Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

Following up on my Wild Turkey 101 review, here is the true barrel-proof (cask-strength) member of this family – Wild Turkey Rare Breed.

First thing you will notice is that the proof of each batch varies a little bit, consistent with a true barrel proof product. It is also not that much higher than WT 101 – most Rare Breeds are in the 108-117 proof range (or ~54-58% ABV). The reason for this relatively low final strength is that WT enters the barrel at a lower proof than most of its competitors (in order to keep more of the base distillate character).

Wild Turkey uses a common mashbill for all its bourbons, which I would classify as a “standard rye bourbon” (R2), based on 13% rye in the mashbill. Rare Breed is reported to be a barrel-proof blend of 6, 8 and 12-year-old stocks (in contrast, regular WT 101 is believed to be the younger 6/8 year olds).

Rare Breed sells for $60 CAD at the LCBO, when they have it in stock. My sample was provided by TOModera of Reddit, and was batch WT-03RB from 2011, which was 54.1% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other bourbons in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database – especially other cask-strength bourbons:

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength: 8.84 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon 7yo: 8.78 ± 0.29 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Barton 1792 Full Proof: 8.69 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel: 8.93 ± 0.23 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength: 8.55 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof: 8.89 ± 0.20 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: 8.90 ± 0.22 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.80 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.67 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.39 ± 0.49 on on 11 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 114: 8.63 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.71 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.53 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 21 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel: 8.85 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Forgiven: 8.46 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades: 9.01 ± 0.19 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

WT Rare Breed gets a good score for the price, among this class of cask-strength bourbons.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: I get a fairly standard level of rye, as expected for WT. Lots of caramel. Cherries and some dark fruit (dried, not fresh). Cinnamon and all-spice. Lots of nose hair pickle from the high alcohol level, as expected. Acetone and some off-note that I can’t quite identify (both detract for me personally). Not really getting a lot of subtlety here, it’s a full-force bourbon nose.

Palate: A fair amount of rye zing, joining the standard corn notes. Caramel. Some citrus (orange). Has a higher rye taste than I expected from the mashbill, cinnamon and all-spice in particular. Oaky and spicy, with black pepper and a little anise. The higher ABV is noticeable here, and a bit overwhelming. Some bitterness on the swallow.

Finish: Long. Lighter sweetness slips in now, with some honey and light vanilla. Pear. Finish of lighter rye notes, nutmeg included. Fairly astringent though (i.e., drying). Touch of spearmint comes in at very end, which is nice.

With water, ethanol burn on the nose is lightened. More caramel in the mouth now, but still plenty of rye spice. Definitely better with a bit of water, becomes even more syrupy. Fair amount of astringency remains on finish though, which water doesn’t seem to affect.

Overall, I like the finish of this bourbon the best – I find it too strong and wood-focused on nose and palate, especially neat. Only on the finish does it open up and more subtle flavours emerge. This is a rare example where I actually prefer a standard bottling of this whisky over the cask-strength (i.e. the relatively high proof Wild Turkey 101).

Among reviewers, it is again very popular with Jim Murray, Serge of Whisky Fun and the guys at Quebec Whisky – all scoring it higher than WT 101. Josh the Whiskey Jug likes it (gives it the same score as WT 101). Similarly, Nick of Breaking Bourbon gives it the same score as Eric gave WT 101. Still with a relatively lower score – but higher than WT 101 – is Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Jason of In Search of Elegance gives it a fairly low score – and prefers WT 101, as I do.

Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

Wild Turkey is a popular Kentucky-based bourbon, currently owned by Campari group. Distilling has been under the dynastic control of the Russell family for many years now. It has the image of a no-nonsense, uncompromising style of bourbon, lacking in pretentiousness. The name apparently stems from the early days of production, when a wholesaler took a bunch of warehouse samples on a turkey hunt. The whisky proved so popular with his compatriots, that they kept asking him for that “wild turkey bourbon” – and thus a marketing angle was born.

