Wednesday, 26 December 2012

A Tale of Two Macallans - Part II (A tale of more Macallans)

  Another bottle to add to the Macallan debate reviewed by our very own Tom Alexander.  This time another travel retail bottle, but is it a good one?

The Macallan 1824 Collection - Whisky Maker’s Edition - 42.8% ABV   

About a month ago I did a comparison between Lombard’s 14 year old Macallan, and the distillery’s own bottling, “Select Oak”, from their 1824 collection. Well, this morning it is Christmas Eve and have a few minutes to do yet another Macallan, also from the 1824 Collection, called “Whisky Maker’s Edition” (thanks to Ross Allen for providing this!)

This particular expression, according to the distillery, has been individually crafted by Whisky Maker Bob Dalgarno, using a mix of sherry and bourbon casks, and bottled at the higher 42.8% ABV (which is “how Bob likes to savour his Macallan”).

The colour is dark gold with amber highlights. On the nose, you get an immediate hit of barley sugar, caramel and vanilla, ginger and cinnamon. It’s very fruity. A lovely nose, not as sherried as you might expect. A drop of water opens it up nicely.

The palate, however, disappoints. There is more sherry here but it is sulphurous. Darker dried fruits, cinnamon and cloves. Water tames the sulphurous elements but unfortunately not enough.
Finish: a bit chalky, and much more spice on the finish than on the nose or palate. But on the death, there is a lot of astringency due to those sulphurs.

There is not as much to this as I had been hoping, and I think this is a flawed Macallan; somehow they got stuck with poor casks. Which is surprising: to take this and call it the “Whisky Maker’s Edition”, immediately calls into question Mr. Dalgarno’s skills (which we know are considerable given the exacting standards of Macallan). If they felt the need to do something with this, why market it as being indicative of “how Bob likes to savour his Macallan”?

If I compare this to the Select Oak (of which I have a final dram left in the bottle!), it pales in comparison (and would certainly pale next to the Lombard’s mentioned above - that was outstanding). The Select Oak has richer dried fruits, and a deeply beautiful sherry element (though still very slightly sulphurous). If this were a family Christmas dinner, the WME would be the drunk eccentric uncle with a lampshade on his head and a whiff of BO, next to the SO’s down-to-earth, hearty and gracious second-cousin.

Regardless, a great start to Christmas Eve - sampling two single malts that are as indicative of Christmas as you can get (minus the screaming kids, family dysfunction and mouth-drying turkey). Happy Holidays!

Monday, 24 December 2012

A Tale of Two Macallans

   Another post from Tom, this time on a pair of Macallans.  Some very interesting comparisons on the bottles, and a couple of rare finds as one bottle is travel only retail.  There will be a follow up to this article to be published shortly featuring a review from Tom from my other bottle of Whisky Maker's Edition Macallan.  We'll see if that stacks up to either of these given the moniker.

The Macallan 1824 Collection - Select Oak - Travel Retail Exclusive - 40% ABV

The Macallan 1989 14 Year Old - Lombard’s Jewels of Scotland - 58% ABV

  One of the true highlights of my trip to Scotland, for the May Speyside Whisky Festival, was visiting the Macallan distillery. Besides being nestled within a gorgeous setting, the distillery and its visitor’s centre give an excellent overview of their philosophy in whisky making, with an interactive “museum”-like experience that is fun and informative for both novice whisky drinkers and connoisseurs. Even greater, of course, was the tasting, which went through a range of many expressions, including the new make. Our tour guide encouraged us to sample the new make between each tasting so that we could better differentiate between the spirit and the wood - brilliant idea. In my experience, Macallans don’t tend to excite whisky connoisseurs (or maybe I’m wrong and it’s just my circle) and on one hand, I can see why - they tend to be heavily sherried expressions that could sometimes use more complexity. On the other hand, however, I love both the spirit (very fruity and floral, and that silky mouthfeel is unique to Macallan) and their use of wood (they pay very close attention to the quality of their casks, both sherry (which is their trademark) and bourbon).

  So here we are comparing two very different styles of Macallan. Our first is from their 1824 Collection, available only through travel retail. I picked this one up at the duty free store at Newark airport, having caught one of the last flights out of NYC before Hurricane Sandy hit. It is the Select Oak, wherein the the spirit is matured in five different cask types (what those cask types are, they do not say). Other expressions in the 1824 Collection are known as Whisky Maker’s Edition, Estate Reserve, Oscuro and 1824 Limited Release. The Select Oak is 40% ABV, and is presumably both coloured and chill-filtered.

The colour is a burnt gold with straw highlights. On the nose, quite complex and fruity. Definite sherry and oak, with dates, plums, dark cherry, almond brittle, nutmeg. Water brings out more sweet maltiness. The palate immediately shows sherry, with a very sweet and silky mouth feel. Cherry compote, also vanilla, cinnamon and a little bit of pepper. A little water brings out the spices. I detect the faintest hint of sulphur but it’s not terribly unwelcome here. Smooth and rich.

The finish is long and deep, filling the upper chest - but ends up a little dry and tannic. This is a very smooth, rich, lovely dram, though a bit more of a blunt instrument than most Macallans. I’ve been working it for the last hour and I do find it a little much after a while, despite some complexity,

Our second Macallan comes not from the distillery but from Lombard’s, an independent bottler, from their “Jewels of Scotland” range. This spirit was distilled in 1989 and aged for 14 years, and bottled at 58%, non-coloured and non-chill-filtered. I am reviewing this off of a sample so I do not have any other information from the label at hand. However, this particular bottle was available through the LCBO at $134.95, and is well worth getting (sadly out of stock now). Never fear as you can order a dram at Habits Gastropub on College (west of Ossington).

The colour is a light-to-medium amber. The nose is very robust and malty, with a little smoke (wonder where that comes from, since Macallans are not peated?) Also featuring vanilla and sugar, so it’s almost a little bourbon-y (as befits the cask). Dry roasted almonds and mint. Water brings out more oak, surprisingly. Beautiful.

The palate reflects that classic Macallan silky mouth feel, with more alcohol heat than you might be used to from this distillery! Features many of the notes from the nose, but more almonds and macadamia nuts, some dates. And with water, we have more oak - which works beautifully with the malt. Water tames the alcohol and brings out more malt, nuts and fruit, which is very welcome. Extremely complex, developing, changing over time.

The finish is very developing - it goes from short to long to heavy, almost mossy finish. This is an excellent whisky, more challenging than standard Macallans with the heavier alcohol and the stronger bourbon cask notes.

To compare - I feel the Lombard’s is the superior dram, though the more introductory drinker may feel differently. The Lombard’s is more complex, more challenging and changes over time. The Select Oak does not push the boundaries of what Macallan has to offer, but features classic Macallan notes that are undeniable. Both are worth trying, but the Lombard’s is your best bet, and something quite different than the usual distillery bottlings.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Crying Over Spilled Scotch

Our next post is from a good friend and prospective member to the Westside Whisky Society, Richard Culver.  An avid whisky drinker and a new addition to our entourage.  During our last meeting, he proposed a post on bottle carriers, which I asked him to forward and I'd gladly post.  I feel that we don't come across this type of information often enough, so I'm pleased to offer a post that might help anyone prevent the loss of a bottle.

  There is an old joke about a Scot walking along carrying a fine bottle of whisky when he tripped and fell. As he was getting up he felt liquid seeping into his trousers… He looked up at the Sky and said, “Oh Lord, Please! I beg you let it be blood!”

  In the movie The Angels Share there is a similar scene where (spoiler alert) an irreplaceable bottle of old scotch gets broken. A gut retching event that can bring a grown man to tears. Good movie. Go see it. 

The fact of the matter is: Bottles can break.

