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 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

Single Cask Nation 9 Year Blended Malt – Whisky Explorer Society Exclusive review

Over the next few months, some independent bottler’s products are going to be available to Albertans for the first time (or for the first time in a while). The first of these will be the Single Cask Nation (SCN) out of the United States. For a number of years, they have had a cult like following through the releases they make available to their members. These tend to sell out extremely quickly.

In 2017, SCN created J & J Spirits, which consisted of a line of bottlings that could be bought at whisky shops and enjoyed in bars. Later this year, we’ll be able to enjoy a number of these products. These will also be single cask offerings. In the past, these releases have focused not only on Scottish distilleries such as Linkwood, Ben Nevis and Laphroaig, but also whiskies from America and rums from around the world.

Although PWS Imports will be making sure that a few releases make it to store shelves, Mike Brisebois’ Whisky Explorer Society members will have first crack at the bat with the opportunity to order the whisky under review today. Very soon, PWS Imports’ Single Cask Clan members will have their own SCN release. At around that time, other J & J bottles will show up in stores.

This Whisky Explorer Society SCN release is a nine year blended malt matured in a first fill sherry butt and bottled at 65.4% abv. The blend is comprised of single malts that fall under the Edrington group of brands. Although which distilleries are represented in here is a secret, Highland Park and Macallan are strong possibilities.

Nose: There’s Highland Park in here. Highland Park or I’m a fool. Rich honey and just a whiff of heathered peat. This is not a sherry bomb on the nose at all. For those of you who have tried the latest batch of Old Perth Cask Strength, this nose will be very familiar to you. Lots of red berries and light stone fruits. Strawberries, peaches, nectarines and a little bit of raspberry. After a while a bit of a shortbread note is noticeable in the background. Besides ground ginger, I’m not getting a lot of baking spices here. There’s maybe a bit of European oak, but this one is very distillate forward on the nose at least.

Palate: For such a high abv whisky, the entry is pretty measured in terms of length. Werther’s Original caramels, orange zest, stewed red fruits. A little bit of vanilla extract and ground almond. The oak is much more pronounced in the mouth than on the nose, but there is enough citrus and sweetness to prevent the development from being too drying. The ginger and white pepper slowly build, but don’t overwhelm the experience. The caramel changes to sponge toffee towards the end of the development. Some ground clove is at the end as well.

Finish: Medium in length, but pleasant. Fading spice and oak. A bit of medium dark chocolate. The lingering citrus prevents this from being too drying. Going back to the Old Perth Cask Strength comparison again, there is much less youthfulness in this SCN bottle. There’s a depth to this that defies it’s age.

With water added…

There’s a little bit more oak on the nose now. There’s some clove joining the ginger and the caramel has been replaced by a light sponge toffee. The ground almond that I got on the entry has moved up into the nose as well. The entry is sweeter and creamier now. Almond brittle and chocolate fudge have joined the party. That fudge note carries all the way through the development, which is a good thing as the oak is a little more prevalent now. The balance is maintained. The finish is more oak forward, but not overly bitter.

Conclusion

Once again, this is a friendly reminder not to sleep on blended malts. Or any blends for that matter. When done right, these offer exceptional value for your money. It may be frustrating to some that there is sometimes a lack of an age statement (or that’s not the case here) and the origins of the blend are opaque, but my motto is, if it tastes good, those unknowns kind of melt away.

Instagram: @paul.bovis