Tag Archives: Blended

Tullamore Dew Irish Blended

This is a review of the entry-level Tullamore Dew Original, a no-age-statement (NAS) blended Irish whisky – and one of the best selling Irish whiskies in the world.

Originally produced in Tullamore, County Offaly, Ireland, the Tullamore distillery was established in the early 19th century. The name of this brand eventually changed to  Tullamore D.E.W. – the latter part derived from the initials of Daniel E. Williams, a general manager and later owner of the distillery. The distillery was closed down in the mid-20th century, and remaining stocks were transferred to Powers & Son – which was eventually merged with Midleton in the great Irish whisky consolidation of the 1970s.

In 2010, the brand was purchased from Midleton by William Grant & Sons, the largest independent distiller of whisky in Scotland (who own a number of global whisky brands). They constructed a new distillery on the outskirts of Tullamore, bringing production back to this region after a hiatus of more than half a century.

According to Wikipedia, it is currently the second largest selling brand of Irish whisky in the world, with nearly a million cases per annum in 2015.

I’m generally a fan of Irish whisky, especially the higher end Midleton offerings such as Redbreast 21yo and Powers John’s Lane 12yo. I’m less impressed with most entry level bottlings, like standard Bushmills and Jameson. So when I came across this in an airport business lounge, I thought I’d give it a try.

This entry-level Irish whisky is bottled at 40% ABV. It is reported to be blend of triple-distilled pot still, malt, and grain whiskies, matured in a mix of ex-bourbon and sherry casks.

Let’s see how it fares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.47 on 21 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 8.00 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.14 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey: 7.56 ± 1.05 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.84 ± 0.36 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.98 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
West Cork Original Irish Whiskey: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

Now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tons of honeysuckle. Also lots of green apple and pear, green banana plus a bit of honeydew melon. Orange peels. Caramel, but you have search for it. Slightly floral. A bit of an artificial sweetener note – plus acetone – which detracts. But overall a decent nose for an entry-level Irish blend.

Palate: Honey, with a bit of caramel to start. Light vanilla. Nutmeg and some cinnamon show up next. Not as fruity as the nose suggested. Some malt, adding character. Very light, with little mouthfeel (maybe a touch oily). Some minor tongue tingle. Disappears fast after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Short. A slight bitterness picks up quickly, but fortunately doesn’t get too bad. Green apple returns. Spiciness lingers, maybe with a bit of black pepper now. A bit of mouth puckering astringency.

While nothing to write home about, I would rank this at the higher end of the entry-level Irish blends I’ve tried (on par with the higher-ranked Powers Gold). A definite notch above standard Jameson, as the notes are better defined (especially the pot still-derived “green” notes). Good choice for an entry-level Irish whisky.

No one ranks this whisky particularly highly, but the most favourable reviews are from Jim Murray, Michael of Diving for Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug and the guys at Quebec Whisky. I’m more in-line with Jason of In Search of Elegance, Ralfy and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Some of the lowest scores come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Chip the Rum Howler and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select

Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select is a duty-free (aka “global travel retail”) special release of Hibiki Harmony blended whisky. Unlike some Japanese special-edition “travel exclusives” – which are simply re-labelled and marked-up versions of standard bottlings – Master’s Select is actually a different blend than the regular Harmony.

Master’s Select is reported to be a blend of 10 different Japanese malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries, aged in 5 different types of casks, including American white oak casks, sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks. The stronger woody character – and use of Yamazaki sherry casks in particular – are emphasized in Suntory promotional materials, in an apparent effort to increase the cachet of Hibiki Master’s Select. As with regular Harmony, there is no age statement, and it is bottled at 43% ABV.

I bought a bottle in early 2016, but only opened it recently. I paid a little over $100 CAD at the time (on sale), which was about the same price as regular Harmony here in Canada. I have always been a big fan of the older Hibiki age-statement expressions (especially the Hibiki 17yo), and am relatively positive on the no-age-statement Harmony expression – although it doesn’t fare as well among most reviewers. So I was curious to see how this Master’s Select version of Harmony would compare.

