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.

 

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Brora and Rare / Ghost and Rare “Ghost Pressure”

Ok I promise this is my last JW review for a bit, I’m not going to repeat the marketing spiel as I am not a brand ambassador, some casks (who knows how much of anything) of silent distilleries unnecessarily gave up their lives to be included in this blend…maybe.

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This is where precious rare malts go to die

Nose: Suave, old oak /present but not overpowering, a little guava, smoke, dirt floors in a damp warehouse, waxy, a lot like regular blue label in it’s cohesiveness. Supple, slightly mineral, soft fruits, Mirabelles, apricots.

Palate : Musky peat turning into exotic fruits: longan, jack fruit, durian maybe?. A mounting astringency, aspirin, shoe polish and oak.

Finish is on old oak, polish, lemon pith, earth, the fruits are overridden by resiny pine, much bitterness.

Nice nose, the palate is ruined by the bitterness/ lemon pith/resin, I love these kind of notes in a whisky but the backbone isn’t robust enough to withstand it, unlike Springbank or Clynelish for example.

This is an example of where transparency would really help to better understand what is happening. What is one getting exactly for this price? what proportions of malt to grain, old to new, they could put one cask of Brora in a Tun of young whisky and one wouldn’t know.

Better value for money in Compass Box or Douglas Laing Regional Malts.

Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare Brora Edition

46% ABV

82/100 *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.

J. P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak – Northern Border Collection 2018 Preview part III

On May 5th 2018 I was at Spirit of Toronto with fellow Connosr members Nozinan and Paddockjudge, we attended the Wiser’s Masterclass that was given by Dr. Don Livermore. We were presented with the 6 new expressions that would be released by the distillery in 2018, you can find part 1 and part 2 here.

This was one of two whiskys that were an unexpected addition to our tasting. The other being the Canada 2018 release, while it was good I only had an hour so I chose to focus my attention on the four most striking.

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Seasoned Oak is an LCBO exclusive that will be released for father’s day (much like Dissertation and Last Barrels the two years prior). In essence it is a 19 year old blend of double distilled corn & column still rye that was aged in barrels made from staves that were traditionally air dried for 48 months, my notes indicate that these barrels we’re toasted and not charred…but I could be wrong.

Nose: Oak, vanilla, candied apples, a bit of raisins & allspice. It’s in many ways a traditional Canadian whisky on the nose but with presence and good development, it does have a touch of warm bread and fennel.

Palate: A pleasant hint of burnt wood, lots of maple, orange blossom water, the oak is complex like opening an old cigar humidor, great spice & citrus integration.

It’s the first time I get actual maple syrup in a Canadian whisky, I know many people use that as a tasting note but I never quite get that complex sweetness and underlying minerality (not a word I know) of maple syrup in most Canadian whiskys, this one though…round, warm and solidly crafted, the oak wasn’t out of hand. I would like to try this in a blind tasting in a line-up with other American and Canadian whiskys, see how it would fare.

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They are also displaying the actual age on the label (from what I can see on the Wiser’s website) which is refreshing since most of the other rare cask series did not…perhaps this is to help in selling it at the price point they are looking for (100$).

*After fact checking it is aged for 18 months in traditional refill Canadian whisky barrels and only finished for 12 months in these air dried barrels, I wish they had made this a bit clearer. Nonetheless, it’s great to see what the use of this finish can do to ad complexity without going overboard and into licking a wooden plank territory like some double barreled bourbons.

JP Wiser’s Seasoned Oak (19yrs old)

48% ABV

84/100 * I tried these whiskys in a public event so these notes are quick impressions rather than in depth reviews. 

Corby Lot 40 Cask Strength 2018 – Northern Border Collection 2018 Preview part II

This is my second review taken from Spirit of Toronto’s 2018 Northern Border Collection Masterclass. We were presented with the 6 new expressions to be released this year by Corby Distillers. The first part can be found here.

Dr. Livermore built his presentation in such a way that each of his talking points would culminate in one of the samples placed before us. The whisky would be the embodiment of the aspect he was trying to highlight in his talk (the points varied from Canada’s whisky history, grains, aging, the importance of wood…get your mind out of the gutter).

