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Amrut Single Cask PX (SAQ)

Third in my series of sherried single cask Amruts is a bottle exclusively released for the SAQ in Quebec, Canada.

Bottled at 62.8% ABV, the label indicates that unpeated Indian malt entered into a PX Sherry cask (cask 3516) in August 2010. It was bottled in July 2014, so just under 4 years old. Only 90 bottles were ever available for sale – which is even less than the LCBO version. Now long gone, of course.

Here is how it compares to other cask-strength Amruts in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

This is again a good score for a single cask PX Amrut. And again sampled blind to previous reviews or scores. My sample came from the Redditor Throzen.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown – a touch lighter than the LCBO PX cask.

Nose: Very sweet, with honey and golden brown sugar. Sultanas, golden raisins and some apple and plums (more stewed than fresh). Citrus (orange peel). Caramel and butterscotch. Oak char, with cinnamon and nutmeg. Definitely PX notes. Surprising lack of ethanol fumes for 62.8% ABV. Mild antiseptic off notes, however (Lisol). Water brings up the citrus notes and sweetness, and seems to help with the off notes – highly recommend you give it a splash.

Palate: On first sip an odd mix of sweet and bitter up-front, turning sweeter in the mouth. Brown sugar and caramel initially, turning more to vanilla and liquefied white sugar over time. Similar fruit notes as the nose (stewed again, but not particularly fruity in the mouth). Chocolate. Tons of pepper added to the cinnamon from the oak, plus anise and a fragrant herbal component (Ricola cough candies). Reasonable amount of heat, although still not as much as I expected for 62.8%. Some mouth-puckering astringency on the way out, but mild. Water really helps here, turning the mouthfeel thick and syrupy. It also seems to diminish the drying effect – highly recommend you add a fair amount.

Finish: Medium-long. Cinnamon and pepper last the longest, with lingering dried fruits. Reminds me of a spiced rum. The sweetness is balanced by a slight bitterness, in consistent measure over time (actually a pretty good balance). Water doesn’t affect the finish much.

A solid PX cask offering from Amrut for the SAQ in Quebec. Although my initial impression was not quite as favourable as the LCBO bottling that I recently reviewed, I’ve revised that opinion with a bit of water here. While it may not be quite as complex on the nose or body, it has better balance and integration – especially on the finish, which is lovely.  Honestly, I think this is just a case of bottling it at a little too high an absolute proof – it does better if you take it to the mid-50s (or potentially lower) ABV.

Again, the PX effect is unmistakable here, but it is different from the LCBO cask. This SAQ casks seems fresher and more vibrant, while the other was older and more complex. PX casks seem to be an interesting fit for Amrut, as it keeps the fruitiness in check while adding some sherry spice and sugary sweetness. Based on these two experiences, I’d certainly say it’s worth picking up a PX aged Amrut if given the chance.

This SAQ specific bottling got very good scores from Devoz, Throzen, and xile_ on reddit, as well as Martin from Quebec Whisky. Personally, my own assessment is closer to the moderately positive scores from Andre and Patrick at Quebec Whisky.

Please see my additional reviews of the Canada and LCBO single cask bottlings.

Amrut Single Cask PX (LCBO)

The second is my series of single cask sherried Amruts is a bottle exclusively released for the LCBO here in Ontario, Canada. This follows my review the Canada-specific cask, commonly known as Begal Tiger.

Bottled at 56.5% ABV, the label indicates that upeated Indian single malt entered into a PX Sherry Cask (cask 2696) in June 2009. It was bottled in January 2014, making it 5 years and 2 months old. It must have been a pretty small cask, as the out-turn was only 120 bottles (either that, or the angels were particularly greedy for their share).

Introduced into the LCBO in 2014, it originally sold for $145 CAD. It didn’t seem to sell well, and was eventually drastically reduced in price to clear. It has been sold out for some time.

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

This is one of the highest scoring single cask Amrut expressions that I track in my database. But note again that I did not specifically look up reviews of this particular single cask before sampling (i.e., like Bengal Tiger, I approached this sample blind to its ratings and reviews). My sample comes from Redditor Lasidar.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown – a touch darker than the Bangalore Tiger single cask.

