Tag Archives: Cask-strength

Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Cask

A staple of the Solist series from Taiwanese producer Kavalan, I’ve been looking forward to trying this single cask malt whisky for a while now.

Late last year, I reviewed Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak – the vatted version of this whisky, reduced to 46% ABV. Like its Sherry Oak sibling, this is a good way to try a variant of the relatively expensive (and hard to find) Solist bottlings.  Although I’ve seen the Solist ex-Bourbon in my travels, it remains relatively steep here in Canada (if you can find it). I still regret not picking up a bottle when I had the chance passing through Taiwan a couple of years ago (for ~$100 CAD at that time, sigh).

Unlike the vatted ex-Bourbon Oak bottling, this is a true single cask whisky, bottled at cask strength. It was one of the first Solist bottlings to make a big splash on the international scene, garnering a Gold Medal at both the ISC 2010 and the IWSC 2011 competitions. As the name suggests, it is aged exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

My sample came courtesy of redditor Throzen. Cask number was B101126003A, bottle number was 069 out of 182. Bottled at 57.8% ABV.

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming vanilla and caramel to start. Fruits are definitely tropical, with papaya, banana and pineapple. Tons of coconut – makes me think of a pina colada. Orange citrus (juice and peels). Boston cream pie. Black pepper. Has a vague musty smell, along with some acetone, which are the only off-notes for me. Significant nose hair singe from the high alcohol content – this does better with some water to tame to raw ethanol. With water, some candied fruit notes appear, and butterscotch adds to the caramel.

Palate: Wow, that’s a hot one at cask-strength! More honeyed in the mouth, but still with lots of caramel. Milk chocolate. Fruits are subdued, more green bananas and pineapple juice now. Pepper and classic oak spices pick up, with some woody bitterness. Sticky, oily residue on the lips and gums after swallowing, which is nice. Again, you need some water to really open this up. Water brings in a lovely silky quality, like a melted caramilk bar, and turns it even sweeter in the mouth.

Finish: Long. The coconut returns on the finish, with some lingering tropical fruits. Not particularly sweet on the way out, as these are nicely balanced by the woody notes. Vaguely nutty. A grassy element also picks up now. This is a well-integrated finish, with that classic Kavalan astringency coming up at the very end.

My advice is to not be shy with the water here – it can handle a good amount. And it nicely tames the heat while keeping all the core elements intact (although it does make it even sweeter).

Fans of ex-bourbon oak maturation (and pina coladas!) will find a lot to like here. For me, this is a definite dessert whisky. It is so evocative of a tropical vacation, it almost doesn’t seem like whisky. I would score it higher than the ex-Bourbon Oak – largely because of the higher strength, which gives you more flexibility to customize the experience. I would also score it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average, closer to ~9.0 in my view.

Among reviewers, the most positive (like me) are of Dominic and John of Whisky Advocate, Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. Moderately positive reviews come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre of Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Sinjun86 of Reddit – but these are still around the overall score for all whiskies reviewed. Clearly, this is one that is hard to go wrong with.

 

Tomatin 1999 Single Cask 18 Year Old – Kensington Wine Market

This is a single cask bottling of Tomatin, a Highland whisky producer in Scotland. I’ve seen a few of their single cask bottlings go by in recent years, typically through various state-controlled liquor boards. This bottling was released by Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, Alberta (their first Tomatin special release, I understand).

Released last last year, this single malt was distilled in 1999. It was matured in ex-Bourbon casks, and finished for five years in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt. That makes it 18 years and 9 months of age.

621 bottles were released, bottled 52% ABV. It currently sells for $150 CAD at KWM. I was able to sample this from a colleague’s bottle.

There are not enough reviews to be included in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, but here are how the various Tomatin bottlings compare.

Tomatin 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.45 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.59 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 15yo: 8.32 ± 0.54 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.68 ± 0.22 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 40yo: 8.95 ± 0.39 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan: 8.03 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition: 8.94 ± 0.26 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Sherry Edition: 8.35 0± .30 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Virgin Oak Edition: 8.51 ± ± 0.47 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Decades: 8.92 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.15 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Oloroso Sherry 1995: 8.58 ± 0.56 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

While most of these bottlings are nothing special, I was personally a big fan of the peated limited release Cu Bocan 1989.  But I typically also like unpeated gentle base malts that are well-aged with an extensive period of sherry of port finishing.