Wild Turkey occupies an interesting position in the range of bourbon styles. On paper, it has a fairly standard bourbon profile, with a historically “typical” level of rye in the mashbill – 13%. This qualifies it as a “standard” rye in my bourbon classification scheme (i.e.,  R2 in the database). However, this is one of the few bourbons out there that doesn’t easily fit into that mashbill-based classification – many drinkers find a more substantial rye-like presence to the whisky, and would consider as a “high rye” bourbon. Indeed, for those who forgo the low/standard/high rye bourbon classification for a simpler low/high one, there is no doubt that you would consider Wild Turkey as high rye (e.g., see the Reddit bourbon guide). This bold flavour in WT may be due to the relatively high char levels of the barrels, as well as the relatively low proof coming off the stills.

There are several variants of this bird out there. Wild Turkey 101 is so-named because it is bottled at 101 proof (50.5% ABV). This is higher proof than their standard entry-level bottling (WT 81).

In late 2016, I picked up a 1L travel retail bottle (i.e., duty-free) of WT 101 for $22 USD, on sale at a US airport. The LCBO started stocking it in early 2017, but at higher cost (currently $38 CAD for 750mL).  But it still seems the best value among the various Wild Turkey bottlings available at the LCBO (i.e., it is $33 CAD for the WT 81, and $60 CAD for the Rare Breed barrel-proof).

Here is how WT compares to other similarly-priced bourbons in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database – especially Bottled in Bond (BiB) expressions, given the similar strength (100 proof):

Barton 1792 Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews ($$)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.38 on 23 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.35 on 24 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig Small Batch: 8.28 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams BiB: 8.32 ± 0.49 on 11 reviews ($)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.67 ± 0.23 on 18 reviews ($$)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.19 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$)
Heaven Hill 6yo BiB: 8.36 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($)
Henry McKenna 10yo Single Barrel BiB: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Bonded: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.39 on 23 reviews ($$)
Old Forester: 8.12 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.93 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.39 ± 0.49 on 11 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon: 8.09 ± 0.47 on 16 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 21 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel: 8.85 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Wild Turkey Forgiven: 8.46 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select: 8.38 ± 0.32 on 22 reviews ($$)

I know there are a lot of numbers up there, but WT101 gets a good score for this strength bourbon, at this price range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light and sweet initially, with strong caramel notes. Apple. Slightly burnt toffee (may be from barrel char). Caramel apples really come to mind. Light rye spice. Mint, and a touch of dill. No real off notes, it’s nice.

Palate: Caramel apple again. Honey. Vanilla. Cinnamon and touch of cloves. Dill again. Seems like a very well balanced and integrated bourbon. Bit of ethanol heat on back end. Burn on swallowing persists, even after multiple sips. Spicy overall.

Finish: Medium. Light, sweet cane sugar, with just a touch of artificial sweetener. Apple and pear. Vanilla. Very gentle fade out. Nutmeg. A bit drying (astringent), but not bad.

With water, I get some added Juicy Fruit gum flavour on the nose and finish. Mouthfeel lightens very quickly though, without affecting the burn. I recommend you drink it with only a small splash of water.

Pretty decent bourbon, easy to drink, but with some noticeable kick and persistent burn on the finish. Would work very well in cocktails, thanks to the high rye flavour and extra proof. Overall, it seems well balanced for flavour, age, and cost – a good value bourbon.

Among reviewers, Josh the Whiskey Jug is a big fan. The guys at Quebec Whisky are generally quite positive as well, as is Jim Murray. More moderately positive reviews (with below average scores) come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Eric of Breaking Bourbon. A relatively lower score is given by Richard of Whiskey Reviewer although he still considers it quite under-rated for the class. Jason of In Search of Elegance shares my assessment that this is superior to Rare Breed.

