Tag Archives: 10yo

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour: Golden apple juice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Rye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arran Malt 10 Year Old

Arran Malt is produced by the Isle of Arran (Arr-en) distillery. Located in the Lochranza village at the northern end of Arran island, this distillery is just over 20 years old.  But don’t let the apparent young age fool you – Arran actually has a long history of whisky making.

In the 19th century, there are believed to have been several dozen whisky producers on the island.  The remote location helped shield their operations from the watchful eye of excise tax agents, and it was apparently not uncommon to refer to “taking the Arran waters” as synonymous with having a glass of whisky in Scotland’s major cities. Eventually, as whisky production became more mainstream (and consistently taxed), the high cost of operation caused whisky producers to shut down on the island.

The modern Arran Malt single malt whisky is very much in the style of the previous production on the island. The base spirit is relatively gentle, creating a soft and light taste – as exemplified by the base 10 and 14 year old expressions. These are finished in a mix of American oak ex-bourbon barrels and first-fill/refill European oak sherry casks. There are also some newer longer-aged expressions available (e.g., 17 and 18 yo). Thoughtfully, Arran expressions are typically bottled at 46% ABV or higher, and are not chill-filtered.

These sorts of light whiskies lend themselves well to cask finishing, and Arran is also well known for one of the widest sets of wine cask-finished malts available (see below for some examples from my database). I will be reviewing a few of these other expressions in upcoming reviews.

For those on even more of a budget, Arran also produces a number of similarly light, entry-level, no-age-statement (NAS) expressions (like Lochranza and Robert Burns). There are even a few lightly peated editions (Machrie Moor and the Devil’s Punchbowl).

Before jumping into the base 10 yo expression, let’s see how the Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.63 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 17yo: 8.84 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 18yo: 8.92 ± 0.14 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish: 8.78 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.88 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Madeira Wine Cask: 8.62 ± 0.44 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Orkney Bere Barley: 8.80 ± 0.32 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.58 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Sauternes Finish: 8.52 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sherry Cask Finish: 8.29 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt The Devil’s Punch Bowl (all chapters): 8.87 ± 0.30 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

And now compared to some similarly light malts, in the reasonable $$-$$$$ price class:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.13 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray 12yo: 7.99 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.21 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.47 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Hazelburn 8yo: 8.39 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Knockando 12yo: 7.91 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)

I know those are a lot of numbers, but the up-shot is that Arran is, in general terms, one of the higher ranking examples of the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H). Not bad for a relatively young distillery.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 10yo expression. My sample comes from Redditor wuhantang.

Nose: Sweet and malty, with light honey notes. Light fruits as well, mainly green apple,  pear and plum. A bit citrusy. Some caramel. Grassy and a touch floral. Very slight solvent note (glue), which is consistent with the young age – but less offensive than usual. A nice nose overall, very easy-going.

Palate: Very malty again, with Arrowroot biscuits. Sweetened (green) apple juice. Caramel notes pick up further now, and take over from the light honey. Some mild spices pick up too, nutmeg and a touch of cinnamon. Surprisingly watery for 46% ABV, with a very light mouthfeel. Ok, but not overly interesting.

Arran.Malt.10Finish: Medium-short. Oaky bitterness comes up quickly, intermingled with some of the sweet fruit notes. Honestly, reminds me a bit of some of the inexpensive Canadian blends which have similar issues.

My experience of this tasting was going fairly well, up until the finish.  If it weren’t for that quickly emerging bitterness, I would have rated this one consistent with the Meta-Critic average. But as it is, I would personally have to drop it down a couple of points (i.e., 8.3).  The AnCnoc 12 yo is probably a better choice for similar cost, and the slightly more expensive Dalwhinnie 15 yo is definitely a step up in my books. But the Arran 10 yo is still a very decent option in its price class, scoring higher than a number of well-known malts.

Ralfy, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Nathan the Scotch Noob, and the guys at Quebec Whisky are generally all very positive on this expression (although I’m more in line with Martin). John of Whisky Advocate gives it a relatively low score (but that is an earlier version).

 

 

Benromach 10 Year Old

Benromach is a tiny speyside distillery that makes an older style of single malt with a bit of peat smoke in it.  This style is coming back into vogue now – I’m noticing a number of the established distilleries in this region (who don’t normally use peat) are starting to introduce new peated whisky lines.

