Tag Archives: NAS

Longrow Peated

Longrow is the heavily-peated arm of Springbank distillers.  Regular Springbank releases have a certain amount of peat to them, but the Longrow brand amps this up by a considerable amount.

As explained in my Springbank 10 yo review, Springbank is one of the distilleries from the historical Campeltown region in Scotland. They are distinctive among distillers for controlling the entire production process on site (from malting, all the way to bottling). Overall, I find most Springbank whiskies to be fairly light and fruity.

Longrow Peated is the revised name for what was previously known as Longrow CV.  Although I separate these two expressions in my Whisky Database, it appears from the flavour descriptions and scores that what is in the bottle is not very different (i.e., this is just a labeling change).

Here are how the various Springbank offerings compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Hazelburn 8yo: 8.40 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Hazelburn 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.21 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow CV: 8.82 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Longrow 10yo: 8.57 ± 0.44 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 18yo: 9.17 ± 0.22 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 10yo: 8.69 ± 0.24 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 12yo Cask Strength: 8.85 ± 0.28 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.19 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)

And here is how it compares to some other whiskies of in the same price range and flavour cluster J class (i.e., heavily peated):

AnCnoc Rutter: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Ardbeg 10yo: 8.96 ± 0.33 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Benromach Peat Smoke: 8.46 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.74 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Peat Monster: 8.64 ± 0.33 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Ileach Peated Islay: 8.35 ± 0.29 on 6 reviews ($$)
Ileach Peated Islay Cask Strength: 8.83 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.64 ± 0.32 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Loch Gorm: 9.02 ± 0.17 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Lagavulin 8yo: 8.86 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Quarter Cask: 9.03 ± 0.27 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig 10yo: 8.86 ± 0.25 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Longrow Peated: 8.82 ± 0.19 on 12 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, the average score for the Longrow Peated fits in quite well with this class, with a very low standard deviation.

Note that while I have assigned Longrow Peated to the heavily-peated cluster J, it is really right on the border with the lightly-peated cluster I (which tends to get lower scores overall). It is definitely more peated than regular Springbank, though.

My thanks to Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance for the sample swap. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweat peat, very earthy. Initial fruits are pear and apple, with a distinctive citrus element (tangerines) and something tropical (pineapple especially). Very malty. Herbal, with hints of a floral bouquet under the smoke. Definitely medicinal (i.e., antiseptic smell).

Palate: Light but earthy, with some definite salt now. A touch of vanilla for sweetness.  Lemon joins the citrus family, and the other fruit notes die down. Very cleansing. Uncomplicated but not dull, you feel like you are really directly experiencing the distillery character here. A wave of smoke wafts over your mouth as you swallow.

Longrow.PeatedFinish: Medium long, with a return of some of the lighter fruits (pear, and those tropical notes). Juicy fruit gum.  The smoke lingers, with a tingle in the back of your throat. Feels like an antiseptic – something they would have made you gargle with in a previous age.

Despite all the medicinal/antiseptic references above, this is actually quite pleasant. It is sweeter than most light-flavoured peated whiskies at this price point, but never feels artificial.  Quite brisk and cleansing.  This is one where you don’t really pick up much from the wood (beyond the standards in all Scotch). Very spirit-driven, as they say.

It is also very easy to drink – I was surprised to see how quickly I drained my glass.  Definitely up there as one of the lighter-tasting peated whiskies you should try on your Scotch whisky journey.  But the numb throat effect afterwards may make you feel like you’ve swallowed a local anesthetic.

As with Springbank 10 yo, the most favourable review I’ve seen for Longrow Peated comes from Serge of Whisky Fun.  More typical are Micheal of Diving for Pearls, My Annoying Opinions, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and the guys at Quebec Whisky. Honestly, I don’t really see any negative reviews of this whisky among the established reviewers.  A consistently solid choice.

Stagg Jr Bourbon

Stagg Jr is the name given to a younger version of the infamous George T. Stagg, a high-end offering of the Buffalo Trace distillery. George T. Stagg is part of the annual Buffalo Trace Antique Collection (BTAC) release, and very hard to come by in the wild. Stagg Jr was apparently developed to increase the availability of this amped-up style of cask-strength bourbon.

Sharing a common mashbill with its big brother, Stagg Jr does not have an official age statement – although it believed to be aged for ~8-9 years (instead of the >15 years of George T. Stagg). Unfiltered and bottled at cask strength, Stagg Jr is released in small batches with some variability in final proof (so far, all within ~128-135 proof, or ~64-67.5% ABV). Typically, there have been two releases a year since its launch in the Fall of 2013.

My sample is from batch 3, released in the Fall of 2014, and is bottled at 66.05% ABV. This batch is often pointed to as the start of the better batches – the initial two releases were widely panned by reviewers, and dismissed as being too “alcohol forward.” See the the recent community review on Reddit for a range of opinions on how the various batches measure up (now up to batch 6).

