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.

Sherry Finish f

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

 

 

 

Kings County Distillery visit

After a bit of a bumpy year I welcomed the chance to take a few days off to head to NYC for “art week” a quick 3 day visit was planned with the bulk of the trip taken by the Armoury show , museum and gallery visits.

I wanted to squeeze in at least one distillery/brewery visit whilst there. So it was on a sunny but windy Saturday morning that I took a small detour to Brooklyn in order to visit the oldest distillery in New York since prohibition. An impressive statement if one is unaware that said distillery was established in 2010! Yet still makes them fairly experienced within this new wave of craft distilling and hey it’s their party and they can do what they want.20170304_133252

King’s county distillery is based out of the Brooklyn Navy Yards complex which also hosts, Mast brothers chocolate, Brooklyn coffee roasters, one of the largest rooftop farms as well as a plethora of other designers, manufacturers and ateliers. The distillery like many others in New York State were born from the impetus of  “the farm distillery act” a progressive state law cutting the cost of a distillers license for those producing less than 35,000 gallons per year.  This includes a host of incentives if they use 75% New York grown ingredients in their products.

There is a great Edible Manhattan article that provides more detail of the results of this progressive lawmaking. It’s easy to see how such measures are nothing but positive for entrepreneurs, local agriculture and the economy. Québec could prosper under such regulations, taking advantage of the bounty of our terroir and pushing forward entrepreneurship…ok back to our program.

The grounds also host a tasting room/bar that is independent of the distillery building. It’s beautifully put together and is open until 10pm making it both a destination and a clever way to try the products outside of distillery hours.

The tours costs 14$ and lasts about 40minutes, the place was rocking when I got there and our guide mentioned that she had never seen such a busy day. The tour is broken down into 4 parts, there is a small room almost like an old schoolhouse, where the guide begins by giving you a rundown of whisky production in America, and then integrates this into the story of the distillery itself started as a moonshining experiment gone legit. The room has photos and artifacts of whisky production, it also hosts the experimental collection of the distillery, there are two shelves full of various bottles of concoctions past or in progress, most labelled with painters tape (note my favourite on bottem shelf simply labelled “John’s…?”)

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We are then taken downstairs into the heart of the distillery, the open air room is pretty tight quarters, it hosts their grinder, mash cooker and 5 wooden washbacks (built by local artisans who make those infamous water towers seen all over the city), 2 Scottish made pots stills by Forsyths. Halfway through our visit, our guides explanations were interrupted by the boss, that is the distillery’s adorable cat.

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The “Boss”

It’s then that I noticed a behemoth looking hybrid stainless steel /copper still in background made by Vendome copper works. I asked our guide about this, she said it isn’t yet operational since it requires an overhaul of the boiler, electrical and mash cooker. Once done they would use it as their wash still dividing the first distillate into their two current pot stills which would now operate as spirit stills, in theory doubling or tripling their current capacity.

The distillery is very low tech, the cuts, filling and barreling are all done by hand, there isn’t any automation or clever piping. The products destined to be aged are mostly filled in quarter casks with a small percentage going in full size American standard barrels and other types of casks (a wine casked bourbon was on offer when I was there a review is coming shortly). Otherwise the new make goes into stainless steel tanks for maceration or to be proofed down for their flagship moonshine.

For the third part of our journey our guide took us back upstairs to what she calls “the most instagrammable room in Brooklyn” that is the onsite aging room where barrels are laid out in a style akin to a dunnage warehouse. They also have another larger warehouse offsite that isn’t open to the public. We got to ogle barrels of their soon to be available rye, inhale that intoxicating aroma of resting whisky, wood and dampness.

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We finally got to the tasting and it was most welcome, on offer were moonshine, the standard bourbon, chocolate whisky and their seasonal Christmas spiced whisky. We were then invited to peruse the store and buy some swag, after asking nicely I got a sneaky taste of their grapefruit jalapeño moonshine (perfect for summer drinks and an interesting sub for tequila) and the barrel proof bourbon.

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The passion and love of whisky is strongly felt throughout and despite the hustle and bustle it’s definitely fun to be able to get up close and personal with the whisky making process. They make a style of bourbon that is truly their own (although sometimes young and raw) and the flavoured products aren’t a novelty or a way to attract non whisky drinkers. Each one is clearly thought out and chosen to bring something different to the table, it stands to reason that they are the recipient of the 2016 ADI’s Distiller of the year award and boast a pretty kick-ass master blender and trained chemist Nicole Austin.

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Franck

Bowmore Small Batch

Bowmore Small Batch

40% ABV

80/100

 

Small bitch

Ok so small batch…a now overused colloquialism used to evoke, handcrafted, artisanal, craft and care.