   During my travels I have been fortunate to pick up some fine whiskies from great retailers like The Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow and Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inveraray. These retailers know the importance of protective packaging and will gladly ensure your precious cargo is lovingly and tenderly wrapped. What happens when you find a rare and forgotten bottle in the Scottish souvenir shop in Oban, but they don’t have any bubble wrap.  Then they tried to sell you a pair of tartan Scottish hose (long socks) to put your bottle in; surely your own socks would suffice. Wouldn’t they? Maybe. Maybe not. Do you want to trust a pair of crusty worn socks? Not a problem you say. You always do your laundry while on holidays. Well I didn’t. And I had never had a bottle break before in spite of wrapping it in my clothes. Why would this time be different?

  I had an opportunity to raise the issue of bottle breakage with the WestSide Whisky Society at one of their tastings. It was a remarkable night ranging from quietly contemplative while coaxing aromas out of a glass, to moments of boisterous laughter.  Impressive camaraderie! At times I was awed by the depth of knowledge that sprung forth. Anyway, only one of the members had a bottle break in his luggage case, a backpack as it were. So it does happen. Has it ever happened to you?

  Some bottles do come in protective containers. I took a look around and purchased some items that are made for protecting bottles. I hope the review that follows here may save you some time and expense when deciding what to buy.  Considering the minimal expense per bottle I felt it was worth it. Consider it bottle insurance.

First up:  The WineSkin

Available at CAA/AAA stores, costing $9.99 for three, members get a 10% discount. The simplest of the containers. Sealed bubble rap in the  shape of a bottle. Has a piece of sealing tape that you can only use once to prevent leakage in case of breakage. Folds relatively flat for packing on the trip over, but you may use it to transport a bottle to your friends in Scotland or elsewhere. This packaging is exactly the right size for Forty Creek special releases. John Hall may have them at the store.

Next: The Tracker (carrier in grey)
Available at luggage stores like ACCESS, costing $12.99 for two.  Essentially the same as above with a thin rubber skin melded on the outside for additional protection and a sturdy reusable zip lock seal. The bubble pack inside this one is sealed to the outer shell unlike the WineSkin. This also folds flat when empty. The reusable seal and better quality may make it worthwhile investment.

Next: Sturdy Inflated Package (Package on the left of the pic)
I’m not sure where Mark at The Good Spirits Co. came up with this, but I’m glad he did.  Even the big Balblair and Bunnahabain bottles fit in this. Some precious drams have travelled in my suitcase in both directions with this packing. The downside is it does take up some room in your luggage when empty. I considered that a small price to pay to know that what I had in my luggage was going to be safe.

Next up: The Rabbit (Package on the right of the pic)

I found this at the restaurant supply store. A neoprene sack with a cost of $11.00 for the single, and $16.00 for the double bottle model. Works great for the slim bottles but won’t fit a Bunna or big Balblair bottle. It can provide additional wrap protection though.

Last up: The Vinnibag

Can be found online at  I paid $29.99 at Urban Traveller for one.  It has an internal bag inside an inflatable bag.  Be careful to not over inflate the bag; allow a little room for squeezing. There's a nice video on their website of someone jumping on a suitcase and it being dropped off a bridge. I’m sure the baggage handlers at the airport take much better care of your luggage than that. Don’t they? Yeah. Sure they do.

  The bottom line is this: If you don’t pick up some extra protection, you're running the risk of losing that investment.  Some ideas to keep in mind are to make sure that your bottles are in the centre of your luggage, surrounded by clothes/padding.  Make sure that any metal, sharp or hard objects are not able to come into contact with any bottle surface, and cross your fingers and toes.

  Perhaps you found something better then what I’ve listed above. If so I want to hear about it. Or if anyone has a WineCruzer they no longer want let me know. If you’re in Canada and want to see The Angels Share then contact e-One  and ask them to release it.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for November 2012

  Ah, the winter season is upon us!  I expect to start cracking into some Islay's and big rich malts soon to keep the cold out.  The first release for November 10th doesn't have any news for us, but it does contain a great entry level Armagnac from Armagnac de Montal should you be interested in learning more about Congac's grittier brother.  That aside, the second release contains a sherry monster... an affordable big sherry that (IMO), topples, crushes and lays waste to the king of the 18 year old Sherries (Yeah, I'm referring to the stupid purple box).

  The November 27th release holds only a single bottle, but what a bottle!  I've been a round the block a few times and sherry finished whiskies are still a great love of mine, they were one of the reasons I got into drinking whisky so easily, as a big sherry whisky tends to be a super easy drinking dram.  Now that I'm a little older and a few hundred drams more knowledgeable, there is a bit more expectation out of these drams.  I realize that the base spirit needs to shine through, not play second fiddle.  All that sherry should be used to emphasize the whisky, whereas it tends to be used to hide some poor distillates sometimes.

  I can vouch though, that spirit in the bottle were about to delve into is neither a poor distillate, nor a cover up.  This is the real ting that so many big sherries attempt to live up to.  Glendronach 18 year old Allardice (named after the distillery founder James Allardice), is a fantastic example of heavy sherry done right!  Non-chillfiltered, no colour added and served at 46% (all hallmarks of this distillery and of quality Whisky), all appear on the outside of the bottle which immediately caught my eye.  Seeing as how this is the only bottle this release, we'll give it the star treatment.

  • Colour:  Deep, rich and enticing mahogany.  I see hints that range from dark brown rums to highlights of tawny port. Non-chillfiltered and no colour added marked clearly.
  • Body:  Thick and rich.  Oily consistency with big drops slowly forming on the side of the glass.  Equally big legs take forever to form when twisted and run incredibly slowly back into the glass.  This ladies and gents, is flavour country.
  • Nose:  Incredible sherry!  Loads of deep rich sweetness with notes of raisins, almond, candied oranges and a hint of mineral smokiness on the back end.  Hints of richly macerated fruit and honey (like Christmas cake), Demerara sugar/fudge, and earwax (not unpleasant, but a common element in sherried whisky).
  • Palate:  Oh boy!  Incredibly rich sweetness, this is a monster!  Macerated fresh cherry and baking spices on the forefront, with black walnuts, dark chocolate and tangerine on the back end.  More roasted nuts and mineral earthiness, with subtle hints of grassiness hidden under neath fantastic Oloroso sherry!
  • Finish:  I think you can imagine this.  Long and drawn out with loads of rich toasted oak, Muscavado sugar (similar to Demerara but with a little more molasses left in for a more mineraly note),  more baking spices now with some anise.  Deeply sweet and indelibly complex.
  • Empty Glass:  Rich sweetness spices and rubbed oak, with more hints of fudge sweetness and sour gummy candies (kinda like Wine-Gums).
  If you can't tell, I'm kind of over the moon with this one.  This is my new benchmark for a masterful sherry finish.  I've tried both the 12 and the 15 (and love them both equally), but this is the sherry monster that lurks in my dreams of whisky.  This is a fantastic bottle, that I strongly recommend looking for, whether it be a gift for that whisky lover in your life, or an early Christmas present to yourself.  Priced at $140 (yes, it's on the high side, but after you've tasted it...), check you local LCBO for this one <HERE>.

  So that about wraps up November, and soon we will be rolling into the Christmas season .  That means you'll start to see some more chewy rich whiskies and Islay's coming in and most importantly; my personal favourite malt Mortlach.  So in closing, keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for October 2012

Ahh, so here we are beginning anew on a new blog space.  Lots of new bottles this round, in fact the most I've seen released since Father's Day.  The October 13th release has no whiskey, lots of Grappa and some other bottles of mild interest, but noting to write home about.  On the other hand, the October 27th release is chock full of goodies.  In this big release we have a few new bottles and a returning favourite.