While I track all batches on my Meta-Critic Database, I don’t report on them individually due to insufficient data on most releases. But since reviewer scores turned decidedly more positive on batch 3 (and have remained so), I have grouped them into batches 1-2 and batches 3-6 for the database. Here’s how Stagg Jr compares to some of the other Buffalo Trace offerings:

Buffalo Trace: 8.56 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 17yo: 8.81 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)
George T Stagg: 9.21 ± 0.27 on 18 reviews ($$$$$+)
Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.44 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3-6): 8.85 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

An interesting finding here is that the original batches of Stagg Jr actually got lower scores than the standard Eagle Rare 10 or entry-level Buffalo Trace. Ouch!  The later batches are more in line with Eagle Rare 17 yo (which is a premium BTAC release, like George T. Stagg), although keep in mind there are relatively few reviews.  Unfortunately, it seems like the early batches so turned off reviewers that few of them have come back to sample newer batches produced in the last two years.

Here is how the Stagg Jr batches compare to other similarly priced bourbons, including other cask-strength offerings:

Baker’s 7yo: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Booker’s Small Batch: 8.92 ± 0.25 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof: 8.80 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Elijah Craig 12yo Barrel Proof: 8.86 ± 0.26 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Four Roses Single Barrel: 8.72 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.71 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.44 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3-6): 8.85 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

The average scores for recent batches of Stagg Jr are certainly well in keeping with other cask-strength bourbons of comparable price.

My batch 3 sample of Stagg Jr was obtained from the Redditor Jolarbear.  When these bottles show up at the LCBO (a rarity), they currently go for ~$85 CAN.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet with dark fruits, like raisins and prunes. Woodsy and earthy, think rich and moist black earth. Herbal quality (pine? cedar?), that turns into black licorice over time. Chocolatey. Reminds me of amped-up Eagle Rare/Buffalo Trace juice (which of course, it is). Singes the nose hairs a bit, consistent with the high ABV. Water just dampens everything though – I prefer to sniff it neat (best to let it sit in the glass for awhile first, though).

Palate: The dark earth and fruit odyssey leads off, with leather, tobacco, prunes, raisins, cherries and chocolate. Also vanilla and a bit of caramel. The cinnamon and allspice soon kick in, along with a bit of pepper and some woody bitterness – but it is not that spicy overall. Somewhat syrupy in texture, I recommend you hold it awhile in you mouth (to let it mix with your saliva before swallowing). You really feel the burn of the ~66% ABV here. Frankly, a bit too hot to drink neat, even with small sips, as there is a lingering ethanol burn.  A bit of water really helps tame the burn, and brings up a touch more fruitiness. But don’t go crazy with the water – very quickly, it can start to feel dulled.

Stagg.JrFinish: Very long, with lots of oaky bitterness and vanilla carrying you through. Hints of the dark fruits persist, along with that cinnamon. Small amounts of water have no effect here that I can discern. This a powerful finish – much more so than the regular Buffalo Trace/Eagle Rare.

Although I am not a big bourbon guy, I do like the relative composition of the Buffalo Trace Juice. If I were to have a “table bourbon”, it would be Eagle Rare 10 yo.  So I quite enjoyed my batch 3 of Stagg Jr, with its amped set of familiar flavours.  I don’t have a lot of experience of cask-strength bourbons, but I’m looking forward to trying more out after this one.

For generally unfavourable (or at least, lukewarm) reviews of batch 1, check out John of Whisky Advocate, Serge of Whisky Fun, and Ruben of Whisky Notes. For examples of the more positive reviews of batch 3, please see Josh of the Whiskey Jug and Jason of In Search of Elegance. And of course, there is the community review on Reddit for a wide range of batches.

Nikka Coffey Malt

Following on my review of the popular Nikka Coffey Grain – a single-grain corn whisky from Japan – I recently picked up a bottle of their Coffey Malt to directly compare.

As with the Coffey Grain, this whisky is made at the Miyagikyo distillery operated by Nikka. It is produced in a continuous Coffey still – one of two in operation by Nikka for over 50 years now. This is different from most malt whisky, which is produced in small batches in copper pot stills.

Typically, this NAS bottling of Coffey Malt doesn’t get as much attention as the Coffey Grain – but I think that may be because it hasn’t been around as long.  Here is how some similar whiskies compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: 8.19 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hibiki Harmony NAS: 8.36 ± 0.70 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.64 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.89 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt 12yo Single Cask: 9.10 ± 0.48 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.82 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.78 ± 0.23 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Taketsuru NAS: 8.17 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.79 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

Despite the lower number of scores, the Coffey Malt is clearly fairly popular overall with reviewers. Unfortunately, none of the Nikka whiskies are currently available in Ontario. But the Coffey Grain, Coffey Malt, Black and From the Barrel are available in BC. At the moment, it will cost you ~$110 CAD (tax in) for the 700mL bottles of either the Coffey Grain or Coffey Malt. Bottled at 45% ABV.

Let’s see what I found in the glass.

Colour: I don’t usually comment on this, but the Coffey Malt is a slightly darker color than the Coffey Grain – closer to the Nikka Black.

