Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Lot 40 Dark Oak

For the last few years, one of the most anticipated events in the Canadian whisky scene has been the annual Fall release of the special whisky set from Corby known as the Northern Border Collection. Consisting of unique bottlings from each of their major brands (Lot 40, J.P. Wiser’s, Gooderham & Worts, and Pike Creek), this specialty series typically generates a lot of buzz. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Corby announced earlier this year that they wouldn’t be doing a Northern Border Collection for 2020.

However, over the course of the year, they have starred releasing certain select specialty bottlings individually (often with very limited numbers).  The first was the Pike Creek 15 Year Old Finished in Ontario Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels (limited release at the LCBO in August 2020). This was followed in early November with a limited online-only Ontario release of a few cases of their second aged cask-strength blend under the J.P. Wiser’s brand – a 22 year old bottling, finished in Port casks. I missed that one, but a wider release of it is planned “in the new year.”

Now comes the initial release of a special version of Lot 40 known as Dark Oak. Released in BC and online-only in Ontario in late November 2020, it sold out in under 3 minutes (!) at J.P. Wiser’s website (despite being limited to only 2 bottles an order, shipping in Ontario only). Again, a wider release is planned for February 2020.  I was lucky enough to grab one of these first bottles (all personally signed by Dr Don Livermore, as shown below).

This is a no-age-statement (NAS) release, bottled at a slightly increased strength of 48% ABV compared to 43% for regular Lot 40 (but not cask-strength, like the recent Northern Border Collection Lot 40 releases). Like regular Lot 40, this is a 100% rye that is column and then pot distilled, and aged in virgin American oak casks (no. 2 char). This special release has then undergone additional finishing in heavily-charred oak casks (no. 4 char). This should impart greater oaky notes, includes caramel sweetness and wood spice (plus of course, darker colour).

Dr. Don has indicated that he hopes this will eventually become a core release, depending on how well it sells. Sold for $59.95 CAD in BC and Ontario, which is $20 more than standard Lot 40 (which is similarly NAS, but bottled at 43% ABV). However, that is still $30 less than last year’s third cask-strength release (also NAS, finished in French oak).

It is too early to find sufficient reviews of this one online, so here are how the other Lot 40 bottlings out there compare in my Meta-Critic Database.

Lot 40: 8.88 ± 0.36 on 26 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.16 ± 0.10 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.04 ± 0.30 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.80 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

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

Colour: Medium tan. Definitely a darker hue than regular Lot 40, more on par with the aged cask-strength releases (or even darker).

Nose: The substrate is clearly classic Lot 40, with its fruity, floral, and baking spice notes (nutmeg and cinnamon in particular). But it is richer here, especially on the spicy side, with cardamom and some cloves. Caramel and creamy vanilla custard. Sour cherries add to the typical lighter fruits (apple and pear). Interestingly, I also get a lot of bubblegum (rare for Lot 40, but present on many other straight ryes). Some actual woody oak. Bit of nose prickle, likely coming from the higher alcohol strength. Still very clean overall, but there is a touch of organic solvent. Water brings up brown sugar (and dill), but deadens the other notes if you add more than a drop or two.

Palate: Heavier brown sugar and caramel than typical Lot 40. Cherries are also more prominent. But it is the heavier spice that really standards out, with dill and chilies added to the typical baking spices (plus cloves again). Strong peppermint note. Very oaky in the mouth as well. Noticeable alcohol zing from the higher strength, combined with the extra spice gives it a real kick. Drying on the swallow. Water lightens the mouthfeel quickly, and just delays the spice attack (i.e., it doesn’t reduce its impact).

Finish: Medium length. Hot chilies and sweet caramel initially, followed by the dill. A lot of woody notes. Bubblegum and cloves return at the end, and it is again drying on the final finish.

This is a different type of Lot 40 release. I found the various cask-strength specialty releases all quite drinkable neat, but this Dark Oak comes out of the gate with a lot more spice and kick. However, adding even a few drops of water sweetens the taste (and lightens the mouthfeel) without actually adding anything or dampening the spice. Indeed, it quickly drowns out the subtle flavours (and may accentuate the dill note), so I recommend drinking it neat, or with no more than a drop or two.

It is certainly an interesting concept, but it takes the already fairly spicy Lot 40 and amps it up to very heavy levels. I would only recommend this release if you like your rye whiskies very spicy. Personally, I prefer the regular lot 40 and the previous cask-strength releases (although it is close in quality to last year’s French-oak finished cask-strength release). To put that in context, and using my own scores (on the Meta-Critic scale), I would personally score and rank them all as follows:

11 Year Old cask strength 2018 (9.3) > 12 Year Old cask strength 2017 (9.2) > regular Lot 40 (9.1) > Third edition cask strength 2019 (8.9) > Lot 40 Dark Oak (8.8).

My ranking here is actually consistent with the overall Meta-Critic scores for these releases, but of course individual tastes vary (e.g., most reviewers who have tried both prefer the original 12yo release over the second 11yo batch). Regardless, I expect Dark Oak will settle in around the level of the third cask-strength release, once more scores come in.  For one early review, check out Davin at canadianwhisky.org. I’m sure more will be coming as we get closer to wider release in February.

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy is a premium blend of single pot still whiskeys which have been matured exclusively in American ex-bourbon barrels. First released in 2011, this whiskey bears the the name of their second-generation Master Distiller, and is one of the top quality products produced by Midleton (as you can see from the presentation case, shown below).