First up let's start with the new stuff, Masterson's 10 year old Straight Rye. Hailing from the USA by way of Alberta, and featuring a 100% Rye Mashbill,  this is a deep and fulfilling rye.  Named after a Canadian lawman who became a legend in the American Wild West (William Barclay Masterson, Bat to most), he lead the life that became iconic to the Wild West ideal.  The rye produced in his name, follows the same sort of story line... y'all sit a spell while I spin this tale.  The opening nose is punchy rye grains and floral rye fruits.  There is a subtle pickle note, dry straw and grains and mineral-y soil note in the bottom.  Very much what I think of when I think of the West (deep rolling plains of wild grasses and flowers).  The palate brings floral notes forward and backs it with tobacco leaves, vanilla, and dry oak.  Interestingly, the mineral-y clay notes like fresh turned clay soil are still hanging about here, but buried under the oak and vanilla.  The palate here I feel is an era akin to Bat's middle life as he settled down in the west, and eventually left to become a newspaper man in New York (I do even get a bit of newsprint/paper in the end of the palate).  As we round out the finish, it's a medium-long finish with oak-y vanilla ever present and some subtle hints of prairie wildflowers, but an underpinning of citrus and earthiness (oily too).  Bat Masterson died at his typewriter in New York in October of 1921.  His final words were a poignant sentence on our modern society and how he viewed the world.  Interesting man, very interesting whiskey.  The main problem that I have though, is as usual, the LCBO markup on the bottle.  $110/bottle even at 45%ABV is just not enough for me to buy the bottle.  So check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle if you're so inclined, but more oft, check your local bars for a sample and at least try a shot of the old West.

Next up is a Kiwi!  Hailing from New Zealand, Dunedin Doublewood 10 year old is a great blend from Willowbank Distillery..  Aged 6 years in American Oak and finished for 4 more years in French Oak red wine barrels, the burgundy colour says it all.  Blended at a 70/30 mix of single malt to grain spirit and bottled at 40% ABV, this is an excellent bottle to get your nose into something  different.  Now before we delve deep into the spirit, those who know me know I like weird finishes and wild whiskies (so be sure to take this with a grain of salt as it might not be to all of our palates).  The nose opens with beautiful rich floral notes with deep red fruits and hints of toffee and sweet candies.  Hidden in the background are notes of quality chocolate and creamy notes [like quality dark hot chocolate (if someone says Starbucks... I'm gonna find you)].  In the mouth, this is a rocket!  Warm cocoas, barley cream cereal (think cream of wheat made with malted barley), roasted hazelnuts, dried peaches, red fruits and subtle vanilla shine through.  The mouth feel is great, beautiful whisky, and the finish is medium and warming.  Lots of vanilla oak and fruits on the finish.  Dried cocoa and apricot jam in the end.  This is a real cracker of a bottle, and an excellent introduction to the far reaches of the whisky world.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.  Even at $90 and only 40% ABV, this is interesting enough to peak my radar but may be more than most are willing to spend.  I strongly suggest you try this one out and make your own opinion. I'll guaranty though, it will be worth the search.
It has also been brought to my attention that the LCBO has yet to release this to their shelves.  So keep a close eye out on this one, my notes are from Spirit of Toronto in 2011, when I tasted the entire available Dunedin range.  There are some amazing bottles there, but my batch my have variations.  Just an FYI.

Next up is another sweetie of a wine finish, The Arran Sauternes Cask finish.  This comes from a favourite distillery of mine, and is presented without any screwing around.  No chill-filtration, no colouring, no monkey business and 50% ABV.  That's a positive 4 mark advantage (y'know... if I gave out marks), but let's see what the bottle holds for our enjoyment.  The colour is a rich golden straw, and the nose immediately carries you away.  Lots of grassy rich notes, ripe melons and pears intermixed with flowers and warm marzipan cookies.  This finish works very well with the light and grassy Arran spirit; the Sauternes notes simply lift the base spirit to a new level (IMO).  The palate is sweet, almost a little too sweet, but is immediately cut with warm spices and citrus notes.  There is a warm apple pie and hint of brine in the palate that shows itself with some water.  There is also a hint of violets which is a bit concerning (I find these in whiskies that I don't really like), but it seems to turn into an iodine note that balances the sweetness.  The finish is medium-short and beautifully floral/honey.  I'm of the opinion that this is another cask finish hit for me, although some of our group are not convinced.  This is a try before you buy bottle (aren't they all?), but I've got my eyes set on this one for sure.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

And the last of the new releases, but by no means the least, is Tomintoul 21. We don't often see Tomintoul at the LCBO, but when we do it's not usually even a big release.  We did have the peaty tang, and still have 10 year old hanging about the shelves, both good releases, but nothing stellar.  This release gives us something new though, a 21 year old for a fairly reasonable $127.  Now before you go and blow a gasket, I'll justify that last response by saying, I bought my bottle of Glenfiddich 21 for $145, within 18 months the price has skyrocketed to $230+, there has been a packaging change, but before that, the base purple bottle went up to $175 for no reason in 8 months.  It's not often that you see things in this age bracket for a reasonable price; so getting an indie owned 21 year old bottle for $127 is a pretty good compromise.  Menial squabbles aside, the spirit itself is of no compromise.  The nose is rich with toffee sweetness, vanilla, butterscotch and baked apples.  In the mouth the palate is very subtle and gentle, waves of vanilla chews, ripe melon, sweet malty bread and butterscotch come across in an incredibly smooth mouth feel supported by hints of oak and spiced nuts.  The finish is creamy, soft, and long with the same butterscotch notes and gentle oak backing it up.  This is an absolutely more-ish whisky, so soft and creamy that is begs for another glass.  I'd suggest checking your local LCBO <HERE> if you're looking for that special bottle for the holidays.

Lastly the Ardmore Traditional cask is making another return, check out the earlier review on the blog <HERE>.  This is great buy into peaty whisky for only $45.  LCBO item <HERE>.

Holy cow!  I've finally finished the October releases.  There isn't a whole lot for November, so that should roll out a little easier.  That being said, there are many interesting things coming to the blog soon, and quite a few bottles arriving from the LCBO. Keep an eye on the blog and my twitter feed (@ScotchGuyTO), and I'll see what news I can drum up.  Don't forget...  keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Sullivans Cove Single Cask (Bourbon Maturation)

 So for this next post, I've finally got our Whisky Society (The Westside Whisky Society), into this and have been gifted a post from Tom.  He can be found <HERE> on twitter.  Hopefully there will be further posts from all our members.  I will be collaborating further to include local places, and far off spaces, more bottle reviews and who knows what else.  We'll see as the blog comes together further.  Keep an eye on our page and we'll keep you updated.

Sullivans Cove Bourbon Maturation
Single Malt (Single Cask) - Barrel No. HH0602, Bottle No. 152 of 222. Barrelled Feb 21 2001; Bottled Sept 10 2009 (8 years old)
60% ABV

On a recent trip to Calgary, I paid a visit to Kensington Wine Market and found this Australian whisky, which I had heard so much about and have always wanted to try. Sullivans Cove is the brand of whiskies produced by the Tasmania Distillery, which was founded at Sullivans Cove in 1994. Their whiskies (which also include a port maturation single cask and a bourbon & port maturation double cask) have been winning a lot of awards - this particular expression won the 12 Years & Under sub-category in the Best Rest Of The World Single Malt category at the 2011 World Whiskies Awards. Unfortunately, I don’t believe any Tasmania Distillery whiskies are available at the LCBO. The bottle comes with a page of literature describing the history of the distillery and the awards and characteristics of their whiskies. It is non-coloured and non-chill-filtered.

I poured it for our whisky society and I think, of all of us, I was the one who liked it the least. Its colour is pale gold with yellow highlights; the legs are very small and still, as befits a 60%er.
The nose hits you with paint thinner, strong robust malt, tropical fruits such as papaya and under-ripe banana, some mint and oregano, dry hay, a very light caramel and a hint of smoke (although the malt is unpeated). Very complex nose but also a little bit all over the place. One would expect a little water to tame the alcohol - but clearly, I didn’t pour enough.

