Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

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), 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.

J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye

J.P. Wiser’s is one of the largest producers of Canadian whisky.  I have happily reviewed a number of their high-end offerings in the past, like Legacy, Last Barrels, and Lot 40, as well as the budget Hiram Walker Special Old. But for this review, I have picked up one of their entry-level whiskies that I have been meaning to try.

Wiser’s Double Still Rye is widely available in Canada, currently $30 CAD at the LCBO. According to the bottle, it is a “unique blend of two exceptional rye whiskies, one crafted from a traditional copper pot and the other distilled in a copper column still”. That statement is consistent with a number of review sites, who describe this as a blend of two rye whiskies. However, on the Wiser’s website, they refer to this whisky as a “complex blend of corn and rye whiskies”. Since “rye whisky” in Canada doesn’t have to be uniquely rye (or technically, rye at all), it is hard to know what the actual composition is here. The only thing that is clear is that both copper pot stills and copper column stills are used in its production.

Double Still Rye is bottled at 43.4% ABV, which is higher than typical for this price point (i.e., the competing Wiser’s products are all at the industry-standard of 40% ABV). I don’t know if colouring is added (likely at this price point), but the colour here is a rich copper brown.

When this whisky was first released in late 2015, there was some concern it would replace the popular Wiser’s Small Batch. But a year-and-a-half later, all the long-standing <$33 Wiser’s products are all still commonly available. Actually I find that a bit surprisingly, since I don’t really understand the point of keeping five such entry-level product lines going (six, if you count the export brand Wiser’s Rye).

Here is how Double Still Rye compares to other common Wiser’s products in my Meta-Critic database. I’ve provided a bit more detail than usual on prices (here at the LCBO, rounded to the nearest half-dollar):

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($26)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($40)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.89 ± 0.70 on 10 reviews ($28)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.35 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($30)
J.P. Wiser’s Hopped: 8.06 ± 0.53 on 5 reviews ($28)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.80 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($65)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($50)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.99 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews (NA)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($33)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.30 ± 0.84 on 4 reviews ($26)

Although the price difference isn’t great among the entry-level offerings, there is a very strong correlation of scores, with Double Still Rye coming in second to Small Batch in this class. As an aside, Hiram Walker Special Old scores particularly well for the price.

Here are how a few other competing entry-level Canadian rye whiskies compare:

Alberta Premium: 8.22 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($26)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($26)
Canadian Club: 7.31 ± 0.80 on 16 reviews ($27)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($28.50)
Crown Royal: 7.57 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($29.50)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.46 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($28)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($28)

These scores illustrate that Double Still Rye is on par with the top offerings in the <$30 class (e.g., Canadian Club 100% Rye, Forty Creek Barrel Select).

Here’s what I find in the glass for Wiser’s Double Still Rye:

Nose: Sweet, with caramel, vanilla and brown sugar. Green apple, pear and orange citrus. Definitely a rye nose, with dry and dusty rye spices (cinnamon in particular). It is also very herbal, with a touch of cedar – an interesting mix of fruity and aromatic. A bit nutty. Faint whiff of acetone (but much better than other Canadian ryes at this price).

Palate: Sweet up front, with tons of butterscotch and vanilla – it is very oak-forward. Then the rye spices pick up, with cinnamon and nutmeg, plus pepper (giving it some kick). Same light fruits and nuttiness as the nose. Slightly oily mouthfeel, which is good (but likely would have been even better at higher proof).  A bit of astringency comes up at the end, along with that orange citrus note. Very sippable.

Finish: Medium-short (as is typical for a young Canadian rye). Some lingering sweet fruitiness, along with a bit of pepper. The astringent finish seems to be helping here, offsetting the sweetness and giving you a balanced exit.

Consistent with the Meta-Critic, I think this is better than anything else at this price point, except for Canadian Club 100% Rye from Beam Suntory (which is possibly more generally approachable, as it is more fruity and less spicy).

Flavour-wise, Wiser’s Double Still Rye reminds me of a particularly good batch of Hiram Walker Special Old I once had – but Double Still Rye is better, with more spice and less ethanol heat. This whisky would certainly be one of my top picks for the budget aisle – you get a nice range and mix of flavours, with no major off-notes.  It stands well on its own for sipping neat and works equally well as a mixer, thanks to that extra spicy kick.

