Tag Archives: NAS

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Maker’s Mark is an iconic Kentucky “wheated” bourbon whisky, produced by Beam Suntory.

Maker’s Mark is unusual in that no rye is used in the mash. Instead, “soft red winter wheat” is used for flavouring, along with corn (the predominant grain) and malted barley. According to this fun Maker’s Mark infographic, the mashbill is 70% corn, 16% wheat and 14% barley. There is no age statement, but standard Maker’s is reportedly aged for around six years.

Wheated bourbons are relatively uncommon, as most makers focus on rye flavouring (with Weller/Van Winkle, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald and Rebel Yell being the notable wheated competition to Maker’s). Wheated bourbons are considered sweeter, fruitier and “softer” in style, with more syrupy/creamy notes and less spicy cinnamon/cloves rye flavours (although they can still contain considerable wood spice, of course).

Maker’s Mark is bottled at 45% ABV and sold in distinctive squarish bottles sealed with red wax. Apparently, it was the wife of Maker’s founder Bill Samuels Sr. – Margie Samuels – who gave the whiskey its name, drew its label, and thought up the wax dipping that gives the bottle its distinctive look.

Production began in 1954, and ownership has changed hands many times over the years (it was even owned by Hiram Walker here in Canada at one point). It has been part of the Beam family since 2011.

Here is how Maker’s compares to competing wheaters, in my Meta-Critic database:

Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.75 ± 0.31 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.72 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.99 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.39 ± 0.50 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 8.95 ± 0.19 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$)
Larceny Bourbon: 8.36 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 20yo: 9.26 ± 0.35 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 23yo: 8.74 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Rebel Yell: 7.60 ± 0.57 on 11 reviews ($)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.69 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.82 ± 0.15 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.41 ± 0.37 on 11 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

My sample came from Redditor 89Justin. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Medium amber.

Nose: Heavy sweetness, honestly a bit overwhelming if you aren’t used to it. Honey and caramel mainly, plus vanilla. Candied fruit cocktail. Red (strawberry) licorice. Orange peel. Moderately spicy, with classic oak spices. Vaguely nutty. Wheaters are often described as “creamy”, and that word certainly fits here. Acetone off-notes, mingled with artificial sweetener. Yes, this really is that sweet.

Palate: Heavy caramel/honey sweetness up-front – and that acetone note really comes across too, unfortunately. Fair amount of wood spice. Fruits are mainly cherry and apple – plus that citrus (more lemon than orange now). Getting some barley malt now too, which I didn’t notice on the nose. Still a bit nutty. Not as ethanol hot as I expected for 45% – decent mouthfeel, and quite sippable neat (but try it with some water, see below). Settles down to a drier finish after a few sips.

Finish: Medium. Vanilla, caramel and oaky wood spices persist the longest. Despite the sweetness, there is a lingering woody bitterness and dryness underneath it all that I don’t enjoy. Bitterness builds with time.

With water, a simple syrup sweetness increases on the nose (although the off-notes are unaffected). Water lightens the mouthfeel, and brings up more cinnamon. I actually think it is better with a bit of water – or dare I say it, an ice cube.

I first had this years ago in a bar and wasn’t impressed. I’m afraid the controlled environment at home hasn’t helped it much. Although it doesn’t strike me quite as artificially sweet this time around, that characteristic is still there. Personally a bottom-shelf wheater for me, I would score it a few steps lower than the Meta-Critic average. I would also recommend the Weller range over this, if you can find them.

The most positive review I’ve ever seen is Fred of Whisky Advocate. But Jim Murray, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Josh the Whiskey Jug are similarly fairly positive. Jan of Best Shot Whisky gives it about the Meta-Critic average. Oliver of Dramming, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, My Annoying Opinions and Michael of Diving for Pearls all give it lower scores (which are more consistent with my own rating).

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

I have tried a number of Arran Malt whiskies over the years, and find them generally decent enough, if not overly interesting (at the younger ages, at least). Of the ones I have tried so far, the best experience has been the 12 year old cask-strength, where the extra ABV seems to have really brought up the core Arran flavours.

I tend to enjoy most cask finished whiskies, so I’ve been curious to try the higher-strength cask-finished Arrans. In this review, I look at one of the more unusual finishes, the Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish.

Amarone is a type of dry Italian red wine made from partially-dried grapes from the Valpolicella region (mainly Corvina). This drying produces a very rich and concentrated wine, full of fruit flavours. Apparently, in Italian, the name Amarone literally means “the great bitter”, which does differentiate these wines from more common sweeter red wines.

It is far more common to use fortified sweet wines (like sherry) for finishing whisky, so I was curious as to what effect Amarone barrels would have on the relatively gentle Arran base malt. Bottled at 50% ABV, it was $93 CAD when last available at the LCBO.

Here is how the various Arran Malts compare in my Meta-Critic database, first among standard bottling, then among wine cask-finished bottlings:

Arran Malt 10yo: 8.51 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt 12yo Cask Strength: 8.65 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 14yo: 8.67 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 17yo: 8.85 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt 18yo: 8.93 ± 0.13 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Bourbon Single Cask: 8.88 ± 0.20 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Lochranza Reserve: 8.07 ± 0.56 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.90 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Orkney Bere Barley: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt: 8.14 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Sherry Single Cask: 8.55 ± 0.54 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt The Devil’s Punch Bowl: 8.89 ± 0.31 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish: 8.77 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Madeira Wine Cask: 8.67 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Napoleon Cognac Finish: 8.72 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Pomerol Bordeaux Cask Finish: 8.34 ± 0.66 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.61 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sassicaia Wine Cask Finish: 8.76 ± 0.17 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Sauternes Finish: 8.52 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Sherry Cask Finish: 8.31 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Tokaji Aszu Wine Finish: 8.79 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, the Arran Amarone Finish gets one of the highest scores for a wine casks-finished Arran, comparable to the moderately-aged Arran malts.

