Tag Archives: NAS

Redbreast Lustau Edition

Redbreast has always had a strong following among single pot still whisky devotees. In Redbreast’s hands, this combination of malted and unmalted barley, triple-distilled in copper pot stills, produces a distinctive flavour profile that rivals many single malts. The standard 12 year old expression remains a staple for many whisky fans, with its great flavour-to-price ratio.

So you can imagine some trepidation when a new entry-level NAS version was announced, the Redbreast Lustau Edition. Rest assured, there are no immediate plans to retire the standard 12 yo expression. Lustau is meant to be a new permanent release, to complement the existing stable of standard Redbreast whiskies (i.e., the 12, 12 Cask Strength, 15 and 21 year olds).

The concept behind this new expression is interesting. Irish Distillers (who own Redbreast) have a close relationship with the sherry maker Bodegas Lustau in Jerez, Spain. For this release, they prepared customs casks from a local cooperage in Jerez, which first held Bodegas Lustau’s popular Oloroso sherry. The sourced Redbreast whisky for this expression comes from a mix of ex-bourbon barrels and sherry casks, blended together and finished in these Lustau first-fill sherry butts for one additional year.

It has been widely reported online that the base Redbreast spirit is between 9 and 12 years old for this expression.  Bottled at 46% ABV, Redbreast Lustau is not chill-filtered, and no color has been added (which are always appreciated). Although not listed yet in inventory for the LCBO, I recently spotted it as a local store for $90 CAD (which is $10 more than the standard 12 yo).

Let’s see how it compares to the other Redbreasts in my Meta-Critic database, and some of the other wine cask-finished Irish whiskeys:

Redbreast 21yo: 9.20 ± 0.33 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast Lustau Edition: 8.87 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast Mano a Lámh: 8.66 ± 0.44 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast All Sherry Single Cask 1999: 8.43 ± 0.90 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Redbreast 12yo Cask Strength: 9.03 ± 0.32 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.73 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)

Bushmills Sherry Cask Reserve: 8.20 ± 0.42 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 14yo Twin Wood: 8.12 ± 0.69 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Knappogue Castle 16yo Twin Wood: 8.79 ± 0.48 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Silver Reserve 21yo Sauternes Finish: 8.90 ± 0.33 on 10 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.47 ± 0.27 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Madeira Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.39 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.54 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Sherry Cask Finish: 8.32 ± 0.16 on 5 reviews ($$$$)

Although based on only 6 reviews above, the Lustau is more than holding its own against the standard 12 yo – and is scoring quite highly for the class overall.

Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Slightly darker than the standard 12 year old, with a bit more of a reddish hue that the usual Redbreast golden tones.

Nose: Definite sherry cask finishing, with chocolate, raisins, prunes and dates. Brown sugar and honey, with a bit of marzipan. Light fruits are still there, especially apple (think stewed apples). Some citrus (orange). Black licorice (anise) and a bit of cinnamon.  I previously speculated there was some sherry cask in the 12 yo mix, but this definitely amps it up. It is not a “sherry bomb” though, and the integration of sherry notes to the base Redbreast character seems good.  A faint hint of solvent, less noticeable than the 12 yo (likely due to the extra layering of sherry sweetness).

Palate: Sweet, in a honeyed way, with raisins and dates adding richness. Definite chocolate and nougat – almost candy bar like. Candied orange peel now. Oakiness comes through as well, with some spice – plus vanilla added to the cinnamon. Despite the higher ABV, it seems to have a less oily mouthfeel than the 12 yo – more like whipped frosting instead of the usual creaminess. Some of the classic Redbreast character may be subdued (i.e., less nutty here), but the effect is still pleasant, with more added than lost.

Finish: Moderately long, but fairly light. You get persistent sweetness and spice – and a rising flat cola effect that I first noted on the 12 yo.  Some woody bitterness picks up, but it is less noticeable than the 12yo (again, likely due to the extra sherry sweetness here).  Not particularly complex, but decent for the class.

Finishing in sherry casks can be a double-edge sword. For a base spirit with substantial character, it brings in additional notes and sweetness. But for a delicate base spirit, it can drown out the subtleties that provide identity (see for example my recent review of Westland American single malts).

Redbreast Lustau

Redbreast Lustau

The classic “sticky” single pot still character of Redbreast is able to hold its own here pretty well.  It does seem to be lacking a few of the classic Redbreast features (i.e., the “tropical fruits” and nuttiness). But personally, I never found a lot of tropical fruit in the 12 yo any way (although I do detect them big-time in the 21 yo).

Perrsonally, I find this treatment has added rather than subtracted from the standard 12 yo expression. In a structured tasting alongside the 12 yo, this would be a great way to showcase the effect of additional sherry finishing. The higher ABV here (46% on the Lustau, compared to 40% on the 12 yo) is also helping with a greater flavour experience overall on the Lustau. Head-to-head, I expect most would prefer the Lustau (I know I do).

As an aside to how quaffable this new expression is, I actually drained the glass before I thought to add water!  So I had to pour a second one to experiment. 😉 Water quickly dulls the nose, and if anything accentuates the solvent note. In the mouth, it further lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring out anything new. Fairly neutral on the finish.  As a result, I recommend you sample Lustau neat.

The persistent bitterness in the finish of the 12 yo was always a bit of a turn-off for me on that expression (and so, I personally ranked it a little lower than the Meta-Critic average). Although there are only a few reviews of the Lustau so far, the average score presented here is quite high, and in keeping with what I would give this expression. Nice to see a NAS expression that brings something new to the table!