We are brought back to that chemical taste when we drink, hinted at by the paint thinner on the nose, coming off of that wave of alcohol. Lots of malt in the mouth here, and has a decidedly fermented flavour to it, which I find a little off-putting (but others may not). There is some caramel but it’s overpowered by that feinty alcohol note. Water gives it a little creamier mouthfeel and brings out some of those tropical fruit elements. Much like the nose, the palate is also very complex but all the elements seems to fight with each other. A few drops of water certainly help balance things out

The finish is not overpowering, and sits for quite some time, sweet and sharp. This is a fascinating whisky, with a lot going on, but the entire things seems rather off-balance. It feels rough, young, fresh, exciting and wild (aren’t those typical Australian characteristics, generally speaking?), and as I continue nosing and tasting, I find it never ceases to be interesting - yet also almost tiring as there is so much clashing together. It’s like a frenemy who, though entertaining and interesting, also gets a little annoying after awhile. Jim Murray echoes this sentiment in the 2012 Whisky Bible; he reviews the same cask, rating it an 81. He suggests placing the glass in hot water for five minutes to burn off the higher alcohols, and rates that five or six points higher...interesting. Maybe I’ll try that. Or maybe I won’t bother. I’m lazy. But anyway, love it or hate it, it’s a Tasmanian devil.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for Sept 29/2012

    So the final posting of September… in October (yeah I procrastinated a bit…or a lot; so shoot me!).  It’s been a hell of a month, and I’ve been kept busy with work (ugh!), and some other whisky related things like WhiskyLive.  As a side note I promise I will work extra hard to finish out October shortly after as there are quite  a few interesting bottles coming.  This update has been a hard one as there are three bottles, one of which is a complete mystery to me… and the internet as it would seem.  Without further heel-dragging, lets take a look at the offerings.  So this round not a pair; but a trio of bottles arrives for our savouring pleasure.  What did the LCBO provide us with round?  Big heavy malts this time around, and a newcomer to the shelves.

First up, Isle of Arran Sleeping Warrior.  This 11 year old single malt comes at us full strength (54.9% ABV).  As part of a limited production (6000 bottles worldwide), a portion of the sales went to support the National Trust for Scotland to assist withe the preservation of foot paths on Goatfell (the largest mountain on Arran).  This is a big bottle from Arran, with big notes to follow.  Rich marmalade and milk chocolate on the nose, lots of fruit preserves, very sweet like a fruit salad sort of thing happening here (oh yeah, imagine that image of melted milk chocolate over fruit salad…. splash a little cream liqueur in there… I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was hungry).  Hints of oak and spices in the background round out a real whopper of a nose.  In the mouth there are more dried/macerated fruits, but now the malty sweetness comes out.  Lots of things happening here including cherries (overripe), leather, sweet grains and subtle oaky spices.  There is a subtle waft of wood smoke and caramel in background along with hints of candied ginger and vanilla cremes.  The finish is quite long and spicy.  Lots of malty notes with dried fruits and spiced caramel interspersed.  Water helps smooth things out, but drops the nose’s intensity a bit from the raging torrent that I like.  This is one heck of a dram at a reasonable price.  I strongly suggest trying this out as it gives an idea of why I’m so crazy for the Arran whiskies.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.  Priced at only $99.95 for a bottle of this calibre at this strength, is a darn good deal that just won’t last.

    Next up is another brilliant bottling from the indie company Weymss.  Not only a bottling from an excellent indie, but of my favourite distillery; Mortlach.  This is a Diageo owned distillery (and you know how I feel about Diageo), that produces nothing for public offering, but instead goes to make up the backbone of the Johnnie Walker blends.  It does from time to time, however, show up in the hands of indie bottlers.  This gives you the chance to delve into a little known distillery outside of the blends it is used within.  This bottle is a 21 year old, nicknamed Sugar & Spice, which lives up to all the reasons I rave about Mortlach.  Served at 46% ABV and presented without chill filtration or colouring, this is one of the best Mortlach’s to come through the LCBO in years (IMO).  The nose is heady with exactly what the name says; sugar (like brown sugar or Demerara), and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, grains of paradise and the like), permeate the nose.  But buried deep behind this lovely warm and spicy nose is a brooding beast.  Rich, chewy and meaty/malty notes that are the cornerstones of Mortlach’s spirit lurk in the shadows.  In the mouth a full on Christmas cake assault!  Beautiful spice blends with subtle molasses and brown cane sugar sweetness bloom, followed with baked almonds and subtle sherry-ish fruit notes (kind of red-y purple sherry soaked fruits), and hints of malted barley hang about.  Then underneath it all; driving the palate is the chewy fresh and sweet malt of Mortlach.  There is a cooked tomato puree note mingling about, and also a bit of a wine-y note that becomes almost meaty like bison or venison (but not gamy venison).  Oh god, this is good.  The finish is long and drawn out, carried by the meaty malt, the spices and oak interplay here with caramel, vanilla and Demerara notes.  The empty glass still shows that big sweet malt now subdued with oak and vanilla cake.  I am head over heels for this bottle, the only unfortunate part is the LCBO price, at $155/bottle I would have liked to see a bit more ABV scale.  Considering this is one of the best bottles in recent my recent memory from the LCBO, I’ll let it slide and I might even come away with a bottle.  I don’t think its a purchase for everyone at that price, but trust me if you do indulge…. well you’ll know why I’m so crazy (over the whisky, not losing my marbles crazy… although).  Check your local LCBO <HERE>, or have them order you a bottle in as there aren’t many in the province.

Last but not least is the one I’ve had so much trouble with.  This bottle has been the hold out for this article.  The last bottle is from Leinburn (also referred to as Glen Leinburn), 12 year old.  The reason I’ve had so much trouble with this is the lack of information available on it.  Quite a few months back I noted a Glen Leinburn 18 year old bottle on the shelf for $85 (Item <HERE>), served at only 40% ABV.  Hey at $85 for an 18 year old (stop snickering while reading that), ‘how bad can it be?’ was my general sentiment.  Looking at the bottle there is no information on it and no real annotations; other than a pretty plain navy blue label with some awful brownish-gold writing.  It peaked my interest as I’ve never seen it before, so when the chance to try it came up, I leaped and immediately went looking for more information.  This is where the trail goes cold, even in the vast sea of electronic information the only thing I find is a repeated phase from the website.  A paltry website featuring a single page; notes that this is a Speyside distillery that was started by Whiskynet in 1998.  It has evolved into a supplier of whisky to a number of customers worldwide for use under their labels as well as their own.  That’s it, that’s all.  I’ve called about and scoured the interweb for more information, but I see nothing and have gotten nothing back from my sources other than more questions.  So I’ll let you in on what I did try; a rich and manly Speyside with a real sharp fruit character.  The nose shows caramel, rhubarb compote and some sharp pear candy notes.  I also get some wood spice, rough leather and very distant peat.  In the mouth, there is some heft with a blast of heat in the palate, but I’m not getting what the nose showed me here.  It seems much fruitier than before, and the heft seems to have dissipated into heat.  Lots of notes of cream liqueur and some floral fruity notes, but nothing that is easy to distinguish.  This seems like a young whisky to me, the notes are unrefined and hard to pinpoint in the glass.  The finish shows it the most tough.  I found it medium to short, lots of hot oak, dry vanilla and spice in the finish.  With water, the fruits balance the heat out and it becomes far more palatable.  I’m not too sure what to make of this bottle, and it doesn’t seem to fit with what’s on the shelves.  I have tried the 18 too, and am almost in the same quandary over that.  I have some notes on the 18 that I’ll dig up and post.. but the 12 year old has me confounded.  There just isn’t enough for me to suggest anything other than to try it if you get the chance.  Served at 43% ABV, and to my eye there is caramel and chill filtration happening (you’ll have to be the judge as most of my insiders haven’t even heard of this company, let alone bottling information).  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, but be forewarned.  The 18 year old is still widely available and is $5 cheaper, but 3% lighter.  I recall it being rather floral on the nose, but like I said earlier I’ll have to dig up my notes and be sure before I recommend that instead.

