Thursday, 22 December 2011

LCBO Vintages Release for December 2011

Well 'tis that time of year, and the Vintages releases are short (just like the days).  The last release for this year was done on December 10th, and the rest of this year is dedicated to their Christmas cheer book and sparkling wines for New Years.  What came out during this release?

Blanton's Single Barrel Special Reserve Bourbon:   This is a fantastic single barrel bourbon from the deep south!  Blanton's specializes in single barrel bourbon production.  This is a premium bourbon that comes from only a single warehouse in the Buffalo Trace distillery.  In fact they only come from the 'centre cut' of Warehouse H (very centre), when the aging seems to take place perfectly for the spirit.  Since 1984 Blanton's has been producing single barrel bourbon and was one of the first to offer such a product.  Their website has some of the best laid out information I've ever seen and can be found by clicking the distillery name at the start of the article of HERE for the Special Reserve.  I'm not crazy over the chill filtration in Scotch (but I've never seen a non-chillfiltered bourbon), but I really appreciate the forward information.  If I get my hands on any samples I'll be more than happy to provide the review.  Check your local LCBO for Sku #558320, bottles are $76 each.  There is also a Blanton's single barrel standard available for $65 under LCBO Sku #255349 (it's also 45% ABV).

Second in this short release is Glenfarclas 12.  Glenfarclas is one of my absolute favorite distilleries as they provide an appealing spirit geared towards Whisky lovers.  All malts are presented without colour added and served at 43%! Though special bottlings like the 15 & 40 are 46%, and the 105 is a whopping 60%.  Sadly though they still chill filter the whisky (confirmed via Ralfy), but that can easily be changed to create a full craft presentation.  Run by an independent distiller (J & G Grant), they produce some of the best sherry casked Scotches available in my personal opinion.  The 12 year old is no exception to this rule! Fresh and light, the sherry influence is still young but I found lots of oak notes (worked, toasted, and some fresh or green wood), cereals, a twist of a sour note, an interesting brine/salty note, heather and almond.  A little hot on the palette, this will benefit from an addition touch of water to open the nose.  I'd call this a good deal at $64, so check out your local LCBO for Sku #142182.

Sadly, this is actually the last post of the year, and I will resume sometime after the Holidays.  I'm off to the Dominican for a much needed vacation, but I promise to come back and work up some more spirits for review.  Most importantly, I do want to thank you (on the other side of the screen), for reading my blog as this actually means quite a lot to me!  Enjoy your holidays, and your whisky responsibly.

Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Tasting Notes - Alberta Premium 30 Year Old

From the Canadian mid-West comes a fantastic spirit.  One of the few 100% rye grain distilleries left in Canada, Alberta Premium still distills and ages it's own distillate in the dry climate of the province from which it takes it's name.  'Why Alberta?', I hear you ask.  Why not use the best grains produced from your own province, available to you right at your door step.  And to this day, Alberta Distillers is one of the largest purchasers of rye grains, and the largest unmalted rye distiller in the world.

What does this mean to you as a Canadian?  Well simply put, you'll have access to the best rye whisky money can buy.  Although, this is limited to 700 cases, you'll need to be quick to get a bottle.  Especially at only $50!

The story behind the bottling is that in the 80's a new distiller came on site and some special casks were put down.  Left alone for 25-26 years, the casks quietly imparted the charred Canadian oak flavors onto the spirit.  In 2007, they were sampled and found to be a little short in the ABV department, and were moved to a second set of smaller casks.  As it turns out the angels are quite thirsty out west, and as such the Angel's share is quite high.  This means that aging a single cask for 30 years is almost impossible as the final spirit may actually end up below 80 proof, no longer making it legal whisky.  So after 30 long years, the spirit was tasted and approved and 700 cases of 12 bottles each were produced and shipped out.

So was the wait worth the cost?  Seriously?  Are you questioning this?  The spirit itself is incredible. Rich and deep on the tongue, an illustrious whisky that deserves your recognition.  Lets delve into the tasting notes.

Colour:  Rich golden/honey colour, highlights of walnut/mahogany, doesn't appear to have colour added

Body:  Big, fat, enormous drops.  Looks like those fat rain drops at the beginning of a June rainstorm.  Legs are extraordinarily thick, run very, very slowly back to the liquid.  Yeah, this is looking like its going to be a wallop of flavor!

Nose:  Incredible depth!  Deep oak, butter cream icing, heavy cream, hints of motor oil (that sour and heavy, almost grease note), ground flax, aged rye

grains (like the smell of aging grains in a silo), dried apricots, and fresh plums.  As this is an older lady, she will take a lot of time to open up and the nose will benefit from settling in the glass over some time.

Palette: Thin and subtle to start, almost seemingly reserved.  The flavours and scents are soft and interwoven through the spirit.  Gentle violets and flowery notes begin to appear as the whisky opens up.  Then it almost hits a tipping

point, and pours out of the gates!  The motor oil scent comes back as a base note with wafts of dill and green herbs, oily nuts (think Brazil nuts), worked oak (like a wood shop), and buckwheat honey.  Vanilla now takes the supporting note of the background while HP sauce (yeah, seriously), ripe plums and sawdust, hints of clove and dried ginger, white cedar wood, and baked oats (like crumble topping).  Oddly enough I also seem to find  that the HP sauce element compliments the violet notes and buckwheat honey flavours in the body.  The

complexity and depth seems to go on forever!  I believe that this is one of those whiskies that would keep developing for an hour or two, but I can never seem to keep enough in my glass to last that long.

