Budget Dram Reviews – Jack Daniels Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey

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

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).

Budget Dram Reviews – Forty Creek Copper Pot

When the reviews section of the Park Whiskey Society was revived this summer, I was pretty excited to review some of the new craft whisky coming into this province. I also wanted to highlight and review some of the fancier bottles as well. It certainly helps to draw clicks to the website. However, I also wanted this to be a space for the average whisky drinker as well.

By average, I simply mean an individual who is not constantly on the prowl for the latest release multiple times a week. Someone who actually has a low to modest budget and sticks to it. Something the rest of us should be doing these days. You know who you are. In fact, I would argue that all whisky drinkers should have a few of these on their shelves!

To that end, I’m going to start reviewing some whiskies that don’t come with a high price tag, but are excellent value for money. Some of these may be obscure blended scotches that have been collecting dust on store’s lowest shelves. Others may be mid-shelf offerings from big distillers that pack a ton of flavour. I’m setting a price ceiling for bottles I cover in this “Budget Dram Reviews” series at less than $100 CAD in the province of Alberta, but many will be much less than that. You’d be surprised what you can still get for that amount of money!

The first one I’ll cover is a bottle that I am just about to finish off myself. Forty Creek Cooper Pot should be available pretty much anywhere, even in the United States. This is a traditional Canadian whisky made of corn, rye and barley. These are aged separately for at least three years and then blended together before bottling. Information on this whisky, like many Canadian blends, is thin on the ground. It is most likely coloured and chill-filtered and is bottled at 43%. This bottle is a step up from Forty Creek’s entry level Barrel Select offering. You should be able to find a bottle of Copper Pot for about $30-$40 CAD.

Nose: there are some pretty standard Canadian blended whisky notes here such as vanilla and caramel. The youthfulness shows up as a faint metallic smell. What sets this apart is the pretty hefty amount of orange I get off of this. It’s quite sweet though. Almost candied. As this sits for longer, a little bit of dark chocolate can be detected in the background. Apart from cinnamon, I don’t get any other baking spices. A tiny bit of oak rounds this off.

Palate: For a low proof Canadian whisky, this is pretty decently mouthcoating. The entry is very sweet with caramel, orange juice and vanilla cream with a hint of milk chocolate. It’s in the development when a slightly bitter, youthful grain note starts to come into play. The sweetness from the entry and the slightly sour note from the orange help to balance this out enough for it not to become too big of a problem. There is enough rye in the blend to tingle the tongue a little bit. Towards the end of the development I get some more baking spices in the form of cloves and just a tiny bit of nutmeg.

Finish: This is short, but well balanced. A little bit of oak. A little bit of sponge toffee. Some fading baking spices. Just a touch of cocoa powder in the end. Nothing fighting for dominance. The citrus note prevents this from being too dry.

With water added…

The sweetness is tamped down a little on the nose. I’m getting quite a bit more oak and cinnamon and less orange. The entry remains pretty much unchanged, but I feel the youthfulness is not as prominent as it was without water added. The amount of oak has increased in the later half of the development and that, in turn, has thrown off the balance on the finish. Not by much, but it is noticeable.

Conclusion

This one is probably best without water. It falls apart a bit on the development and finish. I think this would also make a pretty decent mixing and cocktail whisky, but I have always had this as is.

Budget Canadian whisky gets panned by many in the whisky world, but there are some hidden gems out there. I would put this in that category along with Eau Clair’s Rupert, Signal Hill, Last Straw Rye and of course Lot 40. We’ll be reviewing all of those on the website at one point or another.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Taconic Barrel Strength Bourbon review

Let’s close off this series of Taconic reviews by talking not about their whiskey, but about a dog. More specifically, the dog that appears on the label of every bottle they produce. The American foxhound has quite a history in the US. A cousin of the classic English foxhound, it was the result of cross breeding hounds bred by the Brooks family (a family with nearly 300 years of foxhound breeding) and French foxhounds owned by George Washington.

