Tag Archives: NAS

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye

Hiram Walker & Sons is the largest distillery operating in Canada today, as well as the longest continuously operating distillery in North America. Indeed, according to one source, it may now actually be the largest single distiller in North America.

Located in Windsor, Ontario, Hiram Walker & Sons is currently owned by Pernod, and operated by Corby. This massive distillery produces many of the well-known Corby brands, such as Canadian Club, Gibson’s, Lot 40, and Wiser’s. According to Davin de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky Portable Expert, a significant proportion of their operation is sold as bulk whisky to US producers.

There is very little information about their namesake Special Old whisky available online. The only real info on the Corby website is a repeat of what is already shown on the bottle label – namely, that this is a Canadian rye whisky, and that Hiram Walker & Sons was established in 1858. Not exactly a lot to go on. According to Davin’s review at the Whisky Advocate, this whisky is only available in Canada.

Hiram Walker’s Special Old is an example of an ultra-low cost, entry-level Canadian whisky. You will consistently find this whisky sold at the lowest spirit “floor” price at the various Provincial liquor outlets. At the LCBO, that means you can pick up a standard 750mL bottle for ~$25 CAD. And like many of these entry-level whiskies, it is also available in a number of sizes (i.e., 200mL, 375mL, 750mL, 1140mL, 1750mL).  As you can tell from the image, packaging is very plain (and reminiscent of Alberta Premium, another entry-level whisky).

Here is how it compares to the other ultra-cheap, entry-level Canadian whiskies in my database:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.33 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($)
Canadian Club: 7.28 ± 0.87 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Mist: 7.61 ± 0.69 on 11 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old: 8.23 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.73 ± 0.79 on 9 reviews ($)
Seagram’s Canadian 83: 7.28 ± 0.90 on 7 reviews ($)
Schenley Golden Wedding: 8.02 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($)
Wiser’s DeLuxe: 8.14 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($)

As you can see, the average Meta-Critic score puts it at the top of the pack, along with Alberta Premium and Alberta Springs.

Note that it is bottled at the standard 40% ABV. My review sample came from a 200mL bottle. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose:  Rye spices are the first thing you notice, especially cinnamon and cloves. It has a pleasant fruitiness, with red apples, currants, and a bit of citrus. Some oaky vanilla, with a little caramel. Actually reminds me a bit of flat cola – but it’s not as sweet overall. There is a slight peppery spiciness, tingling the nose. Impressively, there are no obvious solvent notes – a rare find in a budget Canadian whisky. A pleasant surprise so far.

Palate: Very rye forward initially (led by cinnamon), but the kick fades quickly, leaving soft, lingering flavours. There is an almost immediate sweet creaminess that coats the tongue with vanilla/toffee, and some light fruitiness in the background. Overall rich, it leaves a nice buttery sensation on the lips and gums (though still a bit watery). It is not uniformly sweet though, as citrus and sour apple eventually take more prominence.  I would consider this fairly well balanced – it maintains distinctive individual flavours, and doesn’t blend them all together.

Finish:  Medium length for a Canadian rye, with some bitterness creeping in – but more like bitter chocolate than the typical bitter grapefruit of some Canadian blends.  I get the flat cola note again, with just a hint of the softer rye spices (maybe nutmeg) persisting to the end. Somewhat tannic, leading to a drying effect over time. Leads to a very cleansing finish, which gently encourages you to take another sip.

Hiram.Walker.Special.OldUPDATE JANUARY 2016: Like many bargain Canadian ryes, lot variation can be considerable on these.  I recently picked up a second bottle, and find the nose is muted in comparison, especially for the rye spices – and there is a distinct glue-like solvent smell now. The palate is generally similar, but feels “hotter” (i.e., more raw ethanol taste). Finish is comparable, although perhaps a touch less bitter (which would actually be an improvement).

I didn’t have high hopes for this whisky – I initially bought it as an impulse buy in the LCBO checkout line, as one more budget Canadian blend to try. But this is my favourite entry-level Canadian rye so far – easily exceeding all the entry versions of Alberta Premium, Canadian Club, Seagram’s and Wiser’s at this basement price point.

I even prefer the first batch of Hiram Walker over most of the second tier ~$30 CAD whiskies, like Crown Royal and Gibson’s 12. Indeed, I would almost place that batch on par with Canadian Club 100% Rye and Forty Creek’s Copper Pot – that is, among the best of the second tier whiskies.  The second batch is less interesting on the nose, but still matches anything else at the LCBO floor price.

For more reviews of this whisky, I recommend you check out Davin at the Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and Chip the RumHowler.  The highest score I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who seems to have a fondness for entry-level Canadian rye whiskies more generally). For less positive reviews, you can check out the guys at Quebec Whisky.  But for my money, Hiram Walker’s Special Old tops the list of entry-level budget Canadian whiskies.

 

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

Bain’s Cape Mountain whisky is a South African whisky, from the James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington. It is a pure “single grain” whisky (in this case, made exclusively from corn). It is produced in column stills, and matured in first-fill bourbon casks for a period of five years.