There aren’t many reviews of this one out there yet, but I recommend you check out Josh the Whiskey Jug, Jonny of Whisky Advocate and Ruben of Whisky Notes for very positive reviews. Richard of the Whiskey Reviewer gives it a below average score for the class.

Westland American Single Malts

Westland is a relatively new American whiskey maker, based in Seattle, Washington state. Rather than try to compete with the established US bourbon makers, they have opted instead to focus on a distinctive style of single malt whisky.

For this review, I’m going to look at their core range of single malts, as well as their most recent special release.

I recently had a tour of the distillery, and discovered that Westland malts and distills their own custom mashbill blend of five distinct types of barley – Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, and Brown Malt. They use a Belgian “brewer’s yeast”, which is a different strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae than the ubiquitous type M distiller’s yeast that Scottish distillers use. Check out Whisky Science if you want to know all about yeast strains and whisky making.

Here are the wash still, spirit still and spirit safe, from the tour:

Westland1

The Westland custom copper pot still design is also rather unusual, and looks a bit like a hybrid of a traditional pot still and a continuous column still (see close-up photos below). I gather they run it in different modes, on occasion.

Westland0

Another area of distinctiveness is barrelling. Unlike old world malts – and much like other American whiskeys – most of the Westland distillate goes into charred virgin American oak barrels.  Along with the other characteristics above, this makes for a distinctive product they like to call an “American single malt” (not that any such term has legal standing at present).

Of course, another reason for this virgin barrel selection is so that they can offer fairly young malt whiskies for sale. If they used ex-bourbon barrels for their core range (as is the case for most Scottish malts), they would presumably have to wait much longer before they produced a drinkable product. Check out my source of whisky flavour page for an explanation of what barreling adds to a whisky.

As an aside, I gather an increasing portion of their production is currently going into the ex-bourbon barrels, as they plan for the future. They also age some spirit in sherry casks, as I will describe below. And they have been experimenting with barrels of Garry oak (Quercus garryana), a species of white oak native to the Pacific Northwest.

Note that the French drinks group Rémy Cointreau (current owners of Bruichladdich) have recently acquired Westland. This suggests we will see a ramp up in production over the coming years, with greater brand awareness for Westland (and the American single malt category in general).

Let’s see how the core lines compare to other North American malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Balcones Texas Single Malt: 8.67 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.68 ± 0.25 on 3 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.19 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 8.01 ± 0.46 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Battle of the Glen: 8.52 ± 0.28 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
High West Campfire: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt: 8.26 ± 0.40 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.46 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Garryana: 8.66 ± 0.07 on 3 reviews ($$$$$)
Westland Peated: 8.53 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Westland Sherry Wood: 8.30 ± 0.56 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Although the number of reviews are typically low for this class, the various Westland expressions seem to score toward the higher end of the group.

Now, on to a description of each of the various Westland whiskies, and my personal tasting notes:


Westland American Oak

This uses their standard 5-malt mashbill. It is aged for 2-3 years in mainly charred virgin American oak barrels, with some proportion of first-fill ex-bourbon. Bottled at 46% ABV. You could consider it their standard, base offering.

Nose:  Caramel and vanilla are prominent (as you might expect from the virgin oak). Cinnamon. Lightly fruity, but nothing specific initially stands out (on repeated sampling, I started to find banana and citrus). Creamy. Seems young (not surprisingly), with classic acetone notes – but as bad as I expected for the age. Water brings up the baking spice further, and the sweetness.

Palate: Butterscotch picks up now, joining the caramel. Hint of cherries, but still not a lot of specific fruit. Boston cream pie. Texture is a touch waxy, and a bit light overall. With a little water, whisky gets a bit more chewy (which is good). Of course, sweetness picks up too.

Finish: Medium length. Surprisingly, some new elements pick up now that I wasn’t really getting on the nose and palate – particularly citrus (lemon and orange zest) and menthol.

This is better than I expected, given the age. There are less off-notes than other young whiskies I’ve come across, and a bit of complexity comes across in the palate and finish that wasn’t initially present on the nose.  I think the Meta-Critic average score for this expression is fair.


Westland Sherry Wood

This uses the same distillate as the American Oak, based on the standard 5-malt mashbill. I originally expected that they used the same barrels from above and simply finished for a period of extra time in sherry casks (i.e., the label describes them as “matured in sherry casks”).  But according to the tour, this expression is actually a vatting of the base spirit that was aged 50% in sherry casks (a combination of PX and Oloroso), and 50% in virgin American oak (i.e, same as the standard American Oak series). Again, aged for 2-3 years, and similarly bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Sweet barley notes, moreso than the American Oak. Dried dark fruits. Indeed, nose is very dry, suggesting a larger Oloroso component. That said, I do get some pancake/maple syrup notes as well, which could be from the PX. No real off notes, as these are hidden under the syrup.

Palate: Very syrupy, and less fruity. It is much sweeter tasting than the nose suggested. Getting some chocolate now, and some Graham crackers. But it feels like much of the complexity of the American Oak is lost in the mix, with the overwhelming sweetness.

Finish: Medium-ish, but very simple. Very sweet coating left on the tongue (and not much else).

Upon making the comment about how the nose seems biased more toward Oloroso, my tour guide responded that the early batches were mainly Pedro Ximénez, but currently they are using predominantly Oloroso in the mix for Sherry Wood.

Overall, this reminds me a bit of the new Pike Creek rum finish in Canada – it lacks complexity, and the subtle notes of the base spirit are drowned out by an overwhelming sweetness.  Not particularly my cup of tea, so I would rate this one slightly lower than the base American Oak (as do most of the reviewers, it seems). But if you like a sweeter rum-like finishing, this could suit you.