Owned by the large independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, Benromach is their attempt at becoming an official bottler. The Benromach10 yo (which was specifically engineered to replicate the lightly-peated speyside profile of pre-1960 era) has garnered a lot of attention from enthusiasts.

This review is of the standard 10 year old bottling, at 43% ABV.  There is a different higher “100 proof” bottling out there (57% ABV, based on the Imperial proof system).  My sample of the Benromach 10 came from the Redditor wuhantang. Here are how the various Benromachs compare to each other, and the competition:

Benromach Organic: 8.50 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Peat Smoke: 8.45 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.38 ± 0.47 on 11 reviews ($$)
Benromach 5yo: 8.79 ± 0.20 on 4 reviews ($$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.26 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 15yo: 8.62 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

Arran Machrie Moor Peated: 7.91 ± 0.60 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach Birnie Moss: 8.26 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.58 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.28 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.54 ± 0.23 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.78 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.70 ± 0.19 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach Peated: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (reviews post-mid 2014): 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.00 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.68 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, the standard Benromach 10 yo compares favourably with most of the other well-established names in this space (e.g., scores on par with the Springbank 10 yo and Caol Ila 12 yo).  That’s an impressive showing, especially given the lower price of the Benromach 10 yo.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: A strong malted barley backbone. Sweet, with barley sugar and some hay notes. Light fruit in the background, pear, peach and citrus mainly. Lightly peated, at around the Highland Park-level (but without the overt sherry influence, despite the finishing).  A bit of oak coming through. Also some mild notes of dish soap and a touch of sweatsocks. Better than it sounds, this is actually quite pleasant.

Palate: Pear/peach again, orange, and some sweetness with golden raisins. Simple sugar and some butterscotch. Barley malt remains the main characteristic. Still has that hay note, but more grassy now. Some light spice picks up – more along the lines of pepper and Indian spices, not the typical baking ones. The off-notes from the nose are turning more toward glue now, but still not offensive. Smoke lingers nicely at the end, with some sweetness returning (first hint of that sherry finishing). As expected for the low ABV, somewhat light mouthfeel (i.e., a bit watery). Not bad, but not really a stand-out either.

Finish: Medium length. Smoke lingers on a Juicy Fruit gum base. A bit of dried ginger, which adds just the right note of bitterness to offset the lingering sweetness.

benromach-10I would say the Benromach 10 yo is very good value for what it is: a solid single malt in this lightly-peated flavour cluster I. Personally, I would probably still give both the Springbank 10yo and Caol Ila 12yo a slight nod over this one, but I agree it is better than the entry-level Highland Parks.

It terms of other reviews, one reviewer who really helped put this whisky on the map is Ralfy. He gave it a moderately positive review, but then subsequently named it his “whisky of the year for 2014“.  Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jan of Best Shot Whisky are very positive.  My own assessment is more in-line with the moderately positive reviews by Nathan the ScotchNoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. There are no real negative reviews out there among my stable of reviewers (which is in itself quite positive).

Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Finish

As mentioned in my previous review, Pike Creek 10 year old is part of a popular series of higher-end whiskies from Corby distillers. Along with Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts, they are meant to hearken back to earlier styles of Canadian whisky production.

Continuously available since late 2012, Pike Creek is an example of a rye whisky that has been finished in a fortified wine barrel (port pipes, in this case). I see Pike Creek as a member of the new style of wine-finished (or flavoured) Canadian whiskies, including the popular Alberta Premium Dark Horse, 66 Gilead Crimson Rye and the recently released Gretzky Red Cask.

However, starting with batches released in September 2016, Corby has apparently switched to finishing Pike Creek in “rum barrels” instead of “vintage port barrels” (see the label image above, and in my previous review). Otherwise, the packaging is unchanged.

Personally, I’m a little surprised that Corby has made this drastic a change without drawing more attention to it. As I explain on my Source of Whisky Flavour page, the type of barrel used for aging has a significant effect on the final flavour of the whisky.

From the discussion thread I started on Reddit, it seems that Corby has made this shift due to some difficulty in getting European labeling approval for this whisky in its previous port-finished form.  The switch to rum barrels thus appears to be a permanent substitution.

Personally, I find a rum finish can be interesting in an aged whisky (e.g., the Glenfiddich 21 yo Gran Reserva). More commonly though, you see it in younger whiskies where it is used to provide some additional sweetness (e.g., Teeling Small Batch).

