Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Top 5: Surviving the Internet Edition

We cannot get out. The end comes soon. We hear drums, drums in the deep. They are coming.

Whisky's global popularity continues its unprecedented growth. Scotch whisky exports, for example, increased by 9% in 2017. Financial experts are predicting a compound annual growth rate between 7% and 9% through 2020. While there are many benefits to growth in an industry such as (but not limited to) innovation, and a wider distribution of a variety of products, there are some drawbacks to growth. No, this isn't another rant against the preponderance of low quality No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies crowding our shelves, or a caustic tirade against rising prices, although those are valid concerns. The inspiration for this post, and the reason for the Lord of the Rings exerpt above, is more commonplace, yet just as vexing: the internet troll, specifically the Whisky Troll.

What's a Whisky Troll?

The Whisky Troll takes a variety of shapes, but usually displays the following characteristics:
  • The Whisky Troll is almost always male.
  • The Whisky Troll's natural habitat is the internet's various whisky-centric message boards or whisky-related Facebook pages.
  • The Whisky Troll rejects the validity of any opinions but his own.
  • The Whisky Troll has little capacity or desire for logical discussion; he prefers to mock or insult others.
  • The Whisky Troll equates price with quality. If it's expensive, it must be good, and if you disagree with him, he'll assert that you're simply poor, stupid and jealous.
  • The Whisky Troll may attempt to convince you of his authority by posting pictures of expensive bottles of whisky or sports cars and by regaling his unwitting readers with tales of his visits to scotch whisky distilleries. While these things aren't inherently wrong or condescending, the Whisky Troll uses these experiences as a basis for his expertise. E.g. "I've visited The Macallan distillery, so when I tell you their Macallan Reflexion is worth the $1600 they charge for it, you should shut up and listen."

How Does One Defeat the Whisky Troll?

One does not simply defeat a Whisky Troll. If you engage with the Whisky Troll, you will undoubtedly suffer the same fate as Balin and the Dwarves did upon their return to Moria. I refer you once more to the citation above. The Whisky Troll wants to waste your time, insult you, and make you feel bad. If you encounter a Whisky Troll, I suggest you cease and desist all discussion with him. I've tried to reason with them too often, and I assure you it is a fruitless endeavour.

What I propose instead is a Top Five list of easy-drinking, no nonsense whiskies. These whiskies are not the most complex, they are not the most expensive, nor are they the most prestigious whiskies. However they are enjoyable whiskies. They aren't devoid of complexity, but they don't require the attention and concentration of a Brora 37 Year Old, a Springbank 30 Year Old, or a Bowmore 1964 35 Year Old. The whiskies featured on this Top 5 list are whiskies that can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks, or even in a cocktail. These are "social whiskies" or "background whiskies". Nothing infuriates a Whisky Troll more than people enjoying their whiskies the way they prefer. Ignoring their rancor is the best way to ward off Whisky Trolls.

5. Pike Creek 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky

Pike Creek's 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky is finished in ex-rum barrels. It's got some brown sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and rye notes which make it sweet and easy-drinking, but not without a little kick. Pike Creek is, for my money, a very nice "summer whisky" perfect for sipping on the rocks or with a bit of Perrier or other sparkling water. It runs about $40, so it's a no-brainer upgrade on your "standard" mixing whisky. Lot 40 is one of my favourite Canadian whiskies, but its big oak and rye flavours might be a bit too much for a whisky neophyte as a casual sipper. Pike Creek is softer, less feisty, but every bit as well put-together as its cousin (both are products of Windsor's Hiram Walker distillery).

4. Aberlour 10 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

This one is a Single Malt Scotch, but one that's eminently affordable, easy to drink, and unpretentious. There is complexity to it, but it isn't overwhelming. It's a whisky that's great to share with friends, and it is gentle enough so as not to overpower a cocktail like a Godfather or a Rusty Nail. It's also quite refreshing in a highball cocktail with club soda.

