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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The Black Bottle Showdown!

Black bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS new bottle) – 40% ABV


This is the Black Bottle you will typically find on shelf at your local liquor store(and one you should definitely have on your bar at all times) It is simply a fine bottom shelf whisky that holds its own, neat in a glencairn, or even cooked up in your whisky cocktail of choice as well. Its been a bartender favourite for decades in the industry.

Nose

This one starts off sweet. Like burnt caramel or brown sugar on freshly made porridge. There is a slight maltiness. Some citrus notes are found but they are almost hidden behind the brown sugar notes. It reminds me of a young sherried highland malt.

Palate

Again starts off with caramel/brown sugar sweetness. It then ups the spice a bit, with some fresh baking like spices. Vanilla spread over a slice of wheat bread. There is a familiar aspect to this.

Finish

The finish makes me think of Bunnahabhain with that hint of smoke mixed with a nutty, and lightly spiced fruit. Like I mentioned, this is something everyone should have. It’s head and shoulders above most blends and for the price it is really hard to beat.

Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS Old bottling – green bottle) – 40% ABV


This is the fabled old bottle of black bottle. All but a ghost now. Said to be a blend of islay malts and mainland grains.

Nose

Anyone familiar with Islay blends will know this nose. The usual ashy smoke and brine hints are welcomed and prevalent. Followed by a beautiful sweet vanilla and honey note. A little further nosing finds light pear and green apple notes.

Palate

Starts with that ashy Islay smoke but lighter than most Islay malts. This quickly hands the torch off to orange peel and a lemon fruit note. A little bit of honeyed sweetness comes through just before the spice and heat from the peat comes back.

Finish

The finish is rather short but full of smoke and a nice lingering and pleasant peatiness. It was much lamented when the black bottle recipe changed from this blend to the current one which I can clearly understand why. This is a beautifully Islay influenced blend that is as balanced and good as most I have tried from the region but always at half the price. It sad to see these older bottlings work their way into extinction.

Black bottle 10 year Blended Scotch Whisky (2019/20 limited edition release) – 40% ABV

This was a surprise release when it came out, but for lovers of the cult classic, Black Bottle, it became a must have. Unfortunately for most, it was only released in the UK and a couple select countries.

Nose

The first element separating itself from the others is it’s age. There is oak in the nose that you didn’t get with the NAS releases, but not fresh oak, a rich soggy oakwood that been sitting next to a firepit all summer. Accompanying the oak, is a reduced brown sugar sweetness and floral honey.  A little bit of peat and smoke are evident as well.

Palate

This one has both the sweet and smoke, standing side by side. On the sweet side you have honey, vanilla, apple and sweet bready like notes. Like hot cross buns dripped with honey. On the other side you have some baking spices, fragrant peat smoke, and an almost gingerbread spice/sweet mix.

Finish

This one has that balance of sweet and smoke, peat and fruit. It’s a shame the stock was so limited and they couldn’t do a wider release. This shows just what a blend can do if left to age properly instead of being bottled as soon as it legally is allowed to be. A great dram if you can get your hands on it!

Conclusion
All three of these bottles are fairly different from one another. I wish it was possible for everyone to try all three but I know sadly, that is almost impossible. If you come across any of these bottles, do yourself a favour and pick it up. You will be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck whisky on the market.

  • Review written by Sean Kincaid

Bardstown Bourbon Fusion Series 1

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!

Nose

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.

Palate

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.

Finish

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!

  • Review by Steven Shaw

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.

Hansen – Northern Eyes Whisky

Something special and historic took place here on February 11th, 2020. Hansen, a home grown, blue collar distillery, has inspired an entire city by releasing the first Whisky ever distilled, bottled and labeled in Edmonton, Alberta. Prior to the doors opening, they held a VIP event to which we were humbly invited to take part in. Attendees of the event included family, friends, Mayor – Don Iveson, Media, local business owners, and members of the local whisky community which in retrospect, didn’t really matter. We were all just Edmontonians, anxiously nosing their whisky, soaking in the moment and admiring all the hard work and genuine passion present on Kris and Shayna Hansen’s faces. After a great presentation which included, honouring the City of Edmonton and Don Iveson with a couple of the first bottles filled, it was time to taste the goods but as everyone proudly held up their Hansen inscribed glencairn in an inaugurating cheers, you couldn’t help but notice a common look of trepidation across the room while everyone lowered their glasses from the air and slowly to their lips for that first sip. It didn’t take long to turn the anxiousness into excitement though because simply put… it was delicious.