Nose: Dark brown sugar and molasses, almost fudge-like. Dark fruits with sultanas, raisins, figs – and cherries in particular. But fruit is a bit hidden beneath the caramel, vanilla, chocolate and barley sugar. Cinnamon and cloves, with anise. Very rich nose, moist and earthy. No real off notes. Water brings up the fruits further, and exposes a slightly dry glue note that was masked by the ethanol at stock ABV (frankly doesn’t need water).

Palate: Very sweet and creamy on the palate. Dark brown sugar (Demerara sugar), caramel and honey notes mainly. Dark fruits again (dried), with some pear and plums added. Dark chocolate. Cinnamon, cloves, and a bit of black pepper. Leather. But still not quite as sherried as I was expecting for full PX cask maturation. Easily drinkable neat at the 56.6% ABV. With water, creaminess becomes more syrupy. The fruit and spices seemed to be amplified further.

Finish: Medium-long. Dark fruits initially, with a strong mint cooling sensation (Vicks vapo-rub?). A bit drying at the end, but not bad. Water doesn’t have much effect here.

Very nice presentation of a single cask Amrut. This seems more aged than most Amruts I’ve had – with lots of spice, and that cool (literally) mint sensation at the end. Still not quite what I was expecting for a fully PX-aged Amrut though (fruit is more dried and less stewed here) – but a great combination nonetheless. I’m guessing the cask wasn’t all that active any more (or perhaps a refill?). Still, a real fudge-like concoction, with a good amount of spice. If you are a fan of aged single malt casks (or even aged bourbons for that matter), this might be your cup of tea.

Most Reddit reviewers seem to love this LCBO exclusive single cask bottling, giving it top scores – including Boyd86DevozEthanized, Lasidar, and LetThereBeR0ck. TOModera is more moderately positive, as are Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. I’m in-between these two groups – but all agree this is a good single cask expression.

Please see my additional reviews of the Canada and SAQ single cask bottlings.

Amrut Single Cask Bengal Tiger (Canada)

Amrut is a major Indian whisky maker and exporter. Like many world whisky enthusiasts, I have previously enjoyed their batched expressions of cask-strength Sherry and Port-matured whiskies (e.g. Intermediate Sherry and Portonova). I am therefore naturally curious to see what their single cask offerings are like.

Starting off a series of three reviews is a single cask Amrut known as “Bengal Tiger” (or “Bangalore Tiger”), due to the distinctive label. This single cask whisky was specifically chosen by the distillery’s Brand Ambassador for the Canadian market. It was matured in an ex-bourbon cask before finishing in a Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry cask. Exclusively bottled for Canada, I’ve only seen this for sale in Alberta and B.C, where it ranges between $120 and $195 CAD. There are still some bottles around for sale at the higher price.

The bottle label identifies that unpeated Indian malt went into cask (presumably the ex-bourbon cask) in June 2009. It was bottled in April 2015, in 540 bottles at 56.5% ABV. The label identifies the final cask as PX Sherry, cask 2701 (presumably the finishing cask). So that makes this whisky 5 years and 10 months old – but it is not reported how long it was held in each cask.

But a bit of online sleuthing can help us narrow it down. It turns out that cask 2701 was previously released in 2013 as a single cask PX Sherry expression (see for example reviews by My Annoying Opinions and Michael of Diving for Pearls). Bottled at 62.8%, the label for that expression indicates it was also filled in June 2009 – but bottled in August 2013 (making it 4 years 2 months old). So assuming they immediately refilled it with the whisky from the Bengal Tiger ex-bourbon cask, the most it could have spent in the second-fill (or later) PX Sherry cask 2701 is 1 year and 8 months. Of course, that is an upper limit – that 2701 cask could been used to “finish” other whiskies before getting Bengal Tiger (i.e., it may be a later refill, with even less time in the barrel).

The point is that this is clearly a second-fill (or later) PX cask, with limited time in contact with the whisky. As such, you are not likely to find as heavy a sherry presence in this whisky as other pure PX cask-aged Amruts.

