Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Kanosuke New Born 8 Month Old

Kanosuke distillery in Kagoshima, Japan, has a long tradition of making shochu – a Japanese beverage distilled from rice (or other starchy materials like sweet potatoes or buckwheat), broken down by Koji mold (a type of Aspergillus fungus). In recent years, a number of traditional Japanese shochu distillers have ventured into making whisky (with variable success).

Kanosuke previously released a limited bottling of their new make whisky spirit, and followed up late last year with “Kanosuke New Born” – a limited release of their whisky aged for eight months in American white oak casks that previously held shochu. This is an interesting reversal of the process. Shochu can aged in a number of ways – including in large ceramic pots, stainless vats, or oak barrels that previously held other spirits (just like whisky). Most shochu is not aged very long, but Kanosuke decided to use casks that previously contained Komasa Syuzo’s Mellow Kozuru brand of aged rice shochu for maturing their whisky.

Kanosuke New Born was sold directly from the distillery in 200 mL bottles for ~$45 CAD. I was given a bottle as a gift on my recent visit to Japan. It has been sold out for a little while now. Bottled at a whopping 58% ABV, it is not chill-filtered, and no colouring has been added.

There are few reviews of this new whisky, so I am not able to add it to my Meta-Critic Whisky Database yet. But let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Surprisingly rich light gold colour for such a young whisky.

Nose: Sweet, with honey and light caramel notes – but also dry, with a salty brine note. Apple juice. Very tropical, with green banana, papaya and pineapple. Golden raisins. Very floral, but in an unidentifiable perfumey sense. Slight touch of fresh glue. There is something very Japanese about it, reminds me of the old age-stated Nikka Taketsuru pure malts (but younger, of course). Surprisingly complex for the 8mo age – off to a good start.

Palate: Very sweet arrival, with lots of honey and caramel. Honeycomb. Candied fruit. Sweetened apple juice. Pear. The tropical fruits are less obvious now. Toasted marshmallows (that’s a new one for me). Light cinnamon. Some bitterness, with tree bark and ginseng (I’m getting a definite herbal energy drink vibe). Salty black licorice on the swallow. Definitely hot, with some mouth zing, but surprisingly drinkable for the high ABV.

Finish: A bit tame, but more than I expected for the age. Some of the tropical fruit notes return, which is nice. It ends with the tree bark, ginseng and apple juice notes lasting the longest.

With water, it gets sweeter on nose, with simple sugar added. I am also getting some sourness now (sour cherry in particular). In the mouth, the alcohol zing is reduced, with extra caramel and red licorice (candied strawberry). Oddly, the bitter tree bark and ginsent notes on swallow are enhanced too. Doesn’t need much water, frankly.

This is shockingly good for the age. I’ve had plenty if 3-4 year old malts that were far less complex and interesting – but I suspect the high ABV here is likely a key factor.

There aren’t many reviews of this one. Dramtastic gave it a very positive review and score, as did Richard of nomunication. Dave Broom of Scotchwhisky.com described it as very good, and showing “real promise.”

Personally, I think this is bloody impressive. On its own merits, I would rate it a ~8.7 on the Meta-Critic scale (which is simply outstanding for the age). Give it a few more years, and I am confident Kanosuke will be making a 9+ whisky for sure.

Hibiki Blender’s Choice

The discontinuation of the classic Hibiki 17 year old last year was a blow to fans of this classic Japanese blended whisky. But it was softened somewhat in Japan with the release of a new Japan-only “premium no-age-statement” Hibiki Blender’s Choice last September.

For newcomers to Japanese whisky, all the recent hype can seem a bit mystifying. It is not like most expressions from heavy-weights Suntory or Nikka (or the smaller players) have some unique flavour profile. They are mainly well done examples of lighter scotch-style whiskies (both malts and blends), with a focus on the integration of delicate flavours. While certain fruit and wood notes can be distinctive, it is less a question of kind than it is of consistent quality. As discussed in my recent 5-year retrospective, I’ve watched Hibiki 17yo rise from common availability (at 7,500 Yen), to near impossibility to find (at >40,000 Yen) – due to demand, and a relative lack of aged stocks.

While this new release lacks an age statement, word spread quickly that it consists of whiskies aged 12-30+ years of age, with an average age of around 15 years. As such, people naturally hoped this would be a replacement of sorts for the discontinued 17yo. But this was clearly not the intent, as a few wine cask-aged whiskies were also included in the blend, to produce a new and distinctive profile.

