releases the aroma into the hot desert breeze. This is definitely a bourbon on the nose yet has some unique characteristics and one that begs to delve into fully on the palate.
Palate: Upon the very first touch on the tongue a small, quick flash of sweetness hits which is rapidly taken over by a nice spice. An almost chilli spice, that then turns to the allspice and nutmeg note from the nose. If you leave the liquid in your mouth and let it roll around and coat your whole mouth you get that spice building to an almost black pepper note. As soon as you let the dram subside and prepare for a swallow, the sweetness comes back strong. Spice turns to cinnamon and then to a beautiful honeyed caramel/toffee note. I still am able to pick out that subtle malt and chocolate note on the palate but it’s definitely less prominent and gets hidden behind the spice and sweetness of the build up on the palate. The finish is a long, slow and broodin. One that teases a build up of the spice again but it lingers instead of builds. That very first beautiful oak note on the nose comes shining through on the finish of this one.
This is a bourbon that I can already tell will be a fan favourite. Its classic enough in taste that most bourbon drinkers will get along nice with this bottle. There are enough unique notes to bring in and hold the attention of the most seasoned bourbon drinkers and I can see it being very versatile in its uses from neat, on the rocks as well as in cocktails. As the first entry into the Woody Creek cabinet, this whiskey makes me even more excited to dive into their other releases.
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.