Here are how the various cask-strength Amrut whiskies compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Amrut Bengal Tiger PX Single Cask (Canada): 8.67 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.31 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Double Cask: 9.04 ± 0.19 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels (8yo and 10yo): 9.19 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.95 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.91 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.55 ± 0.63 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.14 ± 0.18 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.76 ± 0.39 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.79 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2696 (LCBO): 8.94 ± 0.24 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2701: 8.52 ± 0.68 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 2702: 7.95 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask 3516 (SAQ): 8.86 ± 0.17 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (Batch 001): 9.16 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

With the caveat that there are few reviews so far, the Amrut Bengal Tiger gets a respectable score for a single cask expression.

My sample of Bengal Tiger came from Redditor Devoz. Note that for this review I had not looked up the above information beforehand – I sampled this whisky blind to previous reviews and scores, and have only added it to my database after the fact.

Colour: Medium gold, light brown.

Nose: Honey. Caramel and chocolate (plus cocoa powder). Touch of darker fruits (sultanas, some cherry), but dried, and not very fruity overall. Light wood spices, nutmeg mainly, and some more exotic Indian spices (cumin?). Doesn’t seem like it was a very long finishing in PX (and it is a bit shy overall). There are some mixed solvent smells (a little bit of old sweatsock, specifically). Sweeter with water, as you might expect (less dried, more candied fruits).

Palate: Very hot – even more than I expected for the ABV. Chocolate and caramel from the nose follow through, as does the honey. A particularly syrupy mouthfeel, which is nice. Leather, with some anise and cinnamon joining the spices from the nose. This “earthiness” reminds me a bit of the Kavalan sherry casks, and may be a sign of the PX finishing – although again, I am not getting a lot of overt PX here. Noticeable bitterness on the the way out, which detracts. Water is a must, which lightens the mouthfeel, tones down the heat, and brings up the caramel and honey. Doesn’t help with the bitterness though.

Finish: Medium. Dark chocolate. Anise. Bitter notes persist to the end. Astringent. With water, I get a touch of the dark fruits making a resurgence.

Yowza, this is a hot one – much more so than most Amruts I’ve tried, even Portonova. Water is a must, but it only does so much. It feels to me like this needed to be aged in a first-fill PX cask. A bit disappointing actually, given all the other cask-strength Amruts I’ve tried to date (e.g., Spectrum batch 1 is outstanding).

Having now looked up the other reviews of this whisky, I find my tasting notes are very consistent. On Reddit, Devoz similarly noted the heat (although he still gave it a very good score). More moderately positive were TOModera and Boyd86, with overall average scores. My own assessment is less positive, and I would score this whisky as slightly below average.

Please see my subsequent reviews of the LCBO and SAQ single cask bottlings.

Maker’s Mark Bourbon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colour: Medium amber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished

This whisky is the second member in Crown Royal’s “Noble Collection” – a new line of higher-end products from the Gimli, Manitoba distillery. This expression is finished for six months in freshly emptied, medium-toast Cabernet Sauvignon casks from the Paso Robles region of California.

Fresh wine cask finishes can impart some interesting notes – although not always universally pleasant ones. Unlike fortified wines, I find you can get some sourness along with fresh fruit notes in these whiskies. And while I am personally a fan of Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton, I’m not so keen on the Arran Malt Amarone Finish.

I have not posted a review yet of the base Crown Royal expression (aka “DeLuxe”) – but I find there are better Canadian rye whiskies among the bottom-shelf options (e.g. Canadian Club 100% Rye, J.P. Wiser’s Double Still or even Hiram Walker’s Special Old).  I have had some higher-end Crown Royals that I’ve quite enjoyed (e.g. Monarch), so I was keen to give this Cab Sauv finished Crown Royal.

Bottled at 40.5% ABV (oddly), it currently retails for $70 CAD at the LCBO. I picked it up for $60 during the Canada Day online sale.

Here are how the various Crown Royals compare in my Meta-Critic database:

Crown Royal: 7.59 ± 0.46 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.21 ± 0.49 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.86 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Limited Edition: 8.30 ± 0.19 on 11 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.62 ± 0.48 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.35 ± 0.80 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.72 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.47 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal XO: 8.56 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$)

While only a few reviews are in so far, this is a very good score for a Crown Royal – the second-highest in my database, to date.

