Founded five years ago by Seth Benhaim, Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. is the perfect example of one successful product building upon the popularity of another. His first venture, Infuse Spirits vodka, included fruits and other ingredients straight into the bottle. Although this was something Seth had seen behind many a bartender’s counter, he wanted to make this kind of craft presentation available to everybody. The end result was a vodka that stood in stark contrast to the big brand’s offerings, which contained mostly artificial flavouring.
From this starting point, Seth’s love of whiskey, combined with a desire to do something similar to Infuse Spirits, led him to start a similar experiment with Bourbon. This time the infusion would be not with fruit, but with wood. Since much of the resultant flavour of whiskey comes from the cask, one way of imparting unique flavours would be to experiment with a variety of barrel finishes, but this can take a lot of time to yield results and is certainly not cheap.
Instead, Seth decided on a more unique and time efficient approach. Stave finishing involves breaking down existing casks and placing the staves into the whisky itself. Seth didn’t invent this process, but his contribution was to scale up the concept, use multiple stave types and sell the resulting whiskey at an affordable price.
An initial experimental phase involved placing bits of stave from a single cask type into large bottles filled with Bourbon. These bottles were then blended together. Over countless iterations, Seth settled on a stave combination that used 40% ex-Bourbon, 40% French oak and 20% ex-Sherry. This Oak BillTM now forms the backbone of most of Broken Barrel’s core range, which was first released in 2017. More recently, rye has joined their core lineup as well
Speaking of which, it’s the rye that I’m reviewing today! It has a mashbill of 95% rye, and 5% malted barley. Aged for at least two years in new American oak, it is finished with Broken Barrel’s signature Oak BillTM of cask staves: 40% French oak, 40% Ex-Bourbon, and 20% ex-Sherry. Then it is bottled at 52.5% abv.
Nose: Such a rich nose for such a young rye. The Oak BillTM has clearly left a major mark on this whiskey. Even though ex-Sherry only makes up 20% of the finishing staves, I get the notes from that type initially. Milk chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, nutmeg and a touch of allspice. There’s some sweet cinnamon in there too. I think I’m going to get some more spices on the development, but we’ll have to see. There are light citrus and floral notes underneath all this. The rye bread note reminds you that this is still a young whisky, but there is so much more to balance it all out. I can’t wait to sip this.
Palate: On the entry, the milk chocolate and cocoa don’t wait around till the development to make themselves known. That citrus carries forward from the nose. The transition into the development is slow and steady. A little bit of the rye bread and graininess starts to creep in, but there is more than enough of the character from the entry as well as the spices, which join in mid-way through the development, to have it overpower in any way. The fruitiness bobs along the surface the whole way through the experience. There’s a rich sponge toffee sweetness that lasts just as long as the fruit. Towards the end, clove joins in with the rest of the spices from the nose. This is spice rich, without the intense heat. Something that I am rather fond of.
Finish: This becomes longer as I sip it more. Besides the fruitiness, everything else fades in equal measure. Because of that toffee, the finish doesn’t really dry out at all. With the baking spices and cocoa (though not the chocolate), the richness of the finish persuades you from going back for another sip so quickly. Instead, just savour the experience.
With water added
Interesting. The spicing actually fades a bit on the nose. I was actually expecting the opposite. The sponge toffee and cinnamon are much more pronounced as well. It’s more dark chocolate than milk chocolate now. Overall, it noses a little more light and youthful. This theme carries over into the entry and development. Those intense, dark notes are mostly absent. It’s sweeter and spicier than without water added. It’s not that I dislike it, but I liked it far more than without water added.
This is the perfect cold weather dram. The richness of this rye far exceeds its age. Many of these notes are present only on much older, and far more expensive ryes. The stave finish, anchored by the ex-Sherry and French oak really takes this dram to another level, and with a fantastic price point to boot.
The career trajectory of Al Laws, founder of Laws Whiskey House is becoming more and more common these days. Tired of the hustle-and-grind of their chosen path in life, they chose instead to be their own boss and, in the process, create something that brings them real joy. A native of Edmonton, Alberta and formerly employed in the financial side of the oil and gas industry, Al set his sights on making whiskey when he was transferred to Colorado, not far from Stranahan’s Distillery. It was there that he discovered the unique and creative characteristics of American craft whiskey distilling.
