Achentoshan 21

Thirsty Thursdays are back at the SAQ (ok they’re not officially called that) and I had a good enough window of time to be able to attend. 4 whiskys for 15$ even if you fall in a dud line-up it’s still a great way to expand your palate.

By now even the casual whisky drinker will know of Auchentoshan’s triple distillation. Usually they will go on about how it’s more it an Irish thing to do, although I’ve come to learn that isn’t necessarily the case.

It’s core expressions are usually affordable, making them a maintain of those top 10 lists, you know the ones, top 10 whiskys for beginners, top 10 gifts for fathers day under 75$.

What is certain is that in its OB format ‘Toshan tends to be very polarizing, it’s a supple spirit that is often presented at anemic proofs and can be botoxed to excess by oak manipulation. This will be the first time I have an older version.

It’s a mix of bourbon & sherry casks no specific vatting info.

Nose: Pastry dough, or let’s make that cinnamon buns, apple, some guava. I get a good bit of the grain coming through, powdered sugar, a little latex. It’s pretty delicate, with time develops some fruitiness, jujubes. A smidge of pineapple.

Palate: Milk chocolate, cashews, candlewax, raisins, I get a bit of sulfur, powdered ginger, lemon rind, there is a surprising amount if grip for 43%.

Finish: light, grassy barley, a little bit if fruits but it suffers the most here, it loosens it’s hold fast, leaving little impression after you’ve swallowed.

There are some nice aspects to this whisky, I like the attack on the palate, where the grain notes are holding their own against the sherry. Sadly the texture is so limp that the finish fails on the promise. One of the better versions I’ve had but still good, not great.

82/100

Four Roses single Barrel

Ok it’s been a while faithful readers…wait mom don’t leave! I am trying to get a backlog of reviews cleared, this one I have to admit I’ve struggled with, not the whisky but just finding which way to broach the uniqueness of it.

Ok so for whisky cognoscenti and most informed consumers, you know all about Four Roses and it’s 5 yeast strains and 2 mashbills, allowing for up to 10 different variations to be made in one facility. It’s a geeks delight, one that I know annoys some as they probably have a friend who won’t shut up about the whole thing.

What’s interesting to me is that this mostly came about under the Seagram’s ownership of the facility. This is a pattern we would see repeated with many of the company’s other distilleries, it really was a brilliant move, remember at the time Seagrams was pumping out all kinds of blends and moving facilities to this type of arrangement would not only allow for greater consistency but would make them less reliant on sourced components for their blends.

This scheme is repeated famously at Crown Royal but also what made Benriach such a stellar purchase for Billie Walker & co, since they had all kinds of style of single malt whisky in inventory.

As it is this yeast driven scheme is one that is sadly still underused in distilling today, it’s the one area along with terroir (that is barley types & provenance) that I believe could help usher positive change in the industry.

Ok enough blab, The Four Roses Single Barrel is one of the 3 products in their standard line-up, it is always composed of the same recipe (OBSV) so it’s from the higher rye mashbill with their fruity yeast strain and it is bottled at 50% abv. mine is from warehouse US barrel#76-3A.

Four Roses SB

Nose: Minty, rye spices, cloves, slight vegetal notes. There’s sweetness but it’s not big bombastic corn but more like Turkish delight, corn porridge, clean oak. Honey that you licked off a Popsicle stick, a little apple and apricots… Its not a big thick chewy toffee vanilla bomb.

There is a touch of something acetic, a little vinegary but it works in this context but could trigger you into acetone territory if you’re sensitive to this.

Palate: Caramel, honey candy, loads of oak, cinnamon and cloves, the carpentry is in check not too forward, There is a feeling of beeswax or coconut oil? Floral, candied angelica and celery leaves, a bit of black licorice. There is a touch of something acetic, a little vinegary but it works in this context but could trigger you into acetone territory if sensitive.

Finish: Creamed honey, a bit of cucumber, vanilla, apricots, plum frangipane tart.

I feel like this is really in a category of it’s own, it’s still clearly bourbon and has those familiar touchstones. Yet the nose with it’s almost sharp acetic edge and the palate with those vegetal, creamy touches make it an outlier, it’s a fun whisky to dissect.

I can the Four Roses style as being very polarizing, those who dig it will be amply rewarding, it’s next level bourbon in the best sense. It’s also fantastic value about 50$ at the LCBO.

