For those of you not yet riding the Carn Mor train I suggest you go find yourself a ticket as quickly as possible. I’d recommend starting with an offering from their Strictly Limited range since new batches from various regions are released fairly regularly. Many notable and pungent weirdos come from their line and they carry some soft and more elegant little lovelies too, all with a common trait, quality. Consistent prices and reliable picks are pretty much guaranteed and based on their consistent track record of delicious and rare drams, there’s a chance they’ll have an expression that may fit your taste and budget..Enter stage left: a lovely expression from MacDuff (affectionately known as Glen Devron or The Deveron in some circles).
This particular MacDuff was distilled in 2011 and matured in a bourbon barrel for 10 years before being bottled at a monstrous cask strength of 57.4%. According to legends, the importers, RareDrams will be picking individual expressions from other distilleries and releasing them as a mini series of sort, set to promote the core range of and individual characteristics of each distillery contained within. Lucky for us here in Alberta our portion of the cask (picked by Bob Kyle) has been released to the western market at cask strength while the rest of the cask will go elsewhere and to other markets, with no gaurentee they will be bottled at cask strength..I could go on for another six months talking about the history of MacDuff, the post war whisky boom and the additional stills that were added in the 1990’s but that’s a topic more suited for Bearded Dave, the history professor.
What we know for sure is that at 57.4% this lovely MacDuff isn’t too sharp at all, quite the opposite. On the nose are notes of dried tropical fruits and wet wood. The palate is juicy and sweet with tons of butter on the finish..A touch of water should help spare this one along for a little while longer. You may find the nose is tamed quite a bit as notes of sweet bourbon vanillas and burned butter sauce comes to the tip of the tongue with a touch of zesty tanginess in the background. The alcohol bite has been almost completely removed as hints of fresh almond comes through with a touch of musty wood on the finish.
Glen Grant is a Speyside distillery located near Rothes and the river Spey. It was established in 1840 by two brothers, John and James Grant. It was taken over in 1872 by James ‘The Major’ Grant, who was a legendary innovator. James Grant was the first man in the Highlands region to own a car, and under his management the distillery was the first to use electric lights and the tall slender stills that continue to define Glen Grant today. The distillery remained a family-run business until 2006, when they were purchased by the Campari group. Glen Grant continues to be one of the best selling single malts across the globe. The 15 year batch strength Glen Grant is aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 50% abv.
In the glass: Light yellow-gold, appears thin. Doesn’t coat the glass, moves easily.
Nose: Sweet vanilla and stone fruits, like peaches and cream. Soft and reminiscent of summer. Maybe a touch of lemony citrus.
Palate: Surprisingly creamy mouthfeel. Honey and oak. Orchard fruits again, but more pear than peach. Something slightly bitter too, but not unpleasant.
Finish: Oak and pear. Slightly drying, with an interesting pepper finish.
This whisky, on its own merit, is an enjoyable dram with some nice flavours. When you take into consideration the price of the bottle (~$85), it is almost a must-have. It is also bottled at 50%, which sets it apart from other 15 year old choices. This is an easy decision. The Glen Grant 15 deserves a spot on your shelf. It will have a spot on mine.
Its snowing here for the first time this season in the mighty northern Alberta. It also looks like multiple pages of various Christmas decorating magazines have come to life in my house due to over eager kids super excited for Christmas to arrive. I was more than happy to oblige their wishes to make the house more festive as soon as Remembrance Day was complete. My wife also sent me daily texts and post-it note reminders to have my Christmas wish list ready asap.
That leads me to writing this first part of the Whisk(e)y Lovers gift guide. The first part here today I will focus on what I call whisk(e)y adjacent gifts. What I mean by that is not actual bottles of whisk(e)y, but gifts that any lover of the water of life would enjoy receiving to possibly have more fun, or enhance their love for uisce beatha. I will preface this list with the caveat that these are gifts (pricing, websites, availability) that are in my market of Canada. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be found in other markets but different channels may be needed to find these or similar gifts for the whisk(e)y lover in your life.
