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Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley

I have sampled plenty of Irish single pot still whiskies, where a mix of malted and unmalted barley is distilled together (in a copper pot still). But this is a first for me – a 100% unmalted barley whisky.

Typically, malted barley is used in whisky production, where the malting process activates native enzymes, breaking down long-chain starch molecules into more easily digestable sugars (necessary for yeast to work their magic in creating ethanol).  Unmalted barley can be added into the mash (as in the case of Irish whiskies) to introduce some “green” (aka tropical) fruits flavours. Interesting, this was originally a tax dodge used in the production of Irish whiskies, but is enjoying a particular resurgence today in the hands of Middleton.

But back to the topic at hand. This whisky is part of the Masterson’s family of whiskies produced by 35 Maple Street in the US – but actually made by Alberta Distillers in Canada. Which explains a few things, as Alberta distillers makes their own enzymes for unmalted whiskies (which is necessary here). I have previously reviewed Masterson’s 100% straight rye whisky (which is similarly unmalted) – the signature product from this producer.

As I understand it, the original spirit used in Masterson’s Straight Barley was distilled in a beer column still, then re-distilled in a stainless steel pot still (which is a bit of a different process). Sold as a “straight” whisky in the U.S., it must have been barreled and aged in virgin American Oak.

Here are how the various Masterson’s whiskies compare in my Whisky Database, relative to Irish pot still whiskies and North American malt whiskies.

Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 review ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 review ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 review ($$$$)

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.60 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo Single Malt: 8.08 ± 0.62 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Single Malt: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Parker’s Heritage 9th 8yo Malt Whiskey: 8.41 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (All Casks): 8.27 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Malt: 8.47 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

First thing you will notice is that the standard deviation of scores on the Masterson’s Straight Barley is higher than usual, which is always an interesting signal.

My sample comes from Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance, and was from the first batch bottled in 2014.

Bottled at 46% ABV, with 10 year old age statement. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden apple juice.

Nose: Incredibly herbal – reminds me more of some gins that I’ve tried than whisky. Not woody exactly – more plant-like (bamboo maybe?). Mint. Dill. Very earthy, with moist earth notes and cedar chips. All kinds of exotic spices, like cardamon, caraway seeds, anise – and tons more that I can’t identify. Baking spices too, but much beyond the all-spice level. All-dressed bagels (Montrealers will know what I mean). Some caramel. Fruit compose, with stewed apples.  This is an unbelievable nose – I’ve never come across a whisky like this before.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla initially. Sweet and soft in the mouth (like mineralized soft water). Same exotic spice notes from the nose return at the end, along with the baking spices and a heady rush of spearmint and menthol. Rye bread. Pepper. Earthy, with peanut shells. Yowza, this is a unique whisky! And it tastes much like it smells. Doesn’t need any water (although it ups the caramel sweetness slightly if you do). Easily drinkable at 46% ABV.

Finish: Long and lingering, with many of the earlier notes making a reappearance over time. A bit musty. Ends with the earthy herbal notes, dill weed and spearmint in particular. A bit anesthetizing on the tongue (flavour fatigue perhaps?).

I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see if this ever comes back – what are an incredible herbal rush! Seems more like some sort of natural product medicine than a whisky.  Mackmyra First Edition was the first thing that really brought in some noticeable herbal notes for me (more juniper in that case) – but this is completely over the top in comparison.  A tough one to score, I would personally give it in the high eights – incredibly complex, and not a gentle sipper by any means. May be too much character frankly, but it is always a treat to come across a quality product that is so unlike anything else on the market.

And again, why is Alberta Distillers not releasing these sorts of products into the local market? It blows away anything they produce under the Alberta Premium/Alberta Springs brand.

For further reviews of this whisky, it is really a love it or hate it proposition. Davin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre of Quebec Whisky all love it. Patrick of Quebec Whisky, Chip the Rum Howler and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer would all take a pass on this one.  Personally, I’m in the first camp with the fans. This expression is not currently available, but if you ever get the chance to try it, I recommend you go for it (but wouldn’t suggest picking up a bottle without tasting it first, given the polarizing views).

Bushmills Black Bush

Bushmills Black Bush is another example of an inexpensive blended Irish whisky – but it is in a different league from its entry-level little brother, Bushmills Original Blended.

As I explained in my Bushmills Original review, Bushmills blends single malt whisky with column-distilled grain whisky (just like blended scotch).  In the case of Black Bush though, the malt component makes up a greater relative proportion of the blend compared to regular Bushmills, or to other blends at this price point (i.e., I’ve seen up to 80% malt reported online for Black Bush).

