Sunday, 30 December 2018

The Second Annual Completely Subjective Whisky Awards

It's that time of year again; the whisky cognoscenti are naming their whiskies of the year, on websites, in magazines, in Bibles, on YouTube. Some experts will be praised, some will be derided, but all will make headlines. Except these awards right here.
There's no gala, unless the distilleries want to send representatives to my house to collect their prize, which will consist of a hearty handshake and leftover Hallowe'en candy my kids don't plan on eating. Stale suckers anyone? That said, I make these categories up as I go, and it gives me a chance to go beyond scores and tasting notes to give extra recognition to the whiskies I feel deserve it. As a great man once said "Awards are stupid, but they'd be less stupid if they went to the right people."

First, a few new awards:

Rookie of the Year

This need not be a new whisky, but rather a whisky I've only just discovered. Possibly from a newer distillery, possibly from one which isn't quite as popular as the "standards". People's mileage may vary here as my "rookie" might be well-known to other people.

And the winner is:


Maybe Kilkerran has an unfair advantage, since it is owned and operated by the Mitchell family, which also owns and operates Springbank. Heck, I've even heard that some of the staff work at both distilleries. Calling them consummate whisky-makers would be the understatement of the year. Kilkerran 12 is bottled at a respectable 46% abv, it is not chill-filtered, and there is no added E150a (caramel colouring). This is honest-to-goodness Campbeltown deliciousness.

Hall of Fame Inductee

Some whiskies are so iconic they're beyond yearly awards, as far as I'm concerned. Some are such enduring classics, regardless of personal preferences, that they should be honoured in the Whisky Hall Of Fame. Is there such a thing? I don't think so. Various publications have their own Whisky Hall Of Fame, but I don't think there's a whisky equivalent to Cleveland (Rock & Roll), Cooperstown (Baseball), or Toronto (Hockey). So which whisky is on my ballot this year?

The winner is:


If you've ever read this blog, or if you know me, this choice should come as no surprise. Lagavulin is, to my palate, THE icon of single malt scotch. It's not the scotch I reach for all the time, but it's a scotch I'll never turn down. Rich, smoky, peaty, balanced with some underlying sweetness, it's a whisky to be savoured slowly. It's perfect before a rare ribeye steak, or during a long conversation with friends. Bonus points if a bit of Lagavulin gets into your mustache and you can smell it for the rest of the evening.

Now, on to the other awards.


Canadian Whisky of the Year, limited release

Lot 40 Cask Strength 11 Year Old (58.4% abv)

This year's Lot 40 Cask Strength offering is a bit deeper in flavour than last year's version. This one has lots of rye bite, cinnamon, cloves, baked red apples, and dark toffee sweetness. Yet it's not overwhelming, nor does it need water. Both versions, last year's 12 year old and this year's 11 year old, are excellent but there's something really special about this one. As Nigel Tufnel would say: it goes to eleven. 

Canadian Whisky of the Year, standard release

Lot 40 (43% abv)

Ok, so perhaps I lack imagination. Perhaps my palate is too focused on rye notes, but this one is still really hard to beat. If you happen to find Cask Strength whiskies too powerful, or if you didn't get a Lot 40 Cask Strength in the 4.2 seconds when some was available at the LCBO, the "regular" Lot 40 is an excellent consolation prize.


Bourbon of the Year, Limited Release

Stagg Jr., Batch 9 (65.95 % abv)

Another year, another win for the Buffalo Trace distillery. Stagg Jr. is released in limited batches, and they seem to get better each time. This is a huge, barrel-proof offering that can take some getting used to, but you'd be surprised at how quickly a person can get used to sipping something this strong without water or ice. Just make sure your pours are small to start as this hits hard. Lots of brown sugar, cherry, orange zest, chocolate, and maple notes here. This American standout will warm your soul on a cold, Canadian morning, er, evening.

Bourbon of the Year, Standard Release

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (58.4% abv)

Don't tell anyone, but this is one of the best values in bourbon. I'd pay $20 more per bottle, if that's what it took to keep one in my cabinet. But please, DON'T TELL THE LCBO !!! Lots of dark cherries, rich toffee and brown sugar, just enough oak to keep it interesting without overpowering the palate. Anyone who says Wild Turkey, or bourbon in general, is "redneck mouthwash" is wrong. Plain and simple.

Honourable Mention

Blanton's Gold Edition (51.5 % abv): This 103 proof offering from Blanton's really hits the spot. It's not the world's most complex bourbon, but it's a fantastic one. It's one of the few whiskies I prefered with a tiny splash of water added. It's not hot when sipped neat, but it seems to get more complex and welcoming with the addition of water. A real winner.