As an aside, Arran has really specialized in finishing their young whisky in a number of unusual casks types. Only a limited number of these are shown above, as I only track expressions that have received a reasonable number of reviews (and many are no longer available). But this strategy is one way to get your product on the market and garner attention, while you wait for batches to age. Of course, that’s assuming you have paired your product wisely.

My sample of the Arran Amarone Finish was obtained through a swap with the Redditor Throzen. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: An unusual pinkish hue, almost like a rose wine.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it (Arran doesn’t artificially colour this expression).

Nose: Unsweetened raspberry jam, with cranberries, green grapes, ground cherries (gooseberries) and sour cherries. A bit of citrus. Sweet vanilla. Creamy. A bit of paint thinner and acetone initially, but these fade with time in the glass. Water increases both the sweetness and sourness of the fruit, but adds no new notes.

Palate: Unsweetened fruit compote in a glass, with a strong emphasis on the tart notes (sour cherries and citrus). Strong oaky vanilla. Earthy, with some mild nutmeg. A touch of chocolate adds to the character here. Hot on the way out, even for 50% ABV (i.e., fair amount of ethanol burn). With water, the top berry/cherry notes get sweeter. Water doesn’t seem to do much for the burn, unless you add a fair amount (i.e., takes awhile to get the sting down).

Finish: Medium. The fruit notes turn more toward dry strawberry paste, and the grapes pick up again. A noticeable astringent dryness comes in at the end, with some bitterness. The raw ethanol fumes from the palate persist here, even with water – making for a distinctive experience (but not a particularly pleasant one). Water is generally helpful throughout, and enhances the lingering sweetness (but doesn’t affect the bitterness).

Arran.Malt.AmaroneFinishing the base Arran malt in dry, but flavorful, Amarone barrels makes for an interesting set of counterpoints (i.e., it’s sweet on the nose, but drying on the finish). I haven’t come across quite this flavour profile before, and it is always fun to experience something new.

That said, I’m thinking there’s a reason why most producers don’t use Amarone casks – the effect is a bit too tart and drying. The youthful aspects of the Arran malt are still coming through as well. In the end, I’m not sure how successful a pairing this really is – it might have helped to start with an older malt, with more inherent character. Or a sweeter one – see for example my recent review of the Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton. In any case, water is certainly called for here – a little bit helps bring up the fruitiness, without affecting the ethanol burn.

There’s actually a fair amount of variability among reviewers on this one. Jim Murray is a big fan, as are the guys at Quebec Whisky. In contrast, Tone of Whisky Saga and Josh the Whiskey Jug are among the most negative I’ve seen. Reviews are generally fairly positive on Reddit (see for example TOModera), although unclimbability gives it an average score. I am personally somewhere near the lower end of the score range, giving it a slightly below average score for the single malt class. I like the novelty, but I can’t see myself reaching for it very often.

 

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 (4th Edition)

Compass Box makes a range of very popular scotch vatted malts and blends, with a careful attention to sourcing and blending.

Just a quick point of clarification – a vatted malt (now officially known as a blended malt) is a blend of pot-distilled malt whiskies from different distilleries. A single malt is blend of malt whiskies from a single distillery. And a blended scotch whisky is a blend of malt whisky and cheaper grain whisky distilled in a column still. See my Single Malts vs Blends page for more details. In practice, the only distinction between a blended malt and a single malt is the distillery source.

Compass Box has actually had five releases of Flaming Heart to date, commonly identified by year or by edition (release) number, beginning in 2006. In the case of two of these, they are also known as the Anniversary Editions, relative to the founding of Compass Box by John Glaser in 2000 (i.e., 10th Anniversary in 2010 and 15th in 2015). It can get a little confusing, as this differs from the numbering system of Peat Monster, which is similarly identified by Anniversary Editions every five years – but according to the initial release date in 2004.

When Flaming Heart was first launched, Compass Box provided the exact breakdown of what went into the malt blend on its website, which include aged malt from Caol Ila and Clynelish (among others), aged mainly in refill or “rejuvenated” ex-bourbon barrels with some French oak casks.

Eventually, a controversy erupted with the censure of Compass Box by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The SWA is the trade organization that represents (and regulates) the Scotch whisky industry. This full composition disclosure by Compass Box fell afoul of the SWA regulation that requires only the youngest age of a whisky be publicly stated. As such, Compass Box was forced to relent from officially disclosing the composition of its whiskies these last few years.

There is actually a good reason for this SWA rule, as it prevents unscrupulous blenders from emphasizing a small contribution of a long-aged component to an otherwise youthful blend. But in this case, it is restricting Compass Box’s ability to be transparent on the full range of whiskies underlying their blended products. A number of distillers have joined with Compass Box in lobbying to get this regulation amended, but to no avail as yet.

So, all Compass Box says now for this 4th edition Flaming Heart is that the sourcing is single malt whiskies from distilleries located in the Northern Highlands (primary the village of Brora), Islay (primarily from the south shore of Islay), Speyside and Islands. The wood is a combination of refill American oak (ex-Bourbon), new French oak (heavily toasted) and sherry casks (which is a new twist for Flaming Heart). It is bottled at 48.9% ABV, and is non-chill-filtered with only natural colour.

