Monday, 14 January 2019

Living the Dream: a review of Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey

You have to celebrate small victories. Doing what amounts to free marketing for the whisk(e)y industry, which is what "whisky blogging" really is, can seem like a silly hobby to some, but it is a labour of love for me. There's a surprising amount of work that goes into a silly little blog like this one, and it's nice to get a bit of "extra" enjoyment out of it. Awhile back I was contacted by Pam, who asked if I would be interested in sampling and reviewing The Dead Rabbit, a new blended Irish Whiskey. Free whiskey? Yes please! Of course, many of my friends voiced concerns that this might compromise the objectivity of my review, but by disclosing this fact to everyone reading I feel as though I'm being transparent. No Jedi mind tricks here. I'm not being paid for my views, and I'm as unapologetically honest as Dr. House.


The Dead Rabbit


Not the Dead Rabbits I'm talking about
The Dead Rabbit is the result of a collaboration between Dublin Liberties distillery and the owners of New York's Dead Rabbit Saloon. I'm not sure if Liam Neeson or Leonardo DiCaprio were involved in the creation of this whiskey. Probably not. The Dead Rabbit is bottled at a very respectable 44% abv. Pam was kind enough to answer all my questions about The Dead Rabbit's DNA, as it were. So, here's what I know about The Dead Rabbit :
  • a mix of Malt and Grain in the ratio of 30% Malt and 70% Grain.
  • The Malt Component: is 100% Malted Barley and put through Pot Stills
  • The Grain Component: is a mix of Barley and Maize (corn) through Continuous Distillation Column Stills
  • Fermentation times are typically between 58-66 hours.
  • Maturated for 5 years in ex-Bourbon Casks and then finished in 1/2 Size Virgin American Oak.
This Dead Rabbit looks far tastier

The 1/2 size Virgin American Oak casks are what many companies commonly refer to as Quarter Casks. They're generally about 100-125 litres, half the size of typical bourbon casks (about 200 litres), and a quarter of the size of typical sherry butts (about 475-500 litres).

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): very oak forward, plenty of sweet malty notes, and lots of vanilla and toffee punching through, spices like cinnamon and cardamom, perhaps a touch of green apple in the background
  • Palate (undiluted): gentle arrival, then getting very bourbon-esque and a bit punchy (in a good way), loads of toasted oak, cinnamon, and vanilla
  • Finish: medium length, honey, oak, vanilla, a bit of buttery croissant flavour near the end, which is pleasantly drying.
With water and a bit of time, the nose becomes apple pie! Lots of baked honeycrisp apples (I'm not trying to be pretentious, I promise), cinnamon and some rich, dark toffee. The palate loses some punch with water, and the finish is a bit less oaky. So adding water is going to be a personal choice; the nose is better with water, but the palate and finish are better neat. Of course, it may be time and not water that changed the nose. Although this was a 50 ml sample, I tried it twice, 25 ml at a time, about 2 weeks apart.

This is an unapologetic, oak-forward whiskey. I can see The Dead Rabbit polarizing whiskey drinkers. If you're looking for a sherry-bomb or something soft and fruit-forward, this isn't the whiskey you're looking for. But if you're looking for a whiskey that tastes...like whiskey, this may be for you. I enjoy this type of flavour profile. The Dead Rabbit is oak-driven without making you feel like you're gnawing on a table. The pleasant, drying finish is exactly what I want in this type of whiskey. The Dead Rabbit is great on its own, but I can also picture a bottle of this whiskey on my table at a Saint Patrick's day gathering, poured into rocks tumblers and sipped - responsibly, of course - alongside a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches (84/100 points)


May the saddest day of your future be no worse
Than the happiest day of your past.

