Berry Bros. & Rudd Speyside 2000 (17 year) Sierra Springs Liquor review

Photo credit Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky)

When it comes to whisky, peated expressions, to most people, seem to be the biggest barrier to overcome. Some never do. And that’s totally fine. Everyone’s palate and preferences are different. That’s what makes this community so special.

I would argue that sulfured, sherry bomb-type scotch is another genre where people have a very black and white preference, both for and against. The burnt match notes you get off the strongest whiskies in this category are similar to the medicinal characteristics of some peated scotches. It’s something you either like or hate.

As for the whisky we’ll be reviewing today, I was making love-y eyes at this bottle for months before I pulled the trigger and spent almost $180 to get it into my greedy little hands. I did no research. It was from Berry Bros. & Rudd, it was matured in a single ex-sherry butt and was a store exclusive to Sierra Springs in Red Deer, Alberta. Many boxes checked there.

Then I did the research after I clicked on the “Pay now” button and my jaw dropped. This bottle elicited so much rage that the three reviews on Whisky Base averaged below 50/100. The reviews talked of notes of rotten eggs and multiple dead bodies (people, if this is what you want to write about a whisky, please just remove your fingers from the keyboard. It makes you look really silly).

Later, I heard that there were such vocal complaints about this whisky that the Berry Bros. rep had to get involved. Instead of backing away from my purchase, I decided to go ahead and take my chances. I was not disappointed. Yes, there a bit of a burnt match smell to it, but the bold flavours instantly melted away my regret.

In short order, a member of the local whisky community offered me his bottle for free, which I passed on to a friend of mine who loved it. Then another friend got hold of it and bought at least two bottles. A revival was in the offing. The moral of the story here is that sometimes whisky just needs to make it into the right hands before it is truly appreciated.

The bottle in question was distilled in 2000 at an unnamed Speyside distillery and was matured for over 17 years in an ex-Sherry cask of unknown type (assumed to be Oloroso). It was bottled in 2018 at 58.9% abv and was sold exclusively at Sierra Springs Liquor in Airdrie, Alberta. Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky and one half of @thewhiskyheathens) and Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) of Park Whiskey Society are collaborating with this review.

Photo credit: Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky)

Josh Ward’s review

I first caught wind of this gorgous secret Speyside from Sierra Springs when Paul and Sean directed me to some absolutely insane reviews, which posted notes of “ichorous discharge from the underbelly of an African wildebeast” and “bile, wildebeast, dead bodies (many of them), black eggs, snot, decay and rot”. Seems they were of the notion that this whisky was to be dumped and discarded because it was SO nasty that it couldn’t be consumed by any self-respecting individual. Much different for me, I’m looking for that nastiness and I fully embrace those oloroso style sulphur bombs. Much to my excitement a sample showed up on my doorstep and I was on the phone to order a bottle before I finished the glass.

Nose: The first note that hit my nostrils was of wood decay, beautiful and nasty with thick and pungent waves of sulphur and a distinct note of dry, abrasive sherry. Tucked away behind the powerful cask influence was a hint of sweetness, both sultry and alluring.

Palate: The taste exceeds anticipation with all the expected notes from the nose coming at you immediately. Sherry city was built in a sulphur spring and it’s a place I really love to visit. It’s brash and it’s heavy and it’s perfect for anyone who loves it raw and unapologetic.

Finish: The finish is slightly sour with meaty notes of BBQ and charred sherry wood that lasts and lasts and lasts and lasts.

With water added…

I finished the dram and poured a second but this time I added a healthy dose of water. Water certainly doesn’t hurt this one, especially at 58.9%. I’d say there were 15 drops in my 2 ounce pour. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe I’d have to add another drop or two of whisky, quite frankly the devil in my moustache encourages such blasphemy.

Once the water settled the sulphur did too. It’s tame now but still present with sherry sweetness shining through. A touch of burnt caramels swirling around the nose and mouth are wonderfully pleasant with beautifully moist and righteously magnificent notes of sweet and sulphuric sherry, it’s everywhere, just toned down and mellowed appropriately.

Conclusion

Something this unique only comes around every once and a while, I’ll definitely be grabbing another bottle.

Sean Kincaid’s review

This bottle has had an adventure already around these parts. From some absolutely horrible reviews that were posted online to a few of us actually trying this and loving it. This is the perfect example of not judging a whisky by other people’s reviews. So I will now go ahead with a review of this whisky for you all to judge it by.

That super dank delicious deep Oloroso goodness. Woody and bomb levels of sherry. This is the greatness that an active fresh Oloroso cask can impart on a spirit.

Nose: Deep dark fruits, nuttiness, dunnage warehouse, a touch of rubbery sulphur. A true sherry bomb whisky that makes me want to dive right in. Almost a dusty note. Dusty and savoury combined. Like smoked spare ribs with a smokey, but fruity rub and then left for awhile. Then eaten.

