Tag Archives: NAS

Famous Grouse

Ah, Famous Grouse – probably one of the most ubiquitous blended scotch whiskies you can find in this world. A basic, standard-price blended Scotch, its main competitors in the UK are Bell’s, Dewar’s, Grant’s and Teacher’s. Its emblem is the Red Grouse, Scotland’s national game bird.

First produced by Matthew Gloag & Son in 1896, it is currently produced and owned by the Edrington Group. The single malt whiskies used in the Famous Grouse blend are believed to include Edrington-owned Highland Park and Macallan. The brand has expanded in recent years to include at least half a dozen variants (e.g. Black Grouse, Snow Grouse, etc).

The blend is matured in oak casks for up to six months at 46% ABV, and then bottled at the industry standard 40%.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.61 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.69 on 8 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.60 ± 0.70 on 16 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.62 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Smoky Black (Black Grouse): 7.94 ± 0.44 on 21 reviews ($$)
Famous Jubilee: 8.13 ± 0.16 on 3 reviews ($$)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.71 ± 0.64 on 14 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.96 ± 1.11 on 13 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.43 ± 0.61 on 23 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.73 on 11 reviews ($)

Teacher’s seems to be the stand-out in this entry level ($) scotch blend category, with Famous Grouse falling in with the pack mentioned above.

A standard 750 mL bottle sells for $31 CAD at the LCBO. I picked up a miniature bottle in my travels (Brussels, Belgium in this case). Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: The grain alcohol hits you first, followed by a vaguely creamy note (condensed milk?). Once you get passed that, you move on to light toffee notes and dried fruits, which are fairly pleasant. Dried, pressed flowers too. Lemon candies. Arrowroot baby cookies. Fair amount of solvent notes, unfortunately (especially glue).  About what you could expect for a standard blend, but decent – especially on the mid-nose.

Palate: More going on here than I expected, and not all of it good.  Initially very grain forward, reminding of some single grain whiskies (Bain’s Cape and Nikka Coffey Grain, for example). Simple sweetness, with light fruits – and that creaminess again (likely from the malt whisky). Mid palate turns sour however, which is distracting. Some light nutmeg and cinnamon notes come in next, and help rescue the flavour experience a bit. Lemon notes return at the end, along with the glue from the nose unfortunately. No real heat, about what you would expect for 40% ABV.

Finish: Medium. Grain alcohol initially dominates here again, with a fairly dull presentation – but the finish is longer than I expected, with some sweet maltiness increasing over time. Light touches of fruit and baking spices linger in the background.

There’s actually more going on here than I expected – this is more complicated (I wouldn’t say complex) than most blends at this price point. No overly strong flavours, but not bland either. So if you can get over the off-notes, it might be a decent choice as a budget mixer.

Among reviewers, the only ones to give it an overall average score are Jim Murray and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. After that, most scores are pretty low, starting with Serge of Whisky Fun. Everyone else typically gives it in the bottom 10% of their catalogue, including Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Nathan the ScotchNoob. The lowest scores come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.

 

Scapa Skiren

Being a big fan of the other Orkney island distillery (Highland Park), I’ve been curious to try a Scapa release. Literally right down the road from HP, this second-most-Northerly distillery in Scotland produces a relatively gentle and honeyed based spirit, considered to be lightly-peated.

Originally founded in 1885, it was acquired in the 1950s by classic Canadian whisky producer Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. Now part of the Pernod Ricard spirits empire, Scapa was shuttered between 1994 and 2004. While a number of age-statement releases were released upon re-opening, for the last several years the no-age-statement Scapa Skiren  has been the distillery’s standard bottling.

Scapa’s website says they consider Skiren to be “the honeyed tropical one because of its smooth, creamy sweetness with a hint of tropical fruit, citrus and coastal heather.” It is exclusively matured in first-fill American oak (so, ex-bourbon barrels).

Bottled at 40% ABV. It currently retails for $80 CAD at the LCBO.