Topping my list, for the simple reason that I received my first one as a Christmas Gift from my loving wife, is one of the most unique and fun gifts you can buy a whisk(e)y lover. A mini barrel that can be used in various ways. The best part of this gift is it can be used as often as you want and multiple times. I have had mine less than two years and I have done 4 separate experiments with it. i strictly use mine to do “finishing” projects, where I will season the barrel with a wine or other spirit, and then dump that and add the whisk(e)y to it and have the flavour of the initial seasoning product affect the whisk(e)y. I will be writing an article in the near future that will delve fully into my process of how to use a mini barrel for finishing projects. You could also take it to another extent and actually use a mini barrel to age new make or young whiskies. These mini barrels will affect the contents in a hyper quick fashion (even when using it as a finishing project) so attention and care is a must. I know a few people that have done this with “white dog” or unaged spirits. Yet another use, and one familiar to Steve (@parkwhiskeysociety) is using a mini barrel to age and/or marry a cocktail. Steve did this with a 8 Litre barrel that had been seasoned with sherry previously and made the BEST cocktail I have ever had in my life. When ordering from my preferred supplier as noted above, they offer a few different options to make the mini barrel you order a simple or deluxe as you wish. You can pick from a plain wood barrel or a “alligator” level charred barrel. You can also choose to have a wooden spigot or a metal one. And the coolest way to make the gift of a mini barrel even more special is to have an etching done on the barrel end. My wife chose to have our family Coat of arms and motto put on the end of my barrel, so even when its sitting idle or in the process of an experiment it looks great on my shelf. Urban Barrel Company not only sells the mini barrels, they also sell various other products as well so peruse their site and see if anything else captures your fancy. I highly suggest looking at adding some of the cleaning tablets to your order as they will “clean” the inside of the barrel before each additional use and ensure a safe and fun project each and every time. One more thing I love about Urban Barrel Company is not only do they have amazing products but they have even better people behind the products. They helped my wife through every step of the process from ordering to delivery and were amazingly friendly and helpful. They also did not hesitate to offer up a couple 2L barrels as donations for prizes for the Irish Invasion 2 tasting I co-hosted to raise a ton of money for charity. Amazing People, Amazing Products and guaranteed to be an Amazing Gift.
Next up on our gift guide is another one I have a lot of experience with. These are the hip flasks produced by RagProper. These are the “modern glass flask” and they claim that you can taste the difference and I fully agree. A little bit of backstory before I explain exactly why these are the absolute best flasks available. I came across this company long before they ever produced a flask when they launched a campaign on Kickstarter. It immediately caught my attention and everything they were claiming seemed to me to make sense so I backed them on their project, and kind of forgot about it. Once the project was fully funded and after a delay or two in production (they made sure they were as perfect as possible) I received my flask in a beautiful box with two lids (more on that in a bit) and a silicone funnel to help fill, as well as an extra silicone sleeve that I added on to my initial Kickstarter order. From the very first time I used my flask i knew for a fact their claims were true and this changed the flask game forever. Here’s what makes this so. The main thing is that these are made of the same glass that almost all premium spirits are bottled in. Therefore their is no metallic “taint” to the taste of whatever you put inside. This glass is also very durable (as I have repeatedly found out myself) and adding on the silicone sleeves or the higher end leather “jacket” there is an added layer of protection. All their sleeves leave open a space for their “Easy Pour Window” which is literally as it sounds, a window that allows you to see the contents of the flask so you know when it needs a refill, as well as, and more importantly, allows you to see the level when filling to prevent any over-filling and wasting any of the precious liquid gold you are putting into the flask. This window also allows you to see inside and ensure the flask is clean before filling again, which no metal flasks allow you to do. As I mentioned above, they also come with two lids. One is metal and for looks alone is my pick, however for some specific uses, they include a plastic lid as well which makes the entire flask undetectable from say metal detectors when entering certain events or venues. Both lids come lined inside with cork as most bottles are sealed with and this cork is high grade and have stood the test of time in my experiences. I also mentioned that you can pick from a removable silicone sleeve or a non-removable leather encasement. I in fact have one of each and each one has it use but I do feel the leather bound flask is classier and just has a better feel. My silicone cover flask I use for keeping in my golf bag or on hikes etc. The last part that comes included in the package is a silicone mini funnel with an air breather built in which makes filling extremely easy and fool proof. The only choice you really need to make once the sleeve and colour are chosen, is what size you want or need. These flasks come in 100ml (3 ounce) or a 240ml (8 ounce) version. There are also gift packs that come with one of each size which I love. The RagProper website also does offer accessory packs that include extra lids, lid seals, funnels and cleaning accessories. If a new portable drinking device is something your whisk(e)y lover could benefit from or if their old beaten and gross metallic flask needs to go, this is the place to go for a new and better (in all ways) flask.
When it comes to the way we all enjoy our favourite drams, there are so many choices for the vessel we use to pour from bottle into, and then from the vessel to our senses that awaken with each nosing, each sip, each swallow. Some are befitting of a certain time or event style, while others are more apt for specific reasons like diving deep into the dram itself, say for reviewing or even the first experience with a new whisk(e)y. Just as there is no “right” way to drink whisk(e)y, there is also no “right” glass to choose to use. There is a new glass that has come out in the last couple years that I personally find to be a step above for various reasons. Its the Tuath (pronounced TOO-AHH) and it was specifically rolled out as THE IRISH Glass. The glass is conical in shape like most copitas, Glencairns etc. The Tuath is slightly taller in stature than a Glencairn and with a slightly wider opening. These help promote more of the abrasive alcohol vapours out of the glass while keeping more of the flavour notes concentrated inside the glass. Yes, I know, most nosing/tasting glasses also claim this and I, myself, was skeptical of these claims…until I tried one for the first time. I was surprised as it did concentrate the pleasant notes inside the glass, while also having a better feel in the hand. The less-rounded sides of the Tuath along with the flared lip and the outstanding base all come together in harmony for a glass that is both classy in looks and practical in use and feel. Now that base itself is a true work of art both in style and usefulness. It is styled after the island Skellig Michael, which is just off the coast of my all time favourite place in this world. The base is also a perfect fit for your thumb whether left handed or right handed, and makes for a perfect little perch to hold the glass and swirl the whisk(e)y to your hearts content. Its this base that truly makes the Tuath stand out from any and all other whisk(e)y glasses. I truly love this glass and i sing its praises whenever I get the chance. And of course it works well with all types of spirits, not just Irish Whiskey.
