Today I’m drinking Canadian whisky which isn’t all that strange per say but I’m usually pretty attracted to the Scottish isles and her pungent little nasties. Lucky for me, tonight I get to have both.
Let me share a little story about a groovy little distillery in Saskatchewan called Last Mountain. While on the road, Ty had picked up some of their whisky and poured it for me on one of our YouTube episodes (https://youtu.be/2O-EwMHFKZ4).
My overall notion was “not bad” which actually means pretty friggin good for a Canadian style whisky. However, it seems as if the folks at Last Mountain were hoping for a little better than “not bad” so they asked if they could send us a bottle of their 2020 distillers release, reviewed here (https://youtu.be/q7f1dmvX15s).
The Master Distiller, Colin said “I know you’re a scotch guy but I believe you would appreciate the craft. I’m really quite proud of this one”. He was certainly correct as we named it Canadian whisky of the year, in Canadian Style. Since then I’ve had a love affair with Last Mountain, enjoying every expression I’ve come across so far, with the owner following up each time to ensure I was enjoying the craft, and if not, why I wasn’t satisfied and smiling. Either way always happy to engage and ask questions. You can find him on Instagram @TheWhiskyKnower.
This time we have the Smokey (we can argue spelling later) Single Malt, which is something of a cousin to the softy Canadian style whisky I’ve come to know and expect from Last mountain. Something to note about this little beast is the pungency actually comes from the barrel it was finished in. After being distilled in 2016 and left to age peacefully in freshly dumped bourbon barrels, this one was eventually selected to be further aged in a cask that was previously used by a famous Islay Distillery. One known for its somewhat medicinal peat with a bon fire type of character. This bastard came out of the barrel at a whopping 63.8% ABV and was eventually proofed down to 63% ABV to match the labels, which were based on notes from distillery owner Colin Schmidt. Either way there’s an unmistakeable note of ashy peat present throughout, truly you can’t miss it. It’s quite sharp and extremely spicy on the initial arrival but with a small ice cube or two, as recommended by Colin, you may find a more delicate and buttery Canadian whisky that no doubt will benefit drastically from that healthy sploosh of water.
This heavy hitter is absolutely Canadian with a little bit of nasty coming from the Laphroaig barrel… or whichever Islay barrel was chosen for this tasty experiment… *coughs* Laphroaig. If you love Saskatchewan malt and you love a little Scottish in your Canadian whisky than perhaps this Smokey single malt is right for you.
Lucky for us they now ship to Alberta so if you’re interested be sure to check them out.
When a brand new distillery releases their first whisky and it’s as well received as GrainHenge’s Meeting Creek, there is always a danger that the follow up release will be a bit of a letdown. Meeting Creek was the biggest and best surprise of 2021 for me: I believe I described it as pure chocolate malty goodness. The latest release, Elevator Row, had some big shoes to fill. I am very happy to say that the people at GrainHenge have done it again!
Elevator Row uses Troubled Monk’s Pesky Pig pale ale as the inspiration for its mashbill. The combination of 2-row and specialty dark Munich malt is aged for 43 months in both #3 and #4 charred American oak barrels. It was released at full cask strength (58.2%), and produced a limited run of only 440 bottles.
In the glass: Golden amber in colour. Similar to the original release, Elevator Row appears to have a relatively low viscosity and moves freely in the glass. It coats the sides nicely though, and clings there for a long time.
Nose: Lots of sweet malted barley. The sweetness is mostly reminiscent of caramels, but there is also some dried candied fruit. Touch of nutmeg.
Palate: It opens with dried candied fruit and Christmas cake. Caramel and roasted almonds and baking spices mid palate. Slightly creamy mouthfeel too.
Finish: Lingering sweetness, with some nice oak spice that sticks around for a long time.
This time, I’m not surprised. The relative youth of both the whisky and the distillery have no relation to the fantastic product GrainHenge is releasing. Garret Haynes has done it again, turning a well-loved brewery staple into a delightful, flavourful whisky. Elevator Row is a slice of spicy caramel Christmas cake. It’s a must have in my opinion, and I hope everyone gets the opportunity to at least try this fantastic dram.
Love em’ or hate em’ The Macallan have made themselves known as a luxury brand in the scotch whisky world and it’s a concept they embrace whole heartedly. You may find that many offerings from their line are a little out of reach for us common folk as the prices can often seem more like a real estate investment. However, outside those locked cabinets filled with flashy decanters you may notice some more reasonably priced expressions such as various triple oak bottling’s and 12 year old offerings, each catering to specific tastes and budgets but mostly out of sync with their higher end expressions. As much grief as I give Macallan for their luxury vibe I have to give credit where credits is due, those luxury offerings are often quite delicious, whether you can afford them or not is irrelevant. With their special focus on sherry casks and sherry seasoned casks they’ve commanded a mastery over the oak they use and they keep a close eye on the influence it has on their spirit.