Single Malt Scotch of the Year, Limited release

Caol Ila 18 Year Old, Unpeated (Islay, 59.8 % abv)

Remember Chunky Soup's advertisements from the late 1980s and early 1990s? "It's the soup that eats like a meal". Caol Ila (prounounced cull-EEla or Cool-EEla), 18 Year Old Unpeated is the Chunky Soup of malt whisky. It has lemon, honey, brine, a hint of peat (despite its "unpeated" claim), apple skins, black pepper, and ripe banana. Add water, and there’s a slightly herbal note that appears on the nose, almost like rosemary. With a bit of resting time, the nose takes on a meaty aroma, like salted ham (prosciutto). And with Caol Ila, there's always a lovely sour green apple note at the tail end of the finish. This is everything great malt whisky should be.

Single Malt Scotch of the Year, Standard release, Age Stated

Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength (Islay, 56.5% abv)

This is a limited release, but a version of the 12 Year Cask Strength is released every year. The 2017 release is amazing. It's what scotch would drink if it drank scotch. Smoky, briny, meaty, with just enough bright fruit notes to keep you from being overwhelmed. I honestly can't find fault with this whisky. If money were no object, I'd have a lifetime supply of this whisky in my castle...because if money were no object, I'd obviously live in a castle. In Scotland.

Honourable Mention

Springbank 12 Cask Strength (Campbeltown, 56.3 % abv)

Another malt that's released in batches every year, it's sadly not available in Ontario. But it is magnificent and worthy of your attention. It's very complex: there's iodine, peat but very little smoke, a briny mineral note like sea-sprayed rocks, damp wood and dusty hay, raisins, some milk chocolate, orange peels, apricots, ginger, black pepper, salted caramel, and some oaky barrel notes. If you live in Alberta, this one may be available in select shops. Go there and buy it all. Right now. You're welcome.

Single Malt Scotch of the Year, No Age Statement

Laphroaig Triple Wood (Islay, 48% abv)

This is rich whisky. Even for a richly flavoured whisky like Laphroaig, Triple Wood is especially rich. I hear it's being discontinued and it makes me want to stockpile this one. Sadly, I'm not made of money. Lots of vanilla, rich nuttiness (walnuts, almonds) dates, raisins, and obviously the huge medicinal Laphroaig brine and smoke. Triple Wood will make you experience one of two things: unconditional love or undying hatred for all things Scottish. Guess which one I experience when drinking this?

Honourable mention

Glenfarclas 105 (Highland/Speyside 60% abv)

Glenfarclas calls itself a Highland whisky, which it is, but it is located in the Highland region designated as "Speyside". However you want to categorize this, it's a treat. It's not quite as dark in flavour as some sherry-monsters, but it has more balance between the fruit and the toffee sweetness. Another one that doesn't need water, even though it's 120 proof, but gets more "open" and complex with a tiny splash of water added.

Blended Scotch of the Year

Douglas Laing's Big Peat Blended Malt

Don't be a buzz-kill
Blended scotch gets a bad rap among the self-annointed whisky intelligentsia. And to be fair (to be faaaaiiiiiir), this is a blended malt, not a blended scotch. There's no grain whisky here; it's all malt. Big Peat contains malt whisky from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, Port Ellen, and other "blender's secrets". Either way, let the snobbery of others benefit you. This is a fantastic whisky. It's affordable, though not always easy to find, but it won't disappoint you unless you're über-refined, like Buzz Killington.

Honourable mention

Ballantine's Finest Blended Scotch (40% abv)

This one is surprisingly good. Fruity, smoky, and dangerously easy to drink. It's a perfect summer whisky, great with some sparkling water and, dare I say it, a twist of lime. Beware that there are some significant batch variations with this one, but it's impossible to beat at its price point.


Best Irish Whiskey, blended

Jameson Black Barrel (40% abv)

Classic Jameson with more sweetness, more spice, and added fruity plum and apricot notes from the sherry casks. It's got more Single Pot Still whiskey in the mix than the standard Jamo, and the barrels are re-charred before maturing the whisky so you get more oakiness as well. This is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Honourable mention

Bushmills Black Bush (40% abv)

Another perennial favourite. This one never disappoints. It's very easy sipping with lots of fruit, milk chocolate, and a bit of red apple skins. A perfect whiskey to introduce a newbie to sipping whisky.

