Wednesday, 29 November 2017

It's Complicated- A review of Canadian Whisky: the New Portable Expert

Canadian history is nothing if not complicated. My home province has been called Nouvelle-France (at least, parts of it were), Upper Canada, and Canada-West before becoming Ontario or "the reason Canadians say 'sorry' so much". Our history is also more interesting than most people think. For example, back in 1855, a company of Toronto firemen got into a fight with a company of circus performers for the right to avail themselves of the opportunity to employ a brothel's services for the night. Long before former mayor Mel Lastman's head-scratching pronouncements, before the late Rob Ford's antics, there were shenanigans afoot in "the six". Canadian whisky suffers from the same distorted perception. People think it's uninteresting: it's too simple. It's too bland. It's too Canadian. But our resident whisky expert, Davin de Kergommeaux, is on a mission to change those perceptions. His recently released Canadian Whisky: the New Portable Expert is a guided tour through the history of Canadian Whisky that touches on landmark moments of Canadian history itself. According to the author, the book "is not intended to set the 'official record' straight; however, it does challenge many dearly held beliefs."

Really? A whole book about Canadian whisky?


Yes. A whole book indeed. M. de Kergommeaux isn't content with putting out a book comprised of naught but tasting notes and distillery details. Not that there's anything wrong with that. If you don't know who Davin de Kergommeaux is, do yourself a favour and head over to www.canadianwhisky.org and have a look around. Go ahead, I'll wait. I won't go anywhere until you get back, I promise. There, how was that? There's a lot of information isn't there? That is Davin de Kergommeaux's website.
This book dissects the entire process of whisky-making, from grain to glass, and the contribution of each component is given a full and thorough examination. The author discusses corn, rye, wheat, and barley varieties as well as their contributions to Canadian whisky's flavour. He discusses water sources. He describes the preparation of the wood staves used in cask-making, the charring of the casks (or barrels, if you prefer), as well as the development of organic compounds in the wood and their importance to the whisky's final flavour.  The New Portable Expert dispells some pervasive myths about Canadian whisky. De Kergommeaux is the first author I've encountered who discusses the oft-overlooked importance of yeast strains and their contribution to a whisky's final flavour. There is a full exposition on the types of stills and how they contribute to the character of the final spirit. No stone is left unturned in this tome.

But it's Canadian whisky. How interesting could it be?


A heck of a lot more interesting than many people think. Whisky experts' views of Canadian whisky are changing. Canadian whisky is experiencing unprecedented growth, especially in the premium category. Our standard mixers like Wiser's Deluxe, Canadian Club and Crown Royal have been huge international sellers for a very long time, and for good reason. But the recent international success of whiskies like Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, WhistlePig (an American company that sourced Canadian rye from Alberta Distillers to start up their company) and Lot No.40 Rye has people all over the world re-evaluating our whisky's place on the top shelf. Canadian distillers are affirming themselves as producers of fine sipping whiskies, thank you very much. Our distilleries still produce the best whiskies for your backyard party and your wedding reception's mixing needs, but they're just as capable of producing whiskies to be pondered over as you smoke a pipe in your study whislt sitting in a leather armchair, reading Proust.
Now THAT looks like enjoyable work !
Yet many other books discuss grains, water, wood, fermentation and distillation. What Davin de Kergommeaux has provided his readers with is something more important. The most important ingredient in whisky, according to the author "is not the water, nor is it the grain. No - the most important ingredient is the story." And what a story The New Portable Expert tells! Davin de Kergommeaux goes further than simple tasting notes and overviews by providing his readers with the stories of those who made Canadian whisky what it is today. You'll find biographies of pioneers and innovators like John Philip Wiser, Henry Corby, Hiram Walker, Sam Bronfman, John K. Hall and others. Not content to simply talk about the spirit (forgive the split infinitive) de Kergommeaux includes histories of the distilleries themselves as well. Canadian Club and Wiser's Deluxe might divide folks when it comes to deciding which makes a better rye and ginger, but they're made in the same facility. It wasn't always so. Corby, Wiser's, Gooderham & Worts and Hiram Walker all started as separate brands with separate distilleries, yet they now share a large, multipurpose distillery in Windsor, Ontario. It may seem complicated, but our author's knowledge is sharp enough to cut this Gordian knot.