This rum-finished version of Pike Creek is too new to have any other dedicated reviews yet, but let’s see how the old port-finished Pike Creek compared in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.38 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.60 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.25 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.76 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.27 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$)

As I mentioned in my earlier review, I think the Meta-Critic score is a little low for the classic port-finished Pike Creek.  I would personally score it more in the middle of the range above, say around ~8.6.

I bought my bottle at the initial sale price of $34.95 CAD at the LCBO. Note that the LCBO has created a new entry for this rum-finished version of Pike Creek. And although the title, description and price hasn’t changed, it does show the correct new bottle label – and the increase to 42% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass, compared to the original port-finished Pike Creek.

Colour: Identical to the earlier port-finished version, further indicating caramel colorant is added.

Nose: Vaguely similar to the old Pike Creek, but lighter and, well, duller. There is still a clear rye presence, but it is not as fruity as before – Just some light plums, apricots and pears now. Gone are the classic darker/red fruits of the port (i.e., the raisins and prunes), although I am detecting a whiff of cola here. The brown sugar notes are still there, but a bit lighter now, and supplemented with honey and an almost artificial sweetness. Some dry oak still (contributing to that consistent Pike Creek-ness). And again, no real off notes, but a fair amount of alcohol singe. Makes me think of a slightly aged Hiram Walker Special Old – pleasant enough, but not particularly complex.

Palate: Still not much in the way of fruit, although citrus is showing up now (just as I found on the old Pike Cree, and some other Hiram Walker whiskies). Sweetened apple juice now, which is novel (and not particularly welcomed, IMO). Vanilla and caramel throughout. Good rye kick initially, with some extra pepper supplementing the lighter rye spices (nutmeg in particular), with a touch of cardamon.  If anything, the initial intensity of the rye seems to have increased from before (which I like) – unfortunately, it still fades rather quickly. Light and watery mouthfeel, as before. A touch of bitterness comes in at the end.

Finish: As disappointingly quick as the previous port-finished version. Nutmeg added to apple juice is the predominant effect. There is definite bitterness on this one that I wasn’t really getting on the previous port-finished batch. Like most rum-finished whiskies I’ve tried, it just seems to quickly fade away.

pike-creek-rumThis new rum-finished Pike Creek seems like a good quality entry-level Canadian light rye – but sweeter than typical. In comparison to the old Pike Creek, I can’t help but feel it is a bit lacking here (those darker winey fruits in particular are gone). On the plus side, I don’t know if it is the 42% ABV or if they added more rye to compensate, but it does have a slightly elevated kick (at least initially – still fades quickly).

While the rum barrels are accentuating the sweetness factor, they really aren’t matching the fruitiness of the old vintage port barrels. I don’t know if this is enough to make people run out and bunker the old Pike Creek before it is gone. But I suspect a regular Pike Creek drinker would notice the less fruity and sweeter taste here.

Taken together, I would personally have to score this rum-finished Pike Creek a couple of points lower than the original port-finished one (i.e., ~8.4). This would put it just up from the overall average Canadian whisky score in my Meta-Critic Database, which I think is fair.

Please see my old port-finished Pike Creek review for links to external reviews. I will update this review once reviews of this new rum-finished version come out.

Pike Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish

Like Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts, Pike Creek was part of the original short-lived Canadian Whisky Guild series of the late 1990s. Hearkening back to an earlier era of whisky production, these were created at Corby’s Hiram Walker facility to simulate previous production styles.

While the market wasn’t sufficiently receptive at the time, these higher-end offerings have made a strong resurgence in recent years.  This started with Lot 40, which was re-released in 2012 and remains the darling of Canadian straight rye whisky. More recently was the late 2015’s re-release of the multi-grain Gooderham & Worts.

Often overlooked in this series is Pike Creek, similarly re-launched in late 2012. Pike Creek is double-distilled in small copper column stills to a low ABV. The spirit is initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels and then finished in vintage port pipes. A 10 year age statement is included on the domestic version (which is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV).

Pike Creek is clearly formulated to appeal to those who like their fortified wine-finished Scotch whiskies.  Indeed, you could argue Pike Creek was a forerunner to the highly popular Alberta Premium Dark Horse – where a small amount of sherry is directly added to rye whisky. 66 Gilead Crimson Rye and the recently released Gretzky Red Cask are further examples of this wine barrel-finished style.

