2021 Christmas Gift Ideas

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.

1. Mini Barrels

www.urbanbarrelcompany.com

Various sizes and price points

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.

2. RagProper Glass Flasks

www.ragproper.com

Various sizes and Price Points

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.

3. Tuath Irish Whiskey Glass

www.giftofspirits.com

$40

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.

4. Various Items From Whiskey Craft Ireland

www.whiskeycraft.ie

Various Items at Various Price Points

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. 

Sean Kincaid aka The Dark Cloud

Dram Mor Ben Nevis 8 year review

Dram Mor is an independent bottler located in Dumbarton, Scotland. The Macdonalds started their brand in 2019, and now ship bottles to over 24 countries around the world. The focus of this review is their 8 year old Ben Nevis expression. 

The Ben Nevis distillery is located on Loch Linnhe in the Highlands region at the base of Ben Nevis, which is the highest point on the British Isles. It was founded in 1825 by Long John McDonald, and was purchased by Nikka in 1989. The distillery focuses on 10 year expressions of its own spirit, and supplies whisky to many independent bottlers across the industry. 

This Dram Mor Ben Nevis release matured for 8 years in oak barrels, and then finished for an unspecified period in a very unique first fill white port pipe. This produced 169 bottles, and presents at a cask strength of 53% abv. This whisky is a pale yellow/gold, with a low viscosity that moves easily in the glass. 

Nose: Raisins, but not the dark sweet flavour normally found in a sherry finish. It comes across more like white wine to me.  There are undertones of milk chocolate, and some pepper in the background. 

Palate: The first flavour that presents is a salty sweet caramel. Very clear and bold, unmistakable. The white port influence comes through next. Some milk chocolate notes also, but they are quite subtle. Light smacking of the lips to allow in some air brings the chocolate to the forefront. 

Finish: The finish is more milk chocolate, creamy and sweet. There are some light oak notes too. The flavour that lingers on the palate at the end is pepper with a hint of ginger spice. 

With water added…

Softens the white wine on nose. On the palate, I get less obvious caramel and more nutty oak. The milk chocolate remains at the finish, but the pepper is muted. 

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Ben Nevis in general, and was really looking forward to trying this expression. It’s rare to see a whisky finished in a white port pipe. Unfortunately, I am not a wine drinker, and I found that the white port influences did not match my personal palate well. The milk chocolate notes that were present throughout the experience were delicious though, and the oak and pepper on the finish complimented those chocolate notes perfectly. While this bottle will not land on my own shelf, anyone who enjoys a wine or port cask finishes will undoubtedly love this release. It’s great to see independent bottlers like Dram Mor finding new and exciting ways to deliver whisky to the community!

Instagram: @woodley_dr

Cadenhead’s 7 Star Blended Scotch Whisky review

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky
ABV: 46%

The first thing I noticed about this was the retro-style bottle and label. That was interesting and turned out to be a premonition of sorts. The second thing I noticed was the Cadenhead’s name, which to me, and I know a fair number of fellow enthusiasts, is a sure sign of quality. The third thing I noticed was that the blend was married in Oloroso sherry casks. The last thing I noticed was the shop worker grabbing a mop for the drool pool quickly building at my feet (Ed. note…ewwwww). There has been a rumour whispered to me that Benrinnes makes up a portion of this blend as well. Hopefully they will release and confirm the parts that make up this blend.

In the glass it shows as a dark brown, almost the colour of cola with ice that has melted away. Medium legs initially both in width and length and coats the glass fairly nicely.

Nose: On the initial nose the sherry influence comes through. It shows up like musty/dusty style Oloroso. I get the scent of those 5 cent Cola bottle candies. The fruits start showing up a little deeper. Figs and raisins. The nose comes close to an almost Campbelltown funk. Not heavy at all, but a slight touch of smoke. Could be barrel usage but the nose is earthy, dunnage floor like. Maybe a bit of baking spice at the tail end of a big whiff. For a blend of grain and malt and at a decent price point this nose is very interesting and punches above its weight big time.

Palate: The initial entry is brighter than the nose foretold. Some grain showing through for sure. After a short bright burst it tames down a bit to get more of what’s expected after that nose. When the full palate is coated, the nutty side of sherry influence show up. A waxiness and heaviness is noticed and it almost turns into a really dank sherry whisky, but then the lighter side of fruits make their case. A touch of red delicious apples with peels on. Some cherry and sultanas with a bit of syrup coating on them. Even some chocolate and cinnamon on the roof of my mouth.