Okay, well that finally concludes this, or rather last, month’s reviews.  Now on to October and so much more.  I’ll try and dig around on that Leinburn as it now is really eating away at me to get to the bottom of it.  So as always I conclude; keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for Sept 14/2012

A second post this month!  Well I've left it a bit late, but I am compiling the rest of the tasting notes for September as I write this.  Currently my desk is covered in scribbled papers and there are a couple of empty Glencarins (you know they seem sad to be empty...), so a blogging I will go.

This second release brings us another pair of bottles; both of which are great offerings.  First up will be the first distillery bottling of Glen Grant that I've seen at the LCBO.  Owned by the Italian drinks giant Campari, this light and floral Speysider is typically sherried - sometimes to the point of breaking.  Some expressions are so sublime, they're to die for while others are so sherried they seem to deter from the original spirit (like drinking 40% ABV  Sherry).  This is a bourbon cask distillery bottling aged 16 years, not something that we see often enough at the LCBO (they seem to favour the heavy sherries, some indies and a bunch of Islays).  With this bottle, we get a real sense of the whisky behind the numbers; a real taste of Glen Grant as it were.  Bourbon casks (especially second fill), tend to really bring out the strong and weak points in your base spirit; all the cards get laid out on the table.  Musings aside, this is a gorgeous bottling.  At 16 years of age, this Grant gives us a really rich and floral nose with loads of peaches and apricots (stone fruits), roasted grains, dried hay and hints of coconut, all bundled with an incredible creamy smoothness like marshmallow creme.  Silky creme brulée and more stone fruits dominate the palate (this is very smooth whisky; very more-ish), with more notes of roasted nuts, barley sweetness and some dry notes of oak and hay again in the background.  The finish is medium-long and very dry, with more caramel creaminess and oak presenting itself here.  Baking spices and worked wood intersperse with a subtle mineral-y mossy note on the finish.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for for your bottle, I have a feeling that these will disappear quick even priced at $85/bottle.

Second up is an offering from the independently owned Glencadam distillery (Congrats on fighting the good fight against the big box distillers!).  Owned by Angus Dundee plc since 2003; the only public offering  was the 15 year old.  In late 2008, this all changed and the entire lineup of bottlings were reinvented by adding a 10 year old little brother.  By 2010 3 more bottles were added to fill out the line including the 12 year old Portwood finish and the 14 Oloroso Sherrywood finish.  The portwood has made the long journey overseas to our doorstep and beckons to be tasted with all its subtle ruby/amber goodness.  I'm not going to mince words or apologize, but those who know me know that I love good port and good wine finishes.  The following review might be biased... slightly.... but then again I might be biased... slightly (or warped depending on how much you know me).  I have yet to get my nose into the standard Glencadam bottlings, but if this is any indication, I can't wait.  Right away, there is a winey port waft, but hidden underneath and in between there are all sorts of good things like sweet roasted grains, dates, soft macerated red fruits (obviously), baking spices like nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon, and caramel.  There is a great balance on the nose, the port notes play hand in hand with what seems to be a sweet bodied whisky.  In the mouth I'm hit with ginger spiciness, followed with more dark fruits (red and purples like plums and dark berries).  There are chili and chocolate notes and caramel sweetness ever-present.  The finish is excellent, with warm notes of candied ginger, cocoa powder bitterness, more baking spices, more caramel sweetness and subtle notes of oak and chili powder (the good kind you find in a Mexican grocery store, the one they make on site that they don't tell gringos about).  This is a heck of a dram, but the LCBO has seen fit to command a heck of a price for it.  $94 for a 46% un-chillfiltered and colour-free bottle is a bit much, but coming from an indie bottler/distiller I think once you try it you'll be sold on it.  It will make a hell of a dessert dram.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

Okay so that's the middle of the month pairing, next up is the last 2 bottles to finish out September.  There's a few more interesting things coming down the pipe and also some changes coming to the blog in the future.  I'm at the debate point of changing the blog over to another site, and also adding some founding members of our whisky club as writers.  Feel free to inspect the preliminary work at  So until the next update: Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for September 01 2012

Well another month has passed and I'll break this review into the individual releases as it looks like there will be a few bottles released this month.  What we have this round are pair of fantastic Highland single malts.  A younger and an older bottle, both rich and fruity drams to get you through those cooler evenings that seem to be coming along.

First up is the Glenfarclas 12 year old.  One of the last few family owned distilleries, they stand on principal and quality above all else.  The 12 year old is no slouch either, fantastic light nose and rich body give preview of the older spirits.  The 21 being a personal favourite and the 40 being a dram worthy of seeking out at any price.  The 12 is a beautiful light dram that highlights all the right aspects of the Glenfarclas spirit.   Very fresh on the nose, with hints of sherry and dried fruits.  Slight roasted nuts/toasted barley with subtle notes of toasted oak and honey to round it out.  The palate is fantastic with more of the dried fruits and sherried grains coming out.  Notes of oak and subtle hints of wildflower honey, vanilla, and peat in the mouth.  The finish is medium and soft, lots of lingering spices and oak.  This is a great bottle for the novice drinker to come into the rich world of single malts (IMO), without being overwhelmed or let down by factory made mega-malts.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, priced at $70 is a bit on the high side but that's just how the LCBO rolls.  Sorry, I just re-checked my facts and realized this is a 1L (1000Ml) bottle, and considering it's only $6 more than the 700, I recant my last statement.... for now.

Second up is the Glengoyne 17.  I will admit that I'm also a huge fan of the 21 year old Glengoyne, rich and fruity without overwhelming the nose/palate.  At 17 years, the spirit poses a great balance between fruits, and spice with the oak, nuts, and malty undertones.  The nose shows off citrus notes (like candied orange peel), spice cake (lots of baking spices here like cloves, cinnamon, and the like), and fruit galore.  Dried fruits like raisins, fresh red apple notes, and subtle hints of vanilla, coca powder and wheat grass juice (yeah that's a weird sour-y grassy sort of note, very herbal/vegetal).  In the mouth, it's very rich and slightly oily.  Big malty grainy notes, toffee and oak dominate the palate with hints of baked apples, bitter almond, coffee and vanilla.  The finish is long and drawn out, with note of wood smoke, vanilla/butterscotch, oak and hints of wildflowers.  This is a big tasty dram and well worth a look, especially with a somewhat pocket unfriendly price tag of $100.  It's a bit steep for the standard consumer, but it's a rewarding and worth dram to seek out and try.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.  The 17 is just like it's older brother the 21, rich and rewarding which is also worth seeking out and trying.

Okay folks, there we have it!  The first two bottles posted this month ready for your enjoyment.  Check them out, and taste them if you can.  I'm also checking into some more price fixing by the LCBO, as a few more bottles have gone up for no reason other than to protect ourselves from deliciousness? (See Highland Park 18 for reference [Was $139, now $149]). But as always happy dramming and keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of your glass.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for August 2012

Back once again, with more whisky in tow.  This month has a rather short list of bottles coming in to the LCBO, but there are a few interesting items (some good, some not so good) that are on the shelves that will get posted in a separate review.  So without further adieu, let's get down to brass tacks.