3. George Dickel Superior No.12 Tennessee Whisky

Yes, an American whisky that forgoes the letter "e". Shocking, I know. This a powerful weapon in the battle against the Whisky Troll. Dickel is inexpensive, widely available, and made mostly of corn (the mashbill is approximately 84% corn, the remainder being evenly divided between rye and malted barley). Dickel No.12 is also bottled at 90 Proof (45% ABV) so it has a bit more kick than that other well-known Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, but don't let that fool you. Dickel is very approachable, with lots of vanilla, toffee, and maple flavours. Dickel is one of the best values in whisky and it often flies under the radar.

2. Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Canadian Whisky

Another Canadian whisky? Absolutely. Whisky Trolls often try to bait ordinary, open-minded whisky lovers by denigrating Canadian whisky. Don't let them fool you or dissuade you. If you ignore Canadian whisky (or any whisky based on second-hand information) you're missing out. Forty Creek's Copper Pot Reserve is one of the most consistent whiskies on the market. It's rich, sweet, and has just enough spice to make keep it interesting. There's lots of caramel, orange peels, apricots, some nuttiness, and a touch of rye spice and ginger. It's even bottled at 43% ABV which is a nice touch. This allows the richness and spice to shine through. Oh, and did I mention it's only about 30 bucks? Get after it then.

1. Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch

The secret weapon in the fight against Trolls
Johnnie Walker Black Label is especially effective against a subspecies of Whisky Troll known as the Whisky Hipster (latin: Pretentious Doofus). Okay, so I don't speak Latin. But JW Black is effective against Whisky Hipsters because:
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label is a blended whisky. Whisky Hipsters tend to frown upon blends, unless they're expensive and/or from smaller companies.
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label  is produced by a huge mega-corporation. Johnnie Walker is owned by spirits giant Diageo, which makes it inherently repugnant to Hipsters.
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label is popular. Whisky Hipsters turn up their beards at anything that isn't local, organic, free-range and distilled in a home-made copper pot still  from barley the distillery grew themselves. Whisky Hipsters also hate anything that literally any other person has heard of.
Don't fall for it. Johnnie Walker Black Label is affordable, accessible and incredibly versatile. You probably won't find it featured at a Companions of the Quaich tasting, but it's a great social whisky. Figure it out.

Whisky is first and foremost about enjoyment. Your opinion of whisky is valid, even if you don't nose intensely or perceive notes of French lavender blooming in the July sun near Mont-Ventoux, or taste a faint whisper of Versos 1891 Amontillado Sherry in your whisky's flavour profile. Don't let Whisky Trolls intimidate you or make you feel sheepish about enjoying something inexpensive or commonplace. Don't forget that whisky was once the province of illicit home-distillers and smugglers (some of whom were probably my ancestors). Cognac and brandy were the spirits of choice for the upper class. Whisky should be unpretentious. Ignore the trolls, and drink what you like. It's all that really matters.

When life hands you lemons, make whisky sours.
W. C. Fields
Slainte !

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Slow Down: a review of Springbank 12 Cask Strength

I'm a fan of the slow food movement. I love to cook and I love to eat. Life moves at such a breakneck pace that finding the time to enjoy a meal, truly enjoy a meal, often proves difficult. The slow food movement was founded "to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from and how our food choices affect the world around us." Thus there's more to the movement than just eating slowly or avoiding fast food. Convivia (local Slow Food chapters) organize events ranging from dinners and tastings, visits to local producers and farms, and more. They encourage people to "shake the hand that feeds you", and while this isn't always possible, it is something we should strive to do more often. Springbank distillery applies this type of philosophy to whisky-making. They offer a 5 day "whisky school" program wherein students truly get immersed in every aspect of the process. 

You're about to get schooled

From their website:

As we are the only Scottish distillery to undertake 100% of whisky production on one site, you’ll participate in each and every step of the process, being hands on in everything from floor malting and distilling, to filling casks and bottling the finished product. There truly is no better experience for whisky lovers who are keen to learn the process of making Scotland’s famous liquid.

Now the more cynical among us may raise an eyebrow at spending £1200 (approx. $2080 CAD, not including airfare) to work FOR a company but the experience would be, in my opinion, worthwhile. I can't be the only one who thinks this way, as the "whisky school" sells out every summer (May through July).