Here are how the Hibiki whiskies compare to other entry-level Japanese whiskies in my Metacritic Databae:

Hibiki 12yo: 8.61 ± 0.25 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Hibiki Harmony: 8.36 ± 0.54 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Hibiki Harmony Master’s Select: 8.19 ± 0.74 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.20 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Mars Iwai Tradition: 7.69 ± 1.03 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mars Maltage Cosmo: 8.56 ± 0.27 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.44 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.48 ± 0.52 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.77 ± 0.42 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.82 ± 0.36 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.78 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Suntory The Chita Single Grain: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.24 ± 0.45 on 10 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 7.60 ± 0.67 on 8 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Single Malt (NAS): 7.94 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Similar to regular Harmony, but with more dry oakiness up front. Not particularly fruity, but I do get light pears, plums, bananas and orange rind (plus some lemon curd). Floral, with some sort of fruit blossom. Lots of vanilla, as before – perhaps even more so. Toasted coconut, which is new. Wood spice. A slightly funky note, vaguely vegetal, which I don’t recall on standard Harmony. Definitely a bit more character here, but not all of it good. Also more acetone, which detracts for me.

Palate: Similar opening waves of vanilla and honey, with the arrival of prominent caramel now. Stronger orange citrus taste now than before. Dark chocolate (with that classic bitterness). Cinnamon and nutmeg. Something vaguely earthy, but I can’t quite place it (ginger? not quite). Simply put, it seems like a more heavily-oaked version of Harmony, especially with that lingering bitterness – which builds on each sip, unfortunately. Less of the delicate perfumy/incense notes than the regular Harmony (but they may be drowned out by the earthy wood tones). Decent mouthfeel, slightly silky in texture.

Finish: Short, but longer than regular Harmony. Nutmeg. Bitter apple. That ginger-like note from the palate is prominent, with a vague wet cardboard note. The oaky bitterness lingers the longest – rather unpleasant, frankly. Again, the complexity is up a bit, but this is the most disappointing part of the experience.

This “master’s select” version of the NAS Hibiki is no match for the age statement versions of old. It lacks the traditional subtlety of Hibiki, and seems to have gone for a flavour-shortcut, by exposing a younger blend to heavier wood influence.

If you like an earthy, oaky structure in your whisky (i.e. virgin wood), then this might be a blend for you.  But for most casual whisky drinkers, I expect standard Harmony would be preferred. For me, some of the more delicate characteristics of Harmony are lost here, and too much oaky bitterness has been added.

There are few reviews of this whisky, but Dramtastic gave it a positive review with an average score (compared to a very low score for standard Harmony). On Reddit, _xile also gave it an average score (and greatly preferred it over standard Harmony).  Josh the Whiskey Jug get it a slightly lower assessment than Harmony, and muaddib99 of Reddit gave it a much lower score than standard Harmony.

I’m in this latter camp, and give this a lower score than Harmony. That said, I think the Meta-Critic average scores are a little low for both NAS Hibiki expressions. In choosing between them, it really comes done to how much you like a woody presence in your whisky. But I recommend you start with standard Harmony – or the age-statement versions of course, if you can find them.

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.

Hankey Bannister 12 Year Old Regency

I first came across this blended scotch at a beer lounge and restaurant called Easy Beer in Riga, Latvia. Although I had heard of Hankey Bannister scotch blends, I had never actually encountered one in my travels. And to my surprise, it was priced similarly to Bulleit bourbon as the lowest-priced whisky on hand for sampling. After this tasting, I subsequently went out and bought a 700 mL bottle at a nearby Spirits & Wine depot for 27 € (or just under $40 CAD).

In case you were wondering about the brand name, it is actually the combination of two proper surnames – Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister – who came together to form the Hankey Bannister & Co. in 1757. While not as well known as some other blenders, their range of blended scotch whiskies have found favour with many over the years (e.g. Sir Winston Churchill is reported to have been a big fan).

