Category Archives: Whisky Reviews

Highland Queen Blended Scotch

I had never heard of this particular brand – and so was surprised to see several different bottlings of blended Scotch whiskies and single malt expressions on the shelf on a recent trip out West.

The origin of the brand name dates back to 1893, with the Highland Queen blend of Macdonald & Muir Ltd. Named in honour of Mary Queen of Scots, the original Highland Queen was supplied by Glenmorangie distillery. The brand was purchased in 2008, and the Highland Queen Scotch Whisky Company was established at the Tullibardine distillery, in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve had a few Tullibardine malts, which are generally quite mild and inoffensive. It’s definitely a “gentle dram” maker, and should work well for basic blends.

This entry-level scotch blend is the base expression of the Highland Queen line, aged for 3 years and bottled at 40% ABV. I saw this this bottling on sale for $26 CAD in a COOP in Calgary, Alberta.

Let’s see how it compares to other entry level blends in my Meta-Critic Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Bank Note 5yo Blended Scotch: 8.09 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.77 on 7 reviews ($)
Black Bottle (after 2013 re-launch): 7.99 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.68 on 5 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark: 7.53 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse: 7.64 ± 0.56 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.69 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Highland Queen: 7.92 ± 0.45 on 3 reviews ($)
Islay Mist 8yo: 7.91 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.98 ± 1.03 on 11 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($)

There are only a limited number of reviews, but so far Highland Queen is scoring on par with the higher-end of the base scotch blends in my database.

I was given a sample to try, let’s see what I found in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with honey and caramel initially. Standard apples and pears (apple juice), but not a lot of fruit otherwise. A touch of nutmeg. Very simple, but pretty decent for an entry-level blend, with a surprising lack of solvent notes.

Palate: Apples remain the most prominent here, caramel-dipped. Honey, with a bit of vanilla. Something faintly herbaceous, but nothing specifically identifiable. Maybe a touch of anise. Light and watery mouthfeel, with no real burn.

Finish: Short. Quick and clean, just faint apple juice and honey. Disappears with no off notes, but a slight touch of bitterness does creep in.

A very basic blend, with a limited ex-bourbon barrel flavour palate. But surprisingly lacking the off-notes that mar most entry-level blends for me.

This base blend gets a decent score from Jim Murray (though still below average), and a positive review (but a low score) from Jonny at Whisky Advocate. Personally, I’m in-between on this one, but closer to Jonny in score. Nothing to specifically seek out, but as the Meta-Critic shows, you could do a lot worse.

Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak

As I’ve previously reported, Kavalan offers two of their most popular Solist expressions – Bourbon Cask and Sherry Cask – in a vatted format, known as the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak and Sherry Oak, respectively.  In Asia, these batch versions of the Solists are available at both cask-strength (typically ~54-59%, just like the single casks Solists) and at a reduced 46% ABV. Here in the Western hemisphere, I’ve only seen the 46% ABV versions.

Supposedly, these two “Oak” series are vatted from the exact same type of casks used for the named Solist series. But it stands to reason that they probably cherry-pick the best casks for the single cask offerings, and vat the rest. Still, it is a good chance to sample what the distillery character is like (in a more consistent fashion), without having shell out for the more expensive (and rare) Solist single cask versions.

These Oak-series whiskies are typically available as both full 700 mL bottles and 50 mL miniature glass bottles. As with my Sherry Oak review, my sample here is of the 46% ABV, 50 mL ex-Bourbon Oak version. Bottling code is 2015.05.08 16:15. The bottle came in a cardboard box, and so was protected from light.

Here is how the various Kavalan bottlings compare in my Whisky Database.

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.63 ± 0.33 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.77 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Bourbon: 8.85 ± 0.22 on 19 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.98 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.01 ± 0.72 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.08 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)

There aren’t a lot of reviews to go by, but the 46% ABV vatted version of the ex-Bourbon Oak seems to be doing quite well.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Light apple juice – frankly, one of the palest Kavalans I’ve seen yet.

Nose: Fruity, with lush tropical fruits like papaya, mango, pineapple, and banana (including green banana). Touch of citrus. Light honey and vanilla. Not creamy per se, more of a buttery note. Grassy, with some hay (fresh cut for both, not dry). Sweet. No off notes, which is impressive. Water dampens all of the above, and may bring up a touch of solvent (oddly), so I would skip water for nosing.