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 87-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Whisky In the Nude: Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill FF0716

Single malt whisky is a real chameleon. Its final character is affected by fermentation time, distillation cuts, the size and shape of the pot still, the angle of the lyne arm, the use of worm tubs vs shell-and-tube condensers, and maturation time. Malt whisky can be peated to a variety of ppm levels. It can be finished (or matured entirely) in a variety of cask types; red wine, port, sherry, white wine, madeira wine, rum casks, and it can be matured in a variety of cask sizes. Malt whisky can be bottled at a wide variety of abv percentages, so long as it is at least 40% abv. Each variable, as well as some I haven't listed, affects the taste and texture of the final product. Awhile back, I asked members of a Facebook group what their favourite 100% ex-bourbon cask, unpeated, cask strength single malt was. I wanted to taste a "naked" single malt whisky as a basis for future comparisons.
There's no limit to what Willie can do.
Much like country music was once described as "three chords and the truth", an unsherried, unpeated single malt would give me an idea of how a "true" malt whisky tastes. And there's a lot you can do with "three chords and the truth"; just ask the inimitable Willie Nelson. Now obviously the distillery of origin will also affect the character of the malt, but at some point, I had to make some choices. Glenlivet's Nadurra First Fill was mentioned several times. Unfortunately, this one doesn't carry an age statement, but it is 100% ex-bourbon, it is unpeated, and it is presented at cask strength without chill-filtration or added colour.

Tasting notes


This Glenlivet Nadurra is from Batch FF0716, and is bottled at 59.1 % ABV. If I had to guess, and it's just a guess, I'd say that this Nadurra contains whisky that is 7 to 10 years old.

  • Nose (undiluted): honey, oak, honeydew melon, green apples, surprisingly mild nose for something bottled at 59.1%
  • Palate (undiluted): oak, floral honey, a bit of pepper, a hint of vanilla, icing sugar, melon, banana
  • Finish: medium length, warming, classic Glenlivet amped up, malted barley, toffee, hazelnuts, banana chips, a hint of milk chocolate
Adding water emphasizes the icing sugar, hazelnuts and dried banana chips. The chocolate note is also more prominent with water added. Chocolate-covered banana chips? Yes, please! This one packs a wallop, so don't be afraid to add a teaspoon of water, or more. I think I prefer it with a little water, and it's even good with (dare I say it?) ice. This whisky won't necessarily excite everyone, but it is classic Glenlivet. They definitely have a "signature" profile and it is displayed perfectly here.

I'm not sure that this is a whisky I'd reach for all the time, but there's a time and place for every whisky, just like there's a time and place for every type of music. I love Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Melissa Etheridge, Guns N Roses, and Bruce Springsteen, but I don't want to listen to any of them all the time. Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill is an excellent whisky to introduce someone to the taste of "true" malt whisky. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches (86/100 pts)



May you taste the sweetest pleasures that fortune ere bestowed,
and may all your friends remember all the favors you are owed


Ratings may be interpreted as follows:


1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 87-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Second Annual Completely Subjective Whisky Awards

It's that time of year again; the whisky cognoscenti are naming their whiskies of the year, on websites, in magazines, in Bibles, on YouTube. Some experts will be praised, some will be derided, but all will make headlines. Except these awards right here.
There's no gala, unless the distilleries want to send representatives to my house to collect their prize, which will consist of a hearty handshake and leftover Hallowe'en candy my kids don't plan on eating. Stale suckers anyone? That said, I make these categories up as I go, and it gives me a chance to go beyond scores and tasting notes to give extra recognition to the whiskies I feel deserve it. As a great man once said "Awards are stupid, but they'd be less stupid if they went to the right people."

First, a few new awards:

Rookie of the Year


This need not be a new whisky, but rather a whisky I've only just discovered. Possibly from a newer distillery, possibly from one which isn't quite as popular as the "standards". People's mileage may vary here as my "rookie" might be well-known to other people.

And the winner is:

KILKERRAN 12 YEAR OLD

Maybe Kilkerran has an unfair advantage, since it is owned and operated by the Mitchell family, which also owns and operates Springbank. Heck, I've even heard that some of the staff work at both distilleries. Calling them consummate whisky-makers would be the understatement of the year. Kilkerran 12 is bottled at a respectable 46% abv, it is not chill-filtered, and there is no added E150a (caramel colouring). This is honest-to-goodness Campbeltown deliciousness.