Compass Box offerings typically get high ratings for their price points, and Flaming Heart is no different. Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to other peated Compass Box offerings, and similar lightly-peated Islay malts.

Big Peat: 8.80 ± 0.22 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 10yo Tempest: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Bowmore 12yo: 8.40 ± 0.28 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Bowmore 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.46 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley: 8.39 ± 0.44 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley (all vintages): 8.58 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich Laddie Ten: 8.83 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.81 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.59 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 12yo: 8.72 ± 0.18 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Caol Ila 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Caol Ila 30yo: 9.30 ± 0.19 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.67 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Clynelish 14yo: 8.81 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Eleuthera: 8.57 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2008 2nd Edition: 9.07 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2010 3rd Edition – 10th Anniversary: 8.92 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 4th Edition: 8.98 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 5th Edition – 15th Anniversary: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Flaming Heart (all editions): 8.99 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Lady Luck: 8.71 ± 0.42 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster (all editions): 8.77 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box The Lost Blend: 8.96 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Compass Box This is Not a Luxury Whisky: 8.77 ± 0.46 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte An Turas Mor: 8.71 ± 0.28 10 reviews ($$$$)
Port Charlotte PC10 Tro Na Linntean: 8.96 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated: 8.75 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$$)

Note that Flaming Heart just slips in at the low end of the $$$$$ price group, at ~$155 CAD (on average, world-wide).

My sample of the 4th edition comes from Redditor slackerdude.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Very light straw, slightly golden hue.

Nose: Classic peated whisky notes with sweet peat, wood smoke, soot/ash and a slightly briny presentation – but not overly medicinal. Dried red fruits, especially berries and red currants, and light apple juice. Definite sourness, like gooseberries (i.e. ground cherries). Tons of lemon oil. Vanilla with a bit of caramel. Old leather. Grassy, with a touch of hay. A bit of cinnamon and some sea salt. Finally, just a touch of old sweatsock funk and bandaid glue (as is common to many southern Islays). Great nose.

Palate: Not quite as bold as I was expecting from the nose – but the peat is certainly more evident here. It just seems like the smokey notes have become more subtle in comparison. Some meatiness now, like the fat droppings on an extinguished campfire. Apple and berries, and even more lemon (the zest has been added). Caramel. Some oaky spice (chili?). A bit of pepper joins the cinnamon and sea salt. Great mouthfeel, slightly oily. It has a bit of that liquefied smoked meat taste that I sometimes find on older Islay bottlings, but it stills feels younger and fresher for the most part.

Finish: Medium-long for a light smokey blend. Peat and smoke linger. A slight herbal bitterness comes through eventually, but it is mild. That lemony citrus feels very cleansing on the way out.

On first whiff, this really brought back memories of some older lightly-peated Islays I’ve had (like the Coal Ila 30yo official bottling). However, this is rapidly joined by a number of more youthful characteristics, ending up more like the peated Glen Garioch 1995 Vintage (the lemon notes in particular are distinctive). Still very evocative and pleasant, this seems a bit younger overall than the reported mixes for earlier Flaming Hearts. But this is still a good bargain for a such a quality presentation.

Water lightens the nose, and enhances the caramel sweetness in the mouth. I don’t think it needs any, but adjust as you prefer. My only minor complaint here is the finish – while nice, it could be a bit longer and more robust. After this, I’m curious to try some other editions.

The highest score I’ve seen for this 4th edition of Flaming Heart comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with similarly very high scores from Jim Murray, Dominic of Whisky Advocate and the guys at Quebec Whisky (I am closest to this camp). Also fairly positive on this edition are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. The lowest rating I’ve seen is an overall average score from Thomas of Whisky Saga.  To see additional reviews of the more recent 2015 5th Edition (15th Anniversary), check out Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy, Nathan the Scotch Noob and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Honestly, there are no negative reviews of any edition of this whisky, it is a great buy.

Jameson Cooper’s Croze

The Jameson Makers series was launched around this time last year. The idea was to let three of the key craftsmen behind the Jameson brand build their own expression.

Brian Nation (Master Distiller, so responsible for spirit production) created Distiller’s Safe – a fairly young blend of pot still and grain whiskies all matured in ex-bourbon oak, showcasing the spirit character predominantly.

Billy Leighton (Master Blender, so responsible for crafting the right mix) created Blender’s Dog, which has the widest range of distillates, cask wood types and ages of the series.

And finally Ger Buckley (Head Cooper, so responsible for cask selection and management) created Cooper’s Croze (reviewed here). Cooper’s Croze is a blend of whiskies rumoured to be between 12-16 years of age, consisting of single pot whiskies from first-fill and second-fill bourbon casks as well as sherry casks, and grain whisky matured in virgin American oak. The name comes from Ger’s favorite tool, the croze (an implement used to make the groove into which the head of the cask or barrel is positioned). Cooper’s Croze is probably the most widely available offering in the series, as it was the first to launch.

All three Makers series expressions are bottled at 43% ABV, are non-chill-filtered, and priced at a premium of ~$100 CAD. That makes these among the most expensive Jameson-branded whiskies in my database (although there are of course higher-end offerings from Midleton, who own the Jameson brand). Here is how the Makers series compare in my Meta-Critic database, relative to other similarly-priced and higher-end Midleton Irish whiskies:

Green Spot: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson: 7.84 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.38 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 18yo Limited Reserve: 8.62 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Jameson Blender’s Dog: 8.51 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Bold: 8.28 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Cooper’s Croze: 8.53 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Distiller’s Safe: 8.26 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.47 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Lively: 7.90 ± 0.37 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.83 ± 0.45 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.63 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers Signature Release: 8.23 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.07 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.13 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.55 ± 0.84 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.78 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.26 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

While the Makers series are typically outperforming the lower-priced Bold/Round/Lively expressions released around the same time, there are certainly higher-ranked Irish whiskeys at this list price.