Palate: Not quite as sweet as the nose, but there’s no mistaking that time in bourbon casks. Tons of vanilla and caramel. Rich oak without the typical spice or bitterness, doesn’t seem to have been aged too long. Noticeable coconut, and a bit nutty in general. But again, not very spicy, with maybe just a touch of nutmeg. Buttery texture. Fair amount of tongue tingle, but not offensive. Sweeter with water, which also helps with tingle (but doesn’t fully extinguish it).

Finish: Caramel continues, with some of the light spices coming up now (nutmeg).  A touch astringent, but not really bitter. Some of tropical and green fruit also show a resurgence. Very nice and even. With water, some bitterness does enter in.

I recommend you go sparingly with water on the 46% ABV version – it certainly needs no more than few drops at most.

All in all, a very pleasant ex-bourbon expression, very good for the presumed young age. Much better than the standard Kavalan single malt expression. As an aside, my wife – who is not a big scotch drinker – really liked this one.

Among reviewers, Dominic of Whisky Advocate is very positive, followed by washeewashee of Reddit (for the cask-strength version), Jim Murray, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. Worth picking up if you come across a sample bottle in your travels.

Sullivans Cove French Oak Single Cask

Welcome to my first Tasmanian single malt review.  Tasmania is an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, and has been seeing a boom in whisky production lately. Sullivans Cove is arguably their most well-known distillery. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they have won numerous international whisky awards in recent years.

Indeed, this particular French Oak single cask single malt, which is finished in port wine casks, won “Best Australian Whisky” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards and then “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. This latter one is a little odd in my view for a single cask whisky – it doesn’t really help you know what to except from all the other casks out there. And you could never track down the same winning cask – we can only hope that there is not a lot of variability from cask to cask (and I expect there is).

In any case, these expressions are bottled at a reduced ABV (47.5% for the sample I tried), and the age varies from between 11 to 12 years old. I don’t have the specific bottle code for the one I tried earlier this year, but I know it was barreled on 8/8/2000 and bottled on 1/25/2012 (so, 11 years old, in other words).

Here is how Sullivans Cove compares to other port-finished malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Portonova: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.80 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.44 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port (both editions): 8.98 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.35 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.74 ± 0.39 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove American Oak: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove Bourbon Cask Strength: 8.54 ± 0.73 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.29 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Sullivans Cove Port Cask Strength: 8.55 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.60 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Despite the early awards, most Sullivan Cove expressions get fairly typical average scores in my Meta-Critic Database.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, and milk chocolate are the most prominent notes. Baked goods – but more like a Blondie bar than a brownie (although there is a bit of dark chocolate too). Citrus, and some apple. There’s a general fruity sweetness, but nothing else very specific (i.e., seems more like fruit-flavoured candy, think Haribo gummy bears or fruit roll-ups). A little nutty. No real off notes.

Palate: Wow, tons of butterscotch and toffee notes now – very buttery, in fact. White chocolate is also prominent (that’s a first for me), along with hazelnut. The dark chocolate has become subdued, more like just a touch of bitterness now. Creamy mouthfeel. Really, this tastes is like a some sort of specialty chocolate bar that has been liquefied! Same candied fruit as the nose. Some mild baking spices (nutmeg), a touch of pepper. A bit grassy.

Finish: Fairly short, unfortunately. Or perhaps not, given the overwhelming sweetness of the nose and palate. The bitterness of the dark chocolate comes back at the end, along with that slight candy fruitiness.

Sullivans.Cove.French.OakVery unique experience. Closest thing in my mind is probably Glenmorangie Signet – but amped-up, with white chocolate and butterscotch.  Definitely not an everyday dram, but this could easily serve as a decadent dessert replacement at the end of a meal.

Not really getting much of the port finish here (beyond that sweet candied fruitiness). It does reminds me a bit of the old Pike’s Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish here in Canada (before they switched to finishing in rum casks). But this is really overwhelming in its sweetness.