Hall of Fame Inductee


Some whiskies are so iconic they're beyond yearly awards, as far as I'm concerned. Some are such enduring classics, regardless of personal preferences, that they should be honoured in the Whisky Hall Of Fame. Is there such a thing? I don't think so. Various publications have their own Whisky Hall Of Fame, but I don't think there's a whisky equivalent to Cleveland (Rock & Roll), Cooperstown (Baseball), or Toronto (Hockey). So which whisky is on my ballot this year?

The winner is:

LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR OLD

If you've ever read this blog, or if you know me, this choice should come as no surprise. Lagavulin is, to my palate, THE icon of single malt scotch. It's not the scotch I reach for all the time, but it's a scotch I'll never turn down. Rich, smoky, peaty, balanced with some underlying sweetness, it's a whisky to be savoured slowly. It's perfect before a rare ribeye steak, or during a long conversation with friends. Bonus points if a bit of Lagavulin gets into your mustache and you can smell it for the rest of the evening.

Now, on to the other awards.

CANADA


Canadian Whisky of the Year, limited release


Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (58.4% abv)

This year's Lot 40 Cask Strength offering is a bit deeper in flavour than last year's version. This one has lots of rye bite, cinnamon, cloves, baked red apples, and dark toffee sweetness. Yet it's not overwhelming, nor does it need water. Both versions, last year's 12 year old and this year's 11 year old, are excellent but there's something really special about this one. As Nigel Tufnel would say: it goes to eleven. 

Canadian Whisky of the Year, standard release

Lot 40 (43% abv)

Ok, so perhaps I lack imagination. Perhaps my palate is too focused on rye notes, but this one is still really hard to beat. If you happen to find Cask Strength whiskies too powerful, or if you didn't get a Lot 40 Cask Strength in the 4.2 seconds when some was available at the LCBO, the "regular" Lot 40 is an excellent consolation prize.


U.S.A.


Bourbon of the Year, Limited Release


Stagg Jr., Batch 9 (65.95 % abv)

Another year, another win for the Buffalo Trace distillery. Stagg Jr. is released in limited batches, and they seem to get better each time. This is a huge, barrel-proof offering that can take some getting used to, but you'd be surprised at how quickly a person can get used to sipping something this strong without water or ice. Just make sure your pours are small to start as this hits hard. Lots of brown sugar, cherry, orange zest, chocolate, and maple notes here. This American standout will warm your soul on a cold, Canadian morning, er, evening.

Bourbon of the Year, Standard Release


Wild Turkey Rare Breed (58.4% abv)


Don't tell anyone, but this is one of the best values in bourbon. I'd pay $20 more per bottle, if that's what it took to keep one in my cabinet. But please, DON'T TELL THE LCBO !!! Lots of dark cherries, rich toffee and brown sugar, just enough oak to keep it interesting without overpowering the palate. Anyone who says Wild Turkey, or bourbon in general, is "redneck mouthwash" is wrong. Plain and simple.

Honourable Mention

Blanton's Gold Edition (51.5 % abv): This 103 proof offering from Blanton's really hits the spot. It's not the world's most complex bourbon, but it's a fantastic one. It's one of the few whiskies I prefered with a tiny splash of water added. It's not hot when sipped neat, but it seems to get more complex and welcoming with the addition of water. A real winner.

Scotland


Single Malt Scotch of the Year, Limited release


Caol Ila 18 Year Old, Unpeated (Islay, 59.8 % abv)


Remember Chunky Soup's advertisements from the late 1980s and early 1990s? "It's the soup that eats like a meal". Caol Ila (prounounced cull-EEla or Cool-EEla), 18 Year Old Unpeated is the Chunky Soup of malt whisky. It has lemon, honey, brine, a hint of peat (despite its "unpeated" claim), apple skins, black pepper, and ripe banana. Add water, and there’s a slightly herbal note that appears on the nose, almost like rosemary. With a bit of resting time, the nose takes on a meaty aroma, like salted ham (prosciutto). And with Caol Ila, there's always a lovely sour green apple note at the tail end of the finish. This is everything great malt whisky should be.

