Tag Archives: Port

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6 Year Old

This is my second review of the 2019-2020 Edition of J.P. Wiser’s NHL Alumni series of whiskies. Following up on the inaugural release of the 2018-2019 Edition, a second offering was released in the spring of 2019. This 2019-2020 Edition features whiskies named after Larry Robinson, Darryl Sittler, and Paul Coffey. As before, each of these players was involved in helping select component whiskies for their namesake blends. The profits from the series are shared evenly with NHL Alumni Association, to help support former players in need. As before, these all retail for ~$45 CAD in most jurisdictions.

I was generally impressed with the 2018-2019 Edition, which all featured age statements and more distilling and barreling details than typically found in Canadian whiskies (especially at this price point). All whiskies are designed by Dr Don Livermore, Master Blender of Corby (who owns J.P. Wiser’s). He is the person most directly responsible for all the popular limited/special releases coming out of Corby (i.e., the Rare Cask series and the Northern Border Collection).

At this time (November 2019), all of the original 2019-2020 Edition whiskies are widely available in Ontario at the LCBO. These can even be ordered directly from J.P. Wiser’s website (for delivery in Ontario only).

Let’s check out the composition of this Larry Robinson whisky:

Grain: Mainly corn, with a significant amount of rye (19%)
Age: 6 years old
ABV: 40%
Distillation: column distilled
Oak: six barrel types; standard used Canadian whisky, double charred, ex-Bourbon, rum, Port and French Oak

Larry Robinson, aka “Big Bird”, was my favourite defenceman as a kid (Bobby Orr was a bit ahead of my time ;). Larry played with the Montreal Canadiens during their second heyday in the late 1970s, early 1980s. The hockey nod here is in reference to Larry’s 6 Stanley Cup wins – the whisky is 6 years old, and 6 different barrel types went into the blend. The relatively high amount of rye (19%) reflects his jersey number. The French Oak was apparently included because he played in Quebec (although that one seems a bit tenuous). The relative complexity of the blend supposedly reflects Larry’s “intellectual” and serious attention to detail, both in the game and in the blending process.

This is definitely the most diverse whisky in the series so far. Indeed, I suspect it is also the most expensive to produce, given the costs associated with all those special casks. Certainly a first to see a Canadian whisky at this price point feature French Oak and Port casks.

Here are how this whisky compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, relative to the other Alumni series releases, and some whiskies with similar profiles.

J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sitter 10yo: 8.31 ± 0.11 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Guy Lafleur 10yo: 8.49 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny MacDonald 9yo: 8.46 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson 6yo: 8.52 ± 0.49 on 3 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey 7yo: 8.11 ± 0.11 on 2 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Wendel Clark 11yo: 9.01 ± 0.09 on 5 reviews ($$)

Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews ($)
Bearface Triple Oak 7yo: 8.39 ± 0.19 on 7 reviews ($$)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.53 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.30 ± 0.71 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine French Oak Cask Finished: 8.25 ± 0.81 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.65 ± 0.49 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Unity: 8.95 ± 0.29 on 4 reviews ($$$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: A lot going on here, reflecting all the casks that went into it. Winey notes strike me immediately, with grapes and dried fruits. Next up are the sweet rum and bourbon notes, heavy with molasses and brown sugar. Candy floss. The drier oak spices come next, musty and leathery, and then the baking spices. No real off notes. A lot to dissect here, but very sweet and fruity overall. Nice!

Palate: Sweet bourbon notes to start, with caramel, vanilla and cola. Then the winey grape flavours, maybe a bit nutty. But a real hit of rye spice – cinnamon and cloves especially – dominate mid-palate. Dill and a touch of cayenne pepper. Finally, the woody oak notes drift in on the swallow, with dry paper/cardboard. Hotter than I expect for 40% ABV, I think the youthful spirit is asserting itself here.

Finish: The sweet caramel and vanilla notes make a resurgence, as do the drier rye spices. But the bitter oaky notes – and the dry paper taste – dominate. I’m afraid this one loses some points on the finish for me.

This is a very distinctive Canadian whisky – there is a lot more going on than you would normally come across. I find the diverse cask influence works really well on the nose, with a great balance of aromas across classic winey, bourbony and oaky styles. You pick up more and more aromas as you spend your time with it. Tasty enough in the mouth as well, but with a real jolt of spice that I wasn’t expecting from the nose.

Unfortunately, the finish is where this one fizzles out for me. The heavier oak influence asserts itself on the finish, along with a general lack of character that is consistent with the younger spirits that went into this blend. I think it would have benefited from longer aging, and a bit less overt oakiness. But it is still a nice whisky overall, with a very complex nose.

There are relatively few reviews to date. I recommend you check out the ones from the Toronto Whisky Society and Jason of In Search of Elegance. Mark Bylok also covered this whisky in his recent series overview whisky.buzz podcast. I find the Meta-Critic average score to be appropriate. Still widely available in Ontario.

A Primer on Port

One of the great contributors to whisky flavour is the selective aging (or “finishing”) in oak casks that previously held other spirits or wine. One of my favourite types of finishing involves the fortified wine known as Port (or Porto, for the region in comes from).

You don’t need to understand Port varieties to enjoy whisky finished in this way. But I had to chance to visit Portugal recently, and had the privilege to sample some really excellent Port. In researching for my trip, I discovered that classifying Port is actually a fairly complex undertaking, and that a lot of online Port resources are either incomplete, inconsistent, or somewhat confusingly presented. So I thought I would provide a primer to help you understand how Port is made, what the different types of Port represent, and what characteristics this may impart in your whisky.

What is Port?

Port is a fortified wine, which means that additional spirit has been added to a wine, raising its alcohol content.

By European Union Protected Designation of Origin definition, Port is designated as originating only in Portugal. Port has been produced in the Douro Valley region of northern Portugal for centuries. A number of countries produce a similar style of fortified wine, and may use the “port” term more generically – but this primer is specific for Port from Portugal.

Like all wine, Port is naturally fermented – but the fermentation process is halted in Port before the residual fruit sugar is exhausted by adding a neutral grape spirit called aguardente (similar to brandy). As a result, this leaves a relatively sweet dessert wine (although it can come in dryer forms).