 

Highland Queen Majesty 8 Year Old Single Malt

As I mentioned in my inaugural Highland Queen whisky review, there are a number of blended scotches and single malt expressions in this extended line. Produced by Tullibardine distillery in the Scottish highlands, you can expect a pretty gentle base spirit across the various Highland Queens.

The single malt versions of Highland Queen are all identified by the “Majesty” subtitle. Like the standard blended scotch versions, these come in both a number of NAS and age-stated forms. The Majesty 8 Year Old single malt expression caught my eye, for the maturation in new oak barrels. It is not common to see standard Scottish single malt bottlings aged exclusively in virgin oak, so I was curious to see what effect it would have on the base Tullibardine malt.

Bottled at 40% ABV, this Majesty 8 yo single malt was on sale for $38 CAD in Calgary, Alberta. There are no reviews in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, so I thought I would buy a bottle and add my own to the blogosphere.

Nose: Honey, with standard apple. Some dry grass (picking up on that herbaceous note I noticed on the base blend). Pleasant enough, but also has a faint dried cardboard note, and some raw ethanol which you don’t find on the entry-level Highland Queen.

Palate: Honey and some light caramel. Definite citrus now – orange peel in particular, with maybe a touch of lemon. Woody, with lots of oak notes. Black pepper. Light cinnamon and all-spice. Dried glue again. Watery mouthfeel, but with a bit of ethanol sting. Has a bit more character than I was expecting, for the young age.

Finish: Short. Light honey and apple juice return. Caramel and a dry woodiness persist the longest. Some light bitterness lingers, but it works with the woody elements.

This is actually pretty decent for a young malt. My initial impression was pretty “meh”, but some woody character emerges on successive sips. While nothing spectacular, the virgin oak treatment is effective in elevating the base gentle spirit. Of course, that assumes one likes oaky wood notes. I would personally rate this a 8.3 on the standard Meta-Critic rating scale for a single malt.

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

I had never heard of this particular brand – and so was surprised to see several different bottlings of blended Scotch whiskies and single malt expressions on the shelf on a recent trip out West.

The origin of the brand name dates back to 1893, with the Highland Queen blend of Macdonald & Muir Ltd. Named in honour of Mary Queen of Scots, the original Highland Queen was supplied by Glenmorangie distillery. The brand was purchased in 2008, and the Highland Queen Scotch Whisky Company was established at the Tullibardine distillery, in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve had a few Tullibardine malts, which are generally quite mild and inoffensive. It’s definitely a “gentle dram” maker, and should work well for basic blends.

This entry-level scotch blend is the base expression of the Highland Queen line, aged for 3 years and bottled at 40% ABV. I saw this this bottling on sale for $26 CAD in a COOP in Calgary, Alberta.

Let’s see how it compares to other entry level blends in my Meta-Critic Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Bank Note 5yo Blended Scotch: 8.09 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.77 on 7 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013 re-launch): 7.99 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.68 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse: 7.64 ± 0.56 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.69 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Highland Queen: 7.92 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($)
Islay Mist 8yo: 7.91 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.98 ± 1.03 on 11 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($)

There are only a limited number of reviews, but so far Highland Queen is scoring on par with the higher-end of the base scotch blends in my database.

I was given a sample to try, let’s see what I found in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and caramel initially. Standard apples and pears (apple juice), but not a lot of fruit otherwise. A touch of nutmeg. Very simple, but pretty decent for an entry-level blend, with a surprising lack of solvent notes.

Palate: Apples remain the most prominent here, caramel-dipped. Honey, with a bit of vanilla. Something faintly herbaceous, but nothing specifically identifiable. Maybe a touch of anise. Light and watery mouthfeel, with no real burn.

Finish: Short. Quick and clean, just faint apple juice and honey. Disappears with no off notes, but a slight touch of bitterness does creep in.

A very basic blend, with a limited ex-bourbon barrel flavour palate. But surprisingly lacking the off-notes that mar most entry-level blends for me.