Westland Peated

Although Westland has found a domestic source of Washington state peat, it has taken them some time to get the whole process up and running. So all the peated expressions currently for sale stem from the original peated Scottish malt they sourced directly from the highlands (didn’t jot down the name, but it was near Inverness, apparently). The heavily peated malt distillate is mixed with spirit from some of their standard American 5-malt, making a lightly peated final product. They age this mix in a combination of virgin American oak and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Similarly aged 2-3 years, and bottled at 46% ABV.

Nose: Light smoke, with some sweet peat. Some lighter fruits, like pear and apple, and citrus. Vanilla and caramel. Pleasant enough, with no real off notes.

Palate: More peat shows up on palate, sweetened by the vanilla and caramel. Light smoke turns more to savory BBQ mesquite now. Actually makes you kind of hungry for BBQ ribs.  A bit nutty. Don’t add water, as it lightens and dulls it immediately.

Finish: Medium. Peat is earthier on the way out, with some iodine notes and tongue tingle. Some fruit returning at the end as well.

A blend with a bit of Springbank comes to mind, as it has that sweet peat characteristic that turns toward iodine over time.  I would personally put this at least on par with the American Oak for its overall character and quality. My only complaint is that it is very lightly peated – it may benefit when the domestic Westland peated malt comes online.


Westland Winter 2016 (Special Release)

I also had the option to try one of their special releases, and opted to go for this one (sadly, Garryana 2016 was already sold out). The Winter edition is a blend of nine casks – mainly ex-bourbon, one sherry ex-Oloroso hogshead (filled with peated malt), and an ex-Westland cask. The resulting grain bill is a bit different, coming out as 65% Washington Select Pale Malt, 14% standard 5-Malt, and 21% Baird’s Heavily Peated Malt. Aged just under 3 years, and bottled at a higher 50% ABV.

Nose: Similar light peatiness as the standard Westland Peated expression. Seems a bit less smokey – but that may be because the sherry notes are dominating.  I get apple and raisins.  Promising, but I’d like to see a bit more character here.

Palate: Sweeter on the palate again, with some syrupy notes (just as I found on the Sherry Wood). Smoke stays in the background, and never really crystallizes into a defined presence, unfortunately. A bit watery in texture for 50% ABV, with no real burn. Was hoping for a more chewy texture.

Finish: Medium short-ish.  It seems like both the peat and sherry are diluted here, and I’m still not getting much of the base spirit complexity.

This vatting doesn’t really seem to add anything to the standard Sherry Wood and Peated expressions – in essence, it tastes like a combination of them.  And like in the Sherry Wood, the sherry seems to be diminishing the base spirit rather than enhancing it.  So I would personally have to give this a slightly lower score than the standard Peated (but still better than the regular Sherry Wood).


WestlandI was impressed with these early offerings from Westland, and to look forward to what is coming next. The base American Single Malt has an interesting malted barley mashbill, with above-average character.

It will be particularly interesting to see how their domestic peat experiment turns out.  Aged in some of their native Garry oak barrels, this could indeed be a very distinctive American single malt.

For reviews of the Westland single malts in general, you could check out the guys at Quebec Whisky, or the reviewers of Whiskey Reviewer and Whiskey Wash. Typically lower scoring are the reviewers of Whisky Advocate.

J.P. Wiser’s Legacy

A tremendous oversight on my part, but I realize that I never reviewed Wiser’s Legacy.  Allow me to correct that here.

“Legacy” is a tribute to one of the final recipes of Wiser’s founder, J.P. Wiser. Today, Wiser’s (owned by Corby, and produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario) is one of the largest producers of Canadian whisky.

A blended rye whisky, Legacy is made from a combination of unmalted rye grain, rye malt, and barley malt, all distilled in copper pot stills.  Indeed, the previously-reviewed Corby Lot 40 (a straight 100% rye whisky of malted and unmalted rye) is believed to be a key component of the mix.

Presumably, they are blending in some malted barley to increase the complexity of the resulting product. I’ve also read that the oak barrels used for aging are only toasted, not charred (helping to enhance the woody flavours that can resemble rye spices). The end result is a very rye-forward whisky, compared to many of the somewhat tepid Canadian “rye whiskies” out there.

Unusually, Legacy is bottled at 45% ABV. That is a welcomed change for a Canadian whisky (i.e., they rarely deviate from 40%), and a sign of Legacy’s premium stature. Indeed, it was one of the first examples of the new breed of premium Canadian products when it was first released over five years. The playing field is more crowded now, but Legacy still holds its own very well, as you can see by its very high score in my Meta-Critic database, for a Canadian whisky:

Canadian Rockies 21yo (Batch 1/2): 8.98 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel 8.59: ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.53 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (Batch C, D): 8.98 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.04 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.90 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.64 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.36 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.87 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 8.89: ± 0.40 on 19 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.84 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$$)

For the last several years, it has been available at the stable price of $50 CAD at the LCBO (a relatively premium price for Canadian whisky, but still reasonable).

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Big bold nose, with caramel, vanilla, honey and candied cinnamon (i.e., those red Sweddish fish candies from childhood). Not a lot of fruit, but some citrus and dried banana chips. There is a light corn syrupy undertone, but with oaky elements. A bit of barrel char (oddly enough). Slight floral quality. Bolder nose than Lot 40. Touch of acetone unfortunately, indicating the likely young age of that barley malt in the mix.