If there was ever a one-stop-shop that could handle all your shopping needs and wants for the whisk(e)y fanatic in your life, this is it. Yes it is definitely geared towards the Irish whiskey fans more than anything else, but there are fantastic items throughout this amazing website that I guarantee would make any fan of this wonderful liquid smile for ear to ear. This entire wessite has items big and small, budget conscious and super high end. Items you would expect a whiskey merchandise store to carry and even more unique items you wouldn’t expect or that may surprise you. There is a whole line of Fine art prints that include a type of splash art that has images of different brands of whiskey. There is a variety of branded wall clocks, glassware and home decor like wooden coaster sets and piggy banks and candle holders. They have messenger bags and miniature metal distillery figurines and full on home bar set ups. I truly ask if you are looking for something truly unique for a gift, something that you know will be unexpected and cherished, you must visit this site and take a look around. They do ship to North America I know that for a fact as I have received a couple packages myself. The quality of the items and the true passion for whiskey from the owners is exuded through their products and is second to none.
5. Sample Bottles
Richards Packaging (Various Locations) or Uline or Amazon
Prices vary depending on quantity and size
One of the absolute coolest aspects of diving headfirst into my local whisk(e)y community was seeing first hand the generosity of the people involved in it. One way that this was shown was the constant wanting to share “samples” of whiskies with fellow enthusiasts. If someone had a bottle open of something I wanted to try or vice-versa, we would strike up a conversation, and agree on a trade, or sometimes even just bottle up a few and drop them off. This especially became an important facet of the whisk(e)y fabric when the pandemic hit. Most of us increased our buying habits and also had no real way of sharing stuff with each other. None of this would even be possible without the unsung hero of the whisk(e)y community that is the almighty sample bottle. The “brand” of sample bottle that seems to be the go-to and preferred style is called the Boston Round. These come in a huge variety of sizes, colours etc. with the most common being clear or the brown variable. For sizes the 1 ounce or 29ml size are by far the most common sizes, but some like to have larger ones for sharing larger portions with each other and then on the flip side there are plenty of half ounce sizes that are used for the super premium (read: expensive) alcohols that are shared. I cant tell you how many friendships have blossomed through the simplicity of the sample bottle and exchange between new friends. I myself have been lucky to have shared some absolutely fantastic whiskies I wouldn’t ever otherwise have been able to try and I forever savour those that people share with me and I know everyone else in the whisky fabric feels the same. One last word of personal advice, if at all possible try to get the bottles that come paired with the “poly-cone” lids. These lids allow for a tight seal and will not leach any unwanted foreign notes into the contents. The other option are usually lids that look identical from the outside but inside just have a glued in seal that kind of looks like the rubber seal in the top of a pop lid. The glue used in these lids will leach into the whisk(e)y contents inside the bottle. Don’t worry about buying too many sample bottles as a gift. There is no such thing and no matter the quantity purchased there will always be the need for more some time in the future.
This is just part one of my gift ideas for the whisk(e)y lover in your life. In part two i will summarize a handful of actual unique alcohol products that may be new to the market or maybe unheralded or under the radar of most people. This list above encompasses a few ideas that i know personally i would love to get as gifts. I know one of my favourite things about christmas and the days that follow is seeing all the gifts my fellow whisk(e)y enthusiasts opened. Hopefully i will see some of these under the trees of some of you out there.
When I was asked to review a couple of samples from Penelope,I was excited. I had been seeing these bottles all over social media and the first thing I was noticing was the eye-catchingdesign. The bottle is a beautiful elongated design that is reflected in the simple and elegant foiled letter ‘P’ on the label.
Just a quick foreword, I take a bit of a different approach when tasting a new whiskey and writing notes. I do this as blind as possible. I do not read up on the whiskey until I have captured my notes and had two different occasions to sit down and explore the whiskey in front of me.
Penelope Bourbon Four Grain 40%
This whiskey has a soft golden syrup color as I swirl the glass around. It is intriguing how golden the color is.
On the nose, there are those immediate soft hints of vanilla, straw, lemon, powdered sugar, and wax candy wrappers. When I let this sit and come back an hour later, some faint oak notes had developed.
The palate is very surprising, having a hot and light spice to it with a dry snap. Not as sweet as you would expect with the nose. There are hints of warm strawberries in straw with a gentle citrus note. There is a lovely dry leather and dusty finish to the whiskey. Very unexpected and intriguing.
I tried this whiskey also in a rocks glass and found that there were additional cereal notes and tart green apples. There was more of that corn sweetness when water was added to the whiskey. The finish retains that dry snap on the finish.
Now the facts about this whiskey. This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (75%), wheat (15%), rye(7%), and malted barley (3%). This whiskey has been aged 2-3yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.
