Here’s part two of the weekly Twitter tasting that is held around Canadian whisky. This week our host Davin De Kergommeaux talked about the era of Hiram Walker, J.P. Wiser and Alberta Distillers before moving to the tasting sample. Remember you can join in on our discussions (although without the book at hand it may not be totally clear to follow), still two Sundays to go from 21:00 – 22:00 Western-European time.
Alberta Premium Dark Horse (a brand owned by Beam Inc.) is a mix of 12-year-old rye whisky and 6-year-old small pot rye, with an 8% dollop of well-aged corn whisky added to flesh out the body. The whisky is aged in heavily charred American white oak barrels, and is bottled at 45% alc/vol. It’s a recent whisky, presented in 2012.
Alberta Premium Dark Horse (45%, OB)
Nose: overall much sweeter and way more rounded than last week’s Lot No.40, a tad more bourbonny. Vanilla and caramel. Cinnamon. Cedar bark. Also a clear bicycle tube / plastic-like aroma. Some leafy / floral hints. Wet limestone. Hints of dusty rye. Mouth: very sweet again, creamy, with a maple / corn sweetness, candied oranges and a ginger / nutmeg spice mix. Some liquorice and herbal notes. Dried figs. A bit of a cough syrup profile, but the sweetness balances this out. Soft mint towards the finish. Finish: medium long, with a lingering prune sweetness, mint and pine wood.
As Davin said at the end of the tasting: “The beauty of rye in a master’s hands is many different profiles”. Well said. Contrary to Lot No. 40’s harsh profile, this is a nicely balanced rye, with all of the positive rye elements in there, and the possible downsides masked by an overwhelming sweetness. I was unable to find it in common European stores, but it’s around $30 in Canada. Excellent price vs. quality.
Nose: very pure, with minerals and maritime notes rather than in-your-face peat. Add some lemon candy, sweet apple and ashes rather than actual smoke. A bit of pepper and hints of graphite. Clean and very solid. Mouth: quite powerful and there’s a nice zing to it of citrus (both zesty and sweet). The zesty notes become briney, the sweetness develops into pears and almond paste. Definitely more peat than on the nose. Grows more herbal and bitter over time. Finish: long, clean and peaty. Briney and slightly grassy.
It’s almost superfluous to review these Bowmores from the 1990s. This one is good quality, like almost every other cask from this period. Around € 75.
A dark sherry Bunnahabhain 1990 bottled by Whisky-Fässle.
Bunnahabhain 22 yo 1990
(50,4%, Whisky-Fässle 2013, sherry butt)
Nose: really close to actual sherry. Lots of juicy, jammy fruits. Brambles, strawberry jam, raspberry ganache. Nice. Spanish pan de higos from Murcia. Cinnamon. Something toasted as well. Whiffs of mint. Maybe unlit matches but that’s an asset here. Absolutely clean. Mouth: classic sherry, bags of raisins and chocolate. Dates and figs. A little pepper and ginger. Christmas cake. Finish: long, showing more herbs and a little liquorice, which adds just enough dryness.
A nice, fruity sherry monster. Did they have spies at GlenDronach or Glenfarclas teaching them how to make this kind of rich sherried whisky? Good stuff, better than the other early 1990’s I could try. Around € 80.
After last year’s Thor, Highland Park Loki is the second of four releases in the Valhalla series. It is bottled at cask strength again, and it comes in the same kind of boat-like wooden frame. I was told part of the casks that were mixed in had previously contained peated whisky.
Highland Park 15 yo ‘Loki’
(48,7%, OB 2013, 21.000 btl.)
Nose: a mineral and leathery start, slightly sharp, and not many fruity notes to balance it. Hints of green apples and dried orange peel though. After that, a quick move to spicy notes, like nutmeg, ginger and anise. The whole base is made up of grainy notes (porridge) which have never been my favourite aromas. Mouth: much, much better. The fruitiness is a lot bigger and downright tropical. Yellow apples, pineapple cubes, pink grapefruit… Quite jammy. Also nice waxy notes and honey. Returns to sharper peaty notes with ginger and lemon zest, as well as some earthy and spicy notes. Great evolution. Finish: long, pleasant, with creamy vanilla, sweet citrus and cinnamon.
This is a real Janus. As if a slightly mediocre nose and beautiful palate were forced into the same bottle. Difficult to score, Loki certainly beats Thor on the palate, but I tend to give more weight to the nose, so Thor wins overall. Around € 160.
Dalmore Tweed Dram is part of the Rivers Collection, which consists of four expressions that honour famous salmon fishing rivers in Scotland.
The Tweed is the most prolific salmon river in the UK A generous donation is gifted to The Tweed Foundation from the sale of every bottle sold, to support and further the excellent work it does.
Dalmore ‘Tweed Dram’
(40%, OB 2012, Rivers Collection, Season 2012)
Nose: starts completely on butter caramel. Then moves to cooked oranges and orange marmalade with chocolate. Some hay. Almonds. Baked apples. Also hints of rubber in the distance. Mouth: rather sweet and mellow. Apples and raisins. Some honey. Toffee. Then it grows slightly drier, with herbal notes and a faint bitterness. Lacks a bit of punch. Finish: rather short, as if most of the flavour disappeared and only the (harsher) grainy notes remain.
A bit of a mixed bag. Disappointing nose, a nice smoothness on the palate and a rough finale. Rather cheap but it doesn’t work for me. Around € 45.
I’m taking part in a four week Twitter event based around Canadian whisky. The idea came from Johanne McInnes (thanks!) and of course Canadian expert and Malt Maniac Davin De Kergommeaux’s work is at the center of it all.
