Great Plains Craft Spirits Special Cask Finished Canadian Whisky – 18 Years Old / Finished in Brandy Casks for 12 Months

Today I review a local product from a spirits company located just down the highway from me, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This product interested me a lot when I first came across it, because Great Plains Craft Spirits is doing something that I have always wondered why it hasn’t been done more often, especially considering the mature whisky stock that exists in this country. That is… source that well aged stock and use it for blending and finishing to create your own profiles. Why build a distillery when there is an apparent plethora of whisky amongst the distillers here already sitting in casks waiting to be transformed into something more interesting. In this case, Victor Mah, Vice President of Great Plains has done just that and acquired himself some 17+ year old Canadian corn whisky distilled in 2000 at the defunct Potter’s Distillery in Kelowna, British Columbia prior to being purchased by Highwood Distillers and moved to their Distillery in 2006 which is located in High River, Alberta. From there, they transferred this whisky from ex-bourbon barrels where it spent its entire maturation up to this point, into Brandy casks from Bodegas Osborne in Jerez, Spain and finished it for 12+ months. The reason I added the plus sign is because they experienced some delays in the labeling process that in turn extended the finishing time a few extra months. Oops… I don’t think it hurt any.

As excited and grateful to receive this whisky from Victor, some apprehension existed because no matter how patriotic I wanted to be, it still is Canadian corn based whisky. A northern grain that typically lacks depth unless it is really well aged and similar to Highwood’s brands, typically becomes a rather uninspiring product that falls rather flat. That being said, they typically proof everything down to 40% ABV, so seeing that Great Plains has bottled it at cask strength, this reinstilled some anxious anticipation. Don’t get me wrong here, there are some fantastic corn based Canadian Whiskies out there, especially those created by the Whisky Doc – Don Livermore out in Southern Ontario from Hiram Walker. Along side the Doc’s bottlings though, Great Plains found their whisky winning a Gold Metal at the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards including the accolade of ‘Best New Whisky’. Some very high praise on the biggest stage here in Canada.

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Before I get rambling too far on a tangent, lets get back to the whisky I came here to review.

ABV – 54.5% / Age – 18+ years / Mash – 100% Corn / Region – Western Canada / Cask – 17+ Years – Ex-Bourbon & 12+ Months – Brandy Casks

My first impression of the this bottle was that the label is far too busy and I am afraid that someone who isn’t an enthusiast and is less knowledgeable or confident in what they are looking for might actually get intimidated at first glance. I quickly received affirmation on this theory when I set it out on the table at our last club tasting. It sat there as a pre-dram for the evening along with a few household names but was completely passed over because no one identified with it. It wasn’t until I was able to announce to everyone exactly what it was before it started to fill their glasses. I think a more inviting and simplistic label would help correct that.

Lucky for Great Plains though, the golden spirit inside is fantastic, and as soon as it was opened, I am not sure it was put down until it was killed that same evening. This tells me that those casks that once held Brandy for 15 – 20 years did their job nicely. Although, personally I would like to see it finished for an additional year, but that’s just me ;).

Nose

Right off the bat, it is very approachable for its proof and I get a bit of dustiness and old whisky qualities that I am not even sure what to attribute to. As I go back to it repeatedly, I enjoy it more and more, getting lots of wonderful oak and grain notes, sweet butterscotch, mandarin, and a creamy nuttiness. Long story short – very appetizing, nothing astringent, and ready to drink!

Palate

Remember before you take a sip, this is a cask strength whisky so if you don’t have a seasoned palate maybe have some water available. Just a couple drops can make a world of difference. For me, the stronger the better! At first sip, I get a tone of spicy oak and grain like qualities which most will identify as a ‘Rye’ characteristic. This is because our Canadian whisky brains have been brain washed over the years thinking we were drinking ‘Rye Whisky’ when in fact it was most likely a corn whisky. That’s a history lesson for another day though. After I swished this spirit around my mouth and went to my second sip, that’s where the qualities of the nose started to transcend nicely to the palate. Beyond that, subtle rancio and dried fruit notes show up as it rests in your mouth. With a couple drops of water, the sweetness was lost a little and the spice sharpens a bit, so I preferred it without.