Penelope Bourbon Barrel Strength 58.3%
The color on this whiskey has a burnt orange quality, which has me thinking I will be greeted by some strong bourbon flavours.
On the nose, there is that immediate push of caramel, butter, and an interesting underlying mustiness that makes me think oak barrels and leather – that worn leather of horse bridle. At the edge of the nose, there is a faint hint of menthol. With some time, I get additional sweet notes of caramel popcorn and honey glazed nuts.
The palate for this whiskey I do find to be hot and with a dry note to it. There are some sweet notes of candied fruit peels, citrus notes and some of that bitter of the pith from an orange. On the finish, the orange notes becomes more pronounced with a medium-dry finish.
When I tried this whiskey in a rocks glass, I found that the nose did indeed go sweeter, with tones of Roger’s syrup and warm toast. With a bit of water, there are some beautiful chewy leather notes and dark chocolate (92%) notes – that dry and bitter bite from the cacao.
Now the facts about this whiskey. This is a blend of 3 bourbon mash bills comprised of 4 grains – corn (76%), wheat (15%), rye (6%), and malted barley (3%). This whiskey has been aged 3-4yrs with #4 char on the staves, #2 char on the heads.
To catch-up on the idea behind these whiskies.
The back-story to this whiskey is rather interesting. Two friends who had a passion for drinking bourbon and taking that passionand translating their knowledge of the restaurant industry, supply chain management, tech, and e-commerce into a brand. Rather than building a distillery, they took the approach of working with established businesses to produce their product. This includes sourcing their distillate from MGP Inc. and working with Castle & Key on the bottling and blending of their end product. If you don’t know about MGP – do yourself a favor and go read up on them!
Seeing the craft distillery explosion happening in Canada currently, we are seeing this start with the building of distilleries,so having a company develop a brand and sourcing each stage of their product from other producers is intriguing. Without a doubt, it will be worth watching how this bourbon develops further.
Today I review a local product from a spirits company located just down the highway from me, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This product interested me a lot when I first came across it, because Great Plains Craft Spirits is doing something that I have always wondered why it hasn’t been done more often, especially considering the mature whisky stock that exists in this country. That is… source that well aged stock and use it for blending and finishing to create your own profiles. Why build a distillery when there is an apparent plethora of whisky amongst the distillers here already sitting in casks waiting to be transformed into something more interesting. In this case, Victor Mah, Vice President of Great Plains has done just that and acquired himself some 17+ year old Canadian corn whisky distilled in 2000 at the defunct Potter’s Distillery in Kelowna, British Columbia prior to being purchased by Highwood Distillers and moved to their Distillery in 2006 which is located in High River, Alberta. From there, they transferred this whisky from ex-bourbon barrels where it spent its entire maturation up to this point, into Brandy casks from Bodegas Osborne in Jerez, Spain and finished it for 12+ months. The reason I added the plus sign is because they experienced some delays in the labeling process that in turn extended the finishing time a few extra months. Oops… I don’t think it hurt any.
As excited and grateful to receive this whisky from Victor, some apprehension existed because no matter how patriotic I wanted to be, it still is Canadian corn based whisky. A northern grain that typically lacks depth unless it is really well aged and similar to Highwood’s brands, typically becomes a rather uninspiring product that falls rather flat. That being said, they typically proof everything down to 40% ABV, so seeing that Great Plains has bottled it at cask strength, this reinstilled some anxious anticipation. Don’t get me wrong here, there are some fantastic corn based Canadian Whiskies out there, especially those created by the Whisky Doc – Don Livermore out in Southern Ontario from Hiram Walker. Along side the Doc’s bottlings though, Great Plains found their whisky winning a Gold Metal at the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards including the accolade of ‘Best New Whisky’. Some very high praise on the biggest stage here in Canada.
Before I get rambling too far on a tangent, lets get back to the whisky I came here to review.
ABV – 54.5% / Age – 18+ years / Mash – 100% Corn / Region – Western Canada / Cask – 17+ Years – Ex-Bourbon & 12+ Months – Brandy Casks
My first impression of the this bottle was that the label is far too busy and I am afraid that someone who isn’t an enthusiast and is less knowledgeable or confident in what they are looking for might actually get intimidated at first glance. I quickly received affirmation on this theory when I set it out on the table at our last club tasting. It sat there as a pre-dram for the evening along with a few household names but was completely passed over because no one identified with it. It wasn’t until I was able to announce to everyone exactly what it was before it started to fill their glasses. I think a more inviting and simplistic label would help correct that.
Lucky for Great Plains though, the golden spirit inside is fantastic, and as soon as it was opened, I am not sure it was put down until it was killed that same evening. This tells me that those casks that once held Brandy for 15 – 20 years did their job nicely. Although, personally I would like to see it finished for an additional year, but that’s just me ;).
Right off the bat, it is very approachable for its proof and I get a bit of dustiness and old whisky qualities that I am not even sure what to attribute to. As I go back to it repeatedly, I enjoy it more and more, getting lots of wonderful oak and grain notes, sweet butterscotch, mandarin, and a creamy nuttiness. Long story short – very appetizing, nothing astringent, and ready to drink!