Let’s see what I find in the glass on this one:

Nose: Brown sugar and caramel. Very jammy nose, with dark fruit preserves. Golden raisins, plus a lighter candied fruit note. Almost port-like in its level of sweet fruit. Nutty, with an earthy quality (moist earth and ginger root). Light cinnamon. This is a good pairing of bourbon maturation and PX finishing. No off notes, except perhaps for the faintest hint of old sweatsock (so, sulphur – if you are particularly sensitive to it).

Palate: Rich and thick brown sugar notes dominate, along with honey and creamy caramel – a good pairing. Fruits take a back seat now, and the earthy notes take over. Hazelnut. Dark chocolate. Tobacco. Cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a little black pepper. Great mouthfeel, oily and sticky. Quite drinkable at 52% ABV, doesn’t need water to tame the burn. Touch of bitterness creeps in on the swallow.

Finish: Long and creamy. The dark fruit preserves return, along with the lighter candied fruit note (gummi bears). Cinnamon lingers the longest, which I like. What little bitterness there is is very mild, and doesn’t detract for me.

With water, the classic bourbon sweetness notes rise on the nose (i.e. light caramel and vanilla). Water turns the oily mouthfeel into something more syrupy – with added corn syrup sweetness to boot. Doesn’t affect the burn, so I consider water to be optional on this one.

A good quality cask pairing, to be sure.  I’d give it ~8.8 on the Meta-Critic scale. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other Tomatin special releases.

 

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.

Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old

With the surging popularity of whisky these days, it has been rewarding to see Corby come out with some innovative Canadian products (especially through their Wiser’s brand).  Many of these have been limited releases (often geographically restricted within Canada), but widely appreciated none-the-less by the local enthusiast communities.

Here I have one of the new bottlings from their new Rare Releases series for 2017 – specifically, Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old. This is part of what is known as (collectively) the Northern Border Collection, and I’ll be reviewing the other members of this collection shortly.

Lot 40 has always been one of the darlings of the Corby whisky catalog. Not well known outside of Canada, it is invariably the first thing every Canadian whisky nerd points to when asked for a recommendation of a Canadian rye. It is a very reasonably priced and widely available Canadian 100% rye whisky – please see my earlier review above for more info.

Recently, in anticipation of this Northern Border Collection release, a number of Canadian reviewers received access to a small number of single cask samplings of Lot 40.  But this review is of the official bottling now hitting retail shelves in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. It is bottled at 55.0% ABV, and is sold for $70 at the LCBO.

As with regular Lot 40, with is a 100% rye whisky – only now with an explicit age statement and higher cask strength. My bottle is numbered 3754 for this “First Edition” official release (out of 4968).

Here is how it compares to premium Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic database. Note that I have separated out reviews for the single cask Lot 40 in its own category.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.01 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.39 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.70 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.79 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.97 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.44 on 15 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.55 ± 1.00 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.82 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

And let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: As expected, Lot 40 on steroids! Heavy doses of rich baking spices – including cloves and cinnamon – plus cardamon, anise and dill. Main fruits are pears and plums (dark-skinned plums, specifically), with some citrus (oranges). Honey, with a touch of caramel. I also get a definite black tea note now. The extra strength can be a bit overwhelming, and drowns out some of the more delicate floral notes of regular Lot 40. There’s also something here that reminds me a bit of the original Pike Creek – likely the sharper rye notes.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy now, this is one you want to hold in your mouth. Cola and milk chocolate add to the honey and caramel from the nose, and cherries join the oranges. Heavy rye spices (cloves, cinnamon), with some actual dusty rye on the way out. A touch of bitterness (not sure if its from the rye or the wood, but I suspect the former). Dried herbs and tobacco, plus some sort of tannic black tea. And very peppery.  A much stronger presence that regular strength Lot 40.

Finish: Longer lasting than regular Lot 40. Spicy cloves and cinnamon (plus pepper) linger the longest, turning a bit candied over time (cinnamon red hots/swedish fish). Some astringency builds (that black tea note in particular). Dark chocolate-like bitterness also creeps in, but never overwhelms. Certainly a more substantial finish than other Canadian ryes, which tend to be a bit anemic. A nice, long-lasting glow.

