Unlike the Teaninich that I just reviewed, Tomatin is definitely a familiar name if you have perused the whisky shelves with any frequency. From the Legacy, all the way through their high age stated bottles, Tomatin is a very familiar and affordable Highland scotch whisky. Tomatin likes to advertise themselves as “The lighter side of the Highlands”. This moniker may hold true when it comes to their official bottlings, but that is not case if you pick up an independent bottling of the stuff. I found this out in a big way when I reviewed this zesty little number!
This Single Cask Nation Tomatin 12 year was distilled in 2006 and matured in second fill bourbon barrels. It was bottled in 2019 at 58.1% abv with an out turn of 219 bottles.
Nose: For a second fill bourbon barrel, I’m getting quite a bit of vanilla. Even stronger than the expected tropical fruits is the fresh cut apple note I’m getting right off the bat. I have to say, for such a high abv whisky, I can really get my nose pretty deep into the glass. This nose is quite cereal rich for it’s age with a good amount of barley sugar thrown in for good measure. As well as pineapple, I’m getting quite a lot of citrus oil expressed from a fresh orange. A grapefruit note comes up after a while in the glass. As far as spicing goes, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger and a hint of cinnamon.
Palate: I was expecting a wave of citrus here and I get that big time. The entry, after the first couple of sips, is quite measured and sweet with honey and vanilla wafers before a wave of citrus breaks early in the development. This, along with its high proof really tingles the tongue so I would sip this slowly if I were you! The sweet and sour note continues throughout the entire development with the latter transitioning from orange to grapefruit as the experience progresses. That maltiness and barley sugar continues from the nose and apexes during the mid part of the development. The sweetness fades during the second half of the development, but doesn’t disappear completely. The spice builds to a crescendo at the end of the development with cinnamon, ginger, cracked black pepper and clove. There just a bit of oak at the end, but it is pushed into the background will all of this spice.
Finish: This is a very long finish that is spice and citrus forward. Most of the spice and sweetness fades during the first half of the development. This leaves the citrus to continue the journey alone for the most part, with some oak tagging behind it. The tail end of the finish is a little bit sour and bitter in equal amounts. It’s not in your face. Not all whisky needs to end with a sweet note.
With water added…
This has become a bit floral now. The vanilla remains, but I’m not getting as much apple as I did without water added. I’m still getting some of that nice maltiness. I’m getting some earthy allspice and the ginger has faded quite a bit. The cinnamon remains though. A nice digestive cookie note comes out after some time in the glass. The palate still possesses quite a bit of citrus zest, but there is more sweetness to balance it throughout the entire development. The sweetness is mostly a rich honey. On the second half of the development, the spice is still pretty strong, perhaps even stronger than without water. Interesting that I am getting a bit of apple, starting mid-way into the development and continuing into the finish. This is still quite a spicy, citrusy finish, but that extra apple and honey sweetness helps to balance things out a bit more. The finish is still sour and bitter, but there is enough sweetness there to right the ship a little.
This is not a whisky that everyone will enjoy. If you are dead set against adding water to your whisky, you had better like a good dose of citrus. The addition of water and the added sweetness it brings really transforms this one quite a bit. To be honest, I’m glad that the Teaninich I just reviewed and this one are so radically different. Seeing that these two are both from second fill bourbon casks of some sort, and thus quite distillate forward, you get an idea just how diverse Highland scotch whiskey can be.
The Dingle Peninsula, as a whole, is probably the most beautiful place on earth I have ever been to. I seriously left a piece of me behind on the bluff overlooking Dunquin Harbour. The town of Dingle is magic personified in a small town. From the B&B’s that are literally on top of the pubs on main Street (Strand Street) to the pubs that double as a hardware store, to the distillery found just outside the town. If you do find yourself lucky enough to visit heaven on earth in Dingle, make sure you take a drive out along the Sales Head drive from town and stop at Dunquin Harbour. Just stand there and take it all in.
I have been lucky enough to try all 5 batches of the Dingle Single Malt that have been available (Batch 6 just released in Ireland recently) and I have liked every one. They are fairly youthful yes, but vibrant and exciting. The varying cask usage between batches also kept me on my toes. I liked a couple more than the others but they were all up my alley in terms of palate.
Now to the bottle at hand. The first thing I notice is the packaging. A striking dark navy blue with gold foil trim including a more prominent logo that I call “The Dingle Man”.
Bottled at a very nice 46.3% abv and non-chill filtered, cut down to bottling proof with water from their own well 240 feet below the ground.
