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!
Cheaper blended whisky, in general, tends to get scoffed at when it comes to seasoned whisky drinkers. Too busy chasing their unicorns, single casks and cask strength bottles, a fair number of that cohort tend to pass by blended bottles on the lower shelves. If they grab anything at all, it’s likely to have a Jamieson’s or Johnnie Walker label slapped on it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some fairly bad blends out there. A “Lost in Dramslation” podcast episode was entirely dedicated to some of these bottles that made you say, “WTF?”. That being said, if you ask around, do your research or even just take a chance on some of the blends you see on the shelves, you may just find your new favorite daily drinker. Plus it won’t break the bank, allowing you to save up for your next fancy bottle.
Like Irish whiskey in general, blended Irish whiskey is going through a bit of a renaissance as well. Even on the upper end, bottles like J.J. Corry’s The Gael offer phenomenal value. For just over $100 CAD, you get a blend that has up to 28 year whiskey in it. Try picking up a Compass Box blended scotch like that for less than double the price. No chance. On the cheaper side of things, there’s more to Jamieson’s than their standard green label bottling. On top of that, there’s West Cork, Flaming Pig, Dublin Liberties (Dubliner) and so much more. What makes Irish blends intriguing is that they are a blend of grain and single pot still, which is itself a mixture of malted and unmalted barley. This helps to separate their profiles from blended scotch, sometimes dramatically.
With the help of Park Whiskey Society’s own resident Irish expert, Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid), I was directed towards the distillery whose bottle I’m reviewing today. Kilbeggan holds the bragging rights as the oldest continually-licensed distillery in Ireland. Established in 1757, Kilbeggan has had a pretty storied history. At the heart of the distillery is the town of Kilbeggan itself. Through thick and thin, openings and closings, the residents of Kilbeggan have played a major role in keeping their distillery alive, or at least licensed for hundreds of years. Now owned by Beam Suntory, Kilbeggan is riding high on the latest Irish whiskey revival.
Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey is their entry level offering. Unlike most Irish whiskies, it is only double distilled. It’s non-age stated, probably colored and chill filtered and is bottled at 40% abv.
Nose: The one major issue I have with this whiskey is that as soon as you pour this into your glass, you get a moderate paint thinner note that can be a bit off-putting to some. If you let it sit for at least 15 minutes, it does go away. Replacing that is a very strong green apple note. It’s worst feature turns into it’s best so do be patient with it. Underneath all of that green apple is some youthful grain and malt notes. A little barley sugar and light caramel for sure. The vanilla and mild cinnamon I get off of this is probably thanks to the ex-Bourbon barrels this was matured in. Over time, some pineapple shines through. The vanilla is more of a vanilla wafer now.
Palate: The entry is light and sweet. Green apple, vanilla custard and caramel. The transition into the development is slow and gradual. On the front end, the tropical notes start to creep back. As I keep swishing this around my mouth I get a tiny bit of oak, some clove and black pepper as well as some rich milk chocolate. That milk chocolate note continually builds into the finish. It’s a nice balance between oak, spice and sweetness.
Finish: On the shorter side of medium, but not surprising for the abv. The spice is gone immediately, but the chocolate and oak stick around for a while with a little bit of citrus thrown in for good measure.
With water added…
That green apple note has faded away considerably. The tropical notes are now bubbling to the top. I’m getting a little bit of ginger now as well. The caramel is more of a toffee sweetness and there’s a splash of oak. The entry is substantially creamier and mouth coating now. The black pepper is a little stronger, but so is the oak making, this a little spicier and more bitter than when sipped neat. There’s also a very faint, youthful metallic note towards the backend of the finish. I’m note getting quite as much chocolate as I did without water. The finish has a bit more oak and some toffee. It’s not quite as balanced as it was before.
When I first poured this whiskey, the paint thinner note kind of turned me off. However, I gave it a second chance recently and after I waited for that note to fade away in the glass, I really started to enjoy this one. For me, it’s turned into the perfect “after work” starter dram. Something I can sip while making dinner or nagging my kids to do their homework.
To be honest, I’m not sure that I will buy this bottle again. Instead, I would pay $10 more and get my hands on another bottle of their single grain (corn) expression. That’s another one that wasn’t a favourite of mine to start, but turned into a delightful summer dram once I gave it a chance to shine.
We’ll be reviewing all four of their available expressions including their unique take on rye and their fantastic single grain.
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.
When the reviews section of the Park Whiskey Society was revived this summer, I was pretty excited to review some of the new craft whisky coming into this province. I also wanted to highlight and review some of the fancier bottles as well. It certainly helps to draw clicks to the website. However, I also wanted this to be a space for the average whisky drinker as well.
