Tag Archives: Blended

Bearface Triple Oak 7 Year Old

Bearface is a rather unique new Canadian whisky. I first noticed in a local LCBO early this year, due to its rather rakish bottle design (a little risque for Canadian whisky). But my interest was piqued by the fact that it won a Gold medal at the annual Canadian Whisky Awards in January 2019 – a competition where the medals are based on blind tasting by experienced Canadian reviewers (including several in my database).

My curiosity was further aroused by Mark Bylok’s interview with Andres Faustinelli, the creator of this whisky and master blender for Mark Anthony Wine and Spirits’ new Bearface brand.  Simply put, the approach to creating this whisky places the emphasis at the opposite end of where most whisky producers do.

To break that down, most new whiskies come from new or established spirit distillers, who focus first on the quality of their distillate (i.e., choice of grains, distillation methods, etc). Type of wood aging comes next (through acquired casks), followed by blending and potential use of special “finishes,” to impart additional flavours and complexity to the final whisky. Typically this involves some period of additional aging in casks that previously held other spirits, often fortified wines like Sherry or Port. See my Source of Whisky Flavour for more information on the general process.

The point is that whisky making is generally driven the whisky producers’ interests and needs, and they source the casks they want to age their whisky in accordance with those needs. As explained in the above interview, the process for this new whisky was reversed, by looking at it from a wine-makers point of view (who typically focus on quality oak, for limited exposure periods with the wine). Here, they chose a fairly neutral corn-based spirit from a distiller on contract (already aged 7 years), and experimented with extensive exposure of the same whisky to multiple types of barrels, as they would do for wine aging.

This intensive finishing approach arose, as Mr. Faustinelli put it, when they chose to “ask the wrong people the right questions” – in other words, looking to see how those involved in making wine would seek to solve problems whisky makers face when try to produce the final flavour profile.

To try and summarize succinctly, high proof whisky produced by a Collingwood distiller (i.e, presumed Canadian Mist) entered into a mix of French Oak and American Oak casks that previously held classic fresh Bordeaux red wines (Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot), at a BC winery. Both the different varietals and the different oaks imparted different characteristics to the spirit. After finishing for 3 months, the whisky was transferred to fresh Hungarian Oak casks, where the wood was previously “seasoned” outdoors. The virgin Hungarian Oak barrels were then “toasted” to one of three char levels, and used no more than 3 times for this project (for 2 weeks exposure to the whisky each time). Despite the limited time, this added a lot more overtly oaky notes. The outcome of all these multiple finishing experiments are then separated into flavour “families”, and blended in a specific proportion for this inaugural Triple Oak Canadian whisky. I recommend you listen to the interview for the the full picture, or check out Jason Hambrey’s detailed post on In Search of Elegance for details of the wood.

Let’s see how it currently performs in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to other relevant Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Bearface Triple Oak 7yo: 8.37 ± 0.13 on 6 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.15 ± 0.66 on 8 reviews ($$)
Canadian Mist: 7.57 ± 0.69 on 11 reviews ($)
Canadian Mist Black Diamond: 8.02 ± 0.54 on 6 reviews ($)
Collingwood: 8.02 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.54 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Black: 8.19 ± 0.48 on 17 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.66 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Unit:y 8.97 ± 0.28 on on 4 reviews ($$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.34 ± 0.35 13 reviews ($$)
Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask: 7.91 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$)

Bottled at 42.5% ABV. I picked it up for $40 CAD at the LCBO earlier this year. Let’s see what I find in the glass.

Nose: Very sweet corn syrup. Buttered popcorn, slightly scorched. Condensed milk. Sweet tarts. Toasted marshmellows. Lots of fruit, but different than you would expect – black and red currants, cranberries. Dried apricot. Perfumy floral, with violets. Light rye spice, cinnamon especially, but also with hint of chilies. The toasted oak really comes through, there is no hiding the complexity here. No real off notes from the distillate, the extra age (longer than most Canadian whiskies) presumably helps with that. Off to a good start.

Palate: Initial corn sweetness hit, gets creamier on the swallow. Definitely a sweet one, not really getting the tartness from the nose any more. Indeed, not really getting any of the subtle notes here – the toasted oak comes on really strong mid-palate, and dominates everything else. More like burnt marshmellows and popcorn now, and scorched wood. Has a silky texture, with good mouthfeel. Rye spices comes up at the later palate, but soft and not at all “hot” or sharp. Fairly mild, consistent with the alcohol level.