Nose: Very different from the Coffey Grain, with a greater initial impression. Not as corn syrupy sweet, there are a lot tropical fruits here – with peaches, papayas and bananas most prominent. There are also a lot more malt aroma now (duh!). Reminds me of a cross between warm banana bread and those dry Scottish oatmeal cakes. Still has the faint caramel/vanilla notes from its time in oak – although if anything, the overall woodiness is increased. Very rich nose, and very appealing. The only negative for me is the slight solvent smell (vaguely pulp and paper plant like).

Palate: Even sweeter upfront than expected, with honey on top of those lighter tropical fruits from the nose (plus some additional dark fruits, like berries and plums). Very fruity overall. Surprising amount of chocolate, adding to that caramel sweetness from the nose. Faint dusting of some of the lighter rye spices (like nutmeg). Silky texture, very chewy – this is definitely a whisky you will want to swirl around the gums. Makes you want to go right back and try another sip! Surprisingly rich and tasty. While not overly complex, there are still a lot of flavours to dissect here.

Finish: Medium-short. Some of the sweet and chocolate notes linger, along with a slight creamy bitterness (i.e., think of the after effects of a latte). Other than that, it just fades out, with maybe a touch of sweet fruit hanging on until the end. Pleasant enough, but somewhat light.

Nikka.Coffey.MaltWow, a lot more going on here than the Coffey Grain. It reminds me of some of the more flavourful Irish Pot Still whiskies, with its creamy sweetness. Easy to drink, but still reasonably complex.

I would definitely give this a higher score than the Coffey Grain – although I agree the Coffey Grain deserves decent marks for its very good presentation of the light-and-sweet grain style.  All told, the Meta-Critic averages are pretty much about where I would place them for these two whiskies.

The most positive reviews I’ve seen for this whisky come from André and Patrick of Quebec Whisky – they really rave about it. Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate gives it a fairly positive score and review. Serge of Whisky Fun is fairly positive in his comments, but somewhat lower scoring. The lowest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Michio of Japanese Whisky Reviews.

 

 

Glenlivet 12 Year Old vs Founder’s Reserve

Like for many, the Glenlivet 12 yo was the first single malt Scotch that I would routinely order in a bar, neat. It was a considerable step up from the basic whisky blends I had tried (both domestic and international), and had a relatively gentle and inoffensive flavour profile.

I don’t mean that to sound belittling. When first exploring the world of whiskies, it is easy to get overwhelmed by strong flavours. Indeed, my first experience of malt whisky put me off it for years – a heavily peated malt, I recall remarking that it tasted like peat moss in vodka (as that was all I could discern at the time). The Glenlivet 12 yo was a revelation in comparison, and gave me an opportunity to appreciate the subtler flavours in malt whisky.

Of course, most of us eventually move on from this relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous single malt, searching for wider flavour experience.  But it remains a staple for its class, and one worth considering here – especially in comparison to the new Founder’s Reserve, a slightly cheaper new no-age-statement (NAS) from Glenlivet.

Founder’s Reserve immediately replaced the 12 yo as the sole entry-level Glenlivet expression in some smaller and emerging markets.  In more established markets (including North America), the two expressions are available side-by-side. That seems to be changing however, and the expectation is that the Founder’s Reserve will replace the 12 yo in most markets eventually.

As an aside, that name has received a fair amount of ridicule online – it is hard to imagine how the most entry-level whisky in a producer’s inventory could be described as a “Founder’s Reserve”. 😉

Fortunately, both the Founder’s Reserve and the original 12 yo are still available in Canada (for the time being). So I was able to try them both in short succession one recent evening.

Glenlivet.12Let’s see how they compare on in the Meta-Critic database, relative to other popular entry-level malt whiskies (age and non-age expressions).

Auchentoshan American Oak: 7.49 ± 0.94 on 6 reviews ($$)
Auchentoshan 12yo: 8.31 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu Amber Rock: 8.28 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Cardhu 12yo: 8.12 ± 0.50 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Deanston 12yo: 8.05 ± 0.48 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Deanston Virgin Oak: 8.21 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$)
Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve: 8.30 ± 0.43 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Glenfiddich 12yo: 8.08 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet 12yo: 8.03 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve: 7.95 ± 0.50 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 12yo: 7.82 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($$)

As you can see from the Meta-Critic average, they get roughly equivalent scores overall (and about middle of the pack for this entry-level group). But what you can’t tell from above is the repeated measure of individual reviewers who have tried both. There are only six reviewers that I track that have scored both whiskies, and the difference is interesting: three rank the Founder’s Reserve considerably higher than the 12 yo, two find it equivalent, and one finds it worse. Not quite what I expected for a lower price NAS.

Here is what I find in the glass for each:

Glenlivet 12 yo

Nose: Slightly sweet, with a touch of honey, and light fruits like apple and pineapple (a distinctive Glenlivet trait). Definite vanilla. Slightly floral, but I can’t identify anything specific. Slight solvent note, but not offensive.

Palate: Sweet up front, with the vanilla turning more to caramel now. The apple remains prominent, but also getting some citrus – with a touch of bitterness. Remains light and relatively sweet overall, and not very complex. Somewhat watery mouthfeel.