We saw a healthy use of it in the bourbon industry, but seen more often by the Scottish now. In this case it’s appropriate I suppose since this entry level Bowmore is a vatting of first and second fill bourbon barrels exclusively.

This one was released in 2013-2014 as a replacement or companion for the entry-level “Legend” but it’s hard to follow Bowmore what with all these duty-free and Europe exclusive releases.

As of this writing the small batch has been pulled from the re-vamped lineup and is to be replace by the new Bowmore No1 (not to be confused with vault editions No1, or the fact that No1 vaults appears on everything Bowmore these days) according to the site that one is a 40%abv , NAS in First fill bourbon cask (so no re-fill in that one).

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This bottle was given to me by my dear brother…who probably jumped the gun on this because of my waxing all poetic about “Tempest”. This being nothing like what I described he hated it.

Nose: Light peat and smoke like cigar ash, grapefruit, camphor, honey, army surplus store (old uniforms in metal boxes), creamy vanilla, smoked herring and West Indian Lime aftershave.

Palate: Ohh dirty, wet earth, salty, coppery, caramelized white chocolate, petit-grain essential oil, there is some sweetness. Then tropical fruits, coconut, passion fruit but there’s just not much for them to hold on as the texture is very thin.

The finish balances on loads of dirty & herbal waves, vanilla, tinned pineapple, earth and again the return of the herring smokehouse.

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I don’t know what constitutes a small batch for these guys, at least in bourbon it usually means high proof and a specific or slightly different taste profile highlighted,  kind of the equivalent of Scotch’s young cask strength releases. That said, it is an interesting side of Bowmore,the use of first and also second fill bourbon barrels provides a focus on the spirit rather than getting the wood to do most of the heavy lifting, sadly I feel that this one was neutered by the low ABV and whats is most likely chill-filtering. I know this is like a trite mantra that is often repeated but it is no less true.

When I first opened this bottle I thought it had little to no finesse, some of the flavors feeling artificial but some oxidization did wonders for it and I kind of kicked myself for generously leaving the last 1/3 to a friend but I felt like it was the right thing since I inherited this bottle in the first place.

Franck

 

Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

 

Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

43% ABV

83/100

Yes more dreaded NASty whisky, I didn’t purchase this bottle with my hard earned rubles so don’t shoot the messenger. I am not into he habit of supporting non-age statement trends in whisky but I do so on occasion at my discretion.

I won’t repeat all the marketing propaganda, let’s stick to what we know, despite the lack of tangible information. This is spirit that is first aged in ex-bourbon casks (no idea if first or second fill…probably a mix) for 6 to 8 years (maybe) and then transferred to ex-Sherry casks for another 4-6 years (does this count as maturation or finish what’s the consensus?) it is most certainly chill-filtered and most likely colored since that’s usually the modus operandi with ‘fiddich .

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It’s 98$ here in Quebec as a point of reference the Solera 15 is 80$ and Rich Oak 14 68$ so it’s not exactly cheap if you believe the provided aging times of between 12-14yrs. I’m guessing they release it as an NAS to keep it in the “special release category”. Thus allowing them to keep it loose with the age of the malts used without having to re-jig the marketing and category. This also allows to charge a premium for what may be whiskys aged less others  in their portfolio, is it really that much more work to vatt and re-barrel some whisky considering that is something that happens a lot already in this era of wood as flavoring.

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Nose: the unmistakable Glenfiddich character, Cooked apples and pears in a copper jam basin, raisins and good quality hazelnut chocolate spread. Fresh wet tobacco a malty side like ovaltine or more MILO, dried figs. It doesn’t reek too much of oak on the nose but it does smell sweet.

Palate: Rich and round, that leathery sherry character, sweet and the spices speak up a bit (cloves, allspice), then it’s malty again with a bit of granola. Mackintosh caramel, toasted hazelnuts, Orange peel and a bit of black pepper, a good balance between the nutty sherry and the lighter notes from the spirit.

The oak is more apparent in the finish bringing  a bit of tannin and dryness there’s still that chewy rich sensation present from the beginning.

A surprising Glenfiddich, the sherry finish brings to the fore some dark notes that barely hinted at in most other young Glenfiddich releases. Those sherry notes integrate well with the freshness and that cooked pear/apple quality Glenfiddich has, I liked this better than Balvenie doublewood which is probably similar in it’s construction. Sadly it feels a little neutered, a couple of notches more ABV or even non-chill filtering and it would probably grab you by the throat a bit more. Not for the jaded seen it all whiskyfile as it’s not exactly new ground for a Scotch in general but one could argue what is? I really enjoyed this one, it’s very well constructed.

Franck

 

 

 

Rhum Bologne Blanc 50

Rhum Bologne Blanc

ABV 50% Alc/Vol

82/100

 

I decided for my first rum  rhum (this one is French) review for the site to begin with one of my favorite iterations of the spirit and feature an agricole producer from my home turf (Guadeloupe represent).