Finish: Again, the woody notes definitely dominate initially on the finish, but with the lighter rye spices holding their own. Some of the dried fruit notes return eventually. Coffee grinds. Some astringency, but not the initial tartness from the nose. More going on here than a typical Canadian corn whisky, that’s for sure. Some sticky sweet corn syrup lingers until the end.

I’m at a bit of loss of how to rank this whisky.  On first sampling, I really liked some of the additional flavours that have been introduced by the fresh wine cask aging – despite the heavy corn-syrup base sweetness. But the toasted Hungarian oak is just proving too overwhelming on the palate for me, and I find it falls too flat and over-oaked for my tastes. Probably more of an after-dinner whisky, especially for those of you who like heavy wood influence (I typically don’t). While I appreciate the innovation, I expect this whisky would appeal to a limited audience.

There aren’t many reviews of this whisky out there yet, but the most positive are Davin of Whisky Advocate and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, with above average scores.  This is followed by more average ratings by Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky. No reviews on Reddit yet, but kinohead did provide a fairly positive set of impressions here. My own assessment would be at the low end, closer to Andre and Martin. Definitely a unique experience in the Canadian whisky scene, but a bit of a niche product. I am however curious as to what they will come up with next.

 

Johnnie Walker White Walker

An interesting gimmick for a Game of Thrones-marketed version of Johnnie Walker – enter the White Walkers!

Fans of the series will be well familiar with the role these feared undead soldiers play in the series, with their characteristic blazing blue eyes. This effect is mirrored when placing this bottle of whisky in the freezer – a bright blue is revealed across the craggy design of the bottle, including the (now presumably) dead and glowing gentleman Johnnie, as well as the series ominous “Winter is Coming” motto. Conveniently, Johnnie Walker recommends you drink this whisky cold.

Diageo went all out with its GoT tie-ins, releasing limited-edition single malts from across their stable of distilleries. Most of these cost a premium over standard official bottlings, so the JW White Walker is a chance for the masses to get in on the fun with this blended whisky. Of course, that’s if you think merchandising ties-in go well with whisky (as one prominent reviewer on Reddit eloquently put it – when first asked if he planned to try this new blend – “I’d rather join the White Walkers”).

From what I can find online, it seems ~20% of the blend comes from malt whisky (with Clynelish and Cardu having been identified), and rest is grain whisky. Bottled at 41.7% ABV (a touch higher than industry standard). It sells for a comparable price to Johnnie Black around here (i.e., just under $60 CAD).

There is no doubt the bottle design and marketing is clever – but what of the whisky itself? As an aside, the recommendation to serve it from a frozen bottle is never an encouraging endorsement. But I’ve long found Johnnie Walker Black to be a quite decent (and consistent) choice in this price range, and even prefer it over a few entry-level malts. So let’s see how all the GoT-inspired Diageo offerings do in my database, starting with the Johnnie Walker line-up:

Johnnie Walker White Walker (GoT): 7.57 ± 0.81 on 11 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.41 ± 0.62 on 23 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label: 8.44 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve: 8.28 ± 0.31 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.61 ± 0.45 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker 15yo Green Label: 8.55 ± 0.36 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.25 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)

As you can see, although the response is more variable than most, the consensus view of this whisky is much closer to JW Red than it is to JW Black (despite the comparable price). How do the more expensive GoT-branded single malts do?

GoT House Baratheon Royal Lochnagar 12yo: 8.39 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GoT Greyjoy Talisker Select Reserve: 8.78 ± 0.32 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Game of Thrones House Lannister Lagavulin 9yo: 8.81 ± 0.24 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Stark Dalwhinnie Winter’s Frost: 8.47 ± 0.40 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Targaryen Cardhu Gold Reserve: 8.02 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
GoT House Tully Singleton Glendullan Select: 7.92 ± 0.49 on 5 reviews ($$$)
GoT House Tyrell Clynelish Reserve: 8.83 ± 0.20 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
GoT The Night’s Watch Oban Bay Reserve: 8.58 ± 0.33 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

If you check my database for comparable official bottlings for those distilleries, you’ll see these consensus scores are not great for the price range. The Lagavulin, Talisker and Clynelish offerings seem to be the best quality and value (although again, you can find higher-ranked bottles for less).