Let’s see how it compares to others in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database.

Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.92 ± 0.55 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.61 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.29 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park Magnus: 8.64 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.49 ± 0.37 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa 16yo: 8.29 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa Skiren: 7.96 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

I sampled this single malt from my brother’s bottle.

Nose: Sweet peat, with light smoke. Sickly-sweet honeysuckle (honeyed indeed!). Standard pear and apple. Maybe a touch of pineapple. Very basic, not a lot going on here. I’m detecting some youthful organic notes, but the light peat helps to obscure these somewhat.

Palate: Incredibly sweet arrival, with very simple sugar and light honey. Pear. Lemon peels. Buttered toast. Very light mouthfeel. Not getting a lot of wood spices, beyond standard nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. Very little evidence of the peat now. Seems pretty tame (and dull, to be honest).

scapa-skirenFinish: Not much of one. Apple juice and some Juicy Fruit gum linger, with some very light oak spice. A touch of smoke returns at the end, but is subtle. Unfortunately some oak bitterness creeps in over time, detracting on the way out.

Sad to say, but I find this to be a very forgettable whisky – there is nothing that really stands out for me. There is just too little character. That said, it is not particularly offensive, and I don’t get a lot of off-notes. I suppose it could be a decent palate opener, before trying more sophisticated whiskies in an evening.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer, followed by Jim Murray. Generally positive (though with lower scores) are Serge of Whisky Fun and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. But I’m personally in the camp of Thomas of Whisky Saga, Oliver of Dramming, Gavin of Whisky Advocate and the boys at Quebec Whisky. Just not enough character for me to recommend, especially for the price. You are best sticking with an entry-level HP.

Kavalan King Car Conductor

Although my first experiences with Taiwanese producer Kavalan were the entry-level Single Malt and Concertmaster editions, King Car Conductor has similarly been around for some time. Indeed, this was the first expression launched under the King Car name (which is the parent conglomerate group that owns Kavalan).

This single malt was apparently designed to showcase a wide range of flavours, consistent with the spirit of the parent company’s diverse range of interests.  It is rumoured to contain a wide mix of cask types, but I don’t have any specific information on the age or composition.

Bottled at a higher ABV of 46% (like Podium), it could be considered a step up from the 40% ABV Single Malt and Concertmaster offerings. And like Podium, I managed to pick up a 50 mL sample bottle on a recent trip through Tokyo.  Bottling code date was 2016.04.21 07:06 on my sample.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity nose, with various tropical fruits – papaya, guava, pineapple, coconut and banana. I could smell the fruit before bringing the glass to my nose! Lemon. Lots of caramel. Some vanilla. But that’s it really – not much character beyond the fruity and woody sweetness. No real off notes, except for being a bit spirity.

Palate: More honeyed in the mouth, although still with caramel and vanilla. There is something that reminds me of that classic bourbon barrel char sweetness here. Fruits are less distinct, and seem watered down (e.g., add water-logged melon and cantaloupe). Lemon pledge. Getting the wood spices now, cinnamon in particular, and black pepper. A bit of ethanol heat as well, more than expected from the ABV. Also seems a bit watery in mouthfeel given the ABV, but a touch oily (which I like). Classic Kavalan astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium. The fruit returns on the finish, but more dried now. A touch nutty. Soft wood spice rounding it out, this is actually a nice fade out (if a bit simple). It is actually less astringent than most entry-level Kavalans.

Certainly a step up from the base Kavalan Single Malt expression – this one has more fruit on the nose (and less astringency on the finish). I strongly recommend trying it with a few drops of water, to help tame the heat on the palate.

Overall, an easy sipper with a fair bit of fruity character – but not too challenging. I still find it to be a fairly basic expression, lacking the vibrant character of their various “finished” offerings (especially the Solist series). But still happy to finish a glass.

Among reviewers, the most positive review I’ve seen is Dominic of Whisky Advocate, followed by Jim Murray and Oliver of Dramming – and most of the Reddit reviewers. I’m very much in the same camp.  Less positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, and Ralfy.

 

Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask

The Kavalan Manzanilla sherry single cask is one of the limited Solist releases, like the Amontillado and Moscatel single cask expressions. Unlike the more common Solist ex-Bourbon and Sherry single casks from this Taiwanese producer, these specialty limited-release versions come at a high retail cost (typically >$500 USD, if you can find them).

Manzanilla is a type of fino sherry – a pale, dry sherry from the Andalusia region of Spain. “Manzanilla” apparently means chamomile in Spanish, and the flavour of this wine is said to be reminiscent of chamomile tea. Bottled at cask-strength, 57.8% ABV in this case.

Typically, these Kavalan specialty casks get high scores from reviewers – but they are not typically widely reviewed, given their relative scarcity. Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask: 9.13 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask: 9.10 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Moscatel Cask: 9.18 ± 0.19 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Being a big fan of the ex-Bourbon and Sherry Solists, I’ve been curious to experience the influence of these more rarefied specialty sherry casks. My sample came from theslicknick6 of Reddit.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Brown sugar. Drier sherry notes, consistent with fino sherry. Grape juice. Lemon. Very earthy, with moist and dry notes. Over-roasted coffee beans. Fisherman’s friend throat lozenges. Dry cardboard. A pronounced sourness, which is a bit off putting. Surprising amount of organic off notes, definitely seems young. With water, the sweetness is raised – which helps compensate against the sourness.

Palate: Very sweet arrival, with brown sugar and caramel. Also creamed sugar. Raisins, sultanas, cherries and dark red grapes. Cocoa powder. Nuts. Leather. Vanilla. Cinnamon. Very thick mouthfeel – syrupy – like other solists. As usual, very nice in the mouth. Can actually drink this neat, which is impressive for a sherry bomb. With water, even sweeter (as expected), and mouthfeel becomes more oily.

Finish: Long, with slowly fading raisin and brown sugar notes. The winey aspects of the sherry build up with time, which are nice. Good mix of sweet and sour. Cocoa persists to the end.

It is only the disjointed nose that holds me back from giving this a top score. On the palate and finish, this comes across as a more refined version of the classic Solist Sherry expression. A little water helps, but it honestly doesn’t need much. A very pleasant sipper.

Personally, I would score this at the low end of the range of reviews out there, as I prefer most other Solist expressions I’ve tried. theslicknick6 gave this particular bottle the highest score I’ve seen from him yet. Strasse007 was also very positive of this bottling. For other bottles of Solist Manzanilla, Serge of Whisky Fun and Jim Murray are similarly very positive, followed by Josh the Whiskey Jug and Jonny of Whisky Advocate. I’d definitely come in at the lower end of reviews here, but it is still a good pour to be sure.

Penderyn Legend

This is my first review of a whisky from the Welsh producer Penderyn. There is a long tradition of whisky making in Wales – but it apparently took the 20th century off (i.e., the last maker shut down in 1894).  Founded in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company restarted production in the village of Penderyn (from where they take their name).

Penderyn whisky has been on the market since 2004, and they are currently the only Welsh whisky maker that I am aware of. Note that they also produce a number of non-whisky liqueurs and spirits. Not exactly a house-hold name, Penderyn is known to focus on select international markets – including Taiwan, Australia and France.

As an interesting note, they started production with a unique copper-pot still design that allows them to produce a very high-proof distillate (92% alcohol) with a single distillation step. While they have added some additional traditional still support since then, I believe the bulk of their whisky remains from in this single-distilled format.

This Legend expression is part of their latest series of no-age-statement (NAS) single malt whiskies, along with Myth and Celt. All are bottled at 41% ABV.

Legend has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks before being finished in oak barriques that previously held Madeira wine. Bottled at a slightly lower strength (and younger age) than the standard Penderyn Madeira Wood, you could consider this the latest expression of their classic “house style”.

As an aside, I find the presentation attractive – a minimalist-style bottle with bold red packaging featuring the illustration of a red dragon (the symbol of the Welsh national flag). This Legend release is not chill filtered, and doesn’t appear to have any artificial colouring – both significant pluses, in my view. It typically retails for $63 CAD at the LCBO, but I recently found it on close-out for $44 at a local store.

Here is how Penderyn whiskies fare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to some other new European producers:

Box Dalvve: 8.48 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.93 ± 0.05 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.14 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.67 ± 0.33 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky): 8.44 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.63 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.97 ± 0.62 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Aur Cymru: 7.73 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Legend: 7.62 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Madeira: 7.91 ± 0.99 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Myth: 8.40 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Peated: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Sherrywood: 7.73 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.89 ± 0.13 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Note that I didn’t have enough reviews of Penderyn Celt to add to the database. Typically, Penderyn whiskies are not as well received as the new Swedish producers (i.e., BOX, Smogen, etc).

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

Nose: Sweet nose, with light maple syrup and icing sugar. Tart apples, peaches and blackberries – reminds me of a peach cobbler. Something tropical – although perhaps that is just green fruit notes. Malty. Sour milk note (some might call this “baby vomit”). Definite organic off-notes, tending to the more funky side (e.g. old sweatsocks). Hairspray. Seems like a young whisky, could definitely have benefited from more time in the barrel.

Palate: Sweet arrival, with the icing sugar moving more towards molasses now – plus a candy apple sugar coating. Peach and pear, plus those tart apples (think early-season Macintosh). Dark grapes. Lemon citrus, including pith. You can really taste the madeira finishing here, complementing the malt nicely. Classic wood spices show up, but mild – mainly nutmeg. Has a tangy metallic taste on the swallow, with some bitterness immediately afterwards. No real burn, in keeping with the 41% ABV.

Finish: Surprisingly long. Initial light brown sugar/molasses notes, along with peach and raisin. This is followed by a lingering sourness that builds over time. It’s actually not such a bad pairing, and I’m surprised to see such a light young whisky linger for so long.

I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up this bottle – and it does have a lot of rough edges (especially on the nose). But it has a longer finish than I expected, and is an interesting balance of sweet and sour. It could make a decent summer evening whisky.

To be clear, this doesn’t compare to the young whiskies coming out of the new start-ups in Sweden (i.e., BOX and Smogen). But it is still better than I expected from the (reduced) price and average reviewer score. I could imagine a lightly peated version of this doing pretty well (e.g. Celt), as that could help balance out the sour and off-notes. But realistically, an extra distilling step and extended aging would likely really help here.

This whisky generally doesn’t do well among reviewers, with the exception of Jim Murray (who ranks it above average overall). My own assessment would be more in line with blaw84 of Reddit and Martin of Quebec Whisky. I certainly rate it higher than Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, or Jonny of Whisky Advocate, who are very negative.

Kavalan Rum Cask – Distillery Exclusive

I have reviewed a good number of expressions from Taiwanese whisky producer Kavalan. While not commonly available, most of these can be found in various specialty shops around the world.  Today I am looking at one of the two Distillery Reserve bottlings, available only at the distillery – the Kavalan Rum Cask.

These Distillery Reserves are generally bottled in batches of ~400-450, in small bottles of 300 mL. My sample came courtesy of redditor theslicknick6. This sample was from bottle 363 of 428, from cask M111104040A, and was bottled at 57.8% ABV.  They apparently retail for ~$50 USD at the distillery.

As I explained on my Solist Sherry single cask review, you can trace the history of the bottling from the cask number. M apparently stands for Rum cask (go figure), the first 11 is distilling year (2011), the second 11 is November, the 04 is the 4th of the month, and the 040 is the 41st barrel of that day (so, the cask was filled early in the day on November 4th, 2011).  On the Solist expressions, you also get a sticker with the specific bottling date and hour, allowing you get a  precise age (I don’t know if these are present on the Distillery Reserve bottles).

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

Angel’s Envy Rye (Rum-finished): 8.67 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 14yo Carribean Cask: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.53 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Subdued compared to other cask-strength Kavalan’s I’ve tried. Honey, followed by some light caramel and a touch of vanilla. Standard apple and pear (more stewed than fresh), and tropical papaya and mango. Pina colada (of course). Lemon curd. Graham crackers.  Malted milk chocolate bars. No real off notes, except perhaps for a faint whiff of dry cardboard. And surprisingly, no nose hair singe for the high alcohol strength. Water brings up that cardboard note – it doesn’t seem to need it.

Palate: Super sweet on the palate – overflowing honey and nectar, molasses. This tastes more like a rum than a whisky! Still getting the papaya coming through fairly strongly, with pineapple, mango and banana. Some light peppery notes build with time. Some mild wood oak spice (nutmeg). A bit of cardamon. Very easy to drink neat, despite the high ABV. Water enhances the molasses, and leaves the rest unaffected. Again, it’s not really required.

Finish: Medium length. Not a lot of character here, the notes fade our fairly quickly (again, more like a rum). Light caramel and golden raisins. Not particularly spicy, beyond the mild wood spice. Leaves a sticky residue on the gums and tongue at cask strength – which dissipates quickly if water is added.

This is very easy to drink, but it strikes me as something of a novelty rum-whisky hybrid in many ways. The typical ethanol burn of the high ABV has been greatly attenuated – suggesting the strong sugar presence from the rum.  It seems well put together, but not something I could see myself going for very often.

Personally, I would score this lower than the Meta-Critic, and give it only a slightly above-average score (i.e., 8.6).  theslicknick6 of Reddit has reviewed this specific bottling, and gives it a very high score (by his rating system). Jim Murray has reviewed several other bottlings, and given them all a well above age score. Would giving a shot if you are taking the distillery tour, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend seeking this one out.

Grand Macnish Blended Scotch

Not exactly a house-hold name in the world of scotch blends, Grand Macnish has actually been in continuous production since 1863. Owned by MacDuff International, the brand has seen a recent expansion into a wide number of expressions (including several aged-stated ones). This is review of the entry-level version, which is the most common offering.

The whisky was originally developed by a Glasgow merchant, Robert McNish, who wanted to create a lighter, smoother type of scotch. It is composed of malt and grain whiskies from around the highland/speyside regions of Scotland. While it is not widely available, this entry-level blend has been sold at the LCBO for some time now (currently $40 CAD for 1.14L bottle). Bottled at 40% ABV. I managed to sample it from a friend’s recently opened bottle.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.47 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grand Macnish: 7.87 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Passport Blended Scotch: 7.29 ± 1.08 on 8 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)

For the entry-level scotch category, Grand Macnish scores at the higher end of the range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Heavy brown sugar to start. Pear. Raisins. Lemon curd. A bit floral (lavender). Touch of cloves. Some acetone and raw ethanol, but not bad. Slightly musty note.

Palate: Molasses and brown sugar. Vanilla. Apple and pear. Light cinnamon and pepper. A touch of nuts. Some wet cardboard. Watery mouthfeel, comes across as fairly thin.

Finish: Short. Slight oaky bitterness with a vague frutiness (nothing very distinct). But not unpleasant.

I would rate this as on par (or slightly higher) than the Meta-Critic average. It has relatively few off-notes on the nose, which is surprising for a blend in this price category. While fairly basic and single, it is better than your typical bottom-shelf scotch blend. An easy to drink blend, I would recommend this one for those newcomers to scotch whisky.

The most positive review I’ve seen comes for Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Jim Murray, Ralfy, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun are all relatively positive for the category (and in line with my thinking). The lowest scores I’ve seen comes from RV of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance.

Fuyu Japanese Blended Whisky

It’s not every day a new Japanese whisky shows up at the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada – especially at $70 CAD for a 700mL bottle. Of course, when that whisky is a custom blend by a wine and spirits merchant based in Bordeaux, France (BBC Spirits), one also has to take a moment’s pause.

Japanese whisky is unquestionably all the rage right now. On a trip to Tokyo last month, I was dismayed by how much prices have increased (and availability decreased) for all the standard bottlings of the established distillers. There are many new entries on the shelves – but from Japanese spirit makers who either don’t distill whisky, or have just started operations (and are therefore sourcing their whisky from elsewhere for sale). At the moment, a lot Scottish and Canadian whisky is making its way to Japan to be bottled by these companies – in fancy-looking bottles meant to mimic the established distillers. Caveat emptor!

So what to make of Fuyu? The label doesn’t have a lot of detail, other than to state it is blended Japanese whisky, small batch (which is meaningless on a whisky), and a product of Japan. The former and latter statements at least give some reassurance that it is actually Japanese whisky in the bottle.

Here is what BBC Spirits website has to say about this blend:

FUYU means WINTER. Our handcrafted blended whisky comes from several distilleries, on Honshu island, that have been carefully selected by BBC. FUYU is a powerful and generous blend, true expression of the Japanese cellar masters’ blending know-how.

Right. FYI, Honshu is the main island of Japan – and eight out of the nine currently operating whisky distilleries are located there. So that’s not exactly a lot to go on. Given the incredible demand for Japanese whisky, I’m a little dubious as to what BBC Spirits would have been able to source at the moment. But for the sake of the local enthusiast community, I thought I’d take a plunge and buy a bottle. If nothing else, I love the label design.

Bottled at 40% ABV. Given the dark colour, I’m sure caramel colouring has been used. It bound to be chill-filtered.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla and honey to start. Plum wine. Creamed wheat. Lemon candies. There’s a soft floral component (rosewater?). Surprisingly, I’m detecting signs of Mizunara oak. Unfortunately, I am also getting paint thinner (turpentine) and nail polish remover (acetone). Slight funk, suggesting a lightly peated element in the blend. Seems young overall, with its heavy organic off-notes – but there is definitely something very Japanese about it, with reasonable complexity for a blend.

Palate: Mix of sweet and sour in the mouth. Certainly not as sweet as I expected from the nose. Prunes and green grapes. Creamed wheat again. Ginger. Nutmeg. Has a umami character (soy sauce), and a continuation of that funk from the nose. Dry cardboard. Thin mouthfeel, consistent with the low 40%. Some bitterness on swallow, but mild. Better than I was expecting, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Light corn syrup notes. A butteriness develops now, which is nice. The bitterness persists, but it is more of a ginger type, and seems to fit the blend somehow.

Surprisingly, this has more character than a standard entry-level Japanese blend at this price point. To be honest, its kind of what I imagine Chivas Regal Mizunara might taste like (although I haven’t tried it).

Personally, I prefer Hibiki Harmony over this blend. But there is more going on here than I expected. I would rate Fuyu on par with the Meta-Critic average scores for Suntory Toki and Hibiki Harmony (i.e., ~8.3). It needs some time to open in the glass – but it’s a glass I’m happy enough to finish.

Kavalan Podium

Podium is another single malt expression from Taiwanese producer Kavalan. It is matured in a combination of new American oak (virgin oak) and the distillery’s refill casks, making it an interesting blend of new and old.

I don’t see this expression around very often, so I was happy to come across a 50ml mini bottle at a BIC Camera in Tokyo last month. I was not as happy about the $19 CAD list price. It seems virtually all Japanese and Taiwanese whisky in Japan has reached unbelievable price levels. That’s supply and demand for you.

Bottled at 46% ABV. My mini bottle had a bottling code of 2015.12.19 08:06.

Let’s see how it compares to other Kavalan expressions in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt Whisky: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.21 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

That’s a very good score for a non-Solist expression.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and tropical fruits – mango, papaya, banana and pineapple. Vanilla and caramel. Something reminiscent of a brandy or rum cask finish, unusually sweet.  Coconut and toasted oak. Cereal. A bit of earthy funk. All in all quite an interesting nose, with a good amount of character. No real off notes.