The malt component of Black Bush is a mix of Oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. This should add some sherried sweetness into the mix – another unusual feature at this price point.  The whisky has no official age statement, but I’ve seen differing reports online that the base malt has being been aged for “up to 7 years” or for “8-10 years” before blending with the grain. None of that is mentioned on the label though, so all such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Bottled at the standard 40% ABV, it is currently $37 CAD at the LCBO (compared to $32 for Bushmills original).

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic whisky database compared to other Bushmills, and some other just-above entry-level Irish whiskies:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.63 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)

Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.27 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.31 ± 0.41 1on 9 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.15 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)

Bushmills Black Bush is getting a very reasonable score for the price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light, with a touch of sherry (red fruits, raisins) along with some light fruits (apple, pear). A bit of apple cider. Sweet, but not artificially so (as I found on the original blended) – more your classic vanilla here. Certainly a lot more malty, which is nice. No real alcohol burn or off notes.

Palate: Mild, with even less fruit showing up now – but more of the vanilla and caramel. Touch of baking spices, and baked goods in general (i.e., a bit cakey, maybe stewed apples). Thin body, with no real burn – somewhat watery mouthfeel. Certainly nothing offensive about it, but not much to really recommend it either. Would be better at higher proof.

Bushmills.Black.BushFinish: Short. Same notes as nose and palate, fading out without any real off notes.

This is definitely better than Bushmills Original blended, you could actually drink this one neat (although you are likely to find it a bit boring). For the extra $5 CAD, I would say this one is a no-brainer – Black Bush is a much nicer experience than the Original blended.

That said, I still think the average Meta-Critic score is a bit overly generous here. I would score it lower than the Meta-Critic – but then, I was also harder on the basic Bushmills Original too.

A number of reviewers really like this one, including Ralfy, jim Murray, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Personally, I’m more in keeping with Oliver of Dramming and Thomas of Whisky Saga. One of the lowest scores I’ve seen is from Serge of Whisky Fun.

Bruichladdich 21 Year Old Cuvée 640 Eroica

Bruichladdich Cuvée 640 was the first of three whiskies released under the distillery’s Cuvée series, which are finished in a range of specialty casks. This edition 640 is entitled Eroica, and was aged primarily in American oak before being finished in Limousin oak brandy casks (i.e., French oak cognac casks).

The Cuvee series seems to be a little fanciful, given the unusual titles. Eroica (‘Heroic’ in english) is presumably a reference to Beethoven’s 3rd symphony (a great piece of music, by the way). This symphony was apparently intended as a tribute to Napolean – so I’m guessing this is the tenuous connection to the use of cognac casks here.

Bruichladdich has also provided subtitles to each release – in this case, ‘Oh mensch! Gieb acht! Was spricht die tiefe mitternacht?’, which is the opening line from a song in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra (which Google Translate renders as: ‘Oh man! Take care! What is the deep midnight?’). FYI, this influential philosophical novel addressed among other things the concept of ‘eternal return’ (i.e., that all existence is recurring). I suppose this could be a veiled reference to re-using specialty casks for finishing whisky – but if so, I find it an ironic one, given this series is a limited release. 😉

Although an Islay producer, many of Bruichladdich’s offerings are based on unpeated malt – including these Cuvee editions.  Bottled at 46% ABV, this release was originally available for ~$140 CAD, from what I understand.  My sample was provided by the Redditor xile_, as a mystery sample swap.

Here is how it compares to similar offerings, and Bruichladdich’s unpeated range:

Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 382 La Berenice: 8.57 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 407 PX: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 640 Eroica: 8.72 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Classic (Edition 01): 8.42 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.82 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten (Second Edition): 8.89 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Sixteen: 8.75 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Twenty Two: 8.85 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich Rocks: 8.36 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Sherry Classic: 8.25 ± 0.86 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured: 8.71 ± 0.18 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Napoleon Cognac Finish: 8.70 ± 0.73 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Glenlivet 15yo French Oak: 8.38 ± 0.25 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan 15yo Fine Oak: 8.38 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 17yo Fine Oak: 8.80 ± 0.55 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 18yo Fine Oak: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan 21yo Fine Oak: 8.52 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan 25yo Fine Oak: 8.64 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Edition No. 1: 8.81 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Macallan Edition No. 2: 8.81 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.95 ± 0.67 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.28 ± 0.52 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)

The Cuvee series expressions are well ranked, as you might expect from their age and price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden amber, with a slight brownish tinge (suggesting the cask finishing).

Nose: Honey and vanilla sweetness, with apple, pear and peach fruit notes (peach marmalade/cobbler). Definitely has that unpeated Islay “funk” – it is hard to describe, but is distinctive. Grassy, and something that could be hay (wet hay, specifically). Chocolate, coffee and a touch of mint. Some faint anise. A bit of nose hair singe, more than I would expect for 46% ABV. Although there is no smoke, you can’t shake the impression that it is hiding in the background somewhere. A good nose for me.