For reasons not clear to me, Pike Creek seems to be relegated to second-tier status among these recent offerings, with relatively little buzz and promotion.  Let’s see how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other modern Canadian whiskies:

66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.38 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.60 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.25 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.76 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.27 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$)

Pike Creek is definitely at the low end of overall scores, although the variance is high here (indicating that some reviewers seem to really like it, some really don’t). Note that the overall average for Canadian whiskies in my database is currently ~8.35.

Let’s see what I find in the glass. 🙂  My bottle is a late model batch, recently bought at the LCBO ($39.95 CAD).

Colour:  Medium orange-brown. Pretty confident this has been artificially colored with caramel, for a consistent look.

Nose: Definitely getting the rye, softened with sweet fruit – most especially currants, red grapes, prunes and raisins. I also get strawberries and blueberries. A bit of red wine, followed by vanilla and a dry oakiness. Classic light rye spices, quite a nice mix overall. No real solvent smell – except perhaps for a faint hint of glue (and I can almost imagine smoke). There is a fair amount of alcohol singe for 40% ABV. It’s a nice nose, and a good start to the tasting.

Palate: The rye notes dominate, but with a surprising amount of caramel and brown sugar throughout.  Lighter than I was expecting, and not as fruity as the nose suggests (mainly berries left, but a bit of citrus shows up now). Pepper and some ginger add to the spice. A bit nutty. Watery mouthfeel overall, consistent with the low ABV – I suspect it could be quite stunning if it were bottled at higher proof. Decent, but I was personally hoping for more rye kick.

Finish: Surprisingly short. The rye and fruit seem to exit first, with a slow lingering brown sugar finish. A slight sourness, but well balanced to the sweetness (reminds me of cherry blasters candy). Nothing wrong with this finish per se, but it sure would be nice if it lasted longer.

pike-creek-portThis is definitely one for folks who like their ryes light and sweet. Personally, I was hoping for more overt port flavours and a stronger rye presence (given the reported distillation method). But it doesn’t have the flaws of most light (and young) Canadian rye whiskies. I could see this one serving as a nice daily sipper.

As such, I don’t get the low scores overall.  While not as complex as Lot 40 or Gooderham & Worts, I would still have expected this to do above-average for a Canadian whisky. Based on the other Canadian whisky examples listed above, I would personally give Pike Creek something like a ~8.6.

For positive reviews of this whisky, check out Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and headlessparrot and TOModera on reddit. The most negative reviews I’ve seen come from Lasidar on reddit and André and Martin of Quebec Whisky (although Patrick there gives it an about average score).

If you are curious to try it, you might want to hurry to pick this one up: Corby has just replaced it with a rum barrel-finished version (as of October 2016). Stocks of the original port-finished Pike Creek are dwindling fast.

 

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old Bourbon

Finding any of the Van Winkle bourbons in the wild these days is almost like spotting a unicorn. But given my recent review of the Old Weller Antique (OWA), I thought I should give you a direct comparison to what is essentially the same whisky – the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year old.

As I pointed out in that earlier OWA review, these two Buffalo Trace brands share the same basic DNA – the only real difference is the age and barrel selection. Otherwise, they are produced by the same distiller, share the same mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof.

It is commonly believed that distillers know the “sweet spot” (or “honey holes”) in their rickhouses, where conditions are believed to be ideal to produce the best whiskies (i.e., not too hot, not too cold, etc.). So the suggestion is that they let these selected barrels age for a full 10 years for each year’s batch of the Old Rip Van Winkle – while blending the rest at a younger age (estimated to be ~6-7 years) for OWA.

While this means the Old Rip Van Winkle should be a higher quality product, the difference is not likely to be so great as to justify the huge price mark-up on Van Winkles (due to the insane demand).

Let’s see how the main Weller and Van Winkle bourbon lines compare in the Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)

Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.06 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.17 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.21 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

Ok, OWA vs ORVW is the one case where the critics consistently seem to prefer the Van Winkle product to the Weller, by a noticeable margin. Let’s see if I find the same thing. 😉

My Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo sample was provided by the Redditor Jolarbear.  For my tasting notes below, I am also comparing this bourbon to the W.L. Weller 12 Year Old (which I will describe in an upcoming review).

Colour: The ORVW seems a touch darker than my bottle of OWA, or my sample of Weller 12.

