Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Tasting Notes: Bushmills 16 Year Old

First up, some information.  Bushmills is widely accepted as being the oldest licensed distillery in the known universe.  Sir Thomas Phillipps was granted license to distill in 1608 by King James I, albeit records show production to start around the 1784 era.  The distillery went through many owners, and the original buildings were destroyed by fire in 1885 and rebuilt 5 years later. In 1988 French giant Pernod Ricard took control of the distillery and continued production, until the 2005 Diageo buyout.  All that having been said, lets see what the northernmost Irish distillery has to offer in the line of single malts.

Well it has been a while since I've posted some tasting notes, so I'm gonna spill the beans on some random items found at the LCBO through this month or so and get some more information out there for you, the buyer.  This time around, a sweet and luxurious Irish single malt from the Diageo Irish repertoire.

The lineup features the two Irish default standards: the regular expression (the white bush), and the sherried expression (the black bush).  Then we step up to the premium range that features single malts in the 10, 16 and 21 year old range.  There are also still some antiquated bottlings of the Limited Edition 1608 and The Millennium (25 year old).  Having tasted the 10 (a double wood finish of Oloroso sherry and American bourbon casks), when the chance to sample the 16 arose I took my chances and grabbed a bottle.  I do enjoy the single malt Bushmills range as its such a light and delicate whiskey, it's very reminiscent of the Scottish Lowlands flavor profile.  I find a lot of gentle notes with a seemingly simple whisky that turns out to be deeper than initially expected.  The 16 is the oldest yet to arrive at the LCBO (since the Millennium which is out of stock), and comes in at a steep pricing of $80/bottle and only 40% ABV.  Finished in three woods (the aforementioned American bourbon oak and Spanish Oloroso Sherry), this dram is highlighted and steered by the Port pipes used to finish it.

Colour: Amber with hints of ruby and copper highlights.  ( i highly doubt there to be no colour added here, but the port does seem to show some ruby highlights through the electric marmalade background).

Body: Medium body, fat drops appear when the glass is rolled.  Legs run slowly back in.  Things are looking up in the flavor direction.

Nose: Ohh boy!  This is a big one, sweet tawny port, hints of plums and red & purple fruits (grapes, berries and the like), candied almonds and hints of Amaretto, heavy oak (like saturated oak [ie: oak that has held a lot of wine/spirit  in the past), vanilla and fudge, apricots.  The notes of interest I found here were slight hints of tobacco, worked leather and every now and again a slight note of tomato paste or fresh garden tomatoes.

Palate:  This is a very more-ish whiskey.  Almonds and sweet barley seem to be the first notes in my mouth right away.  Barley sugar and dry oak, hints at old wood or wood smoke, dried peaches and apricots.  Hints of raisins, cola, cocoa powder and coffee.  Way off in the background I get a slight hint of sulphur (like in pink erasers).

Finish: The finish is medium-long and seems to mirror the heavy nose.  Hints of old wood and herbal vanilla seem to be present here, rubber hoses and dark chocolate.  Oily mouth coverage fades and drying notes make your mouth water for more.

Empty Glass: The empty glass  almost seems to mirror the initial nose.  Honey and floral notes dominate, with hints of ruby port and wood smoke again.  Slight notes of sandalwood (as in cologne), herbs and ancient dry oak (like in an old trunk or cabinet).  There is a peppering of dry cocoa powder throughout the empty glass.

Well what we have here is a fantastic representation of what Irish whiskey can be with some careful management.  I will fault the mega-conglomerate of Diageo for my 2 usual marks: chill-filtration and colour added. But as I'm feeling generous (yeah, like I'm really in a position to criticize the world's largest distiller on their practices),  I'll let the 40% ABV slide this time.  All my whining aside, this is a deep and rich spirit.  Incredible depth and flavor can be found within this bottle.  I'm very partial to the 10 year old single malt, and I think that bias shows in the 16.  There is a lot to be had for $80, but a lot more could be had with higher proof and non-chillfilteration of the final spirit.  Final recommendation is to find and try this bottle, go to a pub or bar, or a friends house and sample it.  Or should you feel like putting $80 down on a great bottle of whiskey, check your local LCBO for Sku #260760.  Either way I don't think you'll be disappointed.  Until the next time; Keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of your glass.

Monday, 7 May 2012

LCBO Vintages Release for April 2012

Well the pickings are slim this month, but fear not as we do have some very interesting items!  I have been informed (little bird on my shoulder sort-of-thing), that the LCBO is gearing up the usual laundry list of special items for father's day at inflated prices.  Albeit this month is dry, the next few months will have plenty more in store.  On the other hand, there are quite a few good sipping rums coming into the LCBO for the first time in a long time!  As I'm not purely biased towards whisky, I'll follow up with a few other interesting items to check out.

First up, April 14/2012 Vintages release:

Two bottles are presented this round, but not bottlings to scoff at!  I'll lead off with the away team:  Ardmore Traditional Cask makes an appearance at the LCBO.  No age statement (you ageist bastard, always judging based on the number printed on the bottle! LOL  I'm just kidding), as this is matured in quarter casks (much like the Laphroaig bottling of the same name).  As a result of the smaller casks, the spirit ages faster and we are rewarded with Whisky sooner.  The problem with this approach is that without careful management the wood notes will take over everything, (smaller cask = greater wood contact = faster aging).  The nose is wonderful on this, lots of peat notes mingling with floral hints and crème brûlée.  This is interspersed with hints of iodine, wood smoke, and herbal vanilla.  The mouth feel is excellent giving you that oily coverage feeling.  I found that adding water detracts from this and sort of diminishes the finish quite a bit.  Speaking of finishes, this one is long and drawn out.  With notes of cream, spice cake, herbs and wood interwoven with the peat and iodine notes; this is a great dram.  My favorite part about Ardmore is that it is a UCF (unchillfiltered), 46% ABV bottle (unfortunately no mention of colour added or not, but I think from the electric marmalade colour that's obvious).  I feel that this is a great deal at $45/bottle; you can't go wrong with that wonderful floral nose and slight peat.  I suggest you check your local LCBO [Sku #228106], for your own.