Because of the foxhound’s keen sense of smell, it was used by bootleggers during the prohibition to warn when government agents would were near. It’s characteristic howl would alert the bootleggers who would then have a chance to hide or move their illegal spirits.

The foxhound has personal roots for the Coughlin family, who own the distillery. Their foxhound, Copper, is their family dog and distillery mascot.

Now let’s return to their whiskey! Today we’re reviewing their Barrel Strength Bourbon which was matured for at least four years in new American oak barrels and bottled at 57.5% abv.

Nose: For a barrel strength bourbon, the nose is very shy. I’m getting a little bit of a sour orange peel note. I think I’ve gotten orange in all of the Taconic expressions I’ve reviewed. There’s also some corn flakes in there as well. I’m definitely getting more oak on this than I got on their barrel strength rye. There’s a little bit of a dusty sweet feed (like we feed to our horses if they’re extra good) note lingering in the background. It took 45 minutes, but it’s slowly starting to open up now. I’m getting some light brown sugar and a bit of dark caramel. Also a cherry bubblegum note as well. In terms of spicing, there’s cinnamon, allspice and just a hint of clove.

Palate: The entry is sweet, but very brief. Very rich vanilla and caramel quickly transitions to to the flesh and peel of an orange. Then the development hits. It’s not hot, but it’s baking spice rich. Cinnamon and cloves. Lots and lots of cloves. Whole cloves, ground cloves, whole cloves stuck in an orange. You know…cloves! There’s also some nutmeg as well. Like the rye, I like the premise of baking spices without the heat. The difference here is that the baking spices are overwhelming the experience and is swamping out the sweetness I got on the entry. The sweetness is still there, mind you, but it’s faint. The oak that kicks in during the later part of the development doesn’t help matters. I’m hoping that water will level the playing field a little.

Finish: The finish is medium to long, but the imbalance between the sweetness and baking spices that cropped up during the development continue here. The finish isn’t necessarily drying, but there is almost no sweetness to be found except maybe a very dark chocolate note, which is more bitter than sweet. Other than that, it’s just slowly fading baking spices and oak.

With water added…

I’m getting a little more vanilla and caramel on the nose now. This is definitely sweeter than without water added. I’m getting more cloves and oak as well. The entry is even sweeter now and that translates to a huge improvement in terms of the development. Yes, it’s still a baking spice bomb, but the balance between that and the caramel, orange and vanilla that carries over from the entry is much improved. With that extra bit of sweetness the later part of the development into the early part of the finish has that ginger snap cookie taste that I love. This makes the whole part of the finish more pleasurable.

Conclusion

This is why we add water to whisky. It does wonders in terms of transforming an experience. Sometimes it works (as in this case), sometimes it offers you a very different, and equally pleasing, experience. It can, of course, send things careening downhill.

I much prefer their barrel strength rye to this one, simply because there was more balance in the sweetness compared to the spice. However, I do appreciate that water improved this one a lot.

Instagram: @paul.bovis

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

Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey review

Changing careers is something that a lot of us do at some point or another. Sometimes you accept a promotion within your organization or you seek a similar (hopefully better paying) job at another firm. Sometimes you go back to school to learn up and get a better trade. Other times, you go off and pursue something completely different. With Taconic Distillery’s founding family, the latter is definitely true although the situation is not as unique as you might think.

In a previous life Paul and Carol Ann Coughlin were part of the Wall Street scene in finance and marketing. Having spent over two decades in their respective fields, they felt it was time for a much needed change. They already owned land in Dutchess County (thus the name of this expression), New York and wanted to make that the heart of their new venture. Paul was already an avid bourbon fan, so moving into the field of whiskey seemed like a logical choice. And so Taconic was born.

Taconic’s main focus is bourbon and rye along with a smattering of white spirits. We have already reviewed their wildly popular Double Barrel Maple Bourbon, Founder’s Rye and Barrel Strength Rye. We’ll cover the Dutchess Bourbon in this review and the Barrel Strength Bourbon next week. If you are lucky enough to visit their distillery, you will be able to snag some of their limited releases, which are finished in Cognac, Cabernet or Madeira casks. Not to mention their barrel aged maple syrup!