Insert today’s luxury offering, The Macallan Ruby. Being part of the much hated 1824 series may leave the weary wanderer a little skeptical as the entry level and unexceptional Gold really had drinkers turning up their nose at Macallan. “How dare you take our money” folks cried as this one differed so drastically from what we’ve come to know from Macallan, expensive… but damn tasty. The Gold was cheap and gross. Moving on to the barely tolerable Amber and people were spitting their Macallan on the ground, demanding refunds as their reliable favourite had become a stranger right before their eyes. Luckily, redemption was in sight and folks smiled from ear to ear as the stunningly delicious and subtlety spicy Sienna took the hearts of drinkers by storm. Finally, the delightfully dark and wonderfully scrumptious shining gem of the family, the very well received Ruby. These whiskies from the 1824 series are all named after the colour imparted on them by the oak barrels they were resting in, however, it didn’t seem to work quite as Macallan had hoped. Folks were not celebrating change, they were throughly unimpressed with the decision to move away from age statements. Unfortunately, Macallan was getting called out for the wrong reasons. People wanted age statements and it didn’t matter how delicious the nectar turned out to be, it still wasn’t enough for the uninformed. If it didn’t have an age stated on the bottle, no one trusted it and most refused to give it a chance. What can be said is that the colour reflects the perceived flavour, for the Ruby that is, as deep notes of leather and polish dominate the nose while beautifully long and lasting waves of sherry flood the senses. From nostrils to jowls you can expect a full and lustrous palate with notes of toasted oak and dried cranberries, a touch of nutmeg spice and sweet raisins on the finish. It’s lovely mouth feel paired with its enormous flavour had collectors rushing out to buy the last remaining stocks as secure investments for thirsty bellies. Even at 43% you can’t be mad, you want more ABV it’s true but you can’t be mad.
The Macallan found a happy medium between highly expensive and absolutely delicious and named it Ruby.
“Hell yeahs” ripple through the crowd as thirsty bastards nod their heads in approval.
For those of you not yet riding the Carn Mor train I suggest you go find yourself a ticket as quickly as possible. I’d recommend starting with an offering from their Strictly Limited range since new batches from various regions are released fairly regularly. Many notable and pungent weirdos come from their line and they carry some soft and more elegant little lovelies too, all with a common trait, quality. Consistent prices and reliable picks are pretty much guaranteed and based on their consistent track record of delicious and rare drams, there’s a chance they’ll have an expression that may fit your taste and budget..Enter stage left: a lovely expression from MacDuff (affectionately known as Glen Devron or The Deveron in some circles).
This particular MacDuff was distilled in 2011 and matured in a bourbon barrel for 10 years before being bottled at a monstrous cask strength of 57.4%. According to legends, the importers, RareDrams will be picking individual expressions from other distilleries and releasing them as a mini series of sort, set to promote the core range of and individual characteristics of each distillery contained within. Lucky for us here in Alberta our portion of the cask (picked by Bob Kyle) has been released to the western market at cask strength while the rest of the cask will go elsewhere and to other markets, with no gaurentee they will be bottled at cask strength..I could go on for another six months talking about the history of MacDuff, the post war whisky boom and the additional stills that were added in the 1990’s but that’s a topic more suited for Bearded Dave, the history professor.
What we know for sure is that at 57.4% this lovely MacDuff isn’t too sharp at all, quite the opposite. On the nose are notes of dried tropical fruits and wet wood. The palate is juicy and sweet with tons of butter on the finish..A touch of water should help spare this one along for a little while longer. You may find the nose is tamed quite a bit as notes of sweet bourbon vanillas and burned butter sauce comes to the tip of the tongue with a touch of zesty tanginess in the background. The alcohol bite has been almost completely removed as hints of fresh almond comes through with a touch of musty wood on the finish.
Ah, Johnnie Walker. The company many (though not all) experienced whisky drinkers love to hate. Sure, people covet the special releases (like the recent 200th anniversary bottlings), the Blue Label and Ghost & Rare, but the Black, Double Black and Green? Hard pass, right? Wrong!