Conclusion


In this book, Davin de Kergommeaux sets out to tell the story of Canadian whisky. He tells us that our whisky, much like the history of our country (the European perspective of it), is "a story of Canadians finding creative ways to adapt largely European practices to a new and often hostile environment". And much like our country's history, our whisky history is not without its problems and ugly moments. The New Portable Expert deftly weaves these varied legacies and notable episodes into a larger, cohesive narrative that is ultimately triumphant. You don't have to be a whisky enthusiast to enjoy this book. Its presence would be just as welcome in an historian's library as it would be in a home bar. It is well-researched and well-written, yet it remains accessible to the general reader. I cannot praise this book enough. Davin de Kergommeaux has given this country's whisky industry a true magnum opus in 300 pages. Very highly recommended.


Rating: 5/5 moustaches



Cheers, eh !


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Wednesday, 22 November 2017

If You Build It, Part Deux: Canadian Whisky

In the first installment of this series, I examined how one might build a collection of scotch whiskies. The overwhelming majority of those whiskies were intended for drinking, not investing, but I can't prevent anyone from buying stuff just to look at it. The second installment, Canadian whisky, will not really feature many collectibles since Canadian whisky doesn't have the clout to attract serious investors, for better or worse. I feel it's good for Canadian whisky enthusiasts. Canadian whisky is a broad category and there are a lot of different flavour profiles to be discovered. Rather than stick to the beginner, intermediate, advanced and elite classification, I'll play right into the stereotype and use a more Canadian frame of reference: hockey. Note that Canadian whisky and Canadian rye whisky are interchangeable. There is no legal requirement for Canadian rye whisky to contain any actual rye. Call it an oddity of Canadian law. A quirky pairing if you will. Like Don Cherry and Ron MacLean.
As always, if you find my disquisitions tiresome, the TL;DR version is at the end. You should also note that when evaluating Canadian whisky, much like evaluating hockey players, price and quality are not always related.

Grinders


These whiskies are mainly mixers. They aren't created to be sipped neat (though some can be) in a Glencairn whilst you smoke your pipe and listen to Vivaldi. Much like grinders are on a hockey team to mix it up, to go into the corners and other tough areas like the front of the net, grinder whiskies (or mixers if you prefer) are there for mixing and cocktail making. The standby mixers in my neck of the woods are J.P. Wiser's Deluxe and Canadian Club.
What you probably think Canadian whisky looks like
These whiskies aren't afraid of a long session with Ginger Ale, Cola or even in a Manhattan if need be. Don't be afraid to branch out, though. Alberta Premium makes a wallet-friendly mixer that is 100% rye whisky, making it ideal if your drink of choice is the Don Draper-approved Old Fashioned.Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old is bottled at 45% ABV, so it's got a bit more bite than your standard mixer. It's a grinder that isn't afraid to drop the mitts if need be. The whiskies in this category are much like Chris Neil; they may not be your favourite, but they bring a lot to the table and you'd rather have them in your cabinet (or on your team) than go without them.

Two-way Players


These whiskies can do double-duty. They offer an upgrade in a cocktail, but work well on their own too. They aren't necessarily superstars, but they're not total pheasants either. Think of whiskies like Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve (very much like a whisky-infused Werther's Caramel) and Alberta Premium Dark Horse (with its mix of spicy rye notes and sweet sherry notes) as the Guy Carbonneau or Michael Peca of whisky. A whisky like Alberta Springs 10 Year Old, with its toffee sweetness and gingery-peppery spiciness, can serve in several roles, even though many don't see it as a star in its own right. Your opinion may vary. Some two-way players (and two-way whiskies) may be more valuable than others, like Marion Gaborik or Anze Kopitar, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (with its ample oak, oranges and spices profile) or Pike Creek 10 Year Old Rum Finish.
Number 99 is the greatest offensive player to ever lace up the skates. Gretzky's 92 goals in one season will never be surpassed. Nor will any surpass his 215 points in one season. Yet his Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask whisky is less Gretzky and more Mike Krushelnyski. Red Cask is more of a versatile workhorse dram with notes of caramel, spices and red grapes.  Like building a fantasy hockey team, building your Canadian whisky cabinet will require some tough decisions.