In the glass it has a nice golden honey hue with a slight touch of red on the edges. Very skinny but super slow legs on the glass as I twirl. Just begging for a nose and a taste.
Nose: On the initial nose there is a familiarity evident immediately. That Dingle sweet malt note that I do really like. Sitting side by side riding shotgun is a fruit sweetness. Like a creamy strawberry, and a bit of tart fruit that I find in most Dingle releases. Like a sugar coated rhubarb stock that I used to eat as a kid. The PX casks add a heavier fruit note deeper down. A touch of spice comes through with some time in the glass. An underlying nutmeg, and citrus. Like a slice of sugar dusted orange peel or lemon slices in tea. This is more complex than I would have predicted.
Palate: On the initial sip, the immediate note I pick up is the salted/spiced toffee and vanilla. It’s clear the bourbon casks used are top tier. They show up in Spades right off the hop. There is some spice here for sure. Some white pepper, and again the nutmeg almost reaching to cinnamon. The fruit notes come through after. Starting off with orchard fruits. Caramelized apples and stewed pears with the honey and vanilla. This starts intermingling with a bit of the sherry fruit sweetness. Bringing along fall/autumn fruits and that herbaceous feeling. The most unique note I find is a slight chocolate leading to a fresh roasted coffee bean note. This caught me by surprise and I really like it.
Finish: The spice has come back again. Almost tingles down and then back up on to the tongue. More of the salted honey and pepper with a touch of cinnamon. This one has a bit of everything but never feels disjointed. It evolves instead of fighting itself. And it leaves me feeling satisfied. I need to keep reminding myself that this is their core release which is readily available and will not disappear quickly like previous batches. Being only roughly 5 to 7 years old there is definitely a touch of youth that shines through but it’s not off putting in any way. I also do love that there is still an evident “Dingle” note found in this bottle, which ties it in with the batch releases.
As I finished this glass off, I kicked back and looked over at the photo that I took myself, that is now poster-sized and hanging in my kitchen of Dunquin Harbour. I pictured myself with this bottle sitting on the bluff up above the winding pathway, the wind blowing in off the ocean and just taking it all in as I was so lucky to do once before.
Today we start a series of reviews on the Single Cask Nation bottlings that are starting to hit the shelves here in Alberta. Single Cask Nation started as a discussion between friends. This quickly progressed into one of the most popular independent bottling companies in the world.
What we have in the glass today is from one of many hidden gems in the vast Diageo portfolio. Teaninich distillery hails from Alness in the northwestern part of the Scottish Highlands. Its whisky is mostly used for the Johnny Walker line of expressions along with an occasional release as part of Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series. Teaninich is starting to become popular with independent bottlers recently and it’s not hard to see why!
This Single Cask Nation Teaninich 13 year old was distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2019 at 56.2% abv. It spent its entire maturation in a second fill bourbon hogshead with a total outturn of 277 bottles.
Nose: This is an ex-Bourbon matured Scotch as I live and breathe. I feel like I’m walking through a fruit market somewhere in the Caribbean. Very fresh and crisp notes in that regard. Pineapple is the standout, but that is joined with a healthy dose of the flesh of a fresh coconut that has been just been cut open. Fond memories of the Dominican Republic and Hawaii creeping in there. Fresh ginger root and orange zest features prominently as well. As I nose this over time, some ripe pear comes into focus as well as a bit of a digestive biscuit undertone. The toffee and vanilla are very light. It is really about the tropical flavors on this one. I have to say that as I have been nosing this over the past 20 minutes or so, the orchard fruits (pear joined by apple) are rising up to meet the tropical ones.
Palate: The entry is immediately tart with freshly chopped pineapple and mandarin orange. Ginger and cracked black pepper bring the heat at the beginning of the development. What follows from this can only be described as a pear bomb. The skin of a pear. The flesh of a super ripe pear. Pears poached in syrup. The whole thing. It doesn’t blow the initial tropical flavors away though as they float over top of all of this. The development is initially drying, but subsequent sips coat the mouth a lot more. After quite a few sips (I just can’t stop), I’m getting a nice malted cereal note along with a touch of that digestive biscuit I got on the nose. This is definitely on the sweet side, but there is enough spice to cut through all that. Over time, the pear bomb fades a bit and the malty/biscuit notes come to the fore. This is a fantastic evolution.