Until recently, it was relatively uncommon to find pure single grain whiskies bottled and sold to consumers. While column distillation is commonly used for both American bourbon and Canadian whisky, this tends to involve a mix of multiple grains (either at the time of distillation, during barreling, or at final blending). For scotch drinkers, most grain whiskies are used in “blends” – to provide a consistent sweetness and mouthfeel, and to help stretch out the smaller amount of the more distinctive (and expensive) malt whisky. See my single malt vs blend discussion here for more info on the typical processes.

Of course, one advantage to column-still whiskies is that they are a lot easier to produce (and can therefore can be sold a lot more cheaply). And as Japanese whisky makers have shown, careful barreling and aging practices can introduce some distinctive characteristics into these whiskies. That said, I find most single grain whiskies are fairly light. They thus compare most closely to some Irish whiskeys (which are traditionally pot distilled from both malted and unmalted barley), and some Canadian blended whiskies.

My recent positive experience with the Nikka Coffey Grain and Crown Royal Monarch (which uses a high proportion of Coffey still rye) encouraged me to seek out other column-still whiskies. Bain’s Cape is available locally at the LCBO for ~$48 CAD.  My review sample was provided by Reddit user Jolarbear.

Here is how Bain’s Cape compares to some similar grain and Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: 8.19 ± 0.54 on 7 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Original Blended: 7.73 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.29 ± 0.72 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 7 reviews ($$)
Jameson Irish Whiskey: 7.82 ± 0.58 on 17 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Nikka Coffey Grain: 8.66 ± 0.50 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.53 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.30 ± 0.37 on 16 reviews ($$)
Three Ships 5yo: 7.97 ± 0.50 on 8 reviews ($)
Tullamore Dew Blended: 7.76 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$)
Writers Tears: 8.50 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$)

As you can see from the high standard deviation above for Bain’s, there are a wide range of views on this whisky. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet, you can definitely smell the corn. In fact, it is hard to notice much else at first. A bit of light fruit, mainly apple and pear. Just a touch floral (i.e. perfumy). There are no real spices to speak of, but I do get a faint impression of cereal/baked pastries, with maybe some custard. Frankly, the overall impression is pleasant, but somewhat thin. There is a slight solvent aroma (acetone), but it is mild – which is impressive for a young grain whisky (i.e., some really suffer heavily with this).

Palate: Buttered-corn sweetness is the main initial characteristic, followed by some vanilla and caramel. The same apple and pear notes from the nose are here, albeit faintly. Slightly warming, but not really spicy. A bit more alcohol burn than I would have expected, even for a 43% ABV whisky. The creamy butteriness, when combined with that baked pastry note, brings to mind the strong image of shortbread cookies. A touch of bitterness creeps in at the end.

Finish: The finish is fairly short and thin – a common feature I find to most grain whiskies. The slight grapefruitty bitterness continues for some time, very reminiscent of some Canadian whiskies (i.e., standard Crown Royal). A gentle, simple sweetness is the main characteristic.

Bains.CapeNote that a few drops of water completely destroys the nose, and dulls the taste without helping tame the alcohol burn at all. And if anything, it makes the finish even more bitter (and introduces a somewhat artificial sweetener note to boot).  Simply put, don’t do it!

Overall, I find Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky to be a lightly flavoured grain whisky, with no major flaws beyond being a bit hot in its approach. The most interesting characteristic to me is the creamy shortbread taste. But frankly, I find it a little one-dimensional overall – even for a single grain whisky. Given these characteristics, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky might appeal to drinkers of the lighter Canadian or Irish whiskeys, or as a basis for cocktails.

Note that the Meta-Critic assessment of this whisky is fairly variable (i.e., a high standard deviation) on a low number of reviews. As such, you may want to consider the average score to be provisional until more reviews come in. Personally though, I think the current average Meta-Critic score is reasonable for this whisky.

Bain’s Cape has received moderately positive reviews from Jim Murray and Dave Broom of Whisky Advocate, and one extremely positive review from Ralfy. André of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun both rank it considerably lower (for the lack of interest/complexity, more than anything else).

 

 

Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey

The Teeling family has a long history of Irish whiskey making, having founded the well-known Cooley distillery.  Around the time of Cooley’s eventual acquisition into Beam-Suntory, Jack Teeling (son of Cooley founder John Teeling), struck out on his own – and under his family name.

While setting up a new distillery in Ireland, Teeling Whiskey got busy buying sourced Irish whiskies for relabeling under their own label. The first of the whiskies released –  Small Batch – is a malt/grain whisky blend with a relatively high proportion of malt (I’ve seen a 35:65 malt:grain mix reported online). A high proportion of first-fill bourbon casks has also been reported.

Unusually, Small Batch has spent a number of months being finished in rum casks. While it is common for new operations to source outside whisky initially, rum cask finishing is certainly not exactly a typical approach.

Let’s see how it compares to some other Irish whiskies in my Meta-Critic Database (in alphabetical order)

Bushmills Original Blended: 7.74 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$)
Bushmills Black Bush: 8.38 ± 0.44 on 18 reviews ($$)
Jameson: 7.82 ± 0.58 on 17 reviews ($$)
Jameson Select Reserve (Black Barrel): 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($$)
Kilbeggan Irish Reserve Malt Whiskey: 7.97 ± 0.54 on 6 reviews ($$)
Powers (Gold Label): 8.04 ± 0.64 on 9 reviews ($$)
Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (Rum Cask Finish): 8.30 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish): 8.56 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($$$)

That is certainly a very respectable score for the price class. Below are my nosing and tasting notes for this whisky. Note that my sample come from a batch that was bottled on 02/2015.

Nose: Sweet. Very sweet. Sugar cane sweet. Lightly floral, with orange blossoms. Light-bodied fruits, like green grapes, pears, plums, apricots, and green apples. Main impression is diluted sweetened apple juice. No solvent notes. A touch malty, with very light aromas overall (like most entry-level Irish whiskies). But could easily be mistaken for a light golden rum, given that sweetness.

Palate: That sweetness is still present – a pure, refined white-sugar sweetness (with none of the complexity of honey, brown sugar, or even corn syrup). Not getting a lot of the fruits, except for the citrus (more tart lemon now). Some caramel. Light dusting of baking spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Definite grassiness coming through. Relatively light body and mouthfeel, but with a lot of alcohol burn (likely due to the higher 46% ABV).

Finish: Medium length, but not much going on here. A slight bitterness creeps in, but its subtle. Mainly just sweetened apple juice on the way out, with a touch of the spices. Pretty mild.

Teeling.Small.BatchThe nose is misleading on this one, with its pure white sugar sweetness.  Once you actually take a sip, this seems more like a decent light Irish whiskey – but with some significant alcohol kick.

I strongly recommend adding a splash of water to the Small Batch, to help tame the burn. It really improves the mouthfeel, and also slightly enhances the floral elements (although not the fruit). The slight bitterness of the finish also seems to disappear. I think the overall Meta-Critic score is pretty much right on the money here.

Like the AnCnoc 12yo, this would make a good summer sipping whisky – or a great base for cocktails. It should appeal to the typical Jameson’s drinker looking to add some uncomplicated extra sweetness. Of course, you could also go for Jameson Black Barrel (known as Select Reserve now) or Bushmills Black Bush for similar quality scores.

One of the most positive reviews I’ve seen of Teeling Small Batch is of Dominic Roskrow of Whisky Advocate. Josh the WhiskeyJug and Ruben of WhiskyNotes both give it a fairly typical ranking from among the Meta-Critic panel. Nathan the Scotchnoob is probably the least impressed.

 

 

 

Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries

Welcome to my second Ichiro’s Malt review, the Double Distilleries.

As mentioned in my Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) review, Ichiro’s malts are vatted malts from two distilleries: the closed Hanyu distillery, and the currently operating Chichibu distillery. Both distilleries were controlled by the Akuto family, currently led by Ichiro Akuto.

In this case, the “double distilleries” label refers specifically to old Hanyu stock matured in ex-Sherry casks, and new-make Chichibu matured in new Japanese Mizunara oak casks. I’ve seen suggestions online that old Hanyu Puncheon casks may also have been used in the vattings. The exact proportion is unknown, although I expect it is weighed more towards the new make (from both an economic perspective, and from my tasting notes below).

Here are some scores for the various Ichiro’s Malts in the Meta-Critic database (from Hi to Low):

Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.29 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: 8.85 ± 0.41 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.68 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.23 ± 0.56 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is what I find in the glass for the Double Distilleries:

Nose: I can definitely smell the sherry cask influence – despite the light colour, I get rich chocolate notes. Apple and pear are the main fruits, not really getting the typical sherry figs or raisins. There is also a lot of honey sweetness here, similar to the Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR). A bit of allspice comes in as well, like in a nice rye blend (not over-powering). And the perfumy/incense wood notes from the MWR are also present throughout. Nice.

Palate: Definite spicy kick up front, just like the MWR. The sweet fruity notes come in next, along with the honey and chocolate. Not as much sherry influence as I was expecting from the nose – getting more general oakiness now. Taste of Graham crackers. A bit malty. Also some bitterness, but greatly attenuated compared to the MWR (which was overwhelming). The baking spices – allspice, nutmeg – linger nicely. Nice mouth feel, not too watery.

Finish: The sweet honey and Graham cracker notes are the most prominent. That MWR bitterness is present, but greatly subdued. The baking spices really help here, and linger for a nice long while. I even get a touch of apple at times. Not overly complex, but pleasant and fairly long-lasting.

Ichiro-DoubleDistilleriesI suggested in my MWR review that blending with additional casks would help that whisky out – and that is exactly what you get here. You can still detect the fragrant incense characteristics of the MWR, balanced by a more general sweetness. A clever blending of different flavour components – and a better way to glimpse the effect of younger whiskies from Mizunara wood, in my view.

This is certainly a nice, easy-drinking dram, with no real flaws. In contrast to the MWR, it goes down easier the more you sip. That said, the Double Distilleries could probably have benefited from a bit more sherry cask influence.

For some additional reviews of this whisky, you could check out Ruben of WhiskyNotes, Brian (Dramtastic) of JapaneseWhiskyReview, Michio of JapanWhiskyReviews, and Tone’s review on WhiskySaga.

Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR)

This is my first review of an Ichiro’s Malt Japanese whisky.

The eponymous brand name refers to Ichiro Akuto – grandson of the founder of the fabled Hanyu distillery (which shuttered production in 2000). Ichiro later founded the Chichibu distillery nearby, and managed to save a number of Hanyu casks. His “Ichiro’s Malt” series typically involve vattings of both old Hanyu stock and new Chichibu production.

The Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR) is distinctive because it is a vatting of malts that have all been aged in Japanese Mizunara oak casks (Quercus mongolica). There is an interesting article on Nonjatta that describes the influence of this type of oak on Japanese whisky.

My experience of Mizunara wood aging to date has been through blended whiskies, where only a proportion of the final product was aged in these casks (such as the Hibiki Harmony). Ichiro’s Malt MWR is thus an opportunity to try and dissect out the specific contribution of Mizunara wood more directly.

The exact composition of the Ichiro’s Malt MWR is unknown, but I’m going to guess it is mainly new production from Chichibu. Here are some scores for the various Ichiro’s Malts in the Meta-Critic database (from Hi to Low):

Ichiro’s Malt The Joker: 9.29 ± 0.21 on 4 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: 8.85 ± 0.41 on 6 reviews ($$$$$+)
Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries: 8.68 ± 0.28 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The First: 8.57 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (MWR): 8.23 ± 0.56 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)

Here is what I find in the glass for Ichiro’s MWR:

Nose: Very floral and fragrant, with both woody and incense notes (“sandalwood” is often cited, which fits). Some grassiness, but again tending to the more sweet and fragrant aromas (mint?). It has a strong honeyed sweetness that reminds me a bit of Dalwhinnie (although the spirit seems younger here). Strong citrus presence, especially lemon peel and grapefruit. Some sweet apple. Pleasant, with very sharp and clear scents.

Palate: Tangy and spicy upfront, with a peppery kick. The honey and fruity sweetness is there from the start – with caramelized apple and citrus. Woodiness comes up fast though, with some sour and bitter notes. This sharp bitterness is reminiscent of some lightly smokey whiskies – but it is definitely more heavily pronounced on the MWR. Think sucking on a grapefuit that had sugar sprinkled on it – fruity sweetness upfront, followed by persistent bitterness (especially if you chew on the rind!). Some ginger too. Surprisingly light body overall, given the relatively high ABV (46%).

Finish: Relatively short. Not much going on here, except some lingering sweetness and peppery spiciness trying to cover up the woody bitterness (and failing). A bit of a let-down, honestly.

Ichiro-MWRThe MWR has a lot of promise on the nose, but it quickly turns bitter in the mouth, with a disappointing finish. It seems very young overall. Frankly, despite the initial distinctiveness, it is a whisky that makes you want to drink less as time goes by in the glass.

It is certainly an interesting way to experience the effect of pure Mizunara cask, but I definitely think this would do better as a blend with other types of wood. I would probably recommend the Hibiki Harmony over this as an introduction to the effect of Japanese oak.

For a positive review of the MWR, please see Dave Broom of WhiskyAdvocate. Personally, my own tastes align better with Ruben of WhiskyNotes. There is also Brian’s (Dramtastic) review on Nonjatta.

UPDATE: Please see my Ichiro’s Malt Double Distilleries review for a good example of what some blending can bring to Mizunara wood casks.

 

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

Crown Royal is one of the most popular budget whiskies in Canada. I have recently posted reviews of a couple of the more highly-ranked expressions (Monarch and Northern Harvest Rye). Thanks to a swap with the user Devoz on Reddit, I have been able to sample a bottle of Hand Selected Barrel – a cask-specific release, currently only available in the United States.

That may sound odd, but Crown Royal is also very popular in parts of the U.S. – particularly Texas. As a result, Hand Selected Barrel and Northern Harvest Rye were originally launched as limited releases there in late 2014. They only gradually expanded across the U.S., with NHR showing up in Canada late last Fall. We are still waiting to see if Hand Selected Barrel will make its way up here. 😉

The initial Texas-only release of these whiskies makes sense, when you consider their composition. Northern Harvest Rye is close to being a straight rye (actually 90% rye in this case), and rye is enjoying a surging popularity in the U.S. Hand Selected Barrel is made with a very boubon-like high-rye mashbill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley – and aged exclusively in new oak barrels (i.e., just like bourbon). It is bottled at a common “cask strength” of 51.5%, which will definitely appeal to bourbon enthusiasts.

Both Northern Harvest Rye and Hand Selected Barrel are examples of what are known in Canada as “flavouring whiskies.” Hand Selected Barrel in particular is drawn exclusively from whisky produced on Crown Royal’s massive “Coffee Rye” still – distilled to low ABV, and aged in virgin oak barrels (for seven years in this case). In Canada, this sort of low ABV high-rye whisky is often used to “flavour” blended whiskies that are composed predominantly of high ABV corn whisky.

In essence, Crown Royal really is hand-selecting individual barrels of this potent flavouring whisky for direct bottling. I understand that it is only available at U.S. stores that agree to purchase a whole barrel (i.e., each bottle is thus unique to that particular store and cask). As a result, you can expect a considerable amount of variability from one store to the next – but all are likely to give a fairly intense flavour profile. My sample came from a bottle purchased at a retail Texas store.

Here are how some of the major Crown Royal expressions rank in my database, in order of average Meta-Critic score (highest first):

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.89 ± 0.52 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.81 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal XO: 8.78 ± 0.35 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.72 ± 0.42 on 11 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.65 ± 0.75 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Black: 8.24 ± 0.53 on 15 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.52 on 13 reviews ($)

And now, my detailed tasting notes on this sample of Hand Selected Barrel:

Nose: Very reminiscent of Northern Harvest Rye. I get a very sweet candied nose, with overwhelming apple and vanilla initially – and the same solvent undercurrent as the NHR (more, if anything). On repeated nosing, novel aromas open up like banana and strawberry, leading to a bubble-gum sensation. It also singes my nose hairs if I inhale too deeply or too long – which is a sign of that higher ABV. Pretty comparable overall to NHR, but with a bit more character and “oomph.”

Palate: Big, bold bourbon-es character, with tons of vanilla and butterscotch mixed with various fruits – mainly apple (again), strawberry and cherries. Definite citrus, but more candied orange than the typical Crown Royal grapefruit. The woody character comes through – certainly oak, but also a sweet, resinous conifer sap (Spruce?) that quickly turns to eucalyptus in my mouth. Has a thick and syrupy mouth feel overall, which is another sign of the high ABV – but still with a slightly tannic dryness that I like. I don’t get the classic Crown Royal bitterness here, which is a bonus in my view (although some may find this too sweet). The rye spices come up only toward the end, with a mild dry dusty bread taste. Certainly less overt rye than the NHR – more like a full-flavoured high-rye bourbon (which is basically what this is).

Finish: Oddly not very flavourful or long-lasting. This is where it falls a little flat for me – quite literally in fact, as it reminds me of slightly flat Tab (i.e., saccharin-sweetened diet cola). Some of the classic Crown Royal bitterness seems to be trying to poke through now, but is being suppressed by this artificial sweetness. Definitely much better than regular Crown Royal, but some may prefer the sharper bitterness of the NHR. Certainly doesn’t match the consistently smooth finish of the Monarch 75th Anniversary blend. By the end of the tasting, I could detect the dry heat of alcohol fumes rising from the back of my throat (i.e., another sign of the higher ABV ).

Crown.Royal.Hand.BarrelOverall, I would rate this sample of the Hand Selected Barrel as very close to the Northern Harvest Rye in overall quality. There are certainly differences though – NHR is more of a traditional Canadian Rye, without the thick and rich woodiness of the bourbon-like Hand Selected Barrel. This HSB has a more robust palate, but the NHR has a sharper and cleaner nose and finish. And I still consider my batch of Monarch to be a whole other league – an example of how Crown Royal can make a high quality and elegant blended whisky.

At the end of the day, if you can’t get your hands on a Hand Selected Barrel, the Northern Harvest Rye is probably the closest substitute in the Crown Royal family.

Keeping in mind the standard caveat that each bottle is going to be different, you can find some very positive reviews of this whisky by Davin de Kergommeaux at Canadian Whisky, Jason at Whisky Won, Josh of the The Whiskey Jug, and Chip the Rum Howler.

 

Nikka Pure Malt Black

Nikka Black is one of the more popular offerings in the reasonably-affordable, no-age-statement “colour” series of Nikka Pure Malts.

As discussed in some of my other Nikka reviews, “pure malt” is the term used in Japan to denote a combination of all-malt whisky from several distilleries under one producer’s control. This is thus a refinement of the “vatted malt” (or simply “malt whisky”) terminology used elsewhere – with the added restriction of a single producer.  In that sense, it is largely a semantic distinction to the classic Scottish “single malt”, which refers to whiskies that are blended together from a single distillery in Scotland. If that last bit is a surprise to you, please see my Single Malts vs Blends page for more info.

The various Pure Malt colours – Red, White and Black – all denote different combinations of the core characteristics of the Nikka Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries (from which they all hale). The Red is reported to be relatively light and fruity, the White is heavily peated and spicy, and Black is somewhere in-between.

Although not common by any means, you can sometimes still find the Nikka Black at a reasonable price in European duty-frees (and the odd Canadian province). 😉

Here is how it compares to other Nikka NAS malt whisky offerings in my meta-critic database (ranked in score order, top-down):

Nikka From the Barrel: 8.84 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Black: 8.82 ± 0.24 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Coffey Malt: 8.81 ± 0.5 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Pure Malt White: 8.67 ± 0.37 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Nikka Pure Malt Red: 8.54 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Nikka All Malt: 8.46 ± 0.17 on 8 reviews ($$)
Nikka Miyagikyo NAS: ± 8.43 0.4 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Yoichi NAS: 8.28 ± 0.12 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Nikka Taketsuru NAS: 8.13 ± 0.61 on 3 reviews ($$$$)

As you can see, along with From the Barrel, Black is one of the top-scoring NAS malt whiskies that Nikka offers. It is interesting to see how the single distillery NAS offerings are scoring quite a bit lower overall (despite being more expensive).

Here’s what I find in the glass for Nikka Black:

Nose: Sweet, with definite smoke and peat. Fruit-wise, I get mainly the typical “earthy” dark fruits (e.g. prune and raisin), as well as a bit of mixed berry.  Oakiness is definitely present, and there is something reminiscent of a sherry cask finish (e.g. chocolate). The sweetness has a creamy characteristic, like whipped cream. Not very floral, although a do get a touch of cherry blossom – and some slight grassiness. Definitely a pleasing nose.

Palate:  The smokey and peaty nature is unmistakable, and is consistently present throughout. Same fruits as the nose, but also getting some extra citrus (orange in particular). I get caramel/butterscotch now, and the chocolate turns to dark chocolate (i.e., slightly bitter). The grassiness is more pronounced, with some definite hay/straw notes. A bit watery in the mouth, which is the only drawback for me after that creamy nose.

Finish: Moderately long, with smoke all the way though. The bitterness persists as well, but is not as strong as some other whiskies in this class (e.g., recent Highland Park 12 yo expressions).  Has a slight waxiness, and an aroma of seasoned leather (which is actually pretty good!). For me, this smokey/bitter/leatheriness is well balanced to the sweetness, leading to a nice, long experience.

Nikka.BlackNikka has done a great job integrating everything in the Pure Malt Black (i.e., a truly balanced blend of the peaty Yoichi and fruity Miyagikyo).  Indeed, if I didn’t know this was Japanese, I would have thought it was a Highland Park.  There is something to the smokey nature of this whisky that reminds me of Orkney peat (i.e., prominent smoke, with subtle phenolitic peat notes in the background). Even the fruitiness here – dark fruits, orange, chocolate, etc. – is reminiscent of the classic sherry cask HPs.

Personally, I think Nikka has done a better job with the Pure Malt Black than HP has been doing on recent batches of the classic 12yo – especially in terms of the finish (i.e., there is an expanded bitterness on recent HP 12 batches). My only complaint is that I find Black a bit thin in terms of mouth feel – but I certainly agree with its relative rank among Nikka NAS expressions. The Black is an impressive offering for a NAS blend of multiple distilleries.

Brian (Dramtastic) of Japanese Whisky Review, Oliver of Dramming.com and the guys at Quebec Whisky all provide a comparable relative rank to my own. Michio of Japan Whisky Reviews and Ruben of Whisky Notes score it slightly lower, but are still generally positive.

 

 

Kavalan Single Malt

A few months ago, I reviewed the Kavalan Concertmaster – a port-finished single malt whisky from Taiwanese distiller Kavalan. In this commentary, I thought I would look at their base model malt whisky – known simply as Kavalan Single Malt.

As previously mentioned, Taiwan has a marine tropical climate. This means that their whiskies will mature more quickly in the barrel compared to more temperate northerly climes like Scotland and Ireland. As such, don’t expect to see age statements here – they are all quite young whiskies, and tend to be heavily influenced by the types of casks they were matured in.

Both the Single Malt and the Concertmaster are classified as single malts, which means that are solely malt whisky, from a single distillery, made using traditional copper pot stills. And despite their entry-level status, both have won a number of medals at international wine & spirit competitions.

In the interest of full disclosure, my source for the Single Malt was a 50mL sample bottle (glass bottle, in the classic Kavalan art deco shape), picked up on one of my travels through Europe. When it was available at the LCBO, the full 700mL bottle retailed for $140 CAD. As an aside, I’ve noticed that the Single Malt tends to be sold for more than the Concertmaster just about everywhere (i.e., Concertmaster was $125 at the LCBO). One exception in Canada is Nova Scotia, where you can pick the Single Malt up for the relative bargain of $100 CAD (and Concertmaster for $104 CAD).

Here are some current stats for the various entry-level Kavalans from my meta-critic whisky database:

Kavalan Podium: 8.82 ± 0.41 on 5 reviews
Kavalan King Car: 8.58 ± 0.23 on 6 reviews
Kavalan Single Malt Whisky: 8.53 ± 0.55 on 11 reviews
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.41 ± 0.53 on 12 reviews

What I notice in the glass for the Single Malt:

Nose: Starts with classic oaky vanilla, with a touch of sherry dark fruits as well. Nothing very specific jumps out at me – a light mixed berry blend mainly. There’s also a perfumy floral smell, but no specific scents that I can identify. I definitely get a malty aroma, as if a bit of yeast were left behind. There is also a solventy smell lurking underneath it all (which is something I don’t personally care for).

Palate: Toasted caramel and vanilla are probably the most prominent flavours, consistent with ex-bourbon casks. A touch of the dark fruits, like dates and raisins, but not as much as I would like. I don’t really get the promised tropical fruits here at all (unlike, say Amrut, where they come through in spades). It really isn’t sweet – somewhat bitter, in fact. Also very malty, even more than the nose suggests (although this is not a problem for me). Taste of wood pulp. A bit boring perhaps, but not unpleasant. Note that this whisky is oddly astringent, and really dries out the tongue quickly after every sip.

Kavalan Single Malt bottleFinish: Much the same flavours as the palate, medium finish. Leaves you with a vaguely woody and malty aftertaste, and very dry gums and tongue.

I would consider this to be an entry-level single malt. The astringent effect is significant (i.e., very drying in the mouth). This may explain why some reviews complain that it is “hot” or has a “kick” to it, despite its relatively low 40% ABV – I suspect they are really referring to this astringency (i.e., a high alcohol content is also drying).  It comes across as rather young otherwise.

This is one case where I personally differ from the meta-critic scores – I would rank the Concertmaster higher than the Single Malt expression, as I find the port-finishing adds a lot of distinctive flavours to the base spirit. Please see my earlier Concertmaster review for additional comments, and a further discussion of the astringency characteristics.

For more reviews, you could check out Ralfy for a detailed discussion of this whisky. Some favourable reviews can be found by the guys at Quebec Whisky. Oliver at Dramming has a short review, with a somewhat different take on the flavour profile.

I have samples on hand of a couple of the higher-end Kavalan expressions, and will post commentaries of those when I get around to sampling them.

Gooderham & Worts Four Grain Whisky

For those from the Toronto area, the name Gooderham & Worts name should sound familiar – it is still prominently displayed in the city’s trendy and historic distillery district.  Of course, the distillery itself – once the larger distiller of alcoholic spirits in Canada – has long since closed.

Canadian whisky connoisseurs will know of Gooderham & Worts from Corby’s limited release “Canadian Whisky Guild” series of the late 1990s. These were meant to showcase earlier styles of whisky making, apparently using older recipes and approaches. While short-lived at the time, two of the other members of this series – Lot 40 and Pike Creek – have both returned in recent years, apparently as modern staples of Corby’s craft whisky line.

Completing the triumvirate is the return of Gooderham & Worts – a “four grain” whisky blend of corn, rye, wheat and barley, now bottled at 44.4% ABV.

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

Gooderham & Worts: 8.61 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews

That is an above-average score for my database, with below-average variance – despite the limited number of reviews. Currently, my database Meta-critic average is ~8.55 ± 0.56, for all whiskies, world-wide.

To put that in perspective, let’s see how some of the other popular blended Canadian whiskies in the same ~$40-50 CAD price range compare. The Gooderham and Worts is currently $45 at the LCBO.

Century Reserve 21yo: 8.78 ± 0.20 on 9 reviews
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.96 ± 0.25 on 7 reviews
Lot 40: 8.89 ± 0.43 on 14 reviews
Pike Creek 10yo: 8.32 ± 0.43 on 9 reviews
Stalk & Barrel 11+1: 8.28 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews
Wiser’s Legacy: 9.06 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews

The Gooderham & Worts seems well within the typical score range for Canadian whisky at this price point.

Here’s what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very sweet up front, somewhat floral, and surprisingly fruity for the relatively high ABV.  Notes of pear, cherries, oranges, peaches and apricots. Bubble-gum too. There’s a sweet creamy texture to the aromas, like condensed milk or creamed wheat, which is quite distinctive. There is a noticeable solvent smell initially, with acetone particularly prominent (i.e., nail polish remover). Fortunately, this fades once you let it sit in the glass for awhile – so I recommend you pour yourself a dram, and leave it alone for at least 5 mins before sampling.

Palate:  A real Canadian rye blend, through and through. The sweet floral and fruity notes show up first (and that bubble-gum again), then waves of the classic rye “baking spices” of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and all-spice. These notes really dominate and persist for a good while, drowning out almost everything else in the blend. A bit of the wheat persists throughout, but it’s subtle below the rye (and the corn is nowhere to be found). Odd that I wasn’t really getting all that much rye on the nose – too much else going on, I guess. You get some of the classic vanilla and caramel flavours as well – along with a slightly woody character.

Gooderham.WortsFinish: Medium long, with cinnamon hearts and cloves all the way to the end – a very nice spicy finish. Somewhat drying on the tongue, there is a bit of the wheat sweetness persisting for a good while as well. This makes a nice change from the bitter finishes of some of the cheaper Canadian blends (with their up-front corn sweetness).

As you can tell from the above, I quite liked this whisky. I do think the overall meta-critic score is fair, given the unfortunate initial solvent note (that mercifully dissipates over time). This is a likely a sign the young age of the grain whiskies in the blend. I would also have expected a bit more of the wheat and barley to shine through – although this does make a very decent Canadian rye blend as is.

Although Lot 40 has been a success for Corby, I don’t know if the resurrected Gooderham & Worts will catch on and persist as long. So if you are curious to try G&W, you may not want to wait too long.

For some additional reviews of this expression, I recommend you check out the reviews by Jason at Whisky Won, Ryan at ScotchBlog.ca, Beppi Crossariol of the Globe & Mail, and Davin de Kergommeaux at Canadian Whisky.

Mackmyra The First Edition

The First Edition (or Första Utgåvan) was the first major release by Mackmyra, an independent distillery in Sweden. Although a number of additional expressions have been released in recent years, the First Edition is still widely available around the world (including here at the LCBO in Canada).

It is distinguished by the use of Swedish oak for a proportion of the casks used for aging, resulting in 5.4% of the final make. Indeed, I note on the Mackmyra website that this expression has recently been re-labeled as Mackmyra “Swedish Oak” (Svensk Ek). But the specs seem otherwise the same as the original First Edition, so I suspect this is mainly a re-branding exercise. As an aside, I can see that highlighting the use of Swedish oak may be more impressive to the typical whisky consumer – but since the relatively low percentage of Swedish oak casks hasn’t changed, it may also be a little misleading.

Mackmyra uses a range of cask sizes for this whisky, and my bottle specifies that 46% of the make comes from quarter casks (100L). The use of smaller casks is a way to “accelerate” the aging of a young spirit, as explained on my source of whisky flavour page. You commonly see this practice with new distilleries, while they wait for the standard size casks to mature at the typical rate. It is bottled at an impressive 46.1% ABV.

I note that it is labeled as being non chill-filtered, with no additives (i.e., no artificial colouring or flavouring). Both statements are believable, as it has a light and bright yellow colour, and I can see small dark particulates floating in my bottle (which I suspect are just barrel char).

I must say, I like this level of label specificity on both the bottle and the outside packaging box.  It is great to know what you are getting ahead of time. I also personally like the funky modern design aesthetic to the packaging – but as always, it is what’s inside the bottle that counts.

Let’s see what the Whisky Database meta-critic scores have to say for some of the recent Mackmyra expressions available locally:

Mackmyra The First Edition: 8.78 ± 0.36 on 13 reviews
Mackmyra Special 04: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews
Mackmyra Special 08: 8.38 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews

The average meta-critic score of 8.78 for the First Edition is very impressive for a young whisky with a relatively light flavour profile (i.e., not peated or wine cask-aged). Coupled with a very low typical price world-wide, this makes the Mackmyra First Edition one of the best deals in the GH flavour super-cluster.

I bought this bottle at the LCBO for $67 CAD – which seems like an excellent deal. Availability is limited, however.

Here’s what I notice in the glass:

Nose: Some vanilla sweetness, and lighter-color fruits (i.e., pears, plums, crisp apples). A bright herbal quality, with fresh pine or juniper – definitely something coniferous. Citrus. A faint touch of something smokey, but it’s hard to place. I get black licorice as well (i.e., a sweet anise aroma).

Palate: Now this is interesting – I get a very prominent tip-of-tongue tingle within seconds of the first sip. This characteristic is sometimes referred to as “peppery” by other reviewers, and I find it to be relatively rare outside of smokey whiskies. I don’t get much smoke here – but like on the nose, there is something lurking in the background. Definitely herbaceous, with the conifers turning more toward eucalyptus and menthol. Otherwise, the main characteristics are light sweetness – with a touch of honey, caramel and marshmallow. I get the same fruits as the nose, maybe a touch of berry as well.  And the black licorice is unmistakable now. Mouthfeel is very smooth, I would almost say creamy.

Finish: A clean finish, with no untoward notes emerging. Given the complexity of the palate, you always risk unpleasant surprises as the different characteristics fade out at various rates – but no problem here. The fruity notes do tend to disappear before the herbal ones, though.

I can see why this whisky is so highly ranked in this flavour cluster. Although it has many of the typical light and sweet “aperitif-style” flavours you’d expect (e.g., honey), it also has a surprising depth of complexity. The peppery and herbaceous/coniferous notes in particular are interesting. They make it somewhat “woody” without being “earthy”, if you get my meaning.

Mackmyra.FirstIn any case, if these later notes are not your cup of tea, you can try adding a bit of water to the whisky. I find this tends to subdue some of the spicier notes, and brings up the sweet fruity aspects. I like it fine neat, but at 46.1% ABV, you definitely have room to play with water.

As an aside, I am beginning to wonder if the presumed younger age may have something to do with the peppery “tongue-tingle.” This is something that I have also found quite prominent on the original Stalk & Barrel Canadian whisky (11+1), by Still Waters. That was a very young whisky (indeed, 1/11th of it was new make that couldn’t legally be called whisky on its own at the time of release). While not as complex as the Mackmyra First Edition, it did share a common youthful vibrancy.

For more opinions on the Mackmyra First Edition, I recommend you check out Ralfy’s informative video review, as well as the full team at Quebec Whisky. Thomas at Whisky Saga has a good review of the new “Svensk Ek” edition of this whisky.

 

 

 

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