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.

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish – “Wry Oak”

Johnnie Walker Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finnish

40% ABV

Another whisky sampled in store, this session was Johnnie Walker focused, I know it’s a brand that gets much love/hate. I personally like Black Label, It’s one of the whiskys responsible for getting me to give Scotch another chance some years ago.

This one is supposedly Cardhu focused (I believe Gold Label is also Cardhu-centric) with grain components from Port Dundas…but then it’s a mass market blend so probably has a bunch of other components.

Aged in first-fill bourbon and finished for 6 months in Rye casks…not sure where the red part comes in.

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Nose: Rye spices, oak, caramel, it smells a lot like a bourbon, a little barrel char, not much else…

Palate : Oily at first and then vanilla, a little dusty spice, cardboard, some custard , it loses steam and never fulfill the initial burst of flavor.

The finish is fast due to abv and most likely chill filtration, doesn’t stick around long after robbing your dignity. It’s not terrible, just mediocre

I am not against experimentation, I think it’s quite healthy for any industry but I am left scratching my head with this release, why does this exists? Just buy an everyday good bourbon, for example, like Wild Turkey 101, which is killer and only costs 35$ and is served at a decent ABV, especially since this seemed aimed for cocktails…maybe i’m just surly

 

Franck

Pike Creek 21 European Oak Finish – Northern Border Collection 2018 Preview part IV

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 parts I, II & III here.

At this point in the good doctor’s presentation we were a bit rushed as the masterclass was only allocated an hour, the crowd was well lubed with the 4 previous whiskys, it was getting a bit rowdy but still manageable The 35 yr old was the last whisky of the night I knew from the previous edition that it needs time to be appreciated, something the circumstances of this masterclass wouldn’t allow. Therefore I concentrated my efforts on this whisky

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The Pike Creek Modus Operandi is a vatting of a high proportion of double column corn whisky with just a hint of rye, it’s aged in ex-bourbon and Canadian casks and then given some sort of finishing barrel.

In 2018 the 21 year old blend includes a proportion of whiskys finished in French oak & Hungarian oak 50% & 25% the remaining 25% being ex-bourbon casks. The idea from what we we’re told is the corn whisky would be a good vehicle to highlight the influence of the oak types.

Nose: Nutmeg, vanilla, that corn whisky sweetness, ginger, lots of oak, mincemeat, nougat, a little bit of red fruits.

Palate: Warm, slightly creamy and sweet, fresh ginger and apples, spicy…very spicy. A hint of Indian spices like a sweetened Garam Masala, caramelized onions with maple syrup, the oak lingers at the end.

I am really enjoying the effects of the European oak on Canadian whisky. it seems to meld well with the usual spices and grippy oak we get in most expressions. I believe this is an interesting direction that should be further explored and doesn’t feel as gimmicky as most cask finishes we see with Scotch or Bourbon. I think the key is that only a proportion of the blend is finished, this enables the blender to dial in or control the influence of the casks, rather than creating a veil over the whole thing.

Pike Creek 21 European Oak finish

45% ABV

84/100 *I am marking this in accordance with the environment and time I had with it, so it’s only a quick preview.

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.

Hiram pot still Windsor star

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

Teeling Small Batch – “Rhum Baba and fresh laundry”

Teeling Small Batch Rum Finish

46%/ABV

The final review of the budget trifecta from my club’s blind tasting in March.

I chose this for a myriad of reasons, I knew I wanted to throw a blend into the mix and an Irish blended whisky was the curve ball I needed. Besides the Teeling Single Malt was extremely well received in a past session and was curious to see if the blend would be of similar quality.

Yes I’m getting on with it.

Nose: It’s rather sweet on opening, coton candy, caramel corn, then shows its youth and grain with varnish and copper smell.

Rising dough, vanilla, banana chips, trail mix. There’s a feeling of celery and lanolin.

Palate: much like the nose to begin with, sweet things, cotton candy, creamy vanilla, caramel, underripe banana. A slight feeling of violets like a popular brand of fabric softener, brioche and a hint of mozzarella cheese, all of this is sitting on a fairly grain forward blanket.

Finish: barrel char, heavy cream and Rhum Baba. The texture is oily but it doesn’t end too sweet despite the sweet aromas.

During my blind tastings, I thought this was the Deanston Virgin oak. How wrong was I?

All things told, it has some interesting nuances but it’s fairly rough and at times strange. The abv which is an asset in the Teeling Single malt, is definitely highlighting the rawness. It’s decent if a bit high priced for what it is.

81/100

Franck

Deaston Virgin Oak “Milk chocolate porridge”

Deanston Virgin Oak

46.3% ABV

As discussed in my previous review, the next two reviews are whiskys that were tasted blind as part of the same session.

This is from a recent batch with the new livery and bottle shape. Deanston has been receiving a lot more attention of late. I believe that much like Bunnahabhain a few years ago owners Burns Stewart injected a good amount of capital in their operations. In order to implement a better cask management policy as well as diverting better quality casks to their OB’s rather than selling off a big proportion to brokers.

This release is aged in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in virgin oak. Sadly little info exists about age and length of maturation.

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Nose: Starts of with a bit of pineapple, creamy yogurt & pears. There’s a sweet transition to Starburst candy & vanilla, rising pastries or bread dough. It’s pleasant and almost bourbon like until it moves towards a slightly green profile, almost like angelica or rhubarb.

Palate: Sweet and slightly fizzy/nippy bite of alcohol, brown sugar, sultanas and loads of milk chocolate/cafe latte. There’s a smidge of tropical fruits, in the vein of rhum or Pina colada sitting in a base of sweetened porridge.

Finish: malty, sweet and oaky a bit of a burn and that lingering milk chocolate.

I took a shine to this whisky, it’s easygoing but has enough little twists to make it interesting, delivered at a proper abv too. In our little group this performed on par with a Benriach 15 which was the one “non-budget” whisky inserted in the group.

83/100

Franck

Glen Moray Elgin Classic Port Cask Finish “Gumdrops Taste Metallic”

Glen Moray Elgin Classic Port Cask Finish

40% ABV

64/100

I wanted to demonstrate how much of an impact blind tasting could have with our whisky club. The idea being to try 4 whiskys blind, 3 of them would be bottles purchased for 50$ or less and the 4th a Benriach 15 yrs old, which would be the outlier. No one knew what I was buying in advance.

I thought the process might be of interest for readers here as well. We bagged the bottles and I had someone else number them so I would have some element of neutrality in my tasting as well. I will present them in order tasted

*Just a note concerning the color of this particular Scotch, it was like a washed out red that really immediately drew a lot of attention to itself. Perhaps the best blind tasting would also find a way to obscure the glass as well.

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Nose: Metallic, gumdrops, jam still hot from the stove, bay leaf. A herbal edge almost like vermouth,a bit sharp, rose jelly, powdered sugar.

Palate: A bit hot,sweet and tannic at first, it veers sharply into malty territory, cooked barley and potatoes. The roller coaster continues into, boiled sweets, apple skins and then all sharp, green branches, grassy a little bit of blackcurrant.

Finish: This persistent bitter note, like conifer or juniper, earthy, malty and a touch of jam. The finish is mercifully short and the texture very watery.

Despite this being the worse scored of the night, it was actually not as terrible as I anticipated (I have had budget Glen Moray before) but that’s faint praise. It had some interesting things happening but was hampered by the thin texture and messy and unbalanced palate, like a bad cover-up.

Even at 39$ CAN there are still better options for your whisky budget than this.

 

Franck