Finish

The finish was really quite simple for me, basically going from dry spicy oak and grain to a light lingering sweetness from the brandy. Medium in length in the throat but unfortunately doesn’t hang around very long on the tongue.

Conclusion

This is very satisfying pour and one I will recommend to everyone looking to try something new. Even more so since its price point is only just north of $100 CAD. A great value.

Great Plains Spirits should be proud of themselves. They hit the mark nicely on their first release which has me really excited for the next one. As far as I know, they have even older whisky aging in both Cognac and Armagnac casks just waiting to be dumped and put on the shelf along side this one. Exciting stuff and I highly recommend!

Review by Steven Shaw

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Eau Claire Single Malt Batch 003

This is the 3rd single malt release from Alberta’s own Eau Claire Distillery. A distillery operating since 2014, located the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Turner Valley, Alberta. This single malt comes from 100% Alberta grown Barley and is aged in New European oak and American ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour and weighing in at 43% ABV.

Nose


A fairly subtle nose with nothing immediately jumping out. Digging a bit deeper though, there is some sweetness shining through. Red fruits and caramel sweets. Following that comes a rich, almost earthy note mixed with some woodiness. Almost like sawdust covering a fruit basket sitting on a warehouse floor. The youthfulness of this malt may be why none of the flavours immediately jump, but once you get your schnoz deep into the glass, you can pull out some wonderful notes from each cask types used in the aging of this whisky.

Palate


Surprisingly nothing too sweet right up front. Youthfulness again shows up but this time as a bit of heat. When the heat subsides an oaty semi-sweet note comes through followed by a hint of the caramel from the nose. Maybe even a bit of vanilla or possibly very light banana. That slight earthy note again comes up way in the back with some bitterness. A sweeter note shows towards the finish like a chalky sweet candy, similar to those rockets that come lined up in the transparent wrapper. As the finish goes on (medium to long) more of that caramel lingers with a bit of non-citrus fruit.

Impression.

After sourcing out a sample of Batch 001 and a bottle Of Batch 002, this Batch 003 offering is noticeably different. In a good way. It leaves me waiting impatiently to see what Batch 004 and 005 and 010 and 020 will herald. If the quality keeps increasing from Eau Claire and the kindness and hospitality from their people behind the scenes doesn’t disappear they are quickly going to ascend to the top of the Canadian spirits landscape.

– Reviewed by Sean Kincaid

Check out their website for more information on their distillery and all the quality spirits they have to offer.

Hansen – Northern Eyes Whisky

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

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

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

Nose

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

Palate

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

Finish

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

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

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

  • Review by Steven Shaw

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

https://hansendistillery.com/

Barrel Aged Old Fashioned

Dumping the Barrel to serve at our Club Tasting (Feb. 21, 2020)

How to age an Old Fashioned Cocktail in a Oak Barrel…? Good Question. I am by no means an expert but fortunately for me, my experience went great and the cocktail turned out to be maybe the best Old Fashioned I have ever had. So… that being said, I can certainly tell you how I managed to make that happen and try and help you out!

First thing first, I recommend you to read multiple people’s articles about different experiences because chances are, everyone’s barrel and ingredients are going to be a little different.

The Barrel…

So… To start off, I used a 8 Litre (2 gallon) Ex-Sherry Barrel. Reason being, ordering a new oak barrel to Edmonton, Alberta is not an easy task as there are no reputable manufacturers close so by the time it was shipped to me, it would have been past the tasting it was intended for and I was not that proactive and also have a tendency to procrastinate and to try and accomplish things last minute. Luckily for me, when I reached out to some friends, it just so happened my pal, Whisky Joe had just ordered a handful of smaller barrels for a crazy Tullibardine aging experiment (we will get into that story another day). Anyways, the barrel that I was able to get my hands on from Joe, like I mentioned, is ex-sherry and not new oak, but because it had to meet certain health codes prior to being shipped here, it had already been thoroughly rinsed and prepared. As far as I understand, this allowed me to skip an important step of having to clean the barrel beforehand but, I still filled the barrel with warm water, letting it sit for a few hours to make sure there wasn’t any leaks. If you are using a previously used barrel then please search around for cleaning and rinsing techniques prior to dumping in your ingredients. If you are using a new oak barrel then there will most likely be some simple preparation instructions that come with it.

