Tag Archives: NAS

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.

Twelve Barrels

A number of recent additions to the LCBO catalog of Canadian whisky have piqued my interest – including this first release under the new “Twelve Barrels” brand.

The name is derived from some local lore in the town Napanee, Ontario (from whence the creator of this whisky, Cole Miller, originates). Apparently, a minor local celebrity named John took to jumping over whisky barrels on skates – eventually working his way up the eponymous Twelve Barrels.

This entry-level whisky is blended from whisky sourced from a few different distilleries. It is bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV, and is sold at the LCBO for $35 CAD.

There are few reviews so far, but here is how it compares to other entry-level Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.16 ± 0.67 on 12 reviews ($)
Canadian Club (Premium): 7.30 ± 0.71 on 18 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.30 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.20 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.44 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Bold 8yo: 8.25 ± 0.46 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.90 ± 0.68 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.42 ± 0.75 on 6 reviews ($)
Twelve Barrels: 8.09 ± 0.45 on 4 reviews ($$)

My sample of Twelve Barrels was provided directly by Cole for this review. All opinions in the review remain my own, of course.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, ultra-light corn syrup. Caramel and vanilla. Orange peel. Red berries. Dusty rye spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dry kindling, seasoned wood. Very rye forward, almost an American straight rye character (or a light-style, high-rye bourbon). Much more rye than a typical Canadian whisky. Acetone and a touch of glue, but not objectionable – it does seem young though. But better than I was expecting so far.

Palate: There’s that American rye again, starting out with powerful initial wallop.  Cinnamon spice, black pepper. Simple sugar syrup backbone. Orange peel again. Old cedar chest. Some creamy cereal notes (Weetabix?). There is something here that reminds me of Century Reserve 21, but not as refined. Watery, as expected for the ABV.  A cut above most entry-level Canadian whiskies so far, easy enough to sip. But a persistent bitterness rises quickly right after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Fades fast, like most of the competition in this class. Slight artificial sweetness with a dry bitterness settle in – and that glue note returns. These all point to its youth. Disappointing in this regard, honestly.

Well, that was interesting: starts off like an American rye, morphs into a Canadian corn/wheat whisky in the mouth, and ends like a typical Canadian corn whisky.‎ Similar to a lot of entry-level Canadian whiskies, the finish is rather disappointing (what little there is). But it strike a pretty good balance on the nose and palate, with more character than I expected.

Interestingly, I found I was holding this whisky in my mouth longer than usual on each sip. But not because I was waiting for something new to emerge – it was to prevent the rise of that slight bitterness after swallowing.

Among reviewers, the most positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance, followed by Davin of Canadian Whisky. The most negative is Andre of Quebec Whisky, who gives it a low score. I would personally be somewhere in the middle of all of these. Looking forward to trying what Cole comes up with next.

Amrut Spectrum 004

Given the success of their initial hybrid cask experiment, Amrut has released a second  batch of Spectrum.

As I explained in my review of Batch 1, Spectrum is a single hybrid cask build from different sources of wood. The custom barrel for the first batch was built from new charred American Oak, new lightly toasted French Oak, new lightly toasted Spanish Oak, ex-Oloroso Sherry staves, and ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry staves. This time around, the Spanish Oak staves were left out. As these are considered to have among the least impact on flavour, the expectation is that the new batch should still have a very similar flavor profile to the original. This 4-source cask presumably explains the “004” added to the name for this second batch.

This is a no age statement (NAS) release, but my original bottle of Spectrum batch 1 described the base spirit has having spent 3 years in traditional ex-Bourbon oak barrels before being transferred into the custom hybrid barrel for another 3.5 years. I don’t have the details for the Spectrum 004 – but will update this review if I find out.  Apparently, only 1800 bottles of this second batch were produced (1000 were available the first time around). Again bottled at 50% ABV.

As a big fan of the original Amrut Spectrum, I was glad to be able to swap a sample with Redditor Strasse007 for the new Spectrum 004.

Here is how the two Spectrums compare to other Amruts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.20 ± 0.22 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Herald: 8.91 ± 0.15 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Indian Single Malt: 8.27 ± 0.82 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.69 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.17 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (all batches): 9.13 ± 0.17 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 1): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Spectrum 004 (Batch 2): 9.10 ± 0.29 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Rye: 8.87 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.80 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

There are few reviews of Spectrum 004 so far, but it is still getting a very high score.