Best Irish Whiskey, Single Malt or Single Pot Still

Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength (57.4% abv)

I have yet to taste an Irish Single Pot still I like more than this one. It's everything I'm looking for in an Irish Single Pot Still whiskey. Big, rich, spicy, sweet, fruity; it's got it all and it's not watered down. Magnificent.

Honourable mention

Yellow Spot (46% abv)

Yellow Spot is a bit of an odd duck. Some might find the wine casks a bit overpowering, but those people are wrong. This is terrific whiskey. Rich single pot still whiskey flavours (cinnamon, baked apples, nutmeg) are complemented by the sweet Malaga wine casks (grapes, lemon candies).

World Whisky of the Year

Last year's overall winner was Ardbeg Uigeadail, a NAS-labeled single malt scotch. This year, the honour goes to another Scottish Single Malt. It's from the same Island (Islay), but from a different distillery. It would be dishonest of me to choose anything but LAGAVULIN 12 YEAR OLD (Cask Strength) as my whisky of the year. It's the closest thing I've experienced to perfection so far, and so I crown it this year's champion.

I hope 2018 was good to you, and I hope 2019 will be even better. Thanks for reading. Slainte !

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
     And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
     And auld lang syne!
     For auld lang syne, my dear,
     For auld lang syne.
     We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint stowp!
     And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
     For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
     And pou’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit,
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
     Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
     Sin’ auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
     And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willie waught,
     For auld lang syne.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Marketing Done Right: J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series Wendel Clark Rye

There have been some spectacular failures in the history of marketing. Back in the 1980s, Coke threw out one of the most successful formulas in the world to launch "New Coke". The results were abysmal. More recently, Pepsi came under fire for their ridiculous ad featuring Kendall Jenner solving all of America's race-relations problems with a bottle of Pepsi. Good job Pepsi, you're more tone-deaf than Kanye West. Nivea saw Pepsi's ad, said "hold my beer", and hit facepalm level: maximum with their White Is Purity campaign. Yes, that really happened. Calvin Klein seems obsessed with ads featuring a quasi-nude teenage girl being pounced upon by several men. Yet for all the cringe-worthy, rage-inducing advertising campaigns, there have been some great ideas in marketing. 
The Old Spice "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" is one of my favourites. It pokes fun at all the common tropes in bodywash/cologne/body spray commercials, and includes a bit of absurdity for good measure: "I'm on a horse". They followed this up with a brilliant campaign featuring the stereotype-smashing Terry Crews. The Mac vs PC ad campaign was a clever and competitive bit of marketing by Apple. The ads featured actor and Bill Gates-lookalike  John Hodgman, as the nerdy-workaholic PC, and actor Justin Long as a Steve Jobs stand-in personifying a hip Mac computer. So with advertising being such a hit-and-miss proposition, what's a whisky fan to think when a Canadian distillery teams up with some of the NHL's most iconic players?

The J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series

I'm not ashamed to admit I love the idea of a Canadian distillery teaming up with some Canadian hockey legends to create this line-up. The only downside is that they aren't all available everywhere. The Lanny McDonald edition is only available in Alberta. The Guy Lafleur edition is only available in Quebec. The Wendel Clark 11 Year Old 100% Rye is the only whisky from the J.P. Wiser's Alumni Series currently available at the LCBO. The Wendel Clark edition is a blend of  double column distilled rye and pot still distilled rye (I think), aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon barrels. This is bottled at 41.6 % abv, in honour of the Toronto's area code, where Wendel Clark spent the majority of his career. With any luck, I'll find a way to secure a Guy Lafleur and a Lanny McDonald. So what's the Wendel Clark Rye like?

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): rye spice, toffee, red apples, oak, vanilla
  • Palate (undiluted): rich and round, toffee sweetness, clementine oranges, a little bit of coconut giving way to peppery cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon
  • Finish: medium length, Kraft soft caramels, chai tea, with the taste of coconut macaroons lingering.

With the addition of water, there's more red apple on the nose, more spice on the palate, and a pleasant hit of fresh tobacco on the finish. I was loath to add water to a whisky bottled at 41.6% abv, but water really opens it up nicely. A few scant drops will suffice. This whisky is delicious either way. When I first opened the bottle, I found it very similar to Lot no.40, but it changed with some air exposure. Lot 40 has a wider spectrum of flavours, and is more oak-driven in general, but this whisky is much more than a marketing gimmick. It delivers the goods in a big way. Recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches (88/100 points)

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 !