This whisky was a hit for Serge of Whisky Fun and TOModera of Reddit. It also garnered fairly positive reviews from Jim Murray and Ruben of Whisky Notes (although only an average score from Ruben). Dominic of Whisky Advocate is moderately positive (but giving it a below average score). The only actually negative review I’ve seen is Craig of Malt Maniacs. While I appreciate that it is a quality product, it is not something I could see myself going for very often. I think the overall Meta-Critic average is reasonable.

Canadian Club 40 Year Old

Not one to be out done by Corby and the Northern Border Collection, or the various Canada 150 special releases, Beam Suntory has just released the oldest age-stated Canadian whisky in history: Canadian Club 40 year old.

There is not a lot information available on this release, beyond that it was distilled in 1977, and aged in used American oak barrels. Classically, Canadian Club was made from a blend of corn and rye, but I have seen commentary from several sources online that this is a pure corn whisky.

As explained my recent review of J.P. Wiser’s 35 year old, it is a common practice in Canada to add a small amount of low-ABV rye “flavouring” whiskies to such a “base” of high-ABV corn whisky, to add extra character. I will come back to this point later, but my experience certainly supports the idea that a light corn whisky is the source spirit used here.

This first release has sold out in most jurisdictions (although is still available in some Alberta outlets), as only around 7000 bottles were produced. I was fortunate enough to manage to snag a bottle when it hit Ontario shelves early last month ($250 CAD at the LCBO). Bottled at 45% ABV, the whisky comes in a stylish presentation-style square bottle (which is actually a bit of a pain to pour from, truth be told).

Here is how compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Subtle, but detectable from a distance. Light honey and corn syrup. Gummi bears. Candied orange citrus. Vanilla. Tree bark (likely from the extended oak aging). Definite acetone, contributing to an artificial sweetener/candy note. But not offensive, seems to work with the other light sweet notes. Reminds me in some ways of Crown Royal Monarch for the oaky notes (but with less overt rye here).

Palate: Corn, corn and more corn. Corn syrup. Hot-buttered corn-on-the-cob. Definite caramel now, adding to the vanilla – a salted caramel. Light dried fruits. Buttery and creamy texture, quite decadent – yet it still feels relatively light and bright for the age. Aromatic wood note that I can quite place (juniper?). Slight nutmeg on way out. Touch of tannic tea. Very easy drinking – dare I say “smooth”?

Finish: Medium length. Light corn on the tongue, with butter. Nutmeg and a touch of cloves. Plums and citrus. Caramel lingers to the end.

Caramel seems to build over time with successive sips. A rich, liquid caramel – by the end of the glass, you feel like you drank insides of a Caramilk bar.‎ Slippery, buttery residue on lips also builds with time. Very distinctive, I would call this a dessert whisky.

While there are some light rye notes here (which I suspect are coming exclusively from the wood), it is really the base corn spirit that shines through. I’ve never had such a well-aged, mellow corn whisky before – it seems younger and brighter. Certainly interesting as a concept, but I can’t help feel that a splash of Lot 40 Cask Strength in here would really help wake this whisky up.

Personally, I prefer the Wiser’s 35 year old over this bottle, as it has a little more spice and character. But CC 40 really is a distinctive experience, so I urge you to try a sample if you ever get the chance.

Among reviewers, it gets outstanding scores from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate. Beppi of the Globe and Mail gives it a very good score. Among Reddit reviewers, TOModera and Strasse007 both give it an above average score, with muaddib99 giving it a more average one.

 

 

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve Single Malt

Not having had a lot of luck with the main Bushmills’ expression (although Black Bush is certainly decent and drinkable), I was intrigued when I came across a higher-end sherry cask travel retail exclusive single malt at an international airport duty free. It wasn’t cheap though, working out to over $100 USD in currency conversion for a bottle.

This was of course the first of the new “Steamship” series from Bushmills, a collection  of three permanent special cask-matured expressions, beginning with the Sherry Cask Reserve. The name of the collection is inspired by the historical SS Bushmills, built in 1890. Apparently, this steamship traveled the world, and transported refilled spirit casks from all over, and back to Ireland during her active service.

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve is pure single malt whisky, not a blend like the cheaper Bushmills.  While it is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, it is matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts.  That certainly sounds at least minimally promising – although it is disappointingly bottled at the minimum strength of 40% ABV.