Palate: Strong hit of those vanilla/caramel notes to start, with a light fruitiness (apple, pear, lemon and that banana note again). Good mouthfeel and texture, creamy almost. Strong set of rye spices on the way out – cinnamon and cloves in particular – plus some ginger and black pepper. This has definitely got a nice hit of spice and heat, consistent with the 45% ABV.

Wisers.LegacyFinish: Medium-long (for a Canadian whisky). Surprisingly dry initially, with some oaky bitterness – but it is not offensive. It is also well-matched to the persistent fruity sweetness (which actually seems to increase with time). The initial dryness makes you want to grab another sip, and the lingering light sweetness is a pleasant surprise. Some soft rye spices on the way out.

There is a reason this scores so highly in the Meta-Critic database – it is a flavour-packed rye whisky.  While it lacks the elegance of Lot 40 (and has a few off-notes on the nose), it makes up for these with a whallop of character on the palate and finish. It makes for a great sipper, with above average complexity. Indeed, I think it really is a showcase for how Canadian whisky can actually have some flavour.

This gets very high scores from Jason of In Search of Elegance, Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky, Chip the RumHowler, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Serge of Whisky Fun, and Jim Murray. More moderate scores are from the rest of the boys at Quebec Whisky, and a couple of the Reddit reviewers. But I’ve yet to see an actual negative review of this whisky.

Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve

Now here’s an interesting idea – engineer a whisky specifically formulated to appeal to those who like to smoke a cigar will sipping on one.

Dalmore is not particularly popular with malt enthusiasts, although I’ve known a few casual whisky drinkers who like them.  They historically have straddled a wide range, with ultra-high-end aged expressions, and relatively low-cost expressions (particularly the previous 12 year old and original Cigar Malt). I think their focus on relatively sherried vattings has helped their general market appeal.

In recent years, their star has fallen as the entry levels have lost age statements and risen in price (and dropped in perceived quality). Specifically, the Cigar Malt was discontinued in 2009, and replaced with a slightly more expensive (but lower ranked) “Gran Reserva” shortly thereafter.  They then subsequently discontinued the Gran Reserva and re-introduced a much more expensive “Cigar Malt Reserve” version in 2011. This time period coincides with their switch to a number of no-age-statement expressions (e.g. Valour), which have not been warmly received.

As an aside, I gather there was (and still is) some confusion with the Cigar Malt name, as it might make you think that tobacco was involved in the malting. Rest assured it wasn’t – these are as far removed from a smokey whisky as you can find. The point is that they are supposed to pair well with a cigar.

As I understand it, the original Cigar Malt sat between the original 12 and 15 year old expressions, in terms of both price and the age profiles of the whiskies that went into the blend. The current Reserve release is supposedly re-worked from older stocks, and is sold at a considerably inflated price (currently retails for $180 CAD at the LCBO, which is very premium for a NAS). It has also been upped to 44% ABV (from the original 40%).

This new Cigar Malt Reserve is believed to be a 70% vatting of Oloroso sherry casks, with the rest coming from American white oak ex-bourbon barrels, and finished to some degree in Cabernet Sauvingon barrels. Originally the Cigar Malt Reserve was intended as a limited release, but it seems to still be commonly available today. I sample this one at a bar in Oslo, Norway.

Let’s see how Dalmore does in my Meta-Critic database:

Dalmore 12yo: 8.43 ± 0.27 on 16 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore 15yo: 8.36 ± 0.52 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt: 8.53 ± 0.44 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.32 ± 0.64 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Gran Reserva: 8.06 ± 0.39 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Dalmore King Alexander III: 8.32 ± 0.34 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Valour: 8.07 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, all the common Dalmore expressions get below-average scores in my database (note that the overall average for the single malt class is currently ~8.6). They also tend to be rather expensive now. Also, note that the Cigar Malt Reserve has a higher than typical variation as well – which is always an interesting point to explore.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the Cigar Malt Reserve:

Nose: Creamy nose, very biscuity. Caramel and tons of brown sugar – among the most I’ve nosed. Some sherry dark fruits (figs especially, and cherries), but not very fruity overall (although it may be buried under the brown sugar). Cinnamon. Strong Christmas cake impression. Water heightens the fruitiness further – although its odd to come across such a big, sweet, flavour-packed nose with so little overt fruit.

Palate: Caramel again, moving more towards toffee now. Citrus (orange peel) and some lighter fruits (pear and apple) join the classic sherry fruit notes. I was hoping the baking spices would pick up further, but it is really only lightly spiced. Mouthfeel is ok, but palate is lighter than expected overall, and not very complex. Don’t add water – it dulls the palate even further (although it helps bring up the fruit slightly). Honestly, a bit of a let-down after such a strong come-on with the nose.

Finish: Shortish, and fairly simple. That citrusy bitterness builds, but the overall effect is still caramel/brown sugar sweetness. Water shortens the finish further – don’t do it.

Dalmore.Cigar.Malt.ReserveThis is actually a hard one to score. While it has a bold (and crowd-pleasing) opening on the nose and initial palate, it fizzles out quickly on the late palate and the finish. Not being a cigar smoker, I don’t know how well this would pair with a stoagie. But as a stand-alone malt, it is likely to leave you somewhat wanting – it over-promises and under-delivers.

As such, I can understand now why the Meta-Critic standard deviation is so high. But at the end of the day, I think the overall average score is reasonable. You may find this to be a step-up from many of the entry level expressions of similar style – but not by much (and certainly not worth the price differential). Personally, I would give it a middle-of-the-road score, slightly up from the current Meta-Critic average (i.e., something closer to the original Cigar Malt average score).