Sitting in the glass today, we have the Taconic Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey made from a mashbill of 70% corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley. This was aged for at least four years in new, charred American oak and bottled at 45%.

Nose: This is a pretty light nose, but one thing I get straight away is a decent amount of orange. This might be off putting to some bourbon drinkers, but I love it. Baker’s, a favourite of mine, is another bourbon with plenty of citrus behind it. I’m not getting a strong cherry note in here. It’s just lurking in the background. As I let this sit in the glass, it’s becoming just a tiny bit floral and a little bit of peach is revealing itself. There’s also some cinnamon, toffee and a bit of nutmeg in there as well. I’m not getting that much oak or vanilla. That sour orange note is getting in the way, I think. It will be interesting to see what water does in that regard.

Palate: Like the nose, the entry is pretty light and a bit thin. There’s a little bit of toasted peanut to go along with some light caramel and the flesh of a navel orange. The transition into the development is very slow and gentle. For a high rye bourbon, I’m expecting a little bit of a spicy kick in the development, but it’s not there. I got the same experience with their ryes. However, there are plenty of baking spices present. I mostly get cinnamon and clove. The nuttiness, orange and oak gets turned up a little as I smack my lips. The caramel on the entry is more sponge toffee on the development.

Finish: The oak, baking spices and orange slowly fade away. The toasted peanut on the development is now becoming dark peanut brittle, but it’s pretty faint. The orange is preventing a drying end to the experience.

With water added…

Definitely more cinnamon on the nose as well as peanut brittle. The oak is a lot more present as well. Water has definitely increased the boldness here. The palate is much the same in terms of notes, but the volume is turned up significantly. Still not much in the way of heat, but that’s alright by me. One significant difference with water is the addition of cocoa powder. It’s slightly bitter, but helps to add some much needed richness. This is a much more mouth experience as well. By the time the finish kicks in, that cocoa note evolves into a rich hot chocolate. The oak is also a little more pronounced.

Conclusion

This is definitely much improved with water. The flavors are much bolder that way and help to give the whisky a deeper, richer mouthfeel. Part of me wishes that there was a little more heat in the development to remind me I’m drinking 90 proof whisky, but I do appreciate the strong baking spice notes I get on the development despite this.

I’m very interested how the Barrel Proof version compares to this. Will it be spicier? Will it be more of the same? Tune in next week!

Instagram: @paul.bovis

Rodger’s Whisky Vintage Selection 6 Year Heavily Peated Ben Nevis review

Today, we’re reviewing the first in a series of Single Cask Clan bottles that are available to members only. Up to bat in this review is the first of two bottles from Roger’s Whisky. The Single Cask Clan is based in Canada, is free to join and gives you access to exclusive bottles from all over the world. DM @singlecaskclan on Instagram for more information.

Rodger’s Whisky is a friendly reminder that not all players in the scotch independent bottling space are based in Scotland. Roger Tan was born and raised in the Netherlands and has been in the world of whisky as a fan, investor and photographer for over 25 years. In 2020, he added independent bottling to his resume. His first release included two 12 year Caol Ila casks. The first was finished in first fill PX sherry octaves and other in first fill Oloroso.

This second set of releases includes the bottle we have poured today. This single cask six year, heavily peated Ben Nevis was exclusively matured in ex-sherry casks and bottled at a healthy 58.4%. Both Sean Kincaid and I are reviewing this bottle. See our thoughts below.

Paul’s review

Nose: Sadly, my bottle is about 3/4 empty already, but as it was quickly drained, it has gone through a few phases. First, there was the bacon, then it got real sea-brine forward (Nicole, aka @blackcatwhisky suggested Oysters Rockefeller). Now it’s a glorious mashup of the two with a few extras thrown in. The brine note now, to me at least, is very much a low tide in an ocean marina kind of smell. The bacon starts to shine through as you let it sit in the glass. It’s a rich, smoked bacon that’s super crispy. There’s a little bit of a medicinal note that has started to crop up now. It’s not Laphroaig-like, but it is present. The European oak is rearing its head now as well. I’m expecting more of that with water when I get there. Getting back to the saltiness of this whisky, there’s some sea salt milk chocolate. The fruitiness is some cooked down plums. Finally there’s just a little bit of the Ledaig kind of burnt rubber, but not as much as I got when I cracked the bottle.