And now what I find in the glass for JW White Walker, comparing both a standard room temperature pour and one from a frozen bottle:

Nose: At room temp, the main note is light, sweet apple juice. Light caramel. Slightly floral (but no discernible specific flower), with a touch of hay. Maybe a little nutty. Pleasant, with happily no real off notes. As expected, the pour from the frozen bottle has very little aroma – it is thin and pale in comparison.

Palate: Orange citrus comes in now, adding to the apple juice. Light caramel and butterscotch build. A bit of toasted char, coming across like toasted marshmellows. Cinnamon and a touch of cloves. Thin palate, with typical light, grainy mouthfeel. Some bitterness rises on the swallow. Served cold, I get even more butterscotch (oddly enough), and the mouthfeel thankfully gets thicker and oilier. Sweetness picks up too, with more candied marshmellow fluff. Actually prefer it cold, to be honest.

Finish: The bitterness from the swallow builds quickly, and grows with time (especially prominent on the back of tongue). It has an artificial taste, somewhat plasticky. This is starting to remind me of JW Red now. Some of the spices remain, not that that helps much. Fortunately, when served cold, the bitterness is greatly attenuated. And cinnamon spice seems enhanced (although that may just be be from selectively dampening the other off-notes).

It’s been a long time since I’ve tried Johnnie Walker Red, but the finish is really reminding me of it here. Frankly, that unpalatable bitterness is the main problem – and so, chilling definitely helps. Of course, you will lose the light floral and fruity notes when its chilled, but that is probably worth the trade-off (and caramel sweetness is enhanced). Definitely relegated to the mixing rack for me.

I find the consensus Meta-Critic score a little harsh – especially served cold, where it is more palatable. Among reviewers, the most positive reviews come from Jonny of Whisky Advocate and unclimbabilty of Reddit, both of whom give it an overall average score (and put it on par with JW Black). The Whiskey Jug gives it a fairly positive review (although with a rating that puts it in the bottom 10th percentile of all whiskies he’s reviewed). Indeed, that’s a common theme, with many other reviewers (myself included) putting it in the same bottom 10% category, along with the guys at Quebec Whisky and Jan of Best Shot Whisky Reviews. The worse scores (i.e., the bottom 1st percentile) come from Serge of Whisky Fun and washeewashee and HawkI84 of Reddit.

On the plus side, almost everyone who has tried both agrees it is better than JW Red. But few consider it on par with JW Black, where it is comparably priced.

 

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.

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).

 

J.P. Wiser’s Canada 2018

Following up on their first Commemorative Series release last year (for Canada’s 150th anniversary), J.P. Wiser’s recently released this Canada 2018 edition in time for July 1st celebrations. Ostensibly, this release is in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the 49th parallel (which marks the demarcation line for most of the border to our southern neighbour).

While Wiser’s doesn’t disclose the exact composition of this blend, it has been reported online that this is the same combination of corn and rye whisky as last year – just aged for an extra year. There also seems to be a few more bottles of this special release, as last year’s popular version had largely sold out by Canada Day around here. Bottled at 43.4%, it is available for $50 CAD at the LCBO.

There aren’t many reviews out there yet for this whisky, but here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other Wiser’s releases – including the Canada One Fifty release:

J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.41 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
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 Deluxe: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 9.02 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s One Fifty: 8.50 ± 0.41 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.49 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Lots of corn – creamed corn in particular. Caramel. Candied fruits. Orange peel. Baked bread. Fairly soft overall, although a few rye notes come through. No real off notes, accept perhaps for very faint acetone – better than most inexpensive Canadian blends in this regard. Seems like a very standard Canadian whisky profile.

Palate: The corn notes dominate, more corn syrup now. Caramel still. Not as much fruit initially, but this builds over time – with candied red fruits. Red delicious apples. Not much spice, but a bit of oak char. Dill and something slightly nutty. Some rye spice builds with time. The palate matches the nose, no surprises here. OK mouthfeel, not as watery as most Canadian ryes (that extra couple of percentage points on the ABV helps). Nothing spectacular, but nothing amiss either.