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Agricole rhum distinguishes itself because it is distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. Handling sugar cane is a labor/mechanically intensive process and like many crops the level of sugar begins to degrade rather quickly post harvest. This is also compounded by the fact that cane juice spontaneously ferments due to a heavy presence of wild yeast, processing must be done rather promptly following harvest. Most distill in various types of column stills, but I believe there are some who use pot stills as well.

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Many distilleries sit on what used to be massive plantations or domaine from which they culled the cane for their rhum production. It is mainly a style preferred by former (or current) French Colonies (Martinique, Guadeloupe, La Réunion, French Guyana, Ile Maurice)

The use of distilled Vessou (the term for fermented sugar cane juice) leads to a very distinctive aromatic profile (usually grassy/herbal/vegetal) and funkyness, not the same funk that is to be found in Jamaican rums (think of New Orleans funk vs. P-Funk). There’s a distinct at least to me Tropicalness (Tropicalia, Tropicality, Tropi…oh nevermind this is terrible) to the style, they perform superbly in drinks with fruits juices or lots of acidity but those unusual flavor punctuation’s can freak out the uninitiated. They don’t have that bottom end heaviness of Jamaica/Guyana but are light years away from the stripped down styles of Spanish speaking Islands and countries.

Many agricole producers go in for AOC or controlled origin schemes which allow for regulations in a spirit category that is often devoid of any rigid governing bodies, so thankfully  you are unlikely to get a shit ton of hidden sugar and useless solera style age statements. I like the flexibility of the rum category I don’t think it needs a hyper regulated SWA-style body to govern but sadly some folks don’t behave unless they are forced to.

Bologne is the name of the Dutch family who first owned the plantation on which the distillery is situated, it eventually became a very sizable operation. Interesting history tid-bit, in 1830 The plantation came into the hands of Jean-Antoine Ame-Noel, a black man born free who by acquiring the domaine became the only person of color to own a plantation of such a large size in Guadeloupe.

Nose: Sucrose,vegetal, angelica or geranium, Thompson raisins, fresh cut rhubarb, a slight note of citrus pith, with water added, you get notes or fresh allspice and mace.

Palate: Green bananas unfurling into grassy sweetness, think sugar infused with celery, geranium or banana leaves, a small amount of petrol and olive brine. Surprisingly little alcohol burn for 50%, the finish has a dark note almost a slight burnt touch, it adds a a welcome bitterness.

 

20170128_203953One of the advantages in rum is that when the distillate is of quality it makes for surprisingly good sipping  when neat, same for cocktails, not something you could do so easily with White-dog/moonshine/new make in whisky

Franck

*  distillery photos from Tourisme Guadeloupe

 

 

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

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel 16-0259

Jack Daniel’s single Barrel 16-0259

47% Alc/Vol

Score: 79/100

 

 

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We are changing gears a little here with my first American Whisky review and it’s not bourbon strictly speaking it’s Tennessee Whisky giant Jack Daniels. I must preface by saying that bourbon/American whisky isn’t my preferred style (although I have had some very good ones) and Old No. 7 figures even lower on my list.

I can see the appeal of it, it has indeed become a very powerful American Icon, pretty much synonymous with rock & roll, motorcycles and the assorted trappings of that lifestyle. It is probably one of, if not the top selling American whisky in the world. After all it is also easy drinking thanks in part to the Lincoln process of charcoal filtering the whisky prior to barreling and is bottled at 40% alc/vol.

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That being said when my friend Emmanuel asked if I wanted to split a bottle of the single barrel for us to share during our office Christmas party, I figured why not? This kind of occasion isn’t one where you bring that bottle you’ve been saving, you need something that can be passed around in the hip flask. This bottle is from the standard single barrel range not the new barrel proof release.

Nose: Ripe banana’s, toffee apples, dark cherry, a bit of spicy rye,carpenter’s shop floor, those typical JD fermentation notes, some charred oak too.

Palate: muscular without being rough, red licorice, cherry ice cream, spicy, the oak is present but not dominant, warm caramel made with honey. You can feel the smoothness of the corn on the palate, it’s pretty sweet.

Finish:  return of the banana/ferment, vanilla, warm spices and charred oak. The mouth feel is well executed, slightly waxy and oily.

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I have to admit this was a surprise, I enjoyed the palate of this whisky, it has none of the notes of baby sick that are very prevalent in many of the batches of old No.7 I have tried. It was not as oak driven as is the case with many bourbons, the higher ABV helped carry the flavors across and sustain the finish.

If you are a fan of JD or this style, it’s definitely worth taking the step up to single barrel, It has me itching to try the barrel proof version.

 

Franck