Today, the brand is owned by Inver House, which also owns the malt distilleries Balblair, Pulteney, Speyburn, Balmenach and Knockdhu (AnCnoc) – whose malts, presumably, are used to create this 12 year old blend. Note that this 12 yo “Regency” bottling is different from their no-age-statement offering (also known as “Original”), which typically sells at around the floor price for blended scotch in jurisdictions that carry it (e.g., it is about half-priced in Latvia, at 14 € for a 1 L bottle – or $21 CAD). As an aside, Latvia has generally good prices on spirits – except for premium bottles, which have an even greater mark-up than here in Canada.

Packaging for Hankey Bannister 12 yo is pretty basic, and reminds me a lot of the current entry-level Johnnie Walker bottles (i.e., screw caps, and thin rectangular bottles and boxes to allow easy shelf stocking). Bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Here’s how Hankey Bannister compares to the competition in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.79 ± 0.34 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Compass Box Great King St Artist’s Blend: 8.59 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Compass Box Great King St Glasgow Blend: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.77 ± 0.42 on 22 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.24 ± 0.53 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Chivas Royal Salute 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.70 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.87 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 6 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.56 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Heritage: 8.50 ± 0.10 on 4 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker Black Label: 8.25 ± 0.48 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Platinum Label: 8.42 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Johnnie Walker Red Label: 7.37 ± 0.59 on 21 reviews ($)
Té Bheag: 8.47 ± 0.29 on 15 reviews ($$)

That’s a decent Meta-Critic score for what is basically still an entry-level price scotch blend.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Colour: Standard whisky colouring – pretty sure E150 spirit caramel has been added to this one.

Nose: I get classic honey and caramel on the nose, plus vanilla. Light berries, green grapes. Lemony citrus. Graham crackers. Creamy wheat and a grain sensation. Something spirity, almost mineralized (flint?). Furniture wax (lemon-scented Pledge, in fact). Faint touch of glue. Quite a decent nose for a blend.

Palate: Sweet honey and caramel dominate, with butterscotch and nougat. Very buttery – in both taste and texture. Lemon biscuits. Frosting. No real fruit, beyond typical apple/pear. Light spice. Some minor tongue tingle.  A bit light overall, consistent with low ABV.

Finish: Short. Caramel is the main note that remains. That spirity note from the nose returns – there is a definite minerality here. Has a club soda-like cleansing feel at the end.

This was a great find – one of the better blended Scotch whiskies that I’ve tried. I would put it on par with Johnnie Walker Blue Label (which is nearly 10 times as expensive), with which it shares a similar honeyed style. It rivals the quality of some comparably-aged Japanese blends out there (which are now sadly unavailable, or much more expensive). And it matches or exceeds most entry-level single malts in this age range (e.g., I find it more complex than the similarly honeyed – but more expensive – Singleton of Dufftown 12 year old). If you like this style of whisky, Hankey Bannister 12 yo Regency is pretty hard to beat for the price.

As an aside, my wife (who is not a big scotch drinker) really enjoyed this one – and encouraged me to bring back a bottle. I think it is very well suited to the casual whisky drinker who doesn’t like obvious smoke in their whisky. Among reviewers, the most positive is Ralfy, followed by Serge of Whisky Fun. It gets slightly below average scores from Jim Murray and Jan of Best Shot Whisky.

Twelve Barrels

A number of recent additions to the LCBO catalog of Canadian whisky have piqued my interest – including this first release under the new “Twelve Barrels” brand.

The name is derived from some local lore in the town Napanee, Ontario (from whence the creator of this whisky, Cole Miller, originates). Apparently, a minor local celebrity named John took to jumping over whisky barrels on skates – eventually working his way up the eponymous Twelve Barrels.

This entry-level whisky is blended from whisky sourced from a few different distilleries. It is bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV, and is sold at the LCBO for $35 CAD.

