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

Sazerac Straight Rye review

Sazerac rye, or Baby Saz for those that are lucky enough to get their hands on its higher age statement BTAC bigger brother, is one of those quintessential ryes that everyone says you have to put on your bar shelf. However, is that the case these days? With the rye revolution in the USA firmly underway, where does this one fit now? With so many micro/craft distilleries coming out with so many interesting new or revived takes on rye, where does this one belong?

Personally, I’ve always treated this as a mid-shelf daily sipper with all of the notes that you would expect of a low-rye rye and none that you don’t. But, is that the actually true? Let’s find out!

This being Buffalo Trace, the mashbill is officially unknown, but it is rumoured (and tastes like) their low-rye mash bill. This used to have a six year age statement, but that is now gone. It is rumoured to still be in the 4-6 year age range though. It is bottled at 45% abv.

Nose: This is about a classic a nose as you can get on a low-rye, high-corn rye (if that makes any sense). I find that Sazerac has always been very barrel forward for me and today is no different. Lots of cinnamon, of course, but also a pinch of allspice. Aside from the barrel notes, there’s a good dose of the flesh and zest of a navel orange. There’s plenty of caramel in here as well. As I nose this for longer I get just a hint of cherry. Not 100% sure about that though. I am confident that there is a bit of a roasted peanut thing going on in here. This is a whiskey that has 3-4 very dominant notes right up front and you have to spend some time with it if you want to get more.


Palate: This is like an orange creme brûlée on the entry for me. Some caramelized sugar, vanilla cream and a little bit of orange zest stirred in. As much as I got a good dose of the barrel on the nose, there is a surprisingly creamy mouthfeel right from the get-go. That sweetness carries over into the development and, with cinnamon, clove and a pinch of nutmeg, it’s giving me a nice spice cake vibe that I love. The oak starts to creep into the experience during the end of the development, but there is enough of everything else that it stays in the background. When I smack my lips a little to let in some air, I definitely get that peanut note I got on the nose.


Finish: This is a decent medium finish that manages to stay fairly well-balanced throughout. The oak becomes a little more dominant, but there are enough baking spices and sweetness from elsewhere in the experience to help to tamp this down a shade. The creaminess does start to fade here and it becomes a little more drying.

With water added…

As soon as I add water to this, I get a bit of a herbal note right off the bat. A bit of slightly stale dill and flat leaf parsley. It fades away significantly if given a few minutes to settle. Other than that, I find that there is less citrus and more oak and baking spices. The caramel seems creamier this time. Like those soft Kraft caramels from my childhood (are these still a thing?). OK. Right on the beginning of the entry, this is Kraft soft caramel city. The other notes take over quickly, but there is no mistaking it. After that, I’m getting a little bit of that creme brûlée that I got without water, but the increased and earlier presence of oak is drying the experience out a little. That spice cake note has gone, but I’m getting a stronger peanut taste, almost bordering on sweetened peanut butter. The finish is a bit more drying and I’m getting more nutmeg and even some cracked black pepper.

Conclusion

I have always treated this as a daily sipping whisky and have never really concentrated on the experience up until now. I was really expecting to just give this an average review and say that there’s better out there. I firmly believe that the latter is true, but there is nothing wrong with this dram. Because of its balance, I can see why it is so popular with bartenders as a base in cocktails. I will never be able to get my hands on “adult” Saz, but this “baby” is alright by me.

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)

DINGLE SINGLE MALT IRISH WHISKEY REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Instagram: @seankincaid

Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey review

Cheaper blended whisky, in general, tends to get scoffed at when it comes to seasoned whisky drinkers. Too busy chasing their unicorns, single casks and cask strength bottles, a fair number of that cohort tend to pass by blended bottles on the lower shelves. If they grab anything at all, it’s likely to have a Jamieson’s or Johnnie Walker label slapped on it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some fairly bad blends out there. A “Lost in Dramslation” podcast episode was entirely dedicated to some of these bottles that made you say, “WTF?”. That being said, if you ask around, do your research or even just take a chance on some of the blends you see on the shelves, you may just find your new favorite daily drinker. Plus it won’t break the bank, allowing you to save up for your next fancy bottle.