With water, the nose is tamed a bit, and a breakfast fruit jam on toast note emerges. The caramel sweetness increases in the mouth, as do the more candied rye spices. Mouthfeel lightens quickly, so go easy on it. Seems to help with the bitterness on the finish. Personally, I find this one quite easy to drink to neat – but a bit of water will enhance the sweetness factor.

No doubt about it, this is an enthusiasts’ rye whisky. Much stronger rye presence than anything I can think of, including Masterson’s Straight Rye (which is probably its closest comparable). I don’t think it’s automatic that you will like this if you are a Lot 40 fan – there is an elegant subtlety to regular Lot 40 that is a bit lost here.  But for fans of cask-strength whiskies, this is really a no-brainer – I’m glad to see Corby roll this out (although sadly as only a limited release). There is talk of making some variant of this an annual release, though.

Although this is just now hitting shelves at the LCBO (and won’t last long!), there are a few reviews of the official bottling. See Davin of Canadian Whisky, Mark of Whsky Buzz, and Neversafeforlife, TOModera, Sinjun86 and muaddib99 on Reddit for very positive ones. For the single cask Lot 40 samples Corby circulated prior to release to some reviewers, you will find very positive reviews of one batch (bottled at 55.8%) by Devoz, Lasidar, Ethanized, Boyd86, and kinohead of Reddit, and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Andre of Quebec Whisky also reviewed a single cask sample (not sure if it was the same one as the others above). All agree, this is a top pick Canadian rye whisky.

Amrut Single Cask PX (SAQ)

Third in my series of sherried single cask Amruts is a bottle exclusively released for the SAQ in Quebec, Canada.

Bottled at 62.8% ABV, the label indicates that unpeated Indian malt entered into a PX Sherry cask (cask 3516) in August 2010. It was bottled in July 2014, so just under 4 years old. Only 90 bottles were ever available for sale – which is even less than the LCBO version. Now long gone, of course.

Here is how it compares to other cask-strength Amruts in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

This is again a good score for a single cask PX Amrut. And again sampled blind to previous reviews or scores. My sample came from the Redditor Throzen.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown – a touch lighter than the LCBO PX cask.

Nose: Very sweet, with honey and golden brown sugar. Sultanas, golden raisins and some apple and plums (more stewed than fresh). Citrus (orange peel). Caramel and butterscotch. Oak char, with cinnamon and nutmeg. Definitely PX notes. Surprising lack of ethanol fumes for 62.8% ABV. Mild antiseptic off notes, however (Lisol). Water brings up the citrus notes and sweetness, and seems to help with the off notes – highly recommend you give it a splash.

Palate: On first sip an odd mix of sweet and bitter up-front, turning sweeter in the mouth. Brown sugar and caramel initially, turning more to vanilla and liquefied white sugar over time. Similar fruit notes as the nose (stewed again, but not particularly fruity in the mouth). Chocolate. Tons of pepper added to the cinnamon from the oak, plus anise and a fragrant herbal component (Ricola cough candies). Reasonable amount of heat, although still not as much as I expected for 62.8%. Some mouth-puckering astringency on the way out, but mild. Water really helps here, turning the mouthfeel thick and syrupy. It also seems to diminish the drying effect – highly recommend you add a fair amount.

Finish: Medium-long. Cinnamon and pepper last the longest, with lingering dried fruits. Reminds me of a spiced rum. The sweetness is balanced by a slight bitterness, in consistent measure over time (actually a pretty good balance). Water doesn’t affect the finish much.

A solid PX cask offering from Amrut for the SAQ in Quebec. Although my initial impression was not quite as favourable as the LCBO bottling that I recently reviewed, I’ve revised that opinion with a bit of water here. While it may not be quite as complex on the nose or body, it has better balance and integration – especially on the finish, which is lovely.  Honestly, I think this is just a case of bottling it at a little too high an absolute proof – it does better if you take it to the mid-50s (or potentially lower) ABV.

Again, the PX effect is unmistakable here, but it is different from the LCBO cask. This SAQ casks seems fresher and more vibrant, while the other was older and more complex. PX casks seem to be an interesting fit for Amrut, as it keeps the fruitiness in check while adding some sherry spice and sugary sweetness. Based on these two experiences, I’d certainly say it’s worth picking up a PX aged Amrut if given the chance.

