Tag Archives: NAS

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

Monkey Shoulder is a great example of one of the (not so) best kept secrets in the whisky world. As I explain on my single malts vs blends page, a single malt simply means a blend (or vatting) of different malts whiskies from a single distillery. Unless it is specifically identified as a “single cask”, you are definitely getting multiple barrels mixed together for your single malt.  A blended scotch is defined as a blend of malt whisky and cheaper-to-produce grain whisky. But there is the intermediate category called a blended malt (or previously “pure malt”) where malt whisky from multiple distilleries are brought together.

In principle, there’s no reason why a blended malt would not be every bit as good as a single malt, since it is only the number of distilleries that differ. But just as blended scotches have long occupied the entry-level price point, most blended malts are similarly inexpensive and without age statements – although there are of course always exceptions (i.e., see the Taketsuru line of Japanese malt whiskies).

Monkey Shoulder is a commonly available, reasonably priced, no-age-statement blended malt from three classic Speyside distilleries controlled by William Grant & Sons: Kininvie, Balvenie, and Glenfiddich. You may not have heard of the first one (since most of its malt production goes into blended scotches), but the other two should be familiar to single malt drinkers – and will give you an idea as to what flavour profile to expect here. In this case, I believe the blend is exclusively from first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but there are of course no guarantees if that isn’t indicated on the label.

In case you are wondering about the unusual name, it comes from a historic occupational strain injury that floor malters suffered from in the early years of whisky production. In the traditional method, malting of barley would be done across a large floor (for the extended surface area). This required constant turning of the barley, so that it didn’t over-germinate into a solid mass – a task traditionally done by hand. “Monkey Shoulder” is the crude name for the condition that some malt workers developed after long shifts, where one of their arms would hang down – similar to some monkeys. Obviously, this would no longer be permitted today.

Monkey Shoulder is very reasonably priced in most jurisdictions, typically around the level of higher-end blends or entry-level single malts. It is currently $65 CAD at the LCBO, which is steeper than most places. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see how it compares to other blended malt or entry-level single malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database.

Aberlour 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)
Arran Malt Robert Burns Single Malt 8.22: ± 0.56 on 8 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.28 ± 0.26 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.78 ± 0.85 on 8 reviews ($$)
Benromach Traditional: 8.43 ± 0.44 on 12 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant 10yo: 8.27 ± 0.46 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve: 7.96 ± 0.61 on 10 reviews ($$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.11 ± 0.22 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.30 on 22 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.97 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Lowland: 7.02 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$)
McClelland’s Speyside: 6.70 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$)
Monkey Shoulder: 8.31 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$)
Pig’s Nose 5yo Blended Malt: 7.93 ± 0.40 on 3 reviews ($$)
Sheep Dip Blended Malt: 8.45 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$)
Singleton of Dufftown 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
Speyburn 10yo: 8.10 ± 0.33 on 19 reviews ($$)
Speyside 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$)

Monkey Shoulder gets a decent score for this price point, consistent with the best entry-level single malts.

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

Nose: Fairly light, with dominant notes of caramelized baked apples. Green banana and a touch of citrus (orange). Golden raisins. Vanilla, nutmeg and a slight brown sugar note – all combining to give an evocative impression of baked apple pie. ‎Bit of acetone, suggestive of its youthful age. Pretty decent on the nose.

Palate: Some honey adds to the caramel notes from the nose. Not as fruity anymore, maybe a bit of light pear. Very lightly spiced. Malty. Unfortunately, I get a dusty, dry cardboard note (likely also from its youth). A slight bit of ethanol sting, but at least it adds some substance to the somewhat watery mouth feel.

Finish: Short, and relatively light.  A bit of the spice comes back, but it remains fairly dry and not a fruity as I had hoped. No real off notes though, except for a slight bitterness.

Definitely an entry level malt. Better than most scotch blends, but it seems to me like it would have benefited from a few more years in the casks. Given its first-fill ex-bourbon heritage, I expected a little more sweetness on the palate and finish. But I think the average Meta-Critic score above is fair.