In my mind, there is always a place for these bottles on your shelf, even if it is to share with friends, not all of whom share your enthusiasm for cask strength peated scotch. I will always stand by the Black Label (and I’m sure the Double Black when I eventually try it), but it is the Green Label which is the focus of today’s review. This is a great whisky for several reasons. First, if you are new to Scotch, this is a great introduction to the thoroughly (almost criminally) underappreciated category of blended malts as well as peated, smoky whiskies. Second, it lists the three or four distilleries that are the sources of the blend. Last, it is presented at an un-JW like 43% abv.
Which Diageo (owner of the JW brand) distilleries are represented in your bottle will depend on the release of Green Label you have. The one I am reviewing is a blend of Caol Ila (unpeated), Talisker, Clynelish and Craggenmore. The blend contains whiskies that are now younger than 15 years. It is chill-filtered and probably colored as well.
Nose: This is a light, but pleasant nose. Right off the bat, I get fresh cut apples, light sponge toffee and vanilla. There’s a little bit of smoke in here as well. This has Talisker and unpeated Caol Ila, so that’s not surprising. There is a little bit of citrus with some orange and a tiny bit of lemon. I’m not getting an awful lot of spicing on the nose apart from some cinnamon and maybe a little bit of ground coriander seed. As this sits for longer, it get’s ever so slightly herbal (cilantro) and floral.
Palate: The entry starts off light and sweet with a nice, oily mouthfeel. There’s nothing surprising here and should taste pretty familiar to anyone who has had other JW expressions in the past. It’s slightly floral with a little bit of honey and vanilla cream. There’s some flesh of an orange as well. A nice mix of sweet and sour. That sourness builds during the development with the introduction of a bit of lemon peel, very much the Caol Ila shining through there. The oak and baking spices kick in during the backend of the development. Cinnamon, ginger and a dusting of nutmeg. The experience gets a little drier as I head into the finish.
Finish: It’s short to medium in length, but has a nice amount of balance. A little bit of that honey sweetness from the entry is still detectable and helps to counteract the oak, spices and lingering sour peat from the development. Mid-way through the finish, I get a square or two of dark chocolate, but it’s presence is fleeting.
With water added…
The nose has gotten slightly tropical now. A heavy hint that the majority of this whisky comes from first or refill Bourbon barrels. There’s a touch of pineapple alongside the apple. I’m definitely getting cantaloupe as well. The ginger has come forward from the development without water added. I have never had this with water added, but I like what I’m smelling so far! The entry is just as fresh, light, sweet and slightly citrusy as before, but the peat is much more pronounced on the development. This won’t knock the socks off of experienced peated Scotch drinkers, but it’s still a nice change. The development has a bit of a surf n’ turf thing going on with the peat. There’s a bit of the maritime saltiness and sour lemon that you would expected from coastal peated Scotch mixed with earthier baking spices like nutmeg, which I get off of American peated single malts. The chocolate comes in at the very end of the finish. Making the end of the experience a little less drying that without water added.
Look, this isn’t a whisky that will take you to strange and bizzare new places. That is simply not what Johnnie Walker is all about. Instead, this bottle is a great introduction to peat and blended malts, the latter being a category everyone should explore more of these days. If you like what you taste here, I fully encourage you to explore Diageo’s regular distillery releases, but more importantly, the independent bottlings from those distilleries as well. You’ll find some hidden gems in there that will transform your scotch experience, believe you me!
A Look At What The Future Holds For A Once Lauded Brand
What happens in the whisky world when a brand we collectively sing the praises of, and strive to have on our shelves, and in our glasses, starts to listen to their own press (or in this case social media). Usually there is a marked increase in price, as well as a forced scarcity for consumers which again hikes up, not only the price, but also the demand for their particular brand. We have seen it happen time and time again. From The Macallan to Ardbeg to Glendronach. One brand I fear is quickly joining this list is Bunnahabhain. I will try to show you, the reader why I believe this is the case and hopefully offer a solution or two as to how us consumers can fight this process.
