Tag Archives: Cask-strength

Alberta Premium Cask Strength 100% Rye

Another sought-after limited-release Canadian whisky this year, Alberta Distillers has produced a new cask-strength 100% rye. Initially released in Alberta, it has now begun to show up (in small amounts) at the LCBO in Ontario and in private liquor stores in BC.

Alberta Distillers sells a lot of rye whisky in Canada under the Alberta Premium brand, but also exports a lot to the United States. Long controlled by Beam, much of the AP rye finds its way into American whiskies. This is true at both the low end for blended products, but also at the higher-end of straight ryes, such as the virgin oak-aged Masterson’s and WhistlePig offerings (all sourced from Alberta Distillers whisky).

Regular Alberta Premium is a common, entry-level 100% rye in Canada – and one that I cannot personally recommend. With the merger of Beam and Suntory in 2014 (the latter controlling the Canadian Club brand), a new 100% rye whisky sourced from the Alberta Distillers was launched as Canadian Club 100% Rye. This entry-level rye is a much more flavourful offering from Alberta Distillers in Canada.

Most Canadians would know Alberta Premium as an entry-level brand suitable mainly for mixing (although Dark Horse is quite sip-able neat). However, earlier 25 year old and 30 year old limited-release Alberta Premium bottlings were highly regarded by enthusiasts at the time. So there was great interest in the community when a new 20 year old bottling and this cask-strength release were announced earlier this year.

The cask-strength is bottled at 65.1% ABV, and sold in a glass version of the (much derided) standard Alberta Premium bottle, with a common screw cap. It sells for $65 CAD in Ontario, but I picked it up for $58 in Alberta last week.

Here is how it compares to other Alberta Distillers-sourced whiskies – and recent Lot 40 cask-strengths – in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.08 ± 0.68 on 13 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye: 8.78 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Alberta Rye Dark Batch: 8.56 ± 0.24 on 9 reviews ($$)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.23 ± 0.44 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.25 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($)
Little Book Chapter 2 Noe Simple Task: 8.95 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.70 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye: 10yo 8.83 ± 0.38 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.77 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($$$$)

As a recent release, there are relatively few review so far. I recommend you check out out my database directly for updates.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming bubblegum initially. There is caramel here, and tons of fruit, with fresh bananas, cherries, apricots, oranges, and green grapes (also some figs). Sweet and creamy, almost like a fruit liqueur. Rye spices tend more towards cloves than the typical cinnamon, but there’s soft nutmeg here too. Peppery. Wintergreen lifesavers. Has an earthy quality, but dry and dusty. There is a very faint solvent smell lurking in the background, but easy to miss. This a massive fruity rye nose. Water enhances the caramel, and brings in a milk chocolate note.

Palate: A bit hit of simple sugar syrup and tons of citrus initially (oranges). Fruits from the nose are heavily present, along with a strong oak backbone. Heavy rye spices (with cinnamon now) and loads of black pepper. The earthy quality gets more vegetal in the mouth. Good amount of sweet caramel on the swallow. The ABV reveals itself, so you will want to take small sips. With water, texture turns velvety, and chocolate velvet cake comes to mind as well. I also get walnuts. If you like you whiskies sweet, you will like this whisky.

Finish: A good length. Caramel sweetness and oaky notes last the longest, with some lingering woody bitterness (which is somewhat drying). Dried cherries. Cleansing orange citrus washes over the tongue. A hint of dill.

Wow, the fruity bubblegum really gives it away – this is not a cask strength version of Alberta Premium, it is a cask-strength version of Canadian Club 100% Rye (with some extra oaky notes thrown in). And that is probably a good thing, as CC 100% Rye is actually quite a decent rye whisky. It’s nice to see a woodier cask-strength version.

You will want some water to tame the burn here, but if anything water actually accentuates the creamy sweetness. While this does not have the complexity of the older virgin oak-aged WhistlePig or Masterson’s Alberta ryes, it still has considerable charm (especially for the relatively low price).

While a fun ride, I would definitely put it a notch or two below Masterson’s 10 yo or the typical cask-strength Lot 40 ryes (although roughly on par with the French oak-finished Third Edition recently reviewed). If your preference is more for bold, fruity sweetness, this is the whisky to go for – the Lot 40 cask strengths remain more refined. That said, I would personally give this a point higher than the current Meta-Critic average score (i.e., ~8.9).