Palate: Sweet apple initially (apple juice), then lots of honey, marshmallow, and vanilla. Same orchard fruits as the nose, plus apricot now. Spicy, with cinnamon and a good hit of pepper giving it some zing. Malty and grassy. Chocolate and coffee notes really pick up at the end. Slightly oily and chewy – good mouthfeel. A slight antiseptic note slips over the tongue at the end – and that Islay funk again (but still no smoke).

Finish: Medium finish.  Sweeter notes slowly fade, as some oaky bitterness creeps in over time. Pepper lasts the longest. Something a bit earthy/nutty comes up at the end (and that funk again).

With water, no new fruits appear, but it sweetens up in the mouth with pancake syrup and brown sugar. It also brings up the chocolate and cinnamon spice further.

To be honest, I would have expected more fruit from the cognac here. Instead, it is really the French oak wood character that comes through. As Serge of Whisky Fun also noted, “very little Cognac but maybe a few spicy notes that hint at French oak … so less fruits and more grass.” Definitely has a lot of spicy peppery zing to it.

This is an interesting pairing of the Bruichladdich core with French oak casks. I’ve been meaning to start trying more Bruichladdies, and this has just reinforced that idea. It could use a little more fruit character throughout, so I think the Meta-Critic average score is reasonable for this one (and if anything, is a bit high).

It gets very mixed reviews from the guys at Quebec Whisky, with Patrick and Martin as fans, but Andre and RV less impressed. Serge at Whisky Fun also gives it a middle-of-the-road review. Among the most favourable reviews on Reddit are from t8ke, unclimbability and xile_ – but my own quality assessment is closer to cjotto9.

 

Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey

Having reviewed a few mid-range and higher-end Irish whiskies lately, I thought it was time to get back down to basics.

Bushmills Original blended whisky (aka white label) is the flagship for the Bushmills distillery – one of the oldest distilleries in Ireland, having survived the massive consolidation of the 1980s. Although the bottle labels like to point out Bushmills was founded in 1608, the actual licensed distilling company has only existed since 1784. It has certainly moved through a lot hands since then – and was sold a couple of years ago by the large whisky drinks conglomerate Diageo to Casa Cuervo (of tequila fame).

This is a blended Irish whisky – specifically a blend of single malt and cheaper column-distilled grain whisky. This differs from a number of Irish whiskies, like the Midleton brands I’ve reviewed previously, who combine traditional single pot still whisky with grain whisky in their blends. While Bushmills may be thought of as more scotch-like in that sense (i.e., a blend of malt and grain whiskies), it is still triple-distilled like other Irish whiskies (thus producing a typically lighter spirit).

This basic Bushmills expression is bottled at 40% ABV. It is currently $32 CAD at the LCBO, making it one of the cheapest Irish whiskeys you can buy here.

Here is how Bushmills compares to similar entry-level Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.64 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch: 8.31 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.15 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.48 on 3 reviews ($$)

As you can see, this is the lowest scoring Irish whiskey in the dataset – although none of the true entry-level expressions do very well.  Typically, it is worthwhile considering spending a little more to go up to the next bottling (e.g., Black Bush for Bushmills, Select Reserve for Jameson, etc.).

I sampled this basic Bushmills recently in a bar.  While these sorts of entry-level blends are not intended to be drunk neat, here is what I find in the glass when doing so:

Nose: Sweet caramel and light honey. Green apple. Very grainy, with some hay. Surprisingly, some mild ethanol singe, and a slightly funky tar note. Better than it sounds (and better than I expected).

Palate: Way too honeysuckle-sweet for my tastes. Maybe agave syrup? A bit of artificial strawberry flavour (fruit roll-ups come to mind). Incredibly watery, absolutely no burn – and no mouthfeel, while we are at it. Seems very grain-dominated, with almost no sign of the malt. Some light rye spices come up at the end.

Finish: Sickeningly sweet continues, with a touch of eventual woody bitterness. Reminds me of some cheap American whiskies that don’t qualify as bourbon, or maybe regular Crown Royal here. Some astringent dryness too. At least it’s short.

BushmillsAgain, it should go without saying – if you want to sip on something neat, start with a higher-end blend or a decent single malt/single pot still whisky.  As a stand-alone pour, I find Bushmills original blended less complex (and less interesting) than even regular Jameson – and like the Meta-Critic, I would rate it lower. But many may find it more acceptable than Jameson’s in mixed drinks due to the sweetness factor.  At a minimum, I would recommend this one on the rocks, to help cut the sweetness.

The only reviewer I’ve ever seen who actually seems like this whisky is Martin of Quebec Whisky, followed by Patrick (although most reviewers are more aligned with Andre’s score). Ralfy, Jim Murray, and Josh the Whiskey Jug all fall into a similar camp of low scores (as an aside, Josh’s tasting notes are remarkably similar to mine on this one). But personally, my own quality assessment is more in line with Nathan the Scotch Noob, Thomas of Whisky Saga or S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. I strongly recommend spending a couple of dollars more for a better Irish whisky.