Remember before you take a sip, this is a cask strength whisky so if you don’t have a seasoned palate maybe have some water available. Just a couple drops can make a world of difference. For me, the stronger the better! At first sip, I get a tone of spicy oak and grain like qualities which most will identify as a ‘Rye’ characteristic. This is because our Canadian whisky brains have been brain washed over the years thinking we were drinking ‘Rye Whisky’ when in fact it was most likely a corn whisky. That’s a history lesson for another day though. After I swished this spirit around my mouth and went to my second sip, that’s where the qualities of the nose started to transcend nicely to the palate. Beyond that, subtle rancio and dried fruit notes show up as it rests in your mouth. With a couple drops of water, the sweetness was lost a little and the spice sharpens a bit, so I preferred it without.
The finish was really quite simple for me, basically going from dry spicy oak and grain to a light lingering sweetness from the brandy. Medium in length in the throat but unfortunately doesn’t hang around very long on the tongue.
This is very satisfying pour and one I will recommend to everyone looking to try something new. Even more so since its price point is only just north of $100 CAD. A great value.
Great Plains Spirits should be proud of themselves. They hit the mark nicely on their first release which has me really excited for the next one. As far as I know, they have even older whisky aging in both Cognac and Armagnac casks just waiting to be dumped and put on the shelf along side this one. Exciting stuff and I highly recommend!
The KAVALAN DISTILLERY at the present time, is indeed a distillery you have heard of . It seems every few months this distillery is taking home major spirit competition top medals and accolades . or perhaps you simply know it because you are a whisky lover and enjoy the finer things and tastes , in life . Located in Yilan County, Taiwan , the terroir the Kavalan Distillery resides on , is sub tropical and humid, and accented by snow capped mountains. The days are stifling hot and the evenings are cool , cooled by mountain air which plays an integral part in the maturation of their whisky and the way it interacts with top hand selected casks. The mineral rich natural melt water is used in its Whisky production, is sourced from the Yilan snow mountain that co exists amidst lush, tropical land. The area surrounding Yilan was formerly known as “Kavalan” which was named after the mystic indigenous peoples that were known to be warriors, the honorable name was granted to them by the Emperor of the Chin Dynasty in 1809. Kavalan Whisky made its first impactful statement amongst Whisky Enthusiasts in 2010 when it beat out Scotch and English Whisky on a Burns night in Scotland leaving the participants shocked ! In fact they were so shocked – they repeated the blind tasting one year later, and Kavalan came out on top and was chosen as number one again.
Kavalan Distillery History : It took until 2002 for Taiwan to be a part of the WTO (world trade order) to be able to build a distillery creating spirits. The Kavalan distillery was established in 2005 and the first new make was poured and barreled in 2006 for maturation. Owned by Food and Beverage Conglomerate “KING CAR” in Taiwan, owner Mr. Tien- Tsai Lee Lee had been wanting to distill , create, and sell , fine spirits and alcoholic beverages since the KING CAR Group was established more than 40 years ago. After 3 years of studying the art of Whisky making (2002 to 2005), The distillery was then built from the ground up in 9 months with copper pot stills that were brought in from Scotland . The distillery also adopted Scottish Whisky making and distillation processes. KAVALAN Distillery was a passion project for King Car owner Mr. Lee so once permission was granted to build the distillery he dreamed of for years prior, he comprised a group of experts together to travel parts of world (including Scotland and Japan). The group studied and adopted the BEST spirits making knowledge and equipment to bring Mr. Lee’s vision to fruition. There was no corner of the earth that the best practices for spirits production , went unnoticed or upturned.
The master group that studied whisky production along with Mr. Lee was former Master Distiller , Ian Chang , and the late Dr. Jim Swan who worked with the distillery until his passing . Cask selection and preparation : The education , knowledge, and guidance taught to the master group by Dr. Jim Swan resulted in high, methodical production standards being practiced at the Kavalan Distillery. At the same time and synergistically , the highest technology available for distilling was also brought in by the King Car group creating one of the worlds most technologically advanced distilleries. This accolade stands to date and the Kavalan Distillery is one of the top 10 distilleries in the world today. Dr. Jim Swan also introduced the “STR” (SHAVE, TOAST, and RE CHAR”) process to the Taiwanese Whisky producers. The “STR” process is a beautiful to witness fire barrel craft . It is used exclusively for the production of the ever prestigious Solist Vinho Barrique, with the exception of a recent experimental fully peated Kavalan Whisky, that was also matured in a cask treated with the “STR” process .
The VINHO BARRIQUE is the highest awarded Kavalan Single Malt Whisky at the distillery.
It is matured in hand selected American Oak Casks that formerly held both red and white wine , treated with the “STR” process , prior to maturation . Each release is from a single cask yielding approximately 180-200 bottles of this exquisite Whisky , and depending on cask, can range from 54%-59.4% ABV. In other words , each release can be slightly unique from the next driving whisky enthusiasts to collect a variety of the same Whisky matured at differing times and lengths. The Vinho Barrique is part of the Kavalan “SOLIST” series and possibly the most loved expression of this line up.