The highest relative score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Redditor _xile, followed by positive reviews from Jason of In Search of Elegance and Bryan of the Toronto Whisky Society. Mark of Whisky Buzz gives it a positive review, but a slightly-below average score (for him). A good value cask-strength 100% rye, if your tastes run more toward the sweeter side.

Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019)

As always, the most highly-anticipated release of the Northern Border Collection 2019 is the cask-strength Lot no 40. The 2018 Lot 40 cask strength edition quickly sold out at the LCBO last year. Indeed, I had to pick up my bottle in Alberta a few weeks later, since I missed the two-hour window that it was available online that year (!).

Lacking an age statement this year, the Lot 40 Cask-Strength is referred to simply as “Third Edition.” This lack of a defined age has dampened enthusiasm for it among the local whisky community here, but it is still expected to be a star seller for the brand. Once again, I picked up my bottle in Alberta (where it was widely available) ahead of the Ontario LCBO release last week.

As background, Lot 40 is the classic flavouring whisky for Corby – 100% pot-distilled rye, aged in virgin American oak barrels. I’m guessing they ran low on older stocks this year, after the success of the previous two cask-strength releases. So they opted for a different approach, trying a finishing twist: 75% of the whisky was doubly-aged in brand new French oak barrels. This is bound to add vanilla sweetness, and a different oaky experience.

Based on the label, 5460 bottles were produced, which is a bit more than previous years. Bottled at 57.0% ABV this year. It retails for a bit less than last year’s expression, selling for $90 CAD at the LCBO (a bit more out West).

Here is how it compares to the other Lot 40 releases in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Lot 40: 8.86 ± 0.33 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength (Single Cask): 9.16 ± 0.10 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12yo (2017): 9.06 ± 0.25 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 11yo (2018): 9.15 ± 0.13 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength Third Edition (2019): 8.70 ± 0.51 on 4 reviews ($$$$)

Note that there are few scores to date, so please check out the database directly for updated results. But as an aside, I personally agree with the relative quality ranking of the 2018 > 2017 > 2019 editions so far.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, with tons of caramel and brown sugar. Vanilla and maple syrup. Heavily caramelized, but also rich and creamy – like whipped cream. On first nose, this is more like a Cognac or Armagnac than a whisky. Bananas and dark red fruits (cherries and red currants). Heavy rye spices, especially cinnamon and nutmeg. Charred and toasted oak. Walnuts. The classic Lot 40 floral notes are there (e.g. lilac), but a bit lost under all that sweet oak and spice (although to be fair, a lot of the more delicate Lot 40 aspects are diminished in the cask strength releases, even without the extra finishing). This really does smell like cask-strength Lot 40 finished in French oak! No off notes. Touch of water brings up the fruit, but also a dry wood note and loads of pepper – doesn’t need much here.

Palate: Liquid caramel followed by hefty hit of rye spices, plus chilies and black pepper. More peppery than previous Lot 40 cask strength releases, must be due to the French oak. Also a slight bitterness on the swallow. Thick and viscous mouthfeel, you will definitely need some water. With water, the fruits finally show up, with blueberries and papaya adding to the banana and red fruits. Instant mouth feel change, so go easy on the water – it really just needs a few drops. Beyond that, it gets watery fast, with no additional flavours emerging.

Finish: Undiluted, it seems quicker than past years, with sweet oak dominating initially with a light dusting of rye spices and dry paper. No real fruits or floral, and that slight bitterness returns. With water, juicy fruit gum and dried banana show up. It also seems to linger longer with water, so I recommend adding some to help the experience.

This is a great whisky, and worth the price in my view. A few drops of water is a must for the best effect, but go easy on it – you definitely don’t want to drown this whisky.

That said, it is true that the French oak dominates over the classic Lot 40 notes. Interestingly, both the French oak-derived caramelized sweetness and the spicy pepper notes come through at multiple points. It is basically what I expected for the French oak experience – only more so!

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am not always a fan of French oak finishing, as I find it can be too woody sometimes (including too bitter). That is not the case here, as the base Lot 40 seems to have been a good substrate for the French oak finishing – but at the cost of somewhat reduced rye character in the final product. Of course, given the lack of an age statement, it is probable that they used younger Lot 40 stocks as well (which also would have contributed to reduced character).