Top Liners



These are the top six forwards and top defense pairing on any hockey team. Though they're not necessarily mega-superstars, they'd be welcome on almost any team. Think of players like Ryan Getzlaf, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Marc-André Vlasic. Excellent players, but not ones known immediately by their numbers, like 87, 66 or 99. So what's a top-line whisky? Lot no.40 Rye comes to mind, with its lovely cinnamon, nutmeg, oak and apple profile. Stalk & Barrel Rye sticks out from the crowd too. J.P Wiser's Legacy, discontinued though still available as of this writing, is a top-liner in my books. Gooderham & Worts Four Grain is wonderfully complex, with fruit and floral notes balancing out the oakiness, as are some of the higher-end offerings from Forty Creek, such as the Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve. J.P. Wiser's 18 Year Old, with its complex flavours of vanilla, butterscotch, light citrus fruit and oak spices deserves a spot on the top line, though it doesn't always get the respect it deserves.
It's the Blake Wheeler of the Canadian whisky world. Or the Tyson Barrie of the Canadian whisky world, if you favour defensemen. On the flipside, Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old, with its balance of buttery sweet and spicy flavours, is a perennial favourite of the Canadian whisky crowd. It may not be THE greatest in the world, but you'd love to have this player on your team. It's the Patrice Bergeron or the Jonathan Toews of Canadian whisky.

Superstars and Game-Breakers


You know who these players are. Wayne Gretzky. Bobby Orr. Mario Lemieux. Sidney Crosby. Guy Lafleur. Steve Yzerman. Connor McDavid. These are the players (and corresponding whiskies) you dream of acquiring. These are the Canadian whiskies that can convince all but the most stubborn that Canadian whisky can be great. Not "pretty good, for Canadian whisky". No, these whiskies, even if tasted blind, would make anyone go "WOW" !!! The downside is that, like the Great One, Super Mario or Sid the Kid, they may be hard to come by. Alberta Premium 30 Year Old or even Alberta Premium 25 Year Old are, to my mind, the Wayne Gretzky and Bobby Orr of Canadian whisky. We may never see their equal again. They are limited edition and there are few out there to be had. J.P. Wiser's Dissertation may be headed for that type of legendary status, though only time will tell. It may well be the Connor McDavid of Canadian whisky.
If Dissertation played hockey, this is how it would play
Anyone who has seen McDavid (or tasted Dissertation) can't help but be impressed, though it's too soon to declare either "the greatest" just yet. Mixing it up and keeping things interesting is WhistlePig 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Wait, isn't WhistlePig an American whisk(e)y? Not really. Much like super-sniper Brett Hull, WhistlePig Rye was born in Canada, but grew up in the U.S.A. So I consider WhistlePig a Canadian Rye Whisky. It is, after all, the product of the renowned Alberta Distillers (makers of Alberta Premium, Dark Horse and Alberta Springs). The aging of WhistlePig, however, gives it a much more bourbon-like profile, with lots of vanilla and toffee. Great stuff. No talk of superstars would be complete without the overall greatness of the 1976-1977 Montréal Canadiens; arguably the greatest NHL team of all time.They set an NHL record for most points in a season by a team with 132 points.They outscored opponents by 216 goals in 80 games. They finished the season with 60 wins, 8 losses and 12 ties. They won the Stanley Cup that year (obviously). So what is the Canadian whisky equivalent of the 1976-1977 Habs? Why Corby's Northern Border Collection Rare Releases of course. What are these whiskies and why should you seek them out? (I only have 2 of them, btw) Here, from the guru of Canadian whisky himself (that's Davin de Kergommeaux in case you didn't know) are the descriptions (from www.canadianwhisky.org). The links lead to M. de Kergommeaux's brilliant reviews. I encourage you to read them. He's much more knowledgeable than I.

