Wednesday, 31 January 2018

A Fine Balance: a review of Aultmore 12 Year Old

There's something of a paradox in the world of Scotch whisky. The brain-trusts who market malt whisky lean heavily on the allure of "Old World" charm, Scots-Gaelic names and the lore often associated, rightly or wrongly, with Scotland. There are frequent appeals to "age-old" family traditions, legends of self-made men, defenders of kings, reaving Viking founders and so on...While these stories aren't always outright fabrications, they're often just partly true (at best). Single Malt whisky, as we know it today, is informed and inspired by tradition, but has benefited from being a product of the industrial age. Producers have kept some age-old traditions; the Romans were barrel-aging wine 2000 years ago, and the pot-still is hardly a modern innovation. but there's an equal amount of modern efficiency and precision in the world of scotch. Not that it's a bad thing. With the popularity of single malt scotch these days, some malts that were once the sole purview of blenders are being bottled and appreciated in their own right. Such is the case with Aultmore 12 Year Old. What was once only found in the blended whiskies of John Dewar & Sons (Dewar's White Label, Dewar's 12 Year Old, Dewar's 18 Year Old) can now be enjoyed on its own.

A Nip of the Buckie Road

A glance at the bottle of Aultmore 12 reveals the following text:

A secluded site once known for smugglers and illicit stills, the FOGGIE MOSS, conceals our water's source and filters it through gorse and heather, purifying it to the profit of AULTMORE'S refined character. Our malted barley has no hint of peat smoke, ensuring the smoothest, cleanest taste.

This rarest of SPEYSIDE classics has been distilled in handmade copper pot stills since 1897, yet for over a century it was only sold in limited editions aimed at collectors.

Sometimes a sly taste of AULTMORE could be found in a few local bars, but only if you knew to ask for "a nip of the Buckie Road."

Scottish distilleries: the expectation
Evocative prose, indeed. You would be forgiven for thinking the distillery looked like something right out of Outlander. Mayhap you can picture the Fraser clan hiding precious casks of whisky from a garrison of redcoats hell-bent on invading Lallybroch. Jamie playing it cool, Jenny giving no ground and refusing to be intimidated, Claire trying to be sensible. Something like this picture? Am I close?

The actual Aultmore distillery doesn't offer tours. It was re-built in 1971 with a more functional goal in mind; producing a consistent, reliable product to serve as a workhorse in Dewar & Sons' blends. If the marketing types want you to imagine the embodiment of scotch distilling as a brooding, quick-tempered, six foot, three inches tall, red-headed Scot like Jamie Fraser, the reality is rather mundane and less provocative. Aultmore distillery is less Jamie Fraser and more Frank Randall.

Aultmore distillery: the reality
But how does Aultmore taste? That's the important part, isn't it? Stories and imagination are all fine and good, but the quality of the product is paramount, in my humble opinion.

Tasting Notes

I have to say I was thrilled to see this bottled at a respectable 46% ABV, not chill-filtered and left at its natural colour. These may seem like little, inconsequential details, but those little details provide a very favourable first impression to this enthusiast.
  • Nose (undiluted): this is a classic Speyside, light and floral with some green fruit notes (pears, green apples, green grapes), there's a touch of vanilla, but it's balanced by a clean citrus note. It's not a bruiser like Laphroaig, but it's very well-balanced.
  • Palate (undiluted): slightly sharp arrival, medium-bodied and creamy, with more pear and green grape notes, there's a hint of cereal (barley) sweetness, but it's subdued and doesn't dominate
  • Finish: clean, medium length finish, with a slightly drying astringency, there's a bit of lingering floral honey-sweetness at the very end which makes this very easy to sip.