Hibiki Blender’s Choice was initially intended for interior bar sale only, through Suntory’s wholesale/industry distribution channels in Japan. Of course, it didn’t take long for bottles to find their way onto some store shelves – albeit at much higher prices than the rumoured internal bottle price of 10,000 Yen.  In my recent travels in Japan, I came across only 3 stores that carried it (one without a box for 17,800 Yen, and two stores with a box for 19,800 Yen and 29,800 Yen each). The boxes suggest they were intended for retail sale. I picked one up at the lower 19,800 Yen price.

There are not many reviews of this one yet, so I’m not able to add it to my Meta-Critic Whisky Database yet. But here is how some other Hibiki expressions compare in my database.

Hibiki 12yo: 8.62 ± 0.24 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki 17yo: 8.76 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Hibiki 21yo: 9.14 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Hibiki Harmony: 8.37 ± 0.52 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select: 8.29 ± 0.65 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Personally, I’d give both the 17yo and Harmony slightly higher scores than the average ratings above. The 12yo and Master’s Select average scores sound about right to me, and I find the 21yo score is a bit inflated.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for my bottle of Hibiki Blender’s Choice:

Nose: Reasonably sweet, with rich toffee notes and some vanilla. I get a distinctive rice pudding sensation, which is novel. Green apple, pineapple, and peaches. Also those same fruit flavours in Meiji Japanese gummies (the ones made with 100% fruit juice). Canberries and red currants. A dry bark note (woody), which is distinctive. A little rubber and a touch of glue. Something else I can’t quite place, likely from fresh wine casks.

Palate: The toffee, creamy rice pudding and green apples from the nose dominate. The cranberries come across more as dried now. Apple and pineapple juice. Wood spice picks up, mainly lighter all spice, nutmeg and cinnamon. Glue note turns slightly ashy (which I like). Very distinctive for an unpeated whisky. A touch astringent on the swallow.

Finish: The woodiness returns immediately on the swallow – not a perfumy Mizunara oak, but a softer and gentler tree bark type (if that makes sense). Caramel from the wood picks up too. Dry and astringent overall, keeps you sipping repeatedly. The fresh wine casks come through again, but subtly – reminds me of those Sweet Tarts candies from my childhood.

This is distinctive for a Japanese whisky. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – it is very different from the old Hibiki 17yo. But it grows on you. Of note, my wife (who liked the old 17yo and is typically not a fan of wine cask finishes) quite enjoyed this one as well.

Probably the closest thing to Blender’s Choice in my experience is Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton. Both have a relatively gentle base spirit, with clear influence of fresh red wine casks. The Irish offering is a bit sweeter though, and not as drying on the finish as this Hibiki release.

Again, there are not too many reviews of this one, but you can check out Nomunication for a detailed review, and Forbes for a brief one. Personally, I’d score it one point less than the 17yo – so, say a 8.8 on my personal version of the Meta-Critic scale. A very nice whisky, I found it growing on me on successive tastings.

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (2018)

The late Fall 2018 release of the Northern Border Collection from Corby (also known as the Northern Borders Rare Collection this year) featured some returning expressions, and a few new players. I’ll be comparing the whole series in upcoming reviews, but thought I’d start with the perennial fan favourite, the Lot 40 Cask Strength release.

Lot 40 has long been the darling of the Canadian rye whisky scene. A 100% straight rye whisky, it is often the first choice recommended by Canadian rye whisky enthusiasts. In 2017, the first commercial release of a cask-strength version garnered a lot of interest.

The 2018 release carries an 11 year old age statement (it was 12yo last year). This 2018 version is bottled at 58.4% ABV, which is a little higher than last year’s release (at 55%). According to Dr Don Livermore, the Master Blender of Corby, this year’s release comes from a different bond, so has slightly different characteristics.

There is inconsistent information online about the composition of the various Lot 40 releases. But as Dr Don mentioned in his recent whisky.buzz podcast, regular lot 40 is made from column-distilled 100% rye whisky, that is then run through a pot still to remove the undesirable characteristics (i.e., the heads and tails are discarded). At least some proportion is aged in brand new virgin oak barrels. The cask-strength version is amped up in flavour compared to the regular 43% ABV release. According to Dr Don, the slightly higher strength this year release leads to a greater perception of “woodier” notes.

