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

Eau Claire Single Malt Batch 5 review

Located in the heart of Turner Valley, Alberta, Eau Claire Distillery is part of the distilling revolution that is spreading quickly through Alberta. Open since 2014 and originally focusing on white spirits, their single malt whisky has generated a cult following among Canadian whisky fans. Their farm to glass philosophy allows them to showcase the very best ingredients that Alberta has to offer.

Now in its fifth release, this batch is a blend new Hungarian oak, ex-Sherry and ex-Bourbon barrels. There is no age statement, but has to be at least three years old and is bottled at 43% with no chill filtration or added color.

Nose: The orchard fruits stand out straight away. Fresh cut red apples mostly, but also a slice of pear. There is also a dominant, grain-forward note that reminds me of a young Irish single malt. I get a touch of barley sugar candies along with that. There is a light honey note that has settled into the background as this sits in the glass. There’s some orange in here, but it’s more like a mandarin rather than a navel orange. Ginger and cinnamon are the only spices I get. I’d say the vast majority of this whisky matured in ex-Bourbon, but there is enough of that Hungarian oak to tingle the nose a little. I can’t say I am getting any ex-Sherry influence at all.

Palate: The one thing I notice right away is how creamy this feels right off the bat. One of the creamiest mouthfeels I have had in a long while. It’s creamy honey poured over apples and pears on the entry. That stays on the palate for the whole experience. The development is all about the grain and oak. Malted cereal and barley sugar dominate initially, but then the Hungarian oak kicks in. It’s not overpowering and there’s a nice balance between the wood, the sweetness and the grain. Clove joins the ginger and cinnamon.

Finish: The Hungarian oak is nicely balanced by the lingering sweetness in a nice medium finish. Earthy nutmeg joins the other baking spices here, giving me an early Christmas vibe. As the finish progresses, I’m getting a cocoa powder note that actually builds rather than recedes. The creaminess hangs on to the end.

With water added…

The new Hungarian oak is much stronger now, as is the youthful grain note. This isn’t an issue for me seeing as I love young whisky when it’s presented like this. That barley sugar note is strong with this one now. The orchard fruits are still there, but are in the background now. The palate is still creamy, but the youthfulness of this whisky is really starting to show now. It’s too grain-forward and the oak is a little dominant for me. I’m missing a richness that I enjoyed without water being added. The sweetness barely hangs on during the back end of the development. With water, the finish is the best part of the experience. That cocoa note, which love, remains on the finish.

Conclusion

This was my first whisky from Eau Claire and I like what I see from here. The youthful maltiness and the choice of barrels really works. Too much ex-Sherry and Hungarian oak would have swamped the delicate character of this whisky. Also, I never would have guessed that this was only 43%. What surprised me the most was how creamy this dram is. I would definitely recommend this without any water added as the balance was thrown off a bit. Overall, this was everything that I love about a young whisky and can’t wait to try their next release.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Dram Mor Inchfad 14 Year review

Inchfad is the name of a certain style of release that comes from the Loch Lomond Distillery. It’s actually hardly ever used anymore and was only used by Loch Lomond for a brief time in the mid 2000s. It was always a heavily peated release that befit the Inchfad name and this one shows that side well.

This was brought to us by the independent bottler, Dram Mor, a company who have had their first outturn in Canada recently. Mostly young to teenaged whiskies, they are showing off some unique and interesting cask profiles along with some unique distillate character from a number of distilleries. I have been fortunate enough to have tasted through a number of previous and current releases from Dram Mor and one thing I can say is they always have interesting drams to taste.

This Dram Mor 14 year was finished in a first-fill PX cask and was bottled at 54.7%. A total of 274 bottles were produced with 42 of those making their way to Canada.

In the Glass: A darker maple colour, and a nice glass coating texture. A quick swirl reveals some slow legs that seem to hug the glass nice and tight. I am already getting a waft off the glass and I need to dig right in.