While travelling in Kentucky to gain all the knowledge he could, Al met Bill Friel, former master distiller at 1792 Barton, who became his mentor, allowing him to blend his new-found knowledge with years of Bill’s practical experience. With all of this under his belt, Al established Laws Whiskey House in Denver, Colorado.
Once known extensively for its craft brewing culture, Colorado now has more distilleries than either Kentucky or Texas. The climate, grain farms and excellent glacier fed water sources make it the ideal place to distill whiskey; something Laws has been doing since 2011.
The whiskey in my glass today is their San Luis Valley Straight Rye, named after the region in which the grain was grown. It’s 50% malted rye and 50% unmalted rye, was matured in #3 char new American oak barrels for at least three years and bottled at 47.5%.
Nose: A really nice balance between youthful spirit and cask with one not dominating over the other. A wiff of freshly cut grass and slightly floral. Lightly grilled orange, rich honey and cinnamon. From the cask, I get a bit of vanilla and this unexpected dark chocolate note lingering in the background. That’s something I would expect in an older rye, but here it is! Over time, I get a rich barley sugar note.
There’s this lovely richness that I wasn’t really expecting from such a young spirit. Time for a taste.
Palate: The entry is a light vanilla cream. There’s a slight orange tang as this progresses into the development, mixed with this interesting light honey and a floral note like you would find in a gin. Again, unexpected. The grass on the nose transitions to freshly baled hay (that’s the horse owner in me talking) on the palate. There’s some nutmeg and allspice at the end. Throughout the development, there’s a bit of effervescence on the tongue.
Finish: On the short to medium side. The citrus from the entry emerges from underneath the notes from the development at first. This transitions to hot chocolate powder and then finally to dark chocolate.
With water added
This is almost nosing like a wheated Bourbon now. Strong honey and sponge toffee vibes. This is hiding the youthful grain notes somewhat. Over time, it’s like toasted rye bread with a scraping of honey. The citrus and floral character of the development moves forward into the entry. Still youthful and a bit floral on the development without that effervescent mouthfeel. The citrus carries all the way through the development, but the hot chocolate powder and dark chocolate remain.
Overall, this is a youthful whisky, but there are some truly intriguing and unexpected twists and turns that held my attention through the entire experience, both with and without water. As it moves back and forth between youth and a hint at something more mature, it offers a window into what I’m sure is a real stonker of a rye with a few more years in the cask.
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.
45% Abv Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
Woody Creek Distillers are a new and exciting brand that will be gracing our store shelves (and home bars) very soon. They are located just west of Aspen Colorado and are very connected to their local ingredients. They have a vodka that is made from potatoes that they grow themselves. The grains that go into this bourbon are sourced from trusted Colorado farms and are then distilled on their very own custom CARL stills. The launch of Woody Creek into Alberta and Canada is being made possible by PWS Imports and there are some very unique and interesting launch events planned for the near future.
Todays spirit is their 4 year aged Colorado Straight Bourbon. They place their bourbon spirit into deeply (#3 level) charred new American oak barrels and keep it there for a minimum of 4 years. They use a mash bill of 70% Corn, 15% Rye and 15% Barley, all of which is grown in Colorado. This release has been brought down to the very drinkable abv of 45%. This is the first in a series of reviews of the Woody Creek products that will be available very soon.
In the glass: A nice darker gold colour with a touch of orange that seems to enhance light shining through it. A fairly viscous looking oiliness that coats the glass nicely. Some skinny but long struggling legs attest to the viscosity of this dram. It looks nice and inviting before even trying to find the notes.
Nose: The very first thing I notice while just bringing the glass up towards my nose is a great oak note. The classic bourbon notes start showing through next. The honeyed spices show, with a slight cinnamon and toasted baking spice like allspice and nutmeg. As the spice wafts off, I find a unique note I have never found in a bourbon before, that of the taste of maltesers candies. A malt note combined with a bit of darker chocolate. I’m hungry now. Deep down I am finding almost a sage like note, one that reminds me of climbing the mountains in the interior of BC. A dried sagebrush bush that your leg brushes against and releases the aroma into the hot desert breeze. This is definitely a bourbon on the nose yet has some unique characteristics and one that begs to delve into fully on the palate.