Finish: The spicy nature of this dram sticks around for a while as does all of that pear. There is really not that much oak to speak of. Not surprising given this is a second fill hogshead. One thing I have been missing is a chocolate note of some kind during this entire experience. Towards the end of the finish, I finally find some. The pears are now definitely poached with medium dark chocolate drizzled over top.
With water added…
The nose isn’t as expressive now as it once was. The ginger is definitely in full effect now. It’s also a bit earthier too with hints of nutmeg. The tropical fruit is still there, but is a bit muted now. It’s mostly orange and pineapple and I’m missing the coconut. The entry isn’t quite as tart, but the spice comes on much stronger. It takes a few sips to get used to all of that heat. Once that fades mid-development, those pear notes start to emerge. Stewed pears mostly, sprinkled with cracked pepper. I like that balance between sweet and savory. On the finish, I’m finally getting a bit of oak. The initial part of the finish is still quite hot, but calms back down into poached pears and chocolate once more. The chocolate note is now quite dark with a few dried red chilies added to the mix.
People who live and die by their ex-Sherry matured scotch should really give this one a try. They complain, sometimes rightly, that ex-Bourbon matured scotch is a little on the light side, lacks the spice and has too many classic Bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla and cinnamon. This one aims to be different. Yes, the tropical fruit notes are there in abundance, but there is enough spice to cut through the sweetness, with some surprises thrown in to make all of this a standout dram. More than anything, this is a much bolder affair that most ex-Bourbon matured scotch. Sherry heads, this one will change your mind!
Before I get into the review of this lovely whisky, I just want to highlight a small, yet significant change to the name of this review series. Changing the word “Budget” to the word “Value” implies that you are getting the maximum bang for your buck. “Budget” can be misconstrued for “Cheap”, which I was not going for in the first place. Although the majority of the reviews in this series will involve whiskies under $100, there are some above that amount whose quality punches far above its price, delivering exceptional value in the process. In keeping with the original premise, these whiskies should be readily available in Canada and definitely available in Alberta. Now, on to the review!
When we are talking about Deanston, it’s useful to talk about their owners, South Africa’s Distel Group, and their other brands. Whether it be Tobermory (and Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain or the blended scotch, Black Bottle, all of their 10 and 12 year old (and Black Bottle’s standard offering) expressions offer exceptional value for money. Although I don’t have the details in front of me (editor’s note: “He’s lazy”), the quality of their whiskies come down, in part, to their cask management program. Whether it be ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and everything in between, their base offerings showcase a perfect balance between spirit and cask that you simply don’t get from old, tired wood. With a potential takeover by Heineken in the works, it will be interesting if the potential new owner stays the course or tries to appeal to a mass market and moves in a similar (and in my opinion, controversial) direction to what Brown Forman is doing to Glendronach. Only time will tell. Fingers crossed.
When it comes to Deanston specifically, it has only been in operation, with some shut-downs, since 1965. Formerly a cotton mill, their electrical turbines on the River Teith power not only the distillery and all of their operations, but also generates a surplus that can be sold back to the national grid. Score one for clean energy.
Deanston has become a very popular brand in Canada thanks to Mike Brisebois, Distel’s former national brand ambassador. I’ll say this every time I review a Distel product: These brands wouldn’t be as popular in this country if it wasn’t for him.
The Deaston 12 year old, our whisky under review today, is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46.3% abv. The bottle says no chill filtration. A quick visit to their website confirms that it has no added color, but I just wish they would proudly say that on the packaging.
Nose:This is a classic ex-Bourbon matured scotch, if ever there was one. This is tropical fruit all the way with pineapple mostly, but also ripe mango and the oils expressed from an orange. When I first opened this bottle many months back, there was quite a bit of honey on the nose. The tropical character has since taken over, but the honey note becomes just a bit more prominent the longer this sits in the glass. What I love most about this whisky is the significant malted cereal and barley sugar notes that I get as soon as I pour this into my glass. Over time, I also get a slight floral note. It’s not overly perfumed, but just enough to slightly offset (and compliment) the sweetness. The vanilla and toffee notes get stronger over time. In terms of spices, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger, but not really any spices that are earthy, like nutmeg or clove.
Palate: Right from the get go, the honey character is far more prevalent on the entry, eclipsing the topical notes by a wide margin. The honey note is deep, rich and creamy. Subsequent sips give me some vanilla and medium toffee. Thankfully, some acid and a bit of bitterness come through in the development to offset this sweetness. First, it’s the maltiness with a little bit of barley sugar, then the acid from the tropical fruit shines through. Finally the oak, ginger and a bit of clove give the experience a spicy kick. This progression of flavors is remarkable for a 12 year old whisky. As I smack my lips, I get some medium dark chocolate, a hint of nuitiness and a lot more citrus. As I continually sip this (and trust me, it’s hard to stop), I’m picking up a slight saltiness which is weird as this is not anywhere near the sea.