When I first started my journey along the path of the water of life, I was lucky enough to make some quick friends that were already ingrained in the Whisky Fabric. As any eager new fan of whisky does, I would always ask what the next bottle I should look to acquire should be. Almost unanimously I would hear the answer come back in the form of the difficult to spell (and fearful to try and pronounce) name of Bunnahabhain and their twelve year expression. It was quoted as a magical daily drinker at an almost too affordable price. So of course, as a type of repayment of my dues, I too would offer up this bottle almost without question as a great bottle that both beginners, and enthusiasts alike would agree upon and enjoy all the same. While my love for “Bunna”, as it is affectionately called, started with this twelve year bottle, it only branched out from there. I soon found myself searching out ways to try as many releases as I could. At the same time, Canada’s Bunnahabhain Brand Ambassador, Mr. Mike Brisebois was admirably building up the awareness and profile of this brand. He did this through criss-crossing journeys pouring for eager fans at whisky shows and tastings. One benefit of these in person events is actual friendships were created and faces were put to names and social media tags and collectively an army of Bunnahabhain lovers was created. Obviously once the global environment shifted almost overnight, Mike was one of the first to shift to being able to keep the profile of his brands and the love growing by creating virtual experiences for fans new and established. It was through these virtual events that more and more limited edition bottlings and rare releases were consumed and again the folklore of Bunna grew at a rapid pace. This is what I like to call the “Brisebois Effect”. Through Mike’s hard work and never ending passion and promotion of Bunnahabhain the entire country has been collectively put under a sort of trance or spell. Now that Mike has parted ways with the company tasked with representing Bunna in Canada, the current reps are using his goodwill and results in hopes it will carry forward into the future. Time will tell if the Brisebois effect wears off or remains constant. One effect that this caused, was more of the limited and rare bottles were being tasted and talked about, the word of Bunna spread and the FOMO also grew to points where people were striving to obtain any release they could. The era of dusty Bunnahabhain bottles
sitting on shelves disappeared overnight. Every single new release was met with an insatiable fervour to the point where no one really questioned anything when it came to the quality of the products they were crawling over each other to get. This is seen with quite a number of other brands currently and it makes myself and others shake our heads when we see our friends and strangers alike posting their new bottles like trophies without even ever tasting the liquid inside.
The present state of where Bunnahabhain stands, especially in the Canadian whisky consciousness, is at a precipice as far as I am concerned. It’s a balancing act that I fear will be tipping away from the general whisky drinker’s glasses and will fall more towards a collectors shelf or bunker. Never to see a glass or even air through an open cork. We have seen the entire whisky industry witness immense growth, both in demand from the public as well as the wanted return on investment by the companies. Some companies definitely seem to be pushing this more and more than others and it’s a scary time to be a whisky fan as prices climb and quality is not keeping up. A big part of this is directly a result of the lower demand 10 plus years ago when all these age statement whiskies were being distilled. Now that demand has shot through the roof, the supply will not catch up any time soon, and this will lead to higher prices throughout the industry. Obviously any brand/distillery that has experienced an even higher rate of demand growth over the industry average will fall victim to this quicker and harder than others. This is where I see Bunnhabhain currently residing in terms of pricing. There are rumours aplenty (and proof starting to show) that in my local jurisdiction as an example there will be a 30-40% increase on the fabled 12 year old alone. One of the romantic notions about the Bunna 12 is the fact it is available for a price that almost anyone has no issue paying for it. Its price is what makes it a daily drinker for a lot of people. This doesn’t even take into account the second issue caused by the higher demand than production will see. That is the quality aspect of the whisky and releases. As demand has skyrocketed, brands like Bunnahabhain scramble to have more releases available to satiate the eager drinkers. What we see more and more of as consumers, are non age statement releases replacing age statements on certain releases as well as regular releases that have a lessened quality liquid inside due to the simple fact that there isn’t the same care and
time put into the casks during the maturation process due to the high demand. I am not inferring that the quality has dropped beyond palatable in any means, only that there is an undeniable effect that is bound to happen when demand for any product surpasses availability. One side note that I must make here is that of the Independent Bottler sector of the industry. They have been on the forefront of higher and higher prices for their releases of Bunnahabhain into the market. Yes, they usually are single cask releases and at cask strength, but they are also almost always still in sherry maturation and the ages keep dropping lower as the prices grow higher. Maybe they are partially at fault for what is happening currently in the same breath as the secondary market which is another beast on its own…a beast that needs to be slain without mercy. At time of writing, the disparity in pricing between provinces in Canada is laughable. Across one single provincial line there is a $50 difference in price for a bottle of the Bunnahabhain 12 year. Will the powers that be behind the brand exploit this to justify a huge price hike in the province with the lower current price? Will the price hike affect all jurisdictions across the world? If so they will be pricing themselves away from a huge number of the people that they built their current reputation on. We’ve already witnessed some divisive releases and others that have been decent, but not mind-blowing, recently and these came with an even higher premium priced bounty passed on to the consumer. With this all on the backs of re-releasing previous (I assume un-sold) Limited Editions in other provinces but at higher prices than the original retail cost, it’s becoming harder and harder to justify the battle to acquire a new limited release. What does “Limited Release” even mean anymore? The original releases that were deemed limited were all released under five-thousand bottles. Now we are seeing way more than double or triple that in the Limited Releases. So was it limited before or is it now? With triple or more bottles available and at a steep, and continuously climbing price point, anyone can see what the end goal is. Yes, I understand it is a business and the ultimate end game is making money, I just think there needs to be a balance somewhere to include the maximum amount of consumers possible enjoying the products. Alienating existing customers, especially loyal ones, is never a good move for a brand in any industry. The whisky industry can be even more cut-throat against brands that lose integrity in the customer’s eyes. I guess the big question is what will the customers inevitably decide to do. Here in Canada we were already low on the list of locales to receive
allocation of these sought after bottlings. That occurs even when on a per capita basis Canada is a leader in consumption of Bunnahabhain. So where does this end up?