Nose: An initial note of peat smoke fills my nostrils. A smoke that seems almost like it’s coming from damp wood but not oceanic wood. Oh WOW, there is a funk on this nose as soon as the peat wafts and settles. An almost barnyard funk. Like wet hay after a rainstorm has passed and the sun is shining down and trying to dry out the bails. A slight touch of vegetal/barn funk as well. This is so intriguing and I wasn’t expecting it at all, but I love it. Bring me that funk!!! Digging down and now the sweetness shows up. Definitely PX sweetness showing through now. Syrupy caramelized apples, maybe a bit of raisins in a reduced brown sugar sauce, ready to pour over some sticky toffee pudding. Some toasted maltiness comes through near the very end of the nose. Man this nose has a bit of everything, the smoke, the sweetness and oh Billy that FUNK. I cant wait to start sipping on this.

Palate: Right from the start, it prickles the tongue in the way a peppered rim of a glass from a caesar would. Then surprisingly, the sweetness comes in full force. Orange peels and caramel come in, bringing along some tartness from a cherry-like note. The ABV does not show itself except for that initial hit. The smoke starts to come through and dances around the tongue with the sweetness, transforming into a touch of old leather. A bit of ginger and cinnamon shows up just as that peat smoke starts to awaken a bit more. The funk from the nose is tamped down a but, but shows up in a malty note, almost like an oatmeal with brown sugar dusted on top, but eaten next to the barn where the animals sheltered all night. The funk man….the funk. Upon a swallow, the cinnamon and malt notes stick around for a bit, I’d say medium to almost shorter, however that peat smoke and pepper cling on for even longer.

Conclusion

This one is interesting to say the least. I don’t think this one will be for everyone and definitely not for the faint of heart. That funk is everything special to me, in my heart, that I love finding in new whiskies. The nose and palate align but differ just enough to make this a thinker. A dram you wanna sit back with and sip over an hour or so with nothing on but some Righteous Brothers on the turntable and the lights turned way down. The dichotomy of that setting with this dram will awaken all the senses and truly let this wonderful whisky shine through.

Instagram: @seankincaid

Two Brewers Release 27 and 28 review

Two Brewers Release 27

Type: Innovative
ABV: 46%
Released: August 2021

It’s no secret that I have an immense love for all things Two Brewers. From the people behind the brand, to the always increasing profiles of their whisky, to the absolutely unique and interesting things that they continue to try with each release, it easily takes my top spot of all Canadian whisky brands.

Release 27 is exactly what I am talking about. If you know the story behind how Two Brewers started, and clearly by their name itself, it was started by the people who were already established in the beer business with Yukon Brewing. They took that background and absolutely shoved it into the formation of this whisky.

Release 27 has Vienna, Munich, Honey and roasted malts. These are all primarily malts used almost exclusively in the beer brewing industry.  Some of this whisky started out in virgin oak barrels to start, and then spent the rest of its time in ex-Bourbon barrels. They were married in ex-peated barrels for 19 months.  It has 6, 7, 9, 10 and 11 yr old mashes in it with roughly 1/3 being 10 years or older. Yup I’d say that’s pretty experimental and unique cask usage and now I will let you know what all of this ends up like in a finished bottle of whisky.

In the glass, this has the appearance of a lighter Red style beer (hehehehe) with medium to long legs that slowly fall down the glass.

Nose: This hits with malt up front. I guess that’s not a surprise knowing what’s making up the whisky. There is some nice honey sweetness. Almost like a raw honey type note. Behind that follows some vanilla and caramel. Funnily enough, as I start to pick up the wood/cask influence I also get a whiff of fresh dark roasted coffee. I swear I pick up that fresh virgin oak cask influence right at the end on a deep inhale. The nose on this whisky has me curious and very interested in diving in. 

Palate: First sip and immediately I get all that malt up front as well. Malt with a honey glaze over it. Like Honey Nut Cheerios with extra honey. There’s a slight tingle and even though it’s only 46% abv, it almost drinks heavier, which I am totally okay with. This whisky reveals layers upon layers as it moves back on the tongue. I swear I can taste a faint actual beer note on my tongue right now. Bourbon type notes pop up mid palate, some dark fruits mixed with a slight blood orange/mandarin taste and then that spice from virgin oak comes through. Cinnamon and clove and a slight hint of spiced up toasted coconut just as it starts to fade into the finish.