This is always an incredibly difficult release to find in Ontario, where it sells out within a couple of hours once it shows up online. In stores, it typically disappears off the shelves before you can find it. I had to pick up my couple of bottles from Alberta and Quebec this year (where it typically hangs around in stores or online longer). It sells for ~$100 CAD, if you can find it (which is a significant increase from last year’s ~$70 CAD).

Let’s see how it compares to other Lot 40 variants in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (2018): 9.18 ± 0.16 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old (2017): 9.08 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.86 ± 0.33 on 22 reviews ($$)

Those are outstanding scores across the board. I’ll come back to the differences in the relative scores of the cask-strength releases at the end of the review. For now, let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: A noticeably different profile now – not quite as spicy as the 2017 12yo version, but a lot more fruity and floral in my view. A veritable fresh fruit cocktail, with cherries, strawberries, pears, peaches, and plums. Like before, still get plenty of caramel, anise, dill and the baking spaces – very cloves heavy (although I would say a few less cloves than last year). It is the candied sweetness that really stands out this year, with cola and bubble gum notes (what some might call cotton candy). Also more perfumy than the 2017 version – a nice bouquet of fresh flowers here, including lilacs. There was a sharpness to the original cask-strength version that I attributed to the higher proof – but it seems subdued here, despite the even higher proof of this release. A faint hint of acetone. Water helps open it up – I suggest you add a few drops. A very good start, I’m preferring it over the previous year so far.

Palate: Thick and syrupy, as before – but more like raspberry jam syrupiness now. Also more caramel on the initial arrival, with caramelized nuts. Dill is heavier too, compared to the previous version. Oaky, with the classic baking spices – but not as oaky as last year (although it seems a bit spicier in the mouth than the nose suggested). I had gotten some dry, bitter, dustiness on the swallow of the 2017 version – but that doesn’t seem to be present on this one. Definitely sweeter all across the board. Water lightens the mouthfeel, and increases the sweetness, so go easy on it – it really doesn’t need more than a few drops. Surprisingly drinkable at this very high ABV.

Finish: A good length, like the previous version (certainly longer than regular Lot 40). Baking spices reappear (focused more on the softer cinnamon and nutmeg, with less of the heavy cloves of the previous version). The candied sweetness lingers, but it is also  somewhat drying on the finish. Very nice.

While I miss the extra spiciness on the nose of the 2017 edition, this one seems more balanced and well integrated. It is also sweeter, with fruitier and floral elements enhanced. Personally, I found last year’s version had a stronger oaky character, and was more tannic. I expect this year’s version would find greater favour with most rye drinkers – although last year’s version would likely appeal more to reviewers, for the extra woodiness and complexity.

In terms of the overall experience, I would personally score this version slightly higher than last year’s release. Indeed, I was one of the rare reviewers that didn’t greatly prefer the first cask-strength release to regular Lot 40, giving the 2017 release only a single point higher score (i.e. 9.2, compared to 9.1 for regular Lot 40). I found that cask-strength was very good, but different – gaining in some regards, but also losing some of the more delicate aspects of regular Lot 40. This edition strikes me as closer to what I initially expected a cask-strength Lot 40 to be like, accentuating the core characteristics. So I would give it an additional point over last year’s release – a 9.3 score for the 2018 edition.

Among reviewers, it is a bit of a mixed bag how the two releases compare. Like me, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky both prefer the new edition. But Jason of In Search of Elegance, Mark of Whisky Buzz and most of the Reddit reviewers prefer the 2017 release (i.e., Devoz, TOModera and xile_, and others). But the average score for the 2018 release is running higher in the database right now, given the limited number of reviews so far. As more reviews come in, I expect the overall average will drop somewhat (as that is the usual pattern for the database, as more reviews come in). In the end, I expect both versions will settle down to about the same average score. Either one is a great buy, if you can find them – but the regular Lot 40 is still an outstanding value.

 

 

 

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 100% Rye 11 Year Old

J.P. Wiser’s has been releasing a lot of really interesting stuff in recent years – thanks in large part to Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore. Anyone who has tried Wiser’s Dissertation, Lot 40 Cask Strength, Wiser’s 35yo, or any of the revived Gooderham & Worts releases will appreciate what I mean.

Something that fell below my radar until recently was the new Alumni Series, in partnership with the NHL almumni association (NHLAA). With a share of proceeds going directly to NHLAA, they plan to release six regionally-specific whiskies – named after well-known hockey stars from those provinces. Each has different characteristics (fancifully compared to that player’s perceived style of play). The first set of releases came out at the end of October, in honour of Guy Lafleur (only in Quebec at the SAQ), Lanny McDonald (only in Alberta), and Wendel Clark (only in Ontario, at the LCBO). They typically sell for ~$45 CAD in each jurisdiction.