Among reviewers, Nathan the Scotch Noob is a big fan, as are most of the guys at Quebec Whisky. Josh the Whiskey Jug gives it an average score. Most reviewers give it below average for the malt class, as you might expect – including Jason of In Search of Elegance, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Thomas of Whisky Saga, among others. Serge of Whisky Fun, Ruben of Whisky Notes and Jim Murray all give it very low scores.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve Single Malt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is just that – a higher-strength version of this classic Kentucky “wheated” bourbon. Check out my review of standard Maker’s Mark for more info on this bourbon producer (or my review of Maker’s Mark 46 for a competing higher-end product).

Each batch is bottled somewhere in the range of 108-114 proof (i.e., 54-57% ABV). My sample came from a batch that was toward the high end, at 56.7% ABV. You don’t tend to see a lot cask-strength wheaters, but this should really amp up the flavour profile.

Here is how it compares to various competing wheaters in my Meta-Critic database:

Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.40 on 25 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.80 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.99 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.40 ± 0.49 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.69 ± 0.34 on 14 reviews ($$)
Larceny Bourbon: 8.35 ± 0.24 on 101 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 20yo: 9.26 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 23yo: 8.78 ± 0.49 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.68 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.40 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.23 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$$+)

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

Colour: Dark amber. Can definitely see some darker and richer tones here.

Nose: Some similarity to standard Maker’s Mark, but amped up with more spice (cinnamon and cloves especially), and with added mint now. Ripe dark fruits take over from the more candied experience of standard Maker’s. Citrus, as always. Caramel and vanilla, of course. Nuts. There is still that acetone undertone, unfortunately. More mature than regular Maker’s, but not quite as interesting as the Maker’s 46.

Palate: Not as sweet as regular Maker’s Mark on the initial palate, with new notes of chocolate added to the caramel. More molasses than honey now. Sour cherry added to the fruit cocktail. Mixed nuts (getting some Brazil nuts in particular). Malty. You can taste the higher ABV, it packs more of punch now (although oddly not as creamy as Maker’s Mark 46 – I would describe the texture as buttery here). Those enhanced wood spices from the nose show up here as well.

Finish: Medium long. The sweetness lingers, with additional oaky elements. Not as bitter as standard Maker’s Mark. Cloves and cinnamon red hots – definitely lingers on those spicy notes as well.

With a few drops of water, the fruits pick up on the nose, and I get an almost floral note. In the mouth, the cinnamon spice picks up, and the texture become more fudge-like. A couple more drops brings up even more fruit on the palate, but can also start to accentuate the off-notes. If you bring it down all the way to standard Makers Mark’s 45% ABV, the sweetness increases and an astringent dryness develops – but its still better than regular Maker’s Mark. This is one you are going to want to experiment with the right level of water for your personal taste.

Certainly a much better choice than regular Maker’s Mark – but I still prefer the Maker’s Mark 46 with its heavy cinnamon spiciness and extra mature woodiness. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength is probably best suited to those looking to find more fruit and earth tones. But you will need to experiment with the water level here, as it quickly brings up some of the less pleasant notes as you dilute.

Personally, I would give this a slightly lower score than the Meta-Critic average. Among reviewers, John of Whisky Advocate is a huge fan, followed by Josh the Whiskey Jug,  Eric of Breaking Bourbon, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. But it gets an average score from My Annoying Opinions, and a below-average one from Thomas of Whisky Saga.

Maker’s Mark 46

Following on my review of regular Maker’s Mark – a standard-bearer in the “wheated” bourbon class – allow me to introduce one of their premium products: Maker’s Mark 46.

Maker’s Mark 46 is distinctive in that they age it longer than standard Maker’s (10 weeks longer, reported) and inside barrels containing pieces of seared French oak staves. The use of these staves creates more complex flavors, by helping to “season” the whisky further. Maker’s Mark claims this also helps eliminate the bitterness that usually comes with whiskies that are aged longer in virgin oak casks. The name apparently relates to the stave profile use for the inserted chips (“number 46”).