Finish:  Moderate finish – a bit longer than I would have expected from its light taste, but still relatively short overall.  That sweet apple remains the key note, although a bit of bitterness also lingers. As I remember it – a light and inoffensive whisky.

Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

Glenlivet.Founders.ReserveNose: My core notes read the same – slightly sweet, light fruits like apple, slightly floral. But there is more going on here, with a malty characteristic now. There is an almost maritime air, with hints of salty chocolate (i.e., seems like it could be just a tiny touch sherried). Definitely a more complex nose than the 12 yo. Unfortunately, the solvent characteristic is also more noticeable (a touch of glue in particular).

Palate: Still sweet and fruity, and I find some maltiness is coming up now as well. Classic apple and honey are still there, but with faint chocolate notes, and something slightly spicy (pepper?). Still light and watery overall. Improves on multiple sips.

Finish:  As before, medium length for its class (short overall for a Scotch). The various new notes (like chocolate) linger, as does a bit of caramel sweetness. Less fruity than the old 12 yo.

The Verdict: The Founder’s Reserve is both more and less than the 12 yo. It lacks the simple charm and elegance of light fruit-driven 12 yo, and brings in more complexity (likely from wider barrel blending). With that wider mix comes some additional off notes though, so it really is a mixed bag.

For its extra complexity, I would give Founder’s Reserve a marginally higher score. But I can really understand why individual reviewers vary so much in their relative opinions of these two. It thus makes sense how the overall average scores came out pretty much the same, but with a larger standard deviation for the Founder’s Reserve.

For direct comparison reviews of both the 12yo and Founder’s Reserve, I recommend the boys at QuebecWhisky (12 yo, FR), Oliver of Dramming (12 yo, FR), and Richard of WhiskeyReviewer (12 yo, FR).

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask

Kavalan is an internationally-renowned whisky distillery operating in Taiwan.  It makes a number of relatively entry-level single malts (like Kavalan Single Malt and the Concertmaster reviewed previously). But they also produce higher-end single cask whiskies under the Solist label. For this review, I have a bottle of the popular Solist Sherry Cask, which I brought back from my travels there last year.

Identifying Kavalan expressions can be tricky. In addition to the Solist Sherry Cask, there is the separate Solist Fino Sherry Cask available, plus the Solist Vihno Barrique and Solist Ex-Bourbon.  Note that if you are in the United States, Kavalan doesn’t use the “Solist” brand name (likely for a trademark issue). The whiskies there simply drop that word from the labels, which otherwise looks identical to Solist labels every where else (the front label on my bottle shown above). As you can see, these labels provide a lot of information on the specific cask and bottling: my bottle is from cask S090123071 (58.6% ABV), and is bottle 434 of 514 (I will come back to this point in a minute).

FYI, If you have traveled in Asia, you may also have noticed the Kavalan “Sherry Oak” expression, sold at 46% ABV with a plan label not identifying a specific cask or bottle. While generally believed to be diluted versions of the Solist Sherry Cask, I have also seen at least miniature bottles of “Sherry Oak Cask Strength” (58% ABV) that again do not identify a specific cask. So, it thus seems like Kavalan produces distinct single cask sherry-aged expressions under the “Solist” brand (word dropped in the US), and a more general “Sherry Oak” expression sold at both regular and cask strength in Asia. I have a sample on hand of the regular-strength Sherry Oak that I plan to review shortly.

As previously mentioned in my other reviews, Taiwan has a marine tropical climate – which means that their whiskies will mature more quickly in the barrel compared to more temperate northerly climes like Scotland and Ireland. As such, don’t expect to see age statements here – they are all quite young whiskies, and tend to be heavily influenced by the types of casks they were matured in. Since production only began in 2006, all of their whiskies are currently younger than 10 years old.

Actually, you can pin it down a lot more specifically with these single cask expressions: the specific cask numbers define the type of whisky and its distillation date. For the S090123071 cask here, S for Sherry, 09 is distilling year (2009), 01 is January, 23 is the 23rd of the month, and 071 is the 71st barrel of that day.  On the back is a sticker with the specific bottling date and hour (in this case, 2015.08.17 13:34). That means this cask was bottled at about six and a half years of age.

It’s great that they provide this much info, but don’t get hung up on trying to compare this to a standard Scottish single malt – the effect of accelerated aging in the tropics is immense.

Here are how some of the major Kavalan expressions compare in my database, to some other well known cask-strength “sherry bombs”.

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 9.00 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 19yo Single Cask (all vintages): 8.97 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 20yo Single Cask (all vintages): 9.05 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 9.04 ± 0.17 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.77 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 9.17 ± 0.25 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.22 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.98 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak (46% ABV): 9.09 ± 0.47 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.39 ± 0.48 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.80 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Interestingly, the Solist Sherry Cask is currently the highest-ranked Kavalan expression in my database (although many who have tried both typically prefer the Fino Sherry Cask).

While the LCBO used to carry the regular Kavalan Single Malt and Concertmaster, there are no whiskies from this distiller currently listed on the online site. However, I have recently seen bottles of the Solist Sherry Cask at one of the downtown Toronto flagship locations (Queens Quay) for ~$350 CAN.