Spring Fling

I've confessed my love for Springbank before. In this review of their 10 Year Old Single Malt, I praised Springbank for doing things the "right way". I enjoyed Springbank 10 so much that I awarded it my "Single Malt of the Year: Age Stated" in my first annual Totally Subjective Whisky Awards. Their 12 Year Old Cask Strength offering varies from batch to batch. The ABV percentage is always different, the mix of first fill and refill sherry hogsheads (a hogshead holds approximately 245 liters) used to mature the whisky varies, but the character of Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength seems to remain somewhat consistent. Not identical, but similar. Doing things the old fashioned way means variation. The bigger, more modern producers (like The Macallan or The Glenlivet) can offer consistency, and they do it exceptionally well. Springbank offers something different. Not necessarily better or worse, just different.

This sample of Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength is from Batch 11, and it was provided by a friend. It is bottled at 53.8 % ABV, was opened September 4, 2017, and was 3/4 full when the sample was poured November 13, 2017.

Tasting Notes

It goes to eleven! Batch 11.

Nose (undiluted): iodine, vegetal peat (no smoke though), a briny mineral note like sea-sprayed rocks, damp wood and dusty hay, reminiscent of an old barn (in a very pleasant way), raisins, some milk chocolate, orange peels. This is a complex nose that develops over time. After 15 minutes in the glass, there's a distinctive salted caramel aroma emerging.
Palate (undiluted): rich, oily arrival, full-bodied, spicy white pepper, fresh ginger, oranges and apricots, strong oaky barrel notes (cloves, pepper, barrel char) near the end.
Finish: fairly long finish, some peat returning with a bit of smoke and black pepper this time, a chalky minerality returning and ending on some raisin and cereal notes with just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla, (oatmeal cookies perhaps?)

With water the chalky, mineral note comes right forward on the nose, followed by a big wave of salted caramel. The longer this sits in the glass, the more the salted caramel takes over, and it's not at all unpleasant. The old barn notes are pushed back, almost imperceptible, as the raisins and orange peels rush forward. It's still good, but a bit of a disappointment to lose those old barn notes.On the palate, the oiliness is diminished with water; it feels a bit waxy, and the whisky's fruity notes again take centre stage. The smoke on the finish is slightly subdued, the chalkiness remains as some milk chocolate notes appear before ending on a sweet, pleasant cereal note. Later, there's a lingering fruity, green apple note with just a hint of cloves. Springbank 12 is very good with water, but I prefer this one at full strength.

This whisky is complex. It develops with time. Springbank 12 is not a casual sipper; it's more like a terrific three course meal. I spent well over an hour with this single sample.I was a bit disappointed that the iodine, peat, and old barn notes more or less disappeared with the addition of water, so I wouldn't add any next time. That said, I would NOT hesitate to purchase a bottle of this whisky. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches

The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.
James Joyce, Dubliners
(yes, I know he was referring to Irish whiskey, it's still appropriate)

Slainte mhaith !!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Origins: a review of Highwood Ninety Decades of Richness 20 Year Old

What makes a whisky rich, sweet, fruity, oily, spicy, or smoky? Whence does whisky derive its flavours and aromas? Some mistakenly assume that the region, or terroir, is solely responsible for the character of a whisky. Some believe every scotch is smoky, every bourbon is sweet, and every Canadian whisky is mild. Some slightly more knowledgeable people may point to the various grains as the source of whisky's flavours. The idea that provenance and grain type are the determining factors in whisky's character is passed on as received knowledge from the whisky sages. While there is some truth to this, it's far from a complete picture. Other factors that may influence the final product include cask types (Virgin oak, ex-bourbon barrels), yeast strains, intensity of barrel char,  cask sizes (200 litre bourbon barrels, 125 litre "Quarter Casks"), still types (e.g. column still or pot still), finishing a whisky in different types of wine casks (or cognac casks!) and a myriad of other factors.
This can get pretty complex, so Hiram Walker's Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore developed a Canadian Whisky Flavour Wheel to help identify some of the common flavours we taste in whisky, how these flavours might come to be perceived in a whisky, along with the chemical compound responsible for the flavour. If the image is too small, you can find the original by clicking here. Why the mini-lesson on flavour? Read on.