Like Irish whiskey in general, blended Irish whiskey is going through a bit of a renaissance as well. Even on the upper end, bottles like J.J. Corry’s The Gael offer phenomenal value. For just over $100 CAD, you get a blend that has up to 28 year whiskey in it. Try picking up a Compass Box blended scotch like that for less than double the price. No chance. On the cheaper side of things, there’s more to Jamieson’s than their standard green label bottling. On top of that, there’s West Cork, Flaming Pig, Dublin Liberties (Dubliner) and so much more. What makes Irish blends intriguing is that they are a blend of grain and single pot still, which is itself a mixture of malted and unmalted barley. This helps to separate their profiles from blended scotch, sometimes dramatically.

With the help of Park Whiskey Society’s own resident Irish expert, Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid), I was directed towards the distillery whose bottle I’m reviewing today. Kilbeggan holds the bragging rights as the oldest continually-licensed distillery in Ireland. Established in 1757, Kilbeggan has had a pretty storied history. At the heart of the distillery is the town of Kilbeggan itself. Through thick and thin, openings and closings, the residents of Kilbeggan have played a major role in keeping their distillery alive, or at least licensed for hundreds of years. Now owned by Beam Suntory, Kilbeggan is riding high on the latest Irish whiskey revival.

Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey is their entry level offering. Unlike most Irish whiskies, it is only double distilled. It’s non-age stated, probably colored and chill filtered and is bottled at 40% abv.

Nose: The one major issue I have with this whiskey is that as soon as you pour this into your glass, you get a moderate paint thinner note that can be a bit off-putting to some. If you let it sit for at least 15 minutes, it does go away. Replacing that is a very strong green apple note. It’s worst feature turns into it’s best so do be patient with it. Underneath all of that green apple is some youthful grain and malt notes. A little barley sugar and light caramel for sure. The vanilla and mild cinnamon I get off of this is probably thanks to the ex-Bourbon barrels this was matured in. Over time, some pineapple shines through. The vanilla is more of a vanilla wafer now.

Palate: The entry is light and sweet. Green apple, vanilla custard and caramel. The transition into the development is slow and gradual. On the front end, the tropical notes start to creep back. As I keep swishing this around my mouth I get a tiny bit of oak, some clove and black pepper as well as some rich milk chocolate. That milk chocolate note continually builds into the finish. It’s a nice balance between oak, spice and sweetness.

Finish: On the shorter side of medium, but not surprising for the abv. The spice is gone immediately, but the chocolate and oak stick around for a while with a little bit of citrus thrown in for good measure.

With water added…

That green apple note has faded away considerably. The tropical notes are now bubbling to the top. I’m getting a little bit of ginger now as well. The caramel is more of a toffee sweetness and there’s a splash of oak. The entry is substantially creamier and mouth coating now. The black pepper is a little stronger, but so is the oak making, this a little spicier and more bitter than when sipped neat. There’s also a very faint, youthful metallic note towards the backend of the finish. I’m note getting quite as much chocolate as I did without water. The finish has a bit more oak and some toffee. It’s not quite as balanced as it was before.

Conclusion

When I first poured this whiskey, the paint thinner note kind of turned me off. However, I gave it a second chance recently and after I waited for that note to fade away in the glass, I really started to enjoy this one. For me, it’s turned into the perfect “after work” starter dram. Something I can sip while making dinner or nagging my kids to do their homework.

To be honest, I’m not sure that I will buy this bottle again. Instead, I would pay $10 more and get my hands on another bottle of their single grain (corn) expression. That’s another one that wasn’t a favourite of mine to start, but turned into a delightful summer dram once I gave it a chance to shine.