What does the future hold in the grand scheme of the relationship between Bunnahabhain and their dedicated following in Canada? There are two ways I can see this going. On one side, you have the Customers seeing what Bunnahabhain/Distell and their reps on the ground in this nation are doing and taking a stand against it. It can’t be one or two small groups calling for action while the rest continue on the road already paved with greed and FOMO. If real change in the attitude taken by Canadian supporters happens and their overall sales start to plummet would the mother company notice? Would they even care at all? These big brands make their living off the core range and entry level products that are usually plentiful in shops across the country. If those core range products are price-jacked and their sales drop off a cliff, will we see even less allocation for the higher demand special bottlings? Will we be punished for finding other options to spend our hard earned cash on? Does it matter all that much for those lucky enough to afford Limited Release after Limited Release, when they can (in Alberta) order them directly from the distillery and when all is said and done, shipping and duties paid, the overall cost is a mere ten bucks higher than the shelf price of the limited quantity that do show up in stores six months to a year after initial worldwide release? Time will tell what happens on the consumer side of this coin. The Other side of the coin is the brand. The owners and reps count on the goodwill previously established off the backs of a couple people to last through many years? Or do they not even care, and will continue the attack on the consumers’ pocket books, regardless of how many of their fans drop by the wayside? The recent push by the reps across Canada to try to force a “grassroots” campaign in promoting the very lowest cost and entry level releases by using….sorry paying influencers to produce ingenuine and forced looking “ads” on their personal social media pages, all came across to many observers, as a desperate attempt to spur a rush to stores to sell these products. Imagine if they had a single sole person to do that for them in an actual genuine manner? Oh wait…..
When it comes to the future of Bunnahabhain in Canada, I do believe they will always be here. There is a deep love amongst the whisky culture in Canada for their products. I do also believe there will be an increase in price across the board for all their products and that in my opinion will be a shame. I have stocked up on my favourites before the seemingly inevitable rise happens. I also know that if they release something super special or something that potentially would be right up my alley, I can turn to the distillery store and have it shipped directly to my house. This by-passes multiple levels of price mark ups and even paying asinine duties and shipping rates will still end up very similar to the shelf price when they arrive in stores.
I recently made a post on my social media (January 19th, 2022) and posed a fairly similar point for discussion. The return I received on that post was a very mixed bag and some very hard stances from both sides of the discussion. Some said they would stay the course and continue the undying support for Bunnahabhain, and I commend their dedication. Others are playing a game of wait and see and will make their decision with every release that comes and will possibly leave the core range alone as well with a significant enough increase in price. Others still, were adamant that they have already seen the shark being jumped and have moved on altogether, while still enjoying a core range bottle that’s on their shelf already purchased at the long gone appropriate prices. I would absolutely hate to see what was once said to be “an everyman’s whisky” turn into another “luxury” brand, who only prides themselves on catering to the so called “elite”. Especially when they were built up through the support of the everyday drinker. As for myself, I will leave you with this. Maybe the water skis are on the feet and the tow rope is in hand. The boat is speeding through the water and we all wait to see if Bunnahabhain does indeed jump the shark.
Glen Grant is a Speyside distillery located near Rothes and the river Spey. It was established in 1840 by two brothers, John and James Grant. It was taken over in 1872 by James ‘The Major’ Grant, who was a legendary innovator. James Grant was the first man in the Highlands region to own a car, and under his management the distillery was the first to use electric lights and the tall slender stills that continue to define Glen Grant today. The distillery remained a family-run business until 2006, when they were purchased by the Campari group. Glen Grant continues to be one of the best selling single malts across the globe. The 15 year batch strength Glen Grant is aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 50% abv.