And now for a few other non-fortified wine barrel-finished whiskies:

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish 8.76 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Pomerol Bordeaux Cask Finish 8.35 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Sassicaia Wine Cask Finish 8.76 ± 0.17 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Tokaji Aszu Wine Finish 8.78 ± 0.34 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 640 Eroica 8.74 ± 0.40 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 382 La Berenice 8.57 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.70 ± 0.68 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton 8.81 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 7yo Gaja Barolo Finish 8.59 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 10yo Tokaji Finish 7.47 ± 1.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Australian Shiraz 8.86 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Cabernet Sauvignon 8.43 ± 1.15 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 12yo Pinot Noir Finish 8.84 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 14yo Burgundy Wood 8.54 ± 0.70 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish) 8.53 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)

What strikes me in the above list is how different wine cask finishings have both enhanced and reduced the typical scores for the given distilleries – as well as having greatly increased the variability in reviewer scores in many cases. It seems that wine cask finishing can be a bit hit or miss.

Here is what I find in the glass for this Crown Royal:

Nose: Very sweet and fruity, but with a definite underlying sourness. Cola and Juicy Fruit gum note (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup sweet). Prunes, raisins, sour cherry, with red and black currants. Also gooseberries (aka ground cherries). Citrus, lemon in particular (reminds me of Pledge furniture wax, but in a good way). Earthy, with anise and some tobacco. A bit grassy. Spicy, with cloves and a bit of pepper. Some similarity to Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton, but the rye whisky is definitely present here – it is just being overshadowed by the wine cask. There is a fairly unique off-note that reminds me of a musty kitchen sponge – plus of course acetone (with all that fruity sweetness). Definitely complex and unique.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla dominate on the initial palate – surprisingly so, since I didn’t detect them on the nose. These are followed by those dark fruits and cola syrup notes.  Buttered popcorn. Definitely oaky (fresh, young oak). A lighter mint note joins the earthiness from the nose. The rest of the baking spices – nutmeg, cinnamon and all spice – join the cloves. The initial mouthfeel is rather watery (as to be expected for 40.5% ABV), but it leaves a sticky residue on the lips and gums. Subsequent sips have a decidedly alkaline feel (i.e., slippery, almost oily), but sticky after you swallow. Quite unique in my experience. Astringent on the way out, with some classic Crown Royal bitterness (sadly).

Finish: Long. Lingering cola and dark fruits initially, turning more into wine gums over time. Mouth-puckering astringency is there, but not much bitterness fortunately. Oddly enough, it ends with a more typical rye spice finish once all the fruits/wine gums finally die down.

Water lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring anything new – I recommend you drink it neat.

This is a unique Crown Royal – and a quality one at that. I can’t think of anything quite like it on the Canadian whisky scene (correction: Forty Creek Evolution is a comparable style). While I wasn’t sure on the first initial sniffs, it really grew on me as I started to sample it. I haven’t tried the cognac-finished Crown Royals (e.g. XO), but this is kind of how I imagine it could taste, given my experience with Bruichladdich Cuvee 640 Eroica. While perhaps a bit steep at list MSRP, this Wine Barrel Finished was certainly a good buy on sale – especially if you like your whisky sweet and complex.

Very popular with Jason of In Search of Elegance. and Davin of Whisky Advocate. I am not quite as positive, but would still give it an above average score for a Canadian whisky, and one my highest scores for a Crown Royal. Debbie of Whiskey Reviewer gave it a below average score (although with a positive review, and also considering it one of the best CRs). Devoz of Reddit was less positive of this expression.

Smögen 4 Year Old Sherry Project 1:4

Following up on my inaugural Smögen review, I also received a sample of the Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom.

Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 is the fourth and final installment of the Smögen Sherry Project series. The earlier batches (1:1, 1:2 and 1:3) had limited – but increasing – finishing time in sherry casks. Sherry Project 1:4 is fully matured in first-fill sherry quarter casks, allowing collectors of the whole series to see how sherry finishing influences the final product.

Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 is a 4 year old whisky, and is bottled at cask strength (57.2% ABV). As is usual, the Smögen website has some background on information on this release, and the Sherry Project in general.

The Smögen Sherry Project 1:4 was distilled in July 2011, and bottled in August 2015.  Its entire storage life was spent in four Sherry quarter casks, of European oak. It was released in November 2015, and the entire 640 bottle official release sold out within a few minutes. In total there were 909 bottles from the out-turn (of 500 mL size). It was sold for 921 SEK (about $145 CAD).