I don’t normally comment on whisky colour (since it can be artificially manipulated), but I have to note that my Solist Sherry Cask has the darkest colour I’ve even seen in a whisky – it looks like dark mahogany wood!

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet rich flavours, showing the sherry cask selection. I get raisins and cocoa powder mainly, with additional marzipan, nuts and black licorice (i.e., anice spice). Not as overtly fruity as some sherry bombs, you do get a variety of dark fruits below the surface. There are some vegetal notes here too, evoking the tropical environment (i.e, a humid jungle, for those who have been in one). Very complex. Surprisingly for a cask-strength whisky, there is not much alcohol burn here (i.e., little nose tingle). Water lightens the nose, and doesn’t seem to bring out anything new – I recommend nosing it neat.

Palate: Thick and creamy, with an almost resinous quality. The fruits show up now, with cherry, raisins, plums and papaya. The cocoa on the nose turns to rich dark chocolate, and the spices turn to sweet cinnamon. Some pancake syrup. There is a moist earthy quality that adds character. I also get something that brings to mind tree bark, in a good way (not that I can ever recall actually trying it!). A bit of tongue tingle, but still surprisingly easy to drink neat (more so than other sherry bombs I’ve tried). Very complex, even by sherry bomb standards. With a bit of water, it becomes even sweeter up front, with more cherry/raspberry – and a new milk chocolate pudding texture and taste. If you keep adding more water though, it eventually loses complexity.

Kavalan.Sherry.CaskFinish: Long. The sweetness continues for a good long while, and there is no hint of the bitterness that often accompanies sherry bombs on the way out. Water doesn’t change much here, for good or ill.  You’ll be enjoying the after-glow of this whisky long after you’ve finished the glass. 😉

I typically prefer some water in my cask-strength sherry bombs, but this is one where I don’t think it is necessary.  If you do choose to water it down, I recommend no more than a few drops.  But since there is bound to be variability between individual casks, you will want to experiment to see what works best for you and your bottle.

I think I’ve lucked out here – this particular cask is one of the best whiskies I’ve ever tried. It is certainly my new favourite sherry bomb.

While every cask is different, here are some reviews that I think capture the gamut well.  The boys at Quebec Whisky all give their single cask among their highest personal scores. Oliver of Dramming really liked his sample, as did Ruben of Whisky Notes for his two samples (here and here). My Annoying Opinions has had some variable experiences (i.e., very positive here and here, less-so more recently here). Thomas of Whisky Saga gave his one sample a middle-of-the-road score. Serge of Whisky Fun has reported on six separate bottlings of Solist Sherry Cask to date, with diverse scores ranging from his 7th percentile right up to his 98th (!), with most doing fairly well.

 

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye

Hiram Walker & Sons is the largest distillery operating in Canada today, as well as the longest continuously operating distillery in North America. Indeed, according to one source, it may now actually be the largest single distiller in North America.

Located in Windsor, Ontario, Hiram Walker & Sons is currently owned by Pernod, and operated by Corby. This massive distillery produces many of the well-known Corby brands, such as Canadian Club, Gibson’s, Lot 40, and Wiser’s. According to Davin de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky Portable Expert, a significant proportion of their operation is sold as bulk whisky to US producers.

There is very little information about their namesake Special Old whisky available online. The only real info on the Corby website is a repeat of what is already shown on the bottle label – namely, that this is a Canadian rye whisky, and that Hiram Walker & Sons was established in 1858. Not exactly a lot to go on. According to Davin’s review at the Whisky Advocate, this whisky is only available in Canada.

Hiram Walker’s Special Old is an example of an ultra-low cost, entry-level Canadian whisky. You will consistently find this whisky sold at the lowest spirit “floor” price at the various Provincial liquor outlets. At the LCBO, that means you can pick up a standard 750mL bottle for ~$25 CAD. And like many of these entry-level whiskies, it is also available in a number of sizes (i.e., 200mL, 375mL, 750mL, 1140mL, 1750mL).  As you can tell from the image, packaging is very plain (and reminiscent of Alberta Premium, another entry-level whisky).

Here is how it compares to the other ultra-cheap, entry-level Canadian whiskies in my database:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($)
Canadian Club: 7.28 ± 0.87 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Mist: 7.61 ± 0.69 on 11 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old: 8.23 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.73 ± 0.79 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s Canadian 83: 7.28 ± 0.90 on 7 reviews ($)
Schenley Golden Wedding: 8.02 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($)
Wiser’s DeLuxe: 8.14 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average Meta-Critic score puts it at the top of the pack, along with Alberta Premium and Alberta Springs.

Note that it is bottled at the standard 40% ABV. My review sample came from a 200mL bottle. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose:  Rye spices are the first thing you notice, especially cinnamon and cloves. It has a pleasant fruitiness, with red apples, currants, and a bit of citrus. Some oaky vanilla, with a little caramel. Actually reminds me a bit of flat cola – but it’s not as sweet overall. There is a slight peppery spiciness, tingling the nose. Impressively, there are no obvious solvent notes – a rare find in a budget Canadian whisky. A pleasant surprise so far.