The highest score for this whisky from my panel of experts would be from Jim Murray, followed by Davin of Whisky Advocate and Jason of In Search of Elegance. More moderate (and lower) scores comes from Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Chip the Rum Howler.

However, I was interested to see that it received a Gold medal at the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards. This competition is based on blind taste-testing by an experienced panel of judges – including several of the ones mentioned above. It is interesting that the panel consistently found it to be a top-ranked whisky when they didn’t know what they trying. Worth giving it a shot, especially if you like the spicy rye style.

 

 

Box Whisky – Festival 2016

The latest Festival bottling from Box distillery – a relatively young “craft” malt whisky distillery from Northern Sweden that I recently introduced in my Box 2nd Step Collection 02 review.  Check out that review for more information about this distillery, including their interesting approach to cask management.

Box has organized an annual whisky festival for the last ten years, with a distinctive festival-only bottling since 2014. As I understand it from their website, these bottlings are true limited editions that can only be acquired by actually visiting the festival. The Festival editions are meant to showcase the character and quality of the distillery – but at the same time, provide a unique bottling that stands out in some way. My sample of the most recent Festival bottling comes from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.

As usual, the Box website has a full breakdown of the cask and whisky mix that went into this 2016 Festival edition. Scroll down that page to see the 2016 specs (in Swedish only at the moment – it seems the English-language website version hasn’t caught up to this 2016 edition).  But to summarize, this is an unpeated 5 year old whisky. The total production run produced 1012 official 50 cL bottles, with an additional 385 “non-official” bottles used at the festival for tastings. Bottled at 53.9% ABV.

The most interesting thing to me is that it was initially matured in 200 L ex-bourbon barrels, then finished for 7 months in heavily charred 40 L virgin Swedish oak casks (having undergone medium toasting before charring). It’s not often one gets to sample something matured in Swedish oak around here (outside of a small proportion of Mackmyra’s malt whisky mix).

I don’t have enough reviews of this edition to include in my Meta-Critic Database, but here are how some other Swedish whiskies do:

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.92 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.95 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.43 ± 0.62 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol: 8.14 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 9.03 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.75 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.72 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.64 ± 0.37 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smögen Primör: 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Obviously this Festival-specific bottling is not something you will be able to obtain now, but I thought you might find my tasting notes interesting – as an example of what to expect from this distinctive Swedish oak finishing.

Colour: Reddish golden hue

Nose: Sweet red fruits – plums, currants, and cherries. Chocolate, cinnamon, and chilli peppers. Leather and toasted oak. Quite a sweet and spicy nose – I’m getting a lot of virgin wood notes, almost bourbon-like in fact (i.e., a medium-aged wheater). A confectionery note I can’t quite place – something you would eat on a fairground. No off notes really, despite the young age.

Palate: Holy cow, what a liquid confection – a melted caramilk bar!  Sweet, oily and rich. Tons of butterscotch, caramel and chocolate. Turns more malty towards the end (liquefied Malted Milk bar?). Cinnamon, pepper and dried chilli notes return after the initial blast of sweet nougat. I would not have guessed this was 53.9% ABV – surprisingly easy to drink neat.

Finish: Medium short.  The sweet notes dominate initially, but then some oaky bitterness creeps in. Also a bit astringent (drying) in the mouth. Cinnamon and chilli spiciness lasts until the end.

Not as much going on as the 2nd Step Collection 02 (i.e., not as complex) – but still a fabulous dessert whisky. Water doesn’t change much on the nose, but oddly seems to increase the heat in the mouth (?).

It is a wild ride – I don’t know if all this spiciness is coming the small cask Swedish oak, but it is not like anything I’ve had before. Probably the closest thing in my experience would be a mix of W.L. Weller 12 yo and some of the 66 Gilead products in Canada (like Crimson Rye, although with a lot more chocolate and less cinnamon here).

A hard one to score, I would probably give it a slightly above average rating for its distinctiveness (and surprising maturity, despite the young stated age). So, I would say an 8.6 on my typical Database scale of 10.

You aren’t going to find many reviews of this one online, but you can check out Thomas of Whisky Saga. Whiskybase also has a few scores.