This base blend gets a decent score from Jim Murray (though still below average), and a positive review (but a low score) from Jonny at Whisky Advocate. Personally, I’m in-between on this one, but closer to Jonny in score. Nothing to specifically seek out, but as the Meta-Critic shows, you could do a lot worse.

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak

As I’ve previously reported, Kavalan offers two of their most popular Solist expressions – Bourbon Cask and Sherry Cask – in a vatted format, known as the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak and Sherry Oak, respectively.  In Asia, these batch versions of the Solists are available at both cask-strength (typically ~54-59%, just like the single casks Solists) and at a reduced 46% ABV. Here in the Western hemisphere, I’ve only seen the 46% ABV versions.

Supposedly, these two “Oak” series are vatted from the exact same type of casks used for the named Solist series. But it stands to reason that they probably cherry-pick the best casks for the single cask offerings, and vat the rest. Still, it is a good chance to sample what the distillery character is like (in a more consistent fashion), without having shell out for the more expensive (and rare) Solist single cask versions.

These Oak-series whiskies are typically available as both full 700 mL bottles and 50 mL miniature glass bottles. As with my Sherry Oak review, my sample here is of the 46% ABV, 50 mL ex-Bourbon Oak version. Bottling code is 2015.05.08 16:15. The bottle came in a cardboard box, and so was protected from light.

Here is how the various Kavalan bottlings compare in my Whisky Database.

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.77 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.22 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.98 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.01 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.08 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews to go by, but the 46% ABV vatted version of the ex-Bourbon Oak seems to be doing quite well.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light apple juice – frankly, one of the palest Kavalans I’ve seen yet.

Nose: Fruity, with lush tropical fruits like papaya, mango, pineapple, and banana (including green banana). Touch of citrus. Light honey and vanilla. Not creamy per se, more of a buttery note. Grassy, with some hay (fresh cut for both, not dry). Sweet. No off notes, which is impressive. Water dampens all of the above, and may bring up a touch of solvent (oddly), so I would skip water for nosing.

Palate: Not quite as sweet as the nose, but there’s no mistaking that time in bourbon casks. Tons of vanilla and caramel. Rich oak without the typical spice or bitterness, doesn’t seem to have been aged too long. Noticeable coconut, and a bit nutty in general. But again, not very spicy, with maybe just a touch of nutmeg. Buttery texture. Fair amount of tongue tingle, but not offensive. Sweeter with water, which also helps with tingle (but doesn’t fully extinguish it).

Finish: Caramel continues, with some of the light spices coming up now (nutmeg).  A touch astringent, but not really bitter. Some of tropical and green fruit also show a resurgence. Very nice and even. With water, some bitterness does enter in.

I recommend you go sparingly with water on the 46% ABV version – it certainly needs no more than few drops at most.

All in all, a very pleasant ex-bourbon expression, very good for the presumed young age. Much better than the standard Kavalan single malt expression. As an aside, my wife – who is not a big scotch drinker – really liked this one.

Among reviewers, Dominic of Whisky Advocate is very positive, followed by washeewashee of Reddit (for the cask-strength version), Jim Murray, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Worth picking up if you come across a sample bottle in your travels.

Sullivans Cove French Oak Single Cask

Welcome to my first Tasmanian single malt review.  Tasmania is an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, and has been seeing a boom in whisky production lately. Sullivans Cove is arguably their most well-known distillery. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they have won numerous international whisky awards in recent years.

Indeed, this particular French Oak single cask single malt, which is finished in port wine casks, won “Best Australian Whisky” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards and then “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. This latter one is a little odd in my view for a single cask whisky – it doesn’t really help you know what to except from all the other casks out there. And you could never track down the same winning cask – we can only hope that there is not a lot of variability from cask to cask (and I expect there is).

In any case, these expressions are bottled at a reduced ABV (47.5% for the sample I tried), and the age varies from between 11 to 12 years old. I don’t have the specific bottle code for the one I tried earlier this year, but I know it was barreled on 8/8/2000 and bottled on 1/25/2012 (so, 11 years old, in other words).