Finish: This is a medium finish in perfect balance. Not too dry and not too creamy. The sweetness from the entry holds. There’s enough citrus to make the mouth water. A little bit of ginger spice and some oak bitterness. That saltiness actually builds during the first half of the finish before fading away. Again, that was quite an unexpected note.
With water added…
Interesting. I’m still getting those tropical fruits on the nose, but a super ripe peach has joined the party as well. The vanilla and honey notes are much stronger with water. There’s a little bit of citrus herbal tea. The ginger note has increased as well. I feel like I could make an interesting, hot winter drink with all this! That herbal tea note definitely carries over onto the palate and the ginger note has increased. The palate is much less sweet now. That malty cereal note is bobbing along the surface. The finish has lengthened and, like the palate, is much less sweet. There’s a little bit of menthol and it’s a tiny bit herbal too. Italian Parsley perhaps.
This is definitely a tale of two whiskies. It’s rare to see that much of a change with just a few drops of water. Part of me wishes that I could have just a little bit less sweetness without water and a little more with. I do appreciate the contrast though.
To me this is a value dram because of how much dense flavour is packed into such a young whisky. The ex-bourbon cask allows for the subtle flavours of the distillate to shine through in a way that would be potentially masked by an aggressive sherry influence. For the price, this is a steal of a whisky.
Let’s talk about transparency in the Canadian whisky industry. Amongst the big producers, this term is used sparingly when critics are finding adjectives to describe them. There’s usually no mention of coloring or chill-filtration, whether their “rye” contains anything of the sort or what barrels are used to age their spirit. And that’s just the start.
With the massive influx of new craft distilleries from coast to coast, they are doing their part to change this trend. In many instances, they list some or all of this information either on their website and, preferably, the bottle as well. It is to these distillers that Canadians, and the world in general, should look to for greater transparency. Hopefully, as they gain a larger share of the domestic and international market, they can be our ambassadors of transparency, showing what their whisky is truly made of.
An East Coast distillery, Signal Hill, partially owned by legendary Canadian actor and comedian Dan Aykroyd, is helping to lead the charge on this transparency front. On their website at least, they tell you what grains go into the whisky (~90% Ontario corn and the rest malted barley) as well which kind of barrels are used in the maturation process (new white oak, ex-bourbon and barrels that used to hold Canadian whisky). It even says non-chill filtered on the bottle, which is a gutsy move for a mass-market 80 proof whisky. Less obvious is where this whisky was originally distilled or what its age is. A quick Google search (as well as listening to the “Lost in Dramslation” podcast episode where their national brand ambassador is featured) suggests that the whisky is between 3-5 years old and was sourced from Hiram Walker in Ontario. The whisky is blended and bottled in Newfoundland.
There. That wasn’t so hard was it…hint hint…Canadian Club…hint hint…Crown Royal?
Nose: This smells like your everyday 40% abv Canadian corn whisky in many respects. The big difference here is that the notes are darker. Sponge toffee instead of a light toffeed sweetness. Darker caramel instead of the light or artificial smelling kind. Certainly vanilla is in there as well. The different types of casks used to mature this are masking the corn sweetness, but after a while it wafts up in the form of some creamed corn. The spicing is gentle with a bit of cinnamon and clove. Although I’m getting notes from the various casks being used, I’m not getting much oak itself (if that makes sense). Maybe some water will coax it out.
Palate: OK. Here’s where the lack of chill filtration really makes a difference. The entry is quite oily from the very start. It’s not super mouth coating, but it’s way more so than mass produced Canadian whisky. What starts off as more of that cream corn, toffee sweetness rapidly evolves into something darker as this transitions into the development. I’ve had to take several sips to make sure my brain wasn’t tricking me, but I am definitely getting some dark molasses midway through the development, particularly when I smack my lips to let in some air. Combined with the clove, cinnamon and the emergence of dried ginger, this is drifting into ginger snap cookie territory for me. One would think the lack of rye and proof in this whisky would lead to no spice on the palate, but the new oak barrels start to make their mark towards the back end of the finish, leading to a mild spice kick.