There are few reviews so far, but here is how it compares to other entry-level Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.16 ± 0.67 on 12 reviews ($)
Canadian Club (Premium): 7.30 ± 0.71 on 18 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.30 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.20 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.44 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Bold 8yo: 8.25 ± 0.46 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.90 ± 0.68 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.42 ± 0.75 on 6 reviews ($)
Twelve Barrels: 8.09 ± 0.45 on 4 reviews ($$)

My sample of Twelve Barrels was provided directly by Cole for this review. All opinions in the review remain my own, of course.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, ultra-light corn syrup. Caramel and vanilla. Orange peel. Red berries. Dusty rye spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dry kindling, seasoned wood. Very rye forward, almost an American straight rye character (or a light-style, high-rye bourbon). Much more rye than a typical Canadian whisky. Acetone and a touch of glue, but not objectionable – it does seem young though. But better than I was expecting so far.

Palate: There’s that American rye again, starting out with powerful initial wallop.  Cinnamon spice, black pepper. Simple sugar syrup backbone. Orange peel again. Old cedar chest. Some creamy cereal notes (Weetabix?). There is something here that reminds me of Century Reserve 21, but not as refined. Watery, as expected for the ABV.  A cut above most entry-level Canadian whiskies so far, easy enough to sip. But a persistent bitterness rises quickly right after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Fades fast, like most of the competition in this class. Slight artificial sweetness with a dry bitterness settle in – and that glue note returns. These all point to its youth. Disappointing in this regard, honestly.

Well, that was interesting: starts off like an American rye, morphs into a Canadian corn/wheat whisky in the mouth, and ends like a typical Canadian corn whisky.‎ Similar to a lot of entry-level Canadian whiskies, the finish is rather disappointing (what little there is). But it strike a pretty good balance on the nose and palate, with more character than I expected.

Interestingly, I found I was holding this whisky in my mouth longer than usual on each sip. But not because I was waiting for something new to emerge – it was to prevent the rise of that slight bitterness after swallowing.

Among reviewers, the most positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance, followed by Davin of Canadian Whisky. The most negative is Andre of Quebec Whisky, who gives it a low score. I would personally be somewhere in the middle of all of these. Looking forward to trying what Cole comes up with next.

Jameson Irish Whiskey

One of the most recognizable names in Irish whisky, Jameson is a core brand of the Midleton distillery of County Cork. An empire was built on the shoulders of this slender green bottle – Jameson is the top-selling Irish whisky across the world.

This base expression of Jameson is a blend of traditional pot still whisky and inexpensive column-distilled grain whisky. As with most Irish whisky, it is triple-distilled and aged for a minimum of 4 years. It is bottled at the industry-standard minimum strength of 40% ABV. You can typically find it at or near the “floor” price for budget whisky in most jurisdictions.

Standard Jameson is known for its relatively “smooth” flavour – a term widely used by casual whisky drinkers to denote a relative lack of sharp, off-putting notes – and widely derided by enthusiasts who look for greater complexity and character. But personally, I find there is something to be said for a lack of off-notes in an entry-level expression. I was gifted a bottle a while back, so I figured it was time I tried it neat again, for a proper review.

Here is how it compares to other inexpensive Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.36 ± 0.38 on 22 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.67 ± 0.45 on 17 reviews ($$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.23 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.84 ± 0.50 on 21 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.19 ± 0.51 on 9 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain (Greenore): 8.15 ± 0.38 on 12 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.97 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.51 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.35 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.29 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish: 8.15 ± 0.23 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Quiet Man Traditional: 7.56 ± 1.04 on 7 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.83 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.38 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.32 on 19 reviews ($$)

And this is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Strong grain sensation tickles the nose hairs, followed by honey sweetness. Pear and green apple. Faint citrus (grapefruit). Something you could describe as floral, but indistinct (dried flower arrangement?). Grass clippings. A bit of old book bindings (i.e., dried glue). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely more on the dry side than the sweet side.

Palate: Immediate grain hit, followed by gentle malt and sweet light honey. Light fruits (pear and apple again), but also unripened ones (e.g. green banana). A little vanilla. Green grass and some hay. Unfortunately a slight artificial sweetener note builds with time. Watery mouthfeel, but a slight stinging sensation asserts itself after swallowing, oddly.

Finish: Light, short finish. Honey initially, then fades into the typical mix of slightly artificial syrup and mild bitterness.  Maybe some faint spice, but mild.