Personally, I would prefer that they return to the (later) age-stated cask strength Lot 40 style for future batches. But I actually like this whisky for what it is – a good example of French oak finishing. I would rate it lower than the last two editions, but not by much. I would definitely give it a point or two higher than the current Meta-Critic average score.

Among reviewers, the most positive review I’ve seen so far is from Davin of Whisky Advocate (which I concur with). Moderately positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance. More neutral is the Toronto Whisky Society. The lowest score I’ve seen is from Mark of Whisky Buzz (although Mark was more positive in his podcast interview with Dr Don Livermore). Definitely worth picking up if you think you would like this style.

Kanosuke New Born 8 Month Old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Bunnahabhain 14 Year Old 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish

This is a limited edition bottling from Bunnahabhain – a Scottish distillery, located on the north-east coast of Islay. Their standard 18 year old bottling is one of my favourites for the style – which, surprisingly for Islay, is unpeated. But the coastal environment helps brings in some unique features, which combine well with Bunnahabhain signature oily, flavourful character.

Bunnahabhain releases limited editions somewhat irregularly – the last was an Oloroso cask finish in 2016, I believe. This release is a 14 year old single malt, distilled in 2003. It was initially aged in second-fill Oloroso sherry casks until 2011, at which point it was transferred into first-fill Pedro Ximénez casks. It was bottled in late 2017 at cask-strength, 54.3% ABV in this case.

Only 6768 bottles were produced, released in most jurisdictions in early 2018. I was lucky to come across the release of a single case at World of Whiskies in Calgary, Alberta in late March of this year – and promptly picked up two bottles for $180 CAD each, on discount ($200 list price, tax in). As you can imagine, these sold out fast! I’ve recently opened bottle #2389.

Here is how this limited release compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other Bunnas:

Bunnahabhain 12yo: 8.66 ± 0.26 on 24 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.98 ± 0.20 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 25yo: 8.88 ± 0.32 on 17 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain 40yo: 9.14 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach: 8.79 ± 0.29 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona: 8.31 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Darach Ur: 8.40 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Eirigh Na Greine: 8.44 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain Moine (all bottlings): 8.64 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Stiuireadair: 8.44 ± 0.37 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Bunnahabhain Toiteach: 8.58 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$$$)

In terms of average score, it compares pretty well to the standard age-stated line of Bunnahabhain. But that’s a noticeably higher-than-usual standard deviation, indicating some pretty variable opinions on this one. Let’s see how it compares to some similar cask-strength sherry bombs:

Aberlour A’Bunadh (all batches): 8.95 ± 0.15 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Bunnahabhain 14yo 2003 Pedro Ximenez Finish: 8.91 ± 0.74 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach Cask Strength (all batches): 8.92 ± 0.15 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfarclas 105: 8.72 ± 0.35 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Glengoyne Cask Strength (all batches): 8.64 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Macallan Cask Strength: 8.94 ± 0.36 on 16 reviews ($$$$$+)
Macallan Classic Cut: 8.78 ± 0.19 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

This Bunnahabhain Limited Release scores comparably to the best cask-strength offerings of competitors.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: Rich, dark gold with some light mahogany hues.

Nose: PX sherry dominates on the nose – this is a super sweet one. Molasses, caramel. Red fruits, dark berries, raisins and red grapes. Lemon cake. Candy cane. Faint hint of anise. Nutty. Classic Bunna funk (like an extinguished campfire). Sea salt. Fabulous nose if you like them sweet. No off notes.

Palate: Dark brown sugar, demerara sugar. Thick and syrupy. Caramel and red berries again. Cherry compote pie filling – complete with the buttery pastry shell as well. Chocolate shavings. Cinnamon. Oaky wood. Tobacco and coffee grinds. Goes down smooth. Slight astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium long. Candy-like notes are the most prominent, with brown sugar and caramel that linger (very chocolate bar-like). Light cinnamon. Sticky residue on lips and gums. Lemon returns, as does the nuttiness at the end.

With water, brown sugar now becomes very apparent on the nose. Fruits are enhanced in the mouth, which I appreciate – so I definitely recommend a few drops. But further water brings up the cinnamon and oaky notes (with some bitterness), and lightens the mouthfeel, so be careful here.