Here is how Sullivans Cove compares to other port-finished malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Portonova: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.80 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.44 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port (both editions): 8.98 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.35 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.74 ± 0.39 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove American Oak: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove Bourbon Cask Strength: 8.54 ± 0.73 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.29 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Sullivans Cove Port Cask Strength: 8.55 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.60 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Despite the early awards, most Sullivan Cove expressions get fairly typical average scores in my Meta-Critic Database.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, and milk chocolate are the most prominent notes. Baked goods – but more like a Blondie bar than a brownie (although there is a bit of dark chocolate too). Citrus, and some apple. There’s a general fruity sweetness, but nothing else very specific (i.e., seems more like fruit-flavoured candy, think Haribo gummy bears or fruit roll-ups). A little nutty. No real off notes.

Palate: Wow, tons of butterscotch and toffee notes now – very buttery, in fact. White chocolate is also prominent (that’s a first for me), along with hazelnut. The dark chocolate has become subdued, more like just a touch of bitterness now. Creamy mouthfeel. Really, this tastes is like a some sort of specialty chocolate bar that has been liquefied! Same candied fruit as the nose. Some mild baking spices (nutmeg), a touch of pepper. A bit grassy.

Finish: Fairly short, unfortunately. Or perhaps not, given the overwhelming sweetness of the nose and palate. The bitterness of the dark chocolate comes back at the end, along with that slight candy fruitiness.

Sullivans.Cove.French.OakVery unique experience. Closest thing in my mind is probably Glenmorangie Signet – but amped-up, with white chocolate and butterscotch.  Definitely not an everyday dram, but this could easily serve as a decadent dessert replacement at the end of a meal.

Not really getting much of the port finish here (beyond that sweet candied fruitiness). It does reminds me a bit of the old Pike’s Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish here in Canada (before they switched to finishing in rum casks). But this is really overwhelming in its sweetness.

This whisky was a hit for Serge of Whisky Fun and TOModera of Reddit. It also garnered fairly positive reviews from Jim Murray and Ruben of Whisky Notes (although only an average score from Ruben). Dominic of Whisky Advocate is moderately positive (but giving it a below average score). The only actually negative review I’ve seen is Craig of Malt Maniacs. While I appreciate that it is a quality product, it is not something I could see myself going for very often. I think the overall Meta-Critic average is reasonable.

Canadian Club 40 Year Old

Not one to be out done by Corby and the Northern Border Collection, or the various Canada 150 special releases, Beam Suntory has just released the oldest age-stated Canadian whisky in history: Canadian Club 40 year old.

There is not a lot information available on this release, beyond that it was distilled in 1977, and aged in used American oak barrels. Classically, Canadian Club was made from a blend of corn and rye, but I have seen commentary from several sources online that this is a pure corn whisky.

As explained my recent review of J.P. Wiser’s 35 year old, it is a common practice in Canada to add a small amount of low-ABV rye “flavouring” whiskies to such a “base” of high-ABV corn whisky, to add extra character. I will come back to this point later, but my experience certainly supports the idea that a light corn whisky is the source spirit used here.

This first release has sold out in most jurisdictions (although is still available in some Alberta outlets), as only around 7000 bottles were produced. I was fortunate enough to manage to snag a bottle when it hit Ontario shelves early last month ($250 CAD at the LCBO). Bottled at 45% ABV, the whisky comes in a stylish presentation-style square bottle (which is actually a bit of a pain to pour from, truth be told).

Here is how compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Subtle, but detectable from a distance. Light honey and corn syrup. Gummi bears. Candied orange citrus. Vanilla. Tree bark (likely from the extended oak aging). Definite acetone, contributing to an artificial sweetener/candy note. But not offensive, seems to work with the other light sweet notes. Reminds me in some ways of Crown Royal Monarch for the oaky notes (but with less overt rye here).