Maker’s Mark 46 is bottled at 47% ABV, which is just a touch higher than standard Maker’s. Note there is a cask strength version of 46 as well, but I haven’t tried it.

Here is how it compares to competing wheaters, in my Meta-Critic database:

Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.40 on 25 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.80 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.99 ± 0.35 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.40 ± 0.49 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.69 ± 0.34 on 14 reviews ($$)
Larceny Bourbon: 8.35 ± 0.24 on 101 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 20yo: 9.26 ± 0.34 on 13 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 23yo: 8.78 ± 0.49 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.68 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.82 ± 0.17 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.40 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.23 ± 0.25 on 15 reviews ($$$$$+)

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

Colour: Medium amber, maybe a touch darker than regular Maker’s Mark – but you could only tell if you closely scrutinized them side-by-side.

Nose: While still sweet, less sharp than the regular Maker’s, with a lot more wood notes (including sawdust). Toasted oak. Seems older, more mature. Caramel and vanilla, with less honey now. Slightly spicier nose too, with a touch of pepper joining the cinnamon. Not as fruity as regular Maker’s, but similar fruit cocktail and orange peels dominate. Less off notes, but the main one now is glue (i.e., it’s not as overwhelming sweet as regular Maker’s).

Palate: More balanced presentation. An almost earthy mix of caramel, vanilla and toasted wood spice. Anise and allspice join the cinnamon and cloves. Warming, with a thicker mouthfeel that regular Maker’s Mark – very creamy now (vanilla frosting comes to mind). The wheat is definitely more prominent, but with greater complexity than the simple sweetness of regular Maker’s. I like the more substantial (and spicier) taste – and lack of off notes.

Finish:  Medium-long. I’m not getting the bitterness or the astringency that I noticed on regular Maker’s. Just like how the sweetness is tamed and rendered more complex, you are getting a much more balanced presentation here across the board. A bit malty. Cinnamon red hots and creamy corn linger to the end.

With water, the creaminess of the mouth turns more syrupy (which some many actually prefer). The cinnamon is again enhanced. As always, adjust to your taste – but I think a few drops enhance this whisky.

I’ve always been a fan of hot cinnamon candies (i.e., cinnamon red hots, cinnamon hearts, Swedish fish, etc). So it is no surprise that I greatly prefer this version of Maker’s Mark over the standard version. But beyond the spice, there’s also a more elegant wood presentation – subdued, layered, and mature. An above average bourbon for me, the Meta-Critic average score seems reasonable. A bourbon I’d recommend for scotch drinkers.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray is a big fan, as is Josh the Whiskey Jug and John of Whisky Advocate. Similarly positive are the whole gang at Quebec Whisky, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Jason of In Search of Elegance. More moderate is Jordan of Breaking Boubon. Nathan the Scotch Noob is not a fan at all.

 

Paul John Bold

As I mentioned in inaugural review of Paul John Edited, this Indian single malt whisky maker is starting to get wider international exposure. Next up is my review of Paul John Bold – a fully peated Indian whisky.

Apparently, peat is brought over to Goa from Islay for this expression, where it is used to dry their 6-row Indian barley. This differs from the original Edited edition, where imported peated Scottish barley was added to their standard unpeated Indian barley. As a result, I would expect a more heavily peated expression here – but one clearly showcasing the Paul John house-style.

Bottled at 46% ABV, I picked up a full bottle of this one during my travels in Western Canada late last year. I believe I paid ~$85 CAD for it.

Here is how it compares to other Indian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Indian Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.82 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.69 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.81 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Single Cask: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Classic Select Cask: 8.62 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Brilliance: 8.47 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Peated Select Cask: 8.78 ± 0.26 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Bold: 8.75 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Edited: 8.46 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Definitely a peated malt – phenolic, but more smoke and gasoline exhaust than your typical Islay peated whisky. Almost like toasted barley? Sweet, in an uncomplicated simple syrup sort of way. Some vanilla. Green apples and some citrus (lemon). Cumin seeds. A bit funky, similar to some of the younger Swedish whiskies I’ve reviewed recently.