Fortunately, it was on promotion in the store, so I was able to sample a generous pour while waiting for my flight. This also gave me a chance to compare it directly to Black Bush side-by-side (which I have had before, and was also available for tasting).

I will reserve my usual discussion of the Meta-Critic scores for Bushmills to the end, as I was not tracking this whisky in my database at the time of sampling (and so, had no pre-existing bias going in).

Here is what I found in the glass (well, plastic cup):

Nose: Definite sherry presence, more so than Black Bush. Classic raisins and figs, along with brown sugar. But still not quite as sherry-rich as I was expecting, suggesting to me that  they are probably using second (or later) refill casks. Classic Bushmills apple cider. Vanilla and cinnamon. Malty, with some lighter grassy notes (no grain, of course). No burn either, consistent with the low ABV. No real off notes. Certainly off to a decent enough start.

Palate: More on the apple and pear notes now, with somewhat lighter sherry fruits (i.e., more golden raisins as opposed to figs or prunes). A bit of spice (baking spices), which is nice, and that rich brown sugar note persists.  Complex for a Bushmills, but it still seems a bit simple overall – and with the typical watery mouthfeel of this brand. This really should have been bottled at a minimum 46% ABV to give it some character.  Still, it is pleasant enough to sip on, and has more depth than Black Bush.

Finish: Short. Longer than other Bushmills (notice the repeating refrain?), but still not very long by the standards of other all-sherry cask-aged whiskies. A simple persistent sweetness lasts the longest.

All in the all, this is probably the first truly decent Bushmills that I’ve had.  It would make a good introduction for someone interested in experiencing sherry finishing, without jumping right into a sherry-bomb. But I really think the casks used here have seen too many previous refills – they just seem a bit tired. And I can’t fathom why they bottled this at such a low 40% ABV.

Overall, the flavours kind of remind me of the entry-level Dalmores. That analogy is pretty apt in another sense as well – like most Dalmores, I find this expression is over-priced for what it is.

The only reviews for Sherry Cask Reserve I’ve seen among my Meta-Critic reviewers are Jonny of Whisky Advocate (who gives it medium-low score), and Jim Murray (who gives it a veryy low score).  Personally, I’d rate it higher, closer to the overall average for an Irish whisky in the database (~8.4-8.5).  To put that in perspective, here’s how the Meta-Critic scores play out across Irish whiskies, and the Dalmores already mentioned:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.29 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.49 ± 0.48 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.37 ± 0.39 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.16 ± 0.43 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot: 8.48 ± 0.36 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.30 ± 0.31 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.73 ± 0.41 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.72 ± 0.30 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.65 ± 0.37 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.51 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Red Head Single Malt: 8.4 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$$)

There are too few scores right now to give this a meaningful interpretation. At the end of the day, I would expect this to do at least as well as Black Bush (i.e., I found it noticeably better, side-by-side). And again, I think the scores for the entry-level Dalmores are probably a pretty good indicator as to what to expect for this expression in the end.

I wouldn’t recommend purchasing a bottle at the current travel retail price, but if someone gifted it to me, I’d happy to sip on it periodically.  Best suited for when you want a little flavour, but nothing too complex or challenging. Black Bush is much better value for money, though.

J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old

This is my fourth and final review of the limited-release 2017 Northern Border Collection from Corby – and the oldest release of a Wiser’s whisky to date.

Sporting an impressive 35 year old age statement, this J.P. Wiser’s whisky is composed mainly of double-distilled corn whisky that has been distilled to a high ABV, and aged in reused ex-bourbon barrels. It also includes about 10% column- and pot-distilled rye whisky, aged in virgin oak barrels.

This mix is a fairly standard arrangement for a Canadian whisky – the high-proof corn whisky from reused barrels serves as a “base”, to which a smaller amount of “flavouring” whisky is added (i.e., the low-proof rye whisky aged in new barrels). But it is rare to see something aged this long, and I’m personally curious to see what effect this has on the various components.

Bottled at an impressive 50% ABV, this was released for $165 CAD at the LCBO last month. I’m still seeing a few bottles on shelves at some locations, so you should still have a chance to pick it up if you move quickly.