One comment to make right off the bat – although those are the flavours I could detect, the overall experience is a bit frustrating as all the notes are lighter than usual. It is almost as it were bottled at even lower proof or something – there really is not a lot of sensory experience going on here.

I don’t know anything specific about the mix, but I presume this is more grain whisky than pot still. Supposedly, there are some sherry barrels in here – but I can’t find them. Not that this is not a bad pour per se, it is just boring. I think it is fair to say that this is “easy drinking” (another code word for bland), and won’t overly task your taste buds. But it is best suited to mixed drinks or on the rocks, and for those who don’t like strong whisky flavours. Personally, I would still prefer this over the entry-level Bushmills recently reviewed, which I find too sweet.

As for reviewers, there is one anomalous score – Jim Murray loves this base expression, giving it one of his top scores. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this – Mr Murray has a tendency to give top marks to a number of entry-level blends (see a discussion here). Otherwise, the most generally positive review I’ve seen is from Nathan the Scotch Noob, followed by Micheal of Diving of Pearls, Josh the Whiskey Jug , Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ralfy (although all still give a well below average score).  Some of the lowest scores in my database come from Thomas of Whisky Saga, S.D. and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Serge of Whisky Fun. I must say I am personally at this lower end of the spectrum as well.

Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky

In honour of Canada Day, I thought I’d review an iconic Canadian whisky – the base, entry-level Canadian Club (aka Canadian Club Premium).

Canadian Club is one of the best selling and widely available Canadian whiskies, available in more than 150 countries. Indeed, I have seen this one in more far-flung places around the world than any other Canadian whisky. It is produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario, under license for its current owner – Beam-Suntory.

As the legend goes, this whisky was popular in the “gentlemen clubs” of the 19th century, where it received the distinction of becoming known as “Club Whisky.” Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, to differentiate it from competitors of lower quality (or so the official story goes). But one way of the other, “Canadian” did eventually come to be associated with quality in whisky during this time period. Apparently it even led to fraudulent “Canadian” claims of other brands (can’t say I’ve come across that too often).

While this fact is easily forgotten, the rise of period TV pieces like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have helped illustrate how popular Canadian Club was among American whisky drinkers in previous times. This has likely contributed to something of a resurgence lately of this storied brand. But is the base expression actually something you would want to drink?

Here is how it does in my Meta-Critic Database, compared to other entry-level Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club Premium: 7.33 ± 0.75 on 17 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.61 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.21 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.91 ± 0.67 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.98 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.80 ± 0.69 on 9 reviews ($)

As you can see, despite its fame it actually gets the lowest score of all the entry-level Canadian whiskies above.

And here is how some of the truly “premium” Canadian Club whiskies compare:

Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 9yo: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 5 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 10yo: 8.38 ± 0.61 on 9 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 12yo Classic (Small Batch): 8.13 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.22 ± 0.60 on 8 reviews ($$)

Before I get to my tasting notes, an interesting point of distinction here: unlike most modern Canadian whiskies – where different barrels are blended at the end of production, to fit a desired flavour profile – Canadian Club Premium is “blended at birth.” This means that different batches of unaged spirit (presumably reflecting different mashbills/distilling styles) are blended together before barreling. It is reported to be aged 6 years in white oak barrels. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the base Canadian Club Premium.

Colour: Light gold, pretty sure caramel has been added.

Nose: Sweet with creamed wheat characteristics. Very grain-forward, with some added corn syrup notes. Red berries. Vanilla. Hay and something distinctly vegetal (composting vegetal, I’m afraid). The nose is not strong, but there are fairly prominent aspects of acetone and other organics (including rubbing alcohol). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely seems young.

Palate: More rye forward than I expected from the nose – my initial impression is that this may be OK after all. But within seconds in the mouth, it turns into light corn syrup mixed with flat cola. That sickly-sweet cola taste always seems somewhat artificial to me (e.g., reminds me of cola-flavoured gummy candies that I’ve come across in Asia). Orange peel and some spice – nutmeg and a touch of pepper, specifically. While these extra notes are welcome, this is not a whisky to savour – I really don’t like holding it in my mouth.