Finish: The emergence of the oak at the end of the development carries over in to the medium finish. That is joined with a healthy dose of that ginger snap note and some sponge toffee. This finish is still way more sweet than bitter. It’s also just a tad drying.
With water added…
One criticism I have when sipping this one neat is that the nose and palate are kind of disjointed. With a few drops of water, they are now a little bit more cohesive. Yes, I am still getting caramel and toffee in abundance, but a bit more oak and some of that ginger molasses cookie note is starting to present itself. The entry is a little less oily now, but not overly so. I’m not getting that dark molasses note anymore. It’s more a warm ginger cake now and and the spicing is a tad stronger and comes on earlier in the development. The length of the finish has increased a bit and the baking spices, although still mild, last a lot longer.
To be honest, I was expecting a normal, run of the mill Canadian whisky when I first poured this into the glass, yet the folks at Signal Hill have left me pleasantly surprised. It seems that the careful choice of casking, even at only 80 proof, makes a big difference here. My personal opinion is that non-chill filtration also helps, especially in terms of the increased oiliness, especially during the development.
Signal Hill is pretty open about the fact that this is best used as a cocktail whisky, yet I would argue that this is also highly enjoyable on its own, both with or without water. Say hello to your new daily drinker!
Few distilleries have a more devoted following than Springbank, Kilkerran’s sister distillery. Fans will tell you that there is no other scotch that has a flavor profile quite like the “Springbank funk”. It’s that marriage of malt (a portion of which is peated), distillation, maturation and maritime air. To me, that funk has a slight gasoline note. I know that sounds gross, but then so are many other notes in scotch tasting. Whatever that funk is to each individual, it helps stir a devotion that few distilleries can rival.
With Springbank in such high demand these days, it’s hard for this small distillery to supply enough to make everyone happy. If you can find them, the 10 and 15 year expressions, in Alberta at least, are actually quite reasonable in terms of price. Beyond these age statements, prices quickly become very unreasonable. $500 for the 21 year old and $1000 for the 25 year old, no matter what the fanboys/girls say, is simply out of whack compared to the competition. That’s my opinion, but I’m sure I am not alone. The one thing I do commend Springbank for, as well as reputable retailers, is that their unicorn-like 12 year cask strength bottlings are a real bargain at about $130 CAD (in Alberta). That’s despite their low availability.
When we’re talking about value malts in Campbelltown, Glen Scotia and Springbank’s sister distillery, Kilkerran, also fits the bill. Kilkerran’s 12 year is pretty reasonable and is widely available. Their non-age stated “Peat in Progress” releases are an insane bargain. Let’s hope that this trend continues in Campbelltown.
In 2019, Kilkerran released what many argued was the best whisky of the year. The 8 year cask strength was matured in re-charred ex-Oloroso sherry casks and became an instant unicorn. It had all of the characteristics of a massive sherry bomb and could be found for as low as $100 CAD, if you were quick enough. This years release offers a similar value, if you could grab one.
The word on the street is that this 2021 edition of the Kilkerran 8 year does not measure up to the 2019 release, but for those of you who don’t know what that tasted like, what does it matter? The 2021 release, like the 2019, is matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, only this time they are not re-charred. It’s bottled straight from the cask at 56.9% abv. Joining me for today’s review is Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) from Park Whiskey Society.
Sean Kincaid’s review
Two years ago, Kilkerran shocked the world with what was then a lot of people’s favourite whisky of that year. An 8 year old heavy sherried, peated malt. This year they released another 8 year old and word spread quickly about it. Funny though that nobody who was talking about it could tell me how it tasted…cause no one opened it. Well, I stumbled across a store that still had it on the shelf a few days after it’s release so I said why not. Man am I glad I did.
Nose: This is a wallop up side the head. Reminds me of smoked pork ribs I did with a coffee grind/brown sugar rub. There’s earthiness like moist loamy potting soil or raked leaves in a cool autumn misty morning. Sweet smouldering tobacco leaves but also a bit of the lovely countryside village peat smell that escapes every chimney. This is complex and layered and young yet mature. This is wonderful.
Palate: On the sip, This is dank, deep Oloroso and paired with the Kilkerran spirit comes out swinging with notes of creosote, diesel, marine soot, and deep dark fruits. Like figs drenched in oily tobacco left out on the rocks beside the ocean on a summers day. A slightly sweeter berry…like blackberry or those Swedish berry candies. This is beautiful. This is dank. This is abrasive. This is my jam. I love those vegetal, dunnage notes with a fruity nutty nasty Oloroso.