Finish:  Wow!  This is long and drawn out; much like a Stanley Kubrick film - it's drawn out to force the watcher to pay attention to the subtle details.  Subtle oak and caramel are woven through the finish.  Notes of burnt toast and

charred cherry wood.  Hints of cracked pepper, burnt sugar and roasted rye are peppered across the palette.  There is an enduring warmth and oiliness that coats the mouth and throat, making the finish go on forever and ever.

Empty Glass:  This is where the oak shows through!  Oiled oak (like in an old library filled with wood shelves), burnt toffee and baked applesauce.  There is a  charred cherry wood note present that offers a slight hint of sweet and sour to the glass. Again notes of aged grains (think farm silos), and at the very end there are notes of butter (like fresh butter), and oak sawdust.

Should you happen to run across a bottle, grab it!  Or better yet, grab a couple (claim the second one is a present for someone).  This is an incredible expression of a classic Canadian rye whisky.  The depth and nose alone are reason alone to purchase this.  Check your local LCBO and order a bottle into your local location if need be.  Or should you have a connection out west, have them grab a bottle for you!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

LCBO Vintages Release for November 2011

Well I was called out on my lack of updates.  Good to hear that people are really reading something that I produce, it really brings me a warm fuzzy feeling.  Like that first dram on a cold winter day, warmed to the cockles.

So what came out in November that looks delicious and is worth your hard-earned pennies?  Let's take a look!  Due to the mass releases in October, there are only 2 for November.  The first being November 12th:

The first item we see is Auchentoshan Three Wood [LCBO Sku #70532 / $76.95] -  The last time I tasted it, it was woody, sherry, and spicy hot (as in my mouth and lower extremities of my brain are on fire).  I don't know how old this is (there isn't an age statement), but it definitely needs some water to loosen it up.  There is a lot of wood at play in this bottle, and I'm honestly not a big fan.  It seems a little too busy, with a reliance on over sherry-ing to cover up a rough young spirit.  I do love sherry finishes however, but my money goes to the Auchentoshan 12-year-old [LCBO Sku #107359] at $54.  It has a much better balance with a much more subtle sherry finish that I find doesn't overwhelm the palette.  There is a ton of caramel in the bottles, giving that weird electric marmalade colour, but they do redeem themselves by serving the spirit at 43%.  Being heavily chill-filtered the bottle is immaculately clear though, and I believe that this takes some serious body away from the spirit.  I am a huge lowland fan, and really believe that if Diageo took the time and created something without all the gubbins, they would have a real prize.  On a side note, there are some excellent bottles from independent distillers out there for Auchentoshan; but they are few and far between.  Lowlands have a rich, refined, soft and smooth palette that suits drinking at any time, I only wish there were more of them left!

Next up is Bruichladdich 7-year-old Port Cask finish.  If you know me, then you'll know I'm a sucker for a good glass of port and this is no exception!  Rich marmalade and copper tones throughout the scotch (no colour added), this gives way to rich dark fruits, oats, and gentle smoke and brine.  This is an excellent foray into the Islay subculture and a great showcase of quality finished scotch.  At only 7 years this tastes like a much older whisky, and the port notes back up the smoke and peat with a rich and vibrant fruitiness all their own.  Served at a healthy 46%, this is produced by an indie distiller for real drinkers like us.  Check your local LCBO [Sku #220905], bottles are $95 (a bit steep, but worth the investment come the first heavy snowfall; you know the one where you'll be sitting indoors watching those fat flakes fall to the ground).

Last, but certainly not least is one of my favorite distilleries, Isle of Arran.  Their entry into the peat saturated world began in 2004 and continues today with Machrie Moor (said Mach-ree More).  This is absolutely one of my favorite peated scotches currently.  I'm not a huge smoke and peat fan as yet, and am still developing a nose for what lays beyond the smoke and brine, but the sweet, punchy and tropical fruitiness of Arran malt characteristics blends so well with the gentle peat and smoke.  If you're not sure about testing the waters of Islay, go for Machrie Moor!  Named after a the peat bog, the Machrie area of the Firth of Clyde area is one of few areas to have Megaliths (standing stones like Stonehenge).  Once said to even been home to Robert the Bruce, and legendary characters such as Fingal.  Fingal's hound, Bran, is represented on the tin/bottle anchored to one of the stones.  As usual with all Arran malts, no colour, no chill-filtration, and served at 46% gets the grades.  Apples and iodine, pears and smoke, vanilla and smokey bergamot on the nose.  This became a favorite at the WhiskeyLive show in Toronto with our tasting group.  Check your local LCBO [Sku #254920], bottles are $72.