Finish: Immediately after swallowing, you get hit with raw alcohol fumes. Fairly short finish, really not much here. Bitterness builds with time. Honestly, feels a bit like a rubbing alcohol rinse.

Personally, I have to give this a marginal nod over the base Crown Royal – since it is not as artificially sweet and bitter as CR. This base Canadian Club also has a bit more character (although not all of it good). I would slightly favour Canadian Club for drinking neat – not that I’m inclined to – but Crown Royal makes a better mixer, in my view. But you are much better off skipping both and going right to Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye or Hiram Walker Special Old for about the same price (or even less).

Most reviewers of this base Canadian Club whisky have a similar take, with very low scores (i.e., at or below their 5th percentile). See for example the guys at Quebec Whisky, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Ralfy, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and most the Reddit reviews, like HawkI84, headlessparrot and muaddib99. Marginally more positive are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Whisky Advocate, and Chip the RumHowler – although all give it well below average scores. The only really positive review of this whisky is (what for it …) Jim Murray.

Midleton Very Rare 2016

Late last year, I reviewed the 2015 vintage of Midleton Very Rare from a friend’s bottle. This is a premium blended Irish whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers at the New Midleton Distillery in East Cork.

The LCBO wants a pretty steep $216 CAD for it at the moment, which is more than I am willing to pay. But when I came across the 2016 edition on sale at a Shanghai duty free for ~$140 CAD, I thought I’d take the plunge. I recently brought it over to my friend’s house for a dinner party, and we were able to directly compare the two vintages side-by-side.

First a bit of background on this whisky. Midleton Very Rare is produced in a vintage year manner, with reportedly only 50 hand-picked casks going into each batch. It is a blend of single pot still whisky and grain whisky, all triple-distilled. Although this is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, the casks are reported to be between 12 and 25 years of age, matured in either ex-bourbon or ex-Sherry casks. Consistently bottled at 40% ABV, each bottle has a unique identifier number, and is presented in a nice wooden case with a registration card.

Since each batch is a new defined vintage, each year is expected to differ somewhat from the others – although all within an overall profile range. Having the two vintages side-by-side gave us a good opportunity to directly test this.

As this is my second review of a Midleton Very Rare, I’ve tried to break down the various vintages in my MetaCritic database, where possible. Given its limited availability, there aren’t many reviews of each vintage, so you will have to go by the composite score in most cases (i.e., only the 2015 vintage meets my reporting cut-off level of a minimum of 3 reviews).  Here is how they compare to some higher-end Irish whiskeys:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.35 ± 0.25 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.46 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy: 9.07 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.09 ± 0.30 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.83 ± 0.45 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare 2015: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.16 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 7.97 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Middleton Very Rare gets a very good score for an Irish whiskey – although the 2015 vintage seems to score a bit lower than most.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the 2016 vintage:

Colour: The whisky is presumably not artificially coloured, as the 2016 was noticeably darker than the 2015. I would describe it as medium amber.

Nose: Honey and vanilla lead off, with a similar whipped cream note as I found on the 2015 (but fainter here). Apple and pear as before, but I am getting slightly tart red berries now (including some red currants). Much stronger baking spices than before, with a good amount of cinnamon in particular – definitely spicier overall. There is absolutely no hint of any organic solvent notes, which is impressive for an Irish whisky. The only thing missing here is the caramel – that was much more pronounced on the 2015 vintage. Personally, I’d give the 2016 a slight edge for the spicier and cleaner nose, but I could see that some may prefer the sweeter 2015 vintage.

Palate: Initial arrival is dominated by sweet vanilla, andit is still relatively fruit-forward, but with less caramel than the 2015 edition. Not as creamy either (although I’m still getting a faint touch of chocolate). Definitely spicier here, with noticeable cinnamon and a good amount of black pepper. A bit grassy, but lacking the cereal notes of the 2015. Mouthfeel is lighter and more watery now – much less silky than the 2016 (I’m guessing less grain whisky in the mix?). Some bitterness creeps in at the end of the palate, which wasn’t there before. Still no alcohol burn.