Here is how various Swedish whiskies compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Somewhat restrained nose, especially compared to the single cask Smogen I recently reviewed. The peat is there, along with some medicinal funk, but it is subtle. Light wood smoke. For fruits, mainly dried red fruits, some berries and a few raisins. Tobacco. Peanuts and pine nuts. I’m getting some of those conifer notes again, but mild.  It is nice, but a little shy.

Palate: Packs a heftier punch on the palate than the nose indicated, with immediate peat and wood smoke, as well as some ethanol heat (i.e., feels the 57.2% ABV here). Lots of caramel and vanilla. Tobacco again, and even more wood spice, plus the pepper and chilies that I found on the single cask sample. Mouthfeel is good, with a lingering syrupiness that just makes you want to hold it in your mouth. This is pleasant surprise from the restrained nose – a more substantial malt in the mouth.

Finish: Medium long. Syrupy sweet to start, then turns a bit bitter on the final finish (likely from the wood influence, which grows over time). Caramel and a bit of eucalyptus carry though as well. A bit of astringency also comes up at the very end.

With water, the nose opens up more, with the peat and wood smoke rising a bit. Water also seems to enhance the sweetness on the finish, giving it better balance. On the whole, this is one where I think a little water is necessary to get the best overall effect. You’ll need to experiment to find your sweet spot.

I know Smogen used Oloroso quarter casks for the first 1:1 release. The source is not stated for this 1:4 batch, but it strikes me as having more PX influence than Oloroso. There’s a lot of sherry sweetness here, and the underlying malt seems less peated than what when into the single cask expression I just reviewed.

It is a nice whisky, but in the end I still prefer the single cask sauternes barrique edition. This Sherry Project 1:4 is a bit less complex – but could therefore be an easier everyday sipper.

Jim Murray and Thomas of Whisky Saga both really liked this expression, and Serge of Whisky Fun gave it a very high score. Personally, I give it a lower score than the Meta-Critic average.

Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask 7/2011

Smögen is an example of the new breed of “craft” whisky distillers setting up operations in Sweden. Established in 2009 by a young couple in the coastal region of Bohuslän, it is of course only recently that their whiskies have become available for sale (well, “available” is a relative term – available for those in-the-know in that part of the world).

BOX distillery (which I recently reviewed several whiskies from) is another Swedish craft distiller that has produced enough to start supplying some international markets (i.e., I’ve spotted them recently in Switzerland, and are even starting to show up here Canada). Smögen currently only has capacity for about 35,000 litres per year. So it will be some time before these show up more widely, I expect.

Check out their website for more info on their whiskies (Swedish-only at present). Thanks to Chrome’s auto-translate feature, I know that their focus is on whiskies that will be “powerful, smoky and of great character”, focusing on “quality in small batches, with full manual manufacturing and direct monitoring.”

While I’m generally not a fan of young whiskies, I was very impressed with what BOX has managed to do in a similar amount of time. I suspect part of the reason for this is the “accelerated aging” that comes from using smaller barrels (and in some cases re-constituted quarters casks or smaller), along with more extreme local temperature fluctuations.

I received a couple of samples of Smögen whisky from Whisky Saga’s Thomas Øhrbom is a swap earlier this year.

First up is a Smögen 4 Year Old Single Cask, laid down in 2011 (#7/2011). Bottled at cask strength of 57.3% ABV. This 4 year old Smögen whisky was fully matured in a first-fill Sauternes barrique cask. Sauternes is a French sweet wine made from white grapes of the Bordeaux region. Barriques (also known as Bordeaux barrels) are relatively tall and have a capacity of 225 litres.

The Smögen website has lots of info on this bottling. The malt batch for this barrel was based on the Optic barley strain, dried to at least 45 ppm phenol content. The whisky was distilled on March 11, 2011, and bottled on March 28th, 2015.  It was released in August of 2015, with limited Nordic/UK distribution (and immediately sold out). The total out-turn was 429 bottles of 500 mL size (so, not a lot of share for the Angels here!).