I'm going to mention two other spirits that caught my eye on this release:

Moniack Mead - a traditional mead from Scotland.  It has a wonderful rich amber colour.  Nose shows clover and spices.  It's marked as a sweet, so I'd expect it to be around the same sweetness as a port, and at only $16 it would make a great cellar companion.  Check you local LCBO for Sku #987263.

Quinta do Noval Black Port - A dark and serious entry into the competitive world of ports.  Stewed prunes and black fruits on the nose with an intensity that lasts into the finish.  This sounds like something tasty, and something that you could sip with friends after dinner.  At $25 it would be worth a try, or drop it into the cellar for a year or two.  LCBO Sku #235689.

The second November release for the 26th was a little bit lacking. Featuring only 2 malts and a couple of honorable mentions.

First up is Bowmore with the 15-year-old Darkest.  This is a heavy sherry finished Bowmore, produced by a big box distiller.  It's a good one, but it's not my sort of Bowmore.  Dark auburn colour (yeah that's pretty real AKA a big gob of caramel e150a),  and so clear you can see the third or fourth bottle behind it (that's some seriously heavy filtration).  This is the most popular Islay in the world, and this is reflected as they colour and filter out all the best parts to make it super attractive to shoppers in the ever competitive world of Scotch.  It is a heavily sherried Islay, with notes of dark chocolate, raisin and nutmeg on the nose.  I found it a bit lively on the palette; and with a bit of water citrus and worked oak come out, with peat and smoke to follow.  There is a dark rum note in the background that seems sort of alienated, but not out of place.  Check your local LCBO [Sku #503649] for a bottle, be forewarned though at $90/bottle there are many better choices for a peaty sherry treatIn fact, I'd highly recommend looking for the beefier Laimrig instead, no filtration, no colour and served at cask strength... That's a real sherried Bowmore.

Second is the Balvenie Port Wood 21-year-old.  Great, a second port wood finish... I'm gonna go broke!  Especially on this one!  This is a monster and possibly my favorite Balvenie (in fact until the Caribbean Cask, the only Balvenie I really enjoyed).  This is a monster and exhibits all the right notes in all the right places.  Rich warm mahogany colour gives way to a butter cream richness.  Honey, red fruits, over ripened pears, salty caramels and a wonderful drying finish round out one of the best Balvenie expressions I've ever had.  Now the real problem is the price; $225!  For a bottle of great whisky - yeah I can cough that up.  The problem comes from the lack of distiller's information, there is no mention of colouring, or filtration, and it has been diluted to 40% ABV.  If you've got the cash for a seriously good bottle, check your LCBO fro Sku #500090, or take my advice and skip it for it's cousin The Balvenie Caribbean Cask.

The second release of the Balvenie Caribbean cask has arrived!  This is an excellent 14-year-old Balvenie!  The nose seems a little muted at first, but then as it opens it really seems to take off.  Sweet notes abound, lots of rum sweetness mingle witht he typically sweet Balvenie spirit.  Rich notes of  banana bread, roasted pecans, soft oats and grains in the mouth .  Demerara sugar and spice cake on the finish makes this a real keeper.  Sure, it might not be the ultimate Balvenie expression, but at only $100/bottle this is a lot more affordable than the $800/bottle 30 year old.   The flavors are just as pronounced as the finish is as long as the coveted older range, which is to be expected in a well crafted Balvenie.  Check your local LCBO for SKU #221200.

There are a couple of honorable mentions that I believe are far better than some of the released vintages.  A little bird on my should from the distillery mentioned that there would be a shipment of Old Rip Van Winkle lot 12 'B' to hit our shelves.  Sure enough it did (LCBO Sku #976852).    This is the 'Lot B' Special reserve of the Old Rip Van Winkle, and wow is it good.  At 45.2% ABV (standard range for a bourbon ~90 Proof), and no colour added by law in the US (way to go USA for that choice), this is a rich and deep bourbon that can rival any fine Cognac.  Excellent and smooth, this is a definite purchase.  I did get to try this at the tasting bar, and went back a couple of days later only to find it gone!  Grab yourself a bottle of this before it's gone from the shelves, as there seems to be a lot of eager people waiting for a Van Winkle to grace our shelves, and the moment is nigh!  Well worth the $72 they're asking.

Also released was an Armagnac that caught my eye.  Castadère 20 ans d'âge X.O. Bas Armagnac was quietly placed onto the shelves.  I had to search this one out, and I won't lie, it was the price that grabbed my attention.  $100 for a 20 year old Armagnac is sort of like stumbling across a Ferrari in the auto trader for under $10,000.  It's not uncommon, but when you do see it, you need to seize that moment and check it out.  I still have no Ferrari to my name, but I do have a fantastilicious (yeah that's my own word), Armagnac sitting on my shelf.  Incredibly rich; with the wine flavors of Brandy, the fruity notes of port, and the oak of a well aged spirit, this is a great buy.  There is a wonderful smokey/earthiness in the background of an Armagnac that isn't present in the buttery finish of Cognacs.  Check your local LCBO for SKU #260190 for a bottle.

So that sums up November in a nutshell.  I am also simultaneously working on a recent mega update for what's been happening over the last month, and will post that in good time.  Until the next update, Keep your Stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass. Happy Dramming!