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 87-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

All I Want For Christmas: World Whisky Edition

I don't want a lot for Christmas
I am just feeling thirsty
I don't care about the presents
Unless they contain whisky

In the first installment of my Christmas whisky wish list, I shared some of the scotches I'm wishing for, and I explained why I thought they'd make excellent gifts for all your gift-giving needs as well. In my second write-up, I featured whiskies from the Great White North. Perhaps scotch just isn't your game. Maybe you don't like Canadian whisky. That's alright; we can still be friends. There are many whiskies that would make me, and any sane whisky enthusiast as happy as Doc Holliday playing poker while taunting Johnny Ringo, in Latin no less. If you need whisky recommendations, I'm your huckleberry.

George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No.12 ($31.65)

When someone says "Tennessee Whisky" you probably think of Jack Daniel's, or Chris Stapleton's remake of the country classic. But what if I told you that there's another, dare I say tastier version of Tennessee whisky? No, I don't mean Stapleton's live duet with Justin Timberlake, although that version of the song is terrific. No, I'm talking about George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No.12. It may be heresy to some purists, but Dickel is one of the best budget-friendly whiskies around. There's lots of vanilla, caramel, and a tiny bit of nuttiness and oakiness in this crowd pleaser. A great one to have in your bar. Or mine.

Evan Williams Bottled In Bond Kentucky Bourbon ($39.20)

Bottled In Bond means this bourbon is the product of a single distillery, from a single distilling season, bottled at 50% abv, and aged for a minimum of four years in a government supervised warehouse. Evan Williams White Label has all the vanilla, caramel, and oak you expect from a bourbon, but it also has some bright fruitiness that sets it apart from many others. Always an excellent choice.

The Dublin Liberties Oak Devil Irish Whiskey ($48.60)

The Dublin Liberties is a mighty interesting brand. There is a distillery under construction, but I don't think it's operational yet. So where do they source their whiskey? Your guess is as good as mine, but this blend is interesting because it uses double distilled malt whisky instead of the more common triple distilled malt. This leads to a more pronounced nuttiness, and although this is an ex-bourbon cask matured whiskey, there's some raisins and baking spices alongside the classic toffee flavours. It's bottled at a respectable 46% abv, and is unchill-filtered. And if aesthetics matter to you, this bottle actually looks pretty sharp.

Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($62.15)

A peated Irish single malt? Believe it. This one, from Cooley distillery, has smoke, vanilla, and green apples. It's not Ardbeg or Octomore, but the smoke plays with the subtle floral notes in a way that just works. If you see it, buy it. Connemara isn't always available in Ontario, but it's worth the hunt. Connemara also bucks the "triple distilled" Irish trend and only gets double distilled, so there's more of the spirit character left.

Tyrconnell 16 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey ($98.85)

Tyrconnell whiskey is made entirely with Irish barley. It is double distilled in pot stills like most scotch whiskies, then aged in ex-bourbon barrels.  Tyrconnell 16 is full-flavored, with plenty of vanilla, graham crackers, and citrus notes, and rounded spice. It was voted number 16 on Whisky Advocate's "Top 20" list of best whiskies back in 2017, scoring 91 points. And in case you think their ratings are the result of marketing by the companies themselves, Whisky Advocate has this to say: "An important step in gauging the true merit of these whiskies is blind tasting review by a panel of international reviewers. The review panel tasted the eligible whiskies in a series of blind tasting flights to arrive at the final list. The panel did not know the identity of the whiskies being tasted—not their producer, country of origin, age, nor price." Cooley distillery's Tyrconnell 16 Year Old is definitely a winner.

Amrut Fusion ($85.45)

Lookout world, India is making fantastic whisky. While some malt-heads still haven't caught on, serious whisky lovers are scooping up anything this distillery puts out whenever they can find it because Amrut is making sublime whisky. Amrut Fusion is created from a mix of 75% unpeated Indian barley and 25% peated Scottish barley. These are separately distilled and aged for four years, then 'fused' together for a further three months. If four years doesn't sound like a long time for a single malt whisky, keep in mind India's climate is nothing like Scotland's. The hot Indian weather makes whisky mature faster in India than it does in Europe or the United States. Surinder Kumar, the master blender at Amrut Distilleries, has estimated that one year of barrel-ageing in India is equal to three years of ageing in Scotland. Bangalore, where the Amrut distillery is located, experiences a tropical savanna climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. This whisky, bottled at 50% abv, has flavours of peaches, mangoes, a bit of smoke and brine, and some delightful spices. I promise you won't regret this one.

Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon ($99.95)

This is pretty much the top end of the Jim Beam family. Each release of this bold and sweet bourbon is bottled at barrel proof. The current offering clocks in at 65.1% abv, so it's not for the faint of heart. There's plenty of oak, vanilla, and dried fruit (raisins, mostly), with a little barrel char (smoke) and tobacco for good measure. This isn't a bourbon to use for "shooters", but take your time, add water if necessary, and you'll see why this is such a big seller. If you get past the burn, you'll be pleased with the richness and sweetness this belter has to offer. Highly recommended.

Redbreast 21 Year Old Irish Single Pot Still ($244.30)

To my palate, Redbreast is the pinnacle of Irish Single Pot Still whiskey. Redbreast 21 year old has been lauded more than pretty much any other Irish whiskey, and with good cause. This is rich and chewy. Toffee sweet and fruity, with cherries, ginger, and cinnamon. This is a whiskey that can be held up (and is held up by some) as THE perfect whiskey. It's that good. It's not cheap, so maybe save this one for someone who is retiring or who you really want to impress this holiday season.

There are no more excuses. After three separate articles, you should have plenty of ideas for the whisky (or whiskey) lover on your list. Choose wisely and have a great time this holiday season. Cheers!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Hey Hoser !! It's the Twelve Days of Canadian Christmas

There are certain things that bring out my Christmas spirit. And believe me, any kind of holiday cheer I possess spends most of the year chained deep down in the basement of my soul. I don't get into the holiday spirit unless I've seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (I snort everytime Clark loses it and punches and kicks the plastic Santa and reindeer), Love, Actually (don't judge me), and it's definitely not Christmas until I've heard Bob and Doug McKenzie's Twelve Days Of Christmas. A beer in a tree, indeed. So in the true hoser spirit, I've decided to put together a wish list of the twelve Canadian whiskies I'd like to see under my tree this year, although I'd be happy with four pounds of back bacon too.

12. Bearface 7 Year Old Triple Oak ($39.95)

Bearface is not the next obscure Marvel superhero to get a feature film, but rather a newcomer to the Canadian whisky scene. Their whisky is sourced from "the shores of Georgian Bay", which is code for the Canadian Mist/Collingwood distillery, unless there's another distillery of which I'm not aware located on Georgian Bay. They take the 7 year old whisky, which is aged in ex-bourbon barrels, age it for a period in French Oak wine casks, and then finish it in Hungarian Oak casks. This whisky is very creamy, with some fruity and spicy notes rounding off the profile. It may not be well-known, but it's well worth exploring.

11. Dillon's Rye Whisky ($39.95 for 500ml)

This 100% copper pot distilled rye is matured in three types of oak; virgin Ontario oak, virgin American oak, and first-fill bourbon barrel. This imparts plenty of toffee and vanilla notes, with ginger and citrus fruits rounding out the flavour profile. The bottle itself is looks sharp, and the whisky is presented at a respectable 43% abv. Very pleasant sipped neat or in a Manhattan. Also, if you don't show anyone the bottle, you can make them believe Bob Dylan started a distillery and that you got one of the first bottles. It may be completely untrue, but it's a fun story nonetheless.

10. Gibson's Finest Venerable 18 ($89.95)

This is classic Canadian sipping whisky. There are some tobacco and rye spice notes, but this is mostly rich, inviting caramel, butterscotch, almonds, vanilla, and oak. If you know someone who likes sipping whisky, but doesn't enjoy cask strength belters, than this is the whisky you're looking for. It is superbly crafted and offers a consistently gratifying experience.

9. Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve ($59.95)

The individual rye, barley and corn whiskies in Double Barrel Reserve are aged separately before being blended. The whisky then goes through up to two years of secondary aging in first-fill Bourbon barrels. The whisky is rich with spices (nutmeg and cloves), walnuts, butterscotch, and vanilla. This is a very easy whisky to sip. Forty Creek's offerings are perfect for introducing neophytes to Canadian whisky as a "sipper". And contrary to the rough images of the Old West conjured up by the name "Double Barrel", this is actually a polite Canadian with just a bit of a spicy edge.

8. Glynnevan Double Barrelled Rye ($48.75)

A Nova Scotia whisky? Yessir. Glynnevan uses prairie-grown rye, and has flavours of spices and honey, with some, vanilla, and a bit of fruit. It's got a creamy, buttery texture and is bottled at 43% abv. A new kid on the scene, but one that you should welcome with open arms, or an open mouth perhaps. Get after it, then.