Palate: Corn, corn and more corn. Corn syrup. Hot-buttered corn-on-the-cob. Definite caramel now, adding to the vanilla – a salted caramel. Light dried fruits. Buttery and creamy texture, quite decadent – yet it still feels relatively light and bright for the age. Aromatic wood note that I can quite place (juniper?). Slight nutmeg on way out. Touch of tannic tea. Very easy drinking – dare I say “smooth”?

Finish: Medium length. Light corn on the tongue, with butter. Nutmeg and a touch of cloves. Plums and citrus. Caramel lingers to the end.

Caramel seems to build over time with successive sips. A rich, liquid caramel – by the end of the glass, you feel like you drank insides of a Caramilk bar.‎ Slippery, buttery residue on lips also builds with time. Very distinctive, I would call this a dessert whisky.

While there are some light rye notes here (which I suspect are coming exclusively from the wood), it is really the base corn spirit that shines through. I’ve never had such a well-aged, mellow corn whisky before – it seems younger and brighter. Certainly interesting as a concept, but I can’t help feel that a splash of Lot 40 Cask Strength in here would really help wake this whisky up.

Personally, I prefer the Wiser’s 35 year old over this bottle, as it has a little more spice and character. But CC 40 really is a distinctive experience, so I urge you to try a sample if you ever get the chance.

Among reviewers, it gets outstanding scores from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate. Beppi of the Globe and Mail gives it a very good score. Among Reddit reviewers, TOModera and Strasse007 both give it an above average score, with muaddib99 giving it a more average one.

 

 

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve Single Malt

Not having had a lot of luck with the main Bushmills’ expression (although Black Bush is certainly decent and drinkable), I was intrigued when I came across a higher-end sherry cask travel retail exclusive single malt at an international airport duty free. It wasn’t cheap though, working out to over $100 USD in currency conversion for a bottle.

This was of course the first of the new “Steamship” series from Bushmills, a collection  of three permanent special cask-matured expressions, beginning with the Sherry Cask Reserve. The name of the collection is inspired by the historical SS Bushmills, built in 1890. Apparently, this steamship traveled the world, and transported refilled spirit casks from all over, and back to Ireland during her active service.

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve is pure single malt whisky, not a blend like the cheaper Bushmills.  While it is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, it is matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts.  That certainly sounds at least minimally promising – although it is disappointingly bottled at the minimum strength of 40% ABV.

Fortunately, it was on promotion in the store, so I was able to sample a generous pour while waiting for my flight. This also gave me a chance to compare it directly to Black Bush side-by-side (which I have had before, and was also available for tasting).

I will reserve my usual discussion of the Meta-Critic scores for Bushmills to the end, as I was not tracking this whisky in my database at the time of sampling (and so, had no pre-existing bias going in).

Here is what I found in the glass (well, plastic cup):

Nose: Definite sherry presence, more so than Black Bush. Classic raisins and figs, along with brown sugar. But still not quite as sherry-rich as I was expecting, suggesting to me that  they are probably using second (or later) refill casks. Classic Bushmills apple cider. Vanilla and cinnamon. Malty, with some lighter grassy notes (no grain, of course). No burn either, consistent with the low ABV. No real off notes. Certainly off to a decent enough start.

Palate: More on the apple and pear notes now, with somewhat lighter sherry fruits (i.e., more golden raisins as opposed to figs or prunes). A bit of spice (baking spices), which is nice, and that rich brown sugar note persists.  Complex for a Bushmills, but it still seems a bit simple overall – and with the typical watery mouthfeel of this brand. This really should have been bottled at a minimum 46% ABV to give it some character.  Still, it is pleasant enough to sip on, and has more depth than Black Bush.

Finish: Short. Longer than other Bushmills (notice the repeating refrain?), but still not very long by the standards of other all-sherry cask-aged whiskies. A simple persistent sweetness lasts the longest.

