Tag Archives: Blended

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.

Nikka From The Barrel

Another omission on my part – I recently realized that I had not reviewed this staple of the Nikka no-age-statment (NAS) line, Nikka Whisky From The Barrel. The occasion of opening my second bottle seemed like a good opportunity to plug this obvious hole in my review catalog.

First thing to clear up is the rather odd name – this is not a select barrel single malt expression.  Instead, it is a blend of Japanese malt whisky from Yoichi distillery and grain whisky from Miyagikyo distillery, which has been married in oak casks (as opposed to the more common method of giant stainless-steel vatting tanks). Hence the name – it is coming from the blending barrel, not the maturing barrel.

Unusually, it is bottled at near-cask strength (51.4% ABV), which is rather high for a Japanese whisky). The source of casks used is not reported, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some refill sherry ones found their way into the mix.

This expression is a staple of the travel retail duty-free circuit. You won’t typically find it in the U.S. because it comes in the non-standard 500mL bottle size (although I’ve also seen the humongous 3L size in my travels as well). The bottle is distinctive, with its squat and stubby appearance – it looks like something you would have found in a pre-1950s apothecary. Not available at the LCBO, it is readily available in BC  ($64 CAD, plus taxes).

Let’s see how it compares to other entry-level Japanese whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Hibiki Harmony: 8.38 ± 0.59 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Kakubin (Suntory Whisky): 8.15 ± 0.85 on 4 reviews ($$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.45 ± 0.16 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.59 ± 0.49 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.80 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.83 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.79 ± 0.22 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.65 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Super: 8.00 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Taketsuru NAS: 8.24 ± 0.38 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Suntory Old Whisky: 8.31 ± 0.33 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.21 ± 0.46 on 6 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 7.98 ± 0.43 on 6 reviews ($$$)

As you can see above, Nikka FTB is a top-scorer for this category, scoring higher than even more expensive premium NAS expressions like Nikka Coffey Grain and Hibiki Harmony.  My bottle comes from travel duty free.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Brown sugar sweetness, with a bit of honey. Fruity, with apricots, plums (light and dark colored), red grapes and a good amount of banana. Caramel and vanilla. Cinnamon and a little all-spice. Some ethanol heat, but not bad for the ABV. No real off notes. Adding water brings up the vanilla and caramel (but oddly not the fruit).

Palate: Very creamy, with sweet caramel and toffee notes. Brown sugar again. Fruits are there, but seem a bit tart (and joined by some lemon citrus). Oakier than the nose suggested. Great mouthfeel, creamy and granular at the same time (i.e., creamed sugar). Packs a punch though – ethanol fumes come back at the end, so you will want to try this with a bit of water. Gets drier near the end of the palate.  With water, you get some taming of the ethanol heat – but go lightly here, or you will also diminish the mouthfeel. If anything, it brings up the tartness more than the sweetness (which is unusual).

Finish:  Medium. The sweet caramel note is there, with some lighter spices now (nutmeg). Some oaky bitterness shows up over time, persisting longer than the sweet notes. With water, I get a very faint hint of smoke.

Nikka From The BarrelFrankly, I would not have immediately pegged this as a blend – it seems malt-heavy (although the higher strength may be contributing to that perception). This one really needs a little water (and I emphasize, little) to open up all the flavours and tame the ethanol burn.

It’s a great expression for the price, having garnered plenty of fans. Very positive are Dave of Whisky Advocate,  Nathan the Scotch Noob, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Dramtastic of Japanese Whisky Review (depending on the batch). Indeed, almost all reviewers in my database give this expression an above-average score, except for a few like Jason of In Search of Elegance and Ruben of Whisky Notes. Certainly my top pick for NAS Japanese whiskies in retail travel duty free.