7. Crown Royal XO ($74.95)

This Crown Royal is a blend of 50 whiskies, and it is finished in cognac casks. That's quite the undertaking. It's rich, oaky, sweet, and complex. It opens with vanilla and caramel, and then moves to dark, dried fruits, and the medium length finish is just a little bit spicy. Bonus points to Crown Royal for releasing XO in a lovely decanter-style bottle.

6. Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey ($125.40)

What's this? A Canadian Rye Whiskey spelled with an "e"? Yes, it is. Masterson's is produced in Canada, but bottled in the U.S. of A. by a non-distilling producer. But it doesn't matter. This rye promises a rich, satisfying experience. Spicy, slightly earthy, with some tobacco and leather notes, this pot-distilled rye also has a sweet and fruity side. There are flavours (or should that be "flavors"?) of orange and cherry alongside plenty of lovely grain sweetness.

5. Pike Creek 21 Year Old European Oak Cask ($99.95)

Corby's annual Northern Border Collection Rare Releases features four whiskies. Of those, the Lot 40 11 Year Old Cask Strength is sold out almost everywhere, so you won't find it on my list. (Besides I've got one open, and a backup in the bunker). Pike Creek's 21 Year Old whisky is a vatting of double column distilled corn with just a bit of rye. The oak casks do most of the heavy lifting and the result is fascinating. Lots of ginger, apples, nutmeg taking the lead with the vanilla and toffee notes taking a supporting role.

4. Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls ($99.95)

Placing this at number 11 would have been too obvious and would have failed to convey how much I want a bottle of this whisky. This is a fascinating vatting of eleven different casks. The cask types, grain types and ages vary, but it's bottled at a perfect sipping strength of 49% abv in honour of the address of the old Gooderham & Worts distillery (49 Wellington Street). Leave it to Dr. Don Livermore and his team to dream big, and pull it off. This one has aromas of coconut, apricots, honey, and butterscotch, with rich, sweet and spicy flavours of cloves, cinnamon, and vanilla.

3. J.P. Wiser's 19 Year Old Seasoned Oak ($99.95)

Belsnickel thinks it would be admirable if they brought back Legacy
Spicy rye, coconut notes, a bit of barrel char, and some figs and dates. A treat for any Canadian whisky lover. What does "seasoned oak" mean? Rather than being dried in kilns, the freshly cut oak  (which will later be used to make whisky barrels) is stacked and left out in the elements. "Seasoning" the oak this way takes longer (and therefore costs more), but many coopers feel it yields a better quality oak as some of the less desirable components are washed away during the seasoning period. Dr. Don Livermore and his team have taken an 18 year old whisky, aged it for an additional year in barrels fashioned from wood that was "seasoned" in the elements for 48 months. The resulting 19 year old whisky is bottled at an admirable 48% abv. Now if only we could convince NBC to bring back The Office....wait, wrong blog. Maybe we can convince J.P. Wiser's/Corby to bring back Legacy. But while we're waiting for all of that to happen, a bottle or two of Seasoned Oak can satisfy any craving for a top shelf Canadian sipper. This one seems to please everyone who's tried it, which is exceedingly rare in the whisky world.

2. Canadian Club Chronicles 41 Year Old ($299.95)

To my knowledge, this is the oldest Canadian whisky ever bottled. Now older doesn't necessarily mean better, but this whisky has been getting rave reviews. Jim Murray named it his Canadian Whisky of the Year. Again, that may be a selling point or it may dissuade you, depending on your opinion of Mr. Murray, but I'm just sharing information. Canadian Club Chronicles 41 is bottled at 45%, presented in a very attractive decanter and (reportedly) offers flavours of fruit, caramel, tobacco and spices. I say "reportedly" because I haven't tried this one. Hey, that's why it's a WISH list, right?

1. Wiser's 35 Year Old ($165.15)

Yep, the Canadian whisky I'm wishing for most is Wiser's 35 Year Old. I only got a small sample of last year's version, and it was awesome. It's bottled in Wiser's square decanter-style bottles, like many (all?) of the Rare Cask series. I know it's only packaging, but I love the look of these decanters. I love that it's bottled at 50% abv, and I love the taste of Wiser's 35 even more than its presentation. There are rich caramels, a bit of rye spice, pleasant oak tannins, followed by some herbal and floral notes, and just a touch of tobacco. The price tag may seem high, but have a look at the prices for other 35 year old whiskies and you'll notice that this one is a steal.

