Tag Archives: NAS

Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt

When I was in Switzerland last year, I managed to try a number of local single malt whiskies. Whisky production is a relatively new thing there (having only been legally allowed since 1999), and most of the early producers were already long-established brewers. I’ve seen this pattern before in a number of countries, as there are a lot of similarities in brewing beer and distilling malt whisky.

While most of the young whiskies I tried were fairly mediocre (and one was absolutely dreadful), the best of the bunch was Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt. Produced by the brewer Rugenbräu, this no-age-statement (NAS) malt whisky is aged in American oak ex-Sherry casks (presumably refill casks, given the relatively light colour). This is a step up from many of the other brewer/distillers, who tend re-use beer barrels (something I personally find rarely benefits a malt whisky).

I would have passed this unassuming whisky by, in favour of a few limited age-stated releases of other makers – until a knowledgeable bartender directed me to try it. He explained that Jim McEwan, previous Master Distiller and owner of Bruichladdich, was so impressed with the production of Rugenbräu that he immediately decided to become a patron and advisor to the distillery. Indeed, it is his personal tasting notes that adorn the backs of all their bottlings.

Bottled at 46% ABV. This Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt was awarded a Silver medal at the 2017 International Wine & Spirit Competition in London.  MSRP is 81 Swiss Francs (about ~$106 CAD) for a 700mL bottle.

Here is how it compares to other Swiss and central European malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.27 ± 0.36 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.64 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.96 ± 0.63 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Alpstein (all editions): 8.58 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Santis Edition Dreifaltigkeit / Cask Strength Peated: 7.14 ± 1.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Sigel: 7.94 ± 0.80 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Santis Edition Säntis: 7.55 ± 0.83 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Swiss Highland Classic Single Malt: 8.65 ± 0.40 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Hmmm, that’s different. There’s something very vegetal at play here. Mushrooms? The earthy funkiness reminds me of a lightly peated whisky (but I’m not getting any smoke). Leather. some Oloroso notes coming through, including some golden sultanas and raisins. I’m detecting a bit of acetone at the end, but it’s pretty well hidden under the funk. I like it.

Palate: A relatively light palate, almost watery. Bourbony wood notes come up first – vanilla, caramel. Not much fruit, mainly prunes and a light berry. A bit candied as well (candy canes). Oloroso notes come back at end, with some cocoa.‎ A bit of cinnamon, and some tobacco. Not overwhelming, but no real off notes either. A fairly subtle experience – but pleasant.

Finish: Short. Mildly sweet. The cocoa turns more to chocolate now, and includes some bitter dark chocolate notes.  Again, no real off notes.

Easy drinking‎, I could see this doing well as a standard, everyday sort of pour.

Jim Murray is a big fan of this whisky.  It gets an average score from Jonny of Whisky Advocate. The lowest score I’ve seen comes from cake_my_day on Reddit.  I would give it an average score overall, and so find the Meta-Critic composite score reasonable. I’d be curious to try more from this distillery.

Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt

Talk about a great story. The fascinating history behind this relatively entry-level Scottish blended malt whisky starts with the discovery of century-old crates of Scotch whisky in the Antarctic permafrost – as recounted here. To understand what this bottling is (and isn’t), I need to take you on an abridged tour of that story – and of the initial limited release Shackleton recreations.

In preparation for his 1907 expedition to Antarctica, Sir Ernest Shackleton provisioned his ship with a blended whisky produced by Mackinlay (a brand now owned by Whyte & Mackay). Although he never reached the South Pole, he had stashed three crates of the whisky at his base camp at Cape Royds. These were discovered in 2007 by a team carrying out conservation work on Shackleton’s expedition hut, buried under the floor boards.

In 2011, three of the bottles were flown back to Scotland for chemical and sensory analysis – where it was discovered they were only lightly peated (using Orkney peat), bottled at 47.3% ABV, and had been matured in American oak sherry casks. The first recreation of this Shackleton whisky – by Whyte & Mackay master blended Richard Paterson – was a limited release of 50,000 bottles (known as the Discovery edition). This was followed up by a second limited release a year later, with a different composition (known as the Journey edition).

In 2017, they decided to produce a general release of a more basic blended malt under the Shackleton name. To be clear – and unlike the earlier limited releases – this is not intended to be a literal recreation of the actual Shackleton expedition whisky. Instead, think of it as a loose approximation of the style, for a modern audience (capturing “the essense” of Shackleton, as Paterson puts it).

Initially released in 1 L bottles through Global Travel Retail (aka Duty-Free), standard 750 mL bottles have been available more generally since early 2018. Bottled at 40% ABV, it sells for $58 CAD at the LCBO. As with the previous limited releases, a small contribution from each sale goes to the Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Here is how the various Shackleton releases compare in Meta-Critic Whisky Database, in relation to other Whyte & Mackay whiskies.

Dalmore 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.27 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.42 ± 0.40 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Fettercairn Fior: 8.48 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
John Barr Reserve (Black Label): 7.90 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.66 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.28 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Blended Malt: 8.41 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Discovery edition: 8.88 ± 0.40 on 16 reviews ($$$$$)
Mackinlay’s Shackleton Rare Old Highland Malt Journey edition: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Whyte & Mackay 13yo: 8.05 ± 0.54 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Whyte & Mackay Blended Triple Matured: 7.31 ± 0.87 on 3 reviews ($)
Whyte & Mackay Special Blended: 7.65 ± 0.41 on 7 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average scores drop from the the first limited release to the second – and again, to this general release. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet apple juice. Honey. Light caramel. Sour cherries. Gummy bears and bubblegum. Light touch of smoke. No real off notes, which is impressive for the price point. Fairly basic, but pleasant.

Palate: Honey again, with some light corn syrup. Apple juice. Sourness from nose continues as well, with some tart green apple. A touch of orange juice. A bit of bitterness on swallow. Smoke turns into a more persistent funkiness (as you sometimes find with lightly-peated whiskies). Reminds me of Scapa Skiren.

Finish: Simple and fairly short. Again, honey and apple juice persist the longest. Bitterness from the wood does build with time. Seems youngish.

Scapa Skiren is indeed the closest match I can think of, but with perhaps a bit more character here on the nose. Fans of the Johnnie Walker Black style may also like this recreation.

There aren’t too many reviews of this general-release Shackleton whisky yet. Jonny of Whisky Advocate gives it a very high rating – in contrast to Thomas of Whisky Saga and throwboats on Reddit, who both give it a low score. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair. A decent blended malt whisky for the price, but nothing too complex or interesting. Still a great story though!

J.P. Wiser’s Canada 2018

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

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

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

J.P. Wiser’s 15yo: 8.41 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 9.00 ± 0.48 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Canada 2018: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.93 ± 0.67 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 9.02 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s One Fifty: 8.50 ± 0.41 on 8 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak: 8.55 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye: 8.49 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

Crown Royal Blender’s Select

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Canadian Club 20yo: 8.62 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.96 ± 0.29 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.55 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.77 ± 0.29 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (All Batches): 8.75 ± 0.39 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest Rare: 18yo 8.97 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts 17yo Little Trinity Three Grain: 8.70 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.75 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation: 9.02 ± 0.27 on 11 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.84 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.79 ± 0.37 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak: 8.48 ± 0.54 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Union 52: 8.81 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 35yo: 8.98 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Lot 40: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 22 reviews ($$)
Lot 40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old (2017): 9.09 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.86 ± 0.39 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Pike Creek 21yo Speyside Cask Finish: 8.68 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)

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

And now what I find in the glass:

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

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

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

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

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

Famous Grouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scapa Skiren

Being a big fan of the other Orkney island distillery (Highland Park), I’ve been curious to try a Scapa release. Literally right down the road from HP, this second-most-Northerly distillery in Scotland produces a relatively gentle and honeyed based spirit, considered to be lightly-peated.

Originally founded in 1885, it was acquired in the 1950s by classic Canadian whisky producer Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd. Now part of the Pernod Ricard spirits empire, Scapa was shuttered between 1994 and 2004. While a number of age-statement releases were released upon re-opening, for the last several years the no-age-statement Scapa Skiren  has been the distillery’s standard bottling.

Scapa’s website says they consider Skiren to be “the honeyed tropical one because of its smooth, creamy sweetness with a hint of tropical fruit, citrus and coastal heather.” It is exclusively matured in first-fill American oak (so, ex-bourbon barrels).

Bottled at 40% ABV. It currently retails for $80 CAD at the LCBO.

Let’s see how it compares to others in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database.

Arran Malt Machrie Moor Peated: 7.92 ± 0.55 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas: 8.61 ± 0.28 on 20 reviews ($$$)
Bruichladdich Islay Barley: 8.57 ± 0.20 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Dalwhinnie 15yo: 8.65 ± 0.35 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Highland Park 10yo: 8.52 ± 0.26 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park 12yo: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 26 reviews ($$$)
Jura 10yo Origin: 8.06 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Jura 12yo Elixir: 8.32 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Jura Superstition: 8.29 ± 0.45 on 23 reviews ($$$)
Highland Park Magnus: 8.64 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.49 ± 0.37 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.36 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa 16yo: 8.29 ± 0.29 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Scapa Skiren: 7.96 ± 0.56 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

I sampled this single malt from my brother’s bottle.

Nose: Sweet peat, with light smoke. Sickly-sweet honeysuckle (honeyed indeed!). Standard pear and apple. Maybe a touch of pineapple. Very basic, not a lot going on here. I’m detecting some youthful organic notes, but the light peat helps to obscure these somewhat.

Palate: Incredibly sweet arrival, with very simple sugar and light honey. Pear. Lemon peels. Buttered toast. Very light mouthfeel. Not getting a lot of wood spices, beyond standard nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon. Very little evidence of the peat now. Seems pretty tame (and dull, to be honest).

scapa-skirenFinish: Not much of one. Apple juice and some Juicy Fruit gum linger, with some very light oak spice. A touch of smoke returns at the end, but is subtle. Unfortunately some oak bitterness creeps in over time, detracting on the way out.

Sad to say, but I find this to be a very forgettable whisky – there is nothing that really stands out for me. There is just too little character. That said, it is not particularly offensive, and I don’t get a lot of off-notes. I suppose it could be a decent palate opener, before trying more sophisticated whiskies in an evening.

Among reviewers, the highest score I’ve seen comes from Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer, followed by Jim Murray. Generally positive (though with lower scores) are Serge of Whisky Fun and Jan of Best Shot Whisky. But I’m personally in the camp of Thomas of Whisky Saga, Oliver of Dramming, Gavin of Whisky Advocate and the boys at Quebec Whisky. Just not enough character for me to recommend, especially for the price. You are best sticking with an entry-level HP.

Kavalan King Car Conductor

Although my first experiences with Taiwanese producer Kavalan were the entry-level Single Malt and Concertmaster editions, King Car Conductor has similarly been around for some time. Indeed, this was the first expression launched under the King Car name (which is the parent conglomerate group that owns Kavalan).

This single malt was apparently designed to showcase a wide range of flavours, consistent with the spirit of the parent company’s diverse range of interests.  It is rumoured to contain a wide mix of cask types, but I don’t have any specific information on the age or composition.

Bottled at a higher ABV of 46% (like Podium), it could be considered a step up from the 40% ABV Single Malt and Concertmaster offerings. And like Podium, I managed to pick up a 50 mL sample bottle on a recent trip through Tokyo.  Bottling code date was 2016.04.21 07:06 on my sample.

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

Kavalan Concertmaster: 8.30 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak: 8.93 ± 0.25 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan King Car Conductor: 8.48 ± 0.34 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Sherry Oak: 8.62 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Podium: 8.73 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Single Malt: 8.40 ± 0.50 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist ex-Bourbon: 8.86 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Cask: 8.99 ± 0.31 on 12 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.80 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist PX Cask: 9.09 ± 0.60 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask: 9.05 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique: 9.00 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$$$$)

And now what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity nose, with various tropical fruits – papaya, guava, pineapple, coconut and banana. I could smell the fruit before bringing the glass to my nose! Lemon. Lots of caramel. Some vanilla. But that’s it really – not much character beyond the fruity and woody sweetness. No real off notes, except for being a bit spirity.

Palate: More honeyed in the mouth, although still with caramel and vanilla. There is something that reminds me of that classic bourbon barrel char sweetness here. Fruits are less distinct, and seem watered down (e.g., add water-logged melon and cantaloupe). Lemon pledge. Getting the wood spices now, cinnamon in particular, and black pepper. A bit of ethanol heat as well, more than expected from the ABV. Also seems a bit watery in mouthfeel given the ABV, but a touch oily (which I like). Classic Kavalan astringency on the swallow.

Finish: Medium. The fruit returns on the finish, but more dried now. A touch nutty. Soft wood spice rounding it out, this is actually a nice fade out (if a bit simple). It is actually less astringent than most entry-level Kavalans.

Certainly a step up from the base Kavalan Single Malt expression – this one has more fruit on the nose (and less astringency on the finish). I strongly recommend trying it with a few drops of water, to help tame the heat on the palate.

Overall, an easy sipper with a fair bit of fruity character – but not too challenging. I still find it to be a fairly basic expression, lacking the vibrant character of their various “finished” offerings (especially the Solist series). But still happy to finish a glass.

Among reviewers, the most positive review I’ve seen is Dominic of Whisky Advocate, followed by Jim Murray and Oliver of Dramming – and most of the Reddit reviewers. I’m very much in the same camp.  Less positive are Serge of Whisky Fun, My Annoying Opinions, and Ralfy.

 

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.

Penderyn Legend

This is my first review of a whisky from the Welsh producer Penderyn. There is a long tradition of whisky making in Wales – but it apparently took the 20th century off (i.e., the last maker shut down in 1894).  Founded in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company restarted production in the village of Penderyn (from where they take their name).

Penderyn whisky has been on the market since 2004, and they are currently the only Welsh whisky maker that I am aware of. Note that they also produce a number of non-whisky liqueurs and spirits. Not exactly a house-hold name, Penderyn is known to focus on select international markets – including Taiwan, Australia and France.

As an interesting note, they started production with a unique copper-pot still design that allows them to produce a very high-proof distillate (92% alcohol) with a single distillation step. While they have added some additional traditional still support since then, I believe the bulk of their whisky remains from in this single-distilled format.

This Legend expression is part of their latest series of no-age-statement (NAS) single malt whiskies, along with Myth and Celt. All are bottled at 41% ABV.

Legend has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks before being finished in oak barriques that previously held Madeira wine. Bottled at a slightly lower strength (and younger age) than the standard Penderyn Madeira Wood, you could consider this the latest expression of their classic “house style”.

As an aside, I find the presentation attractive – a minimalist-style bottle with bold red packaging featuring the illustration of a red dragon (the symbol of the Welsh national flag). This Legend release is not chill filtered, and doesn’t appear to have any artificial colouring – both significant pluses, in my view. It typically retails for $63 CAD at the LCBO, but I recently found it on close-out for $44 at a local store.

Here is how Penderyn whiskies fare in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, compared to some other new European producers:

Box Dalvve: 8.48 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Box PX – Pedro Ximénez Finish: 8.90 ± 0.16 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Box The 2nd Step Collection 02: 8.93 ± 0.05 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Gouden Carolus Single Malt: 8.14 ± 0.22 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Mackmyra The First Edition (Den Första Utgåvan): 8.67 ± 0.33 on 17 reviews ($$$)
Mackmyra The Swedish Whisky (Brukswhisky): 8.44 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$)
Millstone 12yo Sherry Cask: 8.74 ± 0.63 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Millstone 8yo French Oak: 7.97 ± 0.62 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Aur Cymru: 7.73 ± 0.59 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Legend: 7.62 ± 0.78 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Madeira: 7.91 ± 0.99 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Myth: 8.40 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Peated: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Penderyn Sherrywood: 7.73 ± 0.57 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Sherry Project 1:4: 8.84 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Smogen Single Cask (all editions): 8.89 ± 0.13 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Spirit of Hven Tycho’s Star: 8.76 ± 0.28 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Note that I didn’t have enough reviews of Penderyn Celt to add to the database. Typically, Penderyn whiskies are not as well received as the new Swedish producers (i.e., BOX, Smogen, etc).

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

Nose: Sweet nose, with light maple syrup and icing sugar. Tart apples, peaches and blackberries – reminds me of a peach cobbler. Something tropical – although perhaps that is just green fruit notes. Malty. Sour milk note (some might call this “baby vomit”). Definite organic off-notes, tending to the more funky side (e.g. old sweatsocks). Hairspray. Seems like a young whisky, could definitely have benefited from more time in the barrel.

Palate: Sweet arrival, with the icing sugar moving more towards molasses now – plus a candy apple sugar coating. Peach and pear, plus those tart apples (think early-season Macintosh). Dark grapes. Lemon citrus, including pith. You can really taste the madeira finishing here, complementing the malt nicely. Classic wood spices show up, but mild – mainly nutmeg. Has a tangy metallic taste on the swallow, with some bitterness immediately afterwards. No real burn, in keeping with the 41% ABV.

Finish: Surprisingly long. Initial light brown sugar/molasses notes, along with peach and raisin. This is followed by a lingering sourness that builds over time. It’s actually not such a bad pairing, and I’m surprised to see such a light young whisky linger for so long.

I will admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I picked up this bottle – and it does have a lot of rough edges (especially on the nose). But it has a longer finish than I expected, and is an interesting balance of sweet and sour. It could make a decent summer evening whisky.

To be clear, this doesn’t compare to the young whiskies coming out of the new start-ups in Sweden (i.e., BOX and Smogen). But it is still better than I expected from the (reduced) price and average reviewer score. I could imagine a lightly peated version of this doing pretty well (e.g. Celt), as that could help balance out the sour and off-notes. But realistically, an extra distilling step and extended aging would likely really help here.

This whisky generally doesn’t do well among reviewers, with the exception of Jim Murray (who ranks it above average overall). My own assessment would be more in line with blaw84 of Reddit and Martin of Quebec Whisky. I certainly rate it higher than Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky, or Jonny of Whisky Advocate, who are very negative.

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