Millstone 100 Rye

Millstone is the whisky brand produced by Dutch distiller Zuidam. A family-run business, they make a number of distilled products – including both rye and single malt whiskies.

The product name here is a bit of cute play on their fixation with the number 100 – it is made with 100% rye grain, in 100% small copper pot stills, matured for 100 months (8 years, 4 months) in 100% new American oak barrels and bottled at 100 Proof (50% ABV).  I understand that the rye grain is 49% malted, 51% unmalted.

Here is how it compares to various popular American and Canadian rye whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Bulleit Rye: 8.29 ± 0.64 on 16 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.43 on 14 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
High West Double Rye: 8.70 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$)
High West Rendezvous Rye: 8.91 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Knob Creek Small Batch Straight Rye: 8.54 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Michter’s Single Barrel Straight Rye: 8.70 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Millstone 100 Rye: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pikesville Straight Rye: 8.73 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof: 8.58 ± 0.23 on 15 reviews ($$)
Sazerac Straight Rye: 8.59 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Willett Family Estate Rye (all ages): 8.70 ± 0.29 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

That is a good score for a rye whisky. There aren’t a lot of reviews for the other various Millstone single malts in my database, but here are how a couple compare:

Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.95 ± 0.67 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

As a fan of Canadian and American ryes, I was curious to see how this rye import from the Netherlands would compare.  My sample comes from a swap with TOModera on Reddit. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Sweet syrupy rye, with bold in-your-face spicy notes (cinnamon and cloves in particular). Pepper and ginger too. Caramel and toffee, with honey and a bit of vanilla (all suggesting charred virgin American oak aging). Limited fruits – a bit of apple and some cherry (very American-like). Fudge and dark chocolate, with a bit of anise. May be some subtle rye notes peeking through, but buried under that virgin oak avalanche. It’s very strong, with unusually heavy ethanol nose hair singe. A helluva nose! Water dulls a little of the ethanol, but brings up acetone instead.

Palate: Strong up-front wallop of ethanol heat – and that spicy rye flavour (cinnamon and pepper in particular, same as the nose).  Thick honey and caramel dominate the mid-palate, with the same fruits as the nose. Something mildly vegetal, plus some artificial sweetener notes on the way out. Syrupy mouthfeel, but with more tongue tingle than I would like. Seems a bit young for a 8+ year old whisky. Water only helps a little with the ethanol burn (and unfortunately reduces the syrupy texture far more). It doesn’t bring up anything new, so I would recommend against water here (or use it very sparingly).

Finish: Moderately long. Cinnamon redhots dominate initially, but slowly fade and the other rye spices become more prominent (cloves, nutmeg). A bit of earthy tar builds over time, adding to the anise (not as bad as it sounds, I kind of like the funkiness actually). Some astringency on the finish (but no real bitterness). Water has no real effect here.

This is a heavy-hitting rye. I’m surprised that water does so little to tame the burn. It really is a monster that steamrolls ahead, regardless of dilution. It has a bit of funk that some may find off-putting, but is actually kind of interesting. I was rather hoping to see more fruit develop, though.

I suspect it would likely appeal to those who favour bold, oak-dominated bourbons and ryes. This is kind of what I imagine an Elijah Craig small batch rye would taste like, if such a thing existed. It is certainly a lot more American rye-like than Canadian. Personally, I prefer the softer and more subtle floral notes of something like Lot 40 here in Canada.

Dominic of Whisky Advocate really loves this one, as do some of the reviewers on Reddit (i.e., this review and this one). More moderate scores come from Jim Murray, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and TOModera on Reddit. There are no particularly negative scores among my panel of reviewers, although I would personally score this whisky a little lower than the Meta-Critic average.

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Rye

Masterson’s 10 year old rye whisky is distilled in Canada by Alberta Distillers, for 35 Maple Street in California. A similar arrangement exists with Whistlepig in Vermont – although in that case, Whistlepig does extra cask finishing of the Alberta Distillers whisky. As far as I know, 35 Maple Street simply selects the casks it wants from Alberta Distillers, and then bottles them immediately.

35 Maple Street has a long history in the California wine industry. The Masterson’s name comes from Bat Masterson, a larger-than-life adventurer of the American old west  – and one who, like this whisky, was born in Canada (and inspired a certain amount of controversy). You can read more about the history of this whisky at CanadianWhisky.org.

Ironically, coming from an American producer, it actually has to be imported back into the Canada to be sold here. That said, the LCBO website correctly identifies the country of origin of this whisky as Canada (while citing 35 Maple Street as the producer).  I couldn’t help but notice that all the bottles on the shelf at my local LCBO have a blacked-out statement on them (contrast enhanced to reveal on the right).