This SAQ specific bottling got very good scores from Devoz, Throzen, and xile_ on reddit, as well as Martin from Quebec Whisky. Personally, my own assessment is closer to the moderately positive scores from Andre and Patrick at Quebec Whisky.

Please see my additional reviews of the Canada and LCBO single cask bottlings.

Amrut Single Cask PX (LCBO)

The second is my series of single cask sherried Amruts is a bottle exclusively released for the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada. This follows my review the Canada-specific cask, commonly known as Begal Tiger.

Bottled at 56.5% ABV, the label indicates that upeated Indian single malt entered into a PX Sherry Cask (cask 2696) in June 2009. It was bottled in January 2014, making it 5 years and 2 months old. It must have been a pretty small cask, as the out-turn was only 120 bottles (either that, or the angels were particularly greedy for their share).

Introduced into the LCBO in 2014, it originally sold for $145 CAD. It didn’t seem to sell well, and was eventually drastically reduced in price to clear. It has been sold out for some time.

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

This is one of the highest scoring single cask Amrut expressions that I track in my database. But note again that I did not specifically look up reviews of this particular single cask before sampling (i.e., like Bengal Tiger, I approached this sample blind to its ratings and reviews). My sample comes from Redditor Lasidar.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown – a touch darker than the Bangalore Tiger single cask.

Nose: Dark brown sugar and molasses, almost fudge-like. Dark fruits with sultanas, raisins, figs – and cherries in particular. But fruit is a bit hidden beneath the caramel, vanilla, chocolate and barley sugar. Cinnamon and cloves, with anise. Very rich nose, moist and earthy. No real off notes. Water brings up the fruits further, and exposes a slightly dry glue note that was masked by the ethanol at stock ABV (frankly doesn’t need water).

Palate: Very sweet and creamy on the palate. Dark brown sugar (Demerara sugar), caramel and honey notes mainly. Dark fruits again (dried), with some pear and plums added. Dark chocolate. Cinnamon, cloves, and a bit of black pepper. Leather. But still not quite as sherried as I was expecting for full PX cask maturation. Easily drinkable neat at the 56.6% ABV. With water, creaminess becomes more syrupy. The fruit and spices seemed to be amplified further.

Finish: Medium-long. Dark fruits initially, with a strong mint cooling sensation (Vicks vapo-rub?). A bit drying at the end, but not bad. Water doesn’t have much effect here.

Very nice presentation of a single cask Amrut. This seems more aged than most Amruts I’ve had – with lots of spice, and that cool (literally) mint sensation at the end. Still not quite what I was expecting for a fully PX-aged Amrut though (fruit is more dried and less stewed here) – but a great combination nonetheless. I’m guessing the cask wasn’t all that active any more (or perhaps a refill?). Still, a real fudge-like concoction, with a good amount of spice. If you are a fan of aged single malt casks (or even aged bourbons for that matter), this might be your cup of tea.

Most Reddit reviewers seem to love this LCBO exclusive single cask bottling, giving it top scores – including Boyd86DevozEthanized, Lasidar, and LetThereBeR0ck. TOModera is more moderately positive, as are Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. I’m in-between these two groups – but all agree this is a good single cask expression.

Please see my additional reviews of the Canada and SAQ single cask bottlings.

Amrut Single Cask Bengal Tiger (Canada)

Amrut is a major Indian whisky maker and exporter. Like many world whisky enthusiasts, I have previously enjoyed their batched expressions of cask-strength Sherry and Port-matured whiskies (e.g. Intermediate Sherry and Portonova). I am therefore naturally curious to see what their single cask offerings are like.

Starting off a series of three reviews is a single cask Amrut known as “Bengal Tiger” (or “Bangalore Tiger”), due to the distinctive label. This single cask whisky was specifically chosen by the distillery’s Brand Ambassador for the Canadian market. It was matured in an ex-bourbon cask before finishing in a Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry cask. Exclusively bottled for Canada, I’ve only seen this for sale in Alberta and B.C, where it ranges between $120 and $195 CAD. There are still some bottles around for sale at the higher price.

The bottle label identifies that unpeated Indian malt went into cask (presumably the ex-bourbon cask) in June 2009. It was bottled in April 2015, in 540 bottles at 56.5% ABV. The label identifies the final cask as PX Sherry, cask 2701 (presumably the finishing cask). So that makes this whisky 5 years and 10 months old – but it is not reported how long it was held in each cask.