Palate: Very rye forward initially (led by cinnamon), but the kick fades quickly, leaving soft, lingering flavours. There is an almost immediate sweet creaminess that coats the tongue with vanilla/toffee, and some light fruitiness in the background. Overall rich, it leaves a nice buttery sensation on the lips and gums (though still a bit watery). It is not uniformly sweet though, as citrus and sour apple eventually take more prominence.  I would consider this fairly well balanced – it maintains distinctive individual flavours, and doesn’t blend them all together.

Finish:  Medium length for a Canadian rye, with some bitterness creeping in – but more like bitter chocolate than the typical bitter grapefruit of some Canadian blends.  I get the flat cola note again, with just a hint of the softer rye spices (maybe nutmeg) persisting to the end. Somewhat tannic, leading to a drying effect over time. Leads to a very cleansing finish, which gently encourages you to take another sip.

Hiram.Walker.Special.OldUPDATE JANUARY 2016: Like many bargain Canadian ryes, lot variation can be considerable on these.  I recently picked up a second bottle, and find the nose is muted in comparison, especially for the rye spices – and there is a distinct glue-like solvent smell now. The palate is generally similar, but feels “hotter” (i.e., more raw ethanol taste). Finish is comparable, although perhaps a touch less bitter (which would actually be an improvement).

I didn’t have high hopes for this whisky – I initially bought it as an impulse buy in the LCBO checkout line, as one more budget Canadian blend to try. But this is my favourite entry-level Canadian rye so far – easily exceeding all the entry versions of Alberta Premium, Canadian Club, Seagram’s and Wiser’s at this basement price point.

I even prefer the first batch of Hiram Walker over most of the second tier ~$30 CAD whiskies, like Crown Royal and Gibson’s 12. Indeed, I would almost place that batch on par with Canadian Club 100% Rye and Forty Creek’s Copper Pot – that is, among the best of the second tier whiskies.  The second batch is less interesting on the nose, but still matches anything else at the LCBO floor price.

For more reviews of this whisky, I recommend you check out Davin at the Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler.  The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who seems to have a fondness for entry-level Canadian rye whiskies more generally). For less positive reviews, you can check out the guys at Quebec Whisky.  But for my money, Hiram Walker’s Special Old tops the list of entry-level budget Canadian whiskies.

 

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

Bain’s Cape Mountain whisky is a South African whisky, from the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington. It is a pure “single grain” whisky (in this case, made exclusively from corn). It is produced in column stills, and matured in first-fill bourbon casks for a period of five years.

Until recently, it was relatively uncommon to find pure single grain whiskies bottled and sold to consumers. While column distillation is commonly used for both American bourbon and Canadian whisky, this tends to involve a mix of multiple grains (either at the time of distillation, during barreling, or at final blending). For scotch drinkers, most grain whiskies are used in “blends” – to provide a consistent sweetness and mouthfeel, and to help stretch out the smaller amount of the more distinctive (and expensive) malt whisky. See my single malt vs blend discussion here for more info on the typical processes.

Of course, one advantage to column-still whiskies is that they are a lot easier to produce (and can therefore can be sold a lot more cheaply). And as Japanese whisky makers have shown, careful barreling and aging practices can introduce some distinctive characteristics into these whiskies. That said, I find most single grain whiskies are fairly light. They thus compare most closely to some Irish whiskeys (which are traditionally pot distilled from both malted and unmalted barley), and some Canadian blended whiskies.

My recent positive experience with the Nikka Coffey Grain and Crown Royal Monarch (which uses a high proportion of Coffey still rye) encouraged me to seek out other column-still whiskies. Bain’s Cape is available locally at the LCBO for ~$48 CAD.  My review sample was provided by Reddit user Jolarbear.

Here is how Bain’s Cape compares to some similar grain and Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: 8.19 ± 0.54 on 7 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.73 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.29 ± 0.72 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.58 on 17 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.66 ± 0.50 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.30 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$)
Three Ships 5yo: 7.97 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.76 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears: 8.50 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$)

As you can see from the high standard deviation above for Bain’s, there are a wide range of views on this whisky. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, you can definitely smell the corn. In fact, it is hard to notice much else at first. A bit of light fruit, mainly apple and pear. Just a touch floral (i.e. perfumy). There are no real spices to speak of, but I do get a faint impression of cereal/baked pastries, with maybe some custard. Frankly, the overall impression is pleasant, but somewhat thin. There is a slight solvent aroma (acetone), but it is mild – which is impressive for a young grain whisky (i.e., some really suffer heavily with this).

Palate: Buttered-corn sweetness is the main initial characteristic, followed by some vanilla and caramel. The same apple and pear notes from the nose are here, albeit faintly. Slightly warming, but not really spicy. A bit more alcohol burn than I would have expected, even for a 43% ABV whisky. The creamy butteriness, when combined with that baked pastry note, brings to mind the strong image of shortbread cookies. A touch of bitterness creeps in at the end.

Finish: The finish is fairly short and thin – a common feature I find to most grain whiskies. The slight grapefruitty bitterness continues for some time, very reminiscent of some Canadian whiskies (i.e., standard Crown Royal). A gentle, simple sweetness is the main characteristic.