Palate: Upon the very first touch on the tongue a small, quick flash of sweetness hits which is rapidly taken over by a nice spice. An almost chilli spice, that then turns to the allspice and nutmeg note from the nose. If you leave the liquid in your mouth and let it roll around and coat your whole mouth you get that spice building to an almost black pepper note. As soon as you let the dram subside and prepare for a swallow, the sweetness comes back strong. Spice turns to cinnamon and then to a beautiful honeyed caramel/toffee note. I still am able to pick out that subtle malt and chocolate note on the palate but it’s definitely less prominent and gets hidden behind the spice and sweetness of the build up on the palate. The finish is a long, slow and broodin. One that teases a build up of the spice again but it lingers instead of builds. That very first beautiful oak note on the nose comes shining through on the finish of this one.
This is a bourbon that I can already tell will be a fan favourite. Its classic enough in taste that most bourbon drinkers will get along nice with this bottle. There are enough unique notes to bring in and hold the attention of the most seasoned bourbon drinkers and I can see it being very versatile in its uses from neat, on the rocks as well as in cocktails. As the first entry into the Woody Creek cabinet, this whiskey makes me even more excited to dive into their other releases.
45% Abv 100% Colorado rye grain Aged 4 years in Deep Charred New American Oak
The next review in the series of Woody Creek releases fresh into Alberta is the Straight Colorado Rye Whiskey. This is made with 100% rye grain grown in Colorado and distilled in the Woody Creek custom CARL stills. It is then matured in new American Oak for a minimum of 4 years. As an industry standard you will know it’s the rye bottle you are looking at by the green coloured label. Why green was chosen as the universal colour for rye whiskies is still unknown to me but it seems to be the consensus to use green labels on bottles of rye whiskey.
In the glass: A beautiful golden amber colour while resting in the glass. A slight swirl in the glass and I wait….and wait…..and wait for the legs to start. I almost gave up on them when they start to droop. Very long to move and thin when they finally do fall down the glass. A beautiful colour and legs that make you eager to dip in and try the whiskey ASAP.
Nose: Okay, this did not at all start how I initially thought it would. I find a very nice citrus note right off the hop. Orange zest and lemon peel to a slight, almost fresh cut kiwi note. I can easily say one of the most fruit forward Rye whiskey noses I can remember. Getting my giant schnoz right into the glass I find a more grassy note coming through. Like the smell from a golf course in the summer heat drying the grass after a morning shower. God I love that nosing note. It takes me back to chipping in for birdie from about 80 yards out…..oh yeah. The whiskey…..there is a bit of that rye baking spice but it leans more towards the cinnamon and almost toffee thats been melted down and worked on in the front window of an old timey candy shop. A very bright and inviting nose on this one. I wasn’t expecting the fruit forwardness but am very intrigued and pleased by it. There is zero heat on the nostrils and my mouth is very saliva heavy wanting to sip it right now!
Palate: Is this a juice? Did someone switch out my whiskey with some fruit juice? I kid, but the fruit forwardness is still there upon the first burst of flavour in the mouth. A sweet fruit blend of raisins and apples. It turns slightly after holding it in the mouth for a touch into a vanilla orange slice and a bit of the rye spice begins to show up for the first time. A pinch of pepper brings the mouth to attention while the vanilla note continues to evolve into a sweeter, butter toffee creaminess. That orange peel note comes back from the nose and lingers in the back of the mouth right as you swallow. I do notice that the apparent oiliness from the legs are there as this coats the entire mouth very nicely. The finish isn’t long by any means but it is beautiful. The bit of pepper mixed with a mandarin orange oil note sticks around the longest. As in the nose there is barely any notice of the ABV at all and definitely not any heat other than the slight pepper note on the palate.