I’ve picked up bottles of all three in my travels. Guy Lafleur’s namesake whisky is a 10yo 100% corn whisky, Lanny McDonald’s whisky is a 9yo wheat-forward blend, and Wendel Clark’s whisky (reviewed here) is an 11yo 100% rye whisky. Given the success of Lot 40 and its cask-strength special releases, I’m most interested to try the 100% rye Clark release (although hockey-wise I am personally partial to “flower power,” having grown up in Quebec in the 70s and 80s).

According to the whisky.buzz podcast with Dr Livermore, this 11 year old Wendel Clark release is a column-distilled, 100% rye whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks. In Search of Elegance reports there is also some column- and then pot-distilled 100% rye aged in charred virgin oak casks blended in as well (i.e., some of the Lot 40-style whisky).

Note that most of these Alumni Series releases are bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV – not surprisingly, given the non-enthusiast audience they are aimed at. But the Clark release is bottled at a slight bump to 41.6% ABV, as a nod to the 416 telephone area code for Toronto. If only the Lafleur whisky were similarly bottled in honour of the 514 area code!

There aren’t enough reviews of these whiskies to reach threshold for inclusion in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database yet, so let’s jump directly to my tasting notes:

Nose: Sweet and creamy rye, with some faint corn notes (likely from the ex-bourbon barrels). Red berries, cherries. Caramel apples. Fresh fruit cocktail. Dried apricots. A bit of dill, plus some sort of fragrant flower I can’t quite place. Barrel char. A faint milk chocolate note. Cinnamon and nutmeg. No real off notes. Fruitier than lot 40 (and less floral).

Palate: Very creamy in the mouth, with tons of butterscotch and caramel (again, seems to be that ex-bourbon). You just want to hold it before swallowing. More dried fruits now, instead of fresh. Sour green apple. Still a floral note, but can’t place it. Lots of soft cinnamon now. But also has some zing to it, with chilies, black pepper and cloves. A touch of bitterness on the swallow, but mild. The column-distilled rye grain comes across differently than the pot-distilled Lot 40, especially in the mouthfeel (i.e., the way it spreads across the tongue).

Finish: Medium. Candy coating on the tongue, cola. Cinnamon is back, as cloves settle down. Corn whisky notes come back again as well. Sticky residue on lips and gums. The finish is decent, but not really a stand-out for me.

Definitely one for those with a sweet tooth. I could see putting this almost on par with Lot 40 – except it lacks some of the complexity. Specifically, I get fewer floral notes and a less intense rye finish here (i.e., Lot 40 lasts longer). I would personally score this whisky a point or two less – maybe an 8.8 on my Meta-Critic scale.

The only review I’ve seen of this whisky so far is from Jason of In Search of Elegance, who gave it a slightly higher score with a very favourable review.

Not sure how long this one-time release will last here in Ontario, which is why I wanted to get this review out now. Rest assured, you don’t need to be a hockey fan to appreciate this quality straight rye whisky – but it could make a good gift for a Maple Leafs fan.

Mackmyra Svensk Rök

Rök means smoke in Swedish, and this Svensk Rök edition (“Swedish Smoke”) is the first smokey single malt whisky released by Mackmyra, first launched in 2013. The traditional Swedish way of smoking food is over burning juniper, so they added juniper wood while kilning the barley for this edition.

As is typical for Mackmyra, they have used a range of cask types and sizes, including ones made of American oak and Swedish oak, in the form of ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso seasoned casks. Also as typical for them, they have used smallish cask sizes ranging from 30-128 litre capacity.

Like most Mackmyra whiskies, Svensk Rok does not have an age statement, but it is not chill filtered and doesn’t use any artificial coloring. Mackmyra reports that Svensk Rök is made of only “natural Swedish ingredients.” It is bottled at 46.1% ABV. I managed to pick up a 50 mL sample bottle in my travels through Germany last year.