Finish: Medium. Light corn syrup. Candied fruit lingers, with some hints of coconut now. Slight bitterness, but not offensive. Again, very typically Canadian.

This is a very representative example of the Canadian whisky style. While it doesn’t have great depth or complexity, there are hints of something earthy underlying its sweet corn whisky core. And it lacks the organic off-notes that mar many Canadian whiskies for me. I would give this Canada 2018 edition an overall average score for the Canadian whisky class (~8.5).

The most positive review of this whisky is from Davin of Canadian Whisky. Jason of In Search of Elegance gives it a below-average score (but a decent review). I must say I’m closer to Jason on this one – a fairly generic and average Canadian whisky profile, but well done.

Crown Royal Blender’s Select

One of the pet peeves of Crown Royal whisky fans in Canada is that one of their best bottlings – Hand Selected Barrel – is only available in the U.S. This is a cask-strength, single barrel version of one of the core “flavouring” whiskies used in most Crown Royal blends – a high-rye mashbill, coffey still-distilled, virgin oak-aged whisky.

But now, Ontarians can get a taste of what this bourbon-style whisky is like – through Blender’s Select, a batched version sold exclusively at the LCBO. I’m surprised they had enough available to produce this 5000-case release, as this high-demand whisky is only made once a year, over a 5 week period, at their plant in Gimli, Manitoba.

To create this blended whisky, Crown Royal has added some 9 year old whisky to the standard 7 year old used in Hand Selected Barrel, to help compensate for the lower proof in this batched version (45% ABV). It sells for $55 CAD exclusively at the LCBO (although I’ve seen it on sale a couple of times now).

Let’s see how it compares to other Crown Royals in Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Crown Royal: 7.57 ± 0.49 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.20 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Blender’s Select: 8.61 ± 0.14 on 4 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Bourbon Mash (Blender’s Mash): 8.32 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Limited Edition: 8.29 ± 0.19 on 11 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.62 ± 0.47 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.37 ± 0.69 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.70 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.56 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.46 ± 0.65 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal XO: 8.56 ± 0.54 on 8 reviews ($$$)

While there are not too many reviews, that’s certainly a good score for a Crown Royal.

And now, what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet and fruity nose, very creamy too. Candy apple. Orange citrus. Butterscotch and caramel. Buttered popcorn. Something hard to describe, but reminiscent of powdered candy canes. Oil of cloves. Some acetone, but not bad – better than the one Hand Selected Barrel I tried. Very nice nose in the end, if you like your rye sweet.

Palate: Sweet and fruity again, dark fruits especially. Caramel and vanilla. Reminds me a bit of Canadian Club 100% Rye – but with even more fruitiness. Wood spice, with a touch of pepper. Seems a bit watery for ABV. Some sting on the swallow – plus some bitterness (common to Crown Royal).

Finish: Medium. I don’t find it has as much aspartame (artificial sweetener) as most Crown Royals, this one again seems more like crushed candy sugar. It’s also not as bitter on the way out as most Crown Royals.

My own real complaint here is that it lacks mouthfeel, and seems kind of watery for the ABV. I would have to rate this one as comparable in quality to Northern Harvest Rye, on par with Crown Royal Reserve and the one Hand Selected Barrel I’ve had (which seems to have been somewhat sub-par for the class, based on the other reviews I’ve seen). Nothing really compelling here over the rest of the line, but a solid expression for Crown Royal.

It gets the highest review from Davin of Whisky Advocate, followed by Jason of In Search of Elegance and Beppi of the Globe & Mail. I would come in at the lower end here personally.

J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation

There aren’t many master blenders in the whisky world who have a PhD in distilling – but Dr Don Livermore of J.P. Wiser’s is one of them.

He earned his PhD degree in 2012 from Heriot-Watt University, for a thesis entitled “Quantification of oak wood extractives via gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and subsequent calibration of near infrared reflectance to predict the Canadian whisky aging process” (available here).

He used over a hundred barrels of Canadian whisky for his three-year study, involving virgin wood casks charred to various depths (2 mm and 4 mm), refill American Bourbon casks, and refurbished re-char casks. The casks were filled in 2005, and were left sitting in Wiser’s warehouses. In late 2016, he decided to blend and bottle about half of these casks, to make Dissertation – a member of Wiser’s Rare Cask series.

