Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Fit For A King? A review of Bushmills Red Bush

Field trip to County Antrim anyone?
Irish whiskey is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. In the late 19th century, Ireland's whiskey reigned supreme. The first half of the 20th century was not so kind and for awhile only two distilleries remained; Midleton distillery in Cork and Bushmills distillery in Antrim. Bushmills claims to be the oldest distillery in Ireland,  as licence was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips by King James I to distil whiskey in 1608, a full three years before the King James Bible was published. Say what you will about Ol' Jimmy, he had his priorities straight. Most websites state that the actual Bushmills distillery was built in 1784, meaning the Kilbeggan Distillery in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, can claim the title of the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland (Kilbeggan has been licensed and distilling since 1757 not counting the "silent" period between 1954 and 2007). Bushmills, for their part, claim that their distillery is oldest, stating: "Bushmills – oldest because it is the best, not best because it is oldest.” I don't know whose claim is true, and since I can't go to Ireland to do any extensive, uhm, "field research", I'll just have to deal with uncertainty. Such is life.

Bushmills Red Bush

Red Bush is the latest blended whiskey offering from Bushmills. I'm quite fond of their sherry cask-matured Black Bush so I was eager to try their ex-bourbon cask offering. I'm not sure how the taste of Red Bush compares to Bushmills Original, as I haven't had the latter in a long time. The Bushmills website was less than helpful, as it featured liberal use of the word SMOOTH to describe the taste of Red Bush. I'm not sure if smooth is a tasting note, as it seemingly refers to the whiskey's lack of perceived "burn". However the "burn" can also be abated by holding whiskey in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. Bonus points: you taste the whiskey much better this way as well. Like Bushmills Black Bush, the Red Bush whiskey contains a higher proportion of Bushmills' triple distilled single malt than the Original does, but the malt component is aged in ex-bourbon casks instead of the aforementioned ex-sherry casks.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): vanilla, icing sugar, toasted oak, no spirity aromas of acetone (nail polish remover) that sometimes appear in non age-stated (i.e. young) blended whiskies.
Palate (undiluted): light-bodied, but not thin or watery, cereal sweetness, red apple skins, more vanilla, a bit of barrel char, and a vague nuttiness; pecans, maybe.
Finish: short to medium length, with more cereal and vanilla notes, and a touch of maple syrup lingering at the end.

Adding water tones down some of the vanilla and oak notes. Red Bush becomes more like maple walnut (or maple pecan) ice cream with water added. It doesn't thin out as much as I expected it to. Heck, it's even good on the rocks. Sacrilege, I know. I feel like this whisky might be an ideal candidate for introducing people to sipping whisky without mixers. If I didn't know better, I'd think this was a young-ish (5-7 years old) Single Malt whisky. Red Bush won't change your perception of whiskey, but it may change what you expect from a whiskey that's just a shade above 30 bucks here in Ontario. I'm not sure if this is what King James had in mind when granting a license to Sir Thomas Phillips, or if the King drank aquavitae at all but Bushmills Red Bush manages to be accessible and easy drinking without being boring.  Recommended.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches
The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.
James Joyce


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Polite Canadian: A review of Canadian Club 100 % Rye

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

Chairman's Select 100% Rye

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

Tasting notes

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

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

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

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

Slainte !

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Relief Or Regret? A review of Forty Creek Confederation Oak

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

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

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

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

Tasting notes

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you, 
may you sail a gentle sea, 
may it always be the other guy who says
"This drink's on me."

Slainte !

Thursday, 5 July 2018

A Friendly Dram: Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

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

Marcus Tullius Cicero

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

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

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

Tasting Notes

There's a good Laddie.

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

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

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

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Oscar Wilde