To call this a dessert dram is an understatement – it is a heavy assault of liquefied brown sugar! Personally, I prefer it over some of the batched sherry bombs that contain a mix of Oloroso/PX cask-aged whiskies, like the recent Glendronach Cask Strength batches.

Among reviewers, my stable of Reddit reviewers were generally extremely positive, giving it top scores – starting with theslicknick6, followed by MajorHop, HawkI84, Unclimbability, Strasse007 and WildOscar66. A below average score was given by throwboats (and a few others on the site). There aren’t many other reviews out there, but it gets a slightly above average score from Ruben of Whisky Notes and Gavin of Whisky Advocate. It gets an extremely low score from My Annoying Opinions (which frankly seems a bit bizarre).

Clearly, this is a whisky with some variable perspectives. Personally, I’m more in-line with Strasse007 and WildOscar66 above – I think this is a very nice whisky for this class. I think the Meta-Critic average is fair, especially relative to the Bunnahabhain 18 yo. I’m glad to have a bottle (and a spare) of this limited release.

Amrut Port Pipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2016)

This single cask Amrut was first matured in charred American virgin oak casks, followed by further maturation in a Port Pipe cask (which are very large casks, holding 650 litres). I have a bottle from the third batch of this whisky matured in Port Pipe cask #2712, exclusively bottled for Western Canada (where I picked this up).

To clarify a point of confusion – Amrut sometimes re-uses finishing casks (like these Port Pipes). The front label of my bottle indicates that the barrel was first filled in January of 2011, and the whisky was bottled in February of 2016. There’s a Batch No 3 imprint on the back label, indicating that this is the third time Port Pipe 2712 has been used.

I don’t know how long this batch was finished in this Port Pipe, but there are reviews out there for an earlier August 2013 release from this same #2712 finishing cask (so, this release has to be finished for less than 2.5 years, by definition). I have one of 660 bottles of this third batch. It is bottled at cask-strength of 59.0% ABV.

I am currently tracking four Amrut Port Pipe casks in database (#2713, 2714, 3881, and 4668). To date, it is only #2712 and 2713 where I can find multiple bottlings reported.

Let’s see how the various Amrut offerings compare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Amrut 100 Peated: 8.90 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.74 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.89 ± 0.25 on 25 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.91 ± 0.46 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt: 8.70 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.08 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2013): 8.95 ± 0.09 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2016): 8.76 ± 0.50 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask #2713 (2013): 8.68 ± 0.12 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.75 ± 0.38 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask (all casks): 8.82 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum (all batches): 9.13 ± 0.18 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)

Interesting, the Amrut single cask expressions (on average) don’t seem to fare quite as well as some of the standard bottlings – although they still get above-average overall scores for the single malt class. Let’s see what I find in the glass for my bottle:

Nose: A pleasantly peated nose, with a strong salted-meat aroma – smoked bacon and salted pork in particular. Smoked BBQ ribs. This is a very “meaty” nose, unlike the medicinal or rubbery noses of most heavily-peated Islay malts (i.e. its more like some Highland Park or Ledaig expressions, or even Springbank). Anise and dark chocolate, very earthy. Blueberries and raisins. It’s a great combination of peat and sweetness – it works. Surprisingly little alcohol burn for 59% ABV. No real off notes.

Palate: Strong attack of peat and sea salt to begin, followed by classic bourbon notes – honey and brown sugar.  Honey glazed ham. Not as smokey in the mouth. Anise and dark chocolate again, plus caramel. Cinnamon and black pepper. Fruits lean more toward the tropical now (mango, papaya), not really finding the port so much. Bacon notes come back at the end. Thick mouthfeel, slightly oily. Surprisingly easy to drink for 59% ABV.

Finish: Long. Leaves a noticeable tingle on the lips and tongue that is oddly pleasurable – this is actually quite anesthetizing (as you would expect from the strength). Sea salt and BBQ-glazed ribs. Some dried fruit notes appear over time.  Smoke lingers to the end.

With a little water, the sweet fruity notes on the nose are accentuated. Mouthfeel is unaffected. Lingering sweetness is increased on the finish as well, which becomes more sticky on the lips and gums.

If you keep adding water, to bring it down to more typical whisky strength, you will find the wood spices pick up a lot in the mouth (especially the cinnamon and pepper) – so it still leaves a sting.  Finish becomes more astringent at this diluted level. This is one that can handle of wide range of water, with differing effects. I suggest you experiment to find your personal sweet spot.