Palate: Strong honey note now, definitely a sweet one. A bit of caramel. Some red delicious joins the green apple. Lemon drop candies. Scottish oat cakes and arrowroot baby biscuits. Grassy. Not really much peat here. Mouthfeel is a bit light for 46%, would have been better a little higher, I expect. Dare I say it – this is “smooth.” Easy drinking, you could polish this off pretty quickly if you weren’t careful.

Finish‎: Medium length (a bit quick for a peated whisky, though). Surprisingly, a lingering fruity sweetness lasts the longest (plus some vanilla cake frosting). Faint lingering smoke, but not as much you would might have expected from the initial nose.

Water brings up the fruit notes on the nose, but waters down the mouthfeel slightly (and brings up the sweetness even more). I recommend you drink it neat. If you do add water, probably no more than a few drops.

Not a particular complex whisky – but a pleasant enough sipper, and very easy to drink neat. You might even call it elegant. This is one for when you just want to relax with friends (who don’t mind the strong phenolic nose). Certainly better than the Edited I recently tried, but I again would score this slightly lower than the Meta-Critic average.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray is again a huge fan. Fairly positive are Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Serge of Whisky Fun, as well as Unclimbability and Devoz from Reddit. Worth trying out if you get the chance.

 

 

Paul John Edited

Paul John in an Indian single malt whisky maker, based in the southwestern Indian state of Goa. While the Bangalore-based Amrut tends to get all the single malt attention, Paul John has actually been producing whisky since 1992. I’ve noticed Paul John whiskies starting to show up in many countries in the last couple of years (including Canada – Western Canada, at any rate).

Their first unpeated single malt whisky (“Brilliance”) was distilled from Indian 6-row barley. But from what I can find online, this “Edited” second release supposedly uses ~15% peated spirit, made from imported Scottish barley (with malted barley phenol levels of about 20-25 ppm). I don’t know if that is still the case for current releases, or if they have moved to in-house peating yet. In any case, you should a expect a lightly peated expression here.

Like the earlier Brilliance, Edited is matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. There is no age statement, but I expect it is fairly young (in keeping with other tropical climate whiskies). Bottled at 46% ABV, it typically retails for around ~$60 USD most places. I actually sampled this at the SWISS Air lounge in Zurich.

Here is how it compares to other Indian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Indian Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.82 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.69 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.81 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Single Cask: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Classic Select Cask: 8.62 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Brilliance: 8.47 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Peated Select Cask: 8.78 ± 0.26 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Paul John Bold: 8.75 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Paul John Edited: 8.46 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet and lightly peated. Getting a lot of ex-bourbon notes – honey, caramel and tons of vanilla. Apple and pear. Green peas (which is distinctive). Not very complex, but pleasant enough. The peat is relatively light – strikes me as something like a lightly peated Speyside scotch. Touch of old sweat socks. Slight ethanol singe on deep inhale.

Palate: Very sweet again, honey and vanilla in particular, plus corn syrup. The sweetness dominates over everything else, honestly. Hint of fruit compote. Slight tongue tingle, on the back and sides of the tongue. A bit of glue, somewhat dry at end. Watery for 46% ABV, would have guessed lower honestly. Disappointing, but not offensive.

Finish‎: Medium. Has a dry finish, evaporates quickly in the mouth. Faint lingering smoke, more like old paper somehow. Aside from the smoke, the flavours just disappears.

Water brings in nothing new on nose, and lightens the mouth feel further.  It also becomes a touch acidic on finish, which wasn’t there before. Simply put, don’t do it – it is better neat.

At the end of the day, this is a relatively unoffensive spirit – it just isn’t very interesting. Personally, I think the Meta-Critic average score is a bit high – I would have rated it a little lower. Among reviewers, Jim Murray is a huge fan of this one. Moderately positive are Joshua of Whiskey Wash, Dominic of Whisky Advocate and Serge of Whisky Fun. Very negative are TOModera of Reddit and Ruben of Whisky Notes.

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