There are many other whiskies that could have made this list, but I only have so much space in my whisky cabinet, and my liver only has so much regenerative capacity. I only wish I was Wolverine. It doesn't get mentioned much on blogs or whisky videos, but if you're still reading, I'd like to take a moment to remind everyone to drink responsibly, and please, please, please don't ever drive if you've been drinking. If you're going to enjoy any of these whiskies, and they're all certified beauticians, put your keys away, settle into your favourite armchair with a glass, and enjoy a Letterkenny marathon. Or a Trailer Park Boys marathon. Or a Schitt's Creek marathon. Or all of the above. Take your time with these Canadian whiskies; they're worth your attention.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

My Holiday Wishlist: Scotch Edition

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
Scotch whisky's so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let if flow, let it flow, let it flow

So I'm not a songwriter. But the holiday season is upon us, and "wish lists" are all the rage. Amazon wish lists, Chapters-Indigo wish lists, Canadian Tire wish lists, Starbucks wish lists, Lululemon wish lists, and so on. I've had friends ask me for whisky recommendations more times than I can count. Of course, it stokes my ego just a little bit, so I really don't mind. In fact, if I weren't so long-winded, I'm sure I'd be asked for advice more often. I know people aren't really interested in still shapes, worm tubs, fermentation times, and peat levels, but my inner Cliff Clavin refuses to be silenced.
Actually, Springbank's two-and-a-half times distillation is quite simple
It's hard to recommend a whisky for someone's gift purchasing needs when you don't know the recipient's taste preferences. It's also difficult to recommend a whisky when someone doesn't know how much they want to spend. So I'll share some of the whiskies I'm wishing for this year, and I'll include some bottles for every budget (Ontario prices). I'll start with scotch whisky, since that's the one I'm asked about the most.

Gift Bottles for $40 or less

The Famous Grouse Smoky Black ($34.95)

The Famous Grouse is one of my favourite inexpensive blended scotch whiskies. Smoky Black adds peated malt whisky to the blend, giving the fruity whisky a smoky punch. Whiskies like Smoky Black are also ideal for introducing someone to peated whisky without breaking the bank. The Famous Grouse is owned by the Edrington Group, which also owns The Macallan, Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Glenturret, so you're getting something from those distilleries in this blend.

Té Bheag ($39.95)

It's pronounced "chey-vek" not "Tea Bag." This independently-produced blended whisky contains about 40% malt whisky, much higher than most other blends. There's a bit of sherry, a bit of peat, a little brine, and some nice toffee in the mix too. It's unchill-filtered which is a plus for any whisky nerd, but know that it may get a little cloudy if you add water or ice. This is normal, and there's nothing wrong with it. This whisky remains criminally under-appreciated in the whisky-verse. Buy with confidence.

Gift Bottles for $70 or less

Isle of Arran The Robert Burns Single Malt ($52.95)

Isle of Arran is a relatively new distillery, but how can any Scotch-o-phile NOT yearn for a single malt named after the Bard of Ayrshire? This whisky is officially endorsed by The World Robert Burns Federation. Get this one as a gift for a loved one, and maybe they'll enjoy it with you at New Year's while singing "Auld Lang Syne" or during a Burns' Supper. Haggis optional. This offering from Arran is bottled at 43% abv, natural colour, this whisky is light and sweet, with honey, apple, and pecans being the most prominent flavours. I'd tak' a cup o'Arran yet, for auld lang syne.

Timorous Beastie 10 Year Old Blended Malt ($59.90)

Staying with the Rabbie Burns theme, this whisky by independent bottlers Douglas Laing is named after Burn's poem "To a Mouse". This 10 year old whisky is bottled at a very respectable 46.8% abv with no added colouring. It is unchill-filtered, and features Highland malt whiskies from Dalmore, Glengoyne, and Glen Garioch. There's nothing timorous about the rich flavours of almonds, honey, apricots, and oranges. A perfect dessert whisky at a diminutive price.

Ledaig 10 Year Old Single Malt ($69.70)

This peated, smoky beauty is markedly different from peated Islay whiskies. Ledaig (pronounced "led-CHIG" or "led-CHAG") is produced at the Tobermory distillery on the Isle of Mull, whose peat gives a different character to the malt. Ledaig is smoky, yet floral, nutty and fruity. This one often flies under the radar. If you've got a peat lover on your list, this one may just surprise them. Ask them to tell you if "terroir" is really a thing when it comes to peated whisky. Then sit back and allow the Cliff Clavins of the world to do their thing. Bonus points if you actually listen. If the enthusiast on your list fancies themselves a connoisseur, let them know that the venerable Ralfy awarded this one a malt mark of 87/100 points. That's high praise from very tough critic.