Here is how it compares to the rest of the NBC group, and other relevant whiskies, in my Meta-Critic Database.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo; 9.00 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 9.01 ± 0.48 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.82 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, with brown sugar, caramel and maple sugar (I rarely get maple notes, but very pronounced here). Vanilla. Caramel apple, slightly burnt. Orange citrus. A range of soft floral notes. Buttered popcorn. Almost bourbon like, but less woody – it does indeed seem liked it was aged primarily in well-used barrels. Faint acetone at first, but dissipates with time. Great nose overall – appropriately complex for the age, yet not dominated by the wood. Well done!

Palate: Sweet up front, with similar syrupy notes as the nose – definitely some complex sugars. Gently floral. Caramel corn. Caramel apple again. Then pronounced cinnamon and nutmeg hit, with cloves and some light wood spice. A surprising amount of dill. Finally, a bit of pepper and some tea notes round it out. Great mouth feel for 50% ABV, syrupy in texture. Some ethanol heat on way down, understandably. Again, this is surprisingly not very oaky for the age.

Finish: ‎Medium short. Caramel sweetness returns and dominates. Caramel corn. Otherwise not much going on here unfortunately, fairly simple on the way out. A bit thin on finish, frankly.

With water, it becomes more aromatic on the nose, with enhanced caramelized sugar notes. Water lightens mouth feel quickly, so I recommend you drink it neat or with only a few drops of water. It certainly doesn’t need the extra caramel flavour, in my view.

Great nose and mouthfeel, really impressed on those fronts. Very decent palate too, but with a shortish finish unfortunately. A bourbon drinker might like this, as it brings in a lot of the traditional bourbon sweetness – but without the heavy oak spice.

The extended aging seems to have really mellowed the palate, while keeping the moderately complex sugars and aromatic esters around. I find myself being drawn back to sample this one repeatedly – it is an easy-to-drink, likeable dram. Elegant is probably how I would best describe it, for the Canadian whisky class. This is my second favourite of the collection after Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (although Pike Creek 21yo is a close third).

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate are huge fans – both give this one of their highest scores ever. Among reddit reviewers, TOModera really likes this one, giving it a high score (second highest rating for the group). It gets slightly above average scores from Devoz, muaddib99 and xile_. Sinjun86 and smoked_herring both give it an average score (although their second highest for the NBC group). Finally, Chip the Rum Howler gives it a very low score (due to a moldy note he perceives). So clearly a more variable view on this one – but most quite like it, giving it high marks for the class.

 

 

Gooderham & Worts 17 Year Old Little Trinity Three Grain

This member of the new Northern Border Collection by Corby (part of their Rare Releases for 2017) is released under the Gooderham & Worts line. A stabled name in the history of Toronto whisky distillation, the inaugural Gooderham & Worts whisky was a four-grain blend of wheat, rye, corn and malt whiskies. This new limited release is named Little Trinity (after the church William Gooderham built for his distillery workers), with a 17 year old age statement. They have dropped the malt component of the blend – this is now a three-grain mix.

According to Davin at Canadian Whisky, three types of wood were used to age the base corn spirit for this whisky: new virgin oak barrels, second-fill ex-bourbon barrels, and well-used barrels that had already seen several whiskies previously. The once-distilled rye whisky component was matured in ex-bourbon barrels, and the once-distilled wheat whisky was aged in virgin oak.

Bottled at 45% ABV, this is one of the most affordable members of the NBC, at $80 CAD at the LCBO (and you might still be able to find a bottle in some locations). Here is how it compares to other members of the NBC group, and comparable popular Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.29 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.78 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.65 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.63 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.58 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.78 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.09 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.56 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.27 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet caramel with some honey. Apple juice with a candied/dried mixed fruit concoction – very fragrant. Buttered popcorn. Creamed wheat. Light rye spice, nutmeg mainly. Except for the wheat, this is a very classic “Canadian rye” presentation (with its strong corn notes) – but fruitier than typical. Off notes are reduced from the original G&W, and consist mainly of light varnish.‎ An improvement to be sure, quite a decent nose.

Palate: Lots of rye and corn syrup now. Caramel picks up too, and the buttery flavour. A surprisingly heavy oak spice flares up quickly, packing quite a kick. This woody influence was unexpected, and is surprisingly long-lasting in the mouth. Pepper and cinnamon add to the nutmeg. Mouth feel is a bit weak for 45%, waterier than expected.‎ Not quite as complex as the nose suggested, with heavy wood spice dominating.