Bains.CapeNote that a few drops of water completely destroys the nose, and dulls the taste without helping tame the alcohol burn at all. And if anything, it makes the finish even more bitter (and introduces a somewhat artificial sweetener note to boot).  Simply put, don’t do it!

Overall, I find Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky to be a lightly flavoured grain whisky, with no major flaws beyond being a bit hot in its approach. The most interesting characteristic to me is the creamy shortbread taste. But frankly, I find it a little one-dimensional overall – even for a single grain whisky. Given these characteristics, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky might appeal to drinkers of the lighter Canadian or Irish whiskeys, or as a basis for cocktails.

Note that the Meta-Critic assessment of this whisky is fairly variable (i.e., a high standard deviation) on a low number of reviews. As such, you may want to consider the average score to be provisional until more reviews come in. Personally though, I think the current average Meta-Critic score is reasonable for this whisky.

Bain’s Cape has received moderately positive reviews from Jim Murray and Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate, and one extremely positive review from Ralfy. André of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun both rank it considerably lower (for the lack of interest/complexity, more than anything else).

 

 

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

The Teeling family has a long history of Irish whiskey making, having founded the well-known Cooley distillery.  Around the time of Cooley’s eventual acquisition into Beam-Suntory, Jack Teeling (son of Cooley founder John Teeling), struck out on his own – and under his family name.

While setting up a new distillery in Ireland, Teeling Whiskey got busy buying sourced Irish whiskies for relabeling under their own label. The first of the whiskies released –  Small Batch – is a malt/grain whisky blend with a relatively high proportion of malt (I’ve seen a 35:65 malt:grain mix reported online). A high proportion of first-fill bourbon casks has also been reported.

Unusually, Small Batch has spent a number of months being finished in rum casks. While it is common for new operations to source outside whisky initially, rum cask finishing is certainly not exactly a typical approach.

Let’s see how it compares to some other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database (in alphabetical order)

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.74 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.44 on 18 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.58 on 17 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.54 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers (Gold Label): 8.04 ± 0.64 on 9 reviews ($$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.30 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.56 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($$$)

That is certainly a very respectable score for the price class. Below are my nosing and tasting notes for this whisky. Note that my sample come from a batch that was bottled on 02/2015.

Nose: Sweet. Very sweet. Sugar cane sweet. Lightly floral, with orange blossoms. Light-bodied fruits, like green grapes, pears, plums, apricots, and green apples. Main impression is diluted sweetened apple juice. No solvent notes. A touch malty, with very light aromas overall (like most entry-level Irish whiskies). But could easily be mistaken for a light golden rum, given that sweetness.

Palate: That sweetness is still present – a pure, refined white-sugar sweetness (with none of the complexity of honey, brown sugar, or even corn syrup). Not getting a lot of the fruits, except for the citrus (more tart lemon now). Some caramel. Light dusting of baking spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Definite grassiness coming through. Relatively light body and mouthfeel, but with a lot of alcohol burn (likely due to the higher 46% ABV).

Finish: Medium length, but not much going on here. A slight bitterness creeps in, but its subtle. Mainly just sweetened apple juice on the way out, with a touch of the spices. Pretty mild.

Teeling.Small.BatchThe nose is misleading on this one, with its pure white sugar sweetness.  Once you actually take a sip, this seems more like a decent light Irish whiskey – but with some significant alcohol kick.

I strongly recommend adding a splash of water to the Small Batch, to help tame the burn. It really improves the mouthfeel, and also slightly enhances the floral elements (although not the fruit). The slight bitterness of the finish also seems to disappear. I think the overall Meta-Critic score is pretty much right on the money here.

Like the AnCnoc 12yo, this would make a good summer sipping whisky – or a great base for cocktails. It should appeal to the typical Jameson’s drinker looking to add some uncomplicated extra sweetness. Of course, you could also go for Jameson Black Barrel (known as Select Reserve now) or Bushmills Black Bush for similar quality scores.

One of the most positive reviews I’ve seen of Teeling Small Batch is of Dominic Roskrow of Whisky Advocate. Josh the WhiskeyJug and Ruben of WhiskyNotes both give it a fairly typical ranking from among the Meta-Critic panel. Nathan the Scotchnoob is probably the least impressed.

 

 

 

Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries

Welcome to my second Ichiro’s Malt review, the Double Distilleries.

As mentioned in my Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) review, Ichiro’s malts are vatted malts from two distilleries: the closed Hanyu distillery, and the currently operating Chichibu distillery. Both distilleries were controlled by the Akuto family, currently led by Ichiro Akuto.

In this case, the “double distilleries” label refers specifically to old Hanyu stock matured in ex-Sherry casks, and new-make Chichibu matured in new Japanese Mizunara oak casks. I’ve seen suggestions online that old Hanyu Puncheon casks may also have been used in the vattings. The exact proportion is unknown, although I expect it is weighed more towards the new make (from both an economic perspective, and from my tasting notes below).