As previously discussed, Single Pot Still whiskey is closely associated with Ireland, where it has come to be seen as their quintessentially distinctive style. It is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in traditional copper pot stills. This tends produce more delicate but potentially complex flavours, including the so-called “green” fruity notes, along with a characteristically sticky or greasy mouthfeel (Midleton’s promotional material calls it “creamy”). The aging in standard ex-bourbon barrels allows the distillate the shine through here, without the complex cask management and finishing that comes into play for most blended whiskey products.

Bottled at 46% ABV. I first got to try this whisky in late 2016, from a miniature bottle included in the Midleton premium whiskey set sold at the Duty Free in Ireland’s International terminal (included along with Redbreast 12yo, Powers John’s Lane 12yo, and Green Spot). Although that Powers bottling remains one of my favourite Irish whiskeys, I enjoyed this one enough to purchase a full bottle when I found it at a great deal.

To explain, the price of this whisky is rather high – for years, it was fairly consistently around ~$300 CAD in Ontario and Quebec, and in the ~$330-340 CAD range out west (BC and Alberta).  Then about a year and half ago, one of the big retailers in Alberta got their hands on a large inventory, and dropped the price by ~45% (when I bought my bottle, shown below). Other retailers in Alberta followed suit, and it actually went as low as ~$175 before selling out. Thanks to COVID-19, I haven’t been out west since early this year, so I don’t know its current availability. But it seems to be pretty much sold out most places at the moment (except in BC, which still has it listed at $340, but with low inventory).

For a comparison, Midleton’s other high-end offering – Midleton Very Rare – similar sells for ~$330-340 out west, but oddly is listed at the more reasonable ~$200 in Ontario/Quebec. Again, as a limited batch offering, these bottlings don’t hang around indefinitely, and are not currently in stock in most jurisdictions.

Here is how these higher-end Irish whiskeys compare in my Meta-Critic Database:

Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.97 ± 0.37 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.10 ± 0.23 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.06 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.40 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.84 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.71 ± 0.41 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.27 on 27 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.10 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)

In terms of relative ranking, I agree with the Meta-Critic assessment giving Barry Crockett Legacy a higher score than than the average Midleton Very Rare bottling. Batches can vary though, so you may find an individual Very Rare that better matches your tastes (e.g., see my comparison of the 2015 and 2016 batches).

For this review, I am relying on my notes of the 2016 bottling of Barry Crockett Legacy. When I open my 2018 bottle, I’ll provide an updated review.

Colour: Golden light caramel

Nose: Honey sweetness, with a touch of vanilla. Lots of fruits, with banana, apple, pear, peach and citrus. Some malty notes, with plenty of grass and hay. And something lightly floral, but I can’t quite place it. A bit of caramel shows up eventually. Complex nose, with a lot going on. Slight acetone smell. Water brings up the vanilla, and seems to diminish the acetone note – I recommend a few drops.

Palate: Leads off with honey, caramel and vanilla. Loads of fruit (over-ripened, gooey fruits in particular – almost stewed). The citrus has picked up significantly (grapefruit). Creamed wheat. Some unusual earthy notes, like dried leaves and tobacco. Some cinnamon and cloves, plus ginger. Very complex for an Irish whiskey.  Syrupy mouthfeel, you want to hold in your mouth for a long time to experience the flavours. More ethanol burn than typical for the class and ABV. Slight bitterness creeps in at the end. Water seems to accentuate the tongue tingle a little, but helps with the bitterness.

Finish: Medium long (for an Irish whiskey). Creamed wheat sensation holds the longest, along with some light toffee and vanilla. Fruits fade in and out (winds up being a bit Juicy Fruit gum-like).  Well balanced, with a good mix of sweetness and astringency.

I can see why Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy is so highly ranked – it is one of the most complex Irish whiskies I’ve tried to date.  Personally, I would probably rather sip on a good batch of Midleton Very Rare or Powers John’s Lane 12yo for a relaxing evening – this one demands your attention more. But it definitely seems to highlight the spirit character well (compared to say Redbreast 21yo, where the cask management comes up more clearly).

Among my database reviewers, everyone ranks it highly.  The most outstandingly positive scores come from Michael of Diving for Pearls and Josh the Whiskey Jug. Serge of Whisky Fun, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Dominic of Whisky Advocate, The_Muskok and xile_of Reddit and Jim Murray all give it very high marks as well. More moderately positive are TOModera and Whisky_Lads of Reddit.  I’m personally closer to middle of the range of the Reddit reviewers (so, not as high as the Meta-Critic average), but I still consider this a very good dram.

Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt Innovative (Batch 14)

This is my first review of a Two Brewers single malt whisky – but I’ve actually enjoyed many of their releases over the years. In my opinion, they are one of the best single malt whisky makers currently operating in Canada.

Two Brewers was originally started by two friends as a brewery in the Yukon in 1997. In 2009, they bought their first still and decided to make whisky. As I’ve noticed in my travels, many new whisky producers started out as beer brewers (e.g., Copperworks in the US, and Santis in Switzerland). The main differences are that you don’t need to boil the wort if you are making whisky (as you will distill it later), and you will need to add hopps to stabilize the lower-proof beer.

Two Brewers whisky is always made in small batch releases, which vary in the varieties of of malted barley used, fermentation techniques and types of barrels for aging. While the intent is to make it so that no two releases are the same, they alternate releases into four main classes (labelled on the bottles): Classic, Peated, Special Finishes, and Innovative.  The last is the most distinctive, as this is where they vary their malt recipes and fermentation styles.

