Great Plains Craft Spirits Special Cask Finished Canadian Whisky – 18 Years Old / Finished in Brandy Casks for 12 Months

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.

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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 ;).

Nose

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!

Palate

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.

Finish

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.

Conclusion

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!

Review by Steven Shaw

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Eau Claire Single Malt Batch 003

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.

Nose


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.

Palate


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.

Impression.

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.

Eau Claire – Single Malt Whisky

With Batch 01 come and gone, Batch 02 of the first barrel aged single malt whisky in Alberta’s modern history was released in limited quantities just before Christmas along side the familiar signs of “only one bottle per customer” just to make sure the love is spread as far as possible throughout the local markets. This is very exciting for an Alberta born whisky man like myself and I have no doubt the community around me feels the same. Eau Claire Distillery who has already received international accolades for there spirit releases have demonstrated the same dedication to quality and workmanship into producing their single malt, made of 100% Alberta grown barley from the soils of the Turner Valley area. Southern Alberta is world renowned for producing some of the best barley and rye in the world which is why scotch makers purchase it for their own distillery’s, so as Eau Claire has so plainly put, “it is only natural that we turn that agricultural gold into fine whiskies.” Makes sense to me!

ABV – 43% / Age – 3~ years / Mash – 100% Malted Barley / Region – Canada (Alberta) / Cask – New Oak

Displayed humbly on their label is the use of a hand plow which I assume is to foreshadow their farming methods. There may be many variations of their motto, “From farm to glass” used by several distillers but Eau Claire uniquely embodies and encapsulates their beliefs and the true definition of what they stand for by that message. More specifically, for their rye and single malt whisky’s, Eau Claire’s farming operations actually use traditional horse farming methods to plant and harvest the grain. That my friend, is a true artisanal and organic approach to manufacturing, and whether its necessary or not, it is those kinds of efforts and ethics I can ride the bandwagon for.

NOSE – Hints of cheese, avocado and malt aromas near the start for me but quickly blossoms into floral and citrus with a subtlety of unripe banana and apple. The nose rounds off fairly nicely and comes together a little more the second time around with more of the sweetness and smell of alcohol coming through.

PALATE – The malt and fruity notes present themselves eagerly from the first drop with entries of vanilla, honey, butterripple and a trace of humus which gives a buttery or waxy like mouth feel. Overall, smoother and more flavourful than I expected finishing off creamy and citrusy but with a hint of banana again which my palate usually pulls out in younger whisky’s. A little more hearty oak influence will go a mile with its already good flavour profile.

FINISH – Light and gentle finish with a caressing sweetness and spice that linger on the back of the tongue.

Eau Claire’s passionate approach is clearly evident in this whisky they have created. From the nose to the finish, this single malt punches way above its weight class in every way. It takes real innovation and forethought to stand among the good single malts of the world, especially as a young three year old Canadian but in my eyes they have introduced themselves to the conversation and left behind a lasting impression. Reaching recognition is the hard part but they still have some road to travel. Some age will do wonders for this whisky helping it mature and balance the adolescence establishing it’s current ceiling.

My rating, which may be a little biased due to my desire for a local distiller like Eau Claire to succeed, is a 7.9/10.

  • Review by Steven Shaw