Single Malt Scotch of the Year, Standard release, Age Stated


Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength (Islay, 56.5% abv)

This is a limited release, but a version of the 12 Year Cask Strength is released every year. The 2017 release is amazing. It's what scotch would drink if it drank scotch. Smoky, briny, meaty, with just enough bright fruit notes to keep you from being overwhelmed. I honestly can't find fault with this whisky. If money were no object, I'd have a lifetime supply of this whisky in my castle...because if money were no object, I'd obviously live in a castle. In Scotland.

Honourable Mention

Springbank 12 Cask Strength (Campbeltown, 56.3 % abv)

Another malt that's released in batches every year, it's sadly not available in Ontario. But it is magnificent and worthy of your attention. It's very complex: there's iodine, peat but very little smoke, a briny mineral note like sea-sprayed rocks, damp wood and dusty hay, raisins, some milk chocolate, orange peels, apricots, ginger, black pepper, salted caramel, and some oaky barrel notes. If you live in Alberta, this one may be available in select shops. Go there and buy it all. Right now. You're welcome.

Single Malt Scotch of the Year, No Age Statement


Laphroaig Triple Wood (Islay, 48% abv)

This is rich whisky. Even for a richly flavoured whisky like Laphroaig, Triple Wood is especially rich. I hear it's being discontinued and it makes me want to stockpile this one. Sadly, I'm not made of money. Lots of vanilla, rich nuttiness (walnuts, almonds) dates, raisins, and obviously the huge medicinal Laphroaig brine and smoke. Triple Wood will make you experience one of two things: unconditional love or undying hatred for all things Scottish. Guess which one I experience when drinking this?

Honourable mention

Glenfarclas 105 (Highland/Speyside 60% abv)

Glenfarclas calls itself a Highland whisky, which it is, but it is located in the Highland region designated as "Speyside". However you want to categorize this, it's a treat. It's not quite as dark in flavour as some sherry-monsters, but it has more balance between the fruit and the toffee sweetness. Another one that doesn't need water, even though it's 120 proof, but gets more "open" and complex with a tiny splash of water added.

Blended Scotch of the Year


Douglas Laing's Big Peat Blended Malt


Don't be a buzz-kill
Blended scotch gets a bad rap among the self-annointed whisky intelligentsia. And to be fair (to be faaaaiiiiiir), this is a blended malt, not a blended scotch. There's no grain whisky here; it's all malt. Big Peat contains malt whisky from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Port Ellen, and other "blender's secrets". Either way, let the snobbery of others benefit you. This is a fantastic whisky. It's affordable, though not always easy to find, but it won't disappoint you unless you're ├╝ber-refined, like Buzz Killington.

Honourable mention

Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch (40% abv)

This one is surprisingly good. Fruity, smoky, and dangerously easy to drink. It's a perfect summer whisky, great with some sparkling water and, dare I say it, a twist of lime. Beware that there are some significant batch variations with this one, but it's impossible to beat at its price point.

Ireland


Best Irish Whiskey, blended


Jameson Black Barrel (40% abv)

Classic Jameson with more sweetness, more spice, and added fruity plum and apricot notes from the sherry casks. It's got more Single Pot Still whiskey in the mix than the standard Jamo, and the barrels are re-charred before maturing the whisky so you get more oakiness as well. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Honourable mention

Bushmills Black Bush (40% abv)

Another perennial favourite. This one never disappoints. It's very easy sipping with lots of fruit, milk chocolate, and a bit of red apple skins. A perfect whiskey to introduce a newbie to sipping whisky.

Best Irish Whiskey, Single Malt or Single Pot Still


Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength (57.4% abv)

I have yet to taste an Irish Single Pot still I like more than this one. It's everything I'm looking for in an Irish Single Pot Still whiskey. Big, rich, spicy, sweet, fruity; it's got it all and it's not watered down. Magnificent.