While I was curious to try these, I wasn’t about to shell out those kind of clams for them. The LCBO recently placed the series on clearance, dropping the prices to $45 CAD (at which point, they sold out within days). Given that Cooper’s Croze was the highest ranked offering, I thought I’d give that one a try and picked up a bottle before they disappeared from the shelves.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Classic quality Irish blend. Sherry cask notes assert themselves up front, with darker fruits –  raisins, sultanas, and berries. Also apples and green grapes. Honey with a touch of brown sugar. Lots of caramel and vanilla. Light wood spice. Fairly clean nose, although it does have a little solvent. Reminds me a bit of the 2015 Middleton Very Rare.

Palate: Vanilla and caramel are the most prominent here. Fruits come in after, and seem more dried now – except for the apple (stewed apples). Citrus is new. A lot more oaky than the nose suggested. Classic wood spices come up considerably, cinnamon in particular. Ginger. Texture is a bit watery unfortunately, and it is a little ethanol hot. Seems a bit young for the rumoured age of whiskies in the blend, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Caramel sweetness and citrus initially, then the more woody elements. Fairly light on way out, like many Irish whiskies. Not bad.

All told, this is a decent Irish whisky – sort of the poor man’s Middleton Very Rare. That said, I’m going to guess it has a higher proportion of grain whisky in the mix, as it is a bit ethanol hot. Still, a blended Irish whisky buff is likely to enjoy this.

Personally, I would give it a score just slightly below the overall database average of ~8.5, but the Meta-Critic score is reasonable. I don’t think it’s worth the current $100 CAD list price – but the heavily-discounted LCBO price made this a good bargain.

The highest score I’ve seen comes from Jim Murray. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score (but a positive review). Less positive are Richard of Whiskey Reviewer and Jonny of Whisky Advocate (although interestingly Richard ranks it as the best of this Makers series, and Jonny as the lowest). The lowest score I’ve seen is from Ruben of Whiskey Notes (although he also ranks it above the other two Makers series expressions).

 

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira Cask

Càirdeas means friendship in Gaelic, and this is the name given to an annual special release associated with the Friends of Laphroaig. Pronunciation is a bit trickier than usual on this one, as I’ve heard everything for car-chus to care-chase (to kier-das to cord-dis, etc.). I guess it depends on where exactly you are from.

Released annually at Fèis Ìle – the Islay Festival of Music and Malt – there is a different theme behind each year’s bottling. The 2016 edition is a no-age-statement (NAS) Laphroaig, originally matured in ex-bourbon barrels, with a second maturation in Madeira-seasoned traditional hogsheads.

Madeira is a Portugeuse fortified wine that, like Port, comes in dry, semi-dry/sweet and sweet forms. What’s different about Madeira is the “Estufagem” process of cask maturation – a special heat and moisture treatment that is meant to replicate the historical journey of Madeira casks in the early days of seafaring trade. By law, this now involves cooking the wine at 55°C for at least 90 days (but see comments from Jason Hambrey below). This accelerated aging of the wine has the side effect of also impregnating the wood staves of the casks with a lot of spiciness and fruit flavours. As a result, most would consider Madeira cask-aged whiskies to be sweet and fruity, regardless of the source form of Madeira used.

Bottled at an impressive 51.2% ABV, this limited edition Laphroaig is quite reasonably priced at $100 CAD at the LCBO (I got mine early, before they all disappeared).

Here is how the various Cairdeas expressions compare to each other, and the standard Laphroaigs, in my Meta-Critic Database:

Laphroaig 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength: 8.96 ± 0.35 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 15yo (200th Anniversary): 8.80 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor: 8.87 ± 0.14 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood: 8.83 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014 Amontillado: 8.95 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015: 9.16 ± 0.17 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Madeira: 8.83 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Lore: 8.62 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Laphroaig PX Triple Matured: 8.81 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig QA Cask: 7.27 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 8.31 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Select: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Laphroaig Triple Wood: 8.70 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 2016 Madeira-finished Laphroaig has a similar average score (and variance) as the 2013 Port-finished edition. Average scores for these special bottlings are toward the higher end of the range of Laphroaigs in this price range.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Definitely a wine-cask finish, with a lot red hues (though otherwise light).

Nose: Sweet, with some of the classic Laphroaig peat reek buried below the fruit (pear, apricot and a bit of cherry and raspberry). A bit citrusy too. Vanilla. Not as medicinal as I would have expected for a Laphroaig (seems to be overwhelmed by the fruit). A touch floral (herbal?). With water, caramel joins the vanilla.

Palate: Not as fruity, except in a general light fruit and citrus sense (fruit seems mainly on the nose). Honey.  Butterscotch. Spicy notes, with black pepper. Briny, like salted cod. A touch of wet cardboard. Slightly creamy texture (nice mouthfeel, actually). With water, the oakiness picks up, as well as the sweetness. Caramel and brown sugar are added to the mix.

Laphroaig.Cairdeas.2016Finish: Long. Sweet peat again, like the nose. Smoke lingers, as well as some ash. The classic Laphroaig medicinal notes finally poke through, along with a slight sourness. But the sweetness lasts the longest (surprisingly).

I must admit, this is a bit of strange one. Not sure how much demand there is for a such a sweetened Laphroaig. Honestly, I wouldn’t have pegged this as a Laphroaig at all, until that finish settled in. I suspect it would appeal more to a classic Lagavulin 16 drinker. Those looking for a medicinal peat bomb will likely be disappointed. But I kind of like it (possibly because I’m not a heavy peat fan, as you might have guessed).

The highest score I’ve seen for this expression comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug. Also very positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga. A more average score comes from Nathan the Scotch Noob. The only really low score I’ve seen comes from Dave of Whisky Advocate.

Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky

In honour of Canada Day, I thought I’d review an iconic Canadian whisky – the base, entry-level Canadian Club (aka Canadian Club Premium).

Canadian Club is one of the best selling and widely available Canadian whiskies, available in more than 150 countries. Indeed, I have seen this one in more far-flung places around the world than any other Canadian whisky. It is produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario, under license for its current owner – Beam-Suntory.

As the legend goes, this whisky was popular in the “gentlemen clubs” of the 19th century, where it received the distinction of becoming known as “Club Whisky.” Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, to differentiate it from competitors of lower quality (or so the official story goes). But one way of the other, “Canadian” did eventually come to be associated with quality in whisky during this time period. Apparently it even led to fraudulent “Canadian” claims of other brands (can’t say I’ve come across that too often).

While this fact is easily forgotten, the rise of period TV pieces like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have helped illustrate how popular Canadian Club was among American whisky drinkers in previous times. This has likely contributed to something of a resurgence lately of this storied brand. But is the base expression actually something you would want to drink?

Here is how it does in my Meta-Critic Database, compared to other entry-level Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club Premium: 7.33 ± 0.75 on 17 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.61 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.21 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.91 ± 0.67 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.98 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.80 ± 0.69 on 9 reviews ($)

As you can see, despite its fame it actually gets the lowest score of all the entry-level Canadian whiskies above.

And here is how some of the truly “premium” Canadian Club whiskies compare:

Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 9yo: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 5 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 10yo: 8.38 ± 0.61 on 9 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 12yo Classic (Small Batch): 8.13 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.22 ± 0.60 on 8 reviews ($$)

Before I get to my tasting notes, an interesting point of distinction here: unlike most modern Canadian whiskies – where different barrels are blended at the end of production, to fit a desired flavour profile – Canadian Club Premium is “blended at birth.” This means that different batches of unaged spirit (presumably reflecting different mashbills/distilling styles) are blended together before barreling. It is reported to be aged 6 years in white oak barrels. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the base Canadian Club Premium.

Colour: Light gold, pretty sure caramel has been added.

Nose: Sweet with creamed wheat characteristics. Very grain-forward, with some added corn syrup notes. Red berries. Vanilla. Hay and something distinctly vegetal (composting vegetal, I’m afraid). The nose is not strong, but there are fairly prominent aspects of acetone and other organics (including rubbing alcohol). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely seems young.

Palate: More rye forward than I expected from the nose – my initial impression is that this may be OK after all. But within seconds in the mouth, it turns into light corn syrup mixed with flat cola. That sickly-sweet cola taste always seems somewhat artificial to me (e.g., reminds me of cola-flavoured gummy candies that I’ve come across in Asia). Orange peel and some spice – nutmeg and a touch of pepper, specifically. While these extra notes are welcome, this is not a whisky to savour – I really don’t like holding it in my mouth.

Finish: Immediately after swallowing, you get hit with raw alcohol fumes. Fairly short finish, really not much here. Bitterness builds with time. Honestly, feels a bit like a rubbing alcohol rinse.

Personally, I have to give this a marginal nod over the base Crown Royal – since it is not as artificially sweet and bitter as CR. This base Canadian Club also has a bit more character (although not all of it good). I would slightly favour Canadian Club for drinking neat – not that I’m inclined to – but Crown Royal makes a better mixer, in my view. But you are much better off skipping both and going right to Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye or Hiram Walker Special Old for about the same price (or even less).

Most reviewers of this base Canadian Club whisky have a similar take, with very low scores (i.e., at or below their 5th percentile). See for example the guys at Quebec Whisky, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Ralfy, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and most the Reddit reviews, like HawkI84, headlessparrot and muaddib99. Marginally more positive are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Whisky Advocate, and Chip the RumHowler – although all give it well below average scores. The only really positive review of this whisky is (what for it …) Jim Murray.

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Dreifaltigkeit

After a rather disappointing introduction to Säntis Appenzeller Malt through their base Edition Sigel, I was encouraged by the wine cask-finished Edition Himmelberg.

Next up – and last in my series of Santis expressions – is Edition Dreifaltigkeit. This is the whisky that Jim Murray named his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010, with an incredibly high 96.5 score. But as I’ve explained in my review of his 2016 Whisky of the Year (Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye) there are some interesting inconsistencies in how he applies his scores at the high end.

Dreifaltigkeit means Trinity in German, and this whisky apparently gets its name from a local Swiss mountain peak. This whisky is supposedly “lightly peated,” but most would agree it packs a heavy smokey punch. Apparently, the malt is smoked in multiple ways – first wood-smoked in beech and oak woods, then re-smoked with local peat from the Appenzell Highmoor. I do like the attention to sourcing local materials with Santis.

Note that Edition Dreifaltigkeit appears to be the same as the earlier Santis Cask Strength Peated. These whiskies share the same description and cask strength (52% ABV), and some reviewers use a picture of the older name in their reviews of Dreifaltigkeit. As such, I have combined all the reviews for these two whiskies in the same category for my Meta-Critic database:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Edition Dreifaltigkeit earns a dubious distinction in my Meta-Critic database – this is is more variable scoring whisky I’ve ever seen! The average standard deviation for all whiskies in my database is currently 0.37.  So the ± 1.67 here (based on 9 reviews) is pretty shocking.  These means that there is an extremely high level of disagreement among reviewers of this whisky. Not surprisingly, this also means the overall average score is low – indeed, in this case it is far below the database overall average of ~8.5.

Let’s see what I find in the glass.  Note again that I sampled this whisky before checking for reviews to add to my database, so I really had no expectations going in (other than the mixed experiences on Editions Sigel and Himmelberg). The 50 mL sample bottle cost ~$11 CAD in Zurich.

Colour: Much darker than even Himmelberg, with rich mahogany notes. Reminds me of some of the wine cask-aged tropical malts, like Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask or Amrut Portonova.

Nose: Oh dear Lord, no. Smokey, but in an extinguished cigarette sort of way, acrid. And very fishy! I could most kindly describe this as Teriyaki-glazed salmon – but only if you are trying to rescue a week-day old salmon fillet by drowning it in soy sauce. Dried nori and tobacco. Asian green tea (specifically, the slightly fishy-smelling kind you get in Japan, not China). The skunkiness from the Sigel is amplified here, with additional fresh glue notes – this is a simply horrible combination of smells. Frankly, I don’t want to put this in my mouth, it literally makes me feel like retching. Oh well, time to take one for the team I guess.

Palate: Very smokey, but not as acrid as the nose suggested (more wood smoke now instead of cigarette). Sweeter than I expected from the nose too, with brown sugar and a velvety chocolate note that is surprising. BBQ sauce. Tobacco, which is giving it a very bitter aftertaste on the way down. Not much alcohol burn for 52% ABV – you could easily drink this neat (if you were inclined to drink it at all). Not good, but not as bad as the nose indicated.

Finish: Too long. The fishiness returns, and lingers for a very long time (as bad fish is wont to do). Very smokey. Fortunately, the bitterness fades a bit with time, making this not a completely horrible experience – but still not a good one.  Now you’ll forgive while I go and brush my teeth and tongue …

This is a whisky you would be better off drinking with a clothespin over your nose.  There is really nothing to recommend it in terms of smell. Boxing coaches could use it instead of smelling salts. At least it is not as horrific in the mouth, with the predominant sweet wood smoke and BBQ notes (think mesquite).

With water, the nose is mercifully flattened a little, but it is still a unpleasant experience. Water brings up the sweetness in the mouth slightly.  You will want to try a bit of water – if you want to try this whisky at all.

I don’t know how to score this whisky. It is a new low for me, so I’m in uncharted territory here. I would have to give it below 6 on the common alcoholic beverage rating scale (i.e., every commercial whisky begins with default of 5, but anything below 6 should be avoided). Maybe high 5s, since there are some redeeming virtues on the palate, if you can get past that nose.

To say reviewers are divided on this one is an understatement. It gets the absolute lowest score for any whisky in my database from Thomas of Whisky Saga and three well-known Reddit reviewers (cake_my_day, TOModera and Shane_IL) – a view I personally share. It gets a slightly below average score from Serge of Whisky Fun. Dominic of Whisky Advocate has reviewed it twice (under each name) – one got a high score, and one a very low score. It gets a moderately positive review from Nathan the Scotch Noob. Two really positive reviews of this whisky are Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Jim Murray. Certainly a polarizing experience!

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Himmelberg

After my inaugural experience with Säntis Malt Edition Sigel, I approached this next one with some trepidation.

Like with Edition Sigel, Edition Himmelberg received its primary aging in old oak beer casks. But it is a blend of whiskies that were subsequently finished in port, sherry, Merlot and other red wine casks, all blended together for this final bottling. It is bottled at a slightly higher strength than Edition Sigel (43% ABV here), and is non chill filtered and with no added colour.

Here’s hoping the extra wine cask finishing can help save the base beer cask aging.

Himmelberg is a region in Germany, and the name stems from the root Middle High German himel (“heaven”) and bërc (“hill”). Unfortunately, there aren’t enough reviews of Edition Himmelberg to make it into my Meta-Critic Database, but here are how the other Swiss malt whiskies compare.

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

As mentioned in my Edition Sigel review, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in my database – with the possible exception of the various Alpstein expressions (although there are relatively few reviews here). Interestingly, each one of these Alpstein editions – and there have been at least 10 to date – were finished in a single type of wine or fortified wine cask. I’m somewhat hopeful that the blended wine cask finishing on Edition Himmelberg will thus produce a better result than the base Edition Sigel.

The 50 mL sample bottle cost ~$10 CAD in Zurich.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Slightly darker than Sigel, suggesting the extra wine cask finishing.

Nose: Sweet nose, I’m definitely getting both classic sherry and port notes. Strong impression of sugar pie (i.e., baked brown sugar and cream), which is novel. Fresh pear and apple fruit, plus dried figs and raisins. Oranges. Rancio. Touch of cinnamon and baking spices – so, apple pie to join that sugar pie. A slightly off-putting underlying sour note (likely from the beer casks again), with a touch of glue. Still, a much better experience than the Edition Sigel malt – this has a lot more character, and is more substantial.

Palate: Same pear notes as the nose, with additional caramel sweetness adding to the creamy brown sugar. Vanilla and cinnamon. Tobacco. Lighter than expected, both in terms of flavour and texture – although there is some granularity to the mouthfeel, which I like. The 43% ABV is certainly helping here. Less tongue tingle than Sigel, despite the extra alcohol. Some sourness builds at the end unfortunately, but it is still ok.

Finish: Medium. That creamy brown sugar sweetness returns, with the lingering baked sugar pie experience (and baking spices too). A bit of dark chocolate, which is new. But there is also a persistent sourness on the finish, which detracts personally.

Definitely a much better experience than the Edition Sigel, which just seemed like an unbalanced mess to me. Adding water to Edition Himmelberg dampens the whole experience. This is unusual, as I find water usually accentuates the sweetness (not here). I recommend you sample it neat.

As you can tell from my description, I found this one to be fairly decent – although there is still something that doesn’t quite gel for me (i.e., that persistent sour note). So I would give it a score in the low 8s on the Meta-Critic scale (i.e., ~8.3), which is a bit below the overall malt whisky average. While not perfect, there are enough interesting notes here to make this one worth trying.

The only reviewer in my database who has also scored this whisky is Jim Murray. He gives it a very average score for all whiskies in the database (so on the Meta-Critic scale, ~8.5 equivalent). I will update the database and this review if I get a third reviewer.

 

Säntis Appenzeller Single Malt Edition Sigel

On my recent trip to Zurich, I brought back a number of sample bottles of Swiss single malt whiskies to try. First up is Santis Malt Edition Sigel.

Switzerland likely doesn’t leap out to you as a major whisky producer – and that’s because whisky production has only been legal in Switzerland since July 1999. So by definition, much of what they have produced is still quite young. Note that like Scotland, Swiss law requires that a distillate made from malt has to be aged for at least three years in wood barrels before it can be called whisky.

Like with many new malt whisky producers across the world, Appenzeller Säntis Malt (“Swiss Alpine Whisky”) is an offshoot of a brewery (Brauerei Locher). In my travels, I was impressed with the quality of two US malt whisky distilleries that grew out of craft breweries (Copperworks and Westland), and slightly less so with a Belgian one (Gouden Carolus). So I was naturally curious to try these Santis malts.

A signature feature of Santis is their use of old beer barrels for aging, imparting a distinctive character to their malt whisky. Santis has been distilling since 1999, and they are currently one of the largest malt whisky producers in Switzerland. Since 2003, the distillery reports using only locally-sourced barley, grown in Switzerland’s mountain areas. They have won a number of awards, and Jim Murray declared their Edition Dreifaltigkeit his “European Whisky of the Year” in 2010 (my review of that expression is coming soon).

There aren’t a lot of reviews of Swiss whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database, but here is what you will find right now:

Säntis Alpstein (all editions): 8.59 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Säntis Edition Sigel: 7.93 ± 0.87 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Säntis Edition Säntis: 7.57 ± 0.84 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Säntis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.37 ± 1.67 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.59 ± 0.48 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is how they compare to some other European malt whisky producers, outside of the UK. Note that most of these are fairly recent whisky producers as well.

Box The 2nd Step Collection 02 (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014 (Sweden): 8.94 ± 0.14 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt (Belgium): 8.09 ± 0.17 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan) (Sweden): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden): 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Midnattssol (Sweden): 8.14 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Midvinter (Sweden): 8.55 ± 0.52 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (Sweden): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak (Netherlands): 7.96 ± 0.65 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask (Netherlands): 8.95 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Primör (Sweden): 8.51 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smögen Single Cask (Sweden): 8.91 ± 0.15 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus (Sweden): 8.61 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star (Sweden): 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

As a general rule, the Santis malt whiskies are not faring well in this comparison. With the exception of the various premium wine cask-finished Alpstein expressions, the standard Santis expressions are getting relatively low average scores in my Meta-Critic Database, and higher than typical variance across reviewers.

Note that I had not included Santis in my database prior to sampling their whiskies, so I truly tasted these “blind.”

I have started this series of reviews with the Santis Edition Sigel, which is one of the base expressions available from this distiller. Sigel means “Sun” in old German, and is the likely root of the modern siegel (for seal). Edition Sigel is exclusively “matured in small oak beer casks” (with no finishing) and is bottled at 40% ABV. The 50 mL sample bottle from Zurich cost me ~$8.50 CAD.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light gold, but with a slightly brownish tint (reminding me of beer, naturally enough).

Nose: Light nose, no alcohol burn. Sweet and somewhat fruity, with red (stawberrry) licorice and candy apples – indeed, candied is the best descriptor. Some citrus. Oak with a bit of wood spice, maybe some anise. Tobacco. Almost earthy in a way – but seems oddly faint, almost as if watered-down. There is a strange effect of the beer cask aging, adding a slightly skunky note (like beer that has long since passed its expiration date, or where the bottle seal has failed). Certainly unique, it doesn’t quite seem like a malt whisky.

Palate: Not as fruity as the nose suggested – some pear, with a bit of red licorice. Tobacco. Very sour though. Motor oil? Seems very young, and oddly synthetic tasting.  Makes wonder if this is what “Synthehol” on Star Trek – The Next Generation would taste like. Some tongue tingle. That skunkiness from the nose comes back with a vengeance as you swallow – making you wish you hadn’t! This is frankly a bit of a mess, with some definite off-putting notes.