Storas 21 Year Old Blended Scotch – William Grant & Sons Rare Cask Reserves

William Grant and Sons is an independent, family-owned Scottish spirits company that controls a number of scotch whisky distilleries. The company was established in 1887, and is currently run by descendants of the founder, William Grant.  Indeed, it is the largest of the independent Scottish whisky businesses still owned and operated by a  founding family (i.e., most of the other distillers are owned by large, international spirit conglomerates).

Their core scotch malt whisky brands are Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. They also own the grain distiller Girvan, used for a number of popular scotch blends (presumably including the eponymous “Grant’s” blended whisky line). They also own a number of international brands, including Tullamore Dew in Ireland, and Gibson’s in Canada.

W. Grant & Sons has a lot of experience in scotch whisky distilling and blending.  As part of their Rare Cask Reserves series, they have released a number of specific blends (e.g., Ghosted Reserve, Cruinnich).  The LCBO here in Canada received one of these, the 21 year old Stòras (Gaelic for resource – or more simply, store). Only 4,600 bottles of this blended whisky were produced (exclusively for LCBO, as far as I know). It is labelled as batch 15/0408, selected on 13.03.2015, and bottled at 46% ABV.

The LCBO is currently out of inventory, but I managed to pick up a bottle when they were heavily discounted. I thought it would be worthwhile reviewing anyway, as it may give you an idea of what to expect from other Rare Cask Reserves whiskies in the future. A tasting sample also comes from Redditor WDMC-905.

Here’s how some of the core William Grant & Sons scotches fare in my database:

Balvenie 17yo Doublewood: 8.72 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.73 ± 0.39 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 18yo: 8.55 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery (Bourbon Cask): 8.74 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 19yo Age of Discovery (Madeira Cask): 8.33 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenfiddich 21yo Gran Reserva: 8.66 ± 0.34 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.61 ± 0.63 on 13 reviews ($)
Kininvie 17yo: 8.82 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kininvie 23yo: 8.62 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Monkey Shoulder 8.29: ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the Storas 21 yo blended scotch:

Nose: Sweet, with lighter fruits (green apple, pear, and plum) and some golden raisins and sultanas. Grape nuts. A good amount of vanilla. Something a bit dusty, like dried barley. Some classic grain notes come through as well, along with a bit of smoke. No solvent smells or off-notes. Definitely seems somewhat Glenfiddich-like overall, but with a touch of a sherry cask finishing.

Palate: Sweet, but tends more toward the dried fruits than fresh ones. More spicy kick than I was expecting, with cinnamon and cloves leading the way. Caramel joins the vanilla, plus some milk chocolate. A bit more oaky now, reminiscent of some common Balvenie editions. Smooth mouthfeel, great balance with the grain. Easy drinking, and perfectly sippable – a good blend, tangy and tasty.

Finish: Medium length. The oaky bitterness builds a little, but its well balanced to the dominant sweet caramel/vanilla.  No new notes here – just a slow fade of the light fruitiness.  Actually pretty decent.

storas-21Not an overly complex whisky, but easily sippable.  The nose doesn’t really do justice to the caramel/vanilla backbone that dominates the palate and finish. I suppose you could say it blends some of the best characteristics of Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Overall, it also reminds me of some of the similarly aged vintage Glenrothes. Perhaps a bit overpriced at the original $190 CAD, but a good deal at the current $90 CAD clearance price, if you ask me.

Personally, I’d give it a 8.7 on my calibrated Meta-Critic rating scale. The only review I’ve seen online from among my Meta-Critic database of reviewers is Devoz on Reddit.  Properly normalized, his score comes to basically the same as mine (8.69).  It is difficult to draw conclusions from just two reviewers, but that average 8.7 score from the two of us puts it very well in-line with the the single malt offerings of comparable age from Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie described above. May be worth keeping your eye out for other Rare Cask Reserves in the future!

 

 

Suntory Toki

Suntory Toki is an unusual release. With the overwhelming demand for Japanese whisky in recent years, all the major Japanese distillers have moved the bulk of their core lines to new no-age-statement (NAS) expressions. As a result, it is rare to see classic age-statement expressions outside of Asia. See for example my review of Hibiki Harmony from late last year.