This blended rye whisky also features a mix of distillation styles – column-distilled rye, column- and then pot-distilled rye, and double-distilled corn. Rye composes the majority of the blend – 87%, distilled to relatively low-proof (70-80% range). The remaining 13% is corn whisky, distilled to neutral spirit levels (94%). Note that this is a much higher percentage of rye whisky than most Canadian blends.

Released in the summer of 2017 exclusively through the LCBO in Ontario, Canada, you can still find bottles of whisky on the shelves in major metropolitan areas of this province. It won’t last forever though, so I thought it was about time that I get a review out. Amusingly bottled at 46.1% (which is the molecular weight of ethanol, in g/mol – a nod to chemistry geeks out there), it sells for $65 CAD.

Let’s see how it compares to other premium Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.29 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.75 ± 0.39 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare: 18yo 8.97 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.70 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.75 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$)
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 Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak: 8.48 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.81 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.98 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old (2017): 9.09 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

Here’s an interesting finding – Dissertation is currently getting the second-highest average score for any Canadian whisky in my database, after Lot 40 Cask Strength. That said, there are number of whiskies who are pretty close around the ~9.0 score, including Wiser’s 35yo.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity up-front, a veritable fresh fruit salad (with extra cherries). Maple, caramel and vanilla. Baking spices, cinnamon and nutmeg especially. Somewhat nutty. Also has a mild tannic (black tea) note. There is a faint hint of acetone and turpentine, but not at all offensive. It has high-rye bourbon character to it.

Palate: Wow, it has much stronger impression in the mouth – huge blast of fresh cherries, apple and pear, but also sour cherries. Orange peel. Lots of vanilla and caramel now (reminds me of those soft Kraft caramels from Halloween). Heavy cinnamon, with cloves adding to the mix. Very bourbon-like, with the virgin wood coming through – but not over-oaked. Basil and that tannic tea again. No real bitterness, which is impressive for all the oaky spice notes. Warm afterglow on the swallow, with just the right ABV. Fabulous silky texture in the mouth, no off notes here at all. Outstanding.

Finish: Nice lingering finish, medium long. Fruit notes come back, but are more dried and candied now (I get dried banana and plantain chips). Nuts (peanut in particular). Again, no bitterness. Vanilla lingers. My only complaint is that it isn’t longer (a common issue with almost all Canadian whiskies).

Wow, this is an impressive whisky It has quickly become one of my new favourite Canadian whiskies – right up there with Lot 40, Lot 40 Cask Strength and Masterson’s 10 yo (and more in keeping with the style of the latter two). A more robust whisky than typical Canadian ryes, I could see this whisky going down well with American rye and bourbon drinkers.

This whisky gets top scores from Chip the Rum Howler (ranking it #2 Canadian whisky for the year), followed by Jason of In Search of Elegance, Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, Mark Bylok of Whisky Buzz and Davin of Canadian Whisky. Among my stable of Reddit reviewers, TOModera, muaddib99 and Boyd86 are all extremely positive, followed by xile_, Devoz, MajorHop, and Lasidar. In contrast, Jim Murray gives it an average score. Personally, I’m closer to the top of this range. Well worth picking up a bottle while it is still around.

Famous Grouse

Ah, Famous Grouse – probably one of the most ubiquitous blended scotch whiskies you can find in this world. A basic, standard-price blended Scotch, its main competitors in the UK are Bell’s, Dewar’s, Grant’s and Teacher’s. Its emblem is the Red Grouse, Scotland’s national game bird.

First produced by Matthew Gloag & Son in 1896, it is currently produced and owned by the Edrington Group. The single malt whiskies used in the Famous Grouse blend are believed to include Edrington-owned Highland Park and Macallan. The brand has expanded in recent years to include at least half a dozen variants (e.g. Black Grouse, Snow Grouse, etc).

The blend is matured in oak casks for up to six months at 46% ABV, and then bottled at the industry standard 40%.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.61 ± 0.62 on 12 reviews ($)
Bell’s Original: 7.57 ± 0.69 on 8 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.60 ± 0.70 on 16 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.62 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Smoky Black (Black Grouse): 7.94 ± 0.44 on 21 reviews ($$)
Famous Jubilee: 8.13 ± 0.16 on 3 reviews ($$)
Grant’s Family Reserve: 7.71 ± 0.64 on 14 reviews ($)
J&B Rare: 6.96 ± 1.11 on 13 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.43 ± 0.61 on 23 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.73 on 11 reviews ($)

Teacher’s seems to be the stand-out in this entry level ($) scotch blend category, with Famous Grouse falling in with the pack mentioned above.