A pleasant dram, but not overly complex. I find the average Meta-Critic scores for the peated Port Pipe singe casks to be a little on the low side. I would rate this particular bottling slightly higher than what it gets above (i.e., ~8.9).

A number of Reddit reviewers have sampled from this particular single cask #2712 (2016), such as xile_, Devoz, Ethanized, Saba007 and Pork_Bastard. Thomas of Whisky Saga was a big fan of another batch, as was Serge of Whisky Fun (for this batch) and Michael of Diving for Pearls. My Annoying Opions, Ralfy and Jim Murray all give their batches good scores. Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Serge of Whisky Fun (for this batch) were not impressed.

Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask

The Kavalan Manzanilla sherry single cask is one of the limited Solist releases, like the Amontillado and Moscatel single cask expressions. Unlike the more common Solist ex-Bourbon and Sherry single casks from this Taiwanese producer, these specialty limited-release versions come at a high retail cost (typically >$500 USD, if you can find them).

Manzanilla is a type of fino sherry – a pale, dry sherry from the Andalusia region of Spain. “Manzanilla” apparently means chamomile in Spanish, and the flavour of this wine is said to be reminiscent of chamomile tea. Bottled at cask-strength, 57.8% ABV in this case.

Typically, these Kavalan specialty casks get high scores from reviewers – but they are not typically widely reviewed, given their relative scarcity. Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask: 9.13 ± 0.21 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Manzanilla Cask: 9.10 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Moscatel Cask: 9.18 ± 0.19 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Being a big fan of the ex-Bourbon and Sherry Solists, I’ve been curious to experience the influence of these more rarefied specialty sherry casks. My sample came from theslicknick6 of Reddit.

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Brown sugar. Drier sherry notes, consistent with fino sherry. Grape juice. Lemon. Very earthy, with moist and dry notes. Over-roasted coffee beans. Fisherman’s friend throat lozenges. Dry cardboard. A pronounced sourness, which is a bit off putting. Surprising amount of organic off notes, definitely seems young. With water, the sweetness is raised – which helps compensate against the sourness.

Palate: Very sweet arrival, with brown sugar and caramel. Also creamed sugar. Raisins, sultanas, cherries and dark red grapes. Cocoa powder. Nuts. Leather. Vanilla. Cinnamon. Very thick mouthfeel – syrupy – like other solists. As usual, very nice in the mouth. Can actually drink this neat, which is impressive for a sherry bomb. With water, even sweeter (as expected), and mouthfeel becomes more oily.

Finish: Long, with slowly fading raisin and brown sugar notes. The winey aspects of the sherry build up with time, which are nice. Good mix of sweet and sour. Cocoa persists to the end.

It is only the disjointed nose that holds me back from giving this a top score. On the palate and finish, this comes across as a more refined version of the classic Solist Sherry expression. A little water helps, but it honestly doesn’t need much. A very pleasant sipper.

Personally, I would score this at the low end of the range of reviews out there, as I prefer most other Solist expressions I’ve tried. theslicknick6 gave this particular bottle the highest score I’ve seen from him yet. Strasse007 was also very positive of this bottling. For other bottles of Solist Manzanilla, Serge of Whisky Fun and Jim Murray are similarly very positive, followed by Josh the Whiskey Jug and Jonny of Whisky Advocate. I’d definitely come in at the lower end of reviews here, but it is still a good pour to be sure.

Kavalan Rum Cask – Distillery Exclusive

I have reviewed a good number of expressions from Taiwanese whisky producer Kavalan. While not commonly available, most of these can be found in various specialty shops around the world.  Today I am looking at one of the two Distillery Reserve bottlings, available only at the distillery – the Kavalan Rum Cask.

These Distillery Reserves are generally bottled in batches of ~400-450, in small bottles of 300 mL. My sample came courtesy of redditor theslicknick6. This sample was from bottle 363 of 428, from cask M111104040A, and was bottled at 57.8% ABV.  They apparently retail for ~$50 USD at the distillery.

As I explained on my Solist Sherry single cask review, you can trace the history of the bottling from the cask number. M apparently stands for Rum cask (go figure), the first 11 is distilling year (2011), the second 11 is November, the 04 is the 4th of the month, and the 040 is the 41st barrel of that day (so, the cask was filled early in the day on November 4th, 2011).  On the Solist expressions, you also get a sticker with the specific bottling date and hour, allowing you get a  precise age (I don’t know if these are present on the Distillery Reserve bottles).