In 2020 alone it was awarded NUMBER ONE at the 2020 TWSC (Tokyo Whisky & Spirits Competition) that took place in June of this year in Japan. 128 single malts were blindly tasted and narrowed down to 14 TOP single malts. The “SOLIST VINHO BARRIQUE” was chosen as number one and awarded THE “BEST OF THE BEST SINGLE MALT (2020) AWARD . Kavalan also took home a total of 14 awards for its other loved Whisky expressions in addition , and won “BEST WORLD DISTILLERY of the YEAR award. In September 2020 , The International Review of Spirits (IRS) Competitions took place in the US. and the “SOLIST VINHO BARRIQUE” took home a Platinum Superlative award and was noted as number one in the competition along side 3 other top Kavalan expressions. This award is superior to a gold award which were also awarded to several other Kavalan Whiskies. Being a lover and avid sipper of this expression, I can see how this single malt keeps coming out on top!
The Kavalan “SOLIST” VINHO BARRIQUE is a multi layered , sensational , single malt whisky , that boasts elegance and superiority you feel rush through your veins as you sip its majesty.
The Colour alone is entirely captivating ! Akin to a fine, richly mahogany deep color French Cognac – this pour is dark and mesmerizing. To note the whiskies from this distillery have no color added and are non chill filtered , resulting in killer legs in your sipping glass of choice and a rich mouthful of desirous esters and oils.
n the Nose are rich notes of tropical fruits , ripe mango, kiwi , chocolate , dates , fine tobacco , stewed fruit , brown sugar , berry compote and spice .
On the Palate are notes of black pepper spice , chocolate , melon , vanilla , cinnamon , dark dried fruits , toffee , and more lush tropical fruit . The mouthfeel is rich , thick , and velvety .
The Finish is long and luxurious, spicy and sweet, and simply sensational. The Kavalan VINHO BARRIQUE is a beauty of a single malt, that all Whisky Enthusiasts should have the pleasure to savor. A whisky that will stop you in your tracks and seduce you to spend time with – exciting all your senses.
To note the bottling I am describing today is 56.3 % with cask no W130116019A . I know the the Kavalan fans obsessed with this whisky will appreciate that detail. ;-0 Personally, when it comes to me and the Vinho Barrique experience – I like to sip it neat, in a copita, in my fanciest dress and greatest smile , and in my highest heels . Gan Bei ! “Kavalan – Pure Taiwan”
I remember the weekend of September 28th and 29th, 2018 like it was yesterday. I had the absolute pleasure of attending the very first Banff Whisky Experience in Banff, AB . The days were filled with amazing master classes and the evenings each hosted a grand tasting with 77 distilleries and a plethora or drams represented. After an amazing Friday evening and night out in Banff with some of the grandest whisky personalities, soon came a late Saturday morning rise for myself. I am sure we can all relate to those nights when the morning had somehow slipped away, and well… waking at 11 AM, freaked out and realizing my first master class for the day was about to start at noon!! I did what I do best and that’s pulling myself together, looking like I had all the beauty sleep in the world, haha. Might have learned a trick or two about that over the years (yay for concealer !) . My first class that day was called “KAVALAN – The Single Malt from the other side of the world – being presented by the late and great J. Wheelock. God bless his soul! As I settled into my seat and started gazing over a beautiful tasting mat of 8 whiskies, I quickly noticed the majority of them were Kavalan single malts from Taiwan. The theme of the class was essentially de bunking non age statements whisky (N.A.S.) and to say the least, I was all ears!
Sitting before me along side the Kavalan spread was a large bar of dark chocolate bar and seeing that I kind of slept though breakfast, I was salivating at the idea of hammering it back. As noon swept across the clock though, and Jay’s introduction commenced the tasting, my eyes were quickly focused on the whisky in front of me. And then it happened… upon my first sip of this rich, deluxe, beautiful, viscous, and tropical whisky, I was sold! It was love at first sip.
Kavalan is known to have one of the most comprehensive lines and offering of Sherry Whiskies , however there are a few that were matured in alternate ways. Kavalan “Solist” Ex Bourbon Oak is a cask strength whisky that was fully matured in fresh hand picked ex-bourbon oak Barrels by Kavalan’s master distiller, Ian Chang at the time.
Whisky romance 101: I am not sure about you, but when I am drinking a high end Whisky such as Kavalan – you better believe I am taking my time with it. I am not afraid to say I love drinking whisky alone because it gives me some real one on one time to enjoy and unpack all it has to offer. A whisky date!, as I like to refer to it.
Tasting and Reviewing the Whisky
Upon pouring this whisky into a proper whisky drinking glass (in my case a copita), I see a bright shiny, viscous, and oily whisky that has legs for days, coating the glass and presenting a color that’s described by the distillery as “Cattle Egret” which is a Melanesian bird that dawns a beautiful golden colouring downs its neck and wings. The oily residue on the glass reminds moves around reflecting the light reminding me of a kaleidoscope… I am now extremely intrigued.