This again, as I have stated, was a surprise for me. A very pleasant and welcome surprise. I do tend to enjoy a lot of rye whiskey I get to try, and this one may be one of the most unique and sippable rye bottles I have tried. The initial high fruit content and lack of any heat makes me want to get into the Cask Strength version as soon as these bottles are available. It will be a nice pour to sit with and watch the game, or to keep you going through the ever earlier Canadian winter nights. You can’t go wrong with including this bottle on your shelf. I have a feeling it will be reached for far more than others currently sitting there.
Grain Henge is the brand name of the new whisky distillery from Troubled Monk, a brewery located in Red Deer, Alberta. This award winning team has been making craft beer using local ingredients since 2015. The name pays homage to the many functioning and abandoned structures littered throughout the Alberta prairie landscape that appear in photographs all over the world, helping to define our culture and identity.
Following in the tradition of a craft beer maker, Grain Henge will be released in small batches with very limited availability. It is common practice for a craft brewery/distillery combination to share equipment in their processes, and whisky production is often planned around the brewing schedule. This means that each batch of whisky is a unique creation unto itself, and often produces exciting results.
Meeting Creek is the first release from Grain Henge. Master distiller Garret Haynes used the mash bill from Troubled Monk’s Open Road American Brown Ale as inspiration for his first whisky release. The whisky is made with a similar combination of 2-row, amber, crystal, brown, and chocolate malts, but Haynes increased the quantity of specialty grains to accentuate the flavours he was hoping to bring forward in the spirit. The whisky was aged for 40 months in #2 and #4 charred New American Oak barrels, and bottled at 56.7%.
In the glass: Deep amber. Appears thin, but actually coats the glass very nicely.
Nose: Very inviting. Vanilla, with a hint of dark chocolate. Something tropical in there too. Even at 56.7%, you can bury your nose in the glass.
Palate: The oak comes through first with a pleasant hint of almond. Caramel and vanilla too, with a touch of honey sweetness.
Finish: Light spice from the barrel char remain. Sweet notes of honey cereal malt and chocolate linger for a long time.
This whisky was one of the biggest surprises of 2021 for me. At 40 months old and a high abv, I was expecting something abrasive and unfinished. Maybe a good starting place for a new distillery, but nowhere near a finished product. Meeting Creek has is the opposite of all those things. It has a shocking depth of flavour and refinement, and drinks very easily without water. Pure chocolate malty deliciousness. I will be searching for another bottle of Meeting Creek (they sold out in days), and I’m very excited to see what Grain Henge produces in the future. Absolutely backup bottle worthy. I’m already on the mailing list for the next release!
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.
Its snowing here for the first time this season in the mighty northern Alberta. It also looks like multiple pages of various Christmas decorating magazines have come to life in my house due to over eager kids super excited for Christmas to arrive. I was more than happy to oblige their wishes to make the house more festive as soon as Remembrance Day was complete. My wife also sent me daily texts and post-it note reminders to have my Christmas wish list ready asap.
That leads me to writing this first part of the Whisk(e)y Lovers gift guide. The first part here today I will focus on what I call whisk(e)y adjacent gifts. What I mean by that is not actual bottles of whisk(e)y, but gifts that any lover of the water of life would enjoy receiving to possibly have more fun, or enhance their love for uisce beatha. I will preface this list with the caveat that these are gifts (pricing, websites, availability) that are in my market of Canada. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be found in other markets but different channels may be needed to find these or similar gifts for the whisk(e)y lover in your life.