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Angel’s Envy Rye (Rum-finished): 8.67 ± 0.52 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Balvenie 14yo Carribean Cask: 8.53 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask: 8.76 ± 0.36 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Distillery Reserve Rum Cask: 8.84 ± 0.24 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)
Pike Creek 10yo Rum-finished: 8.53 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Subdued compared to other cask-strength Kavalan’s I’ve tried. Honey, followed by some light caramel and a touch of vanilla. Standard apple and pear (more stewed than fresh), and tropical papaya and mango. Pina colada (of course). Lemon curd. Graham crackers.  Malted milk chocolate bars. No real off notes, except perhaps for a faint whiff of dry cardboard. And surprisingly, no nose hair singe for the high alcohol strength. Water brings up that cardboard note – it doesn’t seem to need it.

Palate: Super sweet on the palate – overflowing honey and nectar, molasses. This tastes more like a rum than a whisky! Still getting the papaya coming through fairly strongly, with pineapple, mango and banana. Some light peppery notes build with time. Some mild wood oak spice (nutmeg). A bit of cardamon. Very easy to drink neat, despite the high ABV. Water enhances the molasses, and leaves the rest unaffected. Again, it’s not really required.

Finish: Medium length. Not a lot of character here, the notes fade our fairly quickly (again, more like a rum). Light caramel and golden raisins. Not particularly spicy, beyond the mild wood spice. Leaves a sticky residue on the gums and tongue at cask strength – which dissipates quickly if water is added.

This is very easy to drink, but it strikes me as something of a novelty rum-whisky hybrid in many ways. The typical ethanol burn of the high ABV has been greatly attenuated – suggesting the strong sugar presence from the rum.  It seems well put together, but not something I could see myself going for very often.

Personally, I would score this lower than the Meta-Critic, and give it only a slightly above-average score (i.e., 8.6).  theslicknick6 of Reddit has reviewed this specific bottling, and gives it a very high score (by his rating system). Jim Murray has reviewed several other bottlings, and given them all a well above age score. Would giving a shot if you are taking the distillery tour, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend seeking this one out.

Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon Cask

A staple of the Solist series from Taiwanese producer Kavalan, I’ve been looking forward to trying this single cask malt whisky for a while now.

Late last year, I reviewed Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak – the vatted version of this whisky, reduced to 46% ABV. Like its Sherry Oak sibling, this is a good way to try a variant of the relatively expensive (and hard to find) Solist bottlings.  Although I’ve seen the Solist ex-Bourbon in my travels, it remains relatively steep here in Canada (if you can find it). I still regret not picking up a bottle when I had the chance passing through Taiwan a couple of years ago (for ~$100 CAD at that time, sigh).

Unlike the vatted ex-Bourbon Oak bottling, this is a true single cask whisky, bottled at cask strength. It was one of the first Solist bottlings to make a big splash on the international scene, garnering a Gold Medal at both the ISC 2010 and the IWSC 2011 competitions. As the name suggests, it is aged exclusively in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

My sample came courtesy of redditor Throzen. Cask number was B101126003A, bottle number was 069 out of 182. Bottled at 57.8% ABV.

Let’s see how the various Kavalan expressions do in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.43 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.79 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.07 ± 0.65 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.07 ± 0.33 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 8.99 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Overwhelming vanilla and caramel to start. Fruits are definitely tropical, with papaya, banana and pineapple. Tons of coconut – makes me think of a pina colada. Orange citrus (juice and peels). Boston cream pie. Black pepper. Has a vague musty smell, along with some acetone, which are the only off-notes for me. Significant nose hair singe from the high alcohol content – this does better with some water to tame to raw ethanol. With water, some candied fruit notes appear, and butterscotch adds to the caramel.

Palate: Wow, that’s a hot one at cask-strength! More honeyed in the mouth, but still with lots of caramel. Milk chocolate. Fruits are subdued, more green bananas and pineapple juice now. Pepper and classic oak spices pick up, with some woody bitterness. Sticky, oily residue on the lips and gums after swallowing, which is nice. Again, you need some water to really open this up. Water brings in a lovely silky quality, like a melted caramilk bar, and turns it even sweeter in the mouth.

