This is my first review of a Two Brewers single malt whisky – but I’ve actually enjoyed many of their releases over the years. In my opinion, they are one of the best single malt whisky makers currently operating in Canada.
Two Brewers was originally started by two friends as a brewery in the Yukon in 1997. In 2009, they bought their first still and decided to make whisky. As I’ve noticed in my travels, many new whisky producers started out as beer brewers (e.g., Copperworks in the US, and Santis in Switzerland). The main differences are that you don’t need to boil the wort if you are making whisky (as you will distill it later), and you will need to add hopps to stabilize the lower-proof beer.
Two Brewers whisky is always made in small batch releases, which vary in the varieties of of malted barley used, fermentation techniques and types of barrels for aging. While the intent is to make it so that no two releases are the same, they alternate releases into four main classes (labelled on the bottles): Classic, Peated, Special Finishes, and Innovative. The last is the most distinctive, as this is where they vary their malt recipes and fermentation styles.
I’ve actually had the the Classic (including a cask-strength version), Peated and a PX Special Finish, and enjoyed them all. But this is my first review of a purchased bottle, under the Innovative label. My bottle is Batch 14, bottled in 2019. Only 1460 bottles were produced (mine is bottle 0561). Bottled at 46% ABV. What is distinctive here is that they used roasted malts, dark malt, and chocolate malt (apparently the same recipe as used in their Midnight Sun Expresso Stout beer). This should bring in extra coffee, chocolate, and nutty notes to the whisky.
Since there are relative few scores for most releases, I’m combined the scores for the main classes in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database, presented below compared to some other craft single malt whiskies:
Two Brewers Classic (all releases): 8.61 ± 0.41 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Cask Strength (all releases): 8.77 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Innovative (all releases): 8.56 ± 0.37 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Peated (all releases): 8.75 ± 0.46 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Special Finishes (all releases): 8.73 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Two Brewers Release 14 Innovative: 8.77 ± 0.32 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.50 ± 0.26 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Rare: 7.99 ± 0.54 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Ice: 8.22 ± 0.58 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Lohin McKinnon Wine Barrel Finished: 7.98 ± 0.64 on 6 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Single Malt: 7.98 ± 0.36 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Choclolate Malt: 8.21 ± 0.50 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Lohin McKinnon Peated: 8.63 ± 0.46 on 3 reviews (reviews ($$$)
Santis Edition Dreifaltigkeit (Cask Strength Peated): 7.20 ± 1.75 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Säntis: 7.49 ± 0.86 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Santis Edition Sigel: 7.91 ± 0.75 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky 8.15 ± 0.49 on 10 reviews ($$$)
As you can see, the Two Brewers Release 14 outperforms most Innovative releases, and is on par with the higher average class scores for this distillery. What you can also see from above is that Two Brewers typically out-performs other small “craft” single malt whisky operations in Canada and elsewhere.
Let’s see what I find in the glass:
Nose: Very sweet nose, caramel and honey. Apples, pears, plums and cherries. Baked bread with mild baking spices, like nutmeg, plus a touch of pepper. I find the grain is coming through most clearly, but in a subtle way – definitely getting some roasted notes, but it is just providing a touch of distinctiveness, nothing too strong. No real off notes. A pleasant and enticing nose.
Palate: Caramel and honey sweetness to start, with the same fruity notes as the nose (plus raisins). But the grain really begins to assert itself now. The bread has turned decidedly toasted, with all the baking spices more prominent (along with a touch of salt and more black pepper). This going to sound strange, but it tastes like licking a baguette! Actually, toasted raisin bread is probably the best analogy. On the swallow, I’m getting a strong coffee/expresso note. Dark chocolate throughout. It is quite the evolution in the mouth – which is like having an appetizer, dessert and then after-dinner coffee while skipping the main course.
Finish: Medium-long. Fairly simple to start – lightly fruity, more candied now (e.g. red licorice). But holy cow do those coffee/expresso and dark chocolate notes dominate and linger – their impact builds with time. I’ve never found chocolate malt “coffee beers” all that strong, but the malt is coming through in an almost overwhelming way now.
This is a pretty unique experience – I’ve never seen this level of chocolate malt influencing the final whisky like this. But its approach is subtle, building over time and really dominating only on the finish (in contrast, the roasted malt bread notes are present throughout). “Innovative” is the right term for this bottle – it is unlike any of the other Two Brewers I’ve tried.
The highest score I’ve seen for this batch is from Andre of Quebec Whisky, followed by Jason of In Search of Elegance. These are balanced by average scores from Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Jim Murray, and a Silver medal from the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards. My own rating is actually pretty close to the resulting Meta-Critic average. I highly recommend you give this distillery a try if you come across their bottlings.