Topping my list, for the simple reason that I received my first one as a Christmas Gift from my loving wife, is one of the most unique and fun gifts you can buy a whisk(e)y lover. A mini barrel that can be used in various ways. The best part of this gift is it can be used as often as you want and multiple times. I have had mine less than two years and I have done 4 separate experiments with it. i strictly use mine to do “finishing” projects, where I will season the barrel with a wine or other spirit, and then dump that and add the whisk(e)y to it and have the flavour of the initial seasoning product affect the whisk(e)y. I will be writing an article in the near future that will delve fully into my process of how to use a mini barrel for finishing projects. You could also take it to another extent and actually use a mini barrel to age new make or young whiskies. These mini barrels will affect the contents in a hyper quick fashion (even when using it as a finishing project) so attention and care is a must. I know a few people that have done this with “white dog” or unaged spirits. Yet another use, and one familiar to Steve (@parkwhiskeysociety) is using a mini barrel to age and/or marry a cocktail. Steve did this with a 8 Litre barrel that had been seasoned with sherry previously and made the BEST cocktail I have ever had in my life. When ordering from my preferred supplier as noted above, they offer a few different options to make the mini barrel you order a simple or deluxe as you wish. You can pick from a plain wood barrel or a “alligator” level charred barrel. You can also choose to have a wooden spigot or a metal one. And the coolest way to make the gift of a mini barrel even more special is to have an etching done on the barrel end. My wife chose to have our family Coat of arms and motto put on the end of my barrel, so even when its sitting idle or in the process of an experiment it looks great on my shelf. Urban Barrel Company not only sells the mini barrels, they also sell various other products as well so peruse their site and see if anything else captures your fancy. I highly suggest looking at adding some of the cleaning tablets to your order as they will “clean” the inside of the barrel before each additional use and ensure a safe and fun project each and every time. One more thing I love about Urban Barrel Company is not only do they have amazing products but they have even better people behind the products. They helped my wife through every step of the process from ordering to delivery and were amazingly friendly and helpful. They also did not hesitate to offer up a couple 2L barrels as donations for prizes for the Irish Invasion 2 tasting I co-hosted to raise a ton of money for charity. Amazing People, Amazing Products and guaranteed to be an Amazing Gift.
Next up on our gift guide is another one I have a lot of experience with. These are the hip flasks produced by RagProper. These are the “modern glass flask” and they claim that you can taste the difference and I fully agree. A little bit of backstory before I explain exactly why these are the absolute best flasks available. I came across this company long before they ever produced a flask when they launched a campaign on Kickstarter. It immediately caught my attention and everything they were claiming seemed to me to make sense so I backed them on their project, and kind of forgot about it. Once the project was fully funded and after a delay or two in production (they made sure they were as perfect as possible) I received my flask in a beautiful box with two lids (more on that in a bit) and a silicone funnel to help fill, as well as an extra silicone sleeve that I added on to my initial Kickstarter order. From the very first time I used my flask i knew for a fact their claims were true and this changed the flask game forever. Here’s what makes this so. The main thing is that these are made of the same glass that almost all premium spirits are bottled in. Therefore their is no metallic “taint” to the taste of whatever you put inside. This glass is also very durable (as I have repeatedly found out myself) and adding on the silicone sleeves or the higher end leather “jacket” there is an added layer of protection. All their sleeves leave open a space for their “Easy Pour Window” which is literally as it sounds, a window that allows you to see the contents of the flask so you know when it needs a refill, as well as, and more importantly, allows you to see the level when filling to prevent any over-filling and wasting any of the precious liquid gold you are putting into the flask. This window also allows you to see inside and ensure the flask is clean before filling again, which no metal flasks allow you to do. As I mentioned above, they also come with two lids. One is metal and for looks alone is my pick, however for some specific uses, they include a plastic lid as well which makes the entire flask undetectable from say metal detectors when entering certain events or venues. Both lids come lined inside with cork as most bottles are sealed with and this cork is high grade and have stood the test of time in my experiences. I also mentioned that you can pick from a removable silicone sleeve or a non-removable leather encasement. I in fact have one of each and each one has it use but I do feel the leather bound flask is classier and just has a better feel. My silicone cover flask I use for keeping in my golf bag or on hikes etc. The last part that comes included in the package is a silicone mini funnel with an air breather built in which makes filling extremely easy and fool proof. The only choice you really need to make once the sleeve and colour are chosen, is what size you want or need. These flasks come in 100ml (3 ounce) or a 240ml (8 ounce) version. There are also gift packs that come with one of each size which I love. The RagProper website also does offer accessory packs that include extra lids, lid seals, funnels and cleaning accessories. If a new portable drinking device is something your whisk(e)y lover could benefit from or if their old beaten and gross metallic flask needs to go, this is the place to go for a new and better (in all ways) flask.