By average, I simply mean an individual who is not constantly on the prowl for the latest release multiple times a week. Someone who actually has a low to modest budget and sticks to it. Something the rest of us should be doing these days. You know who you are. In fact, I would argue that all whisky drinkers should have a few of these on their shelves!
To that end, I’m going to start reviewing some whiskies that don’t come with a high price tag, but are excellent value for money. Some of these may be obscure blended scotches that have been collecting dust on store’s lowest shelves. Others may be mid-shelf offerings from big distillers that pack a ton of flavour. I’m setting a price ceiling for bottles I cover in this “Value Dram Reviews” series at less than $100 CAD in the province of Alberta, but many will be much less than that. You’d be surprised what you can still get for that amount of money!
The first one I’ll cover is a bottle that I am just about to finish off myself. Forty Creek Cooper Pot should be available pretty much anywhere, even in the United States. This is a traditional Canadian whisky made of corn, rye and barley. These are aged separately for at least three years and then blended together before bottling. Information on this whisky, like many Canadian blends, is thin on the ground. It is most likely coloured and chill-filtered and is bottled at 43%. This bottle is a step up from Forty Creek’s entry level Barrel Select offering. You should be able to find a bottle of Copper Pot for about $30-$40 CAD.
Nose: there are some pretty standard Canadian blended whisky notes here such as vanilla and caramel. The youthfulness shows up as a faint metallic smell. What sets this apart is the pretty hefty amount of orange I get off of this. It’s quite sweet though. Almost candied. As this sits for longer, a little bit of dark chocolate can be detected in the background. Apart from cinnamon, I don’t get any other baking spices. A tiny bit of oak rounds this off.
Palate: For a low proof Canadian whisky, this is pretty decently mouthcoating. The entry is very sweet with caramel, orange juice and vanilla cream with a hint of milk chocolate. It’s in the development when a slightly bitter, youthful grain note starts to come into play. The sweetness from the entry and the slightly sour note from the orange help to balance this out enough for it not to become too big of a problem. There is enough rye in the blend to tingle the tongue a little bit. Towards the end of the development I get some more baking spices in the form of cloves and just a tiny bit of nutmeg.
Finish: This is short, but well balanced. A little bit of oak. A little bit of sponge toffee. Some fading baking spices. Just a touch of cocoa powder in the end. Nothing fighting for dominance. The citrus note prevents this from being too dry.
The sweetness is tamped down a little on the nose. I’m getting quite a bit more oak and cinnamon and less orange. The entry remains pretty much unchanged, but I feel the youthfulness is not as prominent as it was without water added. The amount of oak has increased in the later half of the development and that, in turn, has thrown off the balance on the finish. Not by much, but it is noticeable.
This one is probably best without water. It falls apart a bit on the development and finish. I think this would also make a pretty decent mixing and cocktail whisky, but I have always had this as is.
Budget Canadian whisky gets panned by many in the whisky world, but there are some hidden gems out there. I would put this in that category along with Eau Clair’s Rupert, Signal Hill, Last Straw Rye and of course Lot 40. We’ll be reviewing all of those on the website at one point or another.
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.
This was the one Taconic release I was most excited about when the initial announcement was made by PWS Imports that they were going to be bringing the Taconic core range to us in Alberta.
I’m always wanting to try different rye whiskeys released from different areas to see if there is a difference. I have foundthat there is definitely a difference between southern and northern rye .This bottle, which is being produced in upstate New York could fall somewhere in the middle. Only one way to know, so let’s dive in.
First thing I noticed is the beautiful colour of this whiskey. It falls more to the reddish side of the spectrum than the yellow which was a surprise. Maybe not being proofed down with water keeps it way darker. Either way, it’s impressive and stands out in the glass but more so in the bottle.
A quick swirl to check viscosity and I was almost about to type that it has no legs at all…oh they are there. It just took a while for them to even start to drop. A nice, thin, long steady drop down the glass shows promise. You can almost tell just with a swirl how oily this whiskey is.
Nose: Immediately the rye grain note is noticeable as it should be. A bit of rye spice warms up the nose hairs, but surprisingly for a barrel proof this doesn’t nose hot. The spice gives way to a beautiful floral sweetness. Fruit orchards in the spring in BC during an unseasonably hot day. Apples and pears just starting to fill out after fruiting from their blossoms. There’s another floral note I can’t quit pin down. Like fresh tulips or marigolds basking in the sun. I absolutely love this nose and my mouth is watering already.