He joked that the next whisky was the one everyone was here for. In a way he’s right, if there’s one Canadian whisky that gets the masses hot and bothered it’s Lot 40 Cask Strength. Ever since it’s re-release in 2012 the original Lot no.40 gained a massive following and was ahead of the curve in gauging there would be a revival and solid demand for rye on the market.

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Last year’s cask strength inaugural release was a really solid whisky on par with other cult inducing ryes, it showed that Canadian rye is no slouch when pitted against its American counterparts. Sadly at < 5000 bottles, few if any made their way outside of the country to retailer in US or overseas.

The 2018 release is from a parcel of 11 year old whiskys, Dr. Livermore said that his reason for choosing this specific bond was because they all exhibited a particular flavor profile which he felt was quite different than last year’s edition (he mentions a licorice/anise note).

Nose: Caramel, pine tar, orange creamsicle, the nose was so unexpected that I had to smell my friends glass to make sure I had the right sample. Steak spice, floral, rising pastry (like brioche dough) and a bit of vanilla. I am only comparing it from memory but the nose seems very different than last years edition.

Palate: Creamy, thrills gum, licorice, grippy oak, green apple. Super floral but in this context it works, cooked stone fruit, a mix of cinnamon and clove. There’s a richness to the rye produced at Hiram Walker distillery that isn’t found anywhere else, I think the use of virgin oak really helps accentuate this.

This was delicious and worthy of the frenzy it will cause at the LCBO.

The bad news is the price is going up to 99$ (for all the NBC releases barring the Wiser’s 35). I understand why they are doing this, I just don’t think all of the releases have found their legs yet.

In this era of 147$ Elijah Craig barrel proof selling out at the LCBO, I’m sure it will fly off the shelves.

Lot 40 Cask Strength

58.4% ABV

89/100 * I tried these whiskys in a public event so these notes are quick impressions rather than in depth reviews. This is just that good that it gets a high mark for quality despite not being my favorite pick of the evening.

*Pot still picture credit Windsor Star

Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls -Northern Border Collection 2018 Preview part I

 

On May 5th 2018 I attended Spirit of Toronto with a couple of members from Connosr (the board I frequent the most). It was my first time attending but my companions @Nozinan and @paddockjudge were both pros who’ve attended many times.

One of our main reasons for going was to catch the Masterclass that would be given by Dr. Don Livermore, the master blender for Corby Distillers. I knew from listening to interviews that “Doctor Don” is not only an accomplished scientist and blender but also a history buff, often citing the legacy of the Canadian whisky barons in his explanations. After this class I can add that he is a skilled orator as well, articulate, funny and down to earth, deeply passionate about Canadian whisky like few others.

The good doctor presented us with the 6 new expressions that would be released by the distillery in 2018. With only an hour to take the whole experience in, I concentrated my notes on the whiskys that we’re the most striking, the following 4 reviews all stem from this sessions.

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The 2018 release of Gooderham & Worts will officially be called “11 souls”. The working title was “11 orphans” to have another historical tie-in to William Gooderham’s well known deeds. I am not sure why they decided to change the name but perhaps the Marketing folks felt it wasn’t as catchy?

They indicate that this whisky is a blend of “11 grains” but I feel I must clarify it is actually blended from 11 different components or permutations of the following. 5 grain types (wheat, rye, barley, corn, Brasetto rye), two different distilling methods (double column or column/pot still) and two different barrel types (virgin oak or refill casks). I do not remember if there was an age statement mentioned for this.

Nose: At first a bit floral like apple blossoms, marzipan, waxy oranges/citrus, toasted almonds, really good integration of the spices throughout. The nose really grabs you right away and keeps unfolding in the most complex way.

Palate: Chewy toffee, jasmine, vanilla, a hint of tobacco, boiled honey, nice cereal notes. It has a slightly vegetal side (celery?) not unpleasant, it just provides the right nuance. Then it finishes on cloves, green apple and a a firm oak backbone.