Gift Bottles for $100 or less

Glendronach 12 Year Old Single Malt ($79.95)

This is probably my number one pick for a "can't miss" whisky. I've yet to meet a person who didn't enjoy this Highland classic. Beautifully sherried, but not too sweet. There's nuttiness, fruitiness, and maybe just a hint of smoke. It's bottled at 43% abv, and to my knowledge Glendronach never uses any added colouring. If you don't like smoky whiskies, you'll still enjoy Glendronach. You really have to search to find the smoke.

Glencadam 10 Year Old Single Malt ($94.20)

Glencadam is still flying under many people's radars. That's a shame, because this is a fantastic family-owned Highland distillery. Their whiskies are all bottled with no added colour, unchill-filtered, and this one is bottled at a very respectable 46%. It's fruity, with some citrus notes, some floral and herbal notes, along with a touch of banana and toffee that you often find in ex-bourbon cask matured malt whisky. There's also some spiciness and a touch of raw almonds. This isn't a big, bold whisky, but it's far from boring. If a whisky can conjure up the feeling of a season, Glencadam 10 Year Old is a dream of spring.

Lagavulin 8 Year Old Single Malt ($98.15)

No wish list of mine would be complete without a nod to Lagavulin. This malt proves that age isn't everything, especially when it comes to peated Islay whiskies. It's bottled at a punchy 48% abv and under the peat and smoke you'll find some lovely citrus notes of lemon and oranges. There's also some classic Lagavulin brine and tobacco.

Edradour 12 Caledonia Single Malt ($99.25)

Ok, so for some crazy reason this one isn't available in Ontario, but the SAQ (Québec's liquor overlord) has it, and I have many friends who travel to La belle province often enough. Edradour is Scotland's smallest working (legal) distillery and they make terrific whisky. This one is presented at natural colour, unchill-filtered, and bottled at 46% abv. It's got rich flavours of honeyed dates, raisins, christmas fruitcake (which I personally love, by the way), some oak spices and a little dark chocolate. This is wonderful stuff. If you can find it, buy it.

Gift Bottles for over $100

High roller, are you? Nothing wrong with that. Want to impress your boss, your best friend, or your favourite whisky blogger? Try these.

Tomatin 14 Year Old Portwood ($110.05)

Tomatin has flown under a lot of radars. Don't let it pass you by. This is excellent whisky. The Port influence is a bit more subtle here than it is in Glenmorangie's Quinta Ruban, but the Tomatin holds its own. There are figs, dates, and walnuts o'plenty in this lovely malt that's bottled at a respectable 46% abv. Maybe distilleries are finally getting the message that a slightly higher abv means more flavour for the consumer. Well done, Tomatin, well done.

Balblair 1999 Single Malt ($169.95)

Balblair makes terrific Highland malt whisky. They're frequently overlooked by many because their whisky isn't what James Bond drinks. They don't produce expensive television ad campaigns. They aren't trying to appeal to the "look at me" Instagram types. Forget product placement and hype; Balblair is proof that skillful craftspeople who take pride in their trade are worth more than marketing fluff. This whisky is rich with flavours of raisins, walnuts, fruitcake, orange, and a bit of leather (it works, trust me). It's creamy and sweet, and it's bottled at 46% without added colour, and it's not chill-filtered. Balblair uses a vintage rather than an age statement. It's different, but it works. This one was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2014, so it's 14 or 15 years old, depending on the months of distillation and bottling. Either way, it's impressive.

Bowmore Vault Edition First Release Single Malt ($196.05)

This edition from "Islay's oldest distillery" is sub-titled "Atlantic Sea Salt". Matured in Bowmore's No.1 Vault, this one has plenty of brine (d'uh!), spice, leather, caramel, and floral honey. It's a belter, bottled at 51.5% abv, so you get the full, stormy, hit of the whisky's maritime character. It's matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, which I enjoy. Ex-sherry or ex-port casks produce a whisky imbued with a rich fruitiness, but ex-bourbon casks allow the distillery's spirit to take center stage. It's not a choice we're forced to make, as we are allowed to have several types of whisky in our cabinets, and I'd like to have this Bowmore in mine. 

Laphroaig Lore Single Malt ($195.75)

My wish list could not be complete without Laphroaig. This whisky is a vatting of whiskies aged between 7 and 21 years in a combination of casks including first fill Sherry butts and quarter casks. This is bottled at 48% and is redolent with nuts, dark chocolate, toffee, smoke, brine, and has a rich, creamy mouthfeel. The top of my personal wish (dream?) list.

There you have it: Scotch whiskies for every budget and palate. What's at the top of your wish list this year?