But a bit of online sleuthing can help us narrow it down. It turns out that cask 2701 was previously released in 2013 as a single cask PX Sherry expression (see for example reviews by My Annoying Opinions and Michael of Diving for Pearls). Bottled at 62.8%, the label for that expression indicates it was also filled in June 2009 – but bottled in August 2013 (making it 4 years 2 months old). So assuming they immediately refilled it with the whisky from the Bengal Tiger ex-bourbon cask, the most it could have spent in the second-fill (or later) PX Sherry cask 2701 is 1 year and 8 months. Of course, that is an upper limit – that 2701 cask could been used to “finish” other whiskies before getting Bengal Tiger (i.e., it may be a later refill, with even less time in the barrel).

The point is that this is clearly a second-fill (or later) PX cask, with limited time in contact with the whisky. As such, you are not likely to find as heavy a sherry presence in this whisky as other pure PX cask-aged Amruts.

Here are how the various cask-strength Amrut whiskies compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

With the caveat that there are few reviews so far, the Amrut Bengal Tiger gets a respectable score for a single cask expression.

My sample of Bengal Tiger came from Redditor Devoz. Note that for this review I had not looked up the above information beforehand – I sampled this whisky blind to previous reviews and scores, and have only added it to my database after the fact.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown.

Nose: Honey. Caramel and chocolate (plus cocoa powder). Touch of darker fruits (sultanas, some cherry), but dried, and not very fruity overall. Light wood spices, nutmeg mainly, and some more exotic Indian spices (cumin?). Doesn’t seem like it was a very long finishing in PX (and it is a bit shy overall). There are some mixed solvent smells (a little bit of old sweatsock, specifically). Sweeter with water, as you might expect (less dried, more candied fruits).

Palate: Very hot – even more than I expected for the ABV. Chocolate and caramel from the nose follow through, as does the honey. A particularly syrupy mouthfeel, which is nice. Leather, with some anise and cinnamon joining the spices from the nose. This “earthiness” reminds me a bit of the Kavalan sherry casks, and may be a sign of the PX finishing – although again, I am not getting a lot of overt PX here. Noticeable bitterness on the the way out, which detracts. Water is a must, which lightens the mouthfeel, tones down the heat, and brings up the caramel and honey. Doesn’t help with the bitterness though.

Finish: Medium. Dark chocolate. Anise. Bitter notes persist to the end. Astringent. With water, I get a touch of the dark fruits making a resurgence.

Yowza, this is a hot one – much more so than most Amruts I’ve tried, even Portonova. Water is a must, but it only does so much. It feels to me like this needed to be aged in a first-fill PX cask. A bit disappointing actually, given all the other cask-strength Amruts I’ve tried to date (e.g., Spectrum batch 1 is outstanding).

Having now looked up the other reviews of this whisky, I find my tasting notes are very consistent. On Reddit, Devoz similarly noted the heat (although he still gave it a very good score). More moderately positive were TOModera and Boyd86, with overall average scores. My own assessment is less positive, and I would score this whisky as slightly below average.

Please see my subsequent reviews of the LCBO and SAQ single cask bottlings.

Arran Malt 12 Year Old Cask Strength

The Arran Malt distillery makes a number of very popular single malts in the light flavour class (i.e., supercluster G-H), as well as a large number of wine cask-finished malts.  As discussed in my recent review of their 10 year old expression, while the distillery itself is relatively young, there is a long history and tradition of whisky making on the isle of Arran.

While I found their standard 10 yo expression decent enough, there wasn’t really much for me to recommend it over other entry-level examples of this class.  I almost picked up the 12 year old cask-strength edition last year (on a recommendation from a LCBO employee), but let it pass in favour of a wine-cask finished expression (review to come soon). Fortunately, I had the chance to try this 12 yo malt recently in a restaurant in Norway.

Note that there have been a number of different batches of the Arran 12 Year Old Cask Strength over the last few years. I know the LCBO version was 54.0% ABV, but I’ve seen other strengths reported online for the earlier batches.  The bottle I sampled from appears to have been from the same stock as the LCBO (i.e., 54%).