August 04/2012 Release:

Well this is more of a 'we had nothing new to get out yet, so here is something we found on ours shelves' release.  The LCBO proudly re-releases Longrow CV.  This is a heavily peated version of Springbank's distillate (we're not talking Islay smokey heavy here folks, more like manageable amounts of peat).  Springbank Distillery has a very fond place in my heart as they are one of the few distilleries that still do it all by hand.  I mean all of it: there are no computers, no complex machinery in the production line, and nothing to get between you and the final spirit.  Longrow came about as an experiment in making an Islay style whisky on the mainland.  It was so successful that by 1992 the distillation became a regular part of the Springbank family, and adopted the now silent distillery name of Longrow (c. 1824).  The double distillation process used is true to it's name and the distillery itself is a true relic, resurrected from the ashes of many years of neglect.  Now, it might seem a little worrisome in regards to quality control issues to not have any machinery or intense scrutiny of the distillate, however there is actually very intense scrutiny, from the senior production staff.  They are quite frequently nosing and tasting the distillate to monitor the quality and changes.  Think of it this way: this is based on an agricultural product which will change with the seasons, ambient conditions and even the soil quality it's grown in.  This makes it a challenge to continually make the same flavour profile, which requires blending single malts into a 'super-malt'... I'm looking in your direction Macallan & Glenfiddich.  It's not the the quality that changes (in fact Springbank is one of the best quality whiskies on the market IMO), in fact the spirit itself changes ever so slightly.  Batch variations are the subtle differences that make it so good.  It shows that if Joe on the production line cuts the tails coming into the spirit safe a little early on one day to catch a football match, and later then next day to avoid cutting early 2 days in a row, the changes in the final product produce subtle variances.  That aside, this is a great whisky and an excellent intro to Campbeltown region whiskies  (there's only about 4 of them... Hazelburn, Springbank & Longrow in one distillery and Glen Scotia being the other).  The CV variation (curriculum vitae), is exactly that:  a resumé of sorts showcasing what Longrow is all about in a single bottle.  It's a blend of Longrow finished in a variation of casks (including Port, Sherry, Bourbon and Rum), giving this malt a fantastic creamy nose and slow developing peat.  On the nose you'll find things like vanilla marshmallows, subtle wood fires, heather, sweet spice cake, minerals chalk or ground limestone, subtle brine and hints of medicinal iodine, with peat being ever present throughout.  In the mouth, spice and peat right upfront.  Notes of dried tobacco, candied lemon peel, smoked fish, sweet grains and vanilla (like oatmeal and vanilla pudding together), dried cocoa powder (the regular, not dutch process... which is less acidic) and sweet oak.  The finish is long and slow, bringing waves of peat, limestone, brine, oak and caramel all over the place.  It seems sort of unorganized but also incredibly complex akin to a brilliant scientist's notebook.  There are notes in the margins, notes written in other languages, newspaper articles glued in, pictures stapled onto pages and such.  In the whole sense of things it seems like a notebook of random jottings, but really it's a window into the scientist's head and their inner workings.  This is a great starter to get into the peats, and also into Springbank's large collection of malts.  This comes highly recommended, and at only $82.95/bottle for a unchillfiltered, no colour added premium mega-blend.... this is a great deal.  Check your local LBCO <HERE> for your bottle today.

August 18/2012 Release:

Up next is... wait, what?  You thought there was more?  No, sadly that's all they gave us that round, and only another single bottle for  this round too.  Isle of Arran Amarone Cask Finish makes a glorious re-appearance at the LCBO for this release.  This beautiful pink whisky (like seriously Rosé pink), is a fragrant and richly finished Arran whisky.  Jim Murray called it 'pehaps the best Arran nose of all time' (which is the Madeira finished CS IMO), and awarded it a 96.  Jim Murray is an over-reference whisky writer in my opinion.  He has both a great nose and palate, but just because he's toted as the next Michael Jackson doesn't make his word law (Editor's note:  expressions are my personal opinion so feel free to take this with a grain or three of salt; especially should you actually be Jim Murray).  That being said, I do love the Arran malts and I really love this finish!  This one is a trifecta of excellence: Served at 50% ABV (this is an old school drinkers preference referred to as The Golden Strength by die hard Scotch fanatics), 100% natural colour, and no chill filtration takes place on any Arran malts (See ref: HERE).  These are the things that get me excited (yeah, as I write that I realize my life may need more excitement), and get my mouth watering.  In the glass, it's a gorgeous pink colour.  On the nose the whisky is quite subtle to start.  Notes of rose petals, toasted almond cakes, sweet chewy candies, chocolate covered orange peel, hints of subtle floral notes, cranberry, dark cocoa and dried cherries all intermix creating a fantastic breath.  Then you put it in your mouth.  Holy!  This goes from soft an subtle to incredibly complex and deep.  This list here is long: Turkish delight candy, dark chocolate covered cherries, toasted almonds, cooked fruits, honeydew melon, brine, butterscotch like a salted caramel, dark plums (very ripe and fruity), a dash of cinnamon and a twist of nutmeg make for something other-worldly in the mouth.  The finish is medium in length, but rich and rewarding.  The cooked fruit, almond and cherry, and brine go on and mix with worked oak, subtle wood smoke and more dark fruits but also don't detract from the whisky at the same time.  Great balance, great body and flavour and a great bottle.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> soon as these don't last long once someone has tried it.  Even at $77/bottle this is a great buy.

So there we go, 2 bottles re-released, and what great bottles at that!  I strongly suggest that you look into one or both of them should you be interested in trying real artisan made whisky.  The 2 distilleries mentioned above are 2 of just a handful that make astonishingly good spirits among the many that are controlled by the beverage giants.  So as usual I wish you happy dramming, and as always: Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of our glass.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for July 2012

Well this month, there isn't a whole heck of a lot to report on in the magazines and public releases.  There are however many more items in the LCBO that deserve your attention and hard earned money.  So let's start into this with the public Vintages releases.

July 07/2012 Release:

Only a single bottle in this round.  Wemyss Malts brings the LCBO a 15 year old Caol Ila from their private collections.  Wemyss (said like 'Weems'), is a long standing family with a heavy passion for good Whisky.  Barley from the Wemyss estate is still prized today by many of the big distillers for both its quality and flavour.  They offer both independent single-cask  bottlings of major distilleries and a range of hand-crafted blends.  Currently the LCBO has one of each of their midst, the 8 year old blend known as 'Spice King' and the new arrival of the single cask Caol Ila 1996.  They specify right on their website: "All of our single cask offerings are non chill-filtered and free of artificial colouring, such as caramel." 

Delving into the Caol Ila we find a rich and creamy nose.  Filled with notes of big peat and smoke (both peat and wood smoke), hints of caramel and undertones of brine and minerals wash back and forth. Subtle notes of cinnamon and cloves peek through in the background.  Mouth-feel on this is fantastic,  deep and rich with similar notes from the nose carried on a gentle baking spices (cardamom, cloves and cinnamon) palate with hints of barley sugar.  Finish is medium-long and drying.  The peat in the finish carries you to rubbed oak nose with gentle notes of detritus vegetation and roasted nuts (seriously good stuff in this bottle).  So things are looking really up, 46% ABV, no colour, no chill filtration, and one hell of a Islay dram.  In fact possibly one of the best modern Caol Ila's I've had to date.  The quality and time taken in this dram shows itself over and over again, and the whisky becomes more-ish very quickly.  Not a bad deal for $150 for an indie bottling of an Islay king.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and you may also want to search out the Spice King <HERE> as it's an excellent example of a well-crafted blend.