Here’s how it compares to other Nordic whiskies:

Box (High Coast) Dalvve: 8.48 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Box (High Coast) Early Days: 8.53 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box (High Coast) PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.86 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Box (High Coast) Quercus I Robur: 8.28 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Box (High Coast) The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.85 ± 0.13 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Box (High Coast) The Festival 2014: 8.93 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Ek: 8.36 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Svensk Rök: 8.63 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra Ten Years 10yo: 8.70 ± 0.11 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.66 ± 0.33 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky): 8.42 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews ($$)
Smogen Primör: 8.48 ± 0.25 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.88 ± 0.14 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.71 ± 0.27 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Faint peat, coming across as light smoke and dry ash. Light apple juice. Caramel. Light berries. A relatively faint juniper note, but much less than Mackmyra First Edition honestly. An unusual organic off-note – reminds me of mimeograph fluid (for those of you of a certain age). A bit of glue, but not offensive. All in all, an interesting start. Also reminds me a bit of Box Dalvve, for both the youth and light smoke.

Palate: Not as sweet as expected, but definite caramel and some vanilla. Much dryer than earlier Mackmyras (or Box Dalvve for that matter). No real fruits coming through, beyond standard apple/pear. Cigar ash. A bit of dry book-binding glue. White pepper. Bitterness after swallow, unfortunately, which detracts for me personally. A bit too simple in the mouth, honestly.

Finish: Medium. Apple juice with a squeeze of lemon. Caramel lingers, but so does the bitterness. Somewhat astringent on way out. The woodiness comes through here, but I wouldn’t necessarily ascribe it to juniper per se.

I’ve generally been a fan of most Swedish whiskies I’ve tried, including Mackmyra. But this one strikes me as a little lacking. Specifically, it seems too young, and not as interesting as similar lightly-peated youthful whiskies (i.e. I find even the entry-level Box Dalvve is better).

Among reviewers, Jim Murray was the most positive, with an above-average score. Serge of Whisky Fun, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Jonny of Whisky Advocate all give it an average score (but favourable reviews). I’m the lowest of the group on this one. An interesting experiment perhaps, but I find the smokey whiskies coming out of Box (High Coast) more interesting.

Laird of Fintry 2018 (Lot #5) Single Malt

I managed to snag a bottle of this year’s annual lottery release of Okanagan Spirits’ Laird of Fintry single malt whisky.

Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery is located in British Columbia, Canada. They make a very wide range of distilled products, include aquavits, fruit brandies, liqueurs, gins, and vodkas – with a recent specialization in whiskies. They style themselves as an original harvest-to-flask operation, using 100% B.C. fruits and grains grown “a tractor ride away” from the distillery.

This is the 5th year that the distillery has offered a single malt release. The malted barley is locally grown, and distilled in copper pot stills. From the appearance, I would have assumed caramel colouring has been added – but their website states no artificial colours or flavours are used in any of their products (the bottle label makes no specific claims).

Bottled at 42% ABV. Age is unknown (but presumably only a few years old). Quantity produced varies by year, but 4,000 full-size bottle equivalents were produced for 2018 (they sell both full-size 750mL bottles and half-size “mickeys” of 375mL). Typically, they have more than twice that many people sign up for the lottery each year. Having won the lottery, I opted for a pair of the half-size bottles at $40 CAD each ($75 for the full-size bottle).

Here is how Laird of Fintry compares to other Canadian single malts in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 8.06 ± 0.47 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton Ice 10yo: 8.23 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.07 ± 0.58 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lohin McKinnon: 8.03 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Wine Barrel Finished (Black Sage): 7.76 ± 0.69 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Okanagan Spirits Laird of Fintry (all editions): 8.41 ± 0.72 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (all Casks): 8.26 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, it does better than most (but there are a number of other craft brands out there that aren’t in my database yet, due to the low number of reviews).

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: A powerful fruity nose, you can smell it as soon as you pour the glass. In keeping with the distillery’s origins, it has a strong eau de vie (fruit brandy) aroma. Very candy sugar coated, with additional caramel and rum sweetness. Sour red cherries and  apple juice. Tons of citrus (in keeping with the young age). Banana and coca cola. Anise and some light dried glue (actually pleasant). A bit perfumy, but in a herbal way. While young, it is not burdened with the off notes that mar many young Canadian blends. Off to a good start!

Palate: The cola notes pick up in a major way (with a bit of tongue tingle that is reminiscent of carbonation). Plum, pear and apple. Rum raisin ice cream. Sweet red licorice joins the anise. Cinnamon and nutmeg, a bit of black pepper. Surprisingly creamy mouth feel (for 42% ABV), evocative of creamed wheat. Despite the sweetness, an herbal bitterness rises up on the swallow, which increases on successive sips. Not as interesting as the nose suggested, but still pleasant enough (if a bit flat).