Next up is the home team!  The Barry's from north of Toronto have brought us a special treat/preview of their stocks.  Premium Bottlers (AKA Still Waters Distillery) is a local distiller of premium spirits such as the award winning Single Malt Vodka (a good example of their base spirit), and their very own Single Malt Whisky.  Aging quietly now, their single malt will have to wait another day before it's spotlight, but it is within the depths of this blend.  As a good faith gesture to the whisky world, they have created 1+11 to gel their reputation as a quality craft distiller in the Canadian market, and to preview things to come from the distillery.  That is 11 4-6 year old Canadian whiskies blended with their own single malt whisky.  It's a big bouquet to start,  there is a rocky/limestone thing happening that gives way to lots of bright fruit and floral notes (similar to a Highland), citrus and spice mingle together with slight hints of toffee.  There is a fantastic balance going on in the nose that continues with one of the smoothest Canadian whiskies I've ever tasted.  The mouth feel is almost overwhelming!  There is a thickness like a light syrup that covers your mouth with dry oak, hot pepper, citrus peel hints of fresh floral notes and sweet toffee cream candies.  The finish is medium but very clean, hints of roasted nuts and worked oak present themselves here and the buttery toffee notes blossom in little patches and are highlighted with subtle bursts of rye pepper and toffee.  I'm really loving this!  This whisky is excellently crafted giving you the best of both worlds, fantastic fruits and flowers with awesome oily mouth feel that turns into a clean and sparkling finish.  There is a reason that the LCBO bought the ENTIRE case lot for the first batch!  Scoring 91 points at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge (only 1 point short of the Chairman's Choice award); this is an incredible deal for Ontarians - $35/bottle @ 40% ABV!  Also as per conversations at the distillery, this is UCF and no colour added whisky; I think that deserves commendation too!  Get your bottle [Sku #273565], and get it fast.

The second release for Vintages April 28/2012 doesn't have any whisky.  Bummer!  But what thine LCBO taketh away in one amber spirit, it provideth within another... or something regal sounding such as that.  This is where maltblog diversifies itself and moves into the cane sweetened southern territory of Rum!

First up, a journey to the hot and balmy Central American island of Hispaniola.  Ron Brugal is the larger of the two distilleries in the Dominican Republic (Ron Barceló being the other),  with the whole gamut of offerings from blanco (white) up to extra viejo (very dark).  I have recently noticed the añejo in the LCBO (weird surprise as I was only there a few months ago.... who's following me?), and am pleased to see the flagship product from the distillery.  The 1888 Gran Reserva Familiar.  This distillery (founded in 1888), is still run by George Arzeno Brugal, and is staffed by descendants of the family.  The 1888 Gran Reserva is monster:  a sherry finished rum consisting of spirits up to 14 years of age.  There are rich intense notes of demerara and molasses on the nose, broken up by worked leather and rich dark red/purple fruits, subtle wafts of caramel provide an incredibly heady nose.  Very complex, and yet wonderfully soft in the mouth with notes of toffee and caramel sugar, gentle wood notes and subtle dark fruit cake spices and licorice.  A long lasting sweet finish with further hints of licorice and oak notes.  40% ABV and only $70/bottle, this is a rare treat imported by the LCBO and you'll feel like you have spoiled yourself and taken a trip to the Dominican Republic.  Check you local LCBO [Sku #270843], for your bottle.

In the vein of the last review, I'm going to post about 2 bottlings that didn't get the mainstream coverage that they deserve.  Ladies and gents, first stop Nicaragua!  Flor De Caña 18 year old is the first on list.  A deep dark brooding rum from the Chichigalpa valley at the base of the San Cristobal volcano.  This is a very rich full bodied rum.  Dark sugar cane and heavy spice notes permeate the nose, with complex twists of cocoa and toasted nuts.  The finish is very long and is a fantastic interplay between caramel, pepper, heavy oak, and spice cake. This is a serious rum that makes me think of a rainy day indoors that I can relax and savor the warm and inviting flavors of Central America.  $80/bottle for 18 years of deep dark complexity, check your local LCBO [Sku #585836], for your very own bottle.

Last stop, but most certainly not least is Guatemala.  Ron Zacapa 23 Solera Reserva is a pure sugar cane rum, coming from the city of Zacapa in central Guatemala.  Produced in the method typically used for sherries (or Gelnfiddich 15), Solera vatted rums in the ranges of 6-23 years comprise this deep mahogany spirit.  Intense notes of sweetness, honey, floral and herbal vanilla, macerated fruit, hints of almonds and cocoa with peppered notes of spice cake and oak.  In the mouth this is a monster bomb of sweetness and vanilla.  Honey, dried fruit, roasted nuts, notes of cane sugar syrup and oak create an incredibly dense and complex balanced rum.  The finish is long; so, so long!  Intermixing notes of oak, sugars, caramel, and fruit play on the tongue and seem to last forever.  This is a great buy at $80/bottle, and I strongly suggest you check you local LCBO [Sku #273516], for your own bottle.

So that does it for this month of releases.  Sort of slim pickings, but there will be much more coming along soon.  I can assure you with the Spirit of Toronto show coming up at the start of May, and some tasting notes to be posted, I'll be sure to keep you busy.  So until next time, keep your stick on the ice and the ice out of the glass, and we'll be sure to share a dram again soon.