The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve went over very well with Nathan the Scotch Noob and Gavin Smith of Whisky Advocate, with top scores from both. Serge of Whisky Fun, Jan of Best Shot Whisky and Andre of Quebec Whisky all give it mid-range scores. But Patrick of Quebec Whisky hated it, as did Jim Murray.

Amrut Portonova Single Malt

Amrut is the biggest name in Indian whiskies. And like Japan and Taiwan before it, they are now garnering all sorts of awards and enthusiast interest. For this review, I am looking at their cask-strength, port-finished single malt – Portonova.

I’m long been a fan of port-finished whiskies. I find it adds a distinctive grape-like fruitiness to most whiskies, that differs from the more common sherry fortified wine-finished ones.

I previously reviewed the Amrut Intermediate Sherry – which is a bit of a misnomer (check out that review for my comments). Let’s see how Portonova compares to it and other recent Amrut whiskies, as well as other port-finished malts, in my Meta-Critic whisky database:

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.73 ± 0.32 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 23 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.90 ± 0.42 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.97 ± 0.24 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.63 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Peated Single Malt Cask Strength: 9.13 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.97 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.82 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.79 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum: 9.15 ± 0.22 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)

Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.58 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.50 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port: 8.92 ± 0.28 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.27 ± 0.55 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2013 Port Wood: 8.82 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Port Cask: 8.70 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Talisker Port Ruighe: 8.49 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.56 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, Portonova is one of the more popular Amrut whiskies – and one that out-scores the other port-finished malts in my database. A very impressive start.

My sample came from Redditor Devoz. It is bottled at a very high 62.1% ABV, cask-strength. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very fruity, with grape, raisins and berries. Dark chocolate. Pancake syrup. Toasted coconut. Dry malt. Definite nose-hair burn from the high ABV. Water dulls the nose, best to smell this one neat (carefully).

Palate: Intense flavour rush. Same dark chocolate and dark fruits from the nose, with new flavours like red currants, papaya, kiwi. Very luscious mouthfeel, like a melted Mackintosh toffee bar. Spicy kick, mainly allspice and cinnamon. Alcohol burn from the high ABV.  Unless you want to take ridiculous small sips, water is a definite must here. A tiny bit of water seems to bring up the spicy notes the most, without affecting the other flavours. Further dilution kills the mouthfeel though, and quickly starts to sap the flavours, so go sparingly here.Amrut.Portonova

Finish: Long finish, with creamy toffee throughout. Slow fade-out of the fruity notes, leaving just a touch of bitter coffee at the very end. Too much water oddly enhances the bitterness of the finish, so I again suggest you go easy on the H2O.

Not exactly your every day dram, given its incredibly rich flavour profile and mouthfeel.  It is also a lot spicier than most port-finished whiskies I’ve tried (e.g., the Kavalan Concertmaster is a tame affair, in comparison). And with its high ABV, this one demands a little water – but I find getting the dilution just right is pretty finicky.  Definitely a whisky for slow contemplation, and very careful dilution.

Among the highest reviews I’ve seen for this whisky come from the guys on Reddit (check out their Community Review). My Annoying Opinions and Serge of Whisky Fun are also really big fans. Nathan the ScotchNoob is moderately positive. The guys at Quebec Whisky are mixed on this one though, with high, moderate and low scores.

Midleton Very Rare 2015

Midleton Very Rare is a premium blended Irish whiskey, produced by Irish Distillers at the New Midleton Distillery (located in the East Cork town of Midleton, not surprisingly). Midleton is a storied named in Irish whiskey production, and this whisky is distilled at the same location as the well-known Jameson’s family (among many others).

As the name suggests, Midleton Very Rare is produced in limited batches, and in a vintage year manner. It is a blend consisting of some single pot still whisky and some grain whisky, all triple-distilled. Only 50 hand-picked casks are used for each year’s release, making this relatively rare indeed. Although this is a no-age-statement (NAS) whisky, all casks are reported to be aged between 12 and 25 years, matured in either ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry casks.

Since each year is a new defined vintage, each differs slightly and has its own character (within the overall profile range). Consistently bottled at 40% ABV, each bottle has a unique identifier and is presented in a nice wooden case. It is currently available at the LCBO for $215 CAD.  So something to consider as a higher-end gift for the Irish whiskey drinker this holiday season!

Given its limited availability, I have integrated all vintages into one general category (to provide a meaningful reviewer number). Here is how it compares to some higher-end Irish whiskeys:

Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Bushmills 21yo Single Malt: 8.92 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.45 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton: 8.73 ± 0.40 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson 12yo Special Reserve: 8.36 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Jameson Gold Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Midleton Dair Ghaelach: 9.10 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Midleton Very Rare (all vintages): 8.82 ± 0.45 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo Reserve: 8.60 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.79 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.72 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 21yo: 9.18± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Tullamore Dew Blended 12yo: 8.09 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still: 8.47 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.76 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

Middleton Very Rare gets a good score for an Irish whiskey – but it is also fairly expensive for this class, and there are cheaper options available for roughly equivalent ratings.

I recently sampled this from a friend’s bottle, brought back directly from Ireland (newly opened for the evening).

Nose: Starts with classic light honey sweetness, as is common to many Irish whiskies, supplemented with whipped cream. Noticeable caramel. Apple and pear fruits dominate, but there are also hints of sherry aging, with red plums and dark berries. Classic “Juicy Fruit” gum sensation. Vanilla and some of the lighter cooking spices (nutmeg especially). Faint whiff of acetone, but much less than what I normally detect for Irish whiskies (and Canadian whiskies for that matter). Great nose for sure.