In the glass: Light yellow-gold, appears thin. Doesn’t coat the glass, moves easily.
Nose: Sweet vanilla and stone fruits, like peaches and cream. Soft and reminiscent of summer. Maybe a touch of lemony citrus.
Palate: Surprisingly creamy mouthfeel. Honey and oak. Orchard fruits again, but more pear than peach. Something slightly bitter too, but not unpleasant.
Finish: Oak and pear. Slightly drying, with an interesting pepper finish.
This whisky, on its own merit, is an enjoyable dram with some nice flavours. When you take into consideration the price of the bottle (~$85), it is almost a must-have. It is also bottled at 50%, which sets it apart from other 15 year old choices. This is an easy decision. The Glen Grant 15 deserves a spot on your shelf. It will have a spot on mine.
Unless you’re deep into the American single malt world, here’s something you probably haven’t tried. It’s a 100% single malt whisky, matured in virgin oak barrels and finished in ex-ruby Port casks. Before this review, neither had I.
I bought this bottle as I was really intrigued how the interplay between virgin American oak and the musty spicy European oak would play out. With ex-bourbon and port casks, you would expect the port to hold court, for the most part. Would the virgin oak be in more of a fighting mood? Would this be a Connors/McEnroe affair? Would I scroll through YouTube to see what that looked like? Would I later question how the heat affected my ability to write this today? Let’s find out.
Like the regular single malt expression and the peated malt, this Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey – Port Cask was aged for at least three years in virgin American oak before being finished in ex-ruby Port casks and bottled at 46%.
Nose: Compared to their straight up single malt I reviewed earlier, the heavy virgin oak notes are very muted. Not surprising given the port finish. After letting this sit for about 45 minutes, there is a very strong red grape note mixed with a little bit of grape bubblegum. It’s not overly spicy. Mostly cinnamon with just a touch of ginger and allspice. The European and American oak are nicely balanced. There’s a little bit of a milk chocolate fruit and nut bar. After nosing this for a while, I get a slight mustiness bubbling up from the background. I’m finally getting sponge toffee and some vanilla.
Pallet: Quite sweet and slightly tart on the entry. Definitely concord grapes with the tartness from the skin. There’s also a good dose of stewed rhubarb fresh from the garden. It’s also a little bit confectionery. Like a grape danish dusted with icing sugar. A little bit of creamy milk chocolate is in there as well. The development isn’t in a hurry here. Those creamy, tart, grape and rhubarb notes start to bump up against the oak barrels mid-development and are joined by some orange zest, especially when I smack my lips (That always seems to happen, doesn’t it?). At this point, the balance between the oak and the rest of this whisky is thrown off just a touch and doesn’t really come back into line. Some people may like this oak bite, but personally, it’s not to my taste. The spicing is a little bit of cracked black pepper and ginger, both in equal measure
Finish: Speaking of balance, the major thing thing the finish has going for it is a balance between the dryness of the oaks and the tart, juiciness from the port. The later definitely wins out and makes my mouth water quite a bit. To this whisky’s credit, as I sip it more and more, I get that ginger snap cookie note that I loved so much in the regular single malt expression.
With water added…
Now the nose is coming alive. It was a tad muted without water. The grape notes have been taken over by the spicy European oak. The sponge toffee is a little darker. Just how I like it. I’m also getting a faint black tea note as well. Orange pekoe, maybe? Like the peated malt, the oak dominates from the entry to the finish. There is still enough tartness on the finish in the form of grape skins and orange zest so that it isn’t overly drying. The ginger snap cookie note is still there at the beginning of the finish, but it’s been left in the oven just a touch too long. There’s some medium dark chocolate in there as well.
Whether you will like this whisky with water added will really depend if you don’t mind a good dose of oak or not. Personally, it’s not for me. What I do like about all three single malts that are available to us from Boulder Spirits is that each of them is vastly different, but they are tied together by the virgin oak. Each one displays the affect of this maturation to varying degrees, but they are all interesting.
Out of the three, I’m surprised to say that the regular single malt is my favourite of the three followed by the peated malt and the port cask. Their regular single malt, actually called American Oak, tops the list as it stood up against a few drops of water so well.
Stay tuned for the final expression that’s available in Canada at the moment. Their (not so regular) bourbon.
There was a time, not so long ago, when pretty much everybody associated single malt whisky with Scotland. No longer. In America specifically, single malt whisky production is among the fastest growing spirit categories today.