We’ll be reviewing all four of their available expressions including their unique take on rye and their fantastic single grain.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Sample Review: Balcones Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked Whisky

Photo credit: Balcones Distillery (@balconesdistilling)

This is a weirdo whisky from Balcones Distillery (@balconesdistilling). Thanks to Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid) for this sample!

This Brimstone expression is made with 100% blue corn. After distillation, they somehow pump Texas scrub oak smoke into the distillate itself. It is then aged for about two years and bottled at 53% abv.

Nose: How to even describe this nose. It’s super young, that’s for sure. I get the sensation of walking through a desert after a brush fire. It’s still smouldering a little. Burnt corn husks for sure. Very dusty corn grain. There’s a freshly sawn wood note lingering in the background. I’m not really getting much sweetness on the nose except for burnt brown sugar. A deeply roasted corn note comes up after a long while in the glass. That smokiness is pretty intense and kind of masks some of the notes I traditionally expect in an American whisky. Unless you’ve had this already, your guess is as good as mine as to how this is going to taste.

Palate: OK. There’s the corn whisky sweetness now. It’s still a weirdo, but at least I’ve found my bearings a little. The entry is frosted flakes, roasted corn, sponge toffee and a little bit of vanilla. The smoke sets in pretty quickly as does the youthful heat. It’s like I’m roasting corn on the BBQ, open the lid and inhale a bit of the smoke. The smoky sweet interplay is lovely. There’s some wood shavings in the development as well as some cinnamon. It’s teetering on the edge of being too bitter without falling off the cliff.

Finish: The heat falls away pretty quickly, but the slightly charred corn note sticks around for a while. There’s a little bit of dark chocolate as well. On the last couple of sips, the finish gets a little sweeter. It’s like I’m biting into that charred corn now, only with this whisky, it’s not getting stuck between my teeth.

Conclusion

This is one of those whiskies you give to people at the end of a tasting and say “What do you think of this?” It’s bound to knock some people sideways, that’s for sure. And, if that happens, I’d say “Mission accomplished!”

Honestly, I don’t think this whisky is for everybody. However, if you like corn whisky, as I do, I would definitely seek this one out.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey review

Photo credit: Jack Daniels (@jackdaniels_ca)

Today, we’re looking at a brand that people may have fond, or not so fond memories of from their university (or God forbid their high school) years. For some, it’s a whisky they simply can’t drink anymore. Fortunately, those of us who really get into whisky, realize that there is so much more to Jack Daniels than Old No. 7. Their single barrel barrel proof Tennessee whiskey is one of the best value bottles out there and their barrel proof rye made many people’s top five last year.

In fact, there is a Jack Daniels for everybody no matter what your experience or tolerance to alcohol. Take Gentleman Jack, which is the whiskey under review today. Really, the only thing that differentiates Old No. 7 from the Gentleman Jack (which is my is in my glass for this review) is that the latter makes two trips through the Lincoln County process. Briefly, this process involves filtering their new make spirit through several feet of maple charcoal. It’s pretty astounding just how much of a difference that second trip makes.

Gentleman Jack is aged for roughly five years in virgin American oak barrels. It is put through the Lincoln County process once before maturation and once after. It’s bottled at 40% abv.

Nose: Since this had two trips through a column of maple charcoal, it should come as no surprise that this smells pretty sweet. Maple syrup, maple and light brown sugar and a little bit of vanilla. Fried bananas in caramel sauce, sprinkled with cinnamon and just a touch of allspice. There a slight peanut note in the background as well as cherry bubblegum. I’m getting a hint of oak after this sits in the glass for a while. I definitely don’t get any of the artificial flavouring notes like that I experience with the entry level Jack Daniels.

Palate: The entry isn’t as thin as I thought it was going to be, but it is very sweet. Vanilla and maple syrup mostly. The development is bananas. Literally bananas. Bananas fried in butter. There’s a little bit of citrus as I smack my lips. The peanut note starts to make its presence felt towards the second half of the development. Apart from a dash of cinnamon there’s not a whole lot of spice here and this whisky kind of needs it to cut through all this sweetness. There’s a tiny bit of oak on the end.