Finish: Medium. Similar Juicy Fruit gum sensation as before, but both the spicy and bitter notes from the oak wood are accentuated over the 2015 edition. Still not very long. A touch of astringency comes in at the end.

While the 2016 got off to a good start on the nose, the mouthfeel is definitely “thin” in comparison to the 2015, which is disappointing. I like the extra oaky spice in the 2016, but this is matched by a greater bitterness and astringency on the finish, which is not appealing. I personally scored the 2015 vintage at around the overall Metacritic average for all vintages of this whisky, but I would have to give the 2016 just a decimal point or so lower. It is still a very good whisky, but the value-for-money proposition is even less favourable in my mind (at least at standard list prices).

FYI, from among the dinner guests who also sampled both vintages, I can say that the 2015 was the unanimous favourite. This seemed to be due to the more overtly caramel sweetness in that vintage, along with a “smoother” palate (their descriptor, I believe they meant oilier). It should be mentioned that none of them were particularly big whisky drinkers.

The only reviewer in my database who has reviewed both is Jonny of Whisky Advocate. And although he notes many of the same differences that I found, he gives the 2016 a higher score. Among the other reviewers (for various vintages), you can check out Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Josh the Whiskey Jug for very positive scores. More moderate praise comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with the lowest scores from the guys at Quebec Whisky. Jim Murray is historically very variable on this whisky, but hasn’t reviewed the recent batches.

Bushmills Black Bush

Bushmills Black Bush is another example of an inexpensive blended Irish whisky – but it is in a different league from its entry-level little brother, Bushmills Original Blended.

As I explained in my Bushmills Original review, Bushmills blends single malt whisky with column-distilled grain whisky (just like blended scotch).  In the case of Black Bush though, the malt component makes up a greater relative proportion of the blend compared to regular Bushmills, or to other blends at this price point (i.e., I’ve seen up to 80% malt reported online for Black Bush).

The malt component of Black Bush is a mix of Oloroso sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks. This should add some sherried sweetness into the mix – another unusual feature at this price point.  The whisky has no official age statement, but I’ve seen differing reports online that the base malt has being been aged for “up to 7 years” or for “8-10 years” before blending with the grain. None of that is mentioned on the label though, so all such claims should be taken with a grain of salt.

Bottled at the standard 40% ABV, it is currently $37 CAD at the LCBO (compared to $32 for Bushmills original).

Let’s see how it does in my Meta-Critic whisky database compared to other Bushmills, and some other just-above entry-level Irish whiskies:

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.17 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.93 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.63 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)

Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition: 8.27 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.31 ± 0.41 1on 9 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Original Clan Irish Whiskey: 8.15 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)

Bushmills Black Bush is getting a very reasonable score for the price.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Light, with a touch of sherry (red fruits, raisins) along with some light fruits (apple, pear). A bit of apple cider. Sweet, but not artificially so (as I found on the original blended) – more your classic vanilla here. Certainly a lot more malty, which is nice. No real alcohol burn or off notes.

Palate: Mild, with even less fruit showing up now – but more of the vanilla and caramel. Touch of baking spices, and baked goods in general (i.e., a bit cakey, maybe stewed apples). Thin body, with no real burn – somewhat watery mouthfeel. Certainly nothing offensive about it, but not much to really recommend it either. Would be better at higher proof.

Bushmills.Black.BushFinish: Short. Same notes as nose and palate, fading out without any real off notes.

This is definitely better than Bushmills Original blended, you could actually drink this one neat (although you are likely to find it a bit boring). For the extra $5 CAD, I would say this one is a no-brainer – Black Bush is a much nicer experience than the Original blended.

That said, I still think the average Meta-Critic score is a bit overly generous here. I would score it lower than the Meta-Critic – but then, I was also harder on the basic Bushmills Original too.

A number of reviewers really like this one, including Ralfy, jim Murray, Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. Personally, I’m more in keeping with Oliver of Dramming and Thomas of Whisky Saga. One of the lowest scores I’ve seen is from Serge of Whisky Fun.