Palate: Similar fruits as the nose, but with sweet cereal characteristics coming to the fore now. Creamed wheat sensation. The caramel and vanilla from the nose are here, accentuated with some additional light chocolate notes. Hay and a generally floral characteristic (that I can’t quite identify). Silky mouthfeel, extremely “smooth” to drink (given the low 40% ABV). Absolutely no alcohol burn. More character than your typical blended Irish whisky, but still easy drinking.

midleton-very-rare-2015Finish: Medium. The Juicy Fruit gum and woody/spicy notes persist the longest. My only regret here is that it isn’t longer!

Profile-wise, the Midleton Very Rare is exactly what I like to see in an Irish blend. It is a virtually flawless presentation of this style, with more complexity than usual. Tasty, with few off notes. Unfortunately, it is pretty pricey – and is only bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV.

For reviews of this whisky, please keep in mind that different vintages are being considered below. Among the most positive reviews I’ve seen are Jonny of Whisky Advocate, Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer, Thomas of Whisky Saga, and Josh the Whiskey Jug. More moderate praise comes from Serge of Whisky Fun, with the lowest scores from the guys at Quebec Whisky. and Jim Murray (although the latter is variable, depending on vintage). Price seems to be an issue for many reviewers.

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon

Among enthusiasts, W.L. Weller 12 Years has long been considered the “poor man’s Pappy”.  That is, until the general public also started seeing it that way.  Here’s a recent depressing chart from Diving for Pearls, showing how the U.S. after-market price of W.L. Weller 12 has increased almost 10-fold in the last two years.

It’s pretty wild to see a $26 USD bourbon climb into the stratosphere so quickly.  But keep in mind, the after-market price of Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B is more than 3 times higher than W.L. Weller 12 yo, at current levels.

As discussed in my Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old review, the Weller and Van Winkle brands share the same basic DNA. They are produced by the same distiller, share the exact same “wheated” mashbill, are aged in the same manner in the same warehouses, and are diluted to the same final proof.  And in this particular case, they are also aged the same amount of time – to a minimum of 12 years.

So the difference here comes down to just barrel selection – the premium barrels from the best parts of the warehouse get blended into Van Winkle 12 Year Lot B each year, and the rest becomes Weller 12.  You would therefore naturally assume that these are not very different (and hence, the incredible run-up in Weller 12 prices in recent years  given the current Pappy craze).

But keep in mind barrel selection can make quite a difference – just look at how single cask offerings compare to standard vatted products. Removing all those premium barrels could in theory impoverish the remaining “failed Pappy” vatting of Weller 12 significantly.  Does it?  Let’s take a look at the current Meta-Critic average scores for these whiskies in my Whisky Database:

Old Weller Antique 107: 8.66 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.86 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.19 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)

Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.05 ± 0.20 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.76 ± 0.18 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15yo: 9.28 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$$+)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 20yo: 9.20 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

Unlike the Old Rip 10 and OWA comparison (where the Van Winkle expression gets a higher average score), there doesn’t seem to be much of a score difference between W.L. Weller 12 yo and Van Winkle 12 yo. Indeed, the Weller 12 is actually scoring higher on average. But keep in mind there are still relatively few reviews of the hard-to-find Van Winkle 12 (and so, these numbers could change as more reviews come in).

Having recently reviewed the Old Weller Antique 107 Proof (OWA), I thought it would be useful to frame my Weller 12 tasting notes in that context.  Again, while all these products share a common mashbill, OWA is much younger (estimated to be 6-7 years old), and bottled at 53.5% ABV – compared to Weller 12 yo at 45% ABV. As Weller 12 has spent about twice as long in oak barrels, it should pack a different flavour profile.

My sample was supplied Reddit member Lasidar. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Not as sweet as Old Weller Antique 107 (OWA), with more caramel and less vanilla. More dark fruits, like cherry but also blackberry. Not quite as creamy, but it does have more wood spice and some definite leather now (which I like). These presumably reflect its extended time in contact with the oak.  I’m not getting any solvent notes – that extra time in the barrel must also have helped those blow off.

Palate: Caramel of course, but more refined than the OWA (with less ethanol burn, naturally). Strong fruit presence coming through, along with wood spices and baking spices, plus a bit of pepper. Seems less like a dessert whisky now, with a richer range of woody flavours.  A bit drying as well. Weller 12 definitely tastes its age – a sipper to ponder over.

Finish: Medium-Long. First up are the wood spices, then returning to the caramel, and finally the different fruit flavours (like above, but I’m also getting some pear now). These seem to come and go with time, often returning to the caramel backbone. Dryer than I would have expected (i.e., more astringent).

weller-12Definitely a more complex whisky than the Old Weller Antique 107. The Weller 12 is more drying than I expected, and with less sweetness than typical for a wheater.  It is also a lot more oaky (as expected).

W.L. Weller 12 seems like a whisky for slow contemplation, compared to the instant gratification of the higher proof and younger OWA. I recommend you try the Weller 12 neat, and take your time to let it open up in the glass. Assuming you can still find it at a reasonable price somewhere, that is.

Interestingly, due to the differing profiles, some people like to blend Weller 12 and Old Weller Antique for the ultimate “poor man’s Pappy”.  Specifically, a 60:40 blend of OWA:Weller 12 has been proposed online.  Here’s what I find when I blended a portion of my samples at this ratio (left to marry in the bottle for several weeks before trying):

Nose: Closer to the OWA profile, but with only the faintest hint of the solvent.  Seems like a good balance in-between the two, but I wish more of the Weller 12’s spicey notes would show through. Some extra brown sugar.