I’ve actually had the the Classic (including a cask-strength version), Peated and a PX Special Finish, and enjoyed them all. But this is my first review of a purchased bottle, under the Innovative label.  My bottle is Batch 14, bottled in 2019. Only 1460 bottles were produced (mine is bottle 0561). Bottled at 46% ABV. What is distinctive here is that they used roasted malts, dark malt, and chocolate malt (apparently the same recipe as used in their Midnight Sun Expresso Stout beer). This should bring in extra coffee, chocolate, and nutty notes to the whisky.

Since there are relative few scores for most releases, I’m combined the scores for the main classes in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, presented below compared to some other craft single malt whiskies:

Two Brewers Classic (all releases): 8.61 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Cask Strength (all releases): 8.77 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Innovative (all releases): 8.56 ± 0.37 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Peated (all releases): 8.75 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Special Finishes (all releases): 8.73 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Release 14 Innovative: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.50 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 7.99 ± 0.54 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.22 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Lohin McKinnon Wine Barrel Finished: 7.98 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Single Malt: 7.98 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Choclolate Malt: 8.21 ± 0.50 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Peated: 8.63 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews (reviews ($$$)
Santis Edition Dreifaltigkeit (Cask Strength Peated): 7.20 ± 1.75 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Säntis: 7.49 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Sigel: 7.91 ± 0.75 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky 8.15 ± 0.49 on 10 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, the Two Brewers Release 14 outperforms most Innovative releases, and is on par with the higher average class scores for this distillery. What you can also see from above is that Two Brewers typically out-performs other small “craft” single malt whisky operations in Canada and elsewhere.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet nose, caramel and honey. Apples, pears, plums and cherries. Baked bread with mild baking spices, like nutmeg, plus a touch of pepper. I find the grain is coming through most clearly, but in a subtle way – definitely getting some roasted notes, but it is just providing a touch of distinctiveness, nothing too strong. No real off notes. A pleasant and enticing nose.

Palate: Caramel and honey sweetness to start, with the same fruity notes as the nose (plus raisins). But the grain really begins to assert itself now. The bread has turned decided toasted, with all the baking spices more prominent (along with a touch of salt and more black pepper). This going to sound strange, but it tastes like licking a baguette! Actually, toasted raisin bread is probably the best analogy. On the swallow, I’m getting a strong coffee/expresso note. Dark chocolate throughout. It is quite the evolution in the mouth – which is like having an appetizer, dessert and then after-dinner coffee while skipping the main course.

Finish: Medium-long. Fairly simple to start – lightly fruity, more candied now (e.g. red licorice). But holy cow do those coffee/expresso and dark chocolate notes dominate and linger – their impact builds with time. I’ve never found chocolate malt “coffee beers” all that strong, but the malt is coming through in an almost overwhelming way now.

This is a pretty unique experience – I’ve never seen this level of chocolate malt influencing the final whisky like this. But its approach is subtle, building over time and really dominating only on the finish (in contrast, the roasted malt bread notes are present throughout). “Innovative” is the right term for this bottle – it is unlike any of the other Two Brewers I’ve tried.

The highest score I’ve seen for this batch is from Andre of Quebec Whisky, followed by Jason of In Search of Elegance. These are balanced by average scores from Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Jim Murray, and a Silver medal from the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards. My own rating is actually pretty close to the resulting Meta-Critic average. I highly recommend you give this distillery a try if you come across their bottlings.

 

Kavalan Solist Port Cask

Kavalan is the best known whisky distillery in Taiwan.  It makes a number of relatively entry-level single malts (like Kavalan Single Malt, Podium, Conductor and Concertmaster), but is best known for higher-end single cask whiskies sold under the Solist label (detecting a theme there?). I’ve previously reviewed a number of most popular Solist series (e.g., ex-Bourbon, Manzanilla Cask and Sherry Cask) and now add the Solist Port Cask.

I am typically a big fan of port-finished whiskies, even more so than sherry-finished – which is not surprisingly, since I typically prefer Port over Sherry (see my Port primer here). I’ve actually had this Kavalan bottle for awhile now, which I picked up at a Hong Kong duty free in November 2018. I figured it was about time I reviewed it.

As always, these single cask Solist series whiskies have a lot of information on their labels. On the front, my bottle identifies Cask O110112009A and Bottle 055/144. The latter is self-explanatory, but the former provides a lot of cask information; specifically, O is for Port cask, 11 is the distilling year (2011), 01 is January, 12 is the 12th of the month, and 009 is the 9th barrel of that day’s dumping run. On the back is a sticker with ” 2018.09.20 11:37 HK (1 L)”, which is the date and time it was bottled, plus for what market and the bottle size (travel retail often offers larger bottles). That makes this single cask over 7 and half years old, which seems slightly above-average for a Kavalan Solist.

Don’t be fooled by that apparent young age though – Taiwan has a marine tropical climate, which means whiskies mature more quickly there than in more temperate northerly climes like Scotland and Ireland.

Bottled at cask-strength, 58.6% ABV in this case. I paid $175 CAD for the 1L bottle (with fancy presentation case with metallic closing clasp) at the time in 2018, which was a very good price compared to other markets.

Here are how some of the major Kavalan expressions compare in my database.

Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.31 ± 0.54 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.47 ± 0.31 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.66 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.50 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.42 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Cask: 8.84 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.83 ± 0.51 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask: 9.02 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.92 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.04 ± 0.51 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 8.97 ± 0.31 on 26 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Cask: 9.05 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose: Brown sugar and molasses. Vanilla and milk chocolate. Raisins, grapes, currants and dark plums. Red licorice and swedish berries. A bit of orange zest. No real off notes, but some nose prickle from the high ethanol heat comes though. Otherwise you could almost mistake this for a Port, give how strongly those characteristics are really coming through. Water accentuates the candied fruit notes.