This fast growth comes at a price, however. Any product that grows so rapidly and is being produced by so many companies with little agreement regarding standardization runs the risk of fracturing in one way or another. Back in 2016, a group of single malt distilleries such as Westland (Seattle), Balcones (Waco, TX) and FEW (Evanston, IL) were concerned by the lack of transparency and standards in their fast-growing category and wanted to do something about it. The American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) was born.
The ASMWC has two major mandates. The first is to act as a lobby group that is trying to get an official Standard of Identity, like bourbon and rye, written into law that establishes a specific category of American Single Malt Whiskey. Given how government works, this will be no easy task.
In the meantime, the ASMWC’s second major mandate is to establish an interim set of standards for American single malt. These include the stipulation that the whisky is made from 100% malted barley which is distilled at one distillery. In addition, the whisky must be mashed, distilled and matured in the United States with a barrel entry proof of no more than 160 in oak casks not exceeding 700 litres. Finally, the minimum bottling strength must be the usual 80 proof.
This is definitely a very basic set of standards, but over the years, the eight founding members of the ASMWC have been joined by over 100 other distilleries who have agreed to abide by them and to help lobby for the Standard of Identity.
Amongst the ASMWC members, the biggest variation in their production revolves around the casks that they use to mature their whisky. Boulder Spirits, who is a member of the ASMWC and whose single malt is in the glass today, have chosen to mature their whisky in virgin American oak casks treated with a #3 char. This introduces notes that will be familiar to bourbon and rye drinkers, but with a single malt twist.
Boulder Spirits American Single Malt Whiskey is matured for at least three years in these virgin oak casks before being bottled at 46%.
Nose: Most of the notes that I am picking up in the foreground are associated with the virgin oak this was matured in. Sponge toffee, rich vanilla, a hint of cherry bubblegum and cinnamon. I’ve got my spice bottles out for this one as there’s some other stuff in here I want to identify. It’s not earthy like nutmeg or clove or citrusy like ground coriander. I’ve settled on allspice and just a touch of ginger. Yes, I’m talking to myself. Over time, I notice a brown sugar note. As for the actual single malt, I’m getting malted cereal and some barley sugar (aside: if you haven’t had barley sugar before, go to your local English sweet shop and discover what you have been missing!). Just before I take a sip, I get a little bit of fresh cut grass and wintergreen. As I said earlier, this is very virgin oak forward, but there are enough notes to remind you that there is, in fact, single malt in here!
Pallet: On the entry, I’m getting a very strong spice cake vibe that carries all the way through the rest of the experience. This has opened up hugely since I popped the cork a few months back. Back then it smelled and tasted young. Now it’s a different and tastier animal all together. Let this be a lesson to never do an in-depth review until your bottle has been drained past the shoulder. OK, back to the matter at hand! The entry is creamy and has a bit of a malted cereal note to it as well. That spice cake is now more a ginger cake (like, heavy on the ginger) on the development the longer I sip this. The youthful malted cereal note rears it’s head up here, but, rather than detract from the experience, it adds to it as it gets mixed into the ginger cake notes and the oak spice. When I smack my lips to let in air, I get a little bit of citrus and some walnuts.
Finish: Pretty darn long. Ginger cake and ginger snap cookies carry right on through. The bitterness from the oak was there on the first couple of sips, but is barely detectable now. There is enough of it along with some sponge toffee on the edge of burning to counterbalance the sweetness though.
With water added…
How interesting. On the nose I’m getting a bit of a rich, sweet BBQ sauce note. The sort of sauce that you would cook up at home. As I give this more time in the glass, that fades and I get more cinnamon and more fresh cherries than cherry bubblegum. The spicing gets a little earthier so I’m leaning more towards clove than allspice now. Over time, the baking spices increase on the nose. That ginger cake note is tamped down on the entry and finish and the oak becomes more prominent, but it’s not over oaked like the peated malt was. If anything, I like this balance with water better. Towards the end of the development into the finish, I get a definite dark liquorice note. Not the cheap Twizzlers candy. I’m talking the real stuff now. I don’t like liquorice, but here, it just adds on to everything I am liking about this experience. Over time, the development is more spicy ginger snaps cookie than ginger cake.
I’ll be very honest with you. I came into this review expecting to not like this whisky and was thinking of ways to word this in a diplomatic way that I didn’t like it. From my first few drams, I just thought it tasted too young. What a difference time has done to this bottle. I actually see my Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask bourbon shaking in the corner of my cabinet, afraid that I had found a new distillery favourite.