Adding water opens up the flavour. The nose is a little less fruity, more floral while the water allows the sweetness of the malted barley to come forward a bit. The sharp citrus notes are subdued when drinking Aultmore diluted and the vanilla and floral notes are more prominent with water. I prefered it neat, as it's bottled at 46% ABV, right in my sweet spot (anywhere from 45% to 50% ABV). This whisky is subtle, but very well-balanced. "Clean" is a word that comes to mind quite often. There are no "off" or "stray" notes. This may be a positive or negative, depending on your perspective. It's not incredibly complex, but what Aultmore does, it does very well. If you only appreciate big, bold and complex whiskies, you may find Aultmore 12 worthy of the derision that gave rise to its detractors' pet name for it; AultSNORE. I disagree. It's nice to have something in the vault that isn't a punch in the mouth. It doesn't differ much in price from Glenmorangie 10, it has a similar profile, but I'll take Aultmore over the basic Glenmorangie any day.


This whisky will not be everyone's darling. Heck, my bottle was donated to me by an online acquaintance who happens to live in my town. He had the bottle for over a year and only took two or three drams from it before deciding it wasn't for him. He offered the bottle when I asked, in a forum, if anyone had ever tried it, as I was curious. Andrew, if you're reading my silly little blog, I truly appreciate the gift. Unlike my benefactor, I enjoyed this whisky. It may not be among the smouldering, sexy, powerful whiskies of the world, like Ardbeg Uigeadail, but it's a well-crafted, clean and enjoyable drop. I'll take a nip of the Buckie Road any time.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

Here's to cheating, stealing, fighting, and drinking.
If you cheat, may you cheat death,
If you steal, may you steal a lover's heart,
If you fight, may you fight for a friend, 
And if you drink, may you drink with me.

Slainte !

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Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Better Get Used To It: A Review of Forty Creek Barrel Select

If you believe the chatter on the internet, most Canadian whisky is "brown vodka". At the risk of repeating myself, this is nonsense. Hogwash. Claptrap. Poppycock. Balderdash. Every time a Canadian whisky gains a measure of repute, the popular media, at home and abroad, treats the subject as a rare miracle. It is not. This country regularly produces fantastic whisky. It's time we stop acting surprised about it. Like Gordie Johnson from Big Sugar sang: "You better get used to it, baby!" Every whisky-producing country makes "mixer" whisky. Despite what we enthusiasts like to think, those are the big sellers. Wiser's Special Blend, Dewar's White Label, Johnnie Walker Red Label, Jack Daniel's Old No.7, Bushmills Original; these are the whiskies that "keep the lights on" for the distilleries producing our favourite neat sippers.

Gordie knows how great Canada is
But does a whisky's price tag reflect its suitability as a whisky worthy of examination sans mixer? Of course not. One of the advantages of living in Canada (besides our total domination of hockey) is the availability and affordability of our top shelf whiskies. Highland Park 18 Year Old single malt will run you $200, while you can get a Wiser's 18 Year Old for $80. Let me stop you before you respond with "yeah, but Single Malt Scotch". I'm a fan of malt whisky, but it is not "better" than other types of whisky. Single malt scotch has more prestige, largely owing to better marketing, but it is not inherently superior. Tastes are incredibly subjective. De gustibus non disputandum est. If I had a loonie for every time someone told me they prefered Lot No.40 or Forty Creek Barrel Select to my smoky Islay scotches, I'd be a rich man. Well, maybe not; I don't know that many people who drink whisky. I'd definitely have enough for a footlong Subway Club with bacon.

Editorializing aside, if you've never heard of Forty Creek, you need to pay attention.

Forty Creek: where's that? What's that?

From their website:

The Forty Creek distillery is located in Grimsby, Ontario –halfway between Niagara Falls and Toronto. The Niagara region is home to many beautiful and historically significant cities and towns – and Grimsby is certainly one of them. Founded in 1790, Grimsby was formerly named ‘The Forty’, since the river running through the centre of town was exactly 40 miles away from Niagara Falls. Today, that river is named Forty Mile Creek – and it is the body of water that inspired the name of our whiskies.

The Master, hard at work

In an era where clear spirits were all the rage and most whisky companies were playing it safe , winemaker John K Hall took a chance and brought his unique experience and perspectives to the whisky industry. He laid down the first stocks of what would become Forty Creek whisky in 1992. Hall's innovation and commitment to quality reinvigorated the Canadian whisky industry. His efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2001, whisky writer Michael Jackson (not the King of Pop) said Forty Creek was the “richest-tasting Canadian whisky” he had ever tasted  In 2007, Hall was recognized by Malt Advocate Magazine as “Pioneer of the Year”, and was the first and only Canadian whisky maker to receive such a prestigious award.  In 2017, John was honoured with the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Whisky Awards. That same year, he was inducted into Whisky Magazine's Hall of Fame. Barrel Select is Forty Creek's flagship offering. If you've ever seen Forty Creek in a liquor store, chances are it's been this one.


Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): lots of sweet notes. Butterscotch, very much like Werther's Originals, caramel popcorn, rich and  deep brown sugar notes, and light rye spice in the background. Take your time and let it breathe and you may notice some nuttiness in the background and a slight savoury note. Very full and inviting.
Palate (undiluted): Rich arrival, surprisingly rich for a 40% ABV whisky, more butterscotch/caramel, a bit of milk chocolate, very light rye and pepper notes in the background with a bit of a light citrus note throughout.
Finish: Medium length, buttery and sweet with hints of berries (blackberries, raspberries) making an appearance. This is a very friendly whisky.
Adding water or ice doesn't change much in the way of flavours. The sweetness is a bit muted, but that might be a function of dilution rather than temperature. Maybe it's a combination of both. Either way, this is a very easy drinking whisky. It makes for a great "background" whisky when you're having drinks with friends and you don't want to spend all of your time or attention on what you're drinking. But... sip it from a Glencairn glass and take your time, and there is some serious complexity here, albeit subtle. I can't help but feel this one would be improved at a higher proof, maybe around 46% ABV. But I'm biased towards higher proof whiskies. I'm also convinced this would be great in a whisky sour, where the sweetness of the whisky would be a nice contrast to the lemon juice. I omit the egg white in my whisky sours, but you do what you like. I'll also wager you'd like it in an Old Pal. "What's an Old Pal", you ask? An Old Pal is similar to a Boulevardier (which is itself a variant of the Negroni), but it uses Dry (White) Vermouth in place of the Boulevardier's Sweet (Red) Vermouth. The rich sweetness of Forty Creek balances out the dryness of the vermouth and the bitterness of the Campari. I'd recommend you start with the following recipe and adjust to suit your taste: 
  • 4.5 cl (1.5oz) Forty Creek Barrel Select
  • 2.2 cl (0.75oz) Campari
  • 2.2 cl (0.75oz) White Vermouth
  • Pour all ingrediends into a mixing glass, add ice to chill
  • Stir and strain into a cocktail glass (or an old fashioned tumbler, my preference)
  • Garnish with a lemon or orange twist


Some whiskies should be a mainstay in your cabinet. Forty Creek Barrel Select is one of those whiskies. It is affordable, versatile and inviting. It's a great whisky to use when you want to introduce someone to whisky sans the Coke or Ginger Ale mixer. It's terrific on ice and quite approachable neat. The whisky neophyte will not be intimidated by this whisky, but that shouldn't imply that the more seasoned sipper won't enjoy it as well. Forty Creek founder John K. Hall spent decades honing his skills in the wine industry and his skills as a blender are evident in the company's flagship whisky. Mr. Hall may be retired, but his legacy is evident in the quality of Forty Creek's whiskies. Barrel Select, to my palate, outperforms many whiskies that cost twice as much. Canada's whisky enthusiasts are fortunate to count Forty Creek among our own. Recommended.
Rating: 3/5 moustaches
Here's to cheating, stealing, fighting, and drinking.
If you cheat, may you cheat death,
If you steal, may you steal a lover's heart,
If you fight, may you fight for a friend, 
And if you drink, may you drink with me.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Matchmaker: Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition

The look of bliss when pairing a 16 oz T-Bone with
a 24 oz Porterhouse. (cigar optional)
Bacon and eggs. Peanut butter and jam. Steak and steak. Some things are naturally suited to each other. Their flavours, their textures, and sometimes even their shared history are so intertwined that a pairing is inevitable. But pairing beer and whisky? Isn't that a recipe for disaster? No, no it isn't. Irish Whiskey and Stout go together like the aforementioned triumvirate. Jameson and Guinness are ubiquitous at any St. Patrick's Day cèilidh. So it's logical that Jameson decided to experiment with this idea. The genesis of this whiskey is described below:

Like all the best conversations, the one between Jameson’s Head of Whiskey Science and the Head Brewer of a local craft beer brewery, started at the bar. A swapping of whiskey and beer barrels soon after, resulted in Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition - triple-distilled, blended Irish Whiskey that has been patiently finished in Irish craft beer-seasoned barrel
(from the Jameson website)

Jameson's agreement is with Cork's Franciscan Well brewery. The brewery isn't seasoning these Jameson casks with beer that isn't up to snuff, either. They're releasing the Jamseon Aged Stout and it has won the Gold Medal in the Speciality category at the International Beer Challenge Awards in 2013 and 2015, along with Gold Award in the World Beer Awards 2015. Not too shabby. So how does it taste?

Tasting Notes

Slainte, mate !

Nose (undiluted): honey, green apple, vanilla and a hint of coffee and cocoa

Palate (undiluted): medium-bodied, vanilla fudge developing a slight coffee bitterness, oak tannins and a nice prickle on the tongue

Finish: medium-short finish, a slight yet pleasant bitterness reminiscent of dark chocolate, more oakiness and butterscotch

The stout influence is subtle, yet it's impossible to miss. Don't believe me? Do a side by side taste-test with regular Jameson, and you'll notice the difference straight away. Adding water tamed some of the Caskmates' sweetness made the cocoa and coffee a bit more prominent, but I prefer this one neat. With ice or water, the balance of the whiskey is not quite right for me. I wouldn't turn it down, but it's better as is.


While blended Irish whiskey like Jameson isn't as en vogue with whiskey connoisseurs as Single Pot Still whiskey, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you ignored this offering from the best-selling Irish whiskey brand in the world. Jameson counts more than 20 million bottles sold per year, all over the globe. Yes, Jameson is a big brand. No it isn't a small, craft distillery. But the marriage of two of Ireland's most well-known exports, whiskey and stout beer, just works. Recommended.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

Always remember to forget
The things that made you sad.
But never forget to remember
The things that made you glad

Slainte mhaith !!

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Iconoclasm: A Better Whisky Makes A Better Cocktail

Don Draper
You think he only uses cheap whisky
 in cocktails?
Cocktail culture has been back in vogue ever since retro TV shows like Mad Men hit the airwaves. The origins and history of cocktails is interesting, though it's difficult to discern truth from fiction. Since most distilling was illicit in the beginning and even legitimate liquor production was often in legal limbo, the veracity of our received cocktail history is questionable. It's entirely possible that people began mixing their liquor with juices, sugars, syrups, honey, and bitters because their rum, vodka, gin or whisky was of dubious quality. We've come a long way, yet many enthusiasts are loath to use quality spirits to make a cocktail. I've fallen prey to this line of thinking at times, using only the cheapest whisky to make my drinks. It's a shame, since better ingredients almost always produce better results. Below, you'll find some of my favourite cocktail recipes along with my preferred whisky recommendations. Though my choices are not always expensive offerings, some of these recommendations are not for the faint of heart. Ye be warned !

The Old Fashioned

This one is near and dear to my heart. It's probably my favourite cocktail and I often judge the quality of a rye or bourbon by its competence in this cocktail. It's also the go-to cocktail of Don Draper and of Ron Swanson, when he isn't drinking Lagavulin. The official recipe, according to the International Bartenders Association is as follows:
  • 4.5 cl (1.5 oz) Bourbon or Rye whiskey
  • 2 Dashes Angostura Bitters
  • 1 sugar cube
  • Few dashes plain water
  • Place sugar cube in old-fashioned glass and saturate with bitters, add a dash of plain water.
  • Muddle until dissolve. Fill the glass with ice cubes and add whiskey. Garnish with orange slice and a cocktail cherry.
There are heated debates online about fruit vs fruit rind, muddling the fruit vs using the fruit as a garnish and much much more. I'm a fan of the IBA version, but experiment to find your prefered version and let the purists argue over the details. I'm a fan of rye in my Old Fashioned (or high rye bourbons), but any bourbon is just as acceptable.
Recommended whiskies: Four Roses Single Barrel, Rittenhouse Straight Rye, Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye

The Manhattan

A runner-up to the Old Fashioned in my list of personal favourites, the Manhattan calls for a more rye-forward whisky to balance out the sweet vermouth. I'm not a huge fan of bourbons in a Manhattan, as the sweetness takes over the whole drink. This is the drink of choice of Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot.

The official IBA recipe is as follows:
  • 5 cl (approx 2oz) Rye Whiskey
  • 2 cl  (approx 3/4 oz) Red (Sweet) Vermouth
  • 1 dash Angostura Bitters
  • Pour all ingredients into mixing glass with ice cubes. Stir well. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.Garnish with cocktail cherry.
Recommended whiskies: Wiser's Legacy, Stalk & Barrel Rye, Knob Creek Rye

The Boulevardier

I've only recently discovered this one, but I shan't soon forget it. I've long been a fan of the Negroni, a gin-based cocktail, when I'm not enjoying whisky. An acquaintance dared ask the question: why not have both? The Boulevardier is a Negroni made with whisky instead of Gin. Brilliant !!! The easy-peasy recipe is as follows:
  • 3 cl rye or bourbon whiskey
  • 3 cl Campari
  • 3 cl Sweet Red Vermouth
  • Pour all ingredients directly into old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir gently.Garnish with half orange slice.
*Note that Campari is quite bitter (very grapefruit-esque), so you may want to start with 2 parts whisk(e)y, 1 part Campari and 1 part Sweet Vermouth. But if you like grapefruit juice and/or hoppy beers, you'll probably like the "official" version just fine.
Recommended whiskies: Lot No.40 Rye, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Blanton's Original

The Rusty Nail

So many great choices
So now we get to some more controversial choices. Why? These next 3 cocktails are made with scotch whisky. And using a better scotch generally yields a better cocktail. I know, scotch is expensive. But trust me when I say you won't regret using a better whisky. Traditionally, the Rusty Nail uses a blended scotch whisky, but you don't have to limit yourself. This cocktail is one of shady lawyer Saul Goodman's favourites. The recipe is:

  • 4.5 cl (approx. 1.5 oz) Scotch whisky
  • 2.5 cl Drambuie (approx. 0.8 oz)
  • Pour all ingredients directly into old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Stir gently. Garnish with lemon twist.
Recommended whiskies: Johnny Walker Green Label 15 Year Old Blended Malt, Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend, Highland Park 12 Year Old Single Malt

The Godfather

He'll make you a cocktail
you can't refuse
Like the Rusty Nail, this is a great digestif, that is, an after-dinner cocktail. Rumour has it this was Marlon Brando's favourite cocktail, though I can neither confirm nor deny this. The Amaretto is quite sweet, so you want to make sure your scotch is not cloyingly sweet. (though as always, you do what you want). I'm a fan of using a moderately smoky scotch for this one, as I feel the smoke of the scotch plays nicely off the sweetness from the liqueur, but any scotch will work. Here is the IBA recipe, though note that Disaronno recommends a 2:1 scotch to amaretto ratio. Experiment to find what works for you.

  • 3.5 cl Scotch
  • 3.5 cl Amaretto
  • Pour all ingredients directly into old fashioned glass filled with ice cubes.
  • Stir gently.
Recommended whiskies: Bowmore 12 Year Old Single Malt, Compass Box Peat Monster Blended Malt, Johnnie Walker Double Black

The Smoky Coke

How some people react to the Smoky Coke recipe.
Now we come to the most controversial cocktail around. A simple highball? Controversial? Yes, yes it is. Peruse any Facebook whisky group or message board and you'll find strong opinions on the smoky coke. Why? Well, as I've mentioned, single malt scotch is expensive, and many people consider it uncouth to mix it with anything, let alone the cola of the proletarian masses. Now nobody is suggesting you drink these all night, but as a single cocktail, it's really good. Don't let anyone tell you how to drink your whisky. The IBA does not have a recipe for this, so I recommend you start with the recipe below and adjust to your taste:

  • 2 oz Scotch (preferably a smoky Islay Single Malt, but a smoky blend will work too)
  • 5 oz Coca Cola
  • Pour all ingredients into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Stir gently
Recommended whiskies: Laphroaig 10 Year Old, Lagavulin 16 Year Old, Ardbeg 10 Year Old

Any whisky can work in a cocktail. You're probably used to using cheap whisky in your cocktails, regardless of who's making them. If mixed drinks are your thing, you owe it to yourself to try using better ingredients, even if it's just to test the perceived difference. Civilization didn't get to where it is today by sticking to the tried and true. Try something new, something daring. Experiment a bit. Do it for science!

Slainte !!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

A Great One? A Review of Wayne Gretzky No.99 Red Cask

I'm not a fan of celebrity worship, celebrity obsession, celebrity endorsements, or celebrity-themed anything. But there are exceptions to every rule. I've put off buying Wayne Gretzky wine and Wayne Gretzky whisky because I'm cool like that. Let the mindless masses buy something simply because the Great One's name is on it; I can't be swayed that easily. Or so I thought. More than a few people I know and trust had positive things to say about the wine...and about the whisky. So I gave in and sampled some Wayne Gretzky No.99 Red Cask. But why not call it Hat Trick or M.V.P. or Slapshot, or something hockey themed? I mean, we're talking about the greatest hockey player of all time, right? (Bobby Orr and Mario Lemieux fans, your objections are noted) Perhaps they wanted to be taken more seriously.

Wayne Gretzky Estates

The Great One has been in the wine business for awhile. He launched his winery with Creekside back around 2006, and then partnered with Andrew Peller Ltd. in 2011. In 2016, they decided to get into the whisky business. When Gretzky and company decided to release a line of whiskies, they weren't content to put out a generic Canadian rye whisky. By all accounts, Wayne Gretzky Estates invested in top-notch stills and equipment. The grains used in No. 99 Red Cask (rye, malted rye and corn) are locally sourced. Master Distiller Joshua Beach has been trained in Scotland. So he is a master. Really. He has a Master's degree in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland. This is not kitschy celebrity branding. WGE put some serious work into this whisky. In their own words:

Wayne Gretzky No. 99 'Red Cask' Canadian Whisky is made in small batches from grain (rye, malted rye and corn) that has been individually mashed, fermented and distilled. After aging, the whisky is finished with red wine casks from the Wayne Gretzky winery.

The whisky doesn't carry an age statement, so you can only assume it's 3 Years Old, since those are the legal requirements for whisky in Canada. Are there older whiskies in here? Maybe, maybe not. But how does it taste?

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): Dark Brown sugar, maple syrup, a hint of roses, a touch of leather. Give it time to rest in the glass and some red grapes, apples and citrus notes appear.

Palate (undiluted): surprisingly rich for a whisky bottled at 40% ABV, some oakiness, more maple notes, some vanilla-infused (toasted oak?) red wine notes become apparent with time, as does a touch of rye spice

Finish: medium-short finish, with some red grapes and oaky red wine notes initially and a touch more rose/perfume reappearing with time.

Adding water didn't really improve this whisky. Nor did adding ice, unless you find it a bit too sweet when sipped neat. Ice toned down the maple and brown sugar sweetness and brought the floral and wine notes forward a bit. This one develops complexity when it's given the chance to sit in the glass for awhile. The vanilla and oak notes become more prominent. Letting it sit may prove a tall order, however, as this is a very easy-drinking whisky.


It's easy to be cynical and dismiss celebrity-branded products. I'm guilty of walking right past this whisky several times and scoffing (internally) at those marveling over "a Wayne Gretzky whisky". As much as I try not to be a snob, I was guilty on this count. This whisky is very easy to drink. If you like big, oak-rich red wines, you will like this whisky. In fact, this whisky made me want to try some of Gretzky's red wines. I'm curious to see if these notes are present in his Baco Noir or Shiraz Cabernet. It is rich, complex, affordable, and let's face it, a Wayne Gretzky whisky makes a great conversation piece. It may be a love it or hate it whisky when it comes to tasting, though, as the oak and red wine notes become more dominant with time. You should try before you buy.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

Cheers, eh!?