I won’t belabour the point, but a lot of commentators (on both sides of the border) don’t particularly like the lack of clarity around country of origin in how this whisky is presented by 35 Maple St. The LCBO magic marker solution is novel, though. 😉

Like with Canadian Club 100% Rye (also made by Alberta Distillers) and Lot 40, Masterson’s 10 yo is a straight 100% unmalted rye whisky. This means that enzymes have to be added to help break down the rye starch into sugar for fermentation.  A common enough practice in Canada (especially for Alberta Distillers, who produce their own enzymes).

In keeping with the U.S. “straight” designation, the whisky used for the Masterson’s brand is matured in virgin charred oak barrels – giving it a bolder taste than what you normally find in most Canadian rye whiskies. It is bottled at 45% ABV (also unusual for Canada).  It currently sells for $105 CAD at the LCBO – which makes it one of the most expensive Canadian ryes (although that again is probably due in part to the re-importation issue).

Here is how it compares to other Canadian rye whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Alberta Premium: 8.22 ± 0.58 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.99 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.76 ± 0.50 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (all batches): 8.77 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.03 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.86 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley: 10yo 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig The Boss Hog (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

As you can see, Masterson’s 10yo rye gets a very high score for this class.

My bottle is from the recent batch 015. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very woody nose, with tons of oak. Lots of fruit, with bananas, peaches, apricots – and even pineapple. The rye has a sweet and light floral element to it, like cherry blossoms (I’m also getting some raspberry now). The sweetness is almost candied in fact. There is vanilla of course, and something dry, like seasoned tobacco or tannic tea. Pepper. Faint solvent note, more like toluene than the typical acetone. Very rich and deep rye nose, it’s a pleasure to keep coming back to it.

Palate: It is all sweet honey, vanilla and caramel up front. Then tons of zingy spice hit you – with hot cinnamon and all spice, mixed with pepper. It packs quite a kick, and has that candied cinnamon sensation of Swedish fish (which I like). The fruity and floral elements re-enter and linger afterwards. Interestingly, both black and red licorice make an appearance. A vague earthiness also shows up, with that tobacco note again. Good mouthfeel, leaves you wanting more.

Finish: Very long (for a Canadian rye whisky). Pepper and cinnamon lead off, but then fade as the sweet fruits and some brown sugar come in.  The tobacco note lingers throughout, with some definite leather now. Frankly, there are a lot of the palate notes coming and going during the finish on this one – very tasty, and surprisingly complex.

I can see why this a top-ranked whisky in my database – it is a very impressive presentation. The virgin oak cask aging in particular is really adding to the character here. Is it worth the retail price here in Canada (as an imported product)?  Perhaps not, but I am happy to have my bottle. Like many here though, I wish Alberta Distillers would release quality products like this directly into the home market.

Most reviewers of this whisky are extremely positive, such as Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jim Murray, and S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. More moderately positive are Geoffrey and John of Whisky Advocate and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The least positive review I’ve seen comes from Chip the Rum Howler (and a number of reviewers on Reddit). Mark Bylok of Whsky Buzz explores the various batches of Masteron’s. Sadly, batch 015 doesn’t score as well as most of the others in his assessment (making wonder what I might have missed out on by not buying a bottle sooner).

Mortlach 18 Year Old

Mortlach is a storied named in malt whisky production.  It is one of the classic malt distilleries owned by Diageo – where it feeds their Scotch blend empire. It produces a very distinctive characteristic malt, with a high degree of “meatiness” (which as I describe here, is likely due to a relatively high presence of sulphur compounds in the whisky). This also makes the relatively rare independent bottlings of Mortlach highly popular and sought after.

So there was a lot of enthusiasm when Diageo announced in early 2014 that they were going to release a number of official bottlings under Mortlach’s own name. That enthusiasm quickly soured when enthusiasts saw the price lists, bottling strengths, and general lack of age statements. Mortlach 18 year old is one of the higher-end options.

Here is how they compare in my Meta-Critic Database, relative to a few independent bottlings:

Mortlach 15yo (Gordon & MacPhail): 8.67 ± 0.35 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach 16yo (F&F): 8.68 ± 0.29 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Mortlach 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Mortlach Rare Old: 8.42 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach Special Strength: 8.72 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)

This review is the last one from a group of malts that I sampled over multiple nights at the Dr Jekyll’s bar in Oslo, Norway. As the bottle was nearly empty, the bar had it in their heavily discounted section – it was 128 NOK for a standard 4 cl pour (1.35 oz). That works out to about $20 CAD, which seems pretty reasonable given that a full bottle currently goes for ~$400 CAD (it was originally $300 when the LCBO carried it).