Finish: Long. The coconut returns on the finish, with some lingering tropical fruits. Not particularly sweet on the way out, as these are nicely balanced by the woody notes. Vaguely nutty. A grassy element also picks up now. This is a well-integrated finish, with that classic Kavalan astringency coming up at the very end.

My advice is to not be shy with the water here – it can handle a good amount. And it nicely tames the heat while keeping all the core elements intact (although it does make it even sweeter).

Fans of ex-bourbon oak maturation (and pina coladas!) will find a lot to like here. For me, this is a definite dessert whisky. It is so evocative of a tropical vacation, it almost doesn’t seem like whisky. I would score it higher than the ex-Bourbon Oak – largely because of the higher strength, which gives you more flexibility to customize the experience. I would also score it slightly higher than the Meta-Critic average, closer to ~9.0 in my view.

Among reviewers, the most positive (like me) are of Dominic and John of Whisky Advocate, Thomas of Whisky Saga, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. Moderately positive reviews come from Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The lowest scores I’ve seen come from Andre of Quebec Whisky, Ruben of Whisky Notes, and Sinjun86 of Reddit – but these are still around the overall score for all whiskies reviewed. Clearly, this is one that is hard to go wrong with.

 

Tomatin 1999 Single Cask 18 Year Old – Kensington Wine Market

This is a single cask bottling of Tomatin, a Highland whisky producer in Scotland. I’ve seen a few of their single cask bottlings go by in recent years, typically through various state-controlled liquor boards. This bottling was released by Kensington Wine Market in Calgary, Alberta (their first Tomatin special release, I understand).

Released last last year, this single malt was distilled in 1999. It was matured in ex-Bourbon casks, and finished for five years in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Butt. That makes it 18 years and 9 months of age.

621 bottles were released, bottled 52% ABV. It currently sells for $150 CAD at KWM. I was able to sample this from a colleague’s bottle.

There are not enough reviews to be included in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, but here are how the various Tomatin bottlings compare.

Tomatin 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.45 on 19 reviews ($$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.59 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 15yo: 8.32 ± 0.54 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.68 ± 0.22 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 40yo: 8.95 ± 0.39 on 3 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cask Strength: 8.35 ± 0.46 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan: 8.03 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Limited Edition: 8.94 ± 0.26 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Sherry Edition: 8.35 0± .30 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Cu Bocan Virgin Oak Edition: 8.51 ± ± 0.47 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin Decades: 8.92 ± 0.49 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin Legacy: 8.15 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$)
Tomatin Oloroso Sherry 1995: 8.58 ± 0.56 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

While most of these bottlings are nothing special, I was personally a big fan of the peated limited release Cu Bocan 1989.  But I typically also like unpeated gentle base malts that are well-aged with an extensive period of sherry of port finishing.

Let’s see what I find in the glass on this one:

Nose: Brown sugar and caramel. Very jammy nose, with dark fruit preserves. Golden raisins, plus a lighter candied fruit note. Almost port-like in its level of sweet fruit. Nutty, with an earthy quality (moist earth and ginger root). Light cinnamon. This is a good pairing of bourbon maturation and PX finishing. No off notes, except perhaps for the faintest hint of old sweatsock (so, sulphur – if you are particularly sensitive to it).

Palate: Rich and thick brown sugar notes dominate, along with honey and creamy caramel – a good pairing. Fruits take a back seat now, and the earthy notes take over. Hazelnut. Dark chocolate. Tobacco. Cinnamon and nutmeg, plus a little black pepper. Great mouthfeel, oily and sticky. Quite drinkable at 52% ABV, doesn’t need water to tame the burn. Touch of bitterness creeps in on the swallow.

Finish: Long and creamy. The dark fruit preserves return, along with the lighter candied fruit note (gummi bears). Cinnamon lingers the longest, which I like. What little bitterness there is is very mild, and doesn’t detract for me.

With water, the classic bourbon sweetness notes rise on the nose (i.e. light caramel and vanilla). Water turns the oily mouthfeel into something more syrupy – with added corn syrup sweetness to boot. Doesn’t affect the burn, so I consider water to be optional on this one.

A good quality cask pairing, to be sure.  I’d give it ~8.8 on the Meta-Critic scale. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for other Tomatin special releases.

 

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