Finish‎: Shortish. Once the wood spice dies down (fairly quickly after swallowing), light buttered popcorn remains as the dominant note. It really just sorts of vanishes though, surprisingly quickly. A bit tannic, but no real off notes.

This is is a decent Canadian rye-style whisky, with some wheat notes adding to typical corn-heavy base. Surprisingly heavy wood spice influence, especially mid-palate. A step up from standard Gooderham & Worts, which I found to be a bit young tasting. But the finish is still too quick, and the promised complexity on the nose fails to materialize. Frankly, this is my least favourite of the Northern Border Collection – I would give it only a slightly above average score for the class of Canadian whisky.

Among reviewers, Jason of In Search of Elegance is a big fan – and even though he ranks it third for the collection, he gives it a very high score. Davin of Canadian Whisky and Whisky Advocate gives this his lowest score for the group (but still above average). On Reddit, TOModera is the most positive (although he only gives it his third highest score for the group). This is followed by fairly average scores from muaddib99 and Sinjun86 (lowest of the group for both of them). smoked_herring also gave it his lowest score for the group, with a below average rating. So from these early reviews, it seems most agree with me that while this is a decent whisky, it is not one of the stars of the collection.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish

Now here is an oddity – a Canadian corn/rye whisky finished in casks that previously held Speyside Scotch single malt.

Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask Finish is another member of the just-released Northern Border Collection from Corby – a collection of rare, one-of-a-kind, limited-release Canadian whiskies. Following up on the hugely popular Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old, I was most curious to see how this expression compared.

I was always a fan of the original Pike Creek 10 Year Old, finished in Port barrels. The port added a distinctive fruity finish to what was a fairly simple Canadian whisky. Around this time last year, Corby quietly switched to a rum-barrel finish for Pike Creek – but upped the strength slightly. I also speculated at the time they also increased the rye content (which has apparently been confirmed). I could see why some might prefer the new version, but I personally didn’t find the rum-finish very interesting or compelling.

For this release, they apparently had some casks that were aging well, and so they decided to allow them to continue to age longer than usual.  Interestingly, they choose a pretty unique set of casks for final finishing – re-fill ex-bourbon barrels that had been used to mature an unnamed Scotch single malt whisky (from Chivas Brothers). I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, for a Canadian whisky.

Currently available at the LCBO for $90 CAD. It is bottled at 45% ABV. I have bottle 0558 out of 3900 produced.

Here is how it compares in my whisky Meta-Critic Database to some other recent Canadian specialty releases, and similarly-aged Canadian whiskies:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 40yo: 8.72 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.55 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Danfield’s 21yo: 8.51 ± 0.67 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.53 ± 0.41 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.59 ± 0.77 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.98 ± 0.23 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 13 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.57 ± 0.24 on 8 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.64 ± 0.28 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

It is still early for reviews, but Lot 40 Cask Strength is the unquestioned darling the Northern Border Collection.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for this Pike Creek 21yo:

Nose: Ok, that’s a bit different. It is not a very strong nose, but there are unusual characteristics. There’s something vegetal that’s hard to describe (green tobacco leaf?). Whatever it is, it is more reminiscent of something you’d find in malted barley than a corn/rye whisky. That said, I do get corn (fresh corn and corn syrup). Green fruits, including green apple and under-ripe pears. Peanut shells. Woody, like old floor boards. It’s not as sweet and lightly fruity as the original Pike Creek 10 year old Port-finished (or even the newer Rum-finished version). But the extra age shows in that there are no real off notes, beyond a slight sourness (and something that could almost be called smokey).

Palate: Nicer in the mouth, with more flavours coming through now – especially the fruit (orchard fruits) and light caramels (plus brown sugar). Nutty, with just a touch of maltiness. A good balance, with some cinnamon and nutmeg building over time. The extra ABV is very much appreciated (regular Pike Creek was only 40%) – nice mouthfeel here, with a slightly buttery texture. Absolutely no off notes, this is very pleasant to sip. A touch tannic on the way out.

Finish: Medium (although longer than standard Pike Creek). Sticky residue on the lips and gums, with corn syrup and light honey. Pear. Faint tea note. Some cinnamon comes back at the very end.