Four Roses Single Barrel

50% ABV

86/100

Franck

 

J.P. Wiser’s – 35 2017 “A Bushel Full of Treats”

Alright, so I’m prepping for Spirit of Toronto and a dapper guy in a blazer hands me a box with my name on it and then scribbles a few notes with instructions to follow, I’m like awww shit…cue the Lalo Schifrin score I accept the mission!

Well close enough…the sample is courtesy of @paddockjudge, he did give me instructions on the order in which I should proceed with a trio of samples he provided. These we’re mystery samples I tasted blind #1 was Danfield’s 21 reviewed here the Wiser’s 35 was my second one.

20180521_205344
Said mysterious box

 

Nose: Vanilla, mackintosh toffee, apple skin, a hint of buttered popcorn, soft rye spices, lots of sweet oak, really well balanced.

Palate: Honey, a good amount of oak, the rye contributes cloves, orange flower water, a slight peppery bitterness, the vanilla is present but not overbearing, a good richness.

Finish : Green bell peppers, waxed apples, fresh bread and a little lemon slices. Lots of cloves and oak.

W-35-full-label-1524014873365

Subtle but full the nose is much bolder than Canadian Club 40 which was a bit of a snooze. I’m not sure if this is only due to the addition of a bit of rye in the blend, or how the bonds of aged corn whisky are handled. From what I gather they tend to consolidate barrels in the Pike Creek warehouse so there isn’t as much effects of evaporation.

This 35 yr old is another whisky I would be curious to taste blind along with some older bourbon to see how it would fare.

Wiser’s 35

50% ABV

89/100

Wild Turkey- 101 “The Seven Faced Bird”

After having had a few really good bourbons last year I vowed to try and purchase more of them this year. While I have been eyeing some of the premium selections, enough members on Connosr waxed on about Wild Turkey 101 saying it offered more than one would expect from a bourbon in it’s category. I figured I didn’t have much to lose, worse case it could be used for cocktails.

I poured a dram in both a Canadian style Glencairn and a traditional one to be able to compare.

IMG_20180905_183110526

 

Nose: Fresh wet oak, caramel corn, a kind of dusty cumin and allspice, pleasant warm grain/corn porridge note.There is a smidge of green apple skin and then lots of cherries building up. There’s a persistent astringency and bite from the alcohol. The Canadian Glencairn, offers more oak/cedar and herbal intensity, a touch of cinnamon red hot candies and a minty feeling. The rye blooms towards the end, with a bit of yeasty brown bread too, it’s a very warming and inviting nose.

Palate: Sweet and dry, creme caramel and rising bread, oak, green plantain, bran muffins, spicy rye and savory feeling on the tip of the tongue, like mountain mint or oregano, a sort of resin-like feeling. Definitely a bit sharp when it first hits your throat but it’s just go this great chewy mouthfeel to it.

Finish: It fades away quickly, leaving a bit of tobacco, sweet vanilla and then turning to dry oak, a bit of barrel char, Turkish delight and caramel corn.

Turkey time

The Canadian Glencairn performed really well here it had a bit more burn but the bourbon felt fuller with more complex, with a bit of a floral touch whereas the nose was darker, closed even a bit dustier when using the traditional glass.One thing to note, there is a drying astringent bite to this bourbon that I generally find pleasant but at times can be off putting.

Overall I really enjoyed this bourbon, it can be easygoing with a large ice cube to sip on a hot day, works well in cocktails due to the abv or can provide enough interest if I want to have it neat and take my time. At 36$ it’s got great value as well.

Wild Turkey – 101 

50.5% ABV

84/100

 

J.P. Wiser’s – Legacy “The saga of Canada’s Sleeping Giants”

Canada has a rich history of whisky distilling yet I believe it is in the grips of an existential crisis. This one’s gonna be long but interesting so buckle in or skip past the photo of the bottle for the review.

To understand let’s take a brief look at the industry, like elsewhere in the world, it can be split between the old and new guard. The old guard is composed of several large facilities spread out across the country, these are the survivors of consolidation and account for the majority of the whisky produced in the country.

Then there is the new guard, micro and not so micro-distilleries that have been built mostly within the last 15 years or so. Some of the bigger players are off-shoots of breweries and wineries, others are smaller boutique operations. It is a mixed bag with some deciding to focus solely on single malt whisky, while others are finding success in diversification often selling a lot of gin, bitters, vodka and not only as a means of funding their whisky portfolios.