All in the all, this is probably the first truly decent Bushmills that I’ve had.  It would make a good introduction for someone interested in experiencing sherry finishing, without jumping right into a sherry-bomb. But I really think the casks used here have seen too many previous refills – they just seem a bit tired. And I can’t fathom why they bottled this at such a low 40% ABV.

Overall, the flavours kind of remind me of the entry-level Dalmores. That analogy is pretty apt in another sense as well – like most Dalmores, I find this expression is over-priced for what it is.

The only reviews for Sherry Cask Reserve I’ve seen among my Meta-Critic reviewers are Jonny of Whisky Advocate (who gives it medium-low score), and Jim Murray (who gives it a veryy low score).  Personally, I’d rate it higher, closer to the overall average for an Irish whisky in the database (~8.4-8.5).  To put that in perspective, here’s how the Meta-Critic scores play out across Irish whiskies, and the Dalmores already mentioned:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.49 ± 0.48 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.37 ± 0.39 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.16 ± 0.43 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.48 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.30 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.41 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.72 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.65 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.51 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Red Head Single Malt: 8.4 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$$)

There are too few scores right now to give this a meaningful interpretation. At the end of the day, I would expect this to do at least as well as Black Bush (i.e., I found it noticeably better, side-by-side). And again, I think the scores for the entry-level Dalmores are probably a pretty good indicator as to what to expect for this expression in the end.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a bottle at the current travel retail price, but if someone gifted it to me, I’d happy to sip on it periodically.  Best suited for when you want a little flavour, but nothing too complex or challenging. Black Bush is much better value for money, though.

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old

This is my fourth and final review of the limited-release 2017 Northern Border Collection from Corby – and the oldest release of a Wiser’s whisky to date.

Sporting an impressive 35 year old age statement, this J.P. Wiser’s whisky is composed mainly of double-distilled corn whisky that has been distilled to a high ABV, and aged in reused ex-bourbon barrels. It also includes about 10% column- and pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in virgin oak barrels.

This mix is a fairly standard arrangement for a Canadian whisky – the high-proof corn whisky from reused barrels serves as a “base”, to which a smaller amount of “flavouring” whisky is added (i.e., the low-proof rye whisky aged in new barrels). But it is rare to see something aged this long, and I’m personally curious to see what effect this has on the various components.

Bottled at an impressive 50% ABV, this was released for $165 CAD at the LCBO last month. I’m still seeing a few bottles on shelves at some locations, so you should still have a chance to pick it up if you move quickly.

Here is how it compares to the rest of the NBC group, and other relevant whiskies, in my Meta-Critic Database.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, with brown sugar, caramel and maple sugar (I rarely get maple notes, but very pronounced here). Vanilla. Caramel apple, slightly burnt. Orange citrus. A range of soft floral notes. Buttered popcorn. Almost bourbon like, but less woody – it does indeed seem liked it was aged primarily in well-used barrels. Faint acetone at first, but dissipates with time. Great nose overall – appropriately complex for the age, yet not dominated by the wood. Well done!

Palate: Sweet up front, with similar syrupy notes as the nose – definitely some complex sugars. Gently floral. Caramel corn. Caramel apple again. Then pronounced cinnamon and nutmeg hit, with cloves and some light wood spice. A surprising amount of dill. Finally, a bit of pepper and some tea notes round it out. Great mouth feel for 50% ABV, syrupy in texture. Some ethanol heat on way down, understandably. Again, this is surprisingly not very oaky for the age.

Finish: ‎Medium short. Caramel sweetness returns and dominates. Caramel corn. Otherwise not much going on here unfortunately, fairly simple on the way out. A bit thin on finish, frankly.

With water, it becomes more aromatic on the nose, with enhanced caramelized sugar notes. Water lightens mouth feel quickly, so I recommend you drink it neat or with only a few drops of water. It certainly doesn’t need the extra caramel flavour, in my view.