Let’s see what I found in the glass.

Colour: Slightly lighter than Batch 1 – a bit more pinkish in hue.

Nose:Similar nose to Batch 1, but a bit lighter overall (and less complex). Figs and raisins remain prominent, plus plums and earth cherries (gooseberries). Orange peel and a touch of lemon. Chocolate notes are even stronger now, and a touch sweeter (milk chocolate). Cinnamon and nutmeg. Coffee. Still earthy, with leather and tobacco – but a bit less sour than the first batch. A touch vinegary. A very nice nose, but I still prefer the first batch on the whole.

Palate:Sweet sultanas and raisins. Sour cherry and green apple (which are novel), and more lemony than the first batch – so, a bit tart overall. Chocolate and a bit of caramel – but less sweet than the first batch. Even heavier cinnamon sensation now. Anise and black pepper like before, plus some chilli pepper now – definitely a bit spicier. Leather, and that same rancio note as the first batch, which I enjoy. Rich mouthfeel. Slight woody bitterness comes in at the end.

Finish:Long. Potpourri, with dried fruits and spices. A bit bitter, with an astringent dryness that comes up at the end – which I didn’t recall on the first batch.

Water brings up the sweetness in the mouth, without affecting the mouthfeel. It also seems to help a bit with the bitterness on the finish – so I strongly recommend you try it with a few drops.

It is true that the overall flavour profile is very similar to the first batch Amrut Spectrum.  But it seems to me that the quality of the staves was a bit higher on that first batch, given the slight bitterness which creeps in here with the 004. I also liked the extra sweetness of the first batch. Not objectionable at all, but I definitely prefer the first batch for the all-around experience and complexity.

Personally, I would rate the first batch of Spectrum even higher than the Meta-Critic average, and the Spectrum 004 as slightly lower. But both are excellent whiskies.

Among reviewers, the most positive is Jonny of Whisky Advocate, who actually prefers 004 slightly over the first batch. Like me, Redditors Devoz and Ethanized both give 004 a lower score than the first batch. Saba007 is also very positive on this whisky.

Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky)

I enjoyed my first experience of Mackmyra, The First Edition, with its distinctive earthy and coniferous tones. This expression been replaced by a new variant, known as Svensk Ek. However, this new release is considerably more expensive where I live (and is getting lower scores to date in my MetaCritic Database).

Mackmyra has also released a new entry-level core expression, known simply as The Swedish Whisky (or Brukswhisky). Like Box Dalvve reviewed recently, this new core line is a light Swedish whisky with some peated malt added to the mix. Matured primarily in first fill bourbon barrels, it also includes whisky aged in sherry and Swedish oak casks. And best of all, it is only $50 CAD at the LCBO (which is cheaper than any name-branded Scottish single malt). It is bottled at 41.4%.

Let’s see how it compares to other Swedish whiskies, of similar style, in my MetaCritic Database.

Box Dalvve: 8.49 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX: 8.92 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.90 ± 0.03 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.93 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Blomstertid: 8.19 ± 0.26 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Iskristall: 8.87 ± 0.21 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.33 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky): 8.45 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$)
Smögen Sherry Project 1:1: 8.71 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Sherry Project 1:2: 8.85 ± 0.19 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Sherry Project 1:3: 8.77 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Smögen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

While it doesn’t score as highly as The First Edition, this near-overall-average score for my database is very impressive for an entry-level malt.

Here is what I find in the glass.

Nose: Fresh and clean aroma, with vanilla and citrus notes dominating (lemon peel in particular). Green apple and pear, plus cherries (which is distinctive). Pine and juniper. Fresh hay. Not getting any overt signs of smoke here, but it is a bit salty. Just a hint of acetone (less than I expected for the price and presumed youth). Light and youthful, but well-constructed for the style.

Palate: A touch creamier now, with even more vanilla and some of caramel. Loads of citrus (lemon and grapefruit), and even more pine. Red berries. Cinnamon and a bit of all-spice. Earthy, in a way I’ve come to associate with Mackmyra (i.e., a touch of anise and mixed conifers, eucalyptus). Some tongue tingle (surprising for the low ABV). Watery overall, which detracts (definitely lighter than First Edition). On the way out, I’m getting a faint of hint of smoke – although it is coming through more as an underlying mustiness.