So what’s the problem, Crown royal is still one of the top selling whiskys in the US, right behind Jack Daniels (don’t tell Trump! or Kentucky), Flavored whisky sales are still giving reps a hard-on and Wayne Gretzky launched a successful whisky brand…why am I being an arsehole?? What’s next? Am I going to shit on the holy institution that is Tim Horton’s?

Well the problem is that most of what is being sold, even some of the new stuff is still the same old boring shit, it just happens to be our shit and so it’s kind of comfy in the diaper if you ignore the smell. I am focusing on what is labelled as “Canadian whisky” not the single malts, that’s for another post altogether. Many stick with the smooth light, caramel, 40%ABV, kind of nondescript and boring…I don’t care if it’s finished in a wine-cask, the base is boring as old balls.

windsor-canadian
I have no words for this bit of advertising.

Ask many whisky connoisseurs how they feel about Canadian whisky and many don’t have a good opinion of it, there are many reasons why but they all boil down to the same conclusion. There is just too much, low proof, smooth harmless whisky being released. It’s like they got stuck in the 70’s and didn’t budge. What if people don’t want to drink high proof flavor bombs you ask? Well bourbon is flying off the shelves here, The LCBO made a Facebook event for Old Weller 107 and everyone crapped themselves and cleared the shelves within a week. Lot 40 Cask Strength almost caused a riot (well a Canadian riot so a really polite one) upon release and folks have been clamoring for offerings of the same caliber as we are getting from elsewhere in the whisky world.

Not all is lost, the tide is turning albeit very slowly, the release in 2017 of Corby’s Northern Border Collection was a major step in the right direction.Many would trace the turning point to 2012 as Wiser’s re-released of Lot no. 40 and Pike Creek but I think the true beacon and to me still one of the best examples of what good blending can bring to the category was J.P. Wiser’s Legacy.

Legacy was released sometime in 2010, it was a tribute to it’s namesake and was unique on a few points. At the time there we’re few “ultra-premium” Canadian whiskys (Wiser’s Red Letter and some Crown Royal Editions) but this differed in that not only did it push a very rye forward recipe but also sported a proper drinking ABV of 45%. It had a good amount of success but in the final years of it’s availability (2016-2017) was largely ignored by folks and was ultimately discontinued. (I think also because it would have competed with Corby’s other new products) Sadly I believe it was not exported much either, so few outside of Canada had knowledge of it’s existence.

IMG_20180903_211249612_PORTRAIT

I’ve blabbed enough let’s dive in and see what makes this one so special.

Nose: Caramel corn, mackintosh toffee, golden delicious apple and a little barrel char perhaps? Then a good dose of cloves, allspice, and ginger, the addition of that Wiser’s pot-still rye (AKA Lot No 40) is very apparent here in the middle. There is a bit of a lemon pith bite, a feeling of fresh, you can feel the alcohol on the nose but it’s not harsh , it gives zing and there’s a lingering creamy, buttery bread note too. Really pleasant!

Palate: Sweet oak, brown sugar, a slight mineral tang, lemon zest, pretty silky entrance from the corn which then leaves behind the spicy and fairly drying astringency, it seems like it sticks to the middle of your palate. It has this boldness that many other blends lack.

Finish: Medium in length but effective, on lingering warm spices, maple butter, cedar and a minty, coppery tang.

I like that it’s still clearly a Canadian whisky but you see what a bit of boldness and good blending chops can bring to the game, definitely a yardstick by which to measure other entries in the category.

Don’t get me wrong I am not shitting on other products, I think there is a place for all types of whiskies, I just think too many products are operating in the same spectrum and there is a notable void created by the absence of premium Canadian whisky. It’s not like we don’t have good stocks, look at how much of it leaves the country and is sold under the guises of Whistlepig, Masterson’s, Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrels and so on.

J.P. Wiser’s Legacy

45% ABV

87/100

 

 

Danfield’s – Limited Edition 21 Year Old “Classy Hoser”

I know very little about Danfield’s 21, I do know that it was a brand that was once produced at the Schenley distillery (Diageo) in Québec and that it is now produced in Lethbridge Alberta at the Black Velvet distillery (Constellation Brands). It seems to be one of those classic Canadian whisky brands like Gibson’s Finest, which has been bounced around from home to home.