Lush tropical fruits, floral frangipani, blooming Jasmine mist and young coconut cream . One the second nosing I get kiwi, melon, green apple, with oak and vanilla.
The texture is rich, smooth and silky. I get lots of notes of vanilla and oak as well as the Kavalan signature tropical notes I mentioned above and also mango and pineapple. On my second sip the whisky tasted sweeter and I got a full essence of a vanilla ice cream cone with hints of ginger, nutmeg, and woody notes. With a couple of drops of water I got notes of white chocolate, raspberry and cream soda . What a delight!
The finish is sweet and spicy like white pepper sprinkled on biscuits that lingers on the palate.
Conclusion For such a high cask strength whisky (58.6%) it is very luxurious , smooth and elegant, drinking well below it’s ABV. This Taiwanese single malt cask strength whisky has won a ton of accolades – most recently including double gold at the international spirits challenge 2019 and gold at the San Francisco Spirits competition in 2019.
Black bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS new bottle) – 40% ABV
This is the Black Bottle you will typically find on shelf at your local liquor store(and one you should definitely have on your bar at all times) It is simply a fine bottom shelf whisky that holds its own, neat in a glencairn, or even cooked up in your whisky cocktail of choice as well. Its been a bartender favourite for decades in the industry.
This one starts off sweet. Like burnt caramel or brown sugar on freshly made porridge. There is a slight maltiness. Some citrus notes are found but they are almost hidden behind the brown sugar notes. It reminds me of a young sherried highland malt.
Again starts off with caramel/brown sugar sweetness. It then ups the spice a bit, with some fresh baking like spices. Vanilla spread over a slice of wheat bread. There is a familiar aspect to this.
The finish makes me think of Bunnahabhain with that hint of smoke mixed with a nutty, and lightly spiced fruit. Like I mentioned, this is something everyone should have. It’s head and shoulders above most blends and for the price it is really hard to beat.
Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky (NAS Old bottling – green bottle) – 40% ABV
This is the fabled old bottle of black bottle. All but a ghost now. Said to be a blend of islay malts and mainland grains.
Anyone familiar with Islay blends will know this nose. The usual ashy smoke and brine hints are welcomed and prevalent. Followed by a beautiful sweet vanilla and honey note. A little further nosing finds light pear and green apple notes.
Starts with that ashy Islay smoke but lighter than most Islay malts. This quickly hands the torch off to orange peel and a lemon fruit note. A little bit of honeyed sweetness comes through just before the spice and heat from the peat comes back.
The finish is rather short but full of smoke and a nice lingering and pleasant peatiness. It was much lamented when the black bottle recipe changed from this blend to the current one which I can clearly understand why. This is a beautifully Islay influenced blend that is as balanced and good as most I have tried from the region but always at half the price. It sad to see these older bottlings work their way into extinction.
Black bottle 10 year Blended Scotch Whisky (2019/20 limited edition release) – 40% ABV
This was a surprise release when it came out, but for lovers of the cult classic, Black Bottle, it became a must have. Unfortunately for most, it was only released in the UK and a couple select countries.
The first element separating itself from the others is it’s age. There is oak in the nose that you didn’t get with the NAS releases, but not fresh oak, a rich soggy oakwood that been sitting next to a firepit all summer. Accompanying the oak, is a reduced brown sugar sweetness and floral honey. A little bit of peat and smoke are evident as well.
This one has both the sweet and smoke, standing side by side. On the sweet side you have honey, vanilla, apple and sweet bready like notes. Like hot cross buns dripped with honey. On the other side you have some baking spices, fragrant peat smoke, and an almost gingerbread spice/sweet mix.
This one has that balance of sweet and smoke, peat and fruit. It’s a shame the stock was so limited and they couldn’t do a wider release. This shows just what a blend can do if left to age properly instead of being bottled as soon as it legally is allowed to be. A great dram if you can get your hands on it!
Conclusion All three of these bottles are fairly different from one another. I wish it was possible for everyone to try all three but I know sadly, that is almost impossible. If you come across any of these bottles, do yourself a favour and pick it up. You will be hard pressed to find a better bang for your buck whisky on the market.
The ‘Whiskey Silk’ is my first personal creation, using a Sweet Lemon Ginger shrub that is the key ingredient to this cocktail. Shrubs are typically created with equal parts fruit/spices – vinegar – sugar but that is merely just as suggestion because the possibilities are endless. They can be used to flavour your cocktail, mocktail, smoothie, soda water or any beverage for that matter.
Sweet Lemon Ginger Shrub
1 1/4 cups water
Chamomile tea bag
1 cup raw sugar (or white sugar)
2 lemons – cut in half inch cubes (approx 1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup of fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup honey
1 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
1. Heat up the water in a pot / sauce pan on medium heat and steep chamomile tea for 4-5 minutes.
2. After the tea is steeped, remove the tar bag and combine the remainder of the ingredients into the pot / sauce pan.
3. Bring the mixture up to a light boil for 1 minute, stir well and then turn the heat down to a low simmer.
4. Let the mixture stew and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Let cool for 15 min and then add the Apple Cider Vinegar.