Finish: The finish on this beautiful whisky carries the spice notes through and the sweetness returns with that mandarin orange and cinnamon. This is the only time that I even slightly think I catch a whiff of any smoke at all, but it’s long after the swallow and it’s found on the residual flavours left in the mouth.

Conclusion

Wow. What a whisky. Layers, balance, beautiful cask usage, experimental malt usage. The proof is in the bottle. Literally for me as this one is being drank faster than most bottles I open. I am saying right now, this is my sleeper hit of the year in whisky. I love this bottle!!

Two Brewers Release 28

Type: Special Finishes
ABV: 46%
Released: September 2021

This one is a mix of 7 year old and 10+ year old mashes. All of the Whisky is a standard malted barley mash. It spent 5 months in virgin oak barrels, then it was moved to ex-Bourbon barrels. Finally, it spent 2 years in Hungarian oak sherry barrels. After spending 2 yrs in sherry barrels, it was blended with a standard 12 year old mash. Clearly this is NOT your standard sherry casked whisky.

In the glass this has a dark copper to light rust colour. Thin but long lasting legs coat the glass and clearly hint at an oily masterpiece awaiting me.

Nose: On the nose I am immediately hit with familiar sherry notes, but not at all a sherry bomb. This is dusty sherry spice-coated fruits with a nice malt backbone. Even the fruits aren’t the typical plums, raisins and prunes. Brighter fruits, more lush ripe juicy fruits. I even find a faint note of Nag Champa incense at the tail end of the nose. That sherry sweetness fills out the very end of the nose right before I take another whiff. I have no idea what to expect on the palate now but I am excited to find out.

Palate: Just a small sip to wet the palate and the beautiful sherry spice comes across strongest. Very mouth coating and viscous. A bigger sip and let it rest a bit and the fruity side of sherry comes through stronger. But again, I’m not finding the typical darker, drier fruits. Juicy almost sub-tropical notes of creamy ripe mango, like a mango milkshake. I also get that Hungarian oak spice with some added cinnamon. There is also a slight saltiness, which I can’t explain but it’s there, sitting right after the spice. There is a beautiful play between that salt and the sweetness and it’s gorgeous. As this starts to fade on the swallow, that spice and salt meld as they fade and turn into a salted dark cocoa/chocolate note. I find this as I chew on the finish and let it build up again.

Finish: The finish is long and bold and that dusty old style sherry finally shows right at the end and that cocoa/sherry is what carries on through the whole finish.

Conclusion

This one on first sip was surprising as it wasn’t at all what I expected from the sherry casking. I am so happy it isn’t a simple sherry cask whisky. This one you need to sit with and contemplate. This isn’t a background whisky at all. It needs your attention and demands it. Two Brewers shows, once again, why they deserve to be at the top of the Canadian whisky landscape. No one else is doing the things they are doing and we are the lucky recipients of release after release of absolutely stunning whisky. Look for a future review of release 29 which the cold northerly air has whispered to me could be even more special than normal.

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

Hinch Peated Single Malt review

Nestled in the rolling hills of Co. Down just south of Belfast on Killaney Estate lies a whiskey distillery that has big ambitions and the people and passion to back it up. Founded by Dr. Terry Cross who also owns the Bordeaux winery Chateau de la Ligne, Hinch distillery is a world class facility that spares no expense in the pursuit of making their mark on the world stage.

Since they have only been laying down their own new make spirit in oak since late last year, they are sourcing their whiskies for now. A fact they have been completely transparent about. Called their Time Collection, their five core releases include age stated expressions, a small batch entry-level bottle and a traditional Irish pot still with a small amount of oats in the mash. Our focus today will be on their peated single malt. For the longest time, Connemara stood alone as the only peated bottle you could find on the Emerald Isle. Now, you probably need more than two hands to count them all. And you’re going to need a lot more hands in the future, that’s for sure.

The Hinch Peated Single Malt has ben matured for at least for years in first-fill bourbon casks from Kentucky. It was bottled at 43% abv. Both Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) and I will be letting you know what we think of this one.