Black Velvet 2 LNN
Like many of the legacy Canadian distillers they have a lot of sleeping barrels aging on site.

This sample is courtesy of @paddockjudge, I had the pleasure of being the recipient of a small box containing a plethora of mysterious elixirs decanted by the man himself. Three of the whiskys inside had instructions concerning the drinking order, this is the first of those samples tasted blind.

Nose: Brown sugar, vanilla and a good dose of spices that seem to stem from the wood, in this case cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg. Loads of oak, like a carpenter’s shop, a little green bell pepper and paraffin, it’s quite a bit nippy.

Water softens the nose, bring in some honey and increasing the vanilla.

Palate: Oak & cedar, warm caramel with loads of brown sugar and baking spices. Grapefruit pith, white pepper and a touch of wax. Surprisingly hot for, 40%. Nice mouthfeel.

Water brings out cardboard, more spices, reduces the bitterness a touch.

Finish. Is medium length, that sweetness you can only get from corn whisky, some astringency from the oak, a little cardboard, and chili pepper not as sweet as on arrival,

Danfields cheese
Love the old school packaging

I feel like this is a perfect representation of a classic Canadian whisky, I found the bitterness a bit off putting at first but with time it seems to bring equilibrium to this blend. The wood notes are interesting because they push into the cedar/tobacco like territory. This isn’t my favorite Canadian whisky but it’s hard to deny that this is a well crafted gem in a style that doesn’t seem to be as popular.

Danfield’s 21 yrs Old

40%/ABV

88/100

 

Whistlepig – 10 yr old Single Barrel “Goin’ Whole Hog”

Late last year a friend offered to mule a few bottles from South Carolina if I had them shipped to his place in advance, I attempted to select bottles I knew I would be difficult to obtain in Canada.

In the end two of the three bottles he brought back contained whisky distilled in Canada (the other was a Crown Royal hand selected barrel), the other was this bottle Whistlepig store selection, a single barrel at 56.7% abv for Third Base Market & Spirits.

At this point it’s public knowledge that the 10yr old Whistlepig whisky is 100% rye sourced from Alberta Distillers Limited, a powerhouse of a distillery that has over a million sleeping barrels of some of the best rye whisky. Sadly it’s a whisky that we rarely see on our side of the border in anything but it’s adulterated form (cut down to 40% abv or blended in the case of Dark Horse) or sold back to us by US firms under the guises of brands like Masterson’s, Hochstader’s & Whistlepig. This was the first time I was able to get a taste of ADL juice at cask strength (or nearly).

IMG_20180910_222929
In good company.

Nose: Waxy, rising brioche dough, rye toast and orange peel. It has a floral cologne like note, a bit of sandalwood, there is oak but it’s restrained. There is an almost soapy note but it’s fresh and clean it works well. The payoff with this whisky is to let it air out and then it really opens up, a sweet maple syrup like note with that mineral tang. Fresh and fermented grain, coriander seed and mint finishing on a bit of prune, almost like in Armagnac (perhaps from oak?)

Palate: Dry & sharp, floral & aromatic, there is a slight heat reminded you that this is almost 57% abv. Then it bursts with rye bread, a touch of cumin, apricots, candy apple & butter tarts. Full bodied, earthy and sweet salted caramel & cracked pepper, after the initial tickle there’s very little burn on palate.

Finish: Creamy like eating flan or pannacotta, more oak, earthy sprouted rye and a slight chalkiness, green fresh coriander like feeling.

The Blab: This is a great full bodied dram, more of a winter whisky than a fresh summery one. The bottle is in it’s last third and It’s lost some steam on the nose, it’s a bit closed and lost some of it’s initial peppery-ness and full throttle in your face rye.

That said the palate has bloomed I don’t remember getting as much dried fruits at first. This is really a sipper it takes time to discover and let everything come into play, it has a pleasant mineral waxiness that goes well with the sweetness, no dill notes either… I wish I could get a group together to buy a cask of this stuff.

Whistlepig 10 yr old “Third Base Market & Spirits” store selection

56.7% ABV

88/100

Benromach – Hermitage Finish 2005 “High Tea in the Kiln Room”

The Benromach 10 has earned it’s place among many folks’ cabinets, as a solid bang for your buck whisky but one with more dimensions that are used to seeing at this age. It has that rare chameleon quality, each time you have a dram it seems to have changed a bit, one day sherry focused, another more peat and malt forward.