There aren’t many reviews of Smögen whiskies in my database, but here’s what I have so far (including for this single cask), relative to some other Swedish whiskies:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask (various casks): 9.01 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.82 ± 0.32 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.85 ± 0.13 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask 4yo 7/2011: 8.94 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Urania: 8.55 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)

As an aside, all the information above was compiled after I did my tasting of the Smogen whisky samples. I didn’t even know Smogen used peated malt until after I opened the bottle (i.e., I like to approach these tastings blind).

Here is what I find the glass:

Nose: Sweet peat with a slight medicinal twist. Wood smoke. Main fruits are dark-skinned plums and grapes, plus some tropical “green” notes (papaya in particular). Very woody, but with dried spruce, juniper and other conifers in addition to the usual oak. Menthol, camphor. Reminds me of some Mackmyra expressions (i.e., very Swedish presentation, especially of the oak). Salt and pepper, with some exotic spices (miso?). Mild off notes, reminiscent of Islays (i.e., a bit funky). It is clear that this is a heavily peated whisky that has spent time in a concentrated sweet wine cask.

Palate: Very honeyed sweetness in the mouth. Honey is really the overwhelming initial characteristic (must be from the sauternes casks). This is followed by rich caramel and peat (producing an almost burnt caramel taste, thanks to the smoke). Those dark-skinned plums and grapes show up next. Chocolate. Traditional wood spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Anise. Pepper with a touch of chilli powder. Very luxurious mouthfeel, almost syrupy at 57.3%. But you can surprisingly still easily drink this one neat. A bit of bitterness creeps it after a few sips, but it is mild. Impressive presentation, lots going on here.

Finish: Long, with the woody characteristics coming back and lingering. A mix of chocolate and caramel, with the wood smoke there to round out.  Quite pleasant.

With water, the fragrant conifer notes are enhanced on the nose (frankly, it becomes a bit too woody, if you ask me). In the mouth, water doesn’t have much of an effect on the flavours, but it does lighten the mouthfeel. On the finish, it seems to enhance the burnt caramel. As a result, I recommend you drink this one neat for best effect. If do you try adding any water, go very sparingly.

An old trick I learned once is to hold a mouthful of water and then take a sip of whisky (all without swallowing). This tends to reveal the most dominant note, as the whisky immediately dilutes and warms in your mouth. In this case, honey was the key characteristic that I found here, followed by the peat. Goes to show you how a cask can dominate a distillate, even in a fairly young peated whisky.

A real in your face, balls-to-the-wall kind of whisky, with a few rough edges – but still very enjoyable. Not exactly an everyday sipper, but a great experience – and one that has me curious to try other Smogen whiskies.

Among reviewers, Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun are both extremely positive on this single cask whisky. Thomas of Whisky Saga is more moderate in his score. My own assessment is somewhere in the middle of these three. Worth seeking out any of their single casks, if you get the chance.

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Box Dálvve 5 Year Old

Dálvve is a significant release for Box distillery. Typically characterized as a “craft distiller,” this is the first whisky to form part of their core range. Released on November 7th, 2016, this whisky is slowly starting to appear in markets around the world. It is also the first whisky they have released in standard 700 mL bottles (up to now, everything has been 500 mL, I believe).

The name dálvve comes from the ancient language of the Sami people of northern Sweden and Norway, and means “winter.”  Very appropriate, given that Box is one of the most northerly distilleries in the world, located at 63° N. They also experience extreme fluctuations in temperature, which helps to accelerate the aging of their whisky (along with their use of rebuilt quarter casks and smaller custom casks – see my inaugural review from this distillery for more info).

As always, the Box website gives tons of info on this release.  As a whisky geek, I really appreciate the incredible level of detail they provide. But to summarize, for batch 1, the composition is:

  • 63.48% is 5.24 year old unpeated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 24.13% is 5.23 year old peated whisky from 200-litre 1st fill bourbon casks
  • 12.39% is 5.07 year old unpeated whisky from 135-litre 1st fill bourbon casks

Yeast was the Fermentis Safwhisky M-1. Ingoing barley was Tipple, Quench, Publican, Henley and Sebastian. Unpeated malt was Pilsner malt from Vikingmalt in Halmstad, Sweden. Peated malt was Pilsner malt from Castle Maltings in Belgium. Peated to 39ppm phenol content using Scottish peat (making the final blended mix lightly peated overall).