When it comes to the way we all enjoy our favourite drams, there are so many choices for the vessel we use to pour from bottle into, and then from the vessel to our senses that awaken with each nosing, each sip, each swallow. Some are befitting of a certain time or event style, while others are more apt for specific reasons like diving deep into the dram itself, say for reviewing or even the first experience with a new whisk(e)y. Just as there is no “right” way to drink whisk(e)y, there is also no “right” glass to choose to use. There is a new glass that has come out in the last couple years that I personally find to be a step above for various reasons. Its the Tuath (pronounced TOO-AHH) and it was specifically rolled out as THE IRISH Glass. The glass is conical in shape like most copitas, Glencairns etc. The Tuath is slightly taller in stature than a Glencairn and with a slightly wider opening. These help promote more of the abrasive alcohol vapours out of the glass while keeping more of the flavour notes concentrated inside the glass. Yes, I know, most nosing/tasting glasses also claim this and I, myself, was skeptical of these claims…until I tried one for the first time. I was surprised as it did concentrate the pleasant notes inside the glass, while also having a better feel in the hand. The less-rounded sides of the Tuath along with the flared lip and the outstanding base all come together in harmony for a glass that is both classy in looks and practical in use and feel. Now that base itself is a true work of art both in style and usefulness. It is styled after the island Skellig Michael, which is just off the coast of my all time favourite place in this world. The base is also a perfect fit for your thumb whether left handed or right handed, and makes for a perfect little perch to hold the glass and swirl the whisk(e)y to your hearts content. Its this base that truly makes the Tuath stand out from any and all other whisk(e)y glasses. I truly love this glass and i sing its praises whenever I get the chance. And of course it works well with all types of spirits, not just Irish Whiskey.
If there was ever a one-stop-shop that could handle all your shopping needs and wants for the whisk(e)y fanatic in your life, this is it. Yes it is definitely geared towards the Irish whiskey fans more than anything else, but there are fantastic items throughout this amazing website that I guarantee would make any fan of this wonderful liquid smile for ear to ear. This entire wessite has items big and small, budget conscious and super high end. Items you would expect a whiskey merchandise store to carry and even more unique items you wouldn’t expect or that may surprise you. There is a whole line of Fine art prints that include a type of splash art that has images of different brands of whiskey. There is a variety of branded wall clocks, glassware and home decor like wooden coaster sets and piggy banks and candle holders. They have messenger bags and miniature metal distillery figurines and full on home bar set ups. I truly ask if you are looking for something truly unique for a gift, something that you know will be unexpected and cherished, you must visit this site and take a look around. They do ship to North America I know that for a fact as I have received a couple packages myself. The quality of the items and the true passion for whiskey from the owners is exuded through their products and is second to none.
5. Sample Bottles
Richards Packaging (Various Locations) or Uline or Amazon
Prices vary depending on quantity and size
One of the absolute coolest aspects of diving headfirst into my local whisk(e)y community was seeing first hand the generosity of the people involved in it. One way that this was shown was the constant wanting to share “samples” of whiskies with fellow enthusiasts. If someone had a bottle open of something I wanted to try or vice-versa, we would strike up a conversation, and agree on a trade, or sometimes even just bottle up a few and drop them off. This especially became an important facet of the whisk(e)y fabric when the pandemic hit. Most of us increased our buying habits and also had no real way of sharing stuff with each other. None of this would even be possible without the unsung hero of the whisk(e)y community that is the almighty sample bottle. The “brand” of sample bottle that seems to be the go-to and preferred style is called the Boston Round. These come in a huge variety of sizes, colours etc. with the most common being clear or the brown variable. For sizes the 1 ounce or 29ml size are by far the most common sizes, but some like to have larger ones for sharing larger portions with each other and then on the flip side there are plenty of half ounce sizes that are used for the super premium (read: expensive) alcohols that are shared. I cant tell you how many friendships have blossomed through the simplicity of the sample bottle and exchange between new friends. I myself have been lucky to have shared some absolutely fantastic whiskies I wouldn’t ever otherwise have been able to try and I forever savour those that people share with me and I know everyone else in the whisky fabric feels the same. One last word of personal advice, if at all possible try to get the bottles that come paired with the “poly-cone” lids. These lids allow for a tight seal and will not leach any unwanted foreign notes into the contents. The other option are usually lids that look identical from the outside but inside just have a glued in seal that kind of looks like the rubber seal in the top of a pop lid. The glue used in these lids will leach into the whisk(e)y contents inside the bottle. Don’t worry about buying too many sample bottles as a gift. There is no such thing and no matter the quantity purchased there will always be the need for more some time in the future.