A standard 750 mL bottle sells for $31 CAD at the LCBO. I picked up a miniature bottle in my travels (Brussels, Belgium in this case). Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: The grain alcohol hits you first, followed by a vaguely creamy note (condensed milk?). Once you get passed that, you move on to light toffee notes and dried fruits, which are fairly pleasant. Dried, pressed flowers too. Lemon candies. Arrowroot baby cookies. Fair amount of solvent notes, unfortunately (especially glue).  About what you could expect for a standard blend, but decent – especially on the mid-nose.

Palate: More going on here than I expected, and not all of it good.  Initially very grain forward, reminding of some single grain whiskies (Bain’s Cape and Nikka Coffey Grain, for example). Simple sweetness, with light fruits – and that creaminess again (likely from the malt whisky). Mid palate turns sour however, which is distracting. Some light nutmeg and cinnamon notes come in next, and help rescue the flavour experience a bit. Lemon notes return at the end, along with the glue from the nose unfortunately. No real heat, about what you would expect for 40% ABV.

Finish: Medium. Grain alcohol initially dominates here again, with a fairly dull presentation – but the finish is longer than I expected, with some sweet maltiness increasing over time. Light touches of fruit and baking spices linger in the background.

There’s actually more going on here than I expected – this is more complicated (I wouldn’t say complex) than most blends at this price point. No overly strong flavours, but not bland either. So if you can get over the off-notes, it might be a decent choice as a budget mixer.

Among reviewers, the only ones to give it an overall average score are Jim Murray and Patrick of Quebec Whisky. After that, most scores are pretty low, starting with Serge of Whisky Fun. Everyone else typically gives it in the bottom 10% of their catalogue, including Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Josh the Whiskey Jug, and Nathan the ScotchNoob. The lowest scores come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Michael of Diving for Pearls.

 

Grand Macnish Blended Scotch

Not exactly a house-hold name in the world of scotch blends, Grand Macnish has actually been in continuous production since 1863. Owned by MacDuff International, the brand has seen a recent expansion into a wide number of expressions (including several aged-stated ones). This is review of the entry-level version, which is the most common offering.

The whisky was originally developed by a Glasgow merchant, Robert McNish, who wanted to create a lighter, smoother type of scotch. It is composed of malt and grain whiskies from around the highland/speyside regions of Scotland. While it is not widely available, this entry-level blend has been sold at the LCBO for some time now (currently $40 CAD for 1.14L bottle). Bottled at 40% ABV. I managed to sample it from a friend’s recently opened bottle.

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

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Cutty Sark: 7.54 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($)
Cutty Sark Prohibition: 8.48 ± 0.47 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grand Macnish: 7.87 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews ($)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.36 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Passport Blended Scotch: 7.29 ± 1.08 on 8 reviews ($)
Teacher’s Highland Cream: 7.95 ± 0.72 on 11 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Reserve: 7.47 ± 0.45 on 7 reviews ($)

For the entry-level scotch category, Grand Macnish scores at the higher end of the range.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Heavy brown sugar to start. Pear. Raisins. Lemon curd. A bit floral (lavender). Touch of cloves. Some acetone and raw ethanol, but not bad. Slightly musty note.

Palate: Molasses and brown sugar. Vanilla. Apple and pear. Light cinnamon and pepper. A touch of nuts. Some wet cardboard. Watery mouthfeel, comes across as fairly thin.

Finish: Short. Slight oaky bitterness with a vague frutiness (nothing very distinct). But not unpleasant.

I would rate this as on par (or slightly higher) than the Meta-Critic average. It has relatively few off-notes on the nose, which is surprising for a blend in this price category. While fairly basic and single, it is better than your typical bottom-shelf scotch blend. An easy to drink blend, I would recommend this one for those newcomers to scotch whisky.

The most positive review I’ve seen comes for Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Jim Murray, Ralfy, and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun are all relatively positive for the category (and in line with my thinking). The lowest scores I’ve seen comes from RV of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance.

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