July 27/2012 Release:

Making it's return this month is a fantastic Kentucky Bourbon.  Eagle Rare 10 (not really so rare if it's been released for the last three years consecutively...), is a big meaty 10 year old Bourbon.  Wonderfully rich dark, and complex; yet still wonderfully affordable.  The nose is heavy, laden with Cherries (all types [dried, macerated, overripe, fresh etc...]), vanilla is present, but muted whereas the oak and southern style sweet tea (look that up and make that for yourself one day; trust me on that) permeate.  Buried underneath there are hints of medicated rub (bay leaf , eucalyptus, and hints of camphor), also I found molasses and sweet corn.  The palette is just as good, featuring many of the same notes from the nose but with a little more vanilla and oak in the package.  Honey, herbs and worked leather make an appearance in the mouth too, making the palate on this pretty intense.  The finish is slow and drying, starting with a baking spice hint and turning up to 11 with a full on trip into a oak sawmill!  That's a hard one to explain, but think of worked leather (like horse bridals), old sawdust, linseed oil, the actual smell of the horses (animal but not bad animals), fresh cut lumber and old lumber drying in the sun, and so much more.  This is a great buy to get into American Bourbon, I know I've turned a few colleagues on with this particular dram.  Served at 45% ABV and  of course no colour added by law, check your local LCBO <HERE> as these bottles don't seem to last long at $48.

Last up is another Speyside single malt.  This time it comes from an independent group by the name of LombardsPebble Beach is one of the most iconic golf courses in the world (or so I'm told as I have a hard enough time completing a 9 hole mini golf course).  As such, it commands one of the other great Scottish innovations be presented in its name.  Pebble Beach 12 is a beautiful dram that emphasizes all things Speyside whisky; rich fruitiness, malty sweetness, and excellent finishes with drying notes making your mouth yearn for more.  The nose on this is fantastic, rich pralines and caramels dominate with notes of  coconut and hints of tropical fruits interspersed.  From a second fill Bourbon cask, this presents more of that rich toffee and floral palate and subdues the oak to the finish.  The palate is quite dry, contrary to the nose, and has the same caramel and red fruit flavours but with a hint of tobacco leaves and sweet candied orange peels.  Dutch cocoa powder and candied ginger come across in the finish with the oak playing second fiddle and some wood smoke buried in the distance.  This is a great dram for a great price from an exciting newcomer to the LCBO shelves.  I strongly suggest you check your local LCBO for anything Lombards as they certainly seem to take care in their bottling; and at $67 and 43% ABV (NCF NCA), this is a very good bottle to delve into the Speyside mystique.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> for your very own bottle.

In the non-publicized Vintages release there is so, so much more to be found.  I have noted bottles from Lombard's, MacArthur's, Dun Bheagan, and Berry Brothers to name a few.  Let's list a few that have come in and I'll get to posting some more notes here shortly of the few that I've tried.



Dun Bheagan:

Berry's Selection:

Okay, so that about wraps up most of this round.  I'll be posting some notes for some selected drams above soon and as always: Keep your stick on the ice, and the ice out of our glass.

Monday, 16 July 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for June 2012

Well here we are again, Father's Day rolls around and the LCBO rolls out the red carpet and opens up their wallets asking us to part with exorbitant amounts of our hard earned money on special bottlings that are a gift for your father.  The question is , is it really worth it?  I'm not saying your father isn't worth it, I'm saying that what the LCBO is asking you to spend isn't necessarily worth what they're asking.  Let's see what they've touted as the best of the best for your dad, and I'll; give you a suggestion for a suitable replacement at a better value.

June 09/2012 Release:

This is the primary father's day release and features the big movers and shakers of the industry and some big items that are explicitly shown off for the 'wow' factor.

Up first is the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Gran Reserva.  This isn't the regular 21 year old Rum Finish (nee Havana Cask or the purple 21 denoted as 'Rum Finish' only), but a new bottling... right?  Wrong, this is the exact same thing with a few minor changes.  New old name (IE: Gran Reserva), less information (no more cask specification), new fancier bottle/package and most importantly... $70 extra dollars?!!!!  What happened here?  This is a beautiful bottling and a beautiful bottle, but I don't see the reason for the 40% increase in price.  Delicate flavors of rum, banana leaves, herbal vanilla all intermingle with the common Glenfiddich fruity palate creating something great. I do have concern though that Glenfiddich have now priced their upper echelon of the core range out of reach of the common person.  Don't mistake me, this was my favorite Glenfiidch, but a 40% increase in cost is not inline with the enjoyment of the spirit or giving a gift.  This is one to grab a glass when your out at a bar, not a purchase; but in case you happen to feel flush check the LCBO Sku #981381 for a listing of bottles.  $236.95 is asking way too much for what you're getting; a chill filtered, mass produced and coloured 40% bottle of rum finished Scotch

For shame LCBO, taking all your customer's hard earned money so that they can impress their father one day a year. 
Alright, let's recommend something along the same profile that is just as complex and far more affordable.  Mac Na Mara rum finish is a Gaelic blend from Pràban Na Linne distillers that features the same great notes (herbal vanilla, banana leaves, hints of citrus), and combines this with their own blended spirit (which is richer than Glenfiddich IMO).  This creates something more with sweet baked cookies and hints of smoke on the nose, great depth with hints of citrus and vanilla in the mouth and an oily medium finish.  This is what a rum cask should be like!  The rum comes from Guyana (one guess as to who that might be... *El Dorado* Cough Cough*).  Guyanese rum is demerara based (typically), and it gives the spirit an incredible depth with deep rich molasses, and heady herbal and burnt sugar flavors.  Non-chill filtered, as all their products are, Pràban Na Linne takes great pride with their whisky and you should feel proud giving this away as a gift.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle, and grab one for yourself because at $33.95, this won't last long.

Next up, the monster king of all premium blends, Johnnie Walker Blue Label.  No age statement, heavy filtration and a gob of colour added.... i think you see my train of thought already!  $289.99?! When did this go up $40 too, when i bought my bottle, (from the duty-free for $146, I figured it was a treat for myself and I was saving $103 over the LCBO's already outrageous price.  Now at $290, this is a blatant rip-off!  Johnnie Blue caters to the people who want to be told what to drink, want to be told that they're super special and want to be told that they have the best of everything.  That's a nice feeling to have, but let's come back to earth for a moment.  This blend is heady and heavy on the nose, almost a whisky perfume as it were, but without an age statement at that price, what are you really getting yourself into?  Notes of orange, bitter tangerine peel, wood smoke, light peat, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and nuts dominate the nose.  The palate is intense and deep.  Lots of the same notes appear, with the dried fruits and roasted nuts/grains taking the backbone, smoke and peat layer across the blend.  The smoothness is so good, it's artificial.   And then something happens; it all disappears.  The finish is medium and drawn out, at first.   The problem arises from the age, the longer that whisky sits in your glass, the less desirable notes remain.  It seems to over-oxidize quickly; moving from the orange notes out in front into the bitter pith notes taking over everything with staccato notes of smoke backing it up.  The mouth feel moves from smooth to oily and empty (like an over watered whisky).  It starts to come apart at the seams in less than 30 minutes in the glass, and by 1 hour, it's nothing but bitter candied orange peel, wood smoke, and some brown slightly flavourless liquid.  Johnnie Blue seems to decompose faster than an ice cream cone on a hot Toronto day!  Sadly, this is something that I cannot comment further on, maybe it's my bottle or maybe my palate, but I've had this on a few occasions and find that the blend seems to be so delicate even a swish changes the consistency.  And don't ever add water to this, it will literally deconstruct in front of your nose.   All that complaining aside, the LCBO has tonnes of stock of this at all times for those people who need a whisky to tell them their special <HERE>.  You don't need me to tell you that your special; you should know that already.  For a better deal the LCBO does carry 200 mL bottles for $70 (blargh, can't believe that is a better deal!); but you'll have to check in your local stores as I can't find the codes for it.

