Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Polite Canadian: A review of Canadian Club 100 % Rye

Canadians have a reputation for being nice. Too nice. Milquetoast. Reserved. Polite. Even our protests are polite, if you believe the internet. Of course to anyone living here, we know that things are a little different, especially if you're at a hockey game. We're ruthless. We're crazy. The gloves come off and we'll do anything to win. And that's just the fans. I'm sure Valeri Kharlamov wouldn't call Bobby Clarke "too nice". Slava Kozlov would absolutely NOT call Scott Stevens "polite". I've done my best to debunk the same myths as they relate to Canadian whisky in previous posts, as have many other, more talented and well-known writers, yet the myths persist. Canadian whisky is often portrayed as mild, overly sweet, and bland, more akin to a stay-at-home defenseman in the mold of Dan Hamhuis rather than the flashy high risk, high reward style of P.K. Subban. Canadian whiskies are challenging the stereotypes.
I refuse to post a picture of PK in a Predators jersey
Many, such as Lot 40 12 Year Old Cask Strength, are garnering world-wide attention for their Subbanesque boldness. Open-minded people are giving Canadian whiskies some serious consideration these days. Canadian whisky is slowly but surely earing the respect it deserves, much like PK Subban finally earning some respect now that he's (sadly) left the Montreal Canadiens.

Chairman's Select 100% Rye

Canadian Club is one of the most popular brands of Canadian whisky. Heck, it was featured prominently in AMC's Mad Men as Don Draper's whisky of choice. Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye is something different though. Chairman's Select is awkwardly marketed as "the Single Malt of Canadian Whisky" despite the fact that it isn't made from malted barley at all, and despite the fact that there are Canadian distilleries that actually produce single malt whisky. Why the choice of those particular words? I'd venture to guess that, like the guys from Sterling Cooper, the marketing department at Canadian Club knows their target market. In my humble opinion, this whisky isn't aimed at the experienced connoisseur, but rather at the person who normally drinks CC & ginger and wants to try out some "sipping whisky". The bottle of Chairman's Select even comes in a tube reminiscent of many single malt scotches. So does this whisky fit the bill?

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): rye spice, freshly cut wood, cinnamon, toffee, black pepper
  • Palate (undiluted): soft arrival, a bit thin, lots of toffee sweetness, some vegetal rye, a bit of clove
  • Finish: short to medium length, more oak, cloves, cinnamon, and toffee

Water doesn't add anything to this whisky; it just thins everything out. A large ice sphere tones down a bit of the sweetness, but the rye spice still feels like it's in the backround. All the component flavours are good, I’d just like the volume turned up. The Chairman’s Select is a good whisky: it has the potential to be a great whisky. I'd love to see this bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) or even at cask strength. Allow me to re-iterate: I don't think the people at Canadian Club are targeting the "sipping whisky" enthusiast or aficionado with this whisky. It's a respectable mixer and a good introduction to a 100% rye whisky. This isn't the flashy P.K. Subban of Canadian whisky; it's more of like the Canadian whisky equivalent of Adam Foote. It's not necessarily the star of the team (or liquor cabinet) but it can be useful in many situations. If you're new to sipping whisky or to rye in general, this whisky is a good introduction. If you're a more experienced whisky drinker, I recommend you try before you buy. You may find this one a bit too nice.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

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 !

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Relief Or Regret? A review of Forty Creek Confederation Oak

They say the number one killer of old people is retirement. People got a job to do, they tend to live a little bit longer so they can do it. I've always figured that warriors and their enemies share the same relationship. So, now that you're not gonna have to face your enemy no more on the battlefield, which "R" you filled with? Relief … or regret?
Budd from Kill Bill: Volume 2

I love Quentin Tarantino's movies, especially the Kill Bill films. Tarantino's scripts always feature quirky, entertaining dialogue, interesting characters and just the right amount of retro-chic nods to the great films of the past. In the Kill Bill tandem, Tarantino pays homage to the great martial arts movies, and to a lesser degree the spaghetti westerns, of the 1970s. Budd's "relief or regret" line of questioning may have been directed at Elle Driver (aptly portrayed by Daryl Hannah) but a viewer might have asked Tarantino the same question after the movies were released. I'd bet he felt relief, since both movies turned out brilliantly, at least in this writer's opinion. 
The Bride's Kill List

I feel the same, admittedly milder, anxiety whenever I try a new expression from any of my favourite distilleries. I hope I'll enjoy the whisky, but a part of me always fears I'll feel regret at buying what my favourite whisky vlogger (that's Ralfy, in case you didn't know) calls "a bottle of disappointment". Luckily, I have enough friends that I get to sample many whiskies before deciding whether or not to splurge on a bottle.