Highwood Distillers

Highwood is not known for its over the top marketing. You might call them the "anti-Macallan". The Macallan has recently unveiled a new visitor centre and distillery worth upward of £140 million (approximately $243 million CAD) that looks like it belongs in Hobbiton. The Macallan has an interactive website featuring 72 year old whiskies in crystal decanters, whereas Highwood's website features all of its whiskies on one page, and it gives you exactly two sentences about their 20 Year Old Decades of Richness whisky. Alberta's Highwood Distillers may eschew big, shiny marketing, but the distillery is known and celebrated for its fantastic line of whiskies. Highwood Ninety Decades Of Richness 20 Year Old is an interesting case study. Despite being labeled as a Canadian Rye Whisky, this whisky is distilled from 100% Corn. So why call it a "rye whisky"? Well, it's complicated. Canadian Rye Whisky refers to a style of whisky as much as it refers to the rye grain itself. Many of the notes typically associated with rye grain, specifically the spicy notes like cloves, can also be imparted into a whisky by barrel compounds. There is a long tradition in Canada of using the words "rye" and "whisky" interchangeably. In bars and backyard barbecues here in the Great White North, you'll often hear people ask for a rye and ginger or a rye and Coke, regardless of whether the spirit of choice was actually distilled from rye grain. People might be a tad puzzled if you ask for a Whisky and Coke. Canadian distillers are loath to change their nomenclature just because that's how someone else does it. So how does this twenty year old, 100% Corn whisky taste? Does bottling it at 90 proof (45% ABV) make it too hot to handle?

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): caramel popcorn, peppermint, oak spices (cloves and cinnamon) and a slight aroma of plums
Palate (undiluted): very rich arrival, full-bodied, brown sugar, oak spice, a bit of salted caramel, buttered corn, a bit reminiscent of a good amber rum near the end.
Finish: a bit drying, but still medium-long, maple butter, more oak tannins and a slightly herbal note at the very end.

With water, there is a big brown sugar note on the nose that quickly turns to barrel spices and tropical fruit. I’m thinking grilled pineapple. With water, the arrival on the palate is a tad spirity, but quickly becomes floral and pear notes appear. The finish is spicy, a bit tannic and pulling. I prefer this one without water, as the rich texture is thinned out a bit too much with water and the spirity arrival throws off the whisky's balance.

It may be anathema to some, but I tried a whisky sour made with Ninety Decades of Richness and I have to say it was magnificent. The rich, sweet and slightly spicy whisky perfectly complemented the lemon juice and simple syrup. There isn't quite enough spice for this to make an Old Fashioned to my liking, but I heartily endorse this one neat or in a whisky sour. This is a terrific whisky. It's a terrific Canadian Rye Whisky, even if it's made entirely from corn. Ninety Decades of Richness 20 Year Old is one of the most affordable twenty year old whiskies you'll ever encounter. Recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

Whisky is liquid sunshine
                                                         George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Who's Your Daddy? A review of Stagg Jr Bourbon

This review contains spoilers for the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. If you haven't seen it, where have you been for the last 30 years?

How do you improve on a classic character like Indiana Jones? He's witty. He's handsome. He's intelligent. He's brave. He's ressourceful. He's....named after his father? In the third installment of the Indiana Jones franchise, we discover that Indy's real name is Henry Jones Jr, named after his father, portrayed by the inimitable Sean Connery.
"We named the dog Indiana!" Connery exclaims. And in that moment of levity, the origin of the eponymous hero's name is de-mystified. The Last Crusade is undoubtedly my favourite film in the Indiana Jones series, in no small part because the on-screen chemistry between Connery and Ford was so good. We discover that Indy has some hang-ups regarding his relationship with his father. Junior replies to his father's chiding with an exasperated "I know, dad!" more than once. Not to play armchair psychologist to a fictional character, but these issues may be at the root of Indy's desire to be the best in his field. Can a son be as good as, or better than his father?

Who is your daddy, and what does he do?