This was very surprising, you can feel the work that went into this blend, yet it doesn’t feel contrived.The palate was a good match to the nose, lots of both overt and subtle flavors.

The 2017 release of G&W the 17 year old Little Trinity failed to really capture my attention, it was technically a great whisky but I felt it lacked a bit of personality. This is definitely a step in the right direction, again it’s not the instant gratification of Lot 40 CS but there is plenty happening, this was my favorite whisky of the session.

Gooderham & Worts 11 Souls

49% ABV

Grade: 86/100*

*My score reflects some of the haste of sampling at such an event, I normally would taste in isolation and over several sessions. I would probably bump it up if I could have spent more time with it.

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask Finish – “A Pour Decision at the Whine Bar”

Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Wine Cask Finish 

40% ABV

This set of reviews are from the last in-store tasting I attended in early April. I arrived a bit later which meant it was less crowded and I could take my sweet ass time taking notes and somewhat antisocial.

First whisky of the night was this Blenders’ Batch edition. I believe there are 3 or 4 of these featuring different finishes or highlighting the grains used.

The Diageo blab says it supposed to be 10± years old, despite being NAS, relying on malt from Clynelish and grain from Cameronbridge.

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I hate looking like a paparazzo at these events, so I end up taking these awkward photos.

Nose: a fair amount of sulfur, loads of vanilla, sour fruit and oak. A touch of damp earthy peat, wet cardboard, cooked fruits.

Palate: red fruits, currants, cherry, creamy vanilla. Then malty, bread, it’s fairly hot on the arrival. Marzipan, cardboard, sour fruits, like summer pudding left out in sun and fermenting. Lots of oak present throughout.

Finish: it’s limp watery, keeps on with the burn and sour oak/jam

Many people raved about this at the tasting, surprised by how much they liked it and “for the price” they kept saying. There are some aspects that I liked but it felt messy overall, maybe in cocktails but I still don’t see what makes this specifically a JW product. Maybe I’m taking this too seriously or perhaps I’m just not the intended consumer for this product.

76/100

Franck

Rapid Fire Session October 2016, Benriness, Glendullan & Kilchoman

 

I forgot to post my notes from a couple of in-store tastings so I’m catching up.

This night was an interesting one with 2 bottle of independent bottlers Hart Brothers and the most recent turnouts from Kilchoman’s standard offerings.

I don’t have much information about Hart Brothers, it seems to be a family owned grocer/licensed retailer who turned to bottling at some time in the 60’s, they don’t seem to have the same presence as some of the bigger players in the game and I’m not sure how consistent their products are.

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Hart brothers??

The SAQ received a batch of their outturn in the fall, there wasn’t much to get excited about a couple of unnamed region specific blended malts, the most interesting are a 14 yr old Mortlach and a 17 yr old cask strength Glenrothes (a whopping 272$) both of which received lukewarm reviews from the refined noses at Quebec Whisky.

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1st up Hart Brothers Benrinnes 14 yrs old, 46% abv: It looks to have been from a refill bourbon cask, it ‘s very pale.

Benrinnes or “the Ben” to his friends is another blend-fodder distillery from Diageo’s stable, there are only sporadic OB’s, the last ones from the famed “Flaura & Fauna” series. From 1974 until 2007 they used a type of bastardized triple distillation, similar to how Mortlach (another Diageo ugly stepchild distillery which recently had it’s Cinderella moment) distills and they also still use worm tubs, these features are to provide an old school beefy, heavy malt style.

Nose: Honey, grassy, rich and full malt, there is a slight acetone edge from the alcohol, cellulose, developing film and a bit of vanilla.

Palate: Sour fruit arrival, honeyed apples, cooked barley and then some sweetness from the oak, the whole thing takes a sharp turn into of “dark” flavors earthy, sulphur, a feeling of burnt wood and sharp astringency…like burned spices or burned pine cones. It became thoroughly unpleasant by the end.

 

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Hart Brothers Glendullan 13 yrs old 55.5% abv: One of the bigger volume Diageo distilleries (before their new abomination Roseisle), yet more blend fodder. It’s available in that Singleton range that oddly is composed of three different whiskys bearing the same name? Anyhow

Nose: Hot, malted banana, varnish, I can’t get much on this nose, sweet and green.