Palate: Oh baby! This coated my entire mouth instantly. That rye spice comes out large on the entry. Baking spices with cinnamon, but almost as if it’s cinnamon and sugar mixed and sprinkled across a warm buttered rye bread slice. The sugar sweetness fades back into rich fresh fruit notes. Couple that with the nutmeg, a touch of black pepper and some vanilla and honey and this is beautiful. There’s a touch of a wood note, a slight touch of butter tannin just before the finish begins.
Finish: Medium in length, but heavy on flavour. An almost maltiness shows up in the finish with more vanilla and a sort of apple skin note. There is a little flare up of pepper/spice midway through the finish and it just seems to prolong the finish a bit longer.
With water added…
With 5 drops of water into an ounce pour.
Nose: Ooooh this is all rye reminiscent of some of the heavy hitters now. But still unique. The spice has disappeared but the full flavour rye notes are more powerful. Almost a dusty grain note, like a farm on a hot day with a warm wind swirling the air around the grain bins. I find an almost fake banana flavouring note now. And the sweetness is a lot more butterscotch or even a touch nutty like cracking open a fresh bag of peanut brittle and inhaling deep.
Palate: Pow. That beautiful rye character just again wakes you up. The sweetness immediately feels cranked up with water. Still coats the mouth well and the banana note is there again. Like overripe bananas used in baking before they go full off. And wow, the spice and cinnamon return much later with water and stick around longer in the finish too. There’s still a nice flavour spot on the very back of my tongue that won’t fade completely away. Almost like I have a tiny spot of chewy caramel candy stuck to my tongue that won’t go down no matter how hard I try.
Overall this whiskey surpassed even my expectations. It’s mature beyond its years and tastes better than a lot of ryes double or triple its age. The rye spices mixed with the fresh fruit and wood influence all compliment each other amazingly and never try to out do one another. This is a must have for any rye lovers out there. Oh and that spot on my tongue is still giving off flavour.
Today, we’re taking a virtual trip over to the east coast to the Hudson Valley region of New York to review the second bottle in Taconic Distillery’s core range: their Founder’s Rye
Rye whisky production is experiencing a bit of a revival these days. Although still bourbon’s little sibling in terms of production, the rye renaissance is being driven by a renewed interest amongst bartenders and consumer alike.
Most mass produced rye still leans towards a mashbill that hues close to the legal minimum of 51% rye. The large proportion of corn in these mashbills gives these ryes a sweeter flavour so as to appeal to the everyday bourbon drinker.
In terms of “high rye” rye, Midwest Grain Products of Indiana (aka MGP) and Alberta Distillers Limited are the largest producers. Their whisky, in turn, is bottled by them under various brand names or shipped to other distilleries for blending and bottling under their own labels.
Lately, craft distilleries have tried their own hand at rye distilling using high-rye mashbills. This leads us back to Taconic, whose Founders Straight Rye Whiskey has a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. It’s aged for at least three years in virgin American oak barrels and bottled at 45% abv.
Nose: this is quite floral and herbal right off the bat. I had to sniff around my spice and dried herb bottles a bit before I settled on ground coriander seed. It’s a little bit sour and floral at the same time. The floral note isn’t very strong and it’s not pungent like a rose. I’m trying to tie it to something in my garden. A faint whiff of Peony, maybe? I’m getting rye bread in here for sure. Not surprising, I guess! Some brown sugar and toffee bubbles up as it sits in the glass for a while. Definitely cinnamon and allspice as well. More than a hint of peach and orange comes up from the glass. Interesting sweet and sour combinations going on here.
Pallet: That interplay between sweet and sour continues during the entry. Orange, vanilla cream, toffee and a little bit of milk chocolate. It’s not super creamy, but it’s enough to coat the mouth. The transition into the development is gentle and not super spicy either, but it’s enough to make the tongue and gums tingle a little. Cinnamon is joined by a pretty decent amount of ground cloves. The oak starts to come into play towards the end of the development and is pretty tame. Especially when I smack my lips, that orange note from the entry is turned up. Sponge toffee is definitely there from the mid-development onwards along with a bit of cracked pepper.
Finish: The finish is medium, I would say. The oak ever so slightly wins out over the citrus to make this mildly drying. The sponge toffee gently fades away. A little bit of old leather and a tiny bit of dark chocolate linger at the end.
With water added…
The nose is a little more oaked and the cloves I got on the development are here now. A little bit of cocoa powder is in there for sure. This is more sweet and less sour on the entry and development now. I was worried that this might be over oaked, but thankfully that’s not the case. Lots of light brown sugar and the custard of a creme brûlée are in the entry. It’s a little more spicy in the development and that helps to cut through the added sweetness. It’s the same cinnamon and clove mixture as before. The finish isn’t that much longer than without water, but that added sweetness gives me a nice spice cake kind of feel that slowly fades away.
This was really nice both with and without water. Having reviewed a few craft whiskies over the summer, there was a tendency for them to fall apart a bit with a few drops of water. This whisky was having none of that. If you like things a little sweeter, try water. If you like a herbal, slightly citrusy and sour rye, take it without.
Taconic’s Double Barrel Maple Bourbon seems to be their top seller due to it’s unique flavour, but their ryes are legit. If you want to know what the barrel strength version of this tastes like, PWS’s own Sean Kincaid will provided you with the answer on Friday.
Rather than close out this series of reviews of Boulder Spirits expressions by talking more about that distillery specifically, I think it would be more appropriate to talk briefly about the state of Colorado distilling as a whole.
Colorado now has well in excess of 100 distilleries with many of them producing whisky. This is an astonishing number given its population of just under 6 million.
The meteorologist in me (my actual job) suggests that the weather and climate is perfect for the raw ingredients that make distilling possible. The glacier water, the arid climate, a wealth of geographical diversity, good soil for grains. All of these factors make this such a tempting destination for prospective and current distillers.
As you peruse the aisles in your local liquor store, you’ll come across names like Stranahan’s, Boulder Spirits, Tin Cup and Breckenridge. In Alberta specifically, Woody Creek and Distillery 291 will soon be hitting the shelves. All of these hail from Colorado.
This being the Wild West, there’s a ton of experimentation being done in these distilleries in ways that more traditional whisky producing regions like Kentucky might shy away from. It is to those states like Colorado the we should look to in the next chapter of American whisky production.
Although Alberta, the province I live in, is a lot further north than Colorado, we share a lot of the characteristics that make whisky production desirable. It’s tempting to take Colorado as an example as to what spirits production might look like in another 5-10 years in this province.
Finally, let’s return to the topic at hand shall we? Boulder Spirits Straight Bourbon Whiskey has a unique mashbill of 51% corn, 5% rye and 44% malted barley. It is matured for a minimum of three years in #3 char new American oak barrels and bottled at 42%.
Nose: There’s a bit of BBQ character to this in the form of sweet smoke and sauce slathered over pork ribs. It’s got to be the combination of the high barley mashbill and the virgin oak that is giving me these notes. The corn note comes in the form of regular corn flakes cereal. Over time, those BBQ notes fade and I get more bourbon characteristics. Rich caramel, fresh ripe cherries, vanilla, cinnamon and allspice. I’m also getting a little bit of barley sugar candy and some young maltiness.
Pallet: The entry is a little thin, but quite flavourful. I’m honestly having a little trouble picking out some of the notes here due to how unique this mashbill is. It’s quite sweet, that’s for sure. Malted cereal, light brown sugar and cherry bubblegum. The development is quite light on the spice (cinnamon mostly) due to the low rye content, but, along with the oak, there’s enough to make the tongue tingle a bit. Especially when I smack my lips, I get some roasted peanuts and a tiny bit of orange zest. A bit of ginger and cracked white pepper comes in at the end.
Finish: It’s a little bit on the short side, but that’s not surprising given the low abv. The spicing fades away fairly quickly, but the ginger remains a little longer. That mixed with the sweet notes that carry over from the development give me a faint ginger snap cookie note, similar to what I get on their single malt. This helps to balance out the oak bitterness.
With water added…
On the nose, I get a lot more oak compared to without water being added. There is also a faint salted liquorice note in the background. I get a little more brown sugar as well. As with the other Boulder expressions, there is a lot more oak with water. The difference here is that there is enough sweetness to balance things out. Strong ginger snap cookie vibe on the development for sure. I love how I get this on some of their expressions. The finish is a tiny bit drier, but that ginger cookie note sticks around for quite a while, lengthening out the finish considerably.
This was pretty good without water, but I much preferred it with. Water brought out a little more of the oak to cut through the sweetness and it drank much higher than its 84 proof.
This is great to sip neat, but it would be very interesting to try in a cold weather cocktail such as a hot toddy. I feel those ginger snap notes would really shine in that one.
Down the road, I would really like to review their barrel aged gin, called the Ginsky, which is aged in virgin oak barrels. For now, the five whiskies I’ve reviewed should hopefully help to give you a broad overview of just how good young Colorado whisky can be.
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.