With water added…
Both on the nose and palate the peatiness softens and the sherry comes to the fore. The nose gets more on the nutty side of Oloroso sherry notes mixed with some savoury almost roasted nut mix. On the palate, the nutty sherry shows too, but there is a bit more fruit showing and a slight hint of the S word. Yes a touch of sulphur but this is so inviting and not off putting in any way.
This instantly became a contender for whisky of the year for me and it still resides near the top even months later. Damn that’s good!!!!
Paul Bovis’ review
Nose: Before my bottle was drained past the shoulder, it had a very strong burnt match, sulphurous smell, but that has faded into the background now. That funky gasoline note is definitely there for me. It’s like being on the car deck of a ferry. There’s a bit a dirt note, like turning over your garden with a spade. Lingering in the background are some BBQ smoke aromas and grilled meat slathered with a sweet sauce. I’m expecting more of the the cask influence on the palate, but for now I get cooked down dark stone fruits, lots of clove, ginger and a touch of nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate as well.
Palate: OK. Now we’re in sherry bomb territory. The entry is super oily and sweet. Liquid sultana raisins, a little bit of orange peel, rich honey. The transition into the development is nice and smooth. No falling off a cliff into waves of heat here. At the beginning of the development, those Springbank funk notes start to rear their head heads a little. A little bit of dirt. A little bit of ferry car deck again. I don’t lick the car decks of ferries, although if I did, it would explain a lot. Towards the back end of the development, it’s all booze soaked Christmas pudding to me. It’s just been steamed, soaked in brandy and then set alight. All the requisite baking spices, raisins, candied fruit, the lot.
Finish: It took a while, but I’m finally getting some European oak. It brings a bit of a spice and dryness to the finish. There’s a bit of bitter dark chocolate in there too. Mostly though, it’s that Christmas pudding, the outside slightly caramelized from being set on fire that takes ages to fully fade away.
With water added…
As expected, I’m getting a little more oak on the nose now. It’s more sherry bomb than Springbank although that gasoline smell does linger. Much more clove is present. The nutmeg and ginger have faded significantly. The entry remains unchanged, but the development is a little spicier and has quite a bit more oak. The Christmas pudding has faded away significantly, with only portions of it remaining such as sultanas and baking spices. The flavours aren’t as dark this time round. There’s a lot more dark chocolate bitterness as well, but it’s not overwhelming. The finish follows from the end of the development. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet.
Being a fan of Christmas cake and pudding, I rather prefer this without water. If you crave that classic sherry bomb feeling, adding a few drops of water should set you right. Either way, this is phenomenal stuff. Although I do love my sherry bombs, there is something to be said about a whisky in that genre that doesn’t bop you over the bed with a polo mallet with all that heat and spice.
This is a whisky whose flavour defies its age. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were vatting this one. I might have witnessed some casks greater than 8 years being poured into the tub. Either way, this is an amazing whisky and a definite contender for my top 5 for this year.
Over the next few months, some independent bottler’s products are going to be available to Albertans for the first time (or for the first time in a while). The first of these will be the Single Cask Nation (SCN) out of the United States. For a number of years, they have had a cult like following through the releases they make available to their members. These tend to sell out extremely quickly.
In 2017, SCN created J & J Spirits, which consisted of a line of bottlings that could be bought at whisky shops and enjoyed in bars. Later this year, we’ll be able to enjoy a number of these products. These will also be single cask offerings. In the past, these releases have focused not only on Scottish distilleries such as Linkwood, Ben Nevis and Laphroaig, but also whiskies from America and rums from around the world.
Although PWS Imports will be making sure that a few releases make it to store shelves, Mike Brisebois’ Whisky Explorer Society members will have first crack at the bat with the opportunity to order the whisky under review today. Very soon, PWS Imports’ Single Cask Clan members will have their own SCN release. At around that time, other J & J bottles will show up in stores.
This Whisky Explorer Society SCN release is a nine year blended malt matured in a first fill sherry butt and bottled at 65.4% abv. The blend is comprised of single malts that fall under the Edrington group of brands. Although which distilleries are represented in here is a secret, Highland Park and Macallan are strong possibilities.
Nose: There’s Highland Park in here. Highland Park or I’m a fool. Rich honey and just a whiff of heathered peat. This is not a sherry bomb on the nose at all. For those of you who have tried the latest batch of Old Perth Cask Strength, this nose will be very familiar to you. Lots of red berries and light stone fruits. Strawberries, peaches, nectarines and a little bit of raspberry. After a while a bit of a shortbread note is noticeable in the background. Besides ground ginger, I’m not getting a lot of baking spices here. There’s maybe a bit of European oak, but this one is very distillate forward on the nose at least.