Palate: Sweet, with the candied fruit notes amplified, along with the grapey and plumy characteristics. Has a luscious mouthfeel, thick and syrupy. The oaky backbone asserts itself mid-palate, with wet oak, vanilla, nutmeg, and touch of pepper. Burnt brown sugar, with a bit of ginger and coffee showing up as well (plus the chocolate is still there). Great complexity here, with the base spirit poking through on the swallow. With water, the sweetness increases, as do to the fruity notes initially – it can handle a lot of water before feeling diluted, but the simple sugar goes up and the fruitiness goes down if you add too much.

Finish: Long. The fruity, candied characteristics return initially, and then fade into the more oaky elements (love that burnt sugar note). And that classic Kavalan astringency shows up now on the finish – glad to see it wasn’t lost under all that Port. Water actually accentuates the astringency, and increases the ginger notes.

It’s not surprising that I enjoyed this expression – it is clear to me that a good quality Port cask was used.  And as I observed on the entry-level Concertmaster, Port seems to combine well with the astringent base Kavalan spirit. But the quality and complexity is hugely amped up here  – this is a great example of what good Port casks can do with a distinctive base spirit, accentuating rather than masking.

For a second opinion, you might want to check out Jason of In Search of Elegance and The_Muskok on Reddit – both actually reviewed from this bottle. Other reviewers with similarly very high scores are Serge of Whisky Fun, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Jim Murray. Most Reddit reviewers were consistently moderately positive – like Devoz, strasse007, TOModera, , and Unclimbability, washeewashee and xile_, among others) Lower scores (but still favourable reviews) from Jonny of Whisky Advocate, and Josh the Whiskey Jug.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Yvan Cournoyer 12 Year Old

Following on in my reviews of the “Captains series” – the third release of the J.P. Wiser’s NHL Alumni series of whiskies – today I am looking at the whisky named after Yvan Cournoyer of the Montreal Canadiens. This series is actually the second batch of the 2019-2020 edition, which includes fellow Captains Dave Keon (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Mark Messier (Edmonton Oilers).

Collectively, the NHL Alumni whiskies are something of the sleeper hit of the Canadian whisky scene in the last couple of years. While they don’t garner a lot of reviewer attention, all the individual whiskies are limited editions that feature age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whisky. As before, the profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. This batch all currently retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

At this time (July 2020), all of the second batch 2019-2020 edition whiskies are available from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

Let’s check out the composition of this Yvan Cournoyer whisky:

Grains: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 12 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: single column distilled rye, column and then pot-distilled rye (i.e., Lot 40), double distilled corn, and column distilled malt.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak casks

Yvan “The Roadrunner” Cournoyer was a right-winger and Captain of the Montreal Canadiens from 1975-78. But his peak years were 1971-73, and he was famous for his role in the 1972 Summit Series – scoring three goals, and providing the crucial assist for Paul Henderson’s series-ending winning goal. And that is one of the nods here – apparently the mix for this whisky was “inspired” by the 1972 recipe for Carleton Tower, an old Hiram Walker blend. It is aged for 12 years in honour of Cournoyer’s retired Canadiens jersey number. This was the whisky that I was most curious to try when the new edition was released, with its inclusion of Lot 40 rye.

Here is how it compares to other Wiser’s whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.58 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.32 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.08 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Dave Keon 14yo: 8.86 ± 0.17 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.10 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.09 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.55 ± 0.33 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Mark Messier 11yo: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.20 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 8.90 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Yvan Cournoyer 12yo: 8.68 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.48 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews ($)
Lot 40: 8.88 ± 0.36 on 26 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.47 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet corn, corn syrup, and candy corn (notice the theme?). Peaches and dried apricots. Dried barley. Quite floral – but again, in a dried flowers way. Not really getting a lot rye spice yet. Slightly organic note, but not offensive. Overall has a young and bright nose, with a lot gentle dried fruit and flowers.

Palate: Creamy corn. Vanilla. Dried apple and apricots. Orange zest. The grainy notes are coming through more stewed than dry now. Woodier than the nose suggested, with a nice mix of oaky notes. The rye spices show up on the swallow, with some classic cinnamon. Mouthfeel is fairly light, in keeping with the standard 40% ABV.

Finish: Relative quick finish. Remains pleasantly floral, with violets and touch of roses. Orange citrus still. Bit of lingering saccharine, balancing out the slight oaky bitterness (and a touch of spice).

The corn notes are fairly dominant here, as you might expect. The rye is coming through more in a floral way than in a spicy sense. And the fruits definitely tend toward the dried variety. A refined and contemplative whisky. I can’t help but feel that a higher proof would have helped amp it up a bit though.

This whisky received a gold medal at the annual Canadian Whisky Awards. Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Chip the Rum Howler. Jason of In Search of Elegance was fairly positive as well. This whisky received moderately positive reviews, but mediocre scores, from Andre, Patrick and Martin of Quebec Whisky. My own assessment is good match with the overall Meta-Critic average score. A good buy, but the Wendel Clark and Dave Keon whiskies remain my top picks.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Dave Keon 14 Year Old

Corby came out late last year with a second batch of the “2019-2020 edition” of the J.P. Wiser’s NHL Alumni series of whiskies. The first batch of the 2019-2020 edition featured whiskies named after Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, and Paul Coffey. These followed on from the initial 2018-19 edition, which featured Guy Lafleur, Wendel Clark, and Lanny McDonald

This second batch is the “Captains series,” featuring whiskies named after Captains of well-known NHL franchises in Canada. The whiskies were all designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). All whiskies featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). As before, the profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need.

