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.