  • Lot No. 40 Cask Strength is a 12 year old, 100% rye whisky right from the cask. It sits at 55.0% abv, which emphasizes the spicy rye notes and complementing new white oak. 750ml bottle priced at $69.95.
  • Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity is a 17 year old whisky which is a blend of three grains – corn, rye, and wheat. A nice sipping whisky where each grain will linger across the palate delivering a pleasant finish. This whisky celebrates the story of Little Trinity Church, a church that William Gooderham established in 1842 for his mill and distillery employees who couldn’t afford the high pew fees in the area. 750ml bottle priced at $79.95
  • Pike Creek 21 Year Old is a unique offering in the Canadian whisky category where it is finished in a Speyside Malt cask. This rare release demonstrates how whiskies from Scotland and Canada can complement one another to give a smooth and round sipping whisky. 750ml bottle priced at $89.95.
  • J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old is one of the oldest Canadian Whiskies ever produced. It represents a traditional blended rye whisky that has experienced the harsh Canadian winters and warm summers over 35 years in our ageing warehouse.” 750ml bottle priced at $164.95.
The Northern Border Collection of hockey


Free Agents



Here are some other beauties you may be able to get your hands on. Some you may dream of finding on your team, like the possible return of Ilya Kovalchuk to North American shores. Others, like John Tavares, might be available sooner rather than later for the right price. These are whiskies such as Canadian Club 40 Year Old. As far as I know, this is the oldest Canadian whisky ever sold. I've never tasted it, but according to the aforementioned M. de Kergommeaux:



The Canadian Club trademark dark fruits announce an elegant, beautifully balanced whisky with tremendous complexity and breadth of flavour. Hints of butter tarts, gentle cloves, nutmeg and other baking spices, and ripe purple plums are interlaced with the warming glow of real black pepper. After 40 years in barrels, the most refined oaky tones bring silky structure to the whisky, while avoiding the woodiness so common in long-aged whisky. Black pepper notes remain brisk and invigorating yet carefully constrained, from the middle right into the long elegant finish.


Sounds like a dream. But not all free agents are outrageously priced. I'd also put J.P. Wiser's Last Barrels, and Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye on this list.

Building Your Canadian Whisky Collection (TL;DR version)


Here's what a Canadian whisky collection might look like. Your mileage may differ.
  1. Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old
  2. Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye
  3. Wayne Gretzky No. 99 Red Cask
  4. Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve
  5. Lot No. 40 Rye
  6. J.P. Wiser's 18 Year Old
  7. Highwood Ninety 20 Year Old
  8. Alberta Premium 30 Year Old
  9. Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity
  10. Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye
  11. J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old
  12. Canadian Club 40 Year Old
Another candidate for the greatest team ever ? Hard to argue.

Conclusion


Canadian whisky may not get the respect it deserves, but things are starting to change. People are realizing just how good our whiskies can be. Our distilleries are also stepping up and producing a wider range of whiskies that are good enough to be sipped neat. As much as I hate to admit it, Canadian whisky is like the Toronto Maple Leafs; they've both been the butt of jokes for so long that we're surprised that things are finally turning around. If you haven't given Canadian whisky a chance, you really owe it to yourself to try it.



Cheers, eh !


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Friday, 17 November 2017

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Wild Turkey 101

Look at this picture. What do you see? A smiling woman and a chess board? Do you know who she is? Your neighbour maybe? Your tenth grade science teacher perhaps? This is Judit Polgar; the strongest female chess player in history. Polgar became the youngest Grandmaster ever at 15 years, 5 months. Various sources place her IQ between 170 and 180. For comparison's sake, Stephen Hawking is rumoured to have an IQ of about 160. So much for the notion that women are somehow weaker or inferior when it comes to logic and math. Oh, and she has also beat champions such as Garry Kasparov and Boris Spassky. Well played, Ms. Polgar. Assumptions often lead us astray. In another lifetime, Judit may not have had the chance to learn chess, much less master it to the point where she could kick the proverbial ass of those who think of women as "the weaker sex". I'm no chess master, but I know better than to make assumptions. How does the saying go? When you assume, you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me"...This brings me to this week's dram: Wild Turkey 101. Bear with me. I know, you probably thinking "Wild Turkey, isn't that the drink of choice for toothless banjo-playing hillbillies like Cletus Spuckler from  The Simpsons?" I certainly thought so. The name sounds like something you want to avoid. To be fair, we should never judge a book by its cover.

