Some years ago, Jamie and I went to a whisky festival in Toronto where all the whisky tasted terrible. It all tasted the same. The conspiracist in me suspected the big name brand bottles were refilled with junk whisky. Later, though, I realized it was because of the glassware. The festival organizers used thick rocks glasses intended for cocktails and whisky on ice, but not for whisky poured neat.
In the summer of 2017, Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore called the Hiram-Walker warehouse manager to ask that the six barrels intended for the that afternoon’s tasting be brought outdoors. This was unusual. Typically, when doing a tour through Hiram-Walker distillery, the much anticipated barrel tasting happens within the warehouse. That summer of August, though, was the day of the eclipse.
Barrel Bourbon seeks out unique barrels of whisky from various sources, batches them, and bottles them when they’re ready to go. Their mantra is “no two batches taste alike.” It’s a good mantra. It’s a fantastic idea. It’s a play on a weakness, since smaller producers buying barrels have a challenge of producing a consistent product.
Glenfiddich’s Experimental releases are pushing the distillery in new directions. Fire & Cane, the latest, is perhaps the perfect balance of price and flavor. Winter Storm is, undoubtedly, the best whisky of this excellent collection. It’s 21 Year Old Glenfiddich, however, and that comes with a high price. Fire & Cane is affordable, and dead-set on competing with peated whiskies coming from Islay.
The people behind Buffalo Trace did research a few years ago, asking their fans on the type of whisky they’d like to see. A website asked several questions, including the preferred recipe of whisky (rye, bourbon, wheated bourbon), the age, the proof, etc. The results came in, and the Craft Your Perfect Bourbon was born. It’ll be an annual release. The first release, priced at $40, is already selling for hundreds of dollars in the after-market. Welcome to the bourbon craze. I’d hate to contribute to the hype, but Weller C.Y.P.B. is a terrific whisky. It’s probably the best in the Weller series.
Spectrum batch 0001 is a dark, brooding, terrific hot mess. The best kind of hot mess. Later batch numbers are a little more settled, youthful, and zestier. Still, batch 0001 will likely be the collector’s favourite because you’re not going to get flavours like this anywhere else. The distillery (located in Bangalore) is the master of hot climate new world whiskies.
Ardbeg’s annual releases are highly anticipated among fans. The most popular of recent years, Dark Cove, was much beloved and was turned (unofficially) to a regular release called AN NO. Each year, fans get something different. Each year, there are two releases; the regular releases and the committee release, intended primarily for Ardbeg committee members (an organization that’s free to join).
Winter Storm is the third of Glenfiddich’s Experimental releases (which includes IPA, and Project XX). This one has a Canadian twist, and it starts with Canadian Brand Ambassador Beth Havers. It was Beth that suggested Canadian ice-wine casks as a potential finishing barrel. Brian Kinsman, malt laster for Glenfiddich, ran with the idea.
Peerless Distillery is located in Louisville Kentucky. They make cask-strength ryes and bourbons, both single barrels and extremely small batches (6 or so barrels). When making whisky, they use a sweet mash instead of a sour mash, and they put their whisky into barrels at a lower proof. When visiting the distillery, I met-up with Caleb Kilburn to discuss their whisky making process. This setup the perfect back-drop for a Whisky 101 on how American Bourbon and Rye is made! Thanks Caleb, and the folks at Peerless Distillery, for the tour!
Booker’s Rye hit the market in 2016 as a one-off. Aged for thirteen years, this was a premium brand extension from Booker’s Bourbon. Jim Beam, the distillery behind Booker’s, is known for intense flavoured bourbons that use a low rye recipe (with some exceptions). Beam plays with oak flavours within their bourbon lines.
Canadian Club joined the 2017 party of great Canadian whisky releases. This was an LCBO-only release at $250 a bottle, and it sold out within minutes. It’s apparently a hot-commodity in after-market trading. There are a few things not commonly spoken of when making Canadian Club 40, and it reflects in the flavour.
Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series started with IPA, a whisky that surprised me. I thought it was a gimmick, but it turned out to be a winner in setting Glenfiddich in a new direction. The second release in the Experimental Series is Project XX (Pronounced: Project Twenty). Was this a clever marketing way to put the number twenty on the bottle? Perhaps, but the whisky inside has a clever story, and it’s a clever scotch, so let’s dive deeper.
J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak is part of the rare cask series, an annual unique release that comes out in time for father’s day. Last year’s release featured Dissertation, a play on Dr. Don Livermore’s PhD. With Seasoned Oak, this is a further celebration of the flavours barrels bring to the whisky we enjoy.
Despite the claims on the website, this isn’t “scotch styled” single malt. It’s single malt, reimagined. The malted barley notes do come through, but this is a North American style single malt. I do hate going on about this point, but marketing needs to meet expectation, and this isn’t “scotch styled.”