Let’s see how the relevant Arran Malts do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to the competition for similar price, flavour and strength camps:

Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns: 8.29 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt 10yo: 8.50 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.65 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
AnCnoc 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo: 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach Cask Strength: 8.86 ± 0.10 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Benromach 10yo Cask Strength (100 proof): 9.05 ± 0.13 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Craigellachie 13yo: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie 12yo: 8.25 ± 0.17 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.48 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

And now let’s see what I find in the glass for this 12 yo cask strength sample:

Nose: Very sweet up front, with honey, simple sugar, and maybe even a little light brown sugar. Apple juice, with a wide range of lighter fruits peaking though – including apple, pear, peaches and plums. A bit of anise. Spicy, in the direction of cloves and all spice. Grassy character. Vanilla.  No off notes. Very nice, and a great improvement over the 10 yo.

Palate: Pears and green apple are the dominant fruit notes (and apple juice again). Butterscotch comes on strong now, and adds to the vanilla. Marshmallows. Texture is thick and creamy, giving it a great mouthfeel. Surprisingly easy to drink, and not very hot, despite the 54% ABV. With a little water, there isn’t much change in flavour, but it gains a slightly grainier texture (i.e., less malty, more raw barley). There’s is also a eucalyptus note now and graham crackers. With even more water, pepper and the spices pick up – but the other flavours dull.

Arran12Finish‎: Medium. Longer than the 10 yo, but it would be nice if it were even longer here. Some slight astringent bitterness, but mild. Water may increase this bitterness though, and bring in some artificial sweetener notes, so go easy on it. Frankly the finish (while decent) is the weakest part of this expression.

Wow, this was a pleasant surprise. Personally, I would put this on par with Dalwhinnie 15 as among the best of the light G-H flavour supercluster. Certainly far surpasses the Arran Malt 10 yo, or AnCnoc 12 yo. I regret not picking a bottle up when it was available at the LCBO.

Among reviewers, Josh the Whiskey Jug is a fan, as are Andre, Martin and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Ralfy and and Gavin of Whisky Advocate gives it a more moderate score. The only truly negative score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray.

Amrut Portonova Single Malt

Amrut is the biggest name in Indian whiskies. And like Japan and Taiwan before it, they are now garnering all sorts of awards and enthusiast interest. For this review, I am looking at their cask-strength, port-finished single malt – Portonova.

I’m long been a fan of port-finished whiskies. I find it adds a distinctive grape-like fruitiness to most whiskies, that differs from the more common sherry fortified wine-finished ones.

I previously reviewed the Amrut Intermediate Sherry – which is a bit of a misnomer (check out that review for my comments). Let’s see how Portonova compares to it and other recent Amrut whiskies, as well as other port-finished malts, in my Meta-Critic whisky database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.73 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.90 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.97 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.63 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.13 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.79 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum: 9.15 ± 0.22 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.58 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.50 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port: 8.92 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.27 ± 0.55 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood: 8.82 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Port Cask: 8.70 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Talisker Port Ruighe: 8.49 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.56 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, Portonova is one of the more popular Amrut whiskies – and one that out-scores the other port-finished malts in my database. A very impressive start.

My sample came from Redditor Devoz. It is bottled at a very high 62.1% ABV, cask-strength. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity, with grape, raisins and berries. Dark chocolate. Pancake syrup. Toasted coconut. Dry malt. Definite nose-hair burn from the high ABV. Water dulls the nose, best to smell this one neat (carefully).

Palate: Intense flavour rush. Same dark chocolate and dark fruits from the nose, with new flavours like red currants, papaya, kiwi. Very luscious mouthfeel, like a melted Mackintosh toffee bar. Spicy kick, mainly allspice and cinnamon. Alcohol burn from the high ABV.  Unless you want to take ridiculous small sips, water is a definite must here. A tiny bit of water seems to bring up the spicy notes the most, without affecting the other flavours. Further dilution kills the mouthfeel though, and quickly starts to sap the flavours, so go sparingly here.Amrut.Portonova

Finish: Long finish, with creamy toffee throughout. Slow fade-out of the fruity notes, leaving just a touch of bitter coffee at the very end. Too much water oddly enhances the bitterness of the finish, so I again suggest you go easy on the H2O.