Finish: Not all that long and just a bit drying. The banana note slowly starts to fade. The spice vanishes almost instantly. What sticks around is a little bit of wet oak cask, maple sugar and some milk chocolate.

With water added…

This is nosing a lot more like the original Jack Daniels now. The banana note has faded away considerably. It’s mostly maple sugar and syrup, cinnamon and oak. With water added, I’m not getting that creamy mouthfeel when sipped neat. It’s a little too thin now. The development is a little bit of maple, cinnamon, peanut and oak, all in equal measure. I get a little of the fried banana note at the end of the development. The finish remains the same.

Conclusion

I tasted this one for the first time at a Brown Forman virtual event and I was expecting not to like it, based on my opinion of No. 7. I was one of several participants who was pleasantly surprised by this one. Personally, this one is too sweet for my taste, but I can see this appealing to those who have a bit of a sweet tooth and want to enjoy this on ice in the summer.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Kilkerran 8 Year Cask Strength (2021) review

Few distilleries have a more devoted following than Springbank, Kilkerran’s sister distillery. Fans will tell you that there is no other scotch that has a flavor profile quite like the “Springbank funk”. It’s that marriage of malt (a portion of which is peated), distillation, maturation and maritime air. To me, that funk has a slight gasoline note. I know that sounds gross, but then so are many other notes in scotch tasting. Whatever that funk is to each individual, it helps stir a devotion that few distilleries can rival.

With Springbank in such high demand these days, it’s hard for this small distillery to supply enough to make everyone happy. If you can find them, the 10 and 15 year expressions, in Alberta at least, are actually quite reasonable in terms of price. Beyond these age statements, prices quickly become very unreasonable. $500 for the 21 year old and $1000 for the 25 year old, no matter what the fanboys/girls say, is simply out of whack compared to the competition. That’s my opinion, but I’m sure I am not alone. The one thing I do commend Springbank for, as well as reputable retailers, is that their unicorn-like 12 year cask strength bottlings are a real bargain at about $130 CAD (in Alberta). That’s despite their low availability.

When we’re talking about value malts in Campbelltown, Glen Scotia and Springbank’s sister distillery, Kilkerran, also fits the bill. Kilkerran’s 12 year is pretty reasonable and is widely available. Their non-age stated “Peat in Progress” releases are an insane bargain. Let’s hope that this trend continues in Campbelltown.

In 2019, Kilkerran released what many argued was the best whisky of the year. The 8 year cask strength was matured in re-charred ex-Oloroso sherry casks and became an instant unicorn. It had all of the characteristics of a massive sherry bomb and could be found for as low as $100 CAD, if you were quick enough. This years release offers a similar value, if you could grab one.

The word on the street is that this 2021 edition of the Kilkerran 8 year does not measure up to the 2019 release, but for those of you who don’t know what that tasted like, what does it matter? The 2021 release, like the 2019, is matured in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, only this time they are not re-charred. It’s bottled straight from the cask at 56.9% abv. Joining me for today’s review is Sean Kinkaid (@seankincaid) from Park Whiskey Society.

Sean Kincaid’s review

Two years ago, Kilkerran shocked the world with what was then a lot of people’s favourite whisky of that year. An 8 year old heavy sherried, peated malt. This year they released another 8 year old and word spread quickly about it. Funny though that nobody who was talking about it could tell me how it tasted…cause no one opened it. Well, I stumbled across a store that still had it on the shelf a few days after it’s release so I said why not. Man am I glad I did.

Nose: This is a wallop up side the head. Reminds me of smoked pork ribs I did with a coffee grind/brown sugar rub. There’s earthiness like moist loamy potting soil or raked leaves in a cool autumn misty morning. Sweet smouldering tobacco leaves but also a bit of the lovely countryside village peat smell that escapes every chimney. This is complex and layered and young yet mature. This is wonderful.