Nose: As expected, ORVW is closer overall to the OWA than the Weller 12, with more up-front honey and caramel sweetness. But it also has some dark fruits too – I’m getting dark plums, raisins and cherries. A bit of tartness (Sweet Tart candies come to mind) and red licorice as well. Baking spices and a hint of chocolate. Unfortunately, a faint hint of solvent too, which is disappointing. But more complex than I was expecting, based on OWA.

Palate: I would say that this is closer to the Weller 12 here, but with an extra touch of sweetness – and with more vanilla than caramel. A good amount of character and spice, with lots of leather, wood spice, baking spices, and pepper – much more than exhibited by any of the Wellers (which is odd). Tons of cinnamon in particular, which I am a fan of. Good juicy mouthfeel. It doesn’t seem like a 53.5% ABV whisky, as there is relatively little alcohol burn here. This is a nice palate – definitely my favourite of the three going down the hatch.

old-rip-van-winkle-10Finish: Long and lingering, with that cinnamon spice continuing right until the end. It is like slowly melting cinnamon red-hots (or more accurately, those hard Swedish fish-shaped cinnamon candies I remember from my childhood).

There is no contest here – I greatly prefer the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 over my bottle of Old Weller Antique (or my sample of the W.L. Weller 12). The sweet and spicy kick of the ORVW is right up my alley.  I think the average Meta-Critic score for this whisky is spot on, and the lower score for the OWA is, if anything, actually a bit generous. Of course, since Old Rip Van Winkle is virtually impossible to find, you may need to settle for the otherwise decent Old Weller Antique.

For similarly positive reviews of Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo, I suggest you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug and André of Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray gives it a very decent score, as do most of the reviewers on Reddit – check out for example LetThereBeR0ck and Texacer. Slightly more moderate reviews would include those from t8ke and HawkI84.

Springbank 10 Year Old

Springbank distillers are based in Campbeltown, one of the traditional whisky making regions  of Scotland.  As explained on the various background pages of this site, historical designations don’t matter much for Scotch (if they ever did). Individual distilleries now use a variety of distilling processes and barreling/blending approaches, and so geographical location is largely a red herring when it comes to understanding whisky flavour (see my Source of whisky’s flavour page for more info).

Springbank is distinctive for one reason though – it is one of the few whisky-makers in Scotland that still performs the entire production process, from beginning to end, on site.  Starting with malting (using its own floor maltings), through distillation, barreling and bottling (using its private bottling plant), Springbank is truly a self-sufficient distillery. It would probably surprise most Scotch drinkers to learn how often barrels are stored and blended offsite (not to mention diluted and bottled).

The standard offerings from Springbank (under their eponymous label) are typically lightly peated. But they also produce a heavily-peated malt whisky under the Longrow name, and peat-free malt whisky under Hazelburn.  For my inaugural Springbank review, I thought I’d start with the common (and popular) Springbank 10 year old. The 10 yo is a mixture of both bourbon and sherry matured malt whisky.

Here is how it compares to the other Springbank offerings in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.18 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.86 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of in the same flavour cluster I class (i.e., lightly peated):

BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.59 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Benromach 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.37 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.82 ± 0.33 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.71 ± 0.19 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.30 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.01 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Ledaig 10yo: 8.22 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker 10yo: 8.90 ± 0.21 on 21 reviews ($$$$)

It holds its own pretty well, getting comparably high scores to Benromach 10 and Caol Ila 12.

Bottled at a refreshing 46% ABV, Springbank doesn’t use coloring (or chill-filtering). My sample comes the Redditor tsefly. Note there is also a 50% ABV 10 yo bottle out there, but I haven’t tried it.

Here is what I find in the glass for the standard Springbank 10:

Nose: Peatier than I expected, with a moist earth quality (and very little smoke per se). Main fruits are apple, lemon, and to a lesser extent peach (which is distinctive). Somewhat briny, with a hint of flower blossoms below the surface.  A touch of spice as well, but nothing I can identify. Similar profile to Longrow, as you might expect. Some nose-hair singe.

Palate: Cereal sweetness up front, followed by spicy peat (although less peaty than the nose suggested). Salted caramel. Very nice entry, with just the right amount of tongue tingle. Light apple juice on the way out, with just a bit of smoke. Somewhat oily mouthfeel, reminds a bit of an Irish pot still whisky. Definitely savoury, with less bitterness than I expected. Seems a keeper so far!

Spingbank.10Finish: Medium length.  The briny sea air returns, with a touch of bitterness, and more spice. Unfortunately, some artificial sweetness also creeps in, which I am not a fan of.  Very light smoke residue.  Not bad, but not quite at the level promised by the palate.