At this time (July 2020), all of the second batch 2019-2020 edition whiskies are available from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only). All bottles in this batch currently retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

Let’s check out the specific composition of this Dave Keon whisky:

Grains: a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley
Age: 14 years old
ABV: 45%
Distilling: single column distilled rye, column and pot-distilled rye, single column distilled malt, and double-distilled corn.
Oak: a mix of used Canadian barrels, ex-Bourbon, Virgin Oak, and ex-Speyside casks

Dave Keon was a centre forward for the Maple Leafs – from an earlier generation in the early-to-mid 1960s when they won several Stanley Cups (prior to his being named Captain). Aged 14 years in honour of his jersey number 14. The ABV is also a nod to Keon’s 45-point first season. And the 4 types of oak casks are a nod to his 4 Stanley Cup wins.

Here is how it compares to other Wiser’s whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.58 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.32 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.08 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Dave Keon 14yo: 8.86 ± 0.17 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.48 ± 0.10 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.09 ± 0.47 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.55 ± 0.33 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Mark Messier 11yo: 8.76 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.20 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 8.90 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Yvan Cournoyer 12yo: 8.68 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.48 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews ($)
Lot 40: 8.88 ± 0.36 on 26 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.47 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$)

As you can see, this is one of the highest-scoring Wiser’s whiskies at this price point.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light, simple sugar to start (molasses) – with creamy corn notes followed by vanilla. Apple juice. Dried fruits, including apricots. Grassy. Range of woody notes, with some nice rye spice (cinnamon and cloves). Slight acetone note, but not bad. Hints at cask variety, but doesn’t come off strongly as anything specific. How very Canadian!

Palate: Even heavier dose of molasses, plus caramel corn. Vanilla. Only lightly fruity, and definitely more floral than grassy now. Cinnamon and cloves again, plus a touch of anise. Black (indian) tea. The oakiness is more obvious now, with dried paper on the swallow. This is nice in the mouth, lots of character with good balance. Really nice mouthfeel too, buttery texture. Nice.

Finish: Medium long. The dried fruits are back, with apple and apricot being the most prominent. Candy corn coating on lips and gum. Cinnamon and cloves still prominent. A bit of old wet tea bag (tannic tea notes) lasts the longest.

A quality whisky to be sure. The complexity kind of makes me think of an aged version of Larry Robinson (although without all the winey notes from that whisky). A nice sipper, probably the most well balanced member of the collection so far.  A good example of what Canadian whisky can be. I would say this is my second favourite so far, after Wendel Clark.

This whisky received a gold medal at the annual Canadian Whisky Awards. Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Andre of Quebec Whisky, followed by Jason of In Search of Elegance and Chip the Rum Howler. Patrick and Martin of Quebec Whisky are also very positive, but give it slightly lower scores (still well above average).  I’m probably closer to the middle of the pack on this one – if the nose were a bit fuller (and lacking that off note), my rating would probably match the top ones. A very good value.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish (2019)

I find Pike Creek to be one of the more under-appreciated (and under-valued) whiskies in the Corby/Hiram Walker stable of whiskies. In its standard 10 year old form, it is a pleasant, sweet, easy sipper – nothing too exciting, but popular with everyone I’ve ever shared it with (although some reviewers are fairly negative on it). See my earlier reviews of the original Port barrel-aged Pike’s Creek 10 year old, and newer rum barrel-finished version.

The initial 21 year old release as part of the Northern Border Collection in 2017 featured additional aging in Speyside scotch whisky barrels. I never picked up the 2018 release that was aged in Hungarian oak (as that kind of finishing isn’t something I typically enjoy). But last year, they released a version that used Oloroso sherry casks for aging – which is much more likely to be up my alley. I typically enjoy single malt scotch whiskies aged in sherry casks (Oloroso in particular – with their classic nutty, dried dark fruits, rancio and tannic oak notes). Sherry oak casks are not something you come across too often in Canadian whisky, so this was certainly worth a gamble.

Like most Pike Creek’s, this is made predominantly from the light base, column-distilled corn whisky that underpins most Canadian whisky, aged for 21 years. Added to this base is a touch of column-distilled rye whisky, for extra peppery spice. The blend was then finished (or re-gauged, in Canadian whisky parlance) in Oloroso sherry casks for an undisclosed period of time.

Bottled at 45% ABV. This edition retails for $90 CAD at the LCBO in Ontario. I picked up my bottled on sale in Alberta for a bit less late last Fall. Only 4481 bottles were produced, but it can still be found in some jurisdictions (including Ontario).

Of note, this whisky won Whisky of the Year at the Canadian Whisky Awards in early 2020. This competition involves blind taste testing by an experienced panel of Canadian whisky reviewers, and is always worth a close look every year. You can learn more about these awards in my Canadian Whisky Trends for 2020 article.

Here is how this Pike Creek 21yo compares to other Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky database:

Gooderham & Worts 19yo 49 Wellington (2019): 8.77 ± 0.30 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Four Grain (2018): 8.89 ± 0.35 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 23yo Cask Strength Blend (2019): 9.08 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.20 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.17 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.74 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.25 ± 0.53 on 17 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.47 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel European Oak Cask (2018): 8.58 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Double Barrel Speyside Cask Finish (2017): 8.66 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Finished in Oloroso Sherry Casks (2019): 8.84 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

This is certainly the highest-scoring Pike Creek expression, and second highest scoring of the 2019 Northern Border Collection.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet and buttery, almost rum-like in a way. Creamy, with vanilla, chocolate and toffee notes. Orange rind and apple juice. Some dark fruits, but fairly restrained. Wine gums. Slightly nutty. No off notes. It is a good nose to linger on, seems mature for a Canadian whisky. And the sherry is quite mild and not at all over-powering, like they struck a good balance.

Palate: Sweet, with a lot more caramel than I expected from the nose. Milk chocolate too (Rolo candies come to mind). Orange zest. Sour wine gums now. Cinnamon. The nuttiness comes across more like earthiness in the mouth. The caramel sweetness and cinnamon heat (plus some black pepper) makes it seem like there was some active wood in the mix (i.e., virgin oak). I suspect this “woodiness” must be coming from the French oak Sherry casks, as I don’t see any published reports of virgin oak aging here. Definitely more woody than typical for a Pike Creek, or Canadian whisky in general – you would be excused for thinking this was actually a light bourbon.

Finish: Longish. Mainly caramel and red wine dregs initially (somewhat tannic). Oakiness remains throughout, with a nice light cinnamon note and touch of pepper. It never gets too bitter, and some lingering sherry sweetness persists to the end.

I can see why this won the CWA’s Whisky of the Year – it is very distinctive for the Canadian class (and one that is indeed very much in my wheelhouse). Sherry barrels are relatively rare in Canadian whisky, and the drier Oloroso seems to have paired really well with the sweet light corn and rye whiskies used here. Indeed, the overall sweetness made me think of PX or Moscatel sherry initially – but the faint earthy/nutty notes are consistent with Oloroso.

It is a shame we don’t see more sherry-finished Canadian whisky, as this is one of the best examples that I have had of a fortified wine-matured Canadian whisky. With its woody and sweet nature, it seems less like a Canadian whisky and more like a sherry-finished light bourbon – or a sherry-finished scotch that had some virgin oak aging.

It never occurred to me to trying adding water to this – it drinks beautifully just as it is. This is one of better Northern Border Collection whiskies I’ve had, outside of the cask-strength Lot 40s – and my new favourite for the 2019 collection so far.

In addition to winning whisky of the year at the Canadian Whisky Awards, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Mark of Whisky Buzz gave this expression top scores (which match my own assessment). Moderately positive scores came from Davin of Whisky Advocate, Martin of Quebec Whisky and the Toronto Whisky Society. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, and Tomodera.

Yellow Spot 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Yellow Spot is a member of a family of “bonded” Irish Whiskies produced by Irish Distillers for an independent wine merchant in Ireland, Mitchell & Son, of Dublin.  As with Green Spot and the recently re-released Red Spot, the whisky name derives from Mitchell’s historic practice of marking casks of different ages with spot of coloured paint.

Green Spot – the youngest in age and the lightest in flavour – became their most popular seller, and is the only one to remain in continuous production over the years (albeit with no age statement in recent years). The others were discontinued in the late 1960s, with Yellow Spot (12 years old) relaunched in 2012, and Red Spot (15 years old) recently relaunched in 2019.

All are examples of single pot still Irish whisky (aka pure pot still). This is when a  combination of malted and unmalted barley are distilled together in a single, large copper pot still. This is the traditional method for whisky production in Ireland.

Yellow Spot has a 12 year old age statement, and is a combination of pot still whiskies matured in three types of casks: American bourbon casks, Spanish Sherry butts and Spanish Malaga casks. The latter two are is in keeping with Mitchell’s tradition of importing fortified wines. The Malaga casks are an unusual choice, very rare in the whisky world. Malaga is a sweet fortified wine originating in the Spanish city of Málaga, and is made from a mix of Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel grapes. Full-term maturation is used for this component, which should impart a richer and sweeter flavour than more typical sherry cask finishing.

The whisky is non-chill-filtered, and bottled at a respectable 46% ABV. I picked up my bottle a couple of years ago at the LCBO here in Ontario for $100 CAD.

Let’s see how it compares to other higher-end Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Green Spot: 8.51 ± 0.35 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Chateau Montelena: 8.44 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Red Spot 15yo: 8.61 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Yellow Spot 12yo: 8.79 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)

Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.37 ± 0.27 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 18yo Limited Reserve: 8.65 ± 0.26 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.44 ± 0.49 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.10 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.81 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.71 ± 0.41 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.02 ± 0.30 on 26 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.26 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.11 ± 0.31 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.66 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Definitely woody, with light caramel, vanilla and honeysuckle notes. Fresh and dried apricots and peaches, and a touch of fresh cherries. Wood spice, especially nutmeg and cloves. Wet green tea leaves. Hay and fresh-cut green grass. It is unusual to find both the fresh and dry notes at the same time, which must be due to the diverse wood aging. Faint hint of sweat socks, but not objectionable. With a bit of water it gets sweeter, as brown sugar joins the mix – plus a creamy custard.

Palate: Spicier than I expected, with the wood spice up front (especially the cloves), as well as black pepper. Caramel, vanilla and honey sweetness. Ground cherries. Consistent with the nose, it is very earthy, with moist and dry notes both present. Oily mouthfeel, likely thanks to the higher ABV (which also brings with it a fair amount of alcohol heat, unusual for an Irish whisky). Dry paper note returns on swallow. A bit of water sweetens and helps with the ethanol sting, without affecting the pleasant oiliness. Definitely recommend you add a few drops.

Finish: Medium long. Cinnamon and nutmeg are prominent now. Dried apricots again. Astringency shows up, in a tannic tea way. A faint lingering sweetness for sure, but I find the oaky notes dominate, with a mild woody bitterness. The classic Irish pot still “greasiness” shows up at the end, with a sticky coating on the lips and gums. With water, I find a bit of anise joins the woody/earthy character, which I like.

A bit of water really helps here, restoring a more typical Irish whisky sweetness, and taming the mouth burn and bitterness on the finish. Highly recommended you add a few drops.

My only (minor) complaint here is that the classic Irish pot still character is a bit submerged under the fortified wine finish. It is still there if you hunt for it though. A very nice example overall of what good sherry finishing can do with a delicate base spirit.

Yellow Spot receives very high scores from Nathan the Scotch Noob, Josh the Whiskey Jug, Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer and Jan of Best Shot Whisky (honestly, I’m in this camp as well).  Moderately positive are Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Serge of Whisky Fun, and The Muskok and Tomodera of Reddit. The lowest scores (although with still fairly positive comments) come from Ruben of Whisky Notes and Thomas of Whisky Saga.

Pacto Navio and Other Cuban Rums

On a trip to Cuba earlier this year, I had the opportunity to do some local rum tastings. While I am not typically a big rum guy, I do appreciate rums that have had extended barrel aging, or interesting finishing.

Cuba has had a tumultuous history (for more than just rum!), and this has lead to a complicated history of rum production and distribution. Simply put, all rum production was nationalized after the revolución, but in recent years it has had a global resurgence from partnerships and investments by international drinks conglomerates. I won’t pretend to know the full history, so I am happy to refer folks to these recent articles in Esquire and Forbes for further background.

Cuban rum is typically made from locally-produced molasses. Local sugarcane is harvested and mashed to extract the guarapo (juice), which is then boiled to create local molasses. This molasses is combined with water and yeast to ferment in tanks before it is distilled in copper-lined columns stills. It is typically aged in extensively well-used American oak casks (as with Canadian whisky).

First up in the recommended tasting order was one I had heard a lot about:

Havana Club Selección de Maestros

This “Masters Selection” amber rum was a popular member of the Havana Club line when it was available at the LCBO and SAQ. Missing for the last couple of years, it used to retail for ~$60 CAD, and can still be found in Cuba today for the equivalent ~$40 CUC ($40 USD).

Masters Selection features an unusual finishing step (for a rum). As mentioned above, pretty much all Cuban rum is aged in well-used, American white oak barrels. Once the barrels are selected for this release, they are blended and then finished for a period of time in young, fresh oak casks for some active wood aging. This should impart some extra woody notes.

The bottle has a quality presentation (nicer than other Havana Clubs), and comes in a protective tube sleeve. It also is bottled at higher proof, 45% ABV.

Nose: Caramel, with a light, sweet bourbony character. I am definitely getting some oaky notes (more than typical for a Cuban rum). Orange rind. Ginger. A touch of tobacco and nuts. It’s a nice mix, with no off notes.

Palate: The oaky notes are more prominent now, definitely woody, with tobacco leaves and some leather. Helps offset the sweet caramel. Cinnamon and nutmeg show up. It is very light in the mouth, lighter than I expected for 45% ABV. Honestly, the texture is a bit of a let down.

Finish: Medium. Some spicy tingle, with cinnamon notable. Some dried fruits. Sweet, but also a bit of an artificial note, which is surprising.

This is nice, but not quite what I was looking for – bourbony, and a bit woodier than I would like. To be honest, it lacks the rum character I was expecting from the rich amber colour – it does indeed seem like a younger rum that has had some extra fresh oak finishing. The higher proof is appreciated, but that also seems like it was necessary here, given the lighter mouthfeel.

A good bourbon-drinker’s rum. I would give it ~8.3 on the Meta-Critic scale.

Ron Santero Añejo 11 Años

I must admit, I knew nothing about this rum (aside from recognizing the name of the producer), when my host suggested it for the line-up.

This 11 year old is bottled under proof at 38% ABV. It sells for ~$40 CUC in Cuba ($40 USD). It is apparently known for the distinctive character of the soil where it is produced, with a high mineral content (or so I was told).

Nose: Getting a lot more classic rum notes,  with heavy molasses. Very earthy, with lots of tobacco and old leather. Something different here, with a slightly funky off-note (but it is not off-putting)

Palate: Rich rum molasses to start. Some oaky bitterness is also present. Cinnamon and nutmeg. Minearality and a meaty character, making me think of sulphur. Mouthfeel is impaired by the below-proof 38%, but still seems richer somehow than the HC Maestros.

Finish: Medium. Getting candied fruits now, which I didn’t notice earlier. Nice sweet finish, with that “meatiness” lingering in the background.

There is certainly different about this one – I would be more likely to peg it as sulphur, but “minearality” would also do. This is a hard one to score. On one hand, I like the distinctiveness of the earthy notes, as it adds some character. But it also makes it not your typical rum.

Despite the low proof, I would give this a slight leg up on the Maestros – say ~8.4 on the Meta-Critic scale. I was tempted to pick up a bottle.

Havana Club Añejo 15 Años

A classic of the class, all spirits in this Havana Club bottling have been aged for at least 15 years. I am not entirely clear about how barrels are selected for this rum, but I gather repeated blending and re-gauging of casks is involved, using standard old American oak casks.

Bottled at 40% ABV. It sells for 150 CUC ($150 USD), which seems rather steep to me.

Nose: Liquid caramel, honey, and brown sugar. Fruit blossoms. Very nice, classic rum notes.

Palate: Moves into heavier molasses notes, plus some vanilla. Dark fruits, dried (figs in particular). Relatively light mouthfeel, but no bitterness.

Finish: Medium long. Brown sugar comes back, and some light cinnamon spice. Nice lingering sweetness, no bitterness.

This is what I was expecting from a Cuban rum – a sweet, uncomplicated experience. No heavy wood influence, but the extended aging does comes through as a general enrichment of the sugarcane sweetness. I like the caramel and fruity notes. Not particularly complex, but a satisfying dram none-the-less.

I would rate it ~8.6 on the Meta-Critic scale. A bit too steep in cost for me though.

Finally, I went back another night to try one that I hadn’t gotten around to the first evening – and I’m glad I did.

Pacto Navio

The name of this rum literally means shipping treaty, and is a cute nod to the history of trade between France and Cuba. After the Napoleonic wars ended, a treaty signed in Europe allowed the freer flow of trans-Atlantic goods. Casks holding Sauternes (a sweet white wine from Bordeau) were shipped to the New World, where they were emptied and refilled with local spirits (including rum) for the return voyage.

So this serves as a convenient backstory for what is simply a young Cuban rum that has been finished for a period of time in French Sauternes casks. The rum come from the newest distillery in Cuba, in San José de Las Lajas, near Havana.

Bottled at 40% ABV. It sells for $45 CUC ($45 USD).

Nose: Light and sweet, with simple spun sugar (think cotton candy). Caramelized plantains. Peaches, plums, and apricots. Candied rum raisins. Light wood notes, like nutmeg. No real off-notes, very nice.

Palate: Caramel comes up clearly now. Banana bread (with nuts). A touch of citrus. Relatively light mouthfeel, but not bad. Some faint rye-like spices, giving it a bit of zing.

Finish: Fruit returns, but definitely candied – like wine gums. Artificial sweetener note shows up now. Turns a bit astringent on the way out, but not bad.

While still fairly simple, it has a nice mix of sweet fruity notes (more so than the other rums I tried), with banana and a nutty character being fairly novel here. This one would best suit a scotch drinker with a sweet tooth (which I suppose would best describe me).

Of all the ones I tried, this was my favourite – I would rate it ~8.6 on the Meta-Critic scale. Indeed, I liked it enough to pick up a bottle as a souvenir of my visit.

Elmer T. Lee Bourbon

Elmer T. Lee was one of the most well-known Master Distillers of Buffalo Trace, retiring in 1985 after 36 years. One of his main claims-to-fame was the introduction of mass-produced single barrel bourbons, most especially the Blanton’s brand in 1984. Eventually, Buffalo Trace decide to honour his legacy by producing a single barrel bourbon in his name (just as he had chosen to name the distillery’s first single barrel product after one of their early leaders, Albert B. Blanton).

Just like Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace uses their mashbill #2 for this single barrel bourbon, which is a high rye bourbon (~12-15% rye, at least 51% corn, and some malted barley). This sour mash bourbon is aged in charred virgin American oak barrels. No age statement on the bottle any more, but this used to have 12-year statement in older days. Bottled at 45% ABV. In comparison, regular Blanton’s single barrel is 46.5% ABV, Blanton’s Special Reserve (green label) is 40% ABV, Blanton’s Gold is 51.5% ABV, and Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel is true cask-strength.

While this was always a popular bourbon for Buffalo Trace, it has become relatively unobtainable (at least at MSRP prices). The LCBO here in Ontario, Canada puts it into its allocation process any time it is available (typically once a year). A relative of mine was lucky enough to pick one up in their lottery last year, for $60 CAD (which is equivalent to the $40 USD list price). On secondary markets, this goes for >$100 USD (sometimes considerably more). The issue seems to be mainly relative scarcity of release, as it isn’t that different from regular Blanton’s single barrel (although presumably, they try to keep a certain consistency in the barrels they pull for the Elmer T Lee brand).

Here is how it compares to other Buffalo Trace bourbon products in my Meta-Critic Database:

Blanton’s Gold Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.72 ± 0.37 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Blanton’s Original Bourbon Single Barrel: 8.65 ± 0.29 on 27 reviews ($$$)
Blanton’s Special Reserve Single Barrel (Green label): 8.31 ± 0.35 on 8 reviews ($$)
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel Bourbon: 8.97 ± 0.22 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 28 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.64 ± 0.28 on 29 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 17yo: 8.86 ± 0.29 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon: 8.75 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$)
George T Stagg: 9.20 ± 0.25 on 30 reviews ($$$$$+)
Stagg Jr (all batches): 8.69 ± 0.41 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 1-2): 8.38 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Stagg Jr (batches 3+): 8.99 ± 0.22 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Honey and light caramel. Simple sweetness. Vanilla. Graham crackers (definitely somewhat “biscuity”). Dry spice. Dark fruits, plums. Light pepper. A nice nose, not overly oaky. No off notes. Smells like a dessert bourbon.

Palate: Very sweet initially, with all that honey. Corn syrup. Plums and peaches. Nutmeg, but not cinnamon or cloves. A bit of pepper. Paper, pencil shavings. No burn, very light and syrupy mouthfeel. Surprisingly light tasting – again, consistent with the nose. Seems like something you would pour over ice cream.

Finish: Some oaky bitterness shows up now, with dry paper notes. Touch of tobacco. Dry, and earthy.

Lighter than I expected, very easy to drink. Sweet overall, with wood influence only showing up at the end. This is not an in-your-face bourbon – it is a very balanced product, certainly an easy sipper. A pity it is so unobtainable now.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Ralfy. Jordan of Breaking Bourbon, MajorHop of Reddit (indeed, most reviewers there), and Jason of In Search of Elegance and are all very positive. Moderately positive are Jim Murray and John of Whisky Advocate (on average, across various bottlings). More middle-of-the-road reviews comes from Matt of Diving for Pearls, Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, washeewashee of reddit and Josh the Whiskey Jug. Lower scores (but still positive comments) come My Annoying Opinions and TOModera of reddit.

 

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