Sean Kincaid’s review

In the glass the light color is the first thing I notice. Whether it’s youth or the type of casks used, we shall determine.

Nose: The next thing I notice is the smoke notes wafting over the table to my nose. There’s definite peat smoke, more along the earthy, mineral type smoke and seemingly quite strong. As I bring the glass to my nostrils, I am picking up a sweet peat along with a floral sweetness. Almost to the point of being botanical. That could be from the youthfulness or maybe just the distillate has some floral notes in it. The smoke is like if someone extinguished a bonfire on a wet beach but using pine tree branches and some flowers to put the fire out.  I also get a good dose of citrus fruit off the nose. Tangy and bitter, like orange peels or grapefruit. It almost reminds me of the younger bourbon-matured Kilkerran/Glengyle style peat influence without much of the Campbelltown funk. This nose is so interesting I keep going back for more.

Palate: First thing I notice is the citrus fruit notes. With the peat not far behind. A more standard peat note than on the nose. Very citrus forward and easily reminiscent of Islays output. For what I assume is a rather young peated single malt this has a great mouthfeel. Silky and not overbearing. More wet beach smoking fire notes. That grows more earthy and minerally with time. Still a touch of that floral impact kicking around that could almost lean towards a herbal type note. A touch of salt. Not brine but, salt. Like salted honey.

Finish: The peat smoke and citrus/floral notes fade with a medium finish. On the finish is the only slight tingle I get at all. The lasting note is almost a salted sweetness with a slight twang from the peat. Again super interesting to me. This is only my second time having this and the first time having it on its own. I am glad I have more left in this bottle to come back to.

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: This is a peat lovers dream for sure. It’s not Laphroaig levels of medicinal, but it is leaning that way. It’s salty and briny. A good dose of iodine in there as well. This is a very sea breeze across a tidal flat for me. There’s a bit of a salty sea shell mineral note and an underlying sweetness of vanilla and toffee. As I dig deeper, there’s a bit of wet dirt and earthy spices such as clove and a bit of nutmeg. Might be just the faintest whiff of that Hinch shortbread cookie note, but I may be overthinking it. Wonder if I will get more of that on the palate?

Palate: A lovely evolution. The entry is oily and mouth coating. Surprisingly so for its 43% abv. The peat doesn’t hit you straight away. It builds slowly through the development. Initially, there is a lovely hit of everything I love about Hinch’s sourced whiskey. Lots of vanilla and toffee as well a big dose of shortbread and digestive biscuits. I’m also getting that malted cereal note as well. As the development progresses, the peat starts to creep in. More of that “surf n’ turf” that I got on the nose. The saltiness shines through as well as a bit more of that wet dirt and a slice of lemon peel. What I love so much about the mid part of the development is this perfect marriage of peat and that Hinch shortbread note that I have come to love. Earthy baking spices and oak round this out. There is enough shortbread at the end to balance it out.

Finish: Mostly a continuation from the development. There’s a nice, spicy kick initially. The baking spices are joined by some cracked black pepper. The oak tastes a little bit wet, but there is enough of the spice and shortbread to temper that a bit. The sweetness fades about half way through the decent medium finish, but I don’t find the wet dirt, baking spice, oak combination to be off-putting. They’re mostly in balance with each other.

With water added…

I would say the peat is even stronger now, but the shortbread note is much more pronounced as well. Peated shortbread. Is that a thing!? It’s more salt and brine than iodine. Water hasn’t helped on the palate. It’s not quite as rich on the entry or as mouth coating. Also, there is a bit too much of that wet oak mid-palate, which throws things out of balance. The finish follows from that and it’s too oaky for me.

Paul’s conclusion

I’m hard pressed to say if this is my favorite Hinch expression or the Pot Still. They both have so much flavor, texture and character. I’m of the mind to have this without water, but I always add some at the end, just to see how things turn out. Without water, there is an almost perfect balance everywhere. I am a big Laphroaig fan, but I would reach for this Hinch Peated Single Malt any day over the 10 year. It’s that good.

Instagram: Sean Kincaid (@seankinkaid) and Paul Bovis (@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