Palate: Even more of that dank Oloroso, from all sides. Spices, dark fruits, figs, plums, maybe a touch of cherry and chocolate. Leather, dunnage floor. Hefty sherry and at cask strength doesn’t need much water at all. This is what a dank sherry bomb can and should be.

Finish: Decent length. That Oloroso sticks in your gums and I just want to pour another and another. That dank sherry sticks around and leaves your mouth feeling coated long after you swallow.

Conclusion

What a whisky this is. I hope those that hated this learned their lesson and leave the glorious dank sherry bombs for those of us that love it.

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: When I first poured this into the glass it was like a match where the wood was a sliver of a sherry cask stave, lit on fire and then doused in Oloroso sherry. More than anything, this is probably the smell that the people who hate this bottle found so off-putting. Like this year’s Kilkerran 8 year, there is a whiff of gasoline as well. Like peated scotch, this has some notes that might knock you sideways, but as you spend time with bottles like this, you learn to both appreciate what this adds to an experience while at the same time nosing past it to get at the other notes. The European oak that I get off this is musty and wet. Ever since I opened this bottle I got a good amount of dried cranberries. It’s still there, but dark chocolate has overtaken it now. Stewed plumbs lurk behind the cranberries. It’s also a bit nutty. Almond perhaps. Nailing down the spices is a bit of a challenge. After nosing around my spice bottles, I’m settling on allspice and a touch of ground cloves.

Palate: The entry is tart and sweet and extremely short-lived. Dark caramel, medium dark chocolate, dried cranberry, half and half creamer and a bit of orange peel. Then the oak and spice kicks in. Big time. The front end of the development is a little bit overwhelming with the oak, chili flakes, cracked black pepper and earthy nutmeg. A touch of sweetness from the dark chocolate and that tart cranberry and citrus help to cut through the intensity of it all. By the time you get to the back end of the development, your tongue acclimatizes to the heat and the dark chocolate really starts to shine through.

Finish: This is insanely long and is presented in three acts. The first is the fading spice and oak. It’s a little bit drying. The retreat of spice reveals the second act: rich dark chocolate. The third act takes a while to kick in. As the chocolate fades, that tart cranberry note is revealed, making my mouth water uncontrollably. No, not to the point of drooling because, you know,…gross.

With water added…

That burnt match smell is starting to come back on the nose, but the dark chocolate is rising up to meet it in equal measure. The cranberry note has faded significantly and I’m getting a decent amount of caramel now. Water hasn’t done much to tamp down the speedy onset of the development, the heat or the oak, but there is just enough sweetness to keep this ship from keeling over. The dark chocolate is much stronger here than without water. The first half of the finish remains unchanged, but the third act of cranberry is not as strong. Instead, this is a dark chocolate lovers dream. It’s lovely and bittersweet.

Overall conclusion

This is probably one of the strongest sherry bombs out in the wild today. If you love this kind of stuff, this is the bottle for you.

I personally would like to doff my cap and thank Sierra Springs for going out on a limb to bring in bottles like this as well as defend their decision, regardless of the people who hated on this whisky so intensely. Here’s to hoping more people discover this bottle.

Instagram: Paul Bovis (@paul.bovis), Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky and @thewhiskyheathens) and Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid).

Roger’s Whisky Hidden Treasures Secret Speyside 8 year review

Today I’m reviewing something a bit mysterious. When dealing with independent bottlers, some distilleries are keen not to have their names on the label. This can be for various reasons. For example, some distilleries,  such as Glenfarclas, prefer to have absolute control over their brand and don’t wish to see that identity diluted by putting their name on another company’s label. Other brands sell off casks that don’t adhere to a flavour profile in their official bottlings. They may not wish to be explicitly associated with that particular cask.

The reasoning behind keeping the whisky in this bottle a secret as to it’s origins remains…well…a secret. Roger Tan, the person behind Roger’s whisky happens to have a  bit of an interest in ancient civilizations, such as the Mayans, whose temples he has visited while on vacation. Melding this with the secrecy behind this whisky’s origins led him to create the Hidden Treasures series, of which this one is the first. 

With the help his friend, Andrew (aka @whiskyhobo), they developed the label that you see here. Intricate, shiny and fiendishly difficult to photograph, it incorporates elements of whisky, distilling and the lost Mayan culture. Also note the Roger’s Whisky logo. A circular dragon with a Glencairn in the center. Apparently, there is a clue in the label as to it’s origins. I’m not the most observant or knowledgeable person in these matters so I’ll just leave that to others. Maybe you can find the clue that will unlock the secret!

This Roger’s Whisky Hidden Treasures bottle comes from a secret Speyside distillery and has been aged for eight years in a single ex-Bourbon cask. It was limited to 285 bottles and is 56.1% abv. This whisky was imported by PWS Imports and was made available to their exclusive Single Cask Clan members only. To join the club, DM @singlecaskclan on Instagram.