Palate: Sweet, with lots of honey and caramel. A bit hot, it seems more like the OWA initially. The Weller 12 helps bring up the spiciness at the mid-point (but without the astringency). If you are not a fan of the dry, oaky palate of the Weller 12, this may be your best choice of the three.

Finish: Not to sound like a broken record, but again this fits in-between. Doesn’t seem to have quite as much variety or complexity as the straight-up Weller 12, but it lacks its drying finish.

So, is the sum of the parts really greater than the individual components?  The answer depends on how you feel about OWA compared to Weller 12.

For OWA fans who find Weller 12 too dry and oaky, this blend does indeed outperform each member individually.  You get to keep a lot of the brasher in-your-face characteristics of OWA, but complimented with additional spicy flavour elements from the Weller 12 (especially mid-palate). I can see those who rate OWA higher than Weller 12 could well prefer this blend above either alone.

But for those who prefer the more complex Weller 12 over the youthful exuberance of OWA, the blend is likely to be seen as diluting the best aspects of Weller 12.  As my tasting notes above show, the blend really is intermediate between the two.  If (like me), you would rank Weller 12 above OWA, then the blend falls somewhere in-between.

I recommend you check out my OWA review for additional commentary.  For the Weller 12, the highest-ranked review I’ve seen comes from Josh the Whiskey Jug.  More typical reviews come from Nathan the Scotch Noob, Jason of In Search of Elegance/Whisky Won, and Jim Murray. The lowest score I’ve seen is probably from Michael of Diving for Pearls.

Amrut Spectrum

Amrut Spectrum is a unique whisky science experiment.

Whisky is aged in wood containers (typically called barrels, casks, or butts), usually made from some type of oak. As I explain in my Source of Whisky Flavour, the complex interaction with wood over time imparts a lot of the main characteristics to the final product.

But there is more than just time involved. The barrels can be made of different types of oak, which affects the final flavour. And they may be virgin wood (with the internal surface potentially charred to varying levels), or used barrels having previously contained other spirits (e.g. various types of fortified wine, other whiskies, etc.). The whisky can be transferred from one type of cask into another during aging, to introduce additional flavours (referred to as “finishing”). In the end, it can be bottled from a single cask – but more commonly, it is from a vatting of multiple casks (often including different cask styles).

Amrut Spectrum is something unique – a true single cask, yet reflecting multiple sources of wood. The base spirit spent 3 years in traditional ex-Bourbon oak barrels before being transferred into a single custom barrel for another 3.5 years.  This unique custom barrel was built using the staves of 5 different kinds of barrels: new American Oak with moderate charring, new French Oak with light toasting, new Spanish Oak with light toasting, ex-Oloroso Sherry staves, and ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry staves.

In case you are wondering about the young age, the hot and humid climate of India results in accelerated aging compared to cool climes (at least for many of the characteristics of wood aging). See my Amrut Fusion review for a discussion.

Diluted to 50% ABV, only 1000 bottles of Amrut Spectrum were produced from this single barrel. I managed to pick one of these up in my travels.

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

Amrut Bourbon Single Cask: 8.75 ± 0.33 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Fusion: 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Greedy Angels: 9.29 ± 0.30 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Amrut Intermediate Sherry: 8.93 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Kadhambam: 8.98 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Naarangi: 8.61 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portonova: 8.99 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut PX Sherry Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Amrut Two Continents: 8.80 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, Spectrum gets the second highest score for an Amrut whisky, second only to Greedy Angels.

Here is how it compares to some other single malts in flavour cluster C (i.e., complex whiskies that are not heavily winey or peaty):

Amrut Spectrum: 9.12 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Balvenie 17yo Doublewood: 8.72 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Bunnahabhain 18yo: 8.99 ± 0.16 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve: 8.26 ± 0.66 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glengoyne 18yo: 8.56 ± 0.41 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Glenlivet Nadurra 16yo: 8.86 ± 0.19 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Glenmorangie Companta: 8.85 ± 0.57 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
Highland Park 18yo: 9.12 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Yamazaki 18yo: 9.16 ± 0.21 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)

Spectrum is holding pretty close to the Highland Park 18 yo and Yamazaki 18 yo, which are among the top whiskies in this class.

Let’s see what I found in the glass. To start, the colour is more rosewood than the typical mahogany of sherry cask-aged tropical whiskies.

Nose: Incredibly complex, and a study in contrasts – dry at times, yet also juicy, with a lot going on. On the fruit side, mainly plums, figs, raisins and oranges (plus a few mixed berries, including strawberry). Milk chocolate and cocoa powder. Earthy, with dry tobacco and fresh leather. Woody without being “oaky” – more like polished hardwood. Soft wood spice, coffee and bit of pepper. A faint hint of glue (but this is not objectionable).

Palate: Getting it all here. The sweet sherried fruitness of the nose kicks in first (plus some apple and pear now), but then quickly transitions to a more dry oaky mix. The oak definitely seems more prominent on the palate than the nose. Some sweet tropical fruits show up. Cinnamon sticks and nutmeg add to the spice and cocoa powder. Then on to moist earth and a bit of anise. Finally, and some mixed nuts – and that classic fortified wine rancio taste. What a ride! Thick and rich mouthfeel – luxurious, you just want to hold it in your mouth. No bitterness, but a slight sourness comes in at the end.