Port ranges between 19-21% ABV. It keeps well while sealed in the bottle, but will break down once opened and exposed to air – not as quickly as regular wine, but it is certainly nowhere near as stable as whisky. But it is a little more complicated depending on the type of Port we are talking about. I will give some guidance for storage for the different types of Port below (you may also want to check out my guidance on whisky storage here).

How is Port made?

Port can be made from both white and red grapes (though predominantly red grapes are used for most Ports). There are about a hundred grape varietals that can be found in different blends of Port, but the five key grapes used for the vast majority of Port are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.

All Ports commercially available are blends of different grapes, from multiple vineyards under the control of a given producer (known in the biz as a Port “Shipper”). So the distinctiveness comes more in the processes used to prepare and age the Port at the various shippers.

After the grapes are picked, they are either stomped by foot in stone tanks (the traditional method – still sometimes offered to tourists willing to roll up their socks and jump in), or more commonly today, crushed mechanically in large stainless steel tanks. They are left in the tanks for 1-4 days, where the naturally occurring sugars are converted to alcohol through fermentation. When about half of the sugar is used up, neutral grape spirit is added to prematurely stop fermentation (by killing the yeast). It is then transferred to large stainless steel tanks or wooden casks to age for a minimum of two years. After that, the Ports are directed down different paths, depending on their quality, into various types of final Port products – which I will describe below.

How many types of Port are there?

This is where things start to get a little complicated.

If you wanted to classify Port types the same way we do for wine, you could separate Ports into white or red, based on the types of grapes used. Red grapes are dominant here, and used to produce Ruby Port (typically bottled and drunk fairly young) and Tawny Port (similar to Ruby, but aged in wooden casks to accelerate aging and oxidation, and drunk soon or after longer times in the bottle). There is also a rare style, Garrafeira Port, which has characteristics of both – which I got to sample on my recent trip and will explain later in this article.

But most Port enthusiasts differentiate Port a little differently, and segregate Port into two main types based on whether they are wood-aged or “bottle-aged.” Now, that latter category is going to take some explaining for a whisky drinker. Port is not a distilled product like whisky, but behaves more like wine – and so, a different type of reductive “aging” can happen in the closed bottle, and is influenced by how the Port has been prepared and stored, especially whether or not it has not been “fined” or filtered first (I’ll explain these terms in the discussion of Vintage Port, below).

Coming as a whisky drinker, you could also choose to break it down by no-age-statement (NAS), age-stated or single-year vintages. That last category is surprisingly complicated for Port, for the variable “bottled-aged” reasons mention above (e.g. all “Vintage Ports” are a single vintage, but not all single year vintages are Vintage Port). I know, it is confusing. So I’ll cover each of these NAS, age-stated and vintage types in turn, under the general categories of the two main types of red Port, Ruby and Tawny.

Again, it is important to note that Ruby and Tawny are not differentiated by the types of red grapes involved. Instead, it is the type of aging that matters, with the latter receiving a lot more time in wood (spoiler alert: that extra wood aging is what turns a “ruby” coloured red port into a more “tawny” coloured one).

Ruby Port

This is probably the best place to start, as Ruby is the most basic form of Port – and typically the youngest.

After fermentation, Ruby Port is typically stored in large tanks of concrete or stainless steel instead of wood, to minimize oxidative aging and preserve its colour and fruitiness. A standard Ruby Port is a blend of several years, typically averaging 3-5 years old. They are relatively simple and straightforward, very fruit-driven (with bright, fresh fruit notes), and meant to be drunk as soon as they are bottled. The name is derived from the bright red colour of the final Port (think cherry or cranberry juice). Indeed, I find the sharp flavours of fresh cherries, cranberries and raspberries come through most prominently on Ruby Port.

Standard Ruby Port is fined and filtered before bottling (see below for explanation of these terms). Once opened, they last a reasonably long time (i.e., weeks to months before obvious degradation sets in). And even then they are still quite drinkable – so there is no rush to finish the bottle. Indeed, open bottles of Ruby Port are often used for cooking, like inexpensive Sherries.

A “Reserve Ruby” Port is typically a bit older, 5-7 years on average. They are still very fruit-forward Ports, but have a bit more complexity due to the extra aging time. A 10 year old Ruby Port represents a blend of Rubies that are 10 years old on average. A good Reserve or 10 yo would be my preference among basic Ruby Ports.

Specific vintages are where things get a bit more complicated. The main types to differentiate are Late Bottled Vintages (LBVs) and “Vintage Port” (VP) – which are both protected definitions, and both involve some wood cask aging.

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) Ports

Something you see a lot more of now is “Late Bottled Vintage” Ports (LBVs). These are specific vintages of Port, with the grapes were all picked from a single harvest year. LBVs are bottled between 4-6 years after harvest, and typically spend those years in very large oak barrels, called Tonnels. LBVs may have started their lives intended to be Vintage Ports (see below), but due to reduced demand or over-supply were kept aging longer and directed down the LBV line. They come in two types and can be either filtered and fined (like your typical Ruby Port) or unfiltered (where residual material from the grapes remains in the bottle). Again, I’ll explain all that in the discussion on Vintage Port below.

For now, a simple way to tell the difference is that fined and filtered Ports typically come sealed with a standard T-shaped stopper cork (like whisky bottles), and can be poured and enjoyed straight from the resealable bottle (example pictured on the right). Unfiltered LBVs typically have a driven cork (like wine bottles) and possess considerable sediment – and so will need decanting prior to drinking.

Unfiltered LBVs should ideally be drunk within a few days after opening, but a week will likely be fine. Filtered LBVs are more like aged Rubies and can probably go a few weeks with no obvious change (especially if refrigerated after opening).

FYI, LBVs have largely replaced the so-called “Crusted Ports”, which were blends of at least two or more vintage years that were aged in wood for up to four years, bottled unfiltered, and then aged for a few years before release.

Vintage Port

Along with the aged Tawny Ports (covered below), “Vintage Port” is often seen as the pinnacle of quality Port among aficionados and enthusiasts.

Note that the phrase Vintage Port (VP) has a very specific meaning that is carefully controlled by EU law. VPs start down the path to this designation very early, when the Port shipper petitions for this status for a given harvest. On average, VPs are only produced ~3 times a decade – typically representing the very best harvest years.