Talking Turkey


Wild Turkey takes its name from Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky whence the Ripy brothers opened their family distillery in 1869. Wild Turkey Bourbon got its name after a distillery executive shared his bourbon with friends on an annual hunting trip — of course, they were after wild turkey. Master Distiller Jimmy Russell joined Wild Turkey in 1954; his son Eddie Russell joined the company in 1981. Jimmy Russell is the world's longest-tenured active master distiller. Eddie was named master distiller after 35 years with Wild Turkey. This is not your cousin Zeke's barnyard bourbon. Wild Turkey uses the deepest barrel char (no.4 "alligator" char) which is, according to them, responsible for their bourbon having more character than others. I'm really not an expert on the relationship between char levels and their effect on flavour, so I don't know if this is true. How does it taste though?

Tasting notes







Let's talk turkey
Nose (undiluted): an initial hit of white glue, settling to a deep floral vanilla and some oak spice.


Palate (undiluted): hot arrival, medium-bodied, sweet candy corn, toffee, developing to a sour cherry candy flavour. Yummy.


Finish: medium length, vanilla returns but develops a slight coconut note at the end. Interesting.





Adding water brings much more oak and vanilla forward on the nose. The fruitiness is dialed back on the palate. Much better neat, to my tastes. This is a medium-ish rye mashbill, though I still don't get much in the way of traditional rye spices from this turkey. Not that I'm complaining. I LOVE rye, but this is a really nice, fruity bourbon.




Conclusion



If you're anything like I was, you probably think Wild Turkey is redneck mouthwash. But you're wrong. The name may lead you to think this is the libation of choice of folks like Cletus Spuckler, but don't forget that Cletus had a well-hidden talent for calligraphy. You may think Wild Turkey is this


But in reality, the taste of Wild Turkey 101 is much closer to this



I highly recommend you get a bottle of this relatively inexpensive bourbon and experience it for yourself. It runs about $36 here in Ontario; about $4 more than Jack Daniel's Old No.7. Wild Turkey is, to my palate, much, much better than JD.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches






Slainte !!


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Wednesday, 8 November 2017

More Than the Sum Of Its Parts: Compass Box Oak Cross Blended Malt

I love the Montreal Canadiens. The worship of La Sainte-Flanelle and Les Glorieux are literally a part of my DNA. My father proposed to my mother shortly after the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup in 1973. When the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Habs on May 21, 1979, I was celebrating in utero. So I was devastated when my hero Patrick Roy and his team were bested in six games by the Calgary Flames in the 1989 Stanley Cup finals. I was convinced that Roy and the Canadiens were unbeatable that year. Number 33 was, to my 10 year old brain, the greatest goalie in the history of hockey. We* had guys who could score in players such as Mats Naslund, Bobby Smith and Stéphane Richer. We had guys with skill and guts, like Shayne Corson and Guy Carbonneau. We had players who could get under the opposing team's skin, guys like Chris Chelios and Claude Lemieux. But the Flames proved too strong. Perhaps it was the grit and gumption of Dougie Gilmour, or the power of Al MacInnis' slapshot or maybe, just maybe Lanny McDonald's moustache emitted too much power for the Habs to even have stood a chance. 

Lanny's 'stache has its own Stanley Cup ring
Just don't tell me Mike Vernon outplayed Patrick Roy (even though he probably did). To be fair, the Flames finished first overall that year, with 117 points to the Canadiens' 115. Were the Habs less than the sum of their parts, or were the Flames more than the sum of theirs? I don't know, I was 10 years old. But it makes for a great segue into my review of Compass Box's Oak Cross, a blended malt whisky.


What's a Blended Malt? What's a Compass Box?


For those who don't remember or who are new to Scotch whisky, a Blended Malt, which used to be called "Vatted Malt", is a blend of malt whiskies (i.e. whisky made entirely from malted barley) from different distilleries. There is no grain whisky (i.e. whisky made from wheat, corn or rye) in a blended malt whisky. Compass Box, the brainchild of former Johnnie Walker marketing director John Glaser, makes blended scotch whisky (contains grain whisky) and blended malt scotch whisky (does not contain grain whisky). One is not better than the other; they are simply different. And Compass Box doesn't really distill whisky, as it were, but they are Whiskymakers. How does that work? Glad you asked.