Palate: Sweet notes dominate initially – caramel and honey – followed by the same tropical fruit notes. There is also something floral now, but artificial (i.e. perfumy). Oak spices, cinnamon and all spice, plus pepper and anise. Also ginger. Somewhat woody – this definitely seems like a combination of refill and virgin oak. Warming as you swallow, with some raw ethanol lingering (even after multiple sips). This is unfortunately a little too raw and hot on the palate, compared to the lovely nose and initial taste.

Finish: Medium length. The artificial note persists, alongside the honey. Cinnamon and oaky spices. Dried apple shows up now. Leather. A bit of bitterness comes in at very end – and that trademark Kavalan astringency.

With water, caramel really picks up in mouth. Astringency on the finish is unaffected. I definitely recommend you try it with a little water.

Based on the nose, I had high hopes for this whisky. But it just seems a bit too hot and young on the palate, which detracts from the otherwise nice balance of refill casks and virgin wood. While it has some distinctive elements, at the end of the day I would only give this a slightly above average score. Although I’m in the minority here, I would probably even recommend Concertmaster over this one.

Among reviewers, it gets very high scores from Dominic of Whisky Advocate, Jim Murray, and washeewashee of Reddit. It gets more moderately positive (though average scores) from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Ruben of Whisky Notes. It gets a lower score from of Krishna of Malt Maniacs.  Personally, I would tend toward the mid-range of this panel.

Powers Gold Label

Powers Gold is another one of the common entry-level Irish whiskies, like Jameson, Bushmills or Tullamore Dew.  I’ve been curious to try it for awhile, as I am a big fan of the higher-end Powers 12 year old John’s Lane. I’ve also heard positive things about Gold, compared to the similarly priced Irish blends listed above.

Like many Irish whiskies at this price point, Powers Gold is a blend of pot still and grain whiskies. It is believed to be aged for 5-6 years in ex-bourbon barrels.

Bottled at 42.3% ABV, Powers Gold sells for $40 CAD at the LCBO (after a recent price increase). This makes it at least $5 more expensive the the competition listed above. Is it worth the differential?  Let’s see what the Meta-Critic Database has to say:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.24 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.83 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.04 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.69 ± 1.04 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

It certainly seems to be scoring better than those other entry-level whiskies – although of course, you can pay as much or a little more for an even higher scoring Irish whisky.

I recently managed to try this in a bar in Dublin. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Almost sickly sweet, with a strong banana note (including green banana). Frankly, it could almost be a banana liquor. Dried fruit, with red berries in particular. Some citrus (orange peel). Vanilla. Hay. Unfortunately, I get a heavy acetone presence, which detracts for me.

Palate: ‎Honey dominates initially. Caramel adds to vanilla. Very ex-bourbon cask character. Cinnamon and nutmeg pick up now. Nutty. Seems lighter in mouth. Decent, but not a lot of character really.

Finish: Medium. First thing I notice lingering is the spice – a bit of pepper, light nutmeg. Caramel. A bit of sourness creeps in over time, but not bad.

I would consider this equivalent to Tullamore Dew in quality, and would rate them both the same at ~7.9 on the Meta-Critic scale.  Drinkable, but nothing too exciting. Seems to have more pot still influence than Jameson, and is also a definite step up from Bushmills Original. But at this price point, you can’t beat the value of Bushmills Black Bush (which remains my top pick for this entry-level Irish class)

The only truly positive review I’ve seen is from Jim Murray (who often scores entry-level blends higher than their more premium versions). Otherwise, the most generally positive reviews (relative for the class) are from Nathan the Scotchnoob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.  More typical are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Oliver of Dramming, Chip the Rum Howler, and Serge of Whisky Fun. Somewhat below average are Richard the Whiskey Reviewer and Ralfy.

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