Bushmills Original Blended Irish Whiskey

Having reviewed a few mid-range and higher-end Irish whiskies lately, I thought it was time to get back down to basics.

Bushmills Original blended whisky (aka white label) is the flagship for the Bushmills distillery – one of the oldest distilleries in Ireland, having survived the massive consolidation of the 1980s. Although the bottle labels like to point out Bushmills was founded in 1608, the actual licensed distilling company has only existed since 1784. It has certainly moved through a lot hands since then – and was sold a couple of years ago by the large whisky drinks conglomerate Diageo to Casa Cuervo (of tequila fame).

This is a blended Irish whisky – specifically a blend of single malt and cheaper column-distilled grain whisky. This differs from a number of Irish whiskies, like the Midleton brands I’ve reviewed previously, who combine traditional single pot still whisky with grain whisky in their blends. While Bushmills may be thought of as more scotch-like in that sense (i.e., a blend of malt and grain whiskies), it is still triple-distilled like other Irish whiskies (thus producing a typically lighter spirit).

This basic Bushmills expression is bottled at 40% ABV. It is currently $32 CAD at the LCBO, making it one of the cheapest Irish whiskeys you can buy here.

Here is how Bushmills compares to similar entry-level Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database:

2 Gingers Irish Whiskey: 8.05 ± 0.35 on 3 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.64 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.35 ± 0.40 on 20 reviews ($$)
Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Glendalough Double Barrel: 8.29 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.51 on 19 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.37 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt: 7.98 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers Gold Label: 7.99 ± 0.52 on 11 reviews ($$)
Teeling Small Batch: 8.31 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
The Irishman Founder’s Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.38 on 6 reviews ($$)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.81 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$)
Tyrconnell Single Malt: 8.15 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$)
West Cork Original: 8.01 ± 0.48 on 3 reviews ($$)

As you can see, this is the lowest scoring Irish whiskey in the dataset – although none of the true entry-level expressions do very well.  Typically, it is worthwhile considering spending a little more to go up to the next bottling (e.g., Black Bush for Bushmills, Select Reserve for Jameson, etc.).

I sampled this basic Bushmills recently in a bar.  While these sorts of entry-level blends are not intended to be drunk neat, here is what I find in the glass when doing so:

Nose: Sweet caramel and light honey. Green apple. Very grainy, with some hay. Surprisingly, some mild ethanol singe, and a slightly funky tar note. Better than it sounds (and better than I expected).

Palate: Way too honeysuckle-sweet for my tastes. Maybe agave syrup? A bit of artificial strawberry flavour (fruit roll-ups come to mind). Incredibly watery, absolutely no burn – and no mouthfeel, while we are at it. Seems very grain-dominated, with almost no sign of the malt. Some light rye spices come up at the end.

Finish: Sickeningly sweet continues, with a touch of eventual woody bitterness. Reminds me of some cheap American whiskies that don’t qualify as bourbon, or maybe regular Crown Royal here. Some astringent dryness too. At least it’s short.

BushmillsAgain, it should go without saying – if you want to sip on something neat, start with a higher-end blend or a decent single malt/single pot still whisky.  As a stand-alone pour, I find Bushmills original blended less complex (and less interesting) than even regular Jameson – and like the Meta-Critic, I would rate it lower. But many may find it more acceptable than Jameson’s in mixed drinks due to the sweetness factor.  At a minimum, I would recommend this one on the rocks, to help cut the sweetness.

The only reviewer I’ve ever seen who actually seems like this whisky is Martin of Quebec Whisky, followed by Patrick (although most reviewers are more aligned with Andre’s score). Ralfy, Jim Murray, and Josh the Whiskey Jug all fall into a similar camp of low scores (as an aside, Josh’s tasting notes are remarkably similar to mine on this one). But personally, my own quality assessment is more in line with Nathan the Scotch Noob, Thomas of Whisky Saga or S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. I strongly recommend spending a couple of dollars more for a better Irish whisky.

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