Palate: Rich and round, honeyed, the alcohol is present and the oak too, like a vanilla flavored oak plank., spicy and a feeling of nutmeg lingers on the finish.

I wasn’t bowled over, the finish was nice but I feel like if this was released at 46% it would have lost most of it’s flavor to the wood.  I would be interesting to try another IB of this as this one is also flawed.

Next is Islay’s little distillery that could, the consistency of their releases keeps getting better so I’m excited to try the current version of their standard line-up.

Sanaig &amp; Machir Bay 200ml Label AW (2017)

Kilchoman Machir Bay 46% abv:  The skinny is that this is a vatting of young bourbon casks (4-5 years old) finished briefly (8 weeks?) in Oloroso casks.

Nose: Sour milk, ashy, rubbery inner tube and then some powdered sugar. Then hay, a feeling of hot tarmac and eucalyptus cough drops.

Palate: Burned corn husks, ashy, salted lemons, soft smoked caramel (that should so be a thing), pea-meal bacon, bongwater (don’t ask), barley and pretzels.

It finishes kind of sweet and at times it reminded me of a cross between Laphroaig and Port Charlotte.

 

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Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016 46% abv: Shake that Sherry butt!

Nose: I am finding it surprisingly closed, earthy, medicinal, smoked raisins (should become a pantry staple), there are some similar ashy and lactic touches to the Machir bay.

Palate: Oh it’s big!, burned wheat, ashes, barley porridge, orange zest with lots of pith on it, pipe tobacco, Tonka beans, sweet sherry influence.

I wish I could have spent more time with this, to let it open up as it seemed to get better with time. Cracking stuff but  you pay the peated Islay premium (147$can).

An interesting session, it’s interesting to taste those lesser known distilleries. Those Kilchoman’s are cracking stuff, they punch well above their weight, I’m going to have to take the plunge on a single cask soon.

Franck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rapid Fire Tasting Session March 23rd 2017, Glen Breton, Armorik & High West.

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Ok another Thursday, another tasting session at the SAQ, this time around the focus would be on world whisky.

The line-up would consist of 1 whisky from Glenora in Canada, 2 Breton single malts from Distillerie Warenghem and lastly some good old sourced American rye from MGP by way of High West…let’s go!

Glen Breton Ice: This is a 10 year old single malt from Canada’s Glenora distillery, it’s finished (or aged sources differ) in icewine casks from Jost Vineyards…there seems to be different versions of this, 10,14 & 17 years old and some at cask strength, this is the 40%.

Nose: soapy, sour, wet wood, sharp, violets?? it’s not very expressive.

Palate: Bitter, oaky astringence, the texture is so watery it washes away from your tongue so fast. The finish has a slight, lychee and plum feel but it’s so faded and it’s too late to rescue this malt.

Next Armorik is produced by Distillerie Warenghem in Britanny. They are some of the few French whisky producers who actually use Scottish style pot stills (made in Italy actually) rather than the Cognac style stills that many other houses use. They have been around for a while and in the last few years have really improved the quality and types of casks used. They have also gone against the current trends and gone completely unpeated, which I think they we’re using the first few years..my hopes are high.

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Armorik Sherry Finish: 46%ABV NAS, Initial unknown ageing in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in Oloroso Sherry casks no mention of how long.

Nose: Sharp, lactic/acetone tang, cumin, wormwood, brown raisins, a bit of melting brown sugar. With water the nose opens up , you get more dark dried fruits and leather a bit, the alchohol vapour recedes.

Palate: Bitter, oak overload, the alcohol dominates, ginger, barley, grain alcohol. With water the palate is…worse! Grainy, bitter herbs, burnt spices, splenda or artificial sweetener…agh! I’ve never had the palate of a whisky get so violent with water…I’m speechless.

Armorik Double Maturation: 46% ABV, non chill filtered and NAS, first aged for an unspecified period of time in new Breton oak casks and then secondary maturation in Sherry casks.