I’m often offered samples of whisky from strange places. This sample came to me via a square glass bottle with a wide lid. On a whim, I poured the sample into a Glencairn glass and quickly started jotting down tasting notes. It was immediately captivated. The nose is beautiful with complexity, booziness, and intensity. The palate is even more impressive. My original writeup on tastings notes for the palate were two paragraphs long.
Glenfiddich IPA single malt scotch initially struck me as a gimmick. Perhaps it is, but it’s a tasty one. My internal monologue mocked it at first, though—why would the best selling single malt scotch in the world jump on a trend like IPA barrel finishing? Sure, IPAs are trendy, but will they sell more single malt scotch?
There are a few misconceptions around Scotch whisky that I still hear today. First, I often hear how scotch is ‘smoky’ with strong iodine notes, and therefore a big turn-off for whisky drinkers. In truth, most scotch sold contains very little in terms of smoky notes. The second misconceptions is, only Islay distilleries make peated whiskies. In truth, peat was a main fuel source up until the 1950s in many parts of Scotland and was commonly used in the whisky making process.
Unlike Colonel E.H. Taylor’s whisky cousin, Buffalo Trace Bourbon, CEHT Small Batch has a strong opinion on whisky. It’s maltier, grainier. It offers not only an excellent example of what a straight bourbon should taste like, but also offering an opinion on where the future is going. Sure, there’s a lot of woody notes here, but there’s also grainy notes that are allowed to shine creating a nice balance. Not everyone will appreciate the small batch; they might find it too acidic, or too forced on flavour, but an excellent whisky should either define the category or have a define an attitude. This whisky is the latter. Great price-point, and at 50% ABV, it will waken-up the palate.
Castle & Key Distillery is located in the historic Old Taylor Distillery, within Woodford County, Kentucky. The distillery, not yet opened to the public, is destined to become a popular tourist attraction. It’s filled with once abandoned whisky warehouses, an old train station going back to the 1900s, and a traditional water spring house that’s reminiscent of the Roman era. (Pictured below)
This week on The Whisky Topic, we're joined by John Quinn. John Quinn is the Global Brand Ambassador for Tullamore Dew. We speak about the Irish Whiskey industry, through it's recent history (70s to today), and taste a deconstruction of Tullamore Dew as well as something new!
Island of Arran is a large Scottish island that was once a Viking stronghold. The last distillery on the island dates back to 1837, and previous to that there were estimated to be over fifty active distilleries on the island. The 19th century wasn't overly kind to the island, though. Due to many factors (known as the clearances), the population severely decreased as people moved mainland. Today, there are just five-thousand residents on the island. They have one distillery.
Elijah Craig is a wonderful example of why the obsession over age statements is currently overblown. Elijah Craig, made by Heaven Hill Distillery, is their darling premium straight bourbon product. In previous years, it carried an age statement of twelve years. As the demand for whisky increased, the stock of old barrels became an issue. Heaven Hill couldn’t keep the age statement and still continue to release Elijah Craig while also expanding the line into older age statements.
Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve is a fantastic scotch that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. It’s not as topical as whatever this years best whisky in the world is, or as historic as some fifty-year old scotches being released. What it is, though, is a consistently terrific reasonably priced scotch (such a rarity these days!).
The Whisky Topic Podcast has hit 100 episodes late last year, and we're still going strong. This time around, we recorded episode 109 for YouTube. There's a lot to be said about the Podcast medium. But we wanted to try the YouTube medium as well. As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or your favourite Podcast network.
Many are surprised to know that J.P. Wiser’s 18 contains no prominent rye, and yet there’s a wonderful spice component to the whisky. All of that spice comes from barrel maturation. The base product here is a double-distilled corn whisky aged in reused American bourbon barrels. The 18 doesn’t get enough attention, primarily because it’s a little too one-note for some, but it makes a rich and dry whisky that competes wonderfully with many Scotches at and above its price-point of $60.
Pike Creek is the ‘finishing’ brand for Corby Spirit & Wines, the company behind Lot No 40 and J.P. Wiser’s. Cask finishings is a process in which whisky is primarily aged in one type of barrel, and then finished (for anywhere between 3 months to many years) in another type of barrel. This second barrel is intended to impart more complex notes to the original whisky. It’s a process most common in Scotland, but it’s not limited to Scotland.
When speaking with Dr. Don Livermore, Master Blender for Hiram-Walker, you can tell his next obsession is going to be wheat. It’s right there, aging in barrels. I’ve had a few samples, and believe me, you’ve not tasted wheat like this before. Dr. Don is going to perfect the grain. While I’m not predicting an all-wheat whisky, I do expect wheat to be a more predominant grain used in future releases. Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity 3 Grain Blend is a hint of this future.