Palate: On the sip, This is dank, deep Oloroso and paired with the Kilkerran spirit comes out swinging with notes of creosote, diesel, marine soot, and deep dark fruits. Like figs drenched in oily tobacco left out on the rocks beside the ocean on a summers day. A slightly sweeter berry…like blackberry or those Swedish berry candies. This is beautiful. This is dank. This is abrasive. This is my jam. I love those vegetal, dunnage notes with a fruity nutty nasty Oloroso.

With water added…

Both on the nose and palate the peatiness softens and the sherry comes to the fore. The nose gets more on the nutty side of Oloroso sherry notes mixed with some savoury almost roasted nut mix. On the palate, the nutty sherry shows too, but there is a bit more fruit showing and a slight hint of the S word. Yes a touch of sulphur but this is so inviting and not off putting in any way.

This instantly became a contender for whisky of the year for me and it still resides near the top even months later. Damn that’s good!!!!

Paul Bovis’ review

Nose: Before my bottle was drained past the shoulder, it had a very strong burnt match, sulphurous smell, but that has faded into the background now. That funky gasoline note is definitely there for me. It’s like being on the car deck of a ferry. There’s a bit a dirt note, like turning over your garden with a spade. Lingering in the background are some BBQ smoke aromas and grilled meat slathered with a sweet sauce. I’m expecting more of the the cask influence on the palate, but for now I get cooked down dark stone fruits, lots of clove, ginger and a touch of nutmeg. Maybe a tiny bit of dark chocolate as well.

Palate: OK. Now we’re in sherry bomb territory. The entry is super oily and sweet. Liquid sultana raisins, a little bit of orange peel, rich honey. The transition into the development is nice and smooth. No falling off a cliff into waves of heat here. At the beginning of the development, those Springbank funk notes start to rear their head heads a little. A little bit of dirt. A little bit of ferry car deck again. I don’t lick the car decks of ferries, although if I did, it would explain a lot. Towards the back end of the development, it’s all booze soaked Christmas pudding to me. It’s just been steamed, soaked in brandy and then set alight. All the requisite baking spices, raisins, candied fruit, the lot.

Finish: It took a while, but I’m finally getting some European oak. It brings a bit of a spice and dryness to the finish. There’s a bit of bitter dark chocolate in there too. Mostly though, it’s that Christmas pudding, the outside slightly caramelized from being set on fire that takes ages to fully fade away.

With water added…

As expected, I’m getting a little more oak on the nose now. It’s more sherry bomb than Springbank although that gasoline smell does linger. Much more clove is present. The nutmeg and ginger have faded significantly. The entry remains unchanged, but the development is a little spicier and has quite a bit more oak. The Christmas pudding has faded away significantly, with only portions of it remaining such as sultanas and baking spices. The flavours aren’t as dark this time round. There’s a lot more dark chocolate bitterness as well, but it’s not overwhelming. The finish follows from the end of the development. It’s a little more bitter and a little less sweet.

Conclusion

Being a fan of Christmas cake and pudding, I rather prefer this without water. If you crave that classic sherry bomb feeling, adding a few drops of water should set you right. Either way, this is phenomenal stuff. Although I do love my sherry bombs, there is something to be said about a whisky in that genre that doesn’t bop you over the bed with a polo mallet with all that heat and spice.

This is a whisky whose flavour defies its age. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they were vatting this one. I might have witnessed some casks greater than 8 years being poured into the tub. Either way, this is an amazing whisky and a definite contender for my top 5 for this year.

Instagram: Sean Kincaid (@seankincaid) and Paul Bovis (@paul.bovis)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With water added…

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

Conclusion

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

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection Ledaig 2007 (12 year) review

The whisky community, like many communities, has their share of people who are not just enthusiasts, but are geeks and all-out nerds. And they are proud of it. They help to drum up enthusiasm, always have time for you and are respectful towards the entire community, regardless of your experience level.