I've written about Forty Creek before, so there's no need to re-hash its history here. Their whisky is consistently excellent, and the Copper Pot Reserve is one I often use to introduce people to Canadian sipping whisky. Forty Creek's Confederation Oak is a bit of a different animal though. The whisky was finished in virgin Canadian Oak which was cut from trees growing about 64 kilometres (40 miles) from the distillery. According to founder John K. Hall, Canadian Oak is heavier and more dense than American Oak leading to more pronounced vanillins and wood tones. So does using Canadian Oak lead to relief (and enjoyment) or regret (and disappointment)?

Tasting notes

This sample is from the original Lot 1867, was opened in September 2015, was gassed after each use, and was 2/3 full when the sample was poured April 18 2018.

  • Nose (undiluted): brown sugar, vanilla, plums, figs,  oak spice (cloves, nutmeg, rye spice), some nuttiness, and maple developing with time. Very complex nose.
  • Palate (undiluted): rich, medium-bodied, orange peels, walnuts, vanilla frosting, rye
  • Finish: medium length, maple sugar, pepper, with some tart currants lingering

With water, there’s a rush of vanilla on the nose followed by maple sugar and oak notes. On the palate there’s more fruitiness, oranges and apricots. The finish doesn’t change much with water, but the currant note is replaced by a slight bitterness at the tail end. This is definitely better without water.

The nose of this whisky is absolutely phenomenal. The flavour and finish are very good, but the aromas are the stars of this show. I can't help but wonder how this would taste if it were bottled at a slightly higher proof. Even a 43% ABV bottling would, in my humble opinion, give this whisky a bit more bite to balance out its velvety sweetness. I think this whisky might earn a perfect score from me (whatever that's worth) if it were bottled at around 48% ABV. Nitpicking aside, I would not hesitate to purchase a bottle of this whisky. And I have no problem recommending it to anyone who enjoys rich, sweet Canadian whisky with a more prominent oak presence. So, being an avid fan of Forty Creek, I can honestly say the "R" I feel after sipping this whisky is relief. I'm glad Confederation Oak did not let me down. Of course, I also feel some regret at only having enjoyed a single 30 ml sample. That may be something I address in the near future. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

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 !

Thursday, 5 July 2018

A Friendly Dram: Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief. 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Whisky is evocative. Sipping a whisky, or even thinking about a whisky you've enjoyed inevitably leads you to form certain associations. When I think of Lagavulin 16 Year Old, I think of Nick Offerman sitting in a leather armchair by a fireplace, looking stolidly into the camera. Jack Daniel's Old No.7 immediately brings Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister to mind. I can't look at a bottle of Bushmills without thinking of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Marketing types know this and they bank on it. Telling someone "This whisky tastes good. It tastes like good whisky." would undoubtedly be a marketing disaster, like something out of the brilliant Ricky Gervais film The Invention of Lying. But if your website includes notes on character, colour, nose, palate, finish and mood, maybe you're on to something. Hold on, mood? Yes, Bruichladdich describes their Classic Laddie's mood as:

Conviviality! Relaxed, enjoying the spirit in the glass and the laughter from tales often told but never tired of hearing.

I've wanted to try this particular Bruichladdich (you can say "Brook-laddie" or listen to Brian Cox's pronunciation here) for a long time but I've been reluctant to pull the trigger without trying it first. I tend to like Islay scotches, but this one is unpeated, so I hadn't taken the plunge. Luckily, a friend opened a bottle of the Classic Laddie Scottish Barley this past weekend and I got to sample it. This whisky was sipped outside on a hot summer day and it feels like the appropriate setting for the Classic Laddie.

Tasting Notes

There's a good Laddie.

  • Nose (undiluted): Very floral (daisies? violets?), briny, a bit of lemon, and some earthy notes despite the fact that this is unpeated
  • Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, creamy mouthfeel, not all that hot for a whisky bottled at 50% ABV, a bit darker in flavour than I expected, with brown sugar, nuttiness, malty with a bit of fruitiness at the tail end, white grapes perhaps.
  • Finish: medium length with the brine returning, a little mint note, it was (dare I say it?)"refreshing".

With water, there were more fruity notes coming through, mostly lemon and cherries on the nose and some green apples and a bit of honeydew melon on the palate. The nutty notes are there with and without water. I would call it walnut, but it didn't have the slightly bitter, drying feel that walnuts sometimes have. Walnuts without their skins, maybe? Forgive me if that sounds über-pretentious.