You came to my blog looking for good buys and good information; so I'll give you an alternative buy for the bottle of Blue Label.  Let's shift gears and go on those Blue label characteristics like the  smoothness, rich fruitiness and the fantastic balance. There is another bottle at less than half the price (also a blend), that fulfils in all respects, is served at higher proof (45.6%), and would be a welcome present that won't break the bank.  Berry Brothers and Rudd, owners of a fine wines and spirits shop in London for a great number of years, has dabbled with their own blends to purvey to their clientele.  Cutty Sark is just that, a tailored blend that doesn't tell you how it is or how to enjoy it the 'right' way.  This is one of those pour and contemplate life whiskies, great depths and a wide array of elements make it an excellent dram to sit and relax over.  The nose on this is deep, more heavy on the sherry notes which brings the almond and wine notes to the front, but doesn't overstep the sandalwood and spice notes buried within.  Rich worked oak and delicate floral notes like jasmine and heather break up the weight.  In the mouth, a rich full-bodied explosion (what Johnnie Walker Blue should be like), fills your mouth with rich exotic spices (cloves, cinnamon, cardamom), oak and roasted nuts and grains, and in the background a sour note (like macerated cherry or plum), and a slight hint of menthol or eucalyptus.  The finish is long, and goes on and on.  Your mouth will water after the first sip, yearning for another.  This is what a good blend should be like.  The LBCO over ordered their stock and are now clearing this bottling out at only $124.95, so this is your chance to grab a bottle now and hold it until that special occasion comes around, or that special someone gets their present.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle now.

Well now, we are on a roll!  Slightly bumpy and off-kilter roll of rants and disappointed mumbling; but a roll nonetheless.  Next up is another mega bottling, this one actually being worthwhile!  Please take this next set of tasting notes with a grain of salt, as this is a single barrel bottling what I nosed may not be in any other bottle.  The LCBO offering is a slightly higher proof than any other I've seen, so I'm not sure if this is exclusive to the LCBO or what the story is.  The Balvenie 15 single barrel is to The Balvenie whisky range, what Lynryd Skinner's Free Bird is to hard rock.  It is but a shining, poignant, and rare example of what The Balvenie flavour profile is really about.  The incredible nose on this gives us the honeycomb, soft ripe barley, creamy floral and vanilla nose balanced with apricot preserves, polished oak, pineapple and ground star anise spice.  I've said before that I'm not a great Balvenie fan (only the Caribbean cask and the Portwood 21 really do it for me), but this exemplifies the standard.  This is what I wanted to smell when I picked up a glass of Signature or Doublewood.  This is the nose that goes on and on, the mouth feel matches the nose and adds things like vanilla cream cookies, floral wildflower honey, hints of citrus, ripe yellow fruits (like mango, Meyer lemon , pineapple persimmon)  and ripe barley come together to make this one of my favourite Balvenie expressions.  Alas though, this is not to be forever.  This is a single barrel expression, and what I get here, may not be in the next barrel.  With less than 350 bottles/barrel turnover, the chances of finding this intense nose again are slim (good, but slim).  This is a great buy in the lineup at only $145.95 (believe me that's cheap coming from the LCBO), and serving at 50.5% ABV.  Unfortunately it is chill-filtered and coloured (no where can I find it specified otherwise, and it makes me wonder what was lost in the process), but all in all this is a fantastic bottling.  I strongly urge you to try this at an LCBO tasting bar or at an actual bar to see what the Balvenie really can be like.  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

Last up is another overpriced, mega name brand, chill filtered Super Scotch.  The Macallan 25 Sherry Oak.  $799.95.  43% ABV, original colour.  This is supposed to be the cream of the crop for the LCBO shelves, but what I see is a monster price tag cash grab.  Let me first admit a couple of things; this is not a bottle to buy (unless you burn money in the winter to keep warm), this is not a Macallan that I've tried yet, and finally I do have a soft spot for Macallan as it was the first sherried whisky that I fell in love with.  That aside, let me put on the crazy whisky drinker rant pants and tinfoil hat one more time and go to town (I promise it's the last).  This is a fine example of the Macallan, I hear it's beautiful and drying on the palate..... but where do you get off charging more than any other store I can find online?  I searched 25 wine/spirit search engines for North America and find that the LCBO is the highest price.  The US seems to get this bottle for anywhere i the 620-700 range (LINK; LINK; .  Calgary has the same bottle for $548 (LINK) and $600 (LINK).  BC has it for $765 (LINK).  So answer me this LCBO big wigs, why the discrepancy  Why does a bottle that is shipped 756 miles further West get a $200 price break.  Should anyone from the LCBO want to get a hold of me please email my blog and I'd be glad to go over why one of the world's largest buyer of wines and spirits (ref your own site HERE), cannot seem to get a fair price for its buyers.  That aside (and I apologize to my readers for the outburst, but this leaves me more than frustrated), this is a monster sherry and it commands your respect.  Should you be so interested in something like this, may I suggest a seat sale at Porter and a trip out west, I hear the country is beautiful.

June 23/2012 Release:

Up first is a big Kentucky bourbon with a rye twist.  Blanton's Gold, similar to the regular Balnton's uses a corn, rye and malted barley mashbill.  Secret proportions create a bourbon with a smoothness that can't be missed.  The proportions of rye create a rich fruitiness in the blend, and further ageing give this a richer edge over the standard single barrel.  The nose is fragrant and deep, with loads of rich dried fruits (macerated red fruits).  Dried cherries, Vanilla, oak and honey permeate your senses.  The mouth feel is luxurious and intense, hot peppery bright rye cuts into the tongue, with notes of dried apricots, wildflower honey and butterscotch follow soothing the burn.  The finish is long with notes of rich oak, burnt caramel, dried wildflowers.  Boy oh boy, this is a keeper!  I really enjoyed the special reserve, and the single barrel expressions and I continue to be impressed with the 'Gold' edition.  I have to give commendation where it is due, the Blanton's website has THE most comprehensive listing of information I have ever seen.  Listings of the mashbill contents, char type, entry proof of the new make spirit and so much more are provided for your inner whisky nerd pleasure.  This is a fantastic resource for the end connoisseur (you and I), as this means there is nothing to hide.  Legally there cannot be colouring in Kentucky bourbon, albeit they freely admit using chill filtration, but serve the spirit at 51.5% ABV this is a great value for money ($100).  Check your local LCBO <HERE> for your bottle.

Second bottle is another southern monster.  Sazerac Straight Rye is a heavy hitter.  True to the rye name, this is a strong willed, sweet and spicy dram; so much so that this may be a little more suited to making a Sazerac cocktail rather than drinking straight.  Sweet rye fruits, vanilla candy and licorice dominate the nose with notes or hot pepper, white pepper and a little alcohol burn vying for background attention.  In the mouth a big spicy punch from the rye with some short citrus follow up.  Short finish revealing the hot oak and more white pepper spices.  This is a hot one that can use some water to settle it, but what better way to dull down a hot monster than some ice (yes I knowwhat I say, keep the ice out of your glass.... but trust me on this), with a twist of citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit or tangerine all go excellent with the big fruity-sweet nose here).  Sit and sip that on your balcony, terrace or porch in the evening and recant your tales of labour from the day tou your loved ones (or pets for that matter).  This is a great rye, but falls victim to what I feel most Canadian "ryes" do, all heat and punch with no substance.  There is substance in this glass, just not enough for me to make it more than a mixer.  Check you local LCBO <HERE> and get yourself a bottle.  Chill filtered, coloured and served at 45%, not a bad deal at $45; but be warned there are better deals out there to be had.

So there we have it, a few rants and some interesting notes sums up the June releases.  There are some good, but mostly overpriced releases this round.  I tried to offer some alternative options in the more reasonable range of pricing, and hope that my rants haven't turned too many people away.  It's very hard to explain the LCBO to people who have choices in their liquor stores, or have never heard of Government run liquor monopolies.  The frustration that entails and the pricing fixes that we endure in the love of our spirit would frustrate any Whisky lover.  That aside, more is on the way including tasting notes on Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams coming in time for the holidays this year.  So as always, keep your stick on the ice; and the ice out of your glass (except where noted :P).