This is a mild and gentle sipper. Nothing really stands out at any point of the experience – it is just sort of “there”. It’s a whisky that hints at different characters, but none of them ever really take shape. Ultimately, this is a very likeable chameleon – one that dances around a sharp definition, without ever being caught. It will not be hard to polish this bottle off.

There aren’t many reviews of this one, but it gets generally positive assessments from TOModera, muaddib99, and Sinjun86 on Reddit. Davin of Canadian Whisky is very positive. Like the original Pike Creek, I don’t see this whisky garnering a lot of attention from enthusiasts – which means you might actually have a chance to pick a bottle up before they disappear!

Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old

With the surging popularity of whisky these days, it has been rewarding to see Corby come out with some innovative Canadian products (especially through their Wiser’s brand).  Many of these have been limited releases (often geographically restricted within Canada), but widely appreciated none-the-less by the local enthusiast communities.

Here I have one of the new bottlings from their new Rare Releases series for 2017 – specifically, Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 year old. This is part of what is known as (collectively) the Northern Border Collection, and I’ll be reviewing the other members of this collection shortly.

Lot 40 has always been one of the darlings of the Corby whisky catalog. Not well known outside of Canada, it is invariably the first thing every Canadian whisky nerd points to when asked for a recommendation of a Canadian rye. It is a very reasonably priced and widely available Canadian 100% rye whisky – please see my earlier review above for more info.

Recently, in anticipation of this Northern Border Collection release, a number of Canadian reviewers received access to a small number of single cask samplings of Lot 40.  But this review is of the official bottling now hitting retail shelves in Ontario, Quebec and Alberta. It is bottled at 55.0% ABV, and is sold for $70 at the LCBO.

As with regular Lot 40, with is a 100% rye whisky – only now with an explicit age statement and higher cask strength. My bottle is numbered 3754 for this “First Edition” official release (out of 4968).

Here is how it compares to premium Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic database. Note that I have separated out reviews for the single cask Lot 40 in its own category.

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.01 ± 0.18 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.26 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Century Reserve 21yo: 8.73 ± 0.20 on 10 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.39 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.70 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.79 ± 0.37 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 11 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 8.97 ± 0.25 on 6 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.59 ± 0.44 on 15 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.55 ± 1.00 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 8.97 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.17 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old: 9.25 ± 0.10 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.87 ± 0.40 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.82 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

And let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: As expected, Lot 40 on steroids! Heavy doses of rich baking spices – including cloves and cinnamon – plus cardamon, anise and dill. Main fruits are pears and plums (dark-skinned plums, specifically), with some citrus (oranges). Honey, with a touch of caramel. I also get a definite black tea note now. The extra strength can be a bit overwhelming, and drowns out some of the more delicate floral notes of regular Lot 40. There’s also something here that reminds me a bit of the original Pike Creek – likely the sharper rye notes.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy now, this is one you want to hold in your mouth. Cola and milk chocolate add to the honey and caramel from the nose, and cherries join the oranges. Heavy rye spices (cloves, cinnamon), with some actual dusty rye on the way out. A touch of bitterness (not sure if its from the rye or the wood, but I suspect the former). Dried herbs and tobacco, plus some sort of tannic black tea. And very peppery.  A much stronger presence that regular strength Lot 40.

Finish: Longer lasting than regular Lot 40. Spicy cloves and cinnamon (plus pepper) linger the longest, turning a bit candied over time (cinnamon red hots/swedish fish). Some astringency builds (that black tea note in particular). Dark chocolate-like bitterness also creeps in, but never overwhelms. Certainly a more substantial finish than other Canadian ryes, which tend to be a bit anemic. A nice, long-lasting glow.

With water, the nose is tamed a bit, and a breakfast fruit jam on toast note emerges. The caramel sweetness increases in the mouth, as do the more candied rye spices. Mouthfeel lightens quickly, so go easy on it. Seems to help with the bitterness on the finish. Personally, I find this one quite easy to drink to neat – but a bit of water will enhance the sweetness factor.