Finish: Short (fortunately). A strong Aspartame-like artificial note, mixed with pear and sour apple. Makes me want to rinse my mouth out with a better whisky immediately (which is exactly what I did, when I was done with this tasting).

I’ll be honest here – I couldn’t finish my standard 1.5 ounce pour of this one. I came back to the rest of the sample bottle a couple of nights later, to see if I had misjudged it. Nope, it was just as bad. And if anything, the nose was even weaker now (which was the best part of this whisky originally, if you could call it that). I’m sorry, but my advice to Santis on this one would be to re-distill it and age it longer, please. Also skip the beer casks, if that is what is producing the unique skunky notes.

Interestingly, I got a very similar candied nose on the Gouden Carolus malt – making me think this is also a consequence of the beer mash or beer cask aging. But that whisky lacked the off-notes present here, so I felt the Meta-Critic average score was justified. In contrast, I wouldn’t score Edition Sigel above the low 7s – putting this whisky in my bottom 5th percentile.

For additional reviews, Jim Murray and Patrick and RV of Quebec Whisky all give it an average score for their respective reviewing ranges. Andre of Quebec Whisky and Dominic of Whisky Advocate give it relatively low scores. The Reddit user cake_my_day gives it one of his lowest scores ever.

 

 

Midleton Very Rare 2016

Late last year, I reviewed the 2015 vintage of Midleton Very Rare from a friend’s bottle. This is a premium blended Irish whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers at the New Midleton Distillery in East Cork.

The LCBO wants a pretty steep $216 CAD for it at the moment, which is more than I am willing to pay. But when I came across the 2016 edition on sale at a Shanghai duty free for ~$140 CAD, I thought I’d take the plunge. I recently brought it over to my friend’s house for a dinner party, and we were able to directly compare the two vintages side-by-side.

First a bit of background on this whisky. Midleton Very Rare is produced in a vintage year manner, with reportedly only 50 hand-picked casks going into each batch. It is a blend of single pot still whisky and grain whisky, all triple-distilled. Although this is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, the casks are reported to be between 12 and 25 years of age, matured in either ex-bourbon or ex-Sherry casks. Consistently bottled at 40% ABV, each bottle has a unique identifier number, and is presented in a nice wooden case with a registration card.

Since each batch is a new defined vintage, each year is expected to differ somewhat from the others – although all within an overall profile range. Having the two vintages side-by-side gave us a good opportunity to directly test this.

As this is my second review of a Midleton Very Rare, I’ve tried to break down the various vintages in my MetaCritic database, where possible. Given its limited availability, there aren’t many reviews of each vintage, so you will have to go by the composite score in most cases (i.e., only the 2015 vintage meets my reporting cut-off level of a minimum of 3 reviews).  Here is how they compare to some higher-end Irish whiskeys:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.35 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.46 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.83 ± 0.45 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare 2015: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.16 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Middleton Very Rare gets a very good score for an Irish whiskey – although the 2015 vintage seems to score a bit lower than most.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 2016 vintage:

Colour: The whisky is presumably not artificially coloured, as the 2016 was noticeably darker than the 2015. I would describe it as medium amber.

Nose: Honey and vanilla lead off, with a similar whipped cream note as I found on the 2015 (but fainter here). Apple and pear as before, but I am getting slightly tart red berries now (including some red currants). Much stronger baking spices than before, with a good amount of cinnamon in particular – definitely spicier overall. There is absolutely no hint of any organic solvent notes, which is impressive for an Irish whisky. The only thing missing here is the caramel – that was much more pronounced on the 2015 vintage. Personally, I’d give the 2016 a slight edge for the spicier and cleaner nose, but I could see that some may prefer the sweeter 2015 vintage.

Palate: Initial arrival is dominated by sweet vanilla, andit is still relatively fruit-forward, but with less caramel than the 2015 edition. Not as creamy either (although I’m still getting a faint touch of chocolate). Definitely spicier here, with noticeable cinnamon and a good amount of black pepper. A bit grassy, but lacking the cereal notes of the 2015. Mouthfeel is lighter and more watery now – much less silky than the 2016 (I’m guessing less grain whisky in the mix?). Some bitterness creeps in at the end of the palate, which wasn’t there before. Still no alcohol burn.

Finish: Medium. Similar Juicy Fruit gum sensation as before, but both the spicy and bitter notes from the oak wood are accentuated over the 2015 edition. Still not very long. A touch of astringency comes in at the end.

While the 2016 got off to a good start on the nose, the mouthfeel is definitely “thin” in comparison to the 2015, which is disappointing. I like the extra oaky spice in the 2016, but this is matched by a greater bitterness and astringency on the finish, which is not appealing. I personally scored the 2015 vintage at around the overall Metacritic average for all vintages of this whisky, but I would have to give the 2016 just a decimal point or so lower. It is still a very good whisky, but the value-for-money proposition is even less favourable in my mind (at least at standard list prices).

FYI, from among the dinner guests who also sampled both vintages, I can say that the 2015 was the unanimous favourite. This seemed to be due to the more overtly caramel sweetness in that vintage, along with a “smoother” palate (their descriptor, I believe they meant oilier). It should be mentioned that none of them were particularly big whisky drinkers.

The only reviewer in my database who has reviewed both is Jonny of Whisky Advocate. And although he notes many of the same differences that I found, he gives the 2016 a higher score. Among the other reviewers (for various vintages), you can check out Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Josh the Whiskey Jug for very positive scores. More moderate praise comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with the lowest scores from the guys at Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray is historically very variable on this whisky, but hasn’t reviewed the recent batches.

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