Batch size was 1.2 tonnes of malt, with an average fermenting time of 80 hours in stainless steel vats. Distilled between 2nd May 2011 and 27th September 2011. Website has tons of additional features on the distillation, including cuts from the still if you are curious (i.e. times for the foreshots, etc).

For aging, 200-litre bourbon barrels were obtained almost exclusively from Heaven Hill and Jack Daniels distilleries. The 135-litre quarter casks were re-built from bourbon barrels by Speyside Cooperage.  Up until October 2014, the casks were stored in a damp warehouse (and thus lost some of their relative alcoholic strength). From October 2014 to August 2016 they were stored in a drier environment in Box warehouse number 3.

On the 24th of October 2016, 6986kg of whisky with an average alcohol content of 59.54% were emptied into a blending vat. Alcohol content was adjusted to 46% at the time of bottling. Bottled between the 28th of October and 3rd of November 2016 in a series of 14,015 bottles. Dálvve is neither cold-filtered nor has colouring been added.

Currently, batch 2 is now available – but I managed to snag a bottle of the original batch 1 in my travels. Note that batch 2 uses slightly less peated malt than the original batch 1 presented here (again, full details on all batches are available on the website link above).

There aren’t many reviews of Box whiskies so far, but here is how it compares to some of the other major Swedish whiskies in the same price range:

Box Dálvve: 8.63 ± 0.28 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.91 ± 0.05 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The Festival 2014: 8.94 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Brukswhisky: 8.45 ± 0.60 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra Moment Glöd: 8.84 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 03: 8.69 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 05: 8.50 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Special 07: 8.51 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.34 ± 0.23 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.71 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.65 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Smogen Primor: 8.50 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.68 ± 0.13 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus: 8.60 ± 0.58 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 1 Dubhe: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 2 Merak: 8.40 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No. 3 Phecda: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.58 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

Again, you should treat all entries as provisional until at least 7-8 reviews are in. But these early reviews seem to slightly favour Box over their main Swedish competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest malt whiskies I’ve seen. White gold in appearance.

Nose:  Lightly peated – there’s a hint of something vegetal and medicinal, but not a lot smoke.  Apple juice (Granny Smith) and lemon juice originally, followed by pears and green grapes. Something tropical, but I can’t place it. Vanilla and caramel. Just a bit grassy, with some oak influence (plus a bit of conifer). Hints of turpentine (but not bad). Well constructed, it reminds me a bit of some the decent lightly peated blends from Compass Box (i.e., Great King Street style blends). With water, I get a touch of old sweatsocks – kinda nice, actually.

Palate: Sweeter in the mouth, with barley sugar followed by caramel and vanilla. Also those oak spices – cinnamon in particular, plus some pepper. Sea salt. Little fruit, just a bit of apple and lemon juice again. The peat has a maritime characteristic, but is fairly subdued. Mouthfeel is a little watery for 46% ABV, but not bad. A bit of tongue tingle and ethanol heat, consistent with its young age. Slightly tannic tea, with a little bitterness on the way out. Water lightens the mouthfeel, but doesn’t really affect the heat or tingle. But water does bring in a white chocolate note – plus light honey, which is nice.

Finish: Medium-short. Its youth shows itself here – there is not really much complexity in the finish. Mainly salted caramel, oak spices and a light fruitiness (with that lemony citrus in particular). Just hint of wood smoke persists, but it otherwise doesn’t seem very peated. But no off notes, which is impressive for the age.

An easier sipper, nothing really to criticize here (except its relative youth). It is a bit light, compared to the higher-end offerings from Box. But certainly a lot better than Scapa Skiren or Bowmore Small Batch, if you have tried those entry-level peated malts. Something like the Hakushu 12 year old might be a good comparable for the style.

I’m glad they bottled Dalvve at 46% ABV. It does seem to benefit from just a few drops of water, though. For when you are in the mood for a gentle, lightly peated malt – clean and cleansing.

Jonny of Whisky Advocate is a huge fan of this whisky, giving it a top score. Thomas of Whisky Saga gives it a just below average score – which is where I would score it as well, given its youth and limited complexity. But great to see Box finally launching a core range – looking forward to more releases!

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2012 (4th Edition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Very light straw, slightly golden hue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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