Here are some scores for the various Ichiro’s Malts in the Meta-Critic database (from Hi to Low):

Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.29 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: 8.85 ± 0.41 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.68 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.23 ± 0.56 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is what I find in the glass for the Double Distilleries:

Nose: I can definitely smell the sherry cask influence – despite the light colour, I get rich chocolate notes. Apple and pear are the main fruits, not really getting the typical sherry figs or raisins. There is also a lot of honey sweetness here, similar to the Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR). A bit of allspice comes in as well, like in a nice rye blend (not over-powering). And the perfumy/incense wood notes from the MWR are also present throughout. Nice.

Palate: Definite spicy kick up front, just like the MWR. The sweet fruity notes come in next, along with the honey and chocolate. Not as much sherry influence as I was expecting from the nose – getting more general oakiness now. Taste of Graham crackers. A bit malty. Also some bitterness, but greatly attenuated compared to the MWR (which was overwhelming). The baking spices – allspice, nutmeg – linger nicely. Nice mouth feel, not too watery.

Finish: The sweet honey and Graham cracker notes are the most prominent. That MWR bitterness is present, but greatly subdued. The baking spices really help here, and linger for a nice long while. I even get a touch of apple at times. Not overly complex, but pleasant and fairly long-lasting.

Ichiro-DoubleDistilleriesI suggested in my MWR review that blending with additional casks would help that whisky out – and that is exactly what you get here. You can still detect the fragrant incense characteristics of the MWR, balanced by a more general sweetness. A clever blending of different flavour components – and a better way to glimpse the effect of younger whiskies from Mizunara wood, in my view.

This is certainly a nice, easy-drinking dram, with no real flaws. In contrast to the MWR, it goes down easier the more you sip. That said, the Double Distilleries could probably have benefited from a bit more sherry cask influence.

For some additional reviews of this whisky, you could check out Ruben of WhiskyNotes, Brian (Dramtastic) of JapaneseWhiskyReview, Michio of JapanWhiskyReviews, and Tone’s review on WhiskySaga.

Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR)

This is my first review of an Ichiro’s Malt Japanese whisky.

The eponymous brand name refers to Ichiro Akuto – grandson of the founder of the fabled Hanyu distillery (which shuttered production in 2000). Ichiro later founded the Chichibu distillery nearby, and managed to save a number of Hanyu casks. His “Ichiro’s Malt” series typically involve vattings of both old Hanyu stock and new Chichibu production.

The Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) is distinctive because it is a vatting of malts that have all been aged in Japanese Mizunara oak casks (Quercus mongolica). There is an interesting article on Nonjatta that describes the influence of this type of oak on Japanese whisky.

My experience of Mizunara wood aging to date has been through blended whiskies, where only a proportion of the final product was aged in these casks (such as the Hibiki Harmony). Ichiro’s Malt MWR is thus an opportunity to try and dissect out the specific contribution of Mizunara wood more directly.

The exact composition of the Ichiro’s Malt MWR is unknown, but I’m going to guess it is mainly new production from Chichibu. Here are some scores for the various Ichiro’s Malts in the Meta-Critic database (from Hi to Low):

Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.29 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: 8.85 ± 0.41 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.68 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.23 ± 0.56 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is what I find in the glass for Ichiro’s MWR:

Nose: Very floral and fragrant, with both woody and incense notes (“sandalwood” is often cited, which fits). Some grassiness, but again tending to the more sweet and fragrant aromas (mint?). It has a strong honeyed sweetness that reminds me a bit of Dalwhinnie (although the spirit seems younger here). Strong citrus presence, especially lemon peel and grapefruit. Some sweet apple. Pleasant, with very sharp and clear scents.

Palate: Tangy and spicy upfront, with a peppery kick. The honey and fruity sweetness is there from the start – with caramelized apple and citrus. Woodiness comes up fast though, with some sour and bitter notes. This sharp bitterness is reminiscent of some lightly smokey whiskies – but it is definitely more heavily pronounced on the MWR. Think sucking on a grapefuit that had sugar sprinkled on it – fruity sweetness upfront, followed by persistent bitterness (especially if you chew on the rind!). Some ginger too. Surprisingly light body overall, given the relatively high ABV (46%).

Finish: Relatively short. Not much going on here, except some lingering sweetness and peppery spiciness trying to cover up the woody bitterness (and failing). A bit of a let-down, honestly.

Ichiro-MWRThe MWR has a lot of promise on the nose, but it quickly turns bitter in the mouth, with a disappointing finish. It seems very young overall. Frankly, despite the initial distinctiveness, it is a whisky that makes you want to drink less as time goes by in the glass.

It is certainly an interesting way to experience the effect of pure Mizunara cask, but I definitely think this would do better as a blend with other types of wood. I would probably recommend the Hibiki Harmony over this as an introduction to the effect of Japanese oak.

For a positive review of the MWR, please see Dave Broom of WhiskyAdvocate. Personally, my own tastes align better with Ruben of WhiskyNotes. There is also Brian’s (Dramtastic) review on Nonjatta.

UPDATE: Please see my Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries review for a good example of what some blending can bring to Mizunara wood casks.

 

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