Honourable mention

Yellow Spot (46% abv)

Yellow Spot is a bit of an odd duck. Some might find the wine casks a bit overpowering, but those people are wrong. This is terrific whiskey. Rich single pot still whiskey flavours (cinnamon, baked apples, nutmeg) are complemented by the sweet Malaga wine casks (grapes, lemon candies).

World Whisky of the Year


Last year's overall winner was Ardbeg Uigeadail, a NAS-labeled single malt scotch. This year, the honour goes to another Scottish Single Malt. It's from the same Island (Islay), but from a different distillery. It would be dishonest of me to choose anything but LAGAVULIN 12 YEAR OLD (Cask Strength) as my whisky of the year. It's the closest thing I've experienced to perfection so far, and so I crown it this year's champion.

I hope 2018 was good to you, and I hope 2019 will be even better. Thanks for reading. Slainte !


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
     And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
     And auld lang syne!
  
     For auld lang syne, my dear,
     For auld lang syne.
     We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
     And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
     And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
     Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
     And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
     For auld lang syne.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Marketing Done Right: J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series Wendel Clark Rye

There have been some spectacular failures in the history of marketing. Back in the 1980s, Coke threw out one of the most successful formulas in the world to launch "New Coke". The results were abysmal. More recently, Pepsi came under fire for their ridiculous ad featuring Kendall Jenner solving all of America's race-relations problems with a bottle of Pepsi. Good job Pepsi, you're more tone-deaf than Kanye West. Nivea saw Pepsi's ad, said "hold my beer", and hit facepalm level: maximum with their White Is Purity campaign. Yes, that really happened. Calvin Klein seems obsessed with ads featuring a quasi-nude teenage girl being pounced upon by several men. Yet for all the cringe-worthy, rage-inducing advertising campaigns, there have been some great ideas in marketing. 
The Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" is one of my favourites. It pokes fun at all the common tropes in bodywash/cologne/body spray commercials, and includes a bit of absurdity for good measure: "I'm on a horse". They followed this up with a brilliant campaign featuring the stereotype-smashing Terry Crews. The Mac vs PC ad campaign was a clever and competitive bit of marketing by Apple. The ads featured actor and Bill Gates-lookalike  John Hodgman, as the nerdy-workaholic PC, and actor Justin Long as a Steve Jobs stand-in personifying a hip Mac computer. So with advertising being such a hit-and-miss proposition, what's a whisky fan to think when a Canadian distillery teams up with some of the NHL's most iconic players?

The J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series


I'm not ashamed to admit I love the idea of a Canadian distillery teaming up with some Canadian hockey legends to create this line-up. The only downside is that they aren't all available everywhere. The Lanny McDonald edition is only available in Alberta. The Guy Lafleur edition is only available in Quebec. The Wendel Clark 11 Year Old 100% Rye is the only whisky from the J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series currently available at the LCBO. The Wendel Clark edition is a blend of  double column distilled rye and pot still distilled rye (I think), aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon barrels. This is bottled at 41.6 % abv, in honour of the Toronto's area code, where Wendel Clark spent the majority of his career. With any luck, I'll find a way to secure a Guy Lafleur and a Lanny McDonald. So what's the Wendel Clark Rye like?


Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): rye spice, toffee, red apples, oak, vanilla
  • Palate (undiluted): rich and round, toffee sweetness, clementine oranges, a little bit of coconut giving way to peppery cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon
  • Finish: medium length, Kraft soft caramels, chai tea, with the taste of coconut macaroons lingering.

With the addition of water, there's more red apple on the nose, more spice on the palate, and a pleasant hit of fresh tobacco on the finish. I was loath to add water to a whisky bottled at 41.6% abv, but water really opens it up nicely. A few scant drops will suffice. This whisky is delicious either way. When I first opened the bottle, I found it very similar to Lot no.40, but it changed with some air exposure. Lot 40 has a wider spectrum of flavours, and is more oak-driven in general, but this whisky is much more than a marketing gimmick. It delivers the goods in a big way. Recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches (88/100 points)



May the winds of Fortune sail you
May you sail a gentle sea
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !


Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 87-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points