Box Whisky – The 2nd Step Collection 02

BOX is a malt whisky distillery that I suspect relatively few of you know – but one I think you will want to. Located in Northern Sweden, Box destilleri has been producing whisky for the better part of a decade. A relatively small producer so far, they make a little over a hundred thousand liters of whisky per annum (so, I suppose you could consider them still a “craft” operation).

They are located in a relatively remote location (their website happily points out that the 63rd parallel goes straight through their property). Given their non-temperature controlled warehouse, this location means that they experience colder overall temperatures – and wider temperature variations – than just about anywhere else in the whisky-making world. This is something they point to as a relative advantage, as they feel the temperature variations “enhances the exchange of flavours between the whisky and the oak vat.”

They are also distinguished by their use of cask management.  Like many European producers, the casks they use for whisky maturation are mainly ex-bourbon, made from charred American Virgin Oak (typically 200 L size) and sherry casks (up to 700 L size), in this case previously holding Oloroso sherry.  But what is unusual is what they do with some of the barrels – they take first-fill 200 L ex-bourbon barrels and rebuild them into a traditional Swedish size they call “Ankare” (39.25 L).

These small casks have a much greater surface-area-to-volume ratio, thus producing an ‘accelerated aging’ of their spirit.  This explains how they are able to get a relatively young product on the market so quickly, given the low temperatures in Northern Sweden. As they say on their website, they “find that this size is ideal as it gives a relatively quick maturation period but isn’t so small that there is a risk the product matures so early that it can’t be called whisky.”

This second release in their The 2nd Step Collection (02) is one of their most recent products, released in Sweden about six months ago.  I am not sure if it has started branching out to wider markets, but I know Master of Malt carries it (currently in stock, at the time of this posting). My sample came from Thomas Øhrbom of Whisky Saga.

As an aside, the Box distillery website has the most extensive information I’ve ever seen for each of their releases (right down to fermentation times, still cuts, proportion and age of the casks down to the week, etc, etc.).  I won’t repeat everything listed for this expression here, but some key points: This second release is a lightly peated mix of ex-bourbon (48.15%) and sherry casks (51.85%). The main barrels going into the mix include 4.72 year old first-fill sherry (115 L), followed by 4.91 year old sherry cask (250 L originally, later reduced to 55 L casks), 4.73 year old peated whisky (115 L) and 5.16 years old first-fill ex-bourbon (200 L casks). It is neither chill-filtered nor coloured, and bottled at a respectable 51.2% ABV.

There are few reviews of Box whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database at the moment, but here’s a how it compares to a few other Swedish whiskies:

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.92 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.95 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.43 ± 0.62 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol: 8.14 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 9.03 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.75 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.72 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.64 ± 0.37 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smögen Primör: 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.06 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Keep in mind these are a relatively low number of reviews, so you should treat the averages as very provisional.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden, with a slightly brown hue, suggesting some sherry casks in the mix

Nose: Apple juice sweetened with brown sugar. Sultanas and raisins (from the sherry casks), with caramel and vanilla (from the bourbon casks). There’s honey too, but more like dried honeycomb than fresh. A bit of cereal. Has an earthy quality, with a bit of old-sweat-sock funk (likely coming from the small amount of peated whisky in the mix). This actually complements the sweetness nicely. A more complex nose than I was expecting for the age, without most of the usual tell-tale signs of youth (I think the peat is helping obscure many of these). Water brings up the sweetness, but doesn’t add anything new. I suggest nosing it neat.

Palate:  Fresh pear and apple and dried darker fruits – again, a good mix of sherry and bourbon casks. Vanilla comes through strongly, mixed with that honey note. Quite spicy, with cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Some ethanol heat, as expected for the 51.2% ABV.  Slightly oily mouthfeel. A bit of smokiness appears at the end (which is nice). With water, the burn is tamed, and the brown sugar sweetness from the nose re-asserts itself.  If you like your whiskies sweet, definitely try adding a bit of water.

Finish: Longish and lingering, with that typical bourbon cask sweetness initially. The fruits turn to a lighter style (think Juicy Fruit gum). The earthiness turns more to peanuts now, with a pronounced nuttiness that persists throughout the finish – very distinctive (makes me wonder if they are using Jim Beam casks?). Some of the spices also linger a long time (surprisingly so, for such a youthful whisky).  This is much more of a finish that I would have expected for the age. Water adds a milk chocolate note.