Finish: The finish on this one is intriguing. The spice and brightness perk up but once they start to fade, that nutty, fruity Oloroso is right there and clings for a while. It meets with the bit of spice kick and almost turns to a chocolate covered cherry. It sticks around much longer than I would expect and I am very happy with this surprise. It’s a sherry influence blend that avoids being over sherried and allows all aspects of the whisky to shine through at different times.

Conclusion

This is a blend that I will keep fully stocked in my cabinet as long as it’s available. It’s a delicious, interesting and fulfilling blend that punches above its weight and already changed by sipping it over the course of an hour. I can’t wait to see how it opens up with some time in the bottle. It’s reminiscent of some older style blends I have been lucky enough to try. Cadenheads revived the 7 star to showcase that a blend can be created using their vast array of top quality casks they have maturing in their warehouses and this one hammers the nail on that point. 

Instagram: @seankincaid

SINGLE CASK NATION WESTPORT 2005 (16 YEAR) REVIEW

What is a Westport anyway? Or a Williamson? Or Orkney? What’s going on here? Last we checked, these aren’t distilleries in Scotland. Or are they? Welcome to the world of distillery aliases. Westport is Glenmorangie. Williamson is Laphroaig. Orkney is almost always Highland Park. A few brands, especially those with a sizeable official bottling line are very protective about when independent bottlers can use their name. In these cases, they still sell on their casks to brokers and bottlers, but under an assumed name, if you will. There’s a bit more to it than that, I think, but as they say at my job, it’s good enough for government work!

This is our last SCN review for a little while, but I have to say that this initial release has been pretty epic. I doff my cap to Single Cask Nation for ignoring the roaring sherry trend and going with mostly second fill casks including many ex-Bourbon bottlings. Those ones, in particular, have been very illuminating for me. This Westport was distilled in May 2005 and dumped into a 2nd fill Oloroso Sherry Butt. It was bottled in May 2021 at 50.6% abv with a total out turn of 577 bottles.

Nose: This has a very citrusy nose with the zest and flesh of an orange. Some pineapple is in there too. I’m having a bit of a hard time digging past the citrus initially. Once my nose acclimatizes, I get a few Oloroso notes, but they are quite muted with this being a second fill cask. There’s a little bit of dark chocolate and some sultana raisins. I’m getting the faintest whiff of Christmas cake. It’s mostly cinnamon and ginger for the spicing. Again, the refill cask is, not surprisingly, giving me very little oak. As I nose this over time, I get a little bit of light honey and some Gala apples.


Palate: Quite light and sweet initially. Definitely a very strong Glenmo vibe off of this one for sure. Citrus, honey, crisp apples and a bit of toffee on the entry. The development gives me a bit of that Christmas cake note that I got on the nose as well as a good hit of baking spices. Those are earthier now with a nice hit of clove and nutmeg. There’s maybe a bit more oak than I usually like on the back end of the development, but this is a 16 year whisky, after all. There’s enough spice to tingle the tongue, but it’s not overpowering in any way. Overall, a nice balance here.


Finish: The finish is medium to long and only a little bit on the dry side. The oak is not too dominant and is balanced nicely by the remaining sweetness from the entry. The baking spices fade mid-way through the finish leaving oak and bit of dark chocolate at the end.

Conclusion

This is certainly a very good whisky in its own right, but out of all of the SCN releases I have reviewed recently, I find myself gravitating towards the ex-Bourbon matured expressions. My favorite of the six that we reviewed here was the Teaninich, which is the first one I tried. I hope that scotch lovers keep their options open to ex-Bourbon expressions such as these, rather than just going by the color of the liquid in the bottle. After trying these SCN releases, I’m definitely a convert!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

SINGLE CASK NATION BLAIR ATHOL 2011 (10 YEAR) REVIEW

Aside from comments on social media or in online tastings, this is the first time I’ve attempted formal tasting notes. As a relatively new whisky drinker, this is an intimidating task. It is especially nerve-wracking to be asked to post a review on the Park Whiskey Society website, which is a page I have gone to for over a year to read about some of the amazing options available to whisky lovers here in Alberta. 