Basically we were sent four samples of Canadian whiskies together with his award-winning book Canadian Whisky – The portable expert, which we read during the last couple of weeks. We know each of the samples is representing a chapter / region / distillery, but they are not disclosed until the end of the Twitter tasting, which is preceeded by a Q&A with Davin. The first instalment was yesterday, but you’re welcome to join in the next three Sundays at 21:00 Western European time, using the Twitter hash tag #DavinTT
Now I have to admit that none of the 1200+ whiskies on this website had been Canadian so far… I haven’t even tried the the fairly well-known Crown Royal or Canadian Club. I do own a bottle of Glen Breton matured in Ice wine casks, but I hope you agree that’s not even proper whisky, and hopefully not the best example of what Canada has to offer.
With the risk of going over it too quickly, in a few lines, what makes Canadian whisky different, other than being made in Canada?
The majority of Canadian whisky is distilled in column stills. Some distilleries use the more traditional pot stills.
Nowadays Canadian whisky is always blended (but not to the Scotch definition of grain + malt). They produce neutrally flavoured, higher proof ‘base whiskies’ and blend it with one or more ‘flavouring whiskies’ that have more distinct aromas. By tuning the mix of flavouring whiskies, they can keep a steady profile even when raw materials change. Also, this allows distilleries to have multiple products with different profiles.
Up to 9.09 per cent of the blend can be other stuff. Other whisky, or caramel, or even brandy or wine! Canadian whisky needs to be matured and married in oak, in Canadian warehouses.
Rye plays a huge role in Canadian whisky making, up to the point where it became a nickname for Canadian whisky as a whole, you just “drink rye”. More than other grains, it brings along strong flavours, lots of spices and a “refreshing bitterness”.
Canadian whisky is based around brand names rather than distilleries as is the case in Scotland. Sometimes production of a certain brand can even move over to a different distillery. It’s a more industrial distillery landscape, where history and tradition play a tiny role.
We’ve just tried our first sample, so here goes. Lot N° 40 is produced by Corby at Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Ontario (owned by Pernod-Ricard). It’s mostly 7 – 8 years old whisky with some older and some much younger added to the mix. It is made in a 12.000 litre copper pot still from 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye grain. They use a variety of barrels for maturation, both new and used.
It is highly collectable. Lot No. 40 has generated more enthusiasm among whisky connoisseurs around the world than any Canadian whisky Davin could think of. It has become the Black Orchid of Canadian whisky, the quintessential Canadian rye. Recently they are trying to produce more of it, but due to the relatively high age, it will take a while before more people can get hold of it.
Lot No. 40 (43%, 2012 Edition)
Nose: a mix of harsher, prickly notes (cloves, flints, hints of menthol) with sweeter notes (buttered popcorn, cinnamon). Quite some sourish wood in there. Pine wood (typical for rye, I’m told). Hints of graphite and dust. A slight alcoholic / solventy edge. Certainly outside of my familiar Scotch territory. Gets a little smoother with a drop of water. Mouth: again quite sour initially (pickled even), slightly woody / tannic (yes, pine needles), with lots of spices and herbs. Ginger, clove, cinnamon. Something of rye bread and sour dough too. Again a slight vanilla/ popcorn layer in the background, but it’s definitely not a sweet dram. Again better with water though. Finish: not too long, with sourness, pepper and a slightly strange metallic edge in the very end.
Difficult whisky, and I honestly don’t think that is only because I’m not used to Canadian whisky yet. Lots of oak and pickle / prickle. Not at all easy to find around here, but typically around € 35.
I cannot believe I’ve only published one note of a Jack Wiebers whisky so far. It’s a German company that has been distributing and bottling whisky for many years.
Their Scottish Castles Series was launched in 1998 and other series include Auld Distillers, Old Train Line, Prenzlow Collection and The Cross Hill. Gentle Noses is a premium series. All of their bottlings tend to have elaborate (sometimes slightly pompous) labels.
Jack Wiebers Whisky World bottlings can be great but for some reason they seem to stay somewhat under the radar, at least outside of their home country.
Isle of Jura 35 yo 1976
(51,3%, Jack Wiebers Whisky World 2012, bourbon cask #60006, 120 btl.)
Nose: a smooth and harmonious nose. Sweet fruits (mirabelles and berries) and old oak in equal measures. Hints of dusty cellars. Some nutty notes. Subtle farmy notes as well. Fresh bell pepper. Roll-your-own cigarette tobacco. Mint and eucalyptus. Maybe not as expressive as I would have wanted, but gorgeous aromas and an impressive elegancy. Mouth: quite a lot of wood, but more the kind of tart notes than dryness. Again fruity undertones of pink grapefruit and apple, with a floral twist (crossing the fine line of becoming perfumy at times, which is too bad). Some grassy notes and whiffs of smoke. Tobacco again. Fades on coastal notes (soft brine and liquorice). Finish: long, still some oak up front, liquorice, bitter oranges and hints of mustard.
A difficult one. The nose has all the old Jura goodness, but it lacks a little punch. And the palate leans towards perfumy / soapy notes, although they are soft. Not the perfect Jura but too good to give a mediocre score. Around € 230. Thanks Herbert.
Nose: starts on gentle sea air and mineral notes, maybe a little peat. Folds open nicely with mellow fruity notes (citrus, green apple, white peach) and light floral notes (apple blossom). Light honey and faint vanilla. Perfectly natural. Mouth: oily, showing a really nice balance of candied notes (lemon gums, hints of marshmallow, candy sugar), coastal notes and herbs (mint, aniseed and light liquorice). Supportive oak, fading towards light earthy notes. Finish: medium long, coastal, with faint salty notes and grass.
I really liked this one, it’s quite subtle, or put differently: excellent drinking strength. Decent complexity, I noticed I kept filling my empty tasting glass until the sample ran out. Around € 85, found here.