Finish: Long and lingering.  A good mix of dried fruit and wood spice, with a bit of chocolate orange. More sourness than bitterness. Slightly drying. A touch of cola comes up at the end. Very nice.

amrut-spectrumThis is genuinely hard to describe – so much is going on here. The closest comparison I can think of is a blend of the various Kavalan Solist single casks – but the Spectrum isn’t as drying, and is a bit sweeter than most. I suppose you could also think of it as a cross between an aged single cask Glendronach and one of their cask-strength vattings (but less sherried overall).

In essence, what you are getting here is the quality of a top-pick single cask AND the wide variety of flavours that can come from multiple types of wood finishing or selected vatting. In my experience, vattings of multiple wood finishes tend to lose some distinctiveness. But the Spectrum keeps each of these individual components, in good measure. The flavours truly come in waves, making this a unique and quality experience.

But don’t take my word for it. Thomas of Whisky Saga and Serge of Whisky Fun are both very positive for this whisky.  There are a couple of good reviews on Reddit, by Devoz and shane_il.  A bit more tempered (but still very positive) are Jason of In Search of Elegance and Oliver of Dramming/PourMeAnotherOne. Hopefully Amrut repeats this experiment so that more can try a bottle.

 

Old Weller Antique Original 107 Bourbon

The Weller line of wheated bourbons are extremely popular these days, thanks in part to their close relation to the infamous Van Winkle family of bourbons.

Bourbon is mandated by law to be at least 51% corn in the mashbill. Rye grain is the most common secondary ingredient in most bourbons, for flavouring. But Weller and the Van Winkles are examples of “wheaters”, where wheat is used as the main flavouring component. This tends to bring in a softer, more creamy sweetness and fruitness, compared to the “spicier” rye flavours.

Both the Weller and Van Winkle brands were originally owned by Stitzel-Weller, and both are currently owned Sazerac (produced by Buffalo Trace Distillery). There are four varieties of Weller: Special Reserve, Antique 107, 12 Year Old, and William Larue Weller. I’ll talk more about the Van Winkles in an upcoming review, but I thought I would start off this series with a review of Old Weller Antique Original 107 Proof.

Old Weller Antique (OWA) is essentially the same thing as their entry-level Special Reserve – except that it is bottled at a higher proof (107, or 53.5% ABV). Both of these bourbons used to carry an age statement – they no longer do, but they are still believed to be ~6-7 years old. OWA is not quite as widely available as Special Reserve, but it is not as hard to find as the rest of the line (a discussion for another review).

While on the topic, OWA should be pretty comparable in style to the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 yo. The only difference is the age and barrel selection – otherwise, it is the same mashbill, distilled and aged in the same manner (and location), and cut to the same 107 proof. I’ll be reviewing that Van Winkle in an upcoming review.

Let’s see how OWA compares to other Wellers (and younger Van Winkles) in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.49 0.36 10 reviews ($)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.26 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.04 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.77 ± 0.16 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)

It gets a respectable score for this family, intermediate to the Weller Special Reserve and 12 yo, as you might expect.

Now, let’s see how OWA compares to other entry-level bourbons:

Ancient Age: 7.64 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($)
Buffalo Trace: 8.57 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams (Black Label): 8.15 ± 0.44 on 14 reviews ($)
Four Roses (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($)
Four Roses Small Batch: 8.49 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$)
Jim Beam Black Label: 8.22 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($)
Jim Beam White Label: 7.62 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo: 8.60 ± 0.41 on 20 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.24 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.67 ± 0.45 on 9 reviews ($$)
Rebel Yell: 7.44 ± 0.47 on 9 reviews ($)
Very Old Barton: 8.44 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 81: 8.12 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($)
Wild Turkey 101: 8.48 ± 0.39 on 16 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: 8.74 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($$)

OWA gets one of the best scores for its price class. If you can find it at the standard price, it would seem to be an excellent choice.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, like vanilla icing on a caramel cake.  Light honey with hints of marzipan and whipped cream. Cherry. A bit of nutmeg. Unfortunately, it also has a general solvent smell which detracts for me. This likely reflects its young age.

Palate: Caramel comes first, followed by an extreme honey sweetness, which then fades back to that caramel after a few seconds. Fruits come next, mainly dark berries and some prunes and plums. Oak is in the background here. Has a silky texture (I’d say almost velvety). This is a hot one (ethanol heat), consistent with its 53.5% ABV – although it can still be drunk neat easily enough.

Finish: Medium. Oak comes through now, as well as some slow, lingering fruit. Brown sugar sweetness shows up now too.

owa-107Consistent with its reported 6-7 years, this is not a particularly complex bourbon. You are not getting a lot of oak here (beyond the usual caramel/vanilla), nor are you getting much in the way of the typical rye baking spices (as expected).

But for a fairly standard profile, it is done well. I often find wheaters a bit too sweet for me, with an almost artificial tinge. But there is at least none of that here – the sweetness is like all-natural honey, sprinkled with brown sugar.

It seems like an excellent value for the price. And given the higher proof, would likely be great in mixed drinks. For me personally, the solvent aromas bring it down a peg, and so I would score it just a bit lower than the Meta-Critic average.

For reviews of this bourbon, Josh of the Whiskey Jug is a big fan, as is Jim Murray. Most of the bourbon reviewers on the Reddit Whisky Network are similarly very positive (see for example Texacer and LetThereBeR0ck). There is also Eric of Breaking Bourbon. You don’t come across many negative reviews of this bourbon, but guys at Quebec Whisky are bit more moderate than those above.

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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