This feels like a summer whisky. Maybe it's the marketing schtick or the turquoise bottle, but it's definitely reminiscent of the seaside. It also feels like a whisky you want to sip with friends. It's not super complex, but it is not bland mixing whisky either. It's certainly no surprise that this is a young whisky (most of what went into this particular vatting is 7-8 years old according to the bottling code/website information) but it's a young whisky that's well-balanced. Everything is nicely integrated. Bonus points to Bruichladdich for bottling at a respectable strength (50% ABV) and extra bonus points for bottling at a natural colour, no E150a thank you very much. Having tried The Classic Laddie, I will probably buy a bottle sometime in the future. It's not a game-changer, but it's a very friendly whisky. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Oscar Wilde


Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For: a review of Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

I've been a fan of The Simpsons for as long as I can remember. The animated sitcom has always been witty, biting, and insightful. The writers strike a balance between satirical social commentary and comic absurdity only made possible in a cartoon setting. The early seasons focused mostly on Bart's shenanigans, probably because the troublemaker is based on creator Matt Groening. However, my favourite episodes have always been the Homer-centric ones. And I'm not alone. Around Season 3 or 4, The Simpsons episodes increasingly featured Homer's (mis)adventures as central plot points. Despite being named for the Greek poet and Groening's father, Homer is a depiction (a mostly unflattering one) of the typical American man. He is lazy, reckless, impulsive, and woefully ignorant. Yet for all his foolishness, Homer's unwavering loyalty to his family makes him impossible to hate. Unless you're Frank Grimes.

Homer's hilarious impulsivity is exemplified in the first vignette of the Treehouse of Horror II episode. In it, Lisa, Bart, and Homer eat too much Hallowe'en candy and each has a nightmare. In Lisa's nightmare, Homer purchases a monkey's paw that grants the one holding it four wishes. After the three first wishes go awry, Homer wishes for a turkey sandwich. It's only after discovering that the turkey in the sandwich is a little dry that Homer has an outburst, cursing the monkey paw and throwing it out the window. Be careful what you wish for, Homer.

Monkeying Around

Blended malt scotch whisky is an interesting case study. Single malt scotch whisky is the product of a single distillery (hence the "single") made from 100% malted barley (hence the "malt"). Whereas blended scotch contains grain whisky (i.e. whisky made from other grains, such as corn or wheat), blended malt scotch whisky is made from 100% malted barley, just like single malt. The only difference between blended malt and single malt is the sourcing from different distilleries. Blended malt, a mix of different single malt scotches, supposedly allows for greater flexibility and a more complex flavour profile.

But what does Monkey Shoulder mean?

The name of this whisky is a nod to the men who used to turn the malted barley by hand. Many developed a repetitive strain injury in one shoulder, and the condition was dubbed "Monkey Shoulder".  This blended malt, the product of William Grant & Sons is a mix of three single malts; Kininvie, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie.
The folks at William Grant have also said that other single malts from undisclosed distilleries may find their way into the mix from time to time, but the KGB whiskies, as they're known, are consistent. Personally, I'd love to see some kind of amusing "In Soviet Russia" meme featuring Monkey Shoulder, but alas, I haven't found any yet. Nor have I found the exact proportion of each component whisky in the final mix, and I've never tried Kininvie as a stand-alone single malt, so I won't attempt to do any detective work here. Monkey Shoulder bears no age statement, so we can only assume it's at least 3 years old, which is the minimum required aging period for whisky in Scotland.

Tasting Notes

Nose (undiluted): honey, vanilla, fuzzy peach candies, floral notes
Palate (undiluted): hot arrival for a whisky bottled at only 43% ABV, somewhat creamy mouthfeel, barley nuttiness, a bit of vanilla and orange peels
Finish: fairly short, with more vanilla and some coconut notes

Adding water tones down the heat, but also drowns out the fruitiness, leaving only honey and barley flavours. There's a bit of oak on the finish with water, but not much else. So adding water (or ice) to this whisky is a bit of a trade-off. To be fair, the folks at William Grant market Monkey Shoulder as a mixing/cocktail whisky and it may work better as a mixer than as a sipping whisky.

Monkey Shoulder is a befuddling case study. It is a good quality (if somewhat mediocre) whisky, but not a great neat sipper. This is not a reproach, as the company plasters the Monkey Shoulder website with cocktail recipes. The quirk may be specific to Ontario: the pricing quirk. Monkey Shoulder sells for about $65 CAD, making it more expensive than many sipping whiskies. As such, I wouldn't really recommend it unless you can buy it for less money in a different jurisdiction. For $65 or less, I would rather buy J.P. Wiser's Dissertation, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, Glenlivet 12 Year Old, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Your experience may differ, and if you live in a market where Monkey Shoulder is more reasonably priced, it's a good whisky for "background" enjoyment. Try before you buy.

Rating: 2.5/5 moustaches

Whisky is liquid Sunshine
George Bernard Shaw

Slainte !