When I first found this site online, I was amazed with each individual’s ability to detect such a wide range of scents and flavours in each dram. As a novice, I could only really pick up on sweet, spicy/peppery, smoky, or “holy crap that burns my eyes”. To read someone commenting on vanilla, or stewed fruits, or lemon zest made me feel like a very inadequate member of the group. 

It’s amazing what a few months and a few dozen (hundred?) drams can change. My best suggestion to new whisky drinkers: join a group like the Park Whiskey Society. There are many local whisky club options, and the people in these groups are generous, kind and always willing to share a sample or an opinion. Also, get involved in as many whisky tastings as you can. When you find a whisky you like, buy it. If it’s a limited release or special cask, buy two. You’ll regret it if you don’t. 

Single Cask Nation is one of the most successful independent bottling companies in the world, and they have very recently returned to the Canadian market. They have provided 6 distinct releases in the last 3 weeks, including this beautiful Blair Athol which spent 10 years maturing in a 2nd fill PX sherry butt. Blair Athol is a small Highland distillery that primarily supplies whisky for the popular Bell’s blend in Scotland. This whisky is bright copper in colour, and is bottled at a generous 55.3%. 

Nose: Sweet fruits, but more subtle than a traditional PX cask. A hint of musty malt that reminds me of the old bookshelves in my grandma’s basement. In a good way. Something else sweet too, like the inside of a candy bar. I spent a long time nosing this whisky. It’s complex. 

Palate: Rich and sweet, quickly turning to a ginger spiciness. This is followed by cereal malt, and hint of dark chocolate bitterness. The high abv might make it too hot for some. A couple drops of water mellowed the malt and spice and brought out something that reminded me of Christmas fruitcake. 

Finish: Medium-long, with lots of spice. Again, more ginger than pepper. The fruit at the end is cherry or cranberry, and leaves a very pleasant aftertaste. 

This is one of my favourites of the SCN initial releases. It is more complex than your average PX sherry bomb. The combination of the sweetness from 2nd fill sherry cask, the mustiness of the malt, and the ginger spice allows this dram to activate and please the entire palate. 

I am still learning about my own personal palate, and the unending flavours that appear across the whisky spectrum. You may agree with the notes above, or taste something completely different. But I know what I like. And I like this whisky. The SCN Blair Athol 10 is backup bottle worthy. 

Instagram: Dave Woodley (@woodley_dr)

Single Cask Nation Glen Elgin 2010 (10 year) review

This being my third Single Cask Nation review, I’m starting to see where their philosophy lies. Looking at their releases in the Canadian market at least, roughly 3/4 are from second-fill barrels. This has allowed me to discover the true nature and character of each distillery with the cask only providing a light touch. First-fill ex-sherry is very much en vouge at the moment, but SCN is bucking the trend in this regard. Will it catch on?

This Single Cask Nation Glen Elgin 10 year old was distilled in March 2010 and was matured in a second-fill ex-Bourbon hosghead. It was bottled in October 2020 at 61.3% abv with a total out turn of 293 bottles.

Nose: A very fruity nose that goes in all kinds of directions. Most prominent is pineapple, but orange is not far behind. I’m getting quite a bit of zest, but also the flesh or an orange as well. Lying underneath are some crisp red apples. I’m mostly getting ginger for spicing, but not a whole lot else. Not surprising as, like the Teaninich and Tomatin before it, this is a second fill Bourbon hogshead (or barrel in Tomatin’s case). I got a little bit of a white grape note when I first poured this, but that has almost completely dissipated now. There is a small amount of vanilla. As I nose this over time I discovered a faint toasted sugar note. Nothing to report in terms of oak. Once again, this is very distillate forward. I see a trend forming here with the SCN releases. They’re wanting the distillate to shine through.

Palate: Almost right away, I’m getting pears poached in syrup. Almost stronger than I got on the Teaninich. The first sip was shockingly easy to drink. On the first couple of sips, that pear note was almost too dominant in its sweetness. On subsequent sips, more notes come forward to balance this out. My tongue is starting to tingle so I have to slow down. Initially, the nose is light and sweet with honey and a little citrus zing. Then the orchard fruits start to come forward during the development. Mostly pear, but now joined by apple. Then I get more citrus mid-development with a good amount of ginger and clove as well as a sprinkling of black pepper. I’m surprised how much oak I’m getting on the back end of the finish, but it’s well balanced and not overpowering in any way.