Great nose and mouthfeel, really impressed on those fronts. Very decent palate too, but with a shortish finish unfortunately. A bourbon drinker might like this, as it brings in a lot of the traditional bourbon sweetness – but without the heavy oak spice.

The extended aging seems to have really mellowed the palate, while keeping the moderately complex sugars and aromatic esters around. I find myself being drawn back to sample this one repeatedly – it is an easy-to-drink, likeable dram. Elegant is probably how I would best describe it, for the Canadian whisky class. This is my second favourite of the collection after Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (although Pike Creek 21yo is a close third).

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate are huge fans – both give this one of their highest scores ever. Among reddit reviewers, TOModera really likes this one, giving it a high score (second highest rating for the group). It gets slightly above average scores from Devoz, muaddib99 and xile_. Sinjun86 and smoked_herring both give it an average score (although their second highest for the NBC group). Finally, Chip the Rum Howler gives it a very low score (due to a moldy note he perceives). So clearly a more variable view on this one – but most quite like it, giving it high marks for the class.

 

 

Gooderham & Worts 17 Year Old Little Trinity Three Grain

This member of the new Northern Border Collection by Corby (part of their Rare Releases for 2017) is released under the Gooderham & Worts line. A stabled name in the history of Toronto whisky distillation, the inaugural Gooderham & Worts whisky was a four-grain blend of wheat, rye, corn and malt whiskies. This new limited release is named Little Trinity (after the church William Gooderham built for his distillery workers), with a 17 year old age statement. They have dropped the malt component of the blend – this is now a three-grain mix.

According to Davin at Canadian Whisky, three types of wood were used to age the base corn spirit for this whisky: new virgin oak barrels, second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and well-used barrels that had already seen several whiskies previously. The once-distilled rye whisky component was matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and the once-distilled wheat whisky was aged in virgin oak.

Bottled at 45% ABV, this is one of the most affordable members of the NBC, at $80 CAD at the LCBO (and you might still be able to find a bottle in some locations). Here is how it compares to other members of the NBC group, and comparable popular Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.29 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.56 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet caramel with some honey. Apple juice with a candied/dried mixed fruit concoction – very fragrant. Buttered popcorn. Creamed wheat. Light rye spice, nutmeg mainly. Except for the wheat, this is a very classic “Canadian rye” presentation (with its strong corn notes) – but fruitier than typical. Off notes are reduced from the original G&W, and consist mainly of light varnish.‎ An improvement to be sure, quite a decent nose.

Palate: Lots of rye and corn syrup now. Caramel picks up too, and the buttery flavour. A surprisingly heavy oak spice flares up quickly, packing quite a kick. This woody influence was unexpected, and is surprisingly long-lasting in the mouth. Pepper and cinnamon add to the nutmeg. Mouth feel is a bit weak for 45%, waterier than expected.‎ Not quite as complex as the nose suggested, with heavy wood spice dominating.

Finish‎: Shortish. Once the wood spice dies down (fairly quickly after swallowing), light buttered popcorn remains as the dominant note. It really just sorts of vanishes though, surprisingly quickly. A bit tannic, but no real off notes.

This is is a decent Canadian rye-style whisky, with some wheat notes adding to typical corn-heavy base. Surprisingly heavy wood spice influence, especially mid-palate. A step up from standard Gooderham & Worts, which I found to be a bit young tasting. But the finish is still too quick, and the promised complexity on the nose fails to materialize. Frankly, this is my least favourite of the Northern Border Collection – I would give it only a slightly above average score for the class of Canadian whisky.

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance is a big fan – and even though he ranks it third for the collection, he gives it a very high score. Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate gives this his lowest score for the group (but still above average). On Reddit, TOModera is the most positive (although he only gives it his third highest score for the group). This is followed by fairly average scores from muaddib99 and Sinjun86 (lowest of the group for both of them). smoked_herring also gave it his lowest score for the group, with a below average rating. So from these early reviews, it seems most agree with me that while this is a decent whisky, it is not one of the stars of the collection.

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