Palate: This is actually quite sweet and tart on the entry as well as very oily. This coats your whole mouth in a hurry. It’s honey, plum compote and orange zest. This lasts for about a second and a half and then it’s just a mountain of brine, peat, oak and sherry. The brine is like the juice from fresh cooked shellfish. Then the smoke and salt from the bacon overtakes that. Next in line is the peat. Citrusy with lemon and orange peel. Finally comes the European oak, coming in much hotter than when I first opened this bottle. Overlying all of that are the sweeter notes that I got from the entry as well as a healthy dose of earthy baking spices (cinnamon ad clove). Nothing wins out here. The balance is near perfect.

Finish: Long. The tongue tingles for a good, long while. Mostly a sourness from the peat, oak and dark chocolate at first. Particularly when I smack my lips and suck in some air during the development, the finish is dry at first, but the citrus zing that lingers helps to make my mouth water again. There’s just a touch of the sweetness that I got on the entry that helps to balance this all out. I should be getting a stopwatch out to time how long this finish is.

With water added…

The nose is now much more oak forward, as I was expecting. The medicinal note has faded and the bacon and sea brine are using a microphone to make themselves heard. The notes aren’t as varied with water, but the ones that remain are bolder. The arrival is much more measured and the transition to the development isn’t as sharp. The sweetness is more prominent during the first half of the development until the oak and baking spices kick in big time. As I swallow this, the spicing has some red chilli flakes and black pepper. It’s almost a little too hot for me. Still, this transition to spice is slow and builds gradually. The finish is just as long and the dark chocolate is very much at the forefront here.

It will depend what kind of preference for spice you have regarding adding water or not. If you want a dram with a lot of spice, add water. Otherwise, stay put. Either way, it’s delicious.

Sean’s review

Nose: The very initial breath immediately picks up the peat notes. It’s also not nosing like a cask strength whisky at all. This is savoury peat. Meaty peat. The peat immediately reveals that sweet, syrupy Sherry note that I swear is PX but is simply stated as Sherry on the bottle. As the label suggests this is campfire style smoke and there’s something else in there. A touch of sourness (in the most appealing way possible), almost like a handful of copper pennies, or freshly sewn copper tubing. All I know is this nose makes me immediately want to sip and I found it really hard to nose it without sipping long enough to get proper notes.

Palate: This is opposite of the nose where I get the PX sweetness up front and then it welcomes in the peat and smoke notes. This is savoury in the best way. Let me set the scene. Breakfast is served. All on one big plate where you have cinnamon french toast (cinnamon and malty notes) dabbed with a dark red fruit compote (PX sherry notes), which is then drizzled with heavy, thick maple syrup. Also on the plate is a helping of Maplewood smoked bacon, fresh out of the oven (big savoury notes) and the syrup is running on to them. Lastly there are a couple fried eggs glistening and waiting to be devoured (touch of sulphur and that copper note). Now eat (drink) up and enjoy as this is one of the best young whiskies I have had in a really long time. Does not show it’s youth at all. In fact there’s almost a dusty, leathery note I find as well which on a 6 year old whisky isn’t usual. Damn that’s good!!

Conclusion

Darn it. I should have bought two of these. For those that have not drained their bottle their bottle quite as quickly as I have, I assure you that the best is yet to come. There is an almost perfect balance between sweet, salty, sour and spicy.

It’s hard to believe that this whisky is only six years old. There’s a depth of flavour and balance that is usually reserved for bottles that are twice this age or more. Roger’s next couple of releases sound pretty tempting already and it’s hoped that Canada will be able to see some bottles of this as well.

Instagram: @paul.bovis and @seankincaid