The Cocktail…. mmmmm

When it comes to selecting your whiskey cocktail, you want to stick to the ones without any perishable ingredients that will go bad during the aging process. Personally, I love a good Old Fashioned so it was a natural choice for me. Other good options are, a Boulevardier, Manhattan, Vieux Carre, Sazerac, Rob Roy or similar. You also have to be careful with using simple syrup, especially if it home made as the shelf life at room temperature isn’t a long one. Store bought syrup tends to last quite a bit longer or using maple syrup which is what I did, works a lot better. I wouldn’t recommend aging the cocktail longer than 3 – 4 weeks though when there are sugars in the ingredients. Also, keep in mind, you don’t need to use as much syrup as a recipe normally states. You will draw sweetness and complexity out of the wood and you will not want to mask those flavours with the extra sugar. For mine, because it was an ex-sherry barrel, I used about 1/2 of the quantity I normally would, knowing that the sherry was also going to contribute to the sweetness. I also matched my syrup quantity with water, pouring in equal parts of both so that the cocktail wouldn’t become too concentrated after the aging process.

From there, it’s just a matter of picking your favorite lower shelf whiskey and your bitters of choice. Calculate the quantity of ingredients according to the volume of barrel and start pouring it all in!

Make sure to set the barrel in a place slightly cooler than room temperature and out of the sunlight and then make sure to be taste testing you cocktail every 4 or 5 days to make sure you don’t miss the mark and over age it.

The Pouring

The reason I decided to do this in the first place was to pour out for our Park Whiskey Society members at our most recent tasting. Usually I am making cocktails for everyone after the tasting with the help of my buddy David, but the idea of just pouring it all out into a dispenser and having everyone pour their own drinks for the evening was a pretty awesome one. I was pretty nervous at first but also confident because lucky for me, I consume a lot of cocktails and was relatively sure that, if it tasted good for me then it was going to taste good for everyone else. Lets just say… it was a massive success! Well… at least the fogginess and empty barrel can suggest so. Like I mentioned, one of the best Old Fashioned Cocktails I have ever had. The sherried wood lent such a beautiful character, creating a bold flavoured, yet very smooth cocktail.

This was seriously a ton of fun and something I definitely recommend trying and will be doing again!

If you have any questions please reach out and I’ll be glad to help! Cheers everyone!

Blackadder – 2001 Ledaig 17 Year Old

Raw cask…. One of the best bottling styles there is. This is as close to straight outta the cask as you can get. Non-chill filtered? This is barely even filtered, period. There are damn “floaties” in this bottle! Lots of them!! Char bits, fatty oil deposits, you know… all that stuff flavour comes from. This bottling literally has it all.

Nose

The first thing I noticed in this dram, this is not the huge funk bomb style of Ledaig we are all used to. Don’t get me wrong, there is funk, it’s just not smacking you across the face as much as it typically is. There is a peculiar sweetness to the nose. A kind of fruit sweetness. Like opening a can of fruit salad, you know the ones with those little red fruit pieces that everyone tries to get but there’s only about 3% of the entire fruit salad made up of these red fruits. With the Ledaig-ness added in, it noses just like that fruit salad with some pepper added in all while sitting down next to a simmering fire, ready to eat it.

Palate

Woah. Sweetness immediate on the tongue. Like a thick oatmeal with brown sugar spread over. Quickly followed by all kinds of brash flavours. Maritime influence shines through. Briney, peaty and heavy. Almost an ashy or smoked vanilla note slips out from the back. The Ledaig shows itself here. That musk and funk comes through but slightly different than in most Ledaig.

Finish

The finish is like fireworks in your mouth. A ton of noise being made all over but trails off fairly quickly. That spicy peat and musky maritime note holds on and a menthol note shines. Like smoking a menthol cigarette after eating a spicy peppered chicken wing….while sitting on a beach beside a fishing boat and a fire flickering away.

  • Review by Sean Kincaid
Look at those FLOATIES!!