It’s strange how their straight up single malt didn’t collapse with water added in the way that their peated malt did. Having not tried this with water, I was really expecting the same to happen here. Once again, thankfully, I was wrong.
I would love to try their bottled in bond and, if available, cask strength expressions sometime just to see what time and a bit more (or a lot more!) abv does to the signature of this whisky. I bet I won’t be disappointed!
When whisky drinkers think of peated single malt whisky, they immediately think of the Isle of Islay. Although the most iconic peated single malt brands call that island their home, there is a whole world of peated whisky out there to explore. And not just in Scotland. Almost every whisky producing nation has it’s take on peat, it seems.
For those who are newer to the world of whisky, the basic difference between peated and un-peated malt is the burning of peat bricks (literally chunks of dried peat from bogs) when the malted barley is being dried. The smoke from the burning peat gets introduced into the barley. The phenols infused into the barley from the peat smoke gives peated malt it’s distinct smell and taste. Typical notes introduced as a result of this process include iodine, tar, ash and smoke.
The strength of this peated signature in the malt is directly related to the amount of time the malt is exposed to peat smoke. For example, Laphroaig exposes their malted barley to 15-30 hours of peat smoke. Some go higher. The standard measure of how “peated” the barley has become is its phenol parts per million, or ppm.
Different distilleries have different takes on peated single malt. Some distilleries take a great deal of pride in making the most peated single malt possible such as Bruichladdich and their Octomore series. Many of their releases are 150+ ppm. Most of the major Islay distilleries are in the 30-50 ppm range.
Boulder Spirits has taken a different approach. Rather than creating a heavily peated whisky, they keep their peated level quite low by mixing low ppm peated malt (35 ppm or so) with non-peated malt. The result is a whisky that has an earthy, rather than medicinal flavour. For those who have shied away from peated single malt in the last, this serves as a gentle introduction to what the genre has to offer.
The Boulder Spirits American Single Malt – Peated Malt was matured for at least three years in a #3 char virgin American oak barrel before being bottled at 46%.
Nose: This is a lovely intersection between peat and virgin oak. If I was forced to make a comparison between this and an Islay distillery, I would say it’s closest to Ardbeg. Much less peated of course! A faint whiff of Montreal smoked meat and campfire ash from the previous night. It’s ever so slightly briney. From my recent trip to Salt Spring Island, BC, we took several walks through cedar-rich forests. I’m getting that smell here too. As this sits in the glass for longer, some fresh herbal notes come up. Mostly Italian parsley and a bit of cilantro. There’s enough sweetness and spice to balance things out. A surprising hint of dark cherry lurks in the background. Some sponge toffee and a little bit of vanilla is in there too. For spices, I’m getting cinnamon and a little bit of allspice. Before I take a sip, some orange zest presents itself. The more time you give this in the glass, the more the notes of the virgin oak come to the fore. If you want the peat, drink it sooner! Otherwise, give it time! Speaking of time, it’s time to take a sip!
Pallet: The entry is rich and creamy. Dark toffee, dark chocolate, slices of lemon peel. It’s just a tad ashy. Some grilled cherries and rich vanilla. That cherry note becomes a little more sour as the entry transitions into the development. The volume on the orange and lemon zest gets turned up during the development along with the spices from the oak, but the sweet notes from the entry tame them just enough. Towards the back end of the development, this gets a little drier, but not overly so. After several sips, a peppercorn steak sauce note tingles the tongue along with a little bit of crushed red chilies. I’m getting something different with each sip.
Finish: Quite a long finish. It’s slightly drying and bitter from the oak and near-burnt sponge toffee. Some of the dryness is counterbalanced by the citrus which is fading from the development. Some old leather, a bit of ash and that cedar forest note come on at the end.
With water added…
I’m not so fond of the nose with a few drops of water. It’s a little too oak forward and swamps all of those other notes that make this whisky so unique. This sentiment carries forward through to the entry and, particularly, the development. It’s just too heavily oaked for my taste. For the first time, the youthfulness of this whisky is starting to rear it head. The finish is much the same.
This is definitely a better whisky without water added. Sipped neat and given some time, this is another reminder for the “age is everything” cohort that that adage simply does not ring true. For lovers of scotch, the addition of exclusive virgin oak barrel maturation introduces notes that come both from the single malt and bourbon worlds, creating a hybrid that can be found nowhere else at the moment.
If you have always been shy of peat, this is the perfect whisky to finally take that plunge. It’s not going to slap you across the face and even has some notes commonly associated with bourbons, if that’s the realm you’re coming from.