I had previously reviewed the Mortlach Rare Old, which is still available in Ontario for the original $100 CAD price. So I was naturally curious to see how this defined age statement bottling compares.

Mortlach 18 yo is bottled at 43.4% ABV. The whisky was matured in a combination of Sherry and refill American oak casks. It also comes in a very fancy bottle, with metal framework at the base of the glass bottle.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Surprisingly subdued. Crisp green apples, some citrus (lemon) and maybe a bit of cherry (which I oddly get from Mortlach). Nutty. Classic baking spices, cinnamon in particular. Touch of dry glue, like old book bindings. A relatively closed nose, and water was of no help in opening it up.

Palate‎: A bit better than expected from the nose, but still rather light in flavours. Slightly sweet, with a simple syrup quality. Not very fruity – seems more like unripened fruit. That cinnamon note is quite prominent, and adds some much needed warmth. Some vanilla. The nutty notes from nose are still there, and merge into a more earthy characteristic now, with some tobacco and ginger. No ethanol burn. Seems too light in flavour, and could really have used a higher ABV in my view. Water adds more sweetness and cinnamon – might as well go for it, since not much else is going on here.

Finish: Fairly short. Baking spice kick lasts to the end, along with that simple syrup. But that’s about it really.

Mortlach.18Frankly, this was a let-down – it seems far too “closed” for its age and style. It is not bad by any means, just not very interesting. No amount of time in the glass (or water) helped in opening it up. Personally, I find that it doesn’t have any more character than the Rare Old I previously reviewed – and given that it costs between 3-4 times as much, I’d recommend you stick with Rare Old. I haven’t had the Special Strength edition yet, but I’m thinking that might be your best bet for some flavour (thanks the higher ABV).

I personally feel that the Meta-Critic average score for Rare Old is fair, and the 18 yo is overly generous. Personally, I would score then equally, at a slightly below average score (i.e., 8.4). I doubt there was any age/storage issue with my sample, as Dr Jekyll’s move through inventory quickly (and so, this wouldn’t have sat on the shelf for long).

Most reviewers who have tried both expressions have typically preferred the 18yo. Check out for example Dave of Whisky Advocate, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun for very positive reviews. Moderately positive reviews come from and Ruben of Whisky Notes and Andre of Quebec Whisky. My own assessment is more line with Oliver of Dramming – who, along with Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer – also ranked this expression lower than Rare Old. The most negative review I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who is quite scathing of this whole series).

Bulleit Bourbon

Bulleit (pronounced like the projectile) is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, owned by the international drinks conglomerate Diageo.

Self-identified as a “high-rye” whiskey, it has a relatively higher rye content in the mash bill compared to most bourbons (about twice the typical level). This gives it a spicier and earthier flavour profile. I don’t see an official age statement, but there are reports online of it being aged for at least six years. Note there is also an older age-statement version available, the Bulleit 10 year old bourbon.

The standard no-age-statement Bulleit seems to be something of a staple in bars for the high-rye class of bourbons (just like Buffalo Trace for a low-rye bourbon, Rittenhouse for a straight rye, and Maker’s Mark for a wheater). Its low cost and high rye content – both particularly well-suited to cocktails – are likely a good part of the reason.

Note that despite the “Frontier Whiskey” moniker, Bulleit is a rather new operation. Until just recently, they didn’t even have their own distillery – this bourbon is made under contract by Four Roses Distillery (edit: that may no longer be the case, see discussion here). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Four Roses has a good reputation. Bulleit also publishes the full mash bill specs for this bourbon (68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley). It is bottled at a decent 45% ABV.

Here is how it compares to other bourbons of similar price in my Meta-Critic Database (and the other Bulleit products):

1792 Small Batch Bourbon: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.58 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Rye: 8.29 ± 0.63 on 16 reviews ($$)
Bulleit 10yo Bourbon: 8.56 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.38 ± 0.37 on 21 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 21 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$)
Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($)
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon: 8.48 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$)
George Dickel No.12: 8.26 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo Bourbon: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Old Forester: 8.11 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$)
Old Forester Signature (100 Proof): 8.36 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (80/86 Proof): 8.04 ± 0.51 on 10 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.37 ± 0.54 on 9 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo Bourbon: 8.54 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews ($$)
Woodford Reserve bourbon: 8.40 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)

As you can see, standard Bulleit bourbon does reasonably well for this class and price point. As an aside, the bourbon drinkers on Reddit have put up a good beginners and intermediate guide to understanding bourbon styles – I recommend you check it out, to see how the various bourbon options above compare.

I recently picked up a sample bottle of standard Bulleit during my travels in the U.S (shown on the right). As a nice touch, the glass bottle actually has the same type of raised lettering as the full-size bottles, with a lot code printed on the back. A nice touch!