Finish: Medium length. Stale flat coca cola initially. Unsweetened anise and pepper. Some astringency joins the bitterness. If you wait long enough, some syrupy sweetness returns at the very end. A bit disappointing really, but not surprising for the age (and still longer than I expected).

I’m not getting as many woody notes as some reviewers report (for earlier batches). But the fruit essence is very dominant. The cola and cherry notes remind me of some older Canadian Clubs I’ve tried. To be honest, it doesn’t really seem like a malt whisky – I’m not getting very many grain notes. More like an oak barrel-aged fruit brandy in many ways. This would likely appeal to those with a sweet tooth!

I would give it an average score, given its distinctive elements and lack of off-notes – but again, it doesn’t seem like a malt whisky.

I haven’t seen any reviews of this lot 5 (2018) edition yet. But for the earlier versions, Sinjun86 on Reddit gave very positive reviews of lot 1, lot 2 and lot 3. Lot 3 also got very positive reviews from Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, as well as xile_ of reddit. Mark of whisky.buzz gave it a below average score, and lowest score I’ve seen was by Ethanized. Lot 4 had a very positive review by Neversaveforlife on Reddit, followed by a moderate score from TOModera.

 

 

 

 

Cutty Sark Prohibition

Cutty Sark is an entry-level blended scotch whisky (and one that I find is more popular with an older generation of drinkers). Not a fan myself, but I have been curious about this quite different small-batch version of Cutty Sark known as Prohibition.

The name is apparently a nod to the fact that the brand was popularly smuggled into America in the 1920s. The whisky is presented in a very retro black glass bottle with a cork top, typical of bottles during that era. Surpisingly, it is bottled at 50% ABV, which is impressive for an entry-level blend (regular Cutty Sark is standard 40% ABV).

It is not always available, but sells ~$36 CAD in Ontario/Quebec when it does show up, compared to ~$27 for regular Cutty Sark (which is pretty much the floor price for whisky in this country). It also get significantly higher reviews, as shown in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other entry-level scotch blends:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.61 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.56 ± 0.69 on 8 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013): 8.02 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.00 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark Storm: 8.04 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.95 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.60 ± 0.70 on 16 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.67 ± 0.57 on 21 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.46 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Grand Macnish: 7.86 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.70 ± 0.64 on 14 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$)
J&B Rare: 6.95 ± 1.11 on 13 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.42 ± 0.61 on 23 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.87 ± 0.73 on 12 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose: Wow, that’s a lot of butterscotch. Toffee too. Butter caramels. Condensed milk and fudge. Yowza, that’s the full caramel gamut. Creamed corn. Stewed apples. Some citrus. A touch of cinnamon. No real off notes.

Palate: Very buttery, with the caramel notes continuing. Maybe a faint hint of dark chocolate. Baking spices and black pepper. Not very malty, but great mouthfeel thanks to the high ABV. Also a bit of zing on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Stewed apples again. Some ginger spice – but really lots of pepper, both black and white. Faint hint of bitterness. Sweetness lasts the longest.

A bit of water adds more fruit, peaches and pears in particular. It tames the alcohol zing a little but not the pepper – and it keeps the great buttery mouthfeel. Peppery tingle continues to the end. Recommend a little splash of water to help with the burn.

While nothing exciting, it is definitely worth an overall average score in my books – and represents great value for money.

Highest score comes from Patrick of Quebec Whisky, followed by Andre and Martin, and Dominic of Whisky Advocate. More moderately positive are Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun. Less enthusiastic (but not negative) are Josh the Whiskey Jug, Mark of whisky.buzz, and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Rather low scores come from Ruben of Whisky Notes and cjotto9 and Texacer of Reddit.

J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak 19 Year Old

Seasoned Oak is the latest member of the Rare Cask series from J.P. Wiser’s, following up on Dissertation and Union 52. Only 6,000 bottles of this 19 year old whisky have been released, exclusive for Ontario.

According to Wiser’s, this Canadian whisky was partially aged in “seasoned” oak barrels, whose staves were air-dried and exposed to the natural elements for over 48 months.

To explain this process, freshly cut oak is fairly “wet”, with loads of sap and tannins that contribute many of the “green” notes to whisky. Wet wood is also prone to shrinking and warping, which is not ideal for coopering.  You can dry the wood out in in large kilns, but some degree of natural aging in open air is typically preferred. Just like a fence or deck, exposure to the natural elements (sun and rain, in particular) will grey the wood – and wash out some of the more bitter “woody” elements.