Finish: The spiciness lingers the longest (cinnamon in particular), with some cracked black pepper now. Otherwise, light vanilla frosting and some caramel. Bitterness rises at the end, unfortunately.

A very respectable entry-level dram – young without tasting youngish. It shares a lot of similar characteristics to the standard bottling of Box Dalvve, although with less smoke here. Still, the fruitiness and woodiness pick up more, which is nice.

This is probably a reasonable replacement for the Mackmyra First Edition, especially at lower cost. Brukswhisky does have a more watery mouthfeel and less robust finish than its predecessor, however.

The guys at Quebec Whisky are all really big fans of this one (especially Martin). Serge of Whisky Fun gives it an about average score. Less positive are TOModera and Unclimbability of Reddit, and Dominic of Whisky Advocate. The most negative I’ve seen is Thomas of Whisky Saga. Personally, I’d give it a slightly below average score, consistent with the Meta-Critic average. Great value for the price around here.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

One of the most recognizable names in Irish whisky, Jameson is a core brand of the Midleton distillery of County Cork. An empire was built on the shoulders of this slender green bottle – Jameson is the top-selling Irish whisky across the world.

This base expression of Jameson is a blend of traditional pot still whisky and inexpensive column-distilled grain whisky. As with most Irish whisky, it is triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of 4 years. It is bottled at the industry-standard minimum strength of 40% ABV. You can typically find it at or near the “floor” price for budget whisky in most jurisdictions.

Standard Jameson is known for its relatively “smooth” flavour – a term widely used by casual whisky drinkers to denote a relative lack of sharp, off-putting notes – and widely derided by enthusiasts who look for greater complexity and character. But personally, I find there is something to be said for a lack of off-notes in an entry-level expression. I was gifted a bottle a while back, so I figured it was time I tried it neat again, for a proper review.

Here is how it compares to other inexpensive Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.36 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.23 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.84 ± 0.50 on 21 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.19 ± 0.51 on 9 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain (Greenore): 8.15 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.97 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.35 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.29 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish: 8.15 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional: 7.56 ± 1.04 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.83 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

And this is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Strong grain sensation tickles the nose hairs, followed by honey sweetness. Pear and green apple. Faint citrus (grapefruit). Something you could describe as floral, but indistinct (dried flower arrangement?). Grass clippings. A bit of old book bindings (i.e., dried glue). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely more on the dry side than the sweet side.

Palate: Immediate grain hit, followed by gentle malt and sweet light honey. Light fruits (pear and apple again), but also unripened ones (e.g. green banana). A little vanilla. Green grass and some hay. Unfortunately a slight artificial sweetener note builds with time. Watery mouthfeel, but a slight stinging sensation asserts itself after swallowing, oddly.

Finish: Light, short finish. Honey initially, then fades into the typical mix of slightly artificial syrup and mild bitterness.  Maybe some faint spice, but mild.

One comment to make right off the bat – although those are the flavours I could detect, the overall experience is a bit frustrating as all the notes are lighter than usual. It is almost as it were bottled at even lower proof or something – there really is not a lot of sensory experience going on here.

I don’t know anything specific about the mix, but I presume this is more grain whisky than pot still. Supposedly, there are some sherry barrels in here – but I can’t find them. Not that this is not a bad pour per se, it is just boring. I think it is fair to say that this is “easy drinking” (another code word for bland), and won’t overly task your taste buds. But it is best suited to mixed drinks or on the rocks, and for those who don’t like strong whisky flavours. Personally, I would still prefer this over the entry-level Bushmills recently reviewed, which I find too sweet.

As for reviewers, there is one anomalous score – Jim Murray loves this base expression, giving it one of his top scores. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this – Mr Murray has a tendency to give top marks to a number of entry-level blends (see a discussion here). Otherwise, the most generally positive review I’ve seen is from Nathan the Scotch Noob, followed by Micheal of Diving of Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug , Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ralfy (although all still give a well below average score).  Some of the lowest scores in my database come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, S.D. and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Serge of Whisky Fun. I must say I am personally at this lower end of the spectrum as well.

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