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, and no mistaking this is a high rye bourbon, with all the baking spices. Lots of caramel, brown sugar and vanilla up front. Relatively fruity for a bourbon, with orange (citrus) but also banana, apple, and plums (different mix than usual). This fruitiness reminds me a bit of a Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel I once tried, reinforcing that rye whisky connection. Oak barrel char. Some acetone mars the finish (acetone often goes hand-in-hand with excessive fruitiness, I find). Better than I expected overall.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla again. Woodier than the nose would have suggested. Same general fruitiness as the nose. The spices pick up a little bit – but more in terms of pepper and light spices (e.g. nutmeg), not the typical heavy rye spices. Ok mouthfeel, not too watery. A bit of mouth pucker once you swallow (i.e., astringent). Some oaky bitterness creeps in at the end – or is that citrus again?

Finish: Shortish. Dry bitterness is the main characteristic that holds the longest, along with the light spices and some initial light sweetness.  This is its weakest feature, honestly.

Bulleit.BourbonThis is a decent high rye bourbon. It was doing particularly well on the nose and initial palate, but couldn’t really hold it together very well on the way out. As such, I would personally give it a score very much in keeping with the Meta-Critic average presented above (i.e., slightly below average for the class). But that still represents good value for money at this price point. I can see why it is a popular pour.

For reviews of this standard expression, there are some fairly positive reviews by Josh the Whiskey Jug, Serge of Whisky Fun and John of Whisky Advocate. Rather luke-warm or negative are Nathan the Scotch Noob, Oliver of Dramming, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer.  Not really a lot of scores in-between (except for my own).

 

Powers 12 Year Old John’s Lane

Following on my review of the Powers Signature Release, I have also gotten to try their top-of-the-line expression, Powers John’s Lane. This single pot still whisky bears a 12 year old age statement.

This whisky is named after the original distillery where Powers used to be made. John’s Lane Distillery was shuttered during the massive distillery consolidation in Ireland in the 1970s. The Powers name is currently owned and produced by Midleton, which makes all the well-known single pot still Irish whiskies (such as Redbreast, Green Spot, etc.).

As previously mentioned in my Powers Signature review, the whiskies that go into the Powers line are reported to be aged mainly in refill American oak bourbon casks. However, the John’s Lane release uses a mix of first- and second-fill ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, and even includes a small amount of Iberian oak in that latter category. This mix is supposed to reflect an earlier style of production and maturation at the original Powers distillery.

Bottled at 46% ABV, this expression is not available in Ontario (sadly). A 50 mL bottle was included in a sampler pack of higher-quality Midleton single pot still whiskies that a friend brought back from Ireland for me.  A typical world-wide price for a full bottle would be ~$85 CAD.

Here’s how it compares to other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 12yo: 8.50 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.08 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength 9.07 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Yellow Spot 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, it gets a very good score for its price range – slightly higher than Redbreast 12/15 and Yellow Spot, and on par with the more expensive Midleton Very Rare.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: A touch darker than Powers Signature Release, with a bit more golden caramel.

Nose: Caramel and vanilla up front. Pear, plum and apple notes dominate for fruit, but slightly candied. Not really getting much of a sherry fruit influence, except for some golden raisins. Floral, with an herbal quality. Also earthy, with tobacco and spice (pepper in particular) and some anise. No off-notes to speak of, which is impressive for this price point. While the core notes are similar to Signature Release, John’s Lane seems a lot more open and welcoming, very fragrant.

Palate: Rich up-front, with vanilla and butterscotch. Honey and pancake syrup. Not overly fruity, but the same ones from the nose are present, along with some banana and citrus (grapefruit) added to the mix. Milk chocolate and coffee show up. Baking spices, with nutmeg and cinnamon, plus some pepper and anise. Remains very earthy, with pleasant leather notes. Very creamy mouth feel. Bit of tongue tingle – not too much (better than Signature Release). Also has some slight bitterness coming in at the end, but again not bad.

Finish: Medium length. Light sweetness lingers, with that candied fruit again. Milk chocolate and some mild spice persists as well. Very nice and easily sippable.

Powers.12.Johns.LaneWith water, you get an even more candied nose. The palate gets sweeter too, and less creamy. Personally, I think it is better neat without any water – you don’t need to play up the sweetness any further. It dilutes fast too, so I suggest you go sparingly on water if you do try it.

Although I compared Signature Release to Redbreast 12 yo, this Powers John’s Lane actually reminds me more of Midleton Very Rare – but more spicy/earthy in this case.  It is also reminiscent in some ways to the lighter higher-end Canadian whiskies (e.g., Gibson’s 18‎ or Crown Royal Monarch). For the typical price internationally, Powers John’s Lane is a great buy and a worthy step up from Signature Release in my view. I would happily pick it up at the going rate.