Not exactly your every day dram, given its incredibly rich flavour profile and mouthfeel.  It is also a lot spicier than most port-finished whiskies I’ve tried (e.g., the Kavalan Concertmaster is a tame affair, in comparison). And with its high ABV, this one demands a little water – but I find getting the dilution just right is pretty finicky.  Definitely a whisky for slow contemplation, and very careful dilution.

Among the highest reviews I’ve seen for this whisky come from the guys on Reddit (check out their Community Review). My Annoying Opinions and Serge of Whisky Fun are also really big fans. Nathan the ScotchNoob is moderately positive. The guys at Quebec Whisky are mixed on this one though, with high, moderate and low scores.

Old Weller Antique Original 107 Bourbon

The Weller line of wheated bourbons are extremely popular these days, thanks in part to their close relation to the infamous Van Winkle family of bourbons.

Bourbon is mandated by law to be at least 51% corn in the mashbill. Rye grain is the most common secondary ingredient in most bourbons, for flavouring. But Weller and the Van Winkles are examples of “wheaters”, where wheat is used as the main flavouring component. This tends to bring in a softer, more creamy sweetness and fruitness, compared to the “spicier” rye flavours.

Both the Weller and Van Winkle brands were originally owned by Stitzel-Weller, and both are currently owned Sazerac (produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery). There are four varieties of Weller: Special Reserve, Antique 107, 12 Year Old, and William Larue Weller. I’ll talk more about the Van Winkles in an upcoming review, but I thought I would start off this series with a review of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof.

Old Weller Antique (OWA) is essentially the same thing as their entry-level Special Reserve – except that it is bottled at a higher proof (107, or 53.5% ABV). Both of these bourbons used to carry an age statement – they no longer do, but they are still believed to be ~6-7 years old. OWA is not quite as widely available as Special Reserve, but it is not as hard to find as the rest of the line (a discussion for another review).

While on the topic, OWA should be pretty comparable in style to the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo. The only difference is the age and barrel selection – otherwise, it is the same mashbill, distilled and aged in the same manner (and location), and cut to the same 107 proof. I’ll be reviewing that Van Winkle in an upcoming review.

Let’s see how OWA compares to other Wellers (and younger Van Winkles) in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.49 0.36 10 reviews ($)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.04 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.16 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)

It gets a respectable score for this family, intermediate to the Weller Special Reserve and 12 yo, as you might expect.

Now, let’s see how OWA compares to other entry-level bourbons:

Ancient Age: 7.64 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.15 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam White Label: 7.62 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
Rebel Yell: 7.44 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
Very Old Barton: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 81: 8.12 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.74 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)

OWA gets one of the best scores for its price class. If you can find it at the standard price, it would seem to be an excellent choice.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, like vanilla icing on a caramel cake.  Light honey with hints of marzipan and whipped cream. Cherry. A bit of nutmeg. Unfortunately, it also has a general solvent smell which detracts for me. This likely reflects its young age.

Palate: Caramel comes first, followed by an extreme honey sweetness, which then fades back to that caramel after a few seconds. Fruits come next, mainly dark berries and some prunes and plums. Oak is in the background here. Has a silky texture (I’d say almost velvety). This is a hot one (ethanol heat), consistent with its 53.5% ABV – although it can still be drunk neat easily enough.

Finish: Medium. Oak comes through now, as well as some slow, lingering fruit. Brown sugar sweetness shows up now too.

owa-107Consistent with its reported 6-7 years, this is not a particularly complex bourbon. You are not getting a lot of oak here (beyond the usual caramel/vanilla), nor are you getting much in the way of the typical rye baking spices (as expected).

But for a fairly standard profile, it is done well. I often find wheaters a bit too sweet for me, with an almost artificial tinge. But there is at least none of that here – the sweetness is like all-natural honey, sprinkled with brown sugar.

It seems like an excellent value for the price. And given the higher proof, would likely be great in mixed drinks. For me personally, the solvent aromas bring it down a peg, and so I would score it just a bit lower than the Meta-Critic average.

For reviews of this bourbon, Josh of the Whiskey Jug is a big fan, as is Jim Murray. Most of the bourbon reviewers on the Reddit Whisky Network are similarly very positive (see for example Texacer and LetThereBeR0ck). There is also Eric of Breaking Bourbon. You don’t come across many negative reviews of this bourbon, but guys at Quebec Whisky are bit more moderate than those above.

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