According to their excellent website, 


A Whiskymaker is someone who feels a need and an obligation to make things better - to ask questions, to challenge, to experiment. When it comes to whisky and its enjoyment, we keep our minds open to new possibilities - new production processes, new combinations of flavours, new ways of sharing and enjoying great whisky. As Whiskymakers, we work with a range of partners to explore the interaction between maturing Scotch whisky and oak over the course of time. From sourcing the best cooperage oak in the world from the Vosges forest of France and the woods of Missouri, to individually sampling almost every cask we use in each of our blends, we are fanatical about quality and believe that every stage of the process has the potential to add to the finished blend.




Put plainly, Compass Box buys casks of whisky from other distilleries, blends them in precise ratios, ages them further in different casks (different cask sizes, char levels, different wood types etc.) and blends them again to create a unique flavour profile.They never use E150A (caramel colouring) and they never chill-filter their whiskies. They also provide an infographic (link here) so you know almost everything about what's in your bottle. They don't disclose the age of the various components because the Scotch Whisky Regulations only permit the disclosure of the youngest component whisky. Allegedly. It's kind of complicated. Compass Box isn't perfect, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a company that discloses more information to their consumers (Bruichladdich might be neck and neck with CB). So you can probably guess why Compass Box has been called "blended whisky for true whisky geeks". 

Tasting notes


So what's in Oak Cross? According to the previously linked fact sheet, its volume is malt whisky from Clynelish (60% of total volume), malt whisky from Dailuaine (20% of total volume) and malt whisky from Teaninich (20% of total volume). How does it taste?






Nose (undiluted): very floral at first (honeysuckle?), vanilla, nutmeg, cloves, citrus
Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, poached pears, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and toasted oak
Finish: Oak tannins, waxy - almost like melted candle, but  in a pleasant way, a hint of ginger, cayenne Pepper.


Adding water or ice brings forth more floral notes and tones down a bit of the Oak “bite”. This whisky is pleasant either way. In fact, I think I prefered it in this order:

  1. Neat
  2. With ice
  3. With water
Oak Cross is pleasant when chilled. It doesn't feel weak or thin. Good job, Mr. Glaser.


Conclusion



John Glaser, the man behind Compass Box, has been called many things; a New World visionary intent on shaking up the Old World status quo, a blustering, self-serving opportunist, and a clever marketing guru among other things. No matter your perspective on the founder of this company, Compass Box has produced some incredibly interesting whiskies. They've managed to get people talking about openness, transparency and honesty in a business that thrives on mystique. I contacted Compass Box for more information on my bottle of whisky, and they answered all my questions. I won't re-post their answers here, per their request, but they were more open and accomodating than any other whisky company. They also answered my questions in less than 24 hours. I'm very impressed with this company. Oak Cross Blended Malt is good, but like the 1989 Montreal Canadiens, it isn't championship level. Would I buy this again? Absolutely. The price is very reasonable and the whisky is pleasant, refreshing and original if somewhat one-dimensional. It's mostly vanilla and oak spices, albeit pleasant ones. Your mileage may vary. I've had people tell me there was a note reminiscent of "baby throw-up" in here. I didn't taste that at all, but you may want to try before you buy.




Rating: 3/5 moustaches











Slainte !!!



*For those who are wondering, true Habs fans refer to the team as "We". We feel we are part of the team, even though we aren't on the ice. It's silly, but it's true.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Make It Right: A review of Glenfarclas 12 Year Old

Everyone makes mistakes. How we react to our mistakes says a great deal about our character. Take home renovation contractors. Anyone who's ever watched HGTV knows Mike Holmes. He's made a name for himself with his intolerance of incompetence and his never-ending desire to "make it right", whether the problem is big or small. He's even been satirized on the Canadian socio-political comedy show "This Hour Has 22 Minutes".