Palate: For such a high abv whisky, the entry is pretty measured in terms of length. Werther’s Original caramels, orange zest, stewed red fruits. A little bit of vanilla extract and ground almond. The oak is much more pronounced in the mouth than on the nose, but there is enough citrus and sweetness to prevent the development from being too drying. The ginger and white pepper slowly build, but don’t overwhelm the experience. The caramel changes to sponge toffee towards the end of the development. Some ground clove is at the end as well.
Finish: Medium in length, but pleasant. Fading spice and oak. A bit of medium dark chocolate. The lingering citrus prevents this from being too drying. Going back to the Old Perth Cask Strength comparison again, there is much less youthfulness in this SCN bottle. There’s a depth to this that defies it’s age.
With water added…
There’s a little bit more oak on the nose now. There’s some clove joining the ginger and the caramel has been replaced by a light sponge toffee. The ground almond that I got on the entry has moved up into the nose as well. The entry is sweeter and creamier now. Almond brittle and chocolate fudge have joined the party. That fudge note carries all the way through the development, which is a good thing as the oak is a little more prevalent now. The balance is maintained. The finish is more oak forward, but not overly bitter.
Once again, this is a friendly reminder not to sleep on blended malts. Or any blends for that matter. When done right, these offer exceptional value for your money. It may be frustrating to some that there is sometimes a lack of an age statement (or that’s not the case here) and the origins of the blend are opaque, but my motto is, if it tastes good, those unknowns kind of melt away.
The whisky community, like many communities, has their share of people who are not just enthusiasts, but are geeks and all-out nerds. And they are proud of it. They help to drum up enthusiasm, always have time for you and are respectful towards the entire community, regardless of your experience level.
Although he no longer works for Distel, Mike Brisebois (@thewhiskyexplorer), more than anyone else, helped to put their products on the map. Now Tobermory (Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Black Bottle are household names from coast to coast. As Canada’s unofficial official whisky ambassador, his enthusiasm has helped to introduce countless numbers of people to the water of life. Now striking it out on his own, his Whisky Explorer Society will continue to spread his passion for whisky within Canada.
Since we are talking about Ledaig, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky) of The Whisky Heathens. From his home in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, he has probably tried all the Ledaig available out there and is the most vocal supporter of both Tobermory and Ledaig on social media.
With these two acting as major cheerleaders for the whisky under review today, it’s no wonder Ledaig (and Tobermory for that matter) does a brisk trade in this country.
And so to the whisky in question. This Ledaig has been matured in a re-fill sherry butt for over 12 years and was bottled by Signatory Whisky as part of their Vintage Cask Strength Collection lineup at 60.1%.
Nose: Since I popped this bottle back in late April of this year, it has mellowed significantly. Make no mistake, this is still a bold dram, but it is far less “burnt rubber” forward than it used to be. Usually, Ledaig is far more maritime than it is medicinal and that is the case here. In that regard, there’s a hefty dose of sea spray, seashells and weathered driftwood. Moving inland a little, there are some lovely BBQ notes of sweet smoke and meat on the grill. This bottle, coming from a re-fill sherry butt, is more distillate than cask forward but there is a little bit of fresh plum and earthy spices such as clove and nutmeg. There’s only a hint of dark chocolate so I’m guessing this is Oloroso rather than PX. Finally, there is a whiff of mint toothpaste to round this all out. This does not nose like a cask strength whisky, but I have a feeling that this will not be the case on the palate!
Palate: My prediction was correct. This is mellow for about two seconds before the heat takes over in a big way. On the entry, brief though it is, it’s sweet, a little bit tart and much more oily than creamy. Lots of rich honey, sponge toffee and orange and lemon peel initially. Then the proof, spice and oak kick in along with a strong mint toothpaste and mouthwash vibe. The initial sweetness is not entirely drowned out however, and it’s joined by a rich dark chocolate note that builds through the development. Bobbing along the surface are those salty and mineral maritime notes. Towards the end of the development clove and nutmeg are joined by ginger.
Finish: The oak is present, but by no means is it dominant or drying. The baking spices slowly fade, but do not disappear. The saltiness remains and does a hint of dark chocolate. All of this combines to give me a sort of spice cake note that I get off of a lot of whiskies like this. The citrus helps to cut through the dryness of the oak. It goes without saying that the finish is insanely long.