While generally positive, reviewer opinions are more varied than typical on this one. The most positive reviews I’ve seen come from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Michael of Diving for Pearls, and Josh the Whiskey Jug – who all loved it, giving it top scores. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun and Thomas of Whisky Saga. Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer give it more modest scores. My Annoying Opinions is the only really negative review I’ve seen.

Powers Signature Release

Among some Irish whisky drinkers that I know, the entry-level Powers Gold is generally considered to be of higher quality than most other common blends (i.e., Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, etc.). I haven’t had it yet, but I thought I would try the next bottle up in the series – the single pot still Powers Signature Release.

I’ve covered a few Irish single pot still whiskies before, but I realize that I haven’t explained the origin of this traditional Irish style. Originally called pure pot still, it reflects a style of Irish whisky made from a mixed mash of malted and unmalted barley distilled in a single pot still. As explained on my source of whisky flavour page, there are a lot of advantages to using malted barley. The addition of unmalted barley in the mix was essentially a tax dodge – to help finance the empire (especially during the Napoleonic wars), England applied a heavy tax on malted barley used in Scottish and Irish whisky production. And thus was born the pure pot still style, out of economic necessity.

While this tax was eventually rescinded, the style became popular in the early 19th century and eventually became the dominant Irish whisky form. It was eventually out-competed by low cost blended whiskies (where pot still malt whisky was combined with much cheaper grain whisky produced in continuous column stills). Indeed, the pure pot still style almost died out during the massive Irish consolidation of the 1970-80s. Green Spot and Redbreast are the only two long-standing pure pot still whiskies to have remained in (somewhat) continuous production.

The inclusion of unmalted barley introduces additional characteristics into the whisky. Chief among these are “green” fruit notes (aka tropical fruits), some additional spice (pepper in particular), and a thicker or “stickier” texture.  I gather the modern term “single pot still” was only introduced to overcome objections from the U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau on the use of the term “pure” (although it does accurately reflect a single distillery designation, consistent with single malt whisky).

Powers is owned and operated by Midleton, which also makes the other two single pot still whiskies described above. The whiskies used in this release were mostly matured in refill American oak bourbon barrels (as is Powers custom, to avoid overwhelming the base spirit). A smaller proportion of first fill bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks were also used to help add additional character. There is no age statement, but it is believed that the barrels used for this release are mainly in the 7-9 year old range. Given this mix, it is easy to see how you might speculate that Powers Signature Release is essentially a younger form of Redbreast 12. 😉

Here is how it compares to other whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.65 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.22 ± 0.53 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)

Note there are relatively few reviews of this whisky so far.

I picked up my bottle for $60 CAD at the LCBO. Powers Signature Release is bottled at 46% ABV, which is higher than typical for whiskies in this price point, and is non chill filtered. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: I don’t know if colourant is added, but my sample bottle is very similar in colour to my Redbreast 12 yo.

Nose: Honey and a bit of vanilla lead off, followed by typical pear and apple notes, along with plum and green banana, with a hint of raisins. Reasonably fruity, but definitely more towards the unripened fruit end. Slightly herbal, with a touch of menthol. Dill and pepper. Unfortunately, a fair amount of organic solvent off notes, contributing to the youngish sensation. The nose is also a bit shy and closed. Water brings up the pear and banana notes hugely, and adds some peach and apricot. Definitely recommend you add a little water to open up the nose.

Palate: There is more character in the mouth than the nose suggested, with an up-front hit of caramel and sweet vanilla. Similar fruits as the nose, getting even more of plums and raisins. Chocolate. Baking spices come through, cinnamon and cloves in particular. A hint of black licorice (wish there was more, in fact) and some pepper again. A fair amount of tongue tingle after you swallow (more than I would like).  Chewy – a good mouthfeel initially, but too ethanol hot on the way out. Some coffee-like bitterness creeps in at the end. With water, the sweet fruit notes from the nose are accentuated, and the ethanol burn is attenuated slightly. Again, I recommend water here.

Finish: Medium short. A bit of astringency shows up over time, along with some oakiness. Mild spice persists until the end, including that anise and pepper.  Water may bring up both the sweetness and bitterness.

The comparison to Redbreast 12yo is obvious – they are fairly similar in profile. However, the standard Redbreast offering does seem a bit more balanced (although adding a bit of water here does help bring it closer to Redbreast’s level). The Powers Signature is a bit sweeter in its initial approach too.

The Meta-Critic score is a little low for this one, in my view. I would personally put this on par with Writer’s Tears (both of which get an 8.4 from me). Both are decent and serviceable, but with a few youthful characteristics holding them back from being top recommendations.

The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray.  Relatively low scores were given by Ralfy and Serge of Whisky Fun. For additional commentary outside of the Meta-Critic panel, you could check out Masters of Malt and Wine Enthusiast.

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