Finish: A lovely long finish with a little bit of everything. First a bit of oak and fading spice from the development. Then the apple and pear comes back along with a little bit of dark chocolate. Lastly, I get a faint hint of citrus that makes me want to go back for more.

With water added…

I’m not getting as much apple on the nose and the pineapple and orange have been turned up a little. I’m getting some cinnamon along with the ginger now. About six drops of water to my remaining ounce of this has allowed me to get much deeper into the glass. It’s calmed down the alcoholic bite quite a bit. On the palate, the orange is balancing out the apple and pear a lot more on the front end of the development. The added cinnamon that builds through the experience is giving this a bit of an apple pie filling vibe. The skin is still on the apples, giving it a slightly bitter note. The finish hasn’t changed an awful lot, but the spice stays around for longer.

Conclusion

Before I tried these three SCN ex-Bourbon barrel releases, I was very much in the sherry bomb and peat monster camp. I’m still very solidly in those two camps, but these samples have opened my eyes to just how magical ex-Bourbon cask matured whisky can be. The tropical and orchard fruits just shine through, particularly in these SCN releases and has me wanting more.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Single Cask Nation Tomatin 2006 (12 year) review

Unlike the Teaninich that I just reviewed, Tomatin is definitely a familiar name if you have perused the whisky shelves with any frequency. From the Legacy, all the way through their high age stated bottles, Tomatin is a very familiar and affordable Highland scotch whisky. Tomatin likes to advertise themselves as “The lighter side of the Highlands”. This moniker may hold true when it comes to their official bottlings, but that is not case if you pick up an independent bottling of the stuff. I found this out in a big way when I reviewed this zesty little number!

This Single Cask Nation Tomatin 12 year was distilled in 2006 and matured in second fill bourbon barrels. It was bottled in 2019 at 58.1% abv with an out turn of 219 bottles.

Nose: For a second fill bourbon barrel, I’m getting quite a bit of vanilla. Even stronger than the expected tropical fruits is the fresh cut apple note I’m getting right off the bat. I have to say, for such a high abv whisky, I can really get my nose pretty deep into the glass. This nose is quite cereal rich for it’s age with a good amount of barley sugar thrown in for good measure. As well as pineapple, I’m getting quite a lot of citrus oil expressed from a fresh orange. A grapefruit note comes up after a while in the glass. As far as spicing goes, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger and a hint of cinnamon.

Palate: I was expecting a wave of citrus here and I get that big time. The entry, after the first couple of sips, is quite measured and sweet with honey and vanilla wafers before a wave of citrus breaks early in the development. This, along with its high proof really tingles the tongue so I would sip this slowly if I were you! The sweet and sour note continues throughout the entire development with the latter transitioning from orange to grapefruit as the experience progresses. That maltiness and barley sugar continues from the nose and apexes during the mid part of the development. The sweetness fades during the second half of the development, but doesn’t disappear completely. The spice builds to a crescendo at the end of the development with cinnamon, ginger, cracked black pepper and clove. There just a bit of oak at the end, but it is pushed into the background will all of this spice.

Finish: This is a very long finish that is spice and citrus forward. Most of the spice and sweetness fades during the first half of the development. This leaves the citrus to continue the journey alone for the most part, with some oak tagging behind it. The tail end of the finish is a little bit sour and bitter in equal amounts. It’s not in your face. Not all whisky needs to end with a sweet note.

With water added…

This has become a bit floral now. The vanilla remains, but I’m not getting as much apple as I did without water added. I’m still getting some of that nice maltiness. I’m getting some earthy allspice and the ginger has faded quite a bit. The cinnamon remains though. A nice digestive cookie note comes out after some time in the glass. The palate still possesses quite a bit of citrus zest, but there is more sweetness to balance it throughout the entire development. The sweetness is mostly a rich honey. On the second half of the development, the spice is still pretty strong, perhaps even stronger than without water. Interesting that I am getting a bit of apple, starting mid-way into the development and continuing into the finish. This is still quite a spicy, citrusy finish, but that extra apple and honey sweetness helps to balance things out a bit more. The finish is still sour and bitter, but there is enough sweetness there to right the ship a little.