Honestly though, I was already fairly confident the juice was going to be good as Kris seriously didn’t show a glance of nervousness during the entire presentation leading up to that point. If it was at all a question in his mind, I am confident he would have shown it. Now, I should have prefaced this though, it’s a 3 year old whisky, 100% rye, aged in new American charred oak barrels so it’s important to always judge according to its weight class. Because of this, I purposefully didn’t set my expectations too high. In fact, I kind of expected an edgy, unpolished young rye smelling like shoe polish and tasting of dry cereals, banana, unbalance spice and tannic oaky bitterness. Okay so, I probably set my expectations a little too low and should have given them a bit more credit than that but truth be told, I didn’t want it to disappoint considering the significance and what it represented.

Anyways, back to the first sip. It was surprisingly clean and carried a nice body for a young rye. It’s youthfulness didn’t present itself rigidly but rather in a spry and energetic way. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Nose

The nose is soft and youthful accompanied by some light fruity and caramel characteristics. After nosing off and on for like 20 minutes, a slight hint of the leather came through which is part of the profile Kris is going for.

Palate

Upfront, savoury rye spiciness, banana forward (typical of a young whisky), burnt sugar and a decent amount of sweet vanilla coming through which is a nice surprise as it usually takes a few more years of aging to really infuse the whisky with the oak’s vanillins.

Finish

A little sharp at the height of the finish but it calms down nicely with a fruity and peppery notes. Once the whisky is completely down, the char from the barrel and some very subtle tobacco slightly lingers. The finish is medium in length.

Overall, I enjoyed it. Not overly complex, but can you really expect that of a young, proofed down whisky? No, you can’t. The important thing here is, the profile Kris is aiming for is evident and the foundation is built. His vision is create “a real cowboy-style whisky” which I believe his on the path to creating. That hearty, spicy rye with the boldness to add some hair to your chest and the complexity to keep you continually appreciating its layers. It’s going to be an exciting ride for them and I am stoked to follow along.

Lastly, if you live in the area or ever visiting Edmonton, please go check out their distillery and take the tour to hear all about their heritage which ultimately led them to this destiny. Their family history is quintessentially Albertan and full of distilling tradition dating back before prohibition.

  • Review by Steven Shaw

Check out their website for their story and a ton of other great products.

https://hansendistillery.com/

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

Gooderham & Worts – Eleven Souls

Peace Bridge, Calgary, Alberta

An inspiring release from Gooderham and Wort embodying the story of William Gooderham’s humanitarian act of caring for eleven orphans during their voyage to Canada. Part of the 2018 Northern Border Collection Rare releases Corby brings to us an intricate and very satisfying Canadian Whisky. They have some how managed to blend a composition of Brasetto Rye, Rye, Rye Malt, Red Winter Wheat, Barley, Barley Malt and double distilled Corn all marrying together to create a symphony of flavor.

ABV – 49% / Age – Blend of Casks / Mash – Wheat, Rye, Barley, Corn / Region – Canada (Ontario) / Cask – ex-Bourbon & New Oak

They have found a way to showcase the most desirable attribute of each grain, full in both body and flavour every step of the way.

NOSE – On the nose I get a spicy barbecued sweet corn, high-rye bourbon like scent similar to an Old Grand Dad or Basil Hayden’s. It’s a strong aroma finishing off with raisins, plums and some floral like notes. It presents itself a little differently each time it passes you nose though making it kind of hard to pin point some of its character.

PALATE – Less elusive than the nose, the palate’s complexity establishes itself with big flavour profiles from buttered Russian rye bread, rich oak and dark fruits to a pleasant finish of typical rye like baking spices and a coffee and cream like mouth feel.

FINISH – Along with those delicious creamy rye spices, was some bitter dried fruit, and a subtle sweetness resembling an almost honey nut cheerio (sweet, vanilla, and grainy) like presence.  

This pour is artfully ingenious and perfectly represents the creativity and innovation taking place in the world of whisky today. The second time around I put a couple drops of water in which opened it up quite nicely without disturbing the rye too much. I am not usually a fan of adding water but this particular whisky takes it pretty well. Very impressed all around and looking forward to try the rest of the 2018 collection from Corby. I just hope that Gooderham & Worts gets the recognition they deserve globally for this release.

RATING – 9.2/10

  • Review by Steven Shaw