Nose: Acetone again, coconut, caramel but everything is too sharp

Palate:  at first there is hope a bit fudgy, milk chocolate, bitter herbs, cumin and then it turns bitter, Indian spices and turmeric, sharp and unpleasant but the texture is also a letdown…sad

Ok last one

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High West Rendez-Vous Rye: A young distillery waiting on aging of it’s own stock, so it’s a sourced whisky at 46% ABV a mix of two rye whisky apparently a young (4+ yrs) 95%Rye mashbill from MGP and older (10+yrs) 80% rye mashbill from Barton…

Nose: Dill, rising croissants and buns in a bake shop, roasted cabbage, sweet fruit, hard candies, cloves, pepper, red fruits and a tinge of vicks/menthol

Palate: Rye, caraway,dill then red licorice, lacto-fermented vegetables, toffee, red pepper, Thrills chewing gum…the one that tastes like soap, coriander seeds. Sweet, oaky and a bit waxy but not cloying. Oh I really like this.

Verdict, this sessions was bust also in a way really fun, some would say i’m a masochist…yes but I also feel that it’s good to have these train wreck of a session, it really helps you re-set your gauge. There is a lot of average whisky out there but when you get something truly mediocre, it helps you re-align yourself. It allows you to become more in tune to how whisky is constructed and appreciate a truly outstanding malt. For what it’s worth that High west rye would have stood out among a strong roster of  whiskies as well.

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For the 3 readers of my blog if you are in Montreal (I just cut that down to 1 reader…hi mom!)  the SAQ Signature branch is sadly closing it’s doors on April 15th 2017, inventory and services will be split among the Atwater market and Maisonneuve (city concillors) locations. I believe the new Signature downtown location is being build but won’t be ready until next year…or the following this is Québec after all.

Franck

 

 

 

Rapid Fire tasting sessions Jan 12th 2017, Glengoyne 15, Dalmore 18, Glendronach 18.

Have I expressed my love of the SAQ’s weekly tasting yet? Despite all the flack and flaming aimed at our state control institution (plenty from yours truly), the walk-in sessions can be fun and are an invaluable tool in developing your palate. They’ve allowed me to familiarize myself with many different styles of spirits at a reasonable price.

I was happy that they resumed these sessions quickly after the holiday hiatus and so on the 12th of January when I saw that the line-up would include  few sherried heavy hitters in the 15r+ category and all that for a tenner I couldn’t resist

 

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These notes aren’t obtained from a slow tasting sessions or from multiple tastes which is what I prefer when reviewing but it’s still fun to get an idea of what to expect so you get my rapid-fire one handed tasting notes.

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We started with a 14 year old independent bottling of Benrinnes from Hart Brothers, this whisky was bad and it was the second time they we’re flogging it at a dégustation, I’ll talk about it another time.

Glengoyne 15

Nose: It’s pretty closed up at first, Werthers originals, dusty cumin, earthy, milk chocolate, baked apple skins.

Palate: Dry and oaky, I feel like this is a blending of bourbon and sherry cask or perhaps they used mainly sherried american oak. It’s not quite cohesive, you can feel the battle between the sweetness and the dryness/astringent of sherry.  Dark fruits, fudgy vanilla and a slight bitterness in the finish.

I would want to try this again with more time in front of me, I enjoyed this profile despite the unevenness.

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Dalmore 18:

Nose: Oranges, damp cellar, cigar tobacco, malty,

Palate: Marmalade, tannic, slight earthiness, sulfur, juicy at first but short cardboard and dry finish.

The nose left the anemic palate in its dust. It’s juicy but has no middle to sustain the flashy opening.

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Glendronach 18:

Nose : Deep, really deep complex,  slight sulfur, hints of bovril or Maggi sauce, Swedish fish, forest floor, sherry soaked fruits.

Palate: plum sauce, Christmas cake, orchard fruits,  deep meaty  muscled sherry, rich and full. I thought my love of the 15 couldn’t be outmatched.. I was wrong.

I just can’t bring myself to take full on photos at these things, I don’t want to be the paparazzo or obvious blogger, photographing everything, so please make do with my shitty ones.

Franck