6. Place the mixture into a container (mason jar) and then in the fridge for a minimum of 2 – 4 days, up to 7 days.
7. After that, use a fine strainer or cheese cloth and filter the contents so all you have left is the juice with no solids.
8. Ready to use for cocktails or mocktails!
Now, let’s make the cocktail!
2 1/2 ounces Whisk(e)y
1 ounce Sweet Lemon Ginger Shrub
Token Lavender Bitters and/or Aromatic Bitters
1 egg (whites)
Crack the egg and separate the whites into the shaker.
when a cocktail includes egg whites, always shake them on their own for about 10 – 15 seconds to get them nice and silky and frothy before adding the other ingredients.
After that add the bourbon or any whiskey you desire, the shrub and the bitters.
Shake all the ingredients together for 20-30 seconds, making sure the shaker is nice and cold on your hands by the end of it.
Grab your Hawthorne strainer and pour into a low volume glass. I chose to use a coupe glass because they are a person favorite of mine.
The Bardstown Bourbon Company is a compelling one to me. Mostly because of their willingness to be innovative and creative, and to explore and push the boundaries. In a vast world made up of numerous methodologies and inventive capabilities when it comes to distillation, blending and finishing, it is clear, Bardstown’s goal and passion is to light up the world and create a product that can effectively stand out in a saturated whiskey climate. I respect tradition but I am not a traditionalist when it comes to whisky. I am a huge advocate of being bold and daring when it comes to the creation of whiskey and love to see those who are willing to experiment and risk being criticized for their efforts. Its important for Craft distilleries maintain modern approaches and be the visionaries in order to keep the house hold names humble and in check. Needless to say, Bardstown is well on their way to effectively doing so and being recognized as a distillery people can rely on for a quality product.
A great example of the innovative minds behind the Bardstown brand is, they have become the first distillery to develop and offer a full Napa Valley style destination and experience providing an all-inclusive look into their genius on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. A place that sits firmly atop my list to visit when go!
Okay, on to the bourbon itself. The Fusion series as I am aware, would qualify as their entry level expression. It composition is made up of 60% of their own bourbon and 40% of a sourced bourbon from a fellow Kentucky distiller. Combined in the 60% are two bourbons; one of which is aged 2 years and 3 months, carries a mash bill of 68% corn / 20% wheat / 12% malted barley, and makes up 18% of the blend; the second is aged 2 years and 1 month, carries a mash bill of 60% corn / 36% rye / 4% malted barley, and makes up 42% of the blend. The remaining 40% which is a sourced bourbon is 11 years and 7 months old and carries a mash bill of 74% corn / 18% rye / 8% malted barley.
As I destruct everything Bardstown has blended here, it looks like they are combining some youthful bourbons to add some liveliness and edginess with an elder bourbon that can act as a back board, providing stability to the pour. The two different Bardstown mash bills are interesting as they have taken a decently high rye – bourbon which should bring a lot of spiciness to the table and a high wheat – bourbon to potentially tame it and provide some softness especially considering the 11 year bourbon is also a rye – bourbon. In my opinion, I might have gone a little higher with the Wheat – bourbon to increase the potential for softening the back of the palate where the pepper like spiciness usually lies the heaviest and adding a nice creamy sweetness to the fore palate. That being said… I am no expert so who am I to tell the experts what to do!
ABV – 49.45% / Age – 2 – 11 years / Mash – See above / Region – Kentucky Bourbon / Cask – New American Charred Oak
Time to taste the Bourbon!
A very soft nose with subtle notes of vanilla sweetness, wet leather and very light fruitiness. Honestly, very pleasant but not a ton there to unpack.
On entry, there isn’t a lot of present but quickly uncovers a little vanilla, brown sugar and tart cherry similar to that of a cherry simple syrup made with a demerara sugar. Now brace yourself because the palate drastically changes toward the back and into the finish with a punch of pure pepper which is what that 38% rye – bourbon is bringing to the table.
The finish is dry, oaky with pepper for days with a bit of bitter black tea. It is fairly lengthy but mainly because of the peppery spice.
Overall, its a perplexing pour. Youthful with a mix of distinguished behaviors coming from the elder bourbon. Not very complex but not a lot of Distiller’s entry bourbons are. I am curious to see how it performs in cocktails because I think that spiciness will provide some interesting character to classics like a Manhattan or Sour. The price is a little up there but what everyone needs to consider is that this is a craft distillery still in the infancy stages, and it is not cheap to build and run a world class facility so just like we support local boutiques, we pay a bit more to support the passion and potential Bardstown Bourbon Company represents.
This bourbon isn’t going to please everyone, but what does? I would recommend it because I believe in the brand. I have been closely watching Bardstown release all kinds of interesting expressions over the last while and to date, have only tried a couple different expressions myself, thanks to some samples from good friends. Its unfortunately not available in Canada which I really hopes changes in the future because I would really love to dive further into their products. Until then, samples will have to do!