Batches of a specific harvest destined for VP status are stored in stainless steel or heavily-used oak barrels – but only for 2-3 years. These two features help limit the impact of any wood aging. Indeed, by law, VPs must be bottled between 2-3 years after harvest.  But they are always bottled unfined and unfiltered, to ensure that the maximum possible amount of “bottle aging” can occur.

I know that concept is going to sound odd to whisky drinkers, as there is no real “aging” going on in a factory-sealed whisky bottle (see my overview of the whisky process here). But that reflects the high-proof and complete air-proof seal of a whisky bottle. Wine is still a living product that continues to evolve in the bottle.

I need to finally explain the role of fining and filtering in Port (or for that matter, any wine). There is a rough analogy to whisky chill-filtering here, but not exactly. Fining involves adding a substance to the wine during production to remove suspended particles that cause haziness or clouding, or form unwanted sediment. This fining agent isn’t bottled with the wine – instead, it is left to adhere to particles in suspension, and then settles as sediment in the bottom of the vat (where it will get filtered out before bottling).

Fining is used mainly to stabilize and clarify wood-aged Ports, to ensure they remain bright and visually attractive to consumers (i.e., like chill-filtering in whiskies). But it also limits reactivity over time, as you are removing a lot of the left-over grape material that can break down and change the flavour with time. Fining is also used to make wines “softer” and less harsh, by removing tannins.

In the case of Vintage Ports (and some LBVs), you are leaving that unfiltered grape material – and the eventual sediment – behind in the bottle. Over time, it will change the flavour of the so-called “bottled aged” Vintage Port. VPs are actually expected to be cellared for many years (e.g., 30+), to ensure maximum maturation. Indeed, much of the character of aged VP comes from the continued slow decomposition of those residual grape solids in the bottle. Given the increasing amount of sediment that will form over time, these VPs must be decanted prior to drinking.

The flavours of VPs are very diverse, and highly dependent on the source harvest, the Port shipper’s processes, and the amount of time spent in bottle – but largely independent of any significant wood influence. I’ve had some >30 yo VPs that still taste relatively “fresh”, with classic Ruby notes – whereas others can seem quite a bit more “seasoned” in comparison (and closer to some wood-aged Tawny Ports, as explained below). Two examples that I sampled on this visit were a Ferreira 1985 VP and a Borges Oporto 1980 VP (shown in the side pictures), which were very, very different beasts.

As mentioned, VPs are always bottled with a driven cork. So for an aged VP, you really should finish the bottle within 2-3 days after opening. Younger VPs (i.e., under 10 years old) should be able to last a couple of days longer before noticeable degradation occurs. But this style of Port is going to have a very short life once the bottle is opened.

There are a few more types of VPs out there, such as Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP), where the grapes all come from a single property (similar to a single vineyard wine). But these are actually less distinctive that typical VPs, as the SQVPs can come from any harvest, not just the premium ones declared for VPs.

It is important to note that LBVs, SQVPs and VPs are not the only kind of specific vintage/harvest Ports out there – but they are the main types coming from the Ruby Port pathway.  For other examples, it is time to turn our attention to Tawny Ports.

Tawny Port

This is the form of Port likely most familiar to whisky drinkers – indeed, it is the most popularly consumed type of Port.

Tawny Port actually starts out just like a Ruby Port, but then spends an extended period of time in oak casks. These are the classic, large oak casks known as “Port Pipes” (~550 liter volume). Like Sherry Butts, quality Port Pipes are heavily sought after for finishing whisky. The somewhat porous oak (and significant air headspace) allows for extended air exchange over time, helping to mature and oxidize the Port in the cask.

In keeping with this oxidative process, the colour of the Port wine slowly changes from the bright red of a “ruby” to the reddish-brown “tawny” colour. The more time Port spends in wood, the “tawny-er” it becomes (and the more complex its flavour profile). Indeed, here in Canada, the word “Tawny” is allowed to be used for any Port-style fortified wine aged in wood, not just those originating in Portugal.

I find the fruit notes in Tawny Port move more toward softer blueberry and grapey fruit flavours, while other “woody” notes come in – including commonly nuts, caramel and chocolate, among others.

A standard NAS Tawny Port is likely a couple of years older at the time of bottling than an entry-level NAS Ruby Port. It should last without obvious degradation for several weeks to months once it is opened (especially if refrigerated). A Reserve Tawny is typically aged for at least 7 years, and similarly has a good shelf life.

While there are some vintage-specific Tawny Ports (which I will explain in a moment), it is more common to see age-stated Tawny Ports available out there.

Tawny Port Age Statements

Unlike whisky, where age statements can be any given age, there are only 4 approved age statements in Tawny Port: 10, 20, 30 and 40 years old.

Like whisky, these are blends of many years/harvests, chosen to present a distinct “house style” for that particular Port shipper. The Master Blender of each Port shipper will take great care to produce a style that they can reliably recreate across batches – just as whisky makers try to do for their core age-stated ranges.

Unlike whisky however, the stated age on the Tawny Port bottle is not the minimum age for each Port that went into the blend, but rather the average age of Ports in the bottle. Or more accurately, the minimum average age (i.e., a good Master Blender is likely to aim for a slightly older average than the minimum 10, 20, 30 or 40 years listed on the bottle, to give themselves flexibility in keeping a consistent style over the years).

So that 30 yo Tawny Port could easily have a balance of 5 yo and 50 yo Ports in the bottle (plus all ages in-between). Aged Tawny Ports are really my jam – quite literally, given the more stewed flavours you often find in these Ports.

Younger age-stated Tawny Port should also last without obvious degradation for several weeks to months once opened (especially if refrigerated). As a general rule though, older Tawnies will not last as long as younger ones once opened, so you should try to drink them more quickly.

There is a view out there in some quarters that Tawnies will not last as long as Rubies once opened, given that they have already been extensively aged in the presence of air. But the more common competing view is that they are more resistant to major age degradation effects once opened, due to their already extensive aging. I don’t have enough experience to come down on one side of the issue or the other – and I am not likely to leave an open bottle lying around long enough to find out which breaks down faster anyway!

For Tawny Port fans, age-stated bottlings are probably the best trade-off for quality for price. Around here, 10 yo Tawnies are usually not much more expensive than standard NAS or Reserve Tawny. 20 yo Tawnies are probably the sweet spot in terms of price-performance, going for about twice the price of 10 year olds, but with a lot more character and flavour. In contrast, 30 yo and 40 yo Tawnies are heavily over-priced for the quality, and so likely not worth the extra cost to most. But that leads me to a special class of single harvest Tawnies that you may want to consider instead, known as Colheitas.

Colheita Ports

Colheita (pronounced Col-YATE-a) is basically a single vintage-dated Tawny Port, but one typically aged in small, well-used oak barrels instead of the large Port Pipes of most Tawnies. Colheita Ports must be aged in wood at least 7 years, but can spend quite a bit more time.

Just like Vintage Port (see above), Colheita single harvest years are “declared” after approval by the IVDP (Port and Douro Wine Institute). So, this means you should be getting a particularly good single harvest (although that will depend on the particular Port shipper). But as a result, production volumes are low. These aren’t widely produced, and so are not commonly available outside of Portugal at the moment.

But that is a shame, as they can represent extraordinary value. On my recent trip, I found that the >15 yo vintage Colheitas from the Port shippers who specialize in this style to be particularly nice, and no more expensive that a standard blended 20yo Tawny. In one particularly good deal, I brought back an outstanding 1974 vintage Colheita from the premium Port Shipper Barros, bottled in 2019 (so, ~45 years old) that cost $145 CAD. That is less than half what a typical blended 40yo Tawny costs around here. Not bad for a single harvest vintage!

Labeling can be a bit inconsistent on these, depending on the Port shipper. You will probably find “Colheita” on the front or back label (but not always), along with the harvest year (on the front) and bottling year (typically on the back). Look as well for “matured in wood” or “aged in cask” on the labels, to help differentiate from LBVs or other vintage Ruby Ports.

In terms of how long they last once opened, it is a similar story for other Tawnies of equivalent age – younger ones (i.e. <20 years) should last for several weeks to months without obvious degradation (especially if refrigerated). Heavily aged Colheitas should be drunk quicker, for best results.

And now for the last defined Port type I will consider, the ultra-rare (but very rewarding) Garrafeira Port.

Garrafeira Port

Garrafeira (gah-rah-FAY-ruh) is a very unique and rare style of Port. I have heard it opined that many Port lovers have never even heard of it, much less tasted it!

Garrafeira Port is most closely associated with the Port shipper Niepoort today, although others have made it over the years. It is made from the grapes of a single harvest, like a Colheita, and is therefore given a vintage date. But the aging pattern is unique, with initial aging of 3-6 years in oak casks before being transferred unfined and unfiltered into large glass bottles known as demi-johns (or “bon-bons”), and then aged further, often for many decades, before eventual traditional bottling.

These demi-johns were made from a special dark green German glass which is no longer produced (hence the rarity of this style today). They were typically 8 to 11 liters in volume, and sealed with a cork stopper. The glass is said by some to have introduced a unique character into the Port through reductive aging over extended periods of time (i.e., 30-50 years was not uncommon for this secondary aging period). The shape of the bottle and residual air pockets may also have played a role. Another theory I came across is that the glass of these bottles facilitated certain oils precipitating out of the Port, causing a change in taste with time.

Whatever the mechanism, Garrafeira Ports were said to produce unique flavours – with a distinctive balancing between young and aged Port characteristics, keeping both the fresh fruity notes of Rubies and the extended aging complexity of VPs. After the extended demi-john aging, the Port was transferred into regular bottles for subsequent cellaring (I’m not sure if they typically fined and filtered first, though).

I had the chance to sample a 1908 Ferraira Garrafeira Port in my journeys, at the high-end (and appropriatelty named) Garrafeira Nacional in the Time Out food market in Lisbon. Retailing for ~$1500 CAD a bottle, they had it out for tastings at only ~$60 CAD for a 2 oz pour, which I thought was very reasonable for something over a century old. I had a couple of VP samples on hand as well, so was able to compare them before and after the Garrafeira.

My first thought on the nose was that this was disappointing – it didn’t seem very different from a typical LBV or VP, and there was a slight solvent smell that was off-putting (vaguely ether-like). But in the mouth, it was a different experience – a bright initial palate, with classic Ruby fresh notes, followed by an aged VP mid-palate experience. I can really see what they say about Garrafeira – it did combine both experiences for me.

But the kicker was the finish, which went on for many minutes while continuing to evolve and change. Ports are not generally distinguished by a long finish in my experience, so this was a pleasant surprise. It also had the added benefit of raising up the experience of the two VPs I had on hand – both tasted considerably better after a sip of the Garrafeira, which left a nice tannic coating on my lips and gums.

Garrafeiras don’t show up very often on the market, and according to the Garrafeira Nacional, they don’t last long for tastings when they do open one. The bottle I tried would have been gone in a day or two. But definitely worth seeking out if you are in Lisbon and want the ultimate Port experience (the Time Out food market is also a great place to grab a quality meal on the cheap first).

And that wraps up this primer – I hope you found it helped your appreciation for the effects of Port finishing on whiskies. I always encourage everyone to pick up a Tawny Port bottle to try – if nothing else, to help ensure a steady supply of Port casks for whisky finishing.

Amrut Port Pipe Peated Single Cask #2712 (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oban Distillers Edition 2015

Following up on my Oban 14 year old review, here is an example of one of their annual Distillers Edition expressions. While there can be some variation from year to year, these are all pretty similar in style – and tend to be well received by whisky enthusiasts.

The particular vintage up for review here was released in 2015. It was distilled in 2000, and underwent a period of finishing in casks that had previously held Montilla Fino (a dry and pale variety of sherry). While not a common choice for finishing typically, it is the cask type that has been consistently used for Oban’s Distillers Edition for over a decade now.  The individual vintages are all around 14-15 years old. So you can expect pretty good consistency from year to year.

Bottled at 43% ABV. It sells for $140 CAD at the LCBO. I obtained a sample through a swap with the Redditor Throzen.

Here is how it compares to similar malts in my Meta-Critic Database:

Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition: 8.51 ± 0.33 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Glenfiddich 15yo Distillery Edition: 8.71 ± 0.27 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.41 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Jura Prophecy: 8.67 ± 0.31 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Loch Gorm: 8.87 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Kilchoman Sanaig: 8.69 ± 0.25 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 14yo: 8.51 ± 0.39 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Oban 18yo: 8.72 ± 0.19 on 14 reviews ($$$$$)
Oban 21yo: 9.02 ± 0.24 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Oban Distillers Edition (all vintages): 8.71 ± 0.21 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Oban Little Bay: 8.40 ± 0.38 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Old Pulteney 17yo: 8.76 ± 0.24 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Old Pulteney 21yo: 8.82 ± 0.45 on 18 reviews ($$$$$)
Springbank 18yo: 8.96 ± 0.17 on 20 reviews ($$$$$)
Talisker Distiller’s Edition (all editions): 8.92 ± 0.23 on 24 reviews ($$$$)
Talisker Skye: 8.43 ± 0.28 on 12 reviews ($$)

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Starts off with the classic Oban honey notes, followed by golden brown sugar. I can definitely detect the sherry notes, with golden raisins added to the usual apple/pear and grapes of Oban. A hint of smoke is here, but it seems subdued compared to the regular 14 yo release. Heather is prominent, joining the typical cut hay and floral notes. In some ways, this reminds of an even more lightly-peated Highland Park. There is some ethanol nose hair singe, which I don’t get on the 14yo. A decent nose overall.

Palate: Honey and salted caramel to start. Stewed mixed fruits, but with a dose of bitter earth cherries (ground cherries) added to the mix. Also golden raisins. Cinnamon and nutmeg. There is a bit of pepper here, giving it some kick. Slight bitterness on swallow, but dissipates quickly (reminds of dried paper glue).

Finish:‎ Medium length. Odd mix of bitter and sweet, frankly. Pear and apple re-surface, but the glue note lingers. Sticky residue on the gums, which is nice.

With a bit of water, you get sweeter caramel in mouth. I would say it benefits from a few drops.

Personally, I prefer the regular Oban14 yo. The Distillers Edition is well put together, but I find that it is just not that interesting or compelling for the style. There are plenty of other lightly sherried malts you can try instead – the Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition (aka “Double Matured”) comes to mind.

Among reviewers, Elizabeth of the Whiskey Reviewer gives Distillers Edition top marks. Most reviewers are more moderate in their praise, including for the example Nathan the Scotch Noob, Michael of Diving of Pearls, and Ruben of Whisky Notes – all of whom rank Oban 14 yo higher (as I do). In contrast, Patrick of Quebec Whisky finds them about comparable, while Jim Murray and Serge of Whisky Fun both prefer the Distillers Edition over the 14 yo. No real negative reviews out there, Gavin of Whisky Advocate has given it a lower score than typical.

Grant’s 18 Year Old Blended

This is a limited release of an age-stated version of the Grant’s line of blended scotch whisky (not to be confused with Glen Grant single malts). Prior to this premium age-stated release, I’ve only had the entry-level Grant’s blend (known as “Grant’s Family Reserve”). Although I haven’t reviewed it, I found that no-age-statement (NAS) blend to be very basic, and would not recommended it.

So what drew me to buying this bottle? In my experience, age-stated blends are generally pretty decent, especially from William Grant and Sons (e.g., the Storas 21 yo). Grant’s 18 yo has been finished in Port casks, which typically brings in a fruity character that I quite like. It is reasonably priced at the LCBO ($80 CAD, bought on sale for $64). And I found another whisky enthusiast willing to take a gamble and split the bottle with me, thus further lowering my risk.

Grant’s 18 yo is bottled at the industry-standard 40% ABV. I presume it is chill-filtered and colouring has been added.

Here is how it compares in my Meta-Critic Database to some other blended scotch brands that also come with age-stated expressions:

Ballantine’s 17yo: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Ballantine’s Finest: 7.62 ± 0.61 on 12 reviews ($)
Catto’s 12yo: 8.06 ± 0.31 on 5 reviews ($$)
Catto’s Rare Old: 8.02 ± 0.67 on 5 reviews ($)
Chivas Regal 12yo: 7.79 ± 0.44 on 23 reviews ($$)
Chivas Regal 18yo: 8.23 ± 0.46 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Dewar’s 12yo: 7.94 ± 0.35 on 14 reviews ($$)
Dewar’s White Label: 7.52 ± 0.71 on 14 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse Gold Reserve 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.30 on 10 reviews ($$)
Famous Grouse: 7.65 ± 0.55 on 20 reviews ($)
Grant’s 12yo: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$)
Grant’s 18yo: 8.71 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Grant’s Blended Sherry Cask: 8.00 ± 0.21 on 6 reviews ($)
Grant’s Family Reserve Blended: 7.69 ± 0.66 on 14 reviews ($)
Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency: 8.65 ± 0.24 on 7 reviews ($$)
Hankey Bannister 21yo Partner’s Reserve: 8.55 ± 0.43 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
Hankey Bannister Original: 7.87 ± 0.31 on 6 reviews ($)
Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label: 8.26 ± 0.47 on 24 reviews ($$)
Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 8.53 ± 0.34 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
Johnnie Walker Green Label: 8.53 ± 0.35 on 21 reviews ($$$$)
Storas 21yo Rare Cask Reserves Blended: 8.69 ± 0.11 on 4 reviews ($$$)

As you can see, that’s a top score for an age-stated blended scotch. Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Fairly rich and complex nose, likely owing to the Port finishing. Honey and brown sugar. Caramel. A base of apple and pear juice, with figs and raisins. Some red berries (and red grapes). Lemon citrus. Nutty, which I like. A slight bit of funk, which adds to character. A bit spirity, but no real solvent off-notes – definitely shows its extended age.

Palate: Tons of honey and caramel to start, very sweet. Vanilla. Fruity, with dried red fruits prominent. Figs again, and the standard apples and pear. Toasted almonds. Malty, which is nice for a blend (i.e., not particularly grainy). Very light wood spice, nutmeg mainly. No burn. Pleasant to hold in the mouth. ‎Turns slightly bitter on the swallow. Still, this is one for those with a sweet tooth. Wish it was higher proof, as it has a rather watery mouthfeel (as expected).

Finish:‎ Medium-short. Lemon zest. Chocolate-covered almonds. A winey Port finish on the fade out, with a bit of oaky bitterness. Some mouth puckering astringency. Not bad for a blend, but a longer finish would be nice.

A good integration of malt and grain whiskies – heavier on the malt, it seems to me. Certainly higher quality than regular NAS blends‎.

I like a nice Port finish on a fairly simple base whisky, like Pike Creek 10yo and Kavalan Concertmaster.‎ This Grant’s 18yo reminds me more of the later, although sweeter in this case. And a lot cheaper around here, too. Higher proof would have been great, along with a longer lasting finish, but a good blend for what it is. I think the Meta-Critic average score is fair.

Lawrence of Malt Maniacs gives it a very high score, as does Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Ruben of Whisky Notes and Dominic of Whisky Advocate both give it a below average score (but positive reviews). The lowest score comes from Oliver of Dramming.

Sullivans Cove French Oak Single Cask

Welcome to my first Tasmanian single malt review.  Tasmania is an isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, and has been seeing a boom in whisky production lately. Sullivans Cove is arguably their most well-known distillery. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they have won numerous international whisky awards in recent years.

Indeed, this particular French Oak single cask single malt, which is finished in port wine casks, won “Best Australian Whisky” at the 2013 World Whiskies Awards and then “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the 2014 World Whiskies Awards. This latter one is a little odd in my view for a single cask whisky – it doesn’t really help you know what to except from all the other casks out there. And you could never track down the same winning cask – we can only hope that there is not a lot of variability from cask to cask (and I expect there is).

In any case, these expressions are bottled at a reduced ABV (47.5% for the sample I tried), and the age varies from between 11 to 12 years old. I don’t have the specific bottle code for the one I tried earlier this year, but I know it was barreled on 8/8/2000 and bottled on 1/25/2012 (so, 11 years old, in other words).

Here is how Sullivans Cove compares to other port-finished malt whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Amrut Portonova: 9.00 ± 0.30 on 18 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask (all casks): 8.77 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.37 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.80 ± 0.36 on 17 reviews ($$$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.44 ± 0.28 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port (both editions): 8.98 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.35 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.74 ± 0.39 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.29 ± 0.54 on 20 reviews ($$$$)
Kavalan Solist Port Cask: 8.78 ± 0.38 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove American Oak: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Sullivans Cove Bourbon Cask Strength: 8.54 ± 0.73 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove Double Cask: 8.29 ± 0.49 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Sullivans Cove French Oak: 8.67 ± 0.27 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Sullivans Cove Port Cask Strength: 8.55 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.60 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

Despite the early awards, most Sullivan Cove expressions get fairly typical average scores in my Meta-Critic Database.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, and milk chocolate are the most prominent notes. Baked goods – but more like a Blondie bar than a brownie (although there is a bit of dark chocolate too). Citrus, and some apple. There’s a general fruity sweetness, but nothing else very specific (i.e., seems more like fruit-flavoured candy, think Haribo gummy bears or fruit roll-ups). A little nutty. No real off notes.

Palate: Wow, tons of butterscotch and toffee notes now – very buttery, in fact. White chocolate is also prominent (that’s a first for me), along with hazelnut. The dark chocolate has become subdued, more like just a touch of bitterness now. Creamy mouthfeel. Really, this tastes is like a some sort of specialty chocolate bar that has been liquefied! Same candied fruit as the nose. Some mild baking spices (nutmeg), a touch of pepper. A bit grassy.

Finish: Fairly short, unfortunately. Or perhaps not, given the overwhelming sweetness of the nose and palate. The bitterness of the dark chocolate comes back at the end, along with that slight candy fruitiness.

Sullivans.Cove.French.OakVery unique experience. Closest thing in my mind is probably Glenmorangie Signet – but amped-up, with white chocolate and butterscotch.  Definitely not an everyday dram, but this could easily serve as a decadent dessert replacement at the end of a meal.

Not really getting much of the port finish here (beyond that sweet candied fruitiness). It does reminds me a bit of the old Pike’s Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish here in Canada (before they switched to finishing in rum casks). But this is really overwhelming in its sweetness.

This whisky was a hit for Serge of Whisky Fun and TOModera of Reddit. It also garnered fairly positive reviews from Jim Murray and Ruben of Whisky Notes (although only an average score from Ruben). Dominic of Whisky Advocate is moderately positive (but giving it a below average score). The only actually negative review I’ve seen is Craig of Malt Maniacs. While I appreciate that it is a quality product, it is not something I could see myself going for very often. I think the overall Meta-Critic average is reasonable.

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.

Pike Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish

Like Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts, Pike Creek was part of the original short-lived Canadian Whisky Guild series of the late 1990s. Hearkening back to an earlier era of whisky production, these were created at Corby’s Hiram Walker facility to simulate previous production styles.

While the market wasn’t sufficiently receptive at the time, these higher-end offerings have made a strong resurgence in recent years.  This started with Lot 40, which was re-released in 2012 and remains the darling of Canadian straight rye whisky. More recently was the late 2015’s re-release of the multi-grain Gooderham & Worts.

Often overlooked in this series is Pike Creek, similarly re-launched in late 2012. Pike Creek is double-distilled in small copper column stills to a low ABV. The spirit is initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels and then finished in vintage port pipes. A 10 year age statement is included on the domestic version (which is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV).

Pike Creek is clearly formulated to appeal to those who like their fortified wine-finished Scotch whiskies.  Indeed, you could argue Pike Creek was a forerunner to the highly popular Alberta Premium Dark Horse – where a small amount of sherry is directly added to rye whisky. 66 Gilead Crimson Rye and the recently released Gretzky Red Cask are further examples of this wine barrel-finished style.

For reasons not clear to me, Pike Creek seems to be relegated to second-tier status among these recent offerings, with relatively little buzz and promotion.  Let’s see how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other modern Canadian whiskies:

66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.38 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.60 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.25 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.76 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.27 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$)

Pike Creek is definitely at the low end of overall scores, although the variance is high here (indicating that some reviewers seem to really like it, some really don’t). Note that the overall average for Canadian whiskies in my database is currently ~8.35.

Let’s see what I find in the glass. 🙂  My bottle is a late model batch, recently bought at the LCBO ($39.95 CAD).

Colour:  Medium orange-brown. Pretty confident this has been artificially colored with caramel, for a consistent look.

Nose: Definitely getting the rye, softened with sweet fruit – most especially currants, red grapes, prunes and raisins. I also get strawberries and blueberries. A bit of red wine, followed by vanilla and a dry oakiness. Classic light rye spices, quite a nice mix overall. No real solvent smell – except perhaps for a faint hint of glue (and I can almost imagine smoke). There is a fair amount of alcohol singe for 40% ABV. It’s a nice nose, and a good start to the tasting.

Palate: The rye notes dominate, but with a surprising amount of caramel and brown sugar throughout.  Lighter than I was expecting, and not as fruity as the nose suggests (mainly berries left, but a bit of citrus shows up now). Pepper and some ginger add to the spice. A bit nutty. Watery mouthfeel overall, consistent with the low ABV – I suspect it could be quite stunning if it were bottled at higher proof. Decent, but I was personally hoping for more rye kick.

Finish: Surprisingly short. The rye and fruit seem to exit first, with a slow lingering brown sugar finish. A slight sourness, but well balanced to the sweetness (reminds me of cherry blasters candy). Nothing wrong with this finish per se, but it sure would be nice if it lasted longer.

pike-creek-portThis is definitely one for folks who like their ryes light and sweet. Personally, I was hoping for more overt port flavours and a stronger rye presence (given the reported distillation method). But it doesn’t have the flaws of most light (and young) Canadian rye whiskies. I could see this one serving as a nice daily sipper.

As such, I don’t get the low scores overall.  While not as complex as Lot 40 or Gooderham & Worts, I would still have expected this to do above-average for a Canadian whisky. Based on the other Canadian whisky examples listed above, I would personally give Pike Creek something like a ~8.6.

For positive reviews of this whisky, check out Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and headlessparrot and TOModera on reddit. The most negative reviews I’ve seen come from Lasidar on reddit and André and Martin of Quebec Whisky (although Patrick there gives it an about average score).

If you are curious to try it, you might want to hurry to pick this one up: Corby has just replaced it with a rum barrel-finished version (as of October 2016). Stocks of the original port-finished Pike Creek are dwindling fast.

 

BenRiach 15 Year Old Tawny Port

BenRiach has recently announced a new 21 year old Tawny Port expression, apparently to replace the current 15 yo Tawny port-finished single malt in their core line-up.  As such, I figured it was about time I write up my review of this one, before it disappears off the shelves for good.

Port is a Portugeuse fortified wine, and comes in sweet, dry and semi-dry forms. I’ve even had white port, which is distinctive. I am typically a fan of port finishes for malt whisky, as I find it adds slightly sweet grape notes to the basic malt profile. Tawny port in particular is typically sweet (or medium dry), and often somewhat “nutty”.

As I mentioned in my 12 Year Old Matured in Sherry Wood review, BenRiach typically has a fairly gentle base spirit. This makes it well suited to fortified wine barrel finishing, in my view.  Here are how some of the typical BenRiach expressions compare:

BenRiach 12yo: 8.42 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 12yo Matured in Sherry Wood: 8.69 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$)
BenRiach 15yo Sauternes Finish: 8.11 ± 0.53 on 3 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 15yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.51 ± 0.21 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Septendecim Peated: 8.51 ± 0.57 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
BenRiach 17yo Solstice Peated Port: 8.90 ± 0.29 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

And now some other port-finished whiskies:

Amrut Portonova: 8.98 ± 0.30 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Amrut Portpipe Peated Single Cask: 8.80 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Port Cask Finish: 8.59 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Balvenie 21yo Port Wood: 8.74 ± 0.40 on 13 reviews ($$$$$)
GlenDronach 18yo Tawny Port Finish: 8.54 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$$$)
Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask: 8.32 ± 0.59 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Port Cask: 8.64 ± 0.38 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Penderyn Portwood: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Tomatin 14yo Portwood: 8.57 ± 0.37 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Tyrconnell 10yo Port Cask Finish: 8.55 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)

BenRiach 15 Tawny Port is certainly within the typical range of other port-finished expressions (although at the low end of them).

I had a glass of the BenRiach 15 Year Old Tawny Port from a recently opened bottle at a bar here in Ontario.  It was my only drink that night, so I took my time with it.  Here’s what I found in the glass.

Nose: Sweet, as I would expect for a tawny port. Main fruits are raisins and grapes (doh!), with some subtler lighter fruits like apple. Net effect is sort of like a grape jam. Milk chocolate. I also get dry, musty woody notes, like sawdust. No off-putting solvent notes or alcohol singe (surprisingly mild, in fact).

Palate: Fruit jammy, but with less distinct fruits now. Milk chocolate again, and even more musty oak. Pepper, producing some tongue tingle. Chewy mouthfeel, even a bit syrupy. It’s a great malt to hold in your mouth – you don’t want to swallow.  Somewhat tannic and tart once you do, though. Fairly simple in composition, without much influence from the base spirit it seems.

Finish: Medium finish. Oaky bitterness present throughout, as it has been all along.  Surprisingly astringent. Nothing really unpleasant though, just a simple and gentle fade-out. Reminds me a lot of Kavalan Concertmaster.

Benriach.15.TawnyThe BenRiach 15 Tawny Port Wood Finish is an easy-drinking whisky, in much same the category as of the Kavalan Concertmaster. It has less character on the nose though, earning it a lower score in my books (although it does about the same or better with many reviewers). There’s nothing to particularly recommend BenRiach 15 Tawny Port over other port-finishes, but not much to complain about either.  I’m curious to see if the extra aging in the new 21 year old version brings up anything new.

Some of the highest scores that I’ve seen for this 15 yo expression come from the folks at Quebec Whisky (André and Patrick in particular).  Personally, I’m somewhat closer to Martin and Eli (Elisabeth) in my rating. Richard at the Whiskey Reviewer is similarly moderately positive, as is Jim Murray. End of the day, this is a decent dram, but nothing to get too excited about in my view.

Kavalan Concertmaster

Kavalan Concertmaster bottle

One of my goals with these commentaries is to explore whiskies that seem divergent in some way  – be it across reviewers, across a flavour class, or across a distillery’s offerings and price range.  The Kavalan Concertmaster – from Taiwanese distillery King Car – is an interesting single malt to examine for several of these reasons.

As a bit of background, Taiwan has generally a marine tropical climate (although mean temperatures will vary across its rather mountainous terrain). This means that relative to more temperate northerly climes (like Scotland and Ireland), whiskies will mature more quickly in the barrel in Taiwan, thus requiring less aging time. A similar (and even more dramatic effect) can be observed with Amrut in India. As a result, you don’t typically see age statements on these tropical whiskies – it would be misleading, in relation to what we have come to expect from Scottish single malts of equivalent age.

Kavalan has adopted a distinctly musical theme for its labeling. The higher-end Soloist family will be the subject of a future commentary, but for right now I would like to discuss how the Concertmaster fits it with the rest of their more entry-level line-up of single malts. From the current Metacritic scores:

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

With the standard caveat that you should treat whiskies with a low number of reviews as provisional until more results come in (i.e. Podium and King Car), the Concertmaster does seem to be getting the lowest overall rating. And note that despite the plain labeling of the third example above, all of these are actually single malts (i.e., all malt whisky, from a single distillery, using traditional copper pot stills).

There is definitely a wider-than-typical range of reviewer opinions on these whiskies. While most reviewers seem to consider the Single Malt and Concertmaster expressions to be about average (note that the mean whisky score is currently ~8.55 in my database), there are a couple of quite negative responses out there for both whiskies – and more so for the Concertmaster. This is interesting, as the Concertmaster has won Best in Class twice at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC), along with a slew of Silver medals at other international competitions (and even a couple of Golds).

I am curious as to why there is a seeming discrepancy here, as I personally find the Concertmaster to be a quite decent whisky. I would rate it as a slightly above-average single malt, with the Kavalan Single Malt as slightly below. This is the reverse of most reviewers who have tried both (although the difference in absolute scores isn’t great).

There are several factors potentially at play here. For one, Port cask finishes generally seem to be less popular among reviewers than Sherry cask ones. Kavalan has quite a few Sherry-finished expressions among their higher-end lines, so the Concertmaster may be suffering in direct comparison.

Concertmaster is also unusual in that it uses a combination of three varieties of Port casks – Ruby Port, Tawny Port and Vintage Port – after its initial period of time spent in American Oak casks (hence the “concertmaster” title). When you consider the unusually high number of different casks – combined with the relatively short time needed in cask – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more batch-to-batch variability than typical for a single malt. While speculative, this could account for some of the variability seen between reviewers.

Of course, it’s also possible that not everyone likes the distinctive characteristics of this particular whisky. 😉 There is something quite distinctive about all of these Kavalan whiskies, compared to Scottish single malts. Indeed, this gets back to my other reason for choosing to profile this whisky – there seems to be a different meaning behind some of the words used by reviewers to describe it.

Here are my tasting notes for the Concertmaster:

Nose: Classic port-infused aromas spring up, like berries and dark fruits, plus rich dark chocolate. I don’t really get the promised tropical fruits at all. Definitely plenty of honey here, and some vanilla (although it’s a bit lost beneath the sweet fruits). Great nose, Concertmaster is one of those whiskies that I can happily smell all night. 🙂

Palate: A direct repeat of the nose, in the same order. I get a lot of the “earthy” sweet grape flavours up front, like figs, dates, raisins, black currants – even stewed prunes. It’s like an alcohol-infused Ribena! A dry maltiness quickly appears, along with a heavy astringent effect – just as it does on the standard Single Malt edition. Personally, I find this works here, and makes a good contrast to the initial port-infused flavours. Mouth feel is pleasantly thick and slightly chewy (thanks more to the malt). Despite the port influence, It is definitely not overly sweet – indeed, if I have any complaint here it is that the winey fruit-forward flavours don’t linger longer on balance.

Finish: Moderate. Like with the Single Malt, the astringent effect remains prominent, and you are left with rather dry gums and tongue in the end – but with a well-balanced touch of stewed fruits left behind this time.

The astringency characteristic I describe above likely explains the apparent discrepancy you will note in some reviews: namely that Concertmaster is too “sweet” (especially on the palate and finish) and exceedingly “dry” (again on the palate and finish). Same goes for the complaint by some reviewers that it has an unusually high alcohol “burn” or “kick” (again, especially on the palate) – despite only being bottled at a low 40% ABV.

I think the explanation for both these apparent discrepancies is the same – the significant astringency in Kavalan whiskies, especially noticeable on the palate. This makes your tongue feel “dried out” very quickly after tasting. A similar effect occurs when you drink sodium-infused water, such as club soda (aka soda water). See my Chivas Regal 12 yo commentary for a discussion of when this can enhance a whisky’s flavour.

And so, “dry” – in the likely meaning of these reviewers – is not the opposite of “sweet”, but rather a commentary on how “drying” it is on the tongue. And what else is “drying” of the tongue? A high alcohol content. Basically, the Kavalans are producing a higher astringent effect than normal, but the issue is confused by our usual terminology for this effect (i.e., dry, burn, etc.).  As an analogy, it is very hard to describe the subjective difference between physically “hot” food and spicy “hot” foods. Indeed, many of the same receptors on the tongue respond to these two signals, which is probably how we got the “hot” term to describe the effect of spicy food.

One thing most reviewers seem to agree on is the nose – most like it, detecting those classic rich Port-infused flavours I describe above. I don’t get as much of the so-called “tropical” notes (i.e., banana, pineapple, coconut, melon, etc.) that some reviewers report, although I do detect those on the tropical Amrut (especially tons of banana in that case).

Kavalan Concertmaster bottleI also agree with many that the palate doesn’t necessarily match up to the promise of the nose (as nothing new really presents itself). But I still find it quite acceptable and enjoyable for a Port finished whisky (although again, batches could vary). You do need to get used to the astringency effect, though, which may detract for some.

The finish is also quite acceptable in my view. I find it a bit longer than some reviewers. And while slightly sweet on the way out, I find it pleasantly so (i.e., not cloying).

Anyway, I suggest you make your own mind up about this whisky. Given the relative cost in North America and Europe, you are probably not likely to opt for this over a well established single malt (even if you can find it). But if you get the chance to sample it somewhere, I think its well worth the effort to seek it out for its distinctive properties.

I picked this Concermaster bottle up for $125 CAD at the LCBO, although I know it is no longer in stock. FYI, the standard Single Malt edition was $140 CAD at the LCBO, and I previously picked up a 50mL sample in Europe for about 10 Euros (~$15 CAD).

For different perspectives and reviews, you can can start by searching the Reddit Scotchit collective – most reviewers there seem to really like the Concertmaster. Alternatively, the Rumhowler has one of the most negative reviews I’ve seen of this whisky. The guys at QuebecWhisky.com all seem to take a more middle-of-the-road view.