Ok, I would never have guessed that the majority of casks going into this whisky were between 4.7 and 5.2 years old. The complexity on the nose and finish suggests a much longer aging. It seems their cask management and extreme temperature variation is having the desired effect. And I suspect the small amount of peated whisky in the mix is deliberate, to help balance out the flavours (and hide some of the signs of youth).

If I could get it locally or in my travels, I would happily pick up a bottle of this one.  My only recommendation to Box would be to increase the level of peated whisky in the mix further – I think it would benefit from a little more smoke. Apparently, the first release (01) was more heavily peated.

While there aren’t many reviews of this whisky online, I think the Meta-Critic average is reasonable (i.e., I personally give it an 8.8).   It is a very well done single malt. Check out Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Thomas at Whisky Saga for reviews included in the Meta-Critic.  For additional reviews or tasting notes, you can try Whisky Magazine, WhiskyBase and Master of Malt.

 

 

Bowmore Vault Edition First Release

Late last year, Bowmore announced a new Vault Edition limited series, which will explore what they consider to be the four classic characteristics of their distillery style.  To be released on an annual basis, the first of these is entitled Atlantic Sea Salt. The future yearly releases will examine peat smoke, vanilla, and citrus.

These all come from selected barrels in their infamous below-sea level No. 1 Vaults, hence the cute “Vault Edit1°n” labeling on the packaging. The Bowmore Vault Editions are all matured in ex-bourbon casks, and are bottled at high strength (ABV) – 51.4% in the case of the First Release, aka Atlantic Sea Salt.

This First Release is sometimes referred to as “Vault Edition No. 1” online, but I think they are intended to be labelled as First Release, Second Release, and so on. To further confuse matters, Bowmore has also announced a lower-strength 40% ABV “Bowmore No.1”, also coming from the No.1 Vaults. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to this first higher-strength Vault Edition as First Release throughout this review.

Currently available at the LCBO for $200 CAD.

Here is how First Release compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other malts from Bowmore, including some of their special releases and travel retail bottles :

Bowmore 10yo Devil’s Cask (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo Enigma: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$)
Bowmore 15yo Darkest: 8.58 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Laimrig: 9.00 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 15yo Mariner: 8.65 ± 0.44 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo: 8.35 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore 17yo White Sands: 8.48 ± 0.56 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore Black Rock: 8.16 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Gold Reef: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$)
Bowmore Small Batch: 8.27 ± 0.53 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore Springtide: 9.07 ± 0.77 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Bowmore Vault Edition First Release: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews so far, but initial reports place First Release in the general range of scores for its price point for Bowmore (which are typically lower than other peaty whiskies).

I managed to snag a generous pour at a LCBO tasting bar. Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: An unusual peated tar note, along with that classic Bowmore wood smoke.  Has a meaty aroma, which I like. Sweet, with classic vanilla and honey notes – I could easily pick out the ex-bourbon barrel aging without being told. Green apple and citrus (oranges and a touch of lemon). Some salt, but less than I expected given the title. No real off notes, very nice presentation.

Palate: The bourbon barrel character is even more prominent, with sweet vanilla and some toasted oak. Not as smokey, although the salt element definitely picks up now.  Apple and pear, with orange citrus again. Cinnamon and ginger. A touch oily, giving it a chewy mouth feel.  The sweet and salty mix makes it somewhat lip-smacking, but I wish the smokiness was stronger.

Finish: Medium long. ‎The smoke is back. There’s a salty sweetness that lingers, like bacon coated in maple syrup. Some astringency comes in at the end (i.e., a bit drying).

I really enjoyed this dram. As someone who has only sampled the entry-level core range of Bowmore official bottlings so far (i.e., Small Batch, 12yo, and 15yo Darkest), I can safely say this is the best Bowmore I’ve tried to date. It’s a nice easy sipper (even undiluted at 51.5% ABV), with no off-notes – a pleasant experience through and through. That said, it is not as complex as I would have liked for this price point.

The highest score I’ve seen so far comes from Ruud1983 of Reddit (which closely matches my own assessment). Ruben of Whisky Notes gives it a middle-of-the-road score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a slightly lower one.

1 2 3 11