This is just part one of my gift ideas for the whisk(e)y lover in your life. In part two i will summarize a handful of actual unique alcohol products that may be new to the market or maybe unheralded or under the radar of most people. This list above encompasses a few ideas that i know personally i would love to get as gifts. I know one of my favourite things about christmas and the days that follow is seeing all the gifts my fellow whisk(e)y enthusiasts opened. Hopefully i will see some of these under the trees of some of you out there.
Sazerac rye, or Baby Saz for those that are lucky enough to get their hands on its higher age statement BTAC bigger brother, is one of those quintessential ryes that everyone says you have to put on your bar shelf. However, is that the case these days? With the rye revolution in the USA firmly underway, where does this one fit now? With so many micro/craft distilleries coming out with so many interesting new or revived takes on rye, where does this one belong?
Personally, I’ve always treated this as a mid-shelf daily sipper with all of the notes that you would expect of a low-rye rye and none that you don’t. But, is that the actually true? Let’s find out!
This being Buffalo Trace, the mashbill is officially unknown, but it is rumoured (and tastes like) their low-rye mash bill. This used to have a six year age statement, but that is now gone. It is rumoured to still be in the 4-6 year age range though. It is bottled at 45% abv.
Nose: This is about a classic a nose as you can get on a low-rye, high-corn rye (if that makes any sense). I find that Sazerac has always been very barrel forward for me and today is no different. Lots of cinnamon, of course, but also a pinch of allspice. Aside from the barrel notes, there’s a good dose of the flesh and zest of a navel orange. There’s plenty of caramel in here as well. As I nose this for longer I get just a hint of cherry. Not 100% sure about that though. I am confident that there is a bit of a roasted peanut thing going on in here. This is a whiskey that has 3-4 very dominant notes right up front and you have to spend some time with it if you want to get more.
Palate: This is like an orange creme brûlée on the entry for me. Some caramelized sugar, vanilla cream and a little bit of orange zest stirred in. As much as I got a good dose of the barrel on the nose, there is a surprisingly creamy mouthfeel right from the get-go. That sweetness carries over into the development and, with cinnamon, clove and a pinch of nutmeg, it’s giving me a nice spice cake vibe that I love. The oak starts to creep into the experience during the end of the development, but there is enough of everything else that it stays in the background. When I smack my lips a little to let in some air, I definitely get that peanut note I got on the nose.
Finish: This is a decent medium finish that manages to stay fairly well-balanced throughout. The oak becomes a little more dominant, but there are enough baking spices and sweetness from elsewhere in the experience to help to tamp this down a shade. The creaminess does start to fade here and it becomes a little more drying.
With water added…
As soon as I add water to this, I get a bit of a herbal note right off the bat. A bit of slightly stale dill and flat leaf parsley. It fades away significantly if given a few minutes to settle. Other than that, I find that there is less citrus and more oak and baking spices. The caramel seems creamier this time. Like those soft Kraft caramels from my childhood (are these still a thing?). OK. Right on the beginning of the entry, this is Kraft soft caramel city. The other notes take over quickly, but there is no mistaking it. After that, I’m getting a little bit of that creme brûlée that I got without water, but the increased and earlier presence of oak is drying the experience out a little. That spice cake note has gone, but I’m getting a stronger peanut taste, almost bordering on sweetened peanut butter. The finish is a bit more drying and I’m getting more nutmeg and even some cracked black pepper.
I have always treated this as a daily sipping whisky and have never really concentrated on the experience up until now. I was really expecting to just give this an average review and say that there’s better out there. I firmly believe that the latter is true, but there is nothing wrong with this dram. Because of its balance, I can see why it is so popular with bartenders as a base in cocktails. I will never be able to get my hands on “adult” Saz, but this “baby” is alright by me.
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.