Nose: Ever since I opened this bottle, it’s had quite a bit of alcohol on the nose so it’s difficult to get right into the glass. Even having to hold my nose up higher, this has turned into a classic ex-bourbon cask matured scotch. It’s a lovely fruit bomb. Orchard fruits such as ripe Royal Gala apples and Barlett pears are at the forefront. Pineapple, mango and papaya linger in the back. With more time in the glass, the ex-Bourbon cask starts to come into play with vanilla wafers and light caramel. Some milk chocolate is in there as well. There aren’t a huge array of spices here except for some cinnamon and ginger. I’m not getting a lot of oak on the nose, but I think it will turn up in the development.

Palate: The entry has a bit of heat to it almost straight away. There’s a good dose of ginger in  there for sure, but some sweetness in the form of vanilla cream and tart apples helps to cut through the spice. As I smack my lips during the development, I get fresh pineapple and mandarin oranges. The ginger is joined by a tiny bit of cracked black pepper and some cinnamon to ramp up the spice, but the heat doesn’t get out of hand. The caramel turns to sponge toffee and the milk chocolate darkens a little toward the end of the development. I’m really not getting much oak until the very end of the. This is just fruity, tart and spicy.

Finish: For a cask strength whisky, the finish isn’t really all that long. The spice fades away fairly quickly. The oak, toffee and chocolate linger a little longer. At the end, I’m left with a little bit of tang from the fruit that makes my mouth water for more.

With water added…

That vanilla wafer note I got without water added has moved to the front now and the fruit has taken a back seat. The extra cinnamon that get’s introduced, along with the apple, almost gives it a homemade apple sauce kind of note. I’m not really getting a lot of tropical fruit now. The entry is much more measured. That spice I got right off the bat has been tamped down significantly. The apple note isn’t as strong here, but some orange has taken its place along with a little bit of milk chocolate. The oak is much more detectable during the development now, but it doesn’t overwhelm the experience. The development is more chocolate than fruit forward, particularly towards the end. The finish is a little more bitter and oak-driven, but the citrus tang prevents it from being too drying.

Conclusion

To be honest, I was not a fan of this whisky initially. The nose was shy and a bit vegetal, there wasn’t much fruit and the development and finish were not very satisfying. What a difference a bit of time has made to this bottle. Now it’s the fruity, ex-Bourbon Speysider I was initially expecting it to be. 

Along with a couple of other bottles in my collection, along with some samples and shares, I’m developing a bit of a liking for ex-Bourbon scotch lately. I think my heart will always be rooted in ex-sherry, but I think I can carve out some space in my heart for ex-Bourbon as well.

Instgram: @paul.bovis

anCnoc – 1975 Limited Edition Single Malt

109st (Downtown), Edmonton, Alberta

Last up in our Inaugural Tasting, we opened the acclaimed release of anCnoc’s 1975 Vintage by the Knockdhu Distillery. Bottled in 2014 making it 39 years of age and officially older than most of the gentleman that took part in this Friday’s tasting. Distilled in the far northeast of the Speyside region almost bordering the Highlands region (why its considered a Highlands scotch), an area known for being an area rich is natural springs, local barley and inexhaustible peat. This limited edition single malt was selected from merely 3 casks, only producing 1,590 bottles. Aged for as long as it was, in a combination of Spanish and American Oak, surprisingly came out lighter in colour than most whiskies of its maturity. That being said, older whiskies tend to go down a little hot but this vintage finishes as smooth as butter.

ABV – 46% / Age – 39 years / Mash – 100% Malted Barley / Region – Scotland (Highlands) / Cask – ex-Bourbon & ex- Sherry

This single malt by anCnoc was impressive from all angles which is consistently in line with all their bottlings. The AnCnoc brand, still fairly new to the industry has been a nice breath of fresh air in the modern scotch world creating a reputation worth everyone’s time. From a storied and historical distillery over a century old, AnCnoc has combined classic infrastructure and values with new-aged innovation to craft some titillating expressions capable of turning anyone into a scotch drinker.

NOSE – The seductive sweetness of honey and orange rind entice you first followed by mildly toasted raisin bread and toffee cake. At the tail end of your inhale and lasting through your exhale right before you take your first sip is where the sherry makes it’s appearance flirtatiously preparing you palate for greatness.

PALATE – Impressively enough, after such a remarkable nose, the palate is something to admire. As those familiar characteristics manifest into a complexity of flavours the tip of the tongue is met with freshly baked bread pudding, allspice, mink oil, aged leather, tobacco and smoked oak.

FINISH – Full of charisma while being revisited by that lovely sherry zing is an oily mouth feel and a ton of oaky spiciness complimented by vanilla and subtle citrus.

By my standards this was as well crafted a whisky as I have tried. AnCnoc has delivered a range of age statements all performing above other bottles in their price ranges and this one was no different. Not many single malts aged for 39 years go for the price this one is sold at. I enjoyed the 1975 immensely so it rated an impressive 9.6/10.

The society found a way to rate it even higher at 9.8/10, so you can imagine the enthusiasm around the room. Intoxication may have also played in anCnoc’s favour but what’s a tasting without a little fun?

  • Review by Steven Shaw