With water added…
I let try this sit with seven drops of water in my remaining ounce of whisky for at least 30 minutes while my taste buds recovered. It’s quite a bit more cask forward now with stewed stone fruits, but the mint toothpaste is still there. The spices are a bit less earthy now. Allspice rather than clove and nutmeg. It’s also not quite as maritime either. The role reversal between distillate and cask continues on the palate. More stewed fruits, baking spices and dark chocolate. It’s also more orange marmalade than citrus peel. The finish is more citrus forward this time round and has a little bit more oak.
I like the contrast here between sipping this neat and with water. Although there is a reversal between distillate and cask dominance, one isn’t hugely victorious over the other in either case. Signatory had a Ledaig in the out turn previous to this one that was the same age and strength, but in a first fill sherry butt as opposed to a refilled one. It would be interesting to try a Ledaig along those lines someday, just to see what the contrast is.
Although special releases of Ledaig and anything besides their official 10 year expression are fiendishly difficult to find in Canada, it seems to be very popular with independent bottlers these days. It’s thanks to them that there will always be a Ledaig available on a shelf nearby.
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.
Let’s close off this series of Taconic reviews by talking not about their whiskey, but about a dog. More specifically, the dog that appears on the label of every bottle they produce. The American foxhound has quite a history in the US. A cousin of the classic English foxhound, it was the result of cross breeding hounds bred by the Brooks family (a family with nearly 300 years of foxhound breeding) and French foxhounds owned by George Washington.
Because of the foxhound’s keen sense of smell, it was used by bootleggers during the prohibition to warn when government agents would were near. It’s characteristic howl would alert the bootleggers who would then have a chance to hide or move their illegal spirits.
The foxhound has personal roots for the Coughlin family, who own the distillery. Their foxhound, Copper, is their family dog and distillery mascot.
Now let’s return to their whiskey! Today we’re reviewing their Barrel Strength Bourbon which was matured for at least four years in new American oak barrels and bottled at 57.5% abv.
Nose: For a barrel strength bourbon, the nose is very shy. I’m getting a little bit of a sour orange peel note. I think I’ve gotten orange in all of the Taconic expressions I’ve reviewed. There’s also some corn flakes in there as well. I’m definitely getting more oak on this than I got on their barrel strength rye. There’s a little bit of a dusty sweet feed (like we feed to our horses if they’re extra good) note lingering in the background. It took 45 minutes, but it’s slowly starting to open up now. I’m getting some light brown sugar and a bit of dark caramel. Also a cherry bubblegum note as well. In terms of spicing, there’s cinnamon, allspice and just a hint of clove.
Palate: The entry is sweet, but very brief. Very rich vanilla and caramel quickly transitions to to the flesh and peel of an orange. Then the development hits. It’s not hot, but it’s baking spice rich. Cinnamon and cloves. Lots and lots of cloves. Whole cloves, ground cloves, whole cloves stuck in an orange. You know…cloves! There’s also some nutmeg as well. Like the rye, I like the premise of baking spices without the heat. The difference here is that the baking spices are overwhelming the experience and is swamping out the sweetness I got on the entry. The sweetness is still there, mind you, but it’s faint. The oak that kicks in during the later part of the development doesn’t help matters. I’m hoping that water will level the playing field a little.
Finish: The finish is medium to long, but the imbalance between the sweetness and baking spices that cropped up during the development continue here. The finish isn’t necessarily drying, but there is almost no sweetness to be found except maybe a very dark chocolate note, which is more bitter than sweet. Other than that, it’s just slowly fading baking spices and oak.
With water added…
I’m getting a little more vanilla and caramel on the nose now. This is definitely sweeter than without water added. I’m getting more cloves and oak as well. The entry is even sweeter now and that translates to a huge improvement in terms of the development. Yes, it’s still a baking spice bomb, but the balance between that and the caramel, orange and vanilla that carries over from the entry is much improved. With that extra bit of sweetness the later part of the development into the early part of the finish has that ginger snap cookie taste that I love. This makes the whole part of the finish more pleasurable.
This is why we add water to whisky. It does wonders in terms of transforming an experience. Sometimes it works (as in this case), sometimes it offers you a very different, and equally pleasing, experience. It can, of course, send things careening downhill.
I much prefer their barrel strength rye to this one, simply because there was more balance in the sweetness compared to the spice. However, I do appreciate that water improved this one a lot.