Stagg Jr. is a product of the Buffalo Trace distillery. The name comes from another product, George T. Stagg Bourbon, a whiskey named for the ├╝ber-successful Kentucky  salesman/business man/distillery founder. The annual release of George T. Stagg as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique collection is a highly anticipated event. George T. Stagg is a vatting of bourbons that are at least 15 years old, so a limited number of bottles are produced and released every year, usually in the fall. I wasn't fortunate enough to "win" the chance to buy a bottle in the LCBO's lottery this year. Stagg Jr. is made from the same mashbill as George T. Stagg, but is not quite as aged, reportedly containing 7 to 10 year old whiskey. Stagg Jr. is still somewhat limited, but is not a lottery product like its parent product. It tends to come around several times per year, and is more affordable than  George T. Stagg. The mashbill is the Buffalo Trace Mashbill #1 (low rye: less than 10 % rye) and this bourbon, from Batch 8, is bottled at a hefty 64.75% ABV. This review is from a sample generously provided by a friend. His bottle was opened Oct 17, 2017,  and the sample poured on Nov 8, 2017.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): lots of brown sugar, sour cherries, oak, vanilla, dark toffee, classic bourbon on steroids
Palate (undiluted): rich arrival, waxy feel, more cherries, deep barrel char, rye, cloves, a bit of caramel corn
Finish: long, oaky, and warming, with some tannins making an appearance near the end, like over-steeped black tea, ending on cacao beans and more dark cherries.
With water, the fruitiness is pushed back. Caramel pops out of the glass on the nose alongside a freshly-shucked corn note.  With a bit of time, the nose becomes much oakier and an aroma of fresh pipe tobacco emerges. On the palate and finish, there is far less fruitiness with water added. It’s replaced by rich, sticky toffee and floral vanilla, while the chocolate on the finish becomes more like milk chocolate.This is terrific both ways.

I've never had George T. Stagg, so I can't comment on the quality of Junior's parent bourbon. It may be the Henry Jones Sr/Sean Connery of bourbon, or it may be Danny Tanner/Bob Saget of the Buffalo Trace family for all I know. However Stagg Jr. is excellent on its own, much like Indiana Jones. It's a bruiser, but even with water added the nuance and wide range of flavours shine through and the bourbon maintains its exceptional quality. Recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches
Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.
Mark Twain

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Walk the Line: A review of Johnnie Walker Black Label

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on

"The Man in Black" is one of Johnny Cash's signature songs. In it, he describes the social iniquities that led to his choice of wardrobe. Becoming the man in black was, then, a form of protest against injustice. According to Rolling Stone magazine, however, the choice was far more practical; an all-black wardrobe was easier for band members to match and keep clean on a long tour. In fact, during his early years, Johnny Cash was teased and nicknamed "Undertaker" by other artists. Nevertheless, the gimmick worked and just about everyone knows who "the man in black" is.

Cash is also one of the rare artists who has been able to transcend genres. He is revered (rightfully so) for his contributions to country music, but he was never content to stay within the boundaries of that style. Cash recorded a duet with Bob Dylan, performing the latter's "Girl From the North Country". He covered the Nine Inch Nails song "Hurt" and performed a duet with Fiona Apple, covering Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" on his 2002 album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. Cash also teamed up with icons such as Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and many others. He recorded albums with his wife, the talented June Carter-Cash. No matter how much time goes by, no matter how "mainstream" or popular his songs get, Johnny Cash's music remains relevant. I'll go out on a limb and say the same timelessness and versatility applies to Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old Blended Scotch. Hear me out.

Walk the Line

Johnnie Walker is undoubtedly the most iconic scotch brand in the world. It sells 10 million cases of whisky more than its nearest competitor (Ballantine's). The company was started by grocer John Walker, who sold spirits in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland in the 1820s. John Walker had some success selling spirits, but it was his son and grandson, both named Alexander, who grew the brand into the giant it is today. Johnnie Walker's square bottle and 24 degree angled label were introduced in 1860, and both served to distinguish the brand from its competitors. Today, the brand's lineup is distinguished by its colour-coding. The Black Label is created from approximately 40 malt and grain whiskies aged for a minimum of 12 years. This is, in and of itself, pretty impressive. All whiskies have batch variation, but Johnnie Walker Black has, to my palate, remained remarkably consistent. There are a lot of reasons for this success. The Walker brand is owned by one of the biggest alcoholic beverages company in the world (Diageo), giving the master blenders access to a large number of whiskies with which to work. For those who don't know, there is no Johnnie Walker Distillery. Their blended whiskies are created using whiskies from Diageo-owned distilleries, such as Cragganmore, Caol Ila, Talisker, Lagavulin, Cardhu, Oban, Glenkinchie, Clynelish, Linkwood, and others. Blending is an art unto itself and Diageo employs some of the best.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): raisins and dried fruits, apricots maybe, light smoke, sherry, vanilla
Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, vanilla, toffee, a bit of pepper, orange peels, oak
Finish: Medium length, earthy peat, wood smoke, raisins, and malted barley.