I can certainly see why this whisky is so popular with Scotch drinkers. It is a quality dram, with a surprising amount of light fruit and peaty flavours. Although my own preference for a daily dram runs more toward lightly smokey than peaty (and less overtly sweet), I can see why some would favour this malt.

The highest praise I’ve seen for this whisky is from Serge of Whisky Fun. More typical positive reviews can be found from Nathan the Scotchnoob, Oliver of Dramming, and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Ralfy and the boys at Quebec Whisky are a bit less impressed, although still give it reasonable scores.

 

Glen Breton Rare 10 Year Old

Now here’s something you don’t get to say every day: welcome to my review of a Canadian single malt whisky.

Produced by Glenora distillery in Nova Scotia, Glen Breton is the first example of a true single malt whisky made in Canada.  Although a few others have now joined the fray, Glenora is to be commended for bringing this classic Scottish style of whisky-making to Canada.

Many outside of Canada (or within for that matter) may not realize that early Canadian whisky traditions stem as much from Dutch and German settlers as they do from Scottish ones. Although more American and Irish processes eventually worked their way in, the common use of rye as a flavouring element is a tip-off to the typically different growing conditions in Canada. But what better place in Canada to start a single malt distillery than in Nova Scotia (i.e., “New Scotland”), where the largest single ethnic group comprises those of Scottish decent.

Interestingly, Glenora also has a long history in fighting for its right to call this whisky Glen Breton.  The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – a trade organization that protects the interests of the scotch whisky industry both within Scotland and around the world – tried to bar the use of the name. Apparently, they felt that only scotch whisky could be called a “glen” and so took Glenora to court. After moving through various boards and courts, the Supreme Court of Canada eventually dismissed SWA’s claim with costs awarded to Glenora.  Score one for the little guy – Glen Breton (with its proud Canadian maple leaf on every bottle) could now get back to actually focusing on its whisky.

Here is how the various common Glen Breton expressions fare in my Meta-Critic whisky database, along with the other available Canadian single malt:

Glen Breton 21yo: 8.28 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Battle of the Glen 15yo: 8.55 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.24 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.66 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Rare 10yo: 8.06 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (All Casks): 8.25 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$)

And here is a comparison to well-known scotch whiskies of similar flavour profile and age to the Glen Breton Rare 10 yo:

AnCnoc 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.56 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan 10yo: 7.86 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.13 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.12 ± 0.45 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.18 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.33 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Glen Moray Classic: 7.95 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.25 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Glengoyne 10yo: 8.22 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Glenmorangie 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.46 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Loch Lomond: 7.37 ± 0.47 on 7 reviews ($)
Tamdhu 10yo: 8.18 ± 0.65 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Tamnavulin 12yo: 7.63 ± 0.89 on 4 reviews ($$)

As previously noted, these lighter flavour malts get lower scores than richer tasting whiskies.  For the range, Glen Breton Rare 10 yo falls into the lower end (although does better than some above). Unfortunately, it is also among the most expensive of the whiskies listed above, likely due to the significant setup costs for Glenora.

I recently sample this whisky at a bar in Nova Scotia, with a pour from a recently opened bottle. Here is what I found in the glass for this entry-level Rare 10 yo:

Nose: Light sweet honey. Citrus and the lighter fruits, including apple. Fruit blossoms, hay, and a light floral scent (can’t really identify specific flowers though). Some maltiness and cereal coming through. There is a detectable solvent smell, and some dry alcohol heat, unfortunately. Reminds me a lot of the base Glenmorangie spirit (i.e., the Glenmo 10 year old). Pretty decent overall, but it would be excellent if they could trim the solvent/alcohol fumes a bit.

Palate: Initially, the same light sweet honey note as the nose. I quickly get a bit of tongue tingle, and an unusually hot sensation. Odd that, since it has a somewhat thin and watery mouthfeel otherwise. The floral feature is there, with heather in particular, and something else aromatic that I can’t quite place. A bit of mild spice, especially nutmeg. Unfortunately, I’m getting a strong solvent taste (glue), which reminds me of some of the cheaper scotch blends. Combined with the alcohol burn, I suspect this will give me heartburn later tonight.

Finish: Not much of one, I’m afraid. A mix of artificial sweetener and oaky bitterness mainly, like a young Crown Royal. Too hot as well.

Glen.Breton.Rare.10Given the off-notes I’m detecting, I believe this whisky needs more time in the barrel to age into an interesting product. Compared to other scotch whiskies I’ve had, this tastes much younger than its stated 10 year age. It has potential though, as there is something interestingly floral about it.

I note from the reviews out there that the longer-aged Glen Breton products seem to be better. Hopefully I will get a chance to try one of the higher-end products soon.

For some reviews of this whisky, the most positive ones I’ve seen come from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Ralfy. More typical are Davin of Whisky Advocate and the boys of Quebec Whisky. The least positive review is probably Serge of Whisky Fun (which is most in line with my thinking).

 

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Bourbon

Following up on my inaugural bourbon review (Elijah Craig 12yo), I thought I’d take a look at another low rye mashbill American whisky – the Eagle Rare 10yo Single Barrel.

This whisky is basically just the standard Buffalo Trace juice – but hand-selected from individual barrels at one of the Buffalo Trace rick houses. It is also aged for a minimum of 10 years, which is a couple of years longer than the standard Buffalo Trace. The end result is a slightly more flavour-intense version of the popular Buffalo Trace – and one that will be more variable from batch to batch. Not necessarily a bad deal for only an extra ~$5-7 USD more a bottle, typically. Note that both are bottled at a standard 45% ABV.

As an aside, there is some variation in bottle labeling over time. Specifically, the “Single Barrel” designation was recently dropped, and the location of the 10 year old age statement was moved to the back. It has been suggested that while Eagle Rare 10yo is still bottled one barrel at a time, they can no longer guarantee that it contains juice from only a single barrel. Note that my sample comes from 89justin on Reddit, from a bottle that looks just like the one currently featured on the LCBO website (and shown here).

I personally am a fan of rye-forward Canadian whiskies, but when it comes to bourbon, I tend to gravitate to some of the lower rye offerings (like Eagle Rare). For some reason, I find the Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace low rye mashbills still produce a spicy rye kick that nicely complements the traditional corn sweetness and oaky woodiness of bourbon.  In comparison, some high rye bourbons can strike me as a bit unbalanced.

Let’s see how Eagle Rare 10yo does relative to other mid-range, low rye mashbill bourbons:

Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.58 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Black Label: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 12 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.64 ± 0.44 on 18 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.88 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$)

The average Meta-Critic score for Eagle Rare 10yo is not statistically significantly different from the standard Buffalo Trace. However, the comparably priced Heaven Hill offerings (Elijah Craig 12yo and Evan Williams Single Barrel) seem to be favoured slightly by reviewers.

Here’s what I find in the glass for my sample:

Nose: Rich nose, with lots going on here. I get vanilla and caramel from the oak (of course), along with dark red fruits (berries, cherries, raisins, red plums). Sweet and creamy, with a strong corn syrup aroma. Spicy too, but not in an overtly rye way. A bit minty. Touch of tobacco. A nice nose, even more potent than my Elijah Craig 12yo.

Palate:  Sweet and juicy fruits up front, packed full of flavours. I get honey, brown sugar and cinnamon mixed together. Peppery and spicy, but still with a silky mouth feel. Strong alcohol kick, which builds as you sip – and will make your eyes water if you hold it in your mouth long enough! Woodiness comes in more toward the end. A touch of anise. A bold and flavourful expression, but not overly complex.

Eagle.Rare.10Finish: Medium long. This is what I imagine the lingering effects of caramel-coated cinnamon red-hots would feel like (if such a thing existed). The corn sweetness is there, and it persists through the finish, along with the cinnamon rye notes.

This is a nice example of a low rye mashbill bourbon, in my view. I warrant that I am not a big bourbon guy, but I would personally pick this batch of the Eagle Rare 10yo over my bottle of the Elijah Craigh 12yo. Of course, batch variation is expected to be greater on the Eagle Rare. Either way, I think these are both examples of good mid-range bourbons.

A splash of water or a little ice (if that is your preference) may help tame the burn from the 45% ABV. I tend to find most bourbons fairly potent, so a few drops can be helpful. But it should also make an excellent base for Manhattans or Old Fashioneds.

For some reviews of this whisky, Nathan the Scotch Noob is quite a fan. Nathan of Whisky Won was less impressed with his particular sample. And here is an interesting head-to-head comparison of two batches from Michael of Diving for Pearls. My own middle-of-the-road assessment is pretty close to that of Oliver from Dramming.