No doubt about it, this is an enthusiasts’ rye whisky. Much stronger rye presence than anything I can think of, including Masterson’s Straight Rye (which is probably its closest comparable). I don’t think it’s automatic that you will like this if you are a Lot 40 fan – there is an elegant subtlety to regular Lot 40 that is a bit lost here.  But for fans of cask-strength whiskies, this is really a no-brainer – I’m glad to see Corby roll this out (although sadly as only a limited release). There is talk of making some variant of this an annual release, though.

Although this is just now hitting shelves at the LCBO (and won’t last long!), there are a few reviews of the official bottling. See Davin of Canadian Whisky, Mark of Whsky Buzz, and Neversafeforlife, TOModera, Sinjun86 and muaddib99 on Reddit for very positive ones. For the single cask Lot 40 samples Corby circulated prior to release to some reviewers, you will find very positive reviews of one batch (bottled at 55.8%) by Devoz, Lasidar, Ethanized, Boyd86, and kinohead of Reddit, and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Andre of Quebec Whisky also reviewed a single cask sample (not sure if it was the same one as the others above). All agree, this is a top pick Canadian rye whisky.

Highland Park 25 Year Old

The Highland Park 25 Year Old has long been one of the highest-end official expressions available from this Orkney island distiller.

As I noted in my earlier review of the Highland Park 18 Year Old, this distillery has an unusual profile of rich sherry-cask notes and distinctive island peat. The additional aging here should further enhance the wood-derived characteristics, and attenuate the peat presence.

I recently had the chance to sample a 2005 edition bottling. This one was bottled at 50.7% ABV cask strength. The current bottling (48.1% ABV) sells for a rather steep for $900 CAD at the LCBO.

Here is how the 25 yo expression compares to other Highland Parks in my Meta-Critic database:

Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo (all reviews): 8.66 ± 0.22 on 25 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 15yo: 8.70 ± 0.22 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 15yo Fire: 8.74 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 17yo Ice: 8.72 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.07 ± 0.22 on 25 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 21yo: 8.90 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 25yo: 9.14 ± 0.23 on 14 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 30yo: 9.14 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park 40yo: 9.17 ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Highland Park Dark Origins: 8.50 ± 0.47 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park Valkyrie: 8.74 ± 0.22 on 6 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, it gets one of the highest scores for this family. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, and very fruity – including berries, banana, cantaloupe and grapes. Seems almost port-like in its characteristics. I’ve never gotten this much fruit from a Highland Park before. Honey. Strong wood spice, plus some eucalyptus – kind of reminds me of Old Spice after-shave. Anise. Something vaguely Springbank-like with its sweet peat notes. Only lightly smokey, but very complex, with lots going on here. No real off notes.

Palate: ‎ Initial smoke, but it fades quickly. Caramel, and sort of a burnt toffee sensation joining the honey. Berries and mixed fruit salad. Oranges. Wood spice as expected, slightly bitter. Coffee and a touch of chocolate join the anise. Good mouth feel – though not as strong as I expected for 50.7% ABV (i.e., not as thick, but still coats well). You can really taste the extended wood aging. In the end, this really isn’t very smokey.

Finish: Long. Nice mix of fruit and wood spice. No real bitterness or other impairments.   Again, not much smoke though.

Adding water makes it a touch sweeter (bringing up the honey in particular). It also seems to accentuate the wood spice. Your call of course, but I think it benefits from a few drops.

I can see why this scores so well – it is really a pretty flawless presentation, with no off notes at any point. It’s also very complex – especially on the nose, which I like (I’m a big fan of sniffing my whisky). It is heavily oaked without being bitter, which is impressive. If I were to have any criticism it would be the lower levels of smoke than I’m used to from Highland Park. For the price, I’d personally prefer the Caol Ila 30 Year Old over this, mainly for its extinguished campfire notes. And where I am, I can get the fruity and woody Redbreast 21 Year Old for almost a quarter the price (although of course, it is completely unpeated).

There aren’t many reviewers who have compared multiple editions, but Serge of Whisky Fun gives this edition a very similar score to the earlier and later editions. Ruben of Whisky Notes gave this expression is a very good score, slightly higher than newer expressions. For the various versions, most reviewers are very positive – including Jim Murray, Oliver of Dramming, My Annoying Opinions, and Thomas of Whisky Saga. The guys at Quebec Whisky are the typically moderately positive.

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