Barrels made of well-seasoned oak would be expected to have less woody influence over the short-term of aging. In the case of this release, Wiser’s naturally aged the wood for longer than usual (4 years). But it’s important to note that the whiskies that went into these barrels spent the first 18 years of their lives in standard, well used barrels. It was only for the final year did the previously separately-aged corn and rye whiskies marry together in these new, heavily-seasoned oak barrels.

Bottled at 48% ABV, it sells for $100 CAD at the LCBO. My sample came from Jason of In Search of Elegance.

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other Wiser’s special releases:

J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.41 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 9.00 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Canada 2018: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 9.02 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.84 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s One Fifty: 8.50 ± 0.41 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.78 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.87 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: A strong nose, this is a classic Canadian whisky amped-up – both the sweetness and the spiciness are heightened. Fresh raisins, prunes and blueberries, along with dried cranberries and orange peel. Caramel and vanilla. Cherrywood. Leather. Wood spice (cloves in particular). Barrel char. A lot going on here, it’s tough to pull everything out. Unfortunately, it also has a strong acetone smell, plus a number of other organic solvents, which detract for me.

Palate: Very sweet and creamy arrival, tons of caramel and corn syrup –  which hit like an overwhelming wave. Condensed milk. Oak spices builds up only after the first couple of sips – cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a touch of black pepper. Unfortunately, the bitterness also builds – must notably on the swallow. I’m frankly surprised that seasoned wood would leave this much bitterness behind. But mainly, I’m disappointed at how simple it seems on the palate – compared to the more subtle notes from the nose. I love the silky and creamy mouthfeel though – that 48% ABV is really helping here.

Finish: Medium, with wood spice dominating. Unfortunately, the bitterness lingers too. I’m not really getting much of a resurgence here of the core notes from the nose (maybe leather). Frankly, it just seems to fade-out fairly quickly.

Water dampens the mouthfeel quickly, and doesn’t help with the solvent off-notes on the nose or the bitterness on the finish. I recommend you try it full-strength before adding any water, for the full experience.

Well, this is a tough one to score. While it has some great characteristics on the nose, there is also a lot that counts against it. Beginning with the organic solvent smell, the fairly basic palate and finish (plus bitterness) drag it down for me. At the end of the day, I’d have to give this whisky a fairly average score overall – not because it is mediocre per se, but because it is discordant for the more positive and negative characteristics.

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance, Mark Bylok of Whisky Buzz and Davin of Canadian Whisky are all big fans, giving it a high score. Reddit reviewers are typically fairly negative on it, with below-average scores – including from Devoz, TOModera and xile_. I’m more in the Reddit reviewer camp here.

An interesting experience, but in my view, there are better Canadian whiskies available for less – including last year’s Rare Cask release of Dissertation. Personally, I’d recommend you pick that one up, before it disappears (Dissertation has been de-listed by the LCBO online portal, but can still be found on the shelves near where I live).

 

Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt

When I was in Switzerland last year, I managed to try a number of local single malt whiskies. Whisky production is a relatively new thing there (having only been legally allowed since 1999), and most of the early producers were already long-established brewers. I’ve seen this pattern before in a number of countries, as there are a lot of similarities in brewing beer and distilling malt whisky.

While most of the young whiskies I tried were fairly mediocre (and one was absolutely dreadful), the best of the bunch was Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt. Produced by the brewer Rugenbräu, this no-age-statement (NAS) malt whisky is aged in American oak ex-Sherry casks (presumably refill casks, given the relatively light colour). This is a step up from many of the other brewer/distillers, who tend re-use beer barrels (something I personally find rarely benefits a malt whisky).

I would have passed this unassuming whisky by, in favour of a few limited age-stated releases of other makers – until a knowledgeable bartender directed me to try it. He explained that Jim McEwan, previous Master Distiller and owner of Bruichladdich, was so impressed with the production of Rugenbräu that he immediately decided to become a patron and advisor to the distillery. Indeed, it is his personal tasting notes that adorn the backs of all their bottlings.

Bottled at 46% ABV. This Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt was awarded a Silver medal at the 2017 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London.  MSRP is 81 Swiss Francs (about ~$106 CAD) for a 700mL bottle.

Here is how it compares to other Swiss and central European malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.64 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.96 ± 0.63 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Alpstein (all editions): 8.58 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Santis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.14 ± 1.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.80 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Santis Edition Säntis: 7.55 ± 0.83 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.65 ± 0.40 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Hmmm, that’s different. There’s something very vegetal at play here. Mushrooms? The earthy funkiness reminds me of a lightly peated whisky (but I’m not getting any smoke). Leather. some Oloroso notes coming through, including some golden sultanas and raisins. I’m detecting a bit of acetone at the end, but it’s pretty well hidden under the funk. I like it.