But Toki is something a bit different. Rather than a NAS of an established line, this is a brand new entry-level blended whisky – and one that is specific for the North American market.

As usual, this blend contains whiskies from Suntory’s two malt distilleries – Hakushu and Yamazaki – and its “heavy grain” Chita distillery. While most blends have historically been weighed toward Yamazaki malt, Suntory confirms that Hakushu malt (aged in American white oak) is the first “pillar” supporting this whisky. The second is grain whisky from Chita.  Yamazaki malt is only a minor component, and is coming from both American white oak and Spanish oak. So, no classic Japanese Mizunara oak is in here.

As expected from that sort of mix, this is a light-tasting whisky, suitable for drinking neat and for those who enjoy highballs or scotch-and-sodas. It is interesting to me that they have chosen to release a highball-style light whisky exclusively to North America – although all is welcomed, given how Japanese whisky has gotten exceedingly scarce here.

Here is how it compares to some other entry-level Japanese blends and grain whiskies:

Hibiki Harmony: 8.40 ± 0.61 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Kakubin (Suntory Whisky): 8.14 ± 0.86 on 4 reviews ($$)
Kirin 50% Blend (Fuji Gotemba): 8.35 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.57 ± 0.50 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka From the Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Gold & Gold: 8.16 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Super: 7.98 ± 0.49 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Old Whisky: 8.29 ± 0.32 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Suntory Toki: 8.24 ± 0.63 on 5 reviews ($$$)
White Oak Akashi Blended: 8.01 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$)

Given its restricted geography, there are not a lot of reviews for this whisky yet. But as you can see from above, the current 8.24 on 5 reviews puts it about typical for this class of blended Japanese whisky. But it shows higher than usual variance, suggesting a wide range of reviewer opinions on Toki.

Now available at the LCBO for $60 CAD, Suntory Toki is lightly coloured, and bottled at 43% ABV. It comes in an unusual brick-shaped glass bottle (with screw cap).

Nose: Honey is the predominant characteristic, followed by green grapes, green apples and a touch of coconut. Gummy bears. Slightly floral, with fresh hay and a bit of oaky vanilla. A slight hint of old sweat socks detracts, but it is very mild. No alcohol burn.

Palate: Similar fruits to the above, but some added pear and lychee fruit. Definite ginger now. A bit perfumy, but with a good oaky core. Has a classic blended whisky mouthfeel, with the grain whisky spreading over the tongue. Also a bit of tongue tingle, which is unusual. Feels like a predominantly grain blend (but a quality one).

suntory-tokiFinish: Short to medium. Some lingering sweetness, like slightly flat ginger ale. A bit citrusy. No bitterness or off-putting after-tastes, crisp and clean.

As usual, I only checked the official notes and production history for this whisky after compiling my own tasting notes above. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a close concordance (and this is the first time I’ve ever detected green grapes :). I would also have predicted largely Hakushu malt and Chita grain as the principle components of this whisky, consistent with what Suntory reports.

While not as complex as other Suntory offerings, it has some interesting notes and is pretty flawless for this type of blended scotch-style whisky. I would consider it a mid-range blend, similar to some of the Compass Box offerings (and higher quality than the current Meta-Critic score indicates). Certainly an easy recommendation for a “light” whisky at this price point at the LCBO. But do try the Hibiki Harmony if you are interested in a more typical Japanese blended profile, with more flavour.

Nathan the ScotchNoob has a positive review of Suntory Toki.  André and Patrick at Quebec Whisky are both negative on this whisky.  While waiting for further reviews, you could check out some of the ones on the Reddit whisky review network – I recommend the ones posted by Tarquin_Underspoon and Lasidar.  Again, early reviews are very variable on this whisky.  I’m sure there will be more to come.

 

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