Conclusion

This is not a whisky that everyone will enjoy. If you are dead set against adding water to your whisky, you had better like a good dose of citrus. The addition of water and the added sweetness it brings really transforms this one quite a bit. To be honest, I’m glad that the Teaninich I just reviewed and this one are so radically different. Seeing that these two are both from second fill bourbon casks of some sort, and thus quite distillate forward, you get an idea just how diverse Highland scotch whiskey can be.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

DINGLE SINGLE MALT IRISH WHISKEY REVIEW

The Dingle Peninsula, as a whole, is probably the most beautiful place on earth I have ever been to. I seriously left a piece of me behind on the bluff overlooking Dunquin Harbour. The town of Dingle is magic personified in a small town. From the B&B’s that are literally on top of the pubs on main Street (Strand Street) to the pubs that double as a hardware store, to the distillery found just outside the town. If you do find yourself lucky enough to visit heaven on earth in Dingle, make sure you take a drive out along the Sales Head drive from town and stop at Dunquin Harbour. Just stand there and take it all in. 

I have been lucky enough to try all 5 batches of the Dingle Single Malt that have been available (Batch 6 just released in Ireland recently) and I have liked every one. They are fairly youthful yes, but vibrant and exciting. The varying cask usage between batches also kept me on my toes. I liked a couple more than the others but they were all up my alley in terms of palate.

Now to the bottle at hand. The first thing I notice is the packaging. A striking dark navy blue with gold foil trim including a more prominent logo that I call “The Dingle Man”.

Bottled at a very nice 46.3% abv and non-chill filtered, cut down to bottling proof with water from their own well 240 feet below the ground.

In the glass it has a nice golden honey hue with a slight touch of red on the edges. Very skinny but super slow legs on the glass as I twirl. Just begging for a nose and a taste.

Nose: On the initial nose there is a familiarity evident immediately.  That Dingle sweet malt note that I do really like. Sitting side by side riding shotgun is a fruit sweetness. Like a creamy strawberry, and a bit of tart fruit that I find in most Dingle releases. Like a sugar coated rhubarb stock that I used to eat as a kid. The PX casks add a heavier fruit note deeper down. A touch of spice comes through with some time in the glass. An underlying nutmeg, and citrus. Like a slice of sugar dusted orange peel or lemon slices in tea. This is more complex than I would have predicted.

Palate: On the initial sip, the immediate note I pick up is the salted/spiced toffee and vanilla. It’s clear the bourbon casks used are top tier. They show up in Spades right off the hop. There is some spice here for sure. Some white pepper, and again the nutmeg almost reaching to cinnamon. The fruit notes come through after. Starting off with orchard fruits. Caramelized apples and stewed pears with the honey and vanilla. This starts intermingling with a bit of the sherry fruit sweetness. Bringing along fall/autumn fruits and that herbaceous feeling. The most unique note I find is a slight chocolate leading to a fresh roasted coffee bean note. This caught me by surprise and I really like it.

Finish: The spice has come back again. Almost tingles down and then back up on to the tongue. More of the salted honey and pepper with a touch of cinnamon. This one has a bit of everything but never feels disjointed. It evolves instead of fighting itself. And it leaves me feeling satisfied.  I need to keep reminding myself that this is their core release which is readily available and will not disappear quickly like previous batches. Being only roughly 5 to 7 years old there is definitely a touch of youth that shines through but it’s not off putting in any way. I also do love that there is still an evident “Dingle” note found in this bottle, which ties it in with the batch releases.

CONCLUSION

As I finished this glass off, I kicked back and looked over at the photo that I took myself, that is now poster-sized and hanging in my kitchen of Dunquin Harbour. I pictured myself with this bottle sitting on the bluff up above the winding pathway, the wind blowing in off the ocean and just taking it all in as I was so lucky to do once before.

Instagram: @seankincaid

Single Cask Nation Teaninich 13 year

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.

Conclusions

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!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Value Dram Reviews – Deanston 12 Year

Before I get into the review of this lovely whisky, I just want to highlight a small, yet significant change to the name of this review series. Changing the word “Budget” to the word “Value” implies that you are getting the maximum bang for your buck. “Budget” can be misconstrued for “Cheap”, which I was not going for in the first place. Although the majority of the reviews in this series will involve whiskies under $100, there are some above that amount whose quality punches far above its price, delivering exceptional value in the process. In keeping with the original premise, these whiskies should be readily available in Canada and definitely available in Alberta. Now, on to the review!