Although he no longer works for Distel, Mike Brisebois (@thewhiskyexplorer), more than anyone else, helped to put their products on the map. Now Tobermory (Ledaig), Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Black Bottle are household names from coast to coast. As Canada’s unofficial official whisky ambassador, his enthusiasm has helped to introduce countless numbers of people to the water of life. Now striking it out on his own, his Whisky Explorer Society will continue to spread his passion for whisky within Canada.

Since we are talking about Ledaig, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Josh Ward (@knowyourwhisky) of The Whisky Heathens. From his home in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, he has probably tried all the Ledaig available out there and is the most vocal supporter of both Tobermory and Ledaig on social media.

With these two acting as major cheerleaders for the whisky under review today, it’s no wonder Ledaig (and Tobermory for that matter) does a brisk trade in this country.

And so to the whisky in question. This Ledaig has been matured in a re-fill sherry butt for over 12 years and was bottled by Signatory Whisky as part of their Vintage Cask Strength Collection lineup at 60.1%.

Nose: Since I popped this bottle back in late April of this year, it has mellowed significantly. Make no mistake, this is still a bold dram, but it is far less “burnt rubber” forward than it used to be. Usually, Ledaig is far more maritime than it is medicinal and that is the case here. In that regard, there’s a hefty dose of sea spray, seashells and weathered driftwood. Moving inland a little, there are some lovely BBQ notes of sweet smoke and meat on the grill. This bottle, coming from a re-fill sherry butt, is more distillate than cask forward but there is a little bit of fresh plum and earthy spices such as clove and nutmeg. There’s only a hint of dark chocolate so I’m guessing this is Oloroso rather than PX. Finally, there is a whiff of mint toothpaste to round this all out. This does not nose like a cask strength whisky, but I have a feeling that this will not be the case on the palate!

Palate: My prediction was correct. This is mellow for about two seconds before the heat takes over in a big way. On the entry, brief though it is, it’s sweet, a little bit tart and much more oily than creamy. Lots of rich honey, sponge toffee and orange and lemon peel initially. Then the proof, spice and oak kick in along with a strong mint toothpaste and mouthwash vibe. The initial sweetness is not entirely drowned out however, and it’s joined by a rich dark chocolate note that builds through the development. Bobbing along the surface are those salty and mineral maritime notes. Towards the end of the development clove and nutmeg are joined by ginger.

Finish: The oak is present, but by no means is it dominant or drying. The baking spices slowly fade, but do not disappear. The saltiness remains and does a hint of dark chocolate. All of this combines to give me a sort of spice cake note that I get off of a lot of whiskies like this. The citrus helps to cut through the dryness of the oak. It goes without saying that the finish is insanely long.

With water added

I let try this sit with seven drops of water in my remaining ounce of whisky for at least 30 minutes while my taste buds recovered. It’s quite a bit more cask forward now with stewed stone fruits, but the mint toothpaste is still there. The spices are a bit less earthy now. Allspice rather than clove and nutmeg. It’s also not quite as maritime either. The role reversal between distillate and cask continues on the palate. More stewed fruits, baking spices and dark chocolate. It’s also more orange marmalade than citrus peel. The finish is more citrus forward this time round and has a little bit more oak.

Conclusion

I like the contrast here between sipping this neat and with water. Although there is a reversal between distillate and cask dominance, one isn’t hugely victorious over the other in either case. Signatory had a Ledaig in the out turn previous to this one that was the same age and strength, but in a first fill sherry butt as opposed to a refilled one. It would be interesting to try a Ledaig along those lines someday, just to see what the contrast is.

Although special releases of Ledaig and anything besides their official 10 year expression are fiendishly difficult to find in Canada, it seems to be very popular with independent bottlers these days. It’s thanks to them that there will always be a Ledaig available on a shelf nearby.

Instagram: @paul.bovis