This hermitage finish is part of what Benromach dubs their contrast series, these are various versions of their spirit, be it finishes or experiments to show against the standard line-up of  their 10-15 yr old whisky. It can be a smart way for a company that does not yet have many decades of stocks to draw upon, we’ve seen this used by Bruichladdich, Arran and many others but not always successfully.

20170317_223107-e1536180236778.jpg
Enjoy this terrible photo of my bottle.

This bottle was purchased as part of our club’s selection on the strength of my experience with Ben 10, I wanted to use it as a contrast against some other sherry matured malts.

Nose: Spicy, paraffin, there is peat but it mixes with the fruits from the wine cask, it’s like smoked blackberries…alas I have tried this time+smoker=smoked everything. Green peppercorns, digestive biscuits, honey drizzled figs, there is some sulfur like a tinge of spent matches and ginger. The nose is pretty tame, I like the interplay between the waxy peaty side and the fruits from the cask.

Palate: Sweet, oily, malty, earthy and bitter on the first sip, almost like Amaro (don’t call me a hipster). Damp concrete basement, slight barn funk, apricot jam, wet grains, again that feeling of smoked berries from the nose.

Finish: Short, a mossy and sweet earthy taste remains, a drying astringency, vanilla and dark chocolate.

I found this pleasant but the sulfur has increased with time, I feel like the peat saves it from being OTT.  The Benromach spirit style takes well to sherry as we get from the regular editions, this wine finish shows some promise but it’s not entirely successful. I am unsure if it’s the style of wine used, the ABV or perhaps it would be better if they vatted some bourbon barrels in to bring equilibrium?  I like it but it lacks the superb blending of the Ben10.

Benromach 2005 Hermitage Wood Finish series 

45% ABV

83/100

Smokehead “Kippers & Bits”

This is an NAS single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery. This brand comes from Ian Macleod’s company, who’s portfolio includes, Isle of Skye, Glengoyne & Thamdu among others.

Like most of these type of releases there’s much speculation on the origin of the casks for this whisky. Many speculate that this is a vatting of young casks of Ardbeg that don’t quite meet the company’s standards. Let’s see.

Nose: Smoked herring, damp cellar, creosote, it leans towards Ardbeg or Laphroaig heavy smoke. Salt, a smidge of vanilla, a little mercurochrome nothing else…maybe salt ham.

Palate: Acrid, earthy, sharp, kelp, oysters, beach bonfire, latex, milky, peat reek.

Finish is all on ashes, saltpetre, brine.

Good uncompromising stuff, all oily fish, milky/latex and ashy smoke. It ticks off all the peat freak boxes, don’t look for subtleties. I like this it’s very honest.

Smokehead Islay Single Malt

43% ABV

83/100

Highland Park – Full Volume “Half Mast, Half Stack”

This was dram #4 during an in-store tasting following the rather disappointing JW Ghost & Rare.

When I heard that Highland Park were launching a whisky called full volume, I thought they would be releasing some of their heavily peated stock at Cask Strength. Perhaps an edition composed of all floor malted barley a little like Laphroaigs’ 2015 Cairdeas? Alas no, this is all first-fill bourbon cask from a single distillation year (1999) at 47.2%…so basically this is the kind of thing that is normally sold to independents or brokers for blending.

Nose: Light smoke, latex paint, pencil eraser, honey a little mango, pineapple, dried papaya but the fruits are faint. It takes a while to open up, light citrus, oranges and lemon. You can feel the malt in the back an almost green raw grain feeling.

Palate: Caramel, earthy peat, round, sharp and full, barrel char, vanilla. A little coconut oil, the oak is present too, real forward and in action. Malty grain notes, like porridge with vanilla and lemon peel.

Finish : Quite lengthy, earthy smoke, camphor, honey candy, caramel, citrus zest and that latex feeling still.

This was pretty good, I don’t think it’s keeping much with the HP house style, (not that I’m an expert on it) which usually includes a varying proportion of Sherry casks. True HP fans will be disappointed in that aspect perhaps. I would love to spend more time with this but don’t think it creates fireworks

Highland Park Full volume

47.2% ABV

85/100*I took my time on this one but it’s still something I sampled in store so I’m only giving it an overall score, my standard method is multiple samples before reviewing so I can score each aspect.