Kitschy comedy aside, no one likes to be taken for a ride. Scammed. Lied to. So when things go wrong, what can we do? You can contact the Better Business Bureau. If you're Canadian, you can always call CBC's Marketplace and hope your story makes for good television. You can write a scathing online review. Or you can take the most obvious and direct route; contact the company itself before taking any of those other steps. What does this have to do with whisky? Stay with me.

Origin Story: my first Glenfarclas


All of the whisky world's cool kids talk about Glenfarclas. They're still family-owned and family-operated. They're independent. They don't ever use E150A (caramel colouring) in their whisky. All but one of their whiskies carry an age statement. They're consistently good or great. Wait, hold the phone. They had me until that last statement. After reading and chatting a lot (too much?) with folks online, I decided to buy a bottle of Glenfarclas 12. When I opened it and poured a dram, its aroma was odd. Different than anything I had ever nosed. So I left it for half an hour to "open up" and when I came back, it was still "off". I tasted it and was dismayed. Something was wrong with this whisky. How could the hipsters sing the praises of what, to my palate, was fizzy vinegar? I put the bottle away for a few weeks, thinking it might need some time to settle down. I came back after two weeks and it was worse. Now I was puzzled.

It's a 'ig'land malt, with no "h" becauses "h"s are EW !!
I took to the interwebz in search of answers but everyone seemed as puzzled as I was. Few people had heard of a bad Glenfarclas, nevermind tasted one. I had some people mention the dreaded "s" word (sulphur), but I've tasted sulphured whiskies and this wasn't one of them. Sulphur tends to smell and taste of spent match and/or rotten eggs to my palate, and this was fizzy vinegar.  I emailed Glenfarclas to inform them of this situation, but I returned the bottle to the LCBO as I was not willing to "chalk it up to bad luck" and cut my losses as one online acquaintance suggested. As much as I abhor the LCBO on an organizational level, the employees of the store I most frequently visit are quite helpful and accomodating. They accepted the nearly-full bottle as defective and gave me a refund, which was "re-invested" in libations for this blog. About a week later, I was contacted by Glenfarclas who went out of their way to make this right. Glenfarclas was shocked at my experience as this has not, according to my source, ever happened in Ontario. This might seem unbelievable to some, but the whisky blogosphere seems to confirm this impression. Nevertheless, I was very impressed with the way Glenfarclas handled this unfortunate situation, which may or may not have been their fault. A lot of things can affect whisky which contains many volatile compounds.

Tasting notes


I'll spare everyone my notes from the bad bottle. They aren't worth remembering. The notes which follow are for my second bottle.

Let's make it right !


Nose (undiluted): a big hit of red grapes, bright sherry, a slight lemon note, some fresh tobacco and a very slight, almost imperceptible smoky note. I may have imagined the smoke.

Palate (undiluted): a hot arrival for a whisky bottled at only 43% ABV, medium-bodied, bright sherry, not too sweet, walnuts, raisins, a touch of milk chocolate and a bit of cloves.

Finish: medium length, a bit of caramel, more citrus brightness, and a bit more baking spices


Adding water toned down the tobacco on the nose and brought forth some green apple, a bit of toffee, and cinnamon. The taste with water was a bit less nutty and a bit spicier, but the mouthfeel was not as pleasant when diluted. Interesting for analysis, but when drinking strictly for enjoyment, I'll take it neat, thank you very much.


Conclusion


I'm not delusional. My first bottle really was spoiled, somehow. I'm also not arrogant enough to think that this blog could permanently damage a much-lauded brand. Not that I would want to use my (laughably limited) powers to such nefarious ends. From a business perspective, it makes more sense to keep customers happy than to ignore them. My first bottle of Glenfarclas 12 was undrinkable. Whether this was a faulty cork, improper storage by the LCBO, or some other ethereal alchemy is irrelevant. My whisky was bad and Glenfarclas has handled this situation as well as any business could. I've kept my review of this second bottle as objective as possible. I like this whisky. I think it would be better with a few more years in the cask. I think this 12 Year Old would go from good to great if it was 15-16 Years Old and if it was released at 46% to 48% ABV. My impression of Glenfarclas as a brand and business is high. My impression of this bottle of 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch is very good, but not great. At the current LCBO price, however, there are few bottles that can rival it. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches





Slainte !!


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