When we are talking about Deanston, it’s useful to talk about their owners, South Africa’s Distel Group, and their other brands. Whether it be Tobermory (and Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain or the blended scotch, Black Bottle, all of their 10 and 12 year old (and Black Bottle’s standard offering) expressions offer exceptional value for money. Although I don’t have the details in front of me (editor’s note: “He’s lazy”), the quality of their whiskies come down, in part, to their cask management program. Whether it be ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and everything in between, their base offerings showcase a perfect balance between spirit and cask that you simply don’t get from old, tired wood. With a potential takeover by Heineken in the works, it will be interesting if the potential new owner stays the course or tries to appeal to a mass market and moves in a similar (and in my opinion, controversial) direction to what Brown Forman is doing to Glendronach. Only time will tell. Fingers crossed.

When it comes to Deanston specifically, it has only been in operation, with some shut-downs, since 1965. Formerly a cotton mill, their electrical turbines on the River Teith power not only the distillery and all of their operations, but also generates a surplus that can be sold back to the national grid. Score one for clean energy.

Deanston has become a very popular brand in Canada thanks to Mike Brisebois, Distel’s former national brand ambassador. I’ll say this every time I review a Distel product: These brands wouldn’t be as popular in this country if it wasn’t for him.

The Deaston 12 year old, our whisky under review today, is matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46.3% abv. The bottle says no chill filtration. A quick visit to their website confirms that it has no added color, but I just wish they would proudly say that on the packaging.

Nose: This is a classic ex-Bourbon matured scotch, if ever there was one. This is tropical fruit all the way with pineapple mostly, but also ripe mango and the oils expressed from an orange. When I first opened this bottle many months back, there was quite a bit of honey on the nose. The tropical character has since taken over, but the honey note becomes just a bit more prominent the longer this sits in the glass. What I love most about this whisky is the significant malted cereal and barley sugar notes that I get as soon as I pour this into my glass. Over time, I also get a slight floral note. It’s not overly perfumed, but just enough to slightly offset (and compliment) the sweetness. The vanilla and toffee notes get stronger over time. In terms of spices, I’m getting quite a bit of ginger, but not really any spices that are earthy, like nutmeg or clove.

Palate: Right from the get go, the honey character is far more prevalent on the entry, eclipsing the topical notes by a wide margin. The honey note is deep, rich and creamy. Subsequent sips give me some vanilla and medium toffee. Thankfully, some acid and a bit of bitterness come through in the development to offset this sweetness. First, it’s the maltiness with a little bit of barley sugar, then the acid from the tropical fruit shines through. Finally the oak, ginger and a bit of clove give the experience a spicy kick. This progression of flavors is remarkable for a 12 year old whisky. As I smack my lips, I get some medium dark chocolate, a hint of nuitiness and a lot more citrus. As I continually sip this (and trust me, it’s hard to stop), I’m picking up a slight saltiness which is weird as this is not anywhere near the sea.

Finish: This is a medium finish in perfect balance. Not too dry and not too creamy. The sweetness from the entry holds. There’s enough citrus to make the mouth water. A little bit of ginger spice and some oak bitterness. That saltiness actually builds during the first half of the finish before fading away. Again, that was quite an unexpected note.

With water added…

Interesting. I’m still getting those tropical fruits on the nose, but a super ripe peach has joined the party as well. The vanilla and honey notes are much stronger with water. There’s a little bit of citrus herbal tea. The ginger note has increased as well. I feel like I could make an interesting, hot winter drink with all this! That herbal tea note definitely carries over onto the palate and the ginger note has increased. The palate is much less sweet now. That malty cereal note is bobbing along the surface. The finish has lengthened and, like the palate, is much less sweet. There’s a little bit of menthol and it’s a tiny bit herbal too. Italian Parsley perhaps.

Conclusion

This is definitely a tale of two whiskies. It’s rare to see that much of a change with just a few drops of water. Part of me wishes that I could have just a little bit less sweetness without water and a little more with. I do appreciate the contrast though.

To me this is a value dram because of how much dense flavour is packed into such a young whisky. The ex-bourbon cask allows for the subtle flavours of the distillate to shine through in a way that would be potentially masked by an aggressive sherry influence. For the price, this is a steal of a whisky.

Instagram: @paul.bovis