Adding water tones down the sweetness a bit and pushes the smoke to the tail end of the finish. It may be denounced as whisky heresy by some, but Johnnie Walker Black Label is terrific with club soda or any sparkling water, like Perrier. I like to call this cocktail the Hitchslap, as it was reportedly the late Christopher Hitchens' favourite drink. Say what you will about Hitchens, but he was erudite, entertaining and always unabashedly honest. I have two minor quibbles with this whisky. The first is the 40% ABV bottling. I'd like to see it bottled at a minimum of 43% ABV, or even 45%. I'd also like this whisky to have a bit more smoke and peat, but for some reason whisky companies don't want to base all their business decisions on my personal wishes. Oh well.

Forget those who deride blended whisky. Johnnie Walker Black Label is a consistent, well put-together whisky. It's a testament to the skill of Diageo's blenders. It is remarkably consistent and works in just about any context, much like the man in black himself. Johnny Cash was honest and no-nonsense, and so is Johnnie Walker Black Label. This whisky is worth your time. I almost always have a bottle in my cabinet. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 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, 16 May 2018

Back In My Day: Old Grand Dad 114

If you're reading this blog, you shouldn't be surprised to find I'm a sucker for anything old-timey. Moustachioes, top hats, bicycles with enormous front wheels, suspenders (or braces, if you prefer) are just the bee's knees. Perhaps I associate whiskey culture, rightly or wrongly, with more mature, refined individuals. Maybe I erroneously idealize the late nineteenth century, the roaring twenties, and the past in general, but this isn't the time or place to pontificate about the systemic problems and injustices of the past. I'm told it won't boost a whiskey blog's readership numbers...
Sweet bike AND facial hair !

Besides, focusing on the good things from the past, like old-time slang is a welcome distraction from the tommy-rot of our present realities. "Tell it to Sweeney" is more creative and fun than "You are fake news!". Whiskey makers know this and appeal to tradition and "the old ways" all the time.

Back in my day !

Old Grand-Dad was a real person. Basil Hayden made his name by distilling a bourbon whiskey made with a higher percentage of rye. Basil Hayden passed along the art of distilling to his son and then, in turn, to his grandson. It was the third generation distiller, Colonel R.B. Hayden, who honored his grandfather by naming his justly famed whiskey “Old Grand-Dad.”

During Prohibition, Old Grand-Dad was produced by a pharmaceutical company, the American Medicinal Sprits Co., and was one of the few distilled spirits permitted to be prescribed as medicine. It was a popular time to be sick.¹

OGD 114's attitude
Depending on which internet source you trust, the mashbill is 60%-63% corn, 27%-30% rye, and 10% malted barley. The age is, again according to internet speculation, somewhere between 4 and 7 years. Old Grand Dad 114 is, then, a high-rye bourbon, bottled at a powerful 57% ABV (or 114 Proof, hence the name). It isn't readily available in Ontario, but I obtained a sample from a friend who can get it in the United States for $23-$27.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): very fruity at first, cherry blossoms, a bit of vanilla and brown sugar (though much less than I expect from a bourbon) developing to oak tannins and rye spice in the background, maybe just a hint of mint in the tail end. There is very little alcohol prickle on the nose. I would never have guessed this was bottled at 57% ABV. As this sits in the glass, a slightly vegetal note appears in the background. Dried leaves. This is a terrific nose.

Palate (undiluted): WOW !!! There’s that 57% ABV ! Very hot arrival, though not unpleasant at all. It isn’t “spiky” (like a hoppy beer) as much as it’s big, bold and warming. Lots more cherries. Sour cherries, with a bit of vanilla frosting. The rye spice is present, but it isn’t the star of this show at all.

Finish: medium-long with some toffee notes popping through and the oak tannins returning. There’s a slight tobacco/leather note peeking through at the very end of the finish.

