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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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