Palate: A relatively light palate, almost watery. Bourbony wood notes come up first – vanilla, caramel. Not much fruit, mainly prunes and a light berry. A bit candied as well (candy canes). Oloroso notes come back at end, with some cocoa.‎ A bit of cinnamon, and some tobacco. Not overwhelming, but no real off notes either. A fairly subtle experience – but pleasant.

Finish: Short. Mildly sweet. The cocoa turns more to chocolate now, and includes some bitter dark chocolate notes.  Again, no real off notes.

Easy drinking‎, I could see this doing well as a standard, everyday sort of pour.

Jim Murray is a big fan of this whisky.  It gets an average score from Jonny of Whisky Advocate. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from cake_my_day on Reddit.  I would give it an average score overall, and so find the Meta-Critic composite score reasonable. I’d be curious to try more from this distillery.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

Talk about a great story. The fascinating history behind this relatively entry-level Scottish blended malt whisky starts with the discovery of century-old crates of Scotch whisky in the Antarctic permafrost – as recounted here. To understand what this bottling is (and isn’t), I need to take you on an abridged tour of that story – and of the initial limited release Shackleton recreations.

In preparation for his 1907 expedition to Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton provisioned his ship with a blended whisky produced by Mackinlay (a brand now owned by Whyte & Mackay). Although he never reached the South Pole, he had stashed three crates of the whisky at his base camp at Cape Royds. These were discovered in 2007 by a team carrying out conservation work on Shackleton’s expedition hut, buried under the floor boards.

In 2011, three of the bottles were flown back to Scotland for chemical and sensory analysis – where it was discovered they were only lightly peated (using Orkney peat), bottled at 47.3% ABV, and had been matured in American oak sherry casks. The first recreation of this Shackleton whisky – by Whyte & Mackay master blended Richard Paterson – was a limited release of 50,000 bottles (known as the Discovery edition). This was followed up by a second limited release a year later, with a different composition (known as the Journey edition).

In 2017, they decided to produce a general release of a more basic blended malt under the Shackleton name. To be clear – and unlike the earlier limited releases – this is not intended to be a literal recreation of the actual Shackleton expedition whisky. Instead, think of it as a loose approximation of the style, for a modern audience (capturing “the essense” of Shackleton, as Paterson puts it).

Initially released in 1 L bottles through Global Travel Retail (aka Duty-Free), standard 750 mL bottles have been available more generally since early 2018. Bottled at 40% ABV, it sells for $58 CAD at the LCBO. As with the previous limited releases, a small contribution from each sale goes to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Here is how the various Shackleton releases compare in Meta-Critic Whisky Database, in relation to other Whyte & Mackay whiskies.

Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.42 ± 0.40 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Fettercairn Fior: 8.48 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
John Barr Reserve (Black Label): 7.90 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.66 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.28 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt: 8.41 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Discovery edition: 8.88 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Journey edition: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Whyte & Mackay 13yo: 8.05 ± 0.54 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Whyte & Mackay Blended Triple Matured: 7.31 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Blended: 7.65 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average scores drop from the the first limited release to the second – and again, to this general release. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet apple juice. Honey. Light caramel. Sour cherries. Gummy bears and bubblegum. Light touch of smoke. No real off notes, which is impressive for the price point. Fairly basic, but pleasant.

Palate: Honey again, with some light corn syrup. Apple juice. Sourness from nose continues as well, with some tart green apple. A touch of orange juice. A bit of bitterness on swallow. Smoke turns into a more persistent funkiness (as you sometimes find with lightly-peated whiskies). Reminds me of Scapa Skiren.

Finish: Simple and fairly short. Again, honey and apple juice persist the longest. Bitterness from the wood does build with time. Seems youngish.

Scapa Skiren is indeed the closest match I can think of, but with perhaps a bit more character here on the nose. Fans of the Johnnie Walker Black style may also like this recreation.

There aren’t too many reviews of this general-release Shackleton whisky yet. Jonny of Whisky Advocate gives it a very high rating – in contrast to Thomas of Whisky Saga and throwboats on Reddit, who both give it a low score. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair. A decent blended malt whisky for the price, but nothing too complex or interesting. Still a great story though!

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