Adding water pushed the fruity notes way back. Fresh corn (still a little green) pops out of the glass. The nose actually seems to be “hotter” with the addition of water. Oak and tobacco notes next. The cherries are still there, but they’ve been pushed way back. Given some time to rest (5 minutes or so), the fruit comes back, but doesn’t dominate the way it did at full strength. The arrival on the palate is more typically bourbon-esque with water. Toffee, vanilla and oak notes dominate with the fresh corn next and that lovely fruity note pushed way back. After some resting time, the flavours feel like they’re getting a bit muted, relatively speaking. With water, the finish becomes far more vegetal (fresh tobacco?) though not much shorter. I prefer this one at full strength.

I really wish Old Grand Dad 114 was available in Ontario. This is a bourbon I would love to keep in my liquor cabinet at all times. It's terrific on its own and I'm sure the bold flavours and higher proof would stand up wonderfully in cocktails like (what else?) the Old Fashioned. This whiskey is proof that low price does NOT equal low quality. I highly recommend you pick up a bottle if you see one near you. Try it and you'll undoubtedly exclaim "Now you're on the trolley !" Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see a man about a dog.
Rating: 3.5/5 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"

¹taken from "The Olds" website.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Revisiting the moustache rating system

I know I've written about it before, but for those who don't want to go back and find the last entry on my somewhat jocular system of evaluation, here's an updated version of my moustache rating system. It's not really analogous to a points system, but rather my interpretation of what the whisky's strengths and best uses are. Every whisky has strengths and weaknesses. This system is just, like, my opinion, man.

The moustache abides

1 moustache

Vodka. Not much lavour here, you're simply adding alcohol to your drink. I haven't had any whiskies at this level yet. A whisky rated this poorly would not be recommended. At all. But vodka is alright, if that's what you're into. No judgment here. Besides, you need vodka for white Russians, right?

Example: Absolut Vodka

1 1/2 moustaches

This whisky is suitable strictly for mixing. And not even that great as a mixer. I'd probably avoid any whisky rated this low, and I'd recommend you do the same. Again, I'd remind you that my ratings are a matter of personal taste, but anything rated this poorly isn't worth drinking, in my opinion.
Example:  Fireball ? (maybe)

2 moustaches

Still strictly a mixer, it's neither great or terrible. You probably don't want to make Manhattans or Old Fashioneds with this whisky. It's an average "rye and ginger" or "whisky and coke" type of whisky. That said, it may still be a decent sipper (on the rocks) if you're in a pinch. This is not a category of whisky to overlook, as these whiskies should have their place in your collection.
Example: Grant's Family Reserve Blended Scotch

2 1/2 moustaches

Respectable mixing whisky. It might even be decent neat or on the rocks. Works in a cocktail, but there are probably better whiskies for the job. Again, these whiskies are primarily mixing whiskies, in my opinion. But that doesn't mean they're bad.

Example: Bushmills Original

3 moustaches

Now we're getting to a high quality, versatile whisky. I suggest keeping several "3 moustache" whiskies on hand at all times. They tend to be more affordable and are usually terrific in cocktails or as mixing whiskies. They're also enjoyable neat or on the rocks.
Example: Alberta Premium Dark Horse

3 1/2 moustaches

This whisky is a quality sipper. Outstanding in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. These whiskies are very versatile, yet you may be loath to use these in a cocktail. But you shouldn't be. Many of these whiskies will turn a good cocktail into a great cocktail.
Example: Wild Turkey 101

4 moustaches

This is terrific sipping whisky. I would consider anything I've rated 4 moustaches as a personal favourite for neat sipping. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. I probably won't want to mix this with anything. But you can do what you want. Your whisky, your rules.
Example: J.P. Wiser's Dissertation

4 1/2 moustaches

Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. I refuse to mix a whisky I rate this highly with anything, other than a cigar, if I've got one. You do what you want, but don't let me see you dilute one of these with ice. Or Coke. Please.
Example: Lagavulin Distillers Edition

5 moustaches

Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. Very few whiskies are rated this highly, and that should not be an indictment of the "lower" levels. And lest I become too repetitive; these are game-changers for me. Your experience may differ. And that's ok.
Example: Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength