Review: White Owl Canadian Whisky

White Owl 2 (Large)Here is a rarity – an aged white whisky. Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta crafted this one for the premium cocktail market, to compete with premium vodkas and mixing drinks. It is made from wheat and rye whiskies, aged for as long as 12 years, with a particularly high rye content. After the whisky is aged, it is filtered through beds of charcoal, stripping it of colour, and removing a lot of flavours – lightening up the spirit and changing it. A lot of rye is used in the whisky because much of the flavour gets stripped out, and the blenders want some of the rye to come through.

This is not crafted to be a sipping whisky, so I hesitated for a while to post a rating because it is not a sipping whisky, in the traditional sense (much like the last one I reviewed, Proof Whisky). However, I will post it, with the qualification that this is an absolutely fabulous whisky to mix – and is one of my favourites to use. While that is said, I still don’t mind sipping this – it’s just quite a bit different. Also, it is a wonderful tribute to Canadian whisky – which is largely mixed. Indeed, much of Canadian whisky is made not to be sipped slowly neat, but to be sipped as a component of a cocktail. It is thanks to this fact that Canadian whisky, until very recently, was the most consumed whisky in the US, even above bourbon and scotch (I think it was overtaken within the last year or two). As I myself have had a growing appreciation for good cocktails, I will be returning to write some more on cocktails and in particular cocktails with this whisky once I have done some more research and experimentation.

The oak has done its good work on this one, and the effect is similar to the work of good oak on a well aged whisky (a good 18 year old, honeyed, viscous, and balanced) compared to a 12 year old version – but on a vodka or white rum as a base, not a whisky. Complexity, body, finish, and grip are all added. I compared a diluted vodka and diluted White Owl (both to the same strength), and the white owl is much softer, rounder, with much more flavour, body, and richness – even diluted. It shows why all the cocktail folk are buzzing about this one….

Bottle + Presentation: 5/5. One of my favourite bottles – it looks really impressive. It’s much more in the style of a premium vodka than a whisky,  but that’s fine by me.

Nose: This one, of course, is quite different. Quite spirit-like – with lots of vapours coming off the nose in the style of a vodka rather than a whisky. There’s a buttery note, with a bit of vanilla, almost a bit like some rum-flavoured candies or buttery caramels, and a hint of light honey. There’s also a bit of negative bitterness and meatiness with some rye whiskies that I find – but it isn’t that prominent and isn’t really that much of a detraction. It’s very simple – the light, buttery caramel is quite nice though. 21.5/30

Taste: Clean, and distinctly buttery, with some light vanilla, caramel, a touch of molasses and brown sugar, and a slight sweet edge (though not that sweet). It is quite clean, yet it is quite rich despite being not overly complex. It reminds me of many of the sweet and honeyed notes of Jack Daniel’s, and, indeed, I have tasted Jack Daniel’s in a comparitive tasting and found it strongly reminded me of this – I suppose that charcoal filtration in both whiskies does unearth certain flavours to the surface. 25/30

Finish: Very clean, with some rye spice coming through – cinnamon, clove, and a bit of the buttery, rich taste on the palate – which remains for some time, with a touch of oak even coming out from time to time. Surprisingly spicy, in fact – spicier than the whole experience so far, I think. 11.5/15

Conclusion: As I said earlier, I feel bad rating this as a sipping whisky, because it is not. It’s still pleasant to sip, though the nose isn’t great. However, really, if you have a bottle of this it White Owl 3 (Large)needs to be mixed – that’s what it was crafted for and that’s what it’s really good at. From what I’ve heard, Highwood can’t keep up with demand for this, because of all the mixologists. It would provide a great twist on white rum cocktails, as well as give some depth and breadth to many vodka cocktails. 15.5/20

Overall Score: 78.5/100

 

Review: Proof Canadian Whisky

ProofThis comes from a Canadian company, Proof Brands, which makes a whisky, vodka, and a white rum. Proof brands is based out of Toronto, but this whisky was produced (distilled, aged, and blended) in Alberta (though I don’t know where).  It is targeted to the cocktail community. The whisky is made from rye and wheat (no barley), and aged in charred oak barrels, and bottled at 42%. Centenniel 10 Year Old is also made from rye and wheat, but it is altogether different.

On some level, I hesitate to grade this because it is produced for the upscale cocktail community (which I have consistently gained more respect for), and I grade for sipping whiskies. Regardless, I am giving this whisky a sipping score, and I have heard many enjoy to just sip this one, often on the rocks. On one level, to fully appreciate Canadian Whisky, you need to know cocktails, which I have less authority speaking about (though I am gaining some experience there too!). Mixing is a different world from plain whisky, and it is much more than a consolation prize for bad whisky, as it seems to be at times in the whisky world. For Canadian whisky, I value whisky blogs which also have some knowledge of cocktails, as does The Rum Howler Blog, which I recommend.

Bottle + Presentation: 4 /5. A bit different, but the bottle would look good on a bar shelf. However, it is only 500 ml, which is fine, but means you might be fooled into thinking it is cheaper than other economy brands when it is only 2/3 of the volume.

Nose: Very interesting – quite citrusy, fruity and different – it reminds me both of fruit brandy and tequila. Grapefruit, pear, caramel, wine gums, and an almost medicinal cough-syrup type aroma, orange, orange peel, guava – quite bright, and off the nose seems sweet and sour. This seems to be well crafted for cocktails, based on the nose. I do like the bright fruitiness, and I am not quite sure whether I don’t mind or don’t like the medicinal quality. Doesn’t have a lot of the typical notes of rye spice found in Canadian whisky – but this bottle is certainly packed with fruit. 25.5/30

Taste: Orange, and a bit of candy-like fruit punch to it, more touches of cough syrup, blackberry flavoured hard candy – the flavours are mostly surface level, and underneath there is a hint of the grains involved, along with a light bitterness, similar in feel to what is found in grapefruit juice. It’s a bit too candy-like for sipping (though not overly sweet), I think – though it is still very interesting and unique in what I’ve tasted. 22.5/30

Finish: A hint of rye comes through lightly at last, along with lots of orange (much like the chewy orange-flavoured vitamin C pills), blackberry, blackcurrant, and even a touch of dry wheat which outlasts the other flavours, though the slight fruitiness sticks through all of it. There’s a nagging touch of slightly sour bitterness. 11.5/15

Conclusion: This whisky is so different than any other that I have tasted that it almost seems more in the category of a brandy or tequila. It’s very interesting. It seems destined for good cocktails, and the fruity kick and bright profile would fit in very well in many cocktails, I think, and could even be substituted with tequila I imagine for a different take on them -but it doesn’t have the strong peppery and vegetal tones and would likely get overwhelmed in a drink like a tequila sunrise, but, substituting this in an el diablo (ginger beer, lime juice, black currant liqueur, and some of this) really brings out both the spiciness of the ginger and the fruitiness of the black currant – Proof (2)and I like it better than the tequila version. Their recommended cocktail, the urban, is also quite wonderful (see proofbrands.com for the recipe). As a sipping whisky, I’m not sure what to think, but as a mixing whisky – this is where my mind is really getting interested. So far, this is the only whisky I have decided to regularly keep on my mixing shelf. 16/20

Overall: 79.5/100

Review: Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve Canadian Whisky

Forty Creek Confed OakWhisky is a fascinating process, packed with flavour, partially because of the amount of time it takes to make whisky. Not only does whisky spend years in a barrel, the flavour for whisky really starts with the wood – which takes years upon years to form before being put into a barrel. This whisky pays homage to that fact in name as the trees from which the barrels come were around 150 years old – meaning that they started to grow in the 1860s – sometime around the time of the Canadian Confederation, which was the process by which Canada was formed into an independent nation in 1867. Hence, it is called “Confederation Oak”, and the the batches are labeled 1867.

John Hall, the whisky maker at Forty Creek, always wanted to see what whisky would taste like which is aged in Canadian Oak, as most whisky is aged in either American or European oak – different species which yield different flavours. Canadian oak is still the same species as American oak, but, because of the harsher winters it tends to be more dense resulting in a slightly different chemical composition interacting with the whisky. At present, this is the only whisky aged in Canadian oak.

Sourcing Canadian oak was not easy, and it happened nearly by accident – John Hall noticed some trees being cut down near the distillery, and went over and ended up buying the three trees. 90 barrels were made out of the trees, and, if my memory serves me correctly, the staves made from the oak were air-dried for 2 full years before being dry enough to make into a barrel. The trees were taken down to the US and made into barrels by the same supplier which makes most of the barrels used to make Kentucky Bourbon. John Hall says they are perhaps the most expensive barrels ever produced with all the work he had to put into them.

This whisky is made in line with the Forty Creek process, with aged, single grain barley, rye, and corn whiskies being blended together before being finished in the Canadian oak barrels for two years. (For more information on the Forty Creek whisky-making process, see my review for Barrel Select). It was originally a special, limited release, but it has been put into the regular lineup. This review is from batch 1867-B, the follow up batch from the original.

Bottle + Presentation: 5/5

Nose: The nose is complex, and multifaceted – there appears to be a grain, cream, fruit, sweet, wood, and spice component all in this one nose, brilliantly integrated together. On the grain side, rye shines through brilliantly, with a fresh bread element – like fresh and hot rye bread. The rye is slighly grassy, reminding me a bit of a an irish pot still type grassiness. On the cream side, there’s wonderful creamy butterscotch and brilliant sweetness in the nose. The creaminess is fascinating – there’s butterscotch, whipped cream, caramel, and vanilla all shining through. On the sweet side, there’s honey, with some floral hints of lavender, and maple, which takes its place ahead of the oak that is present in the nose as well. In terms of spice, there is slight, subtle cinnamon spice and some pepper. I also get some stewed, slightly sour fruit like apricots or plums along with a bit of tartness as with blackberries.The nose evolves, with a bit more smokiness and fruitiness coming out as it sits and I incredibly enjoy appreciating all that is going on. It’s wonderful too, that it changes as you continue to sip through the bottle. On this, my third evaluative tasting, navel orange peel is rising like mad out of the glass. An absolute pleasure. 28.5/30

Taste: Silky smooth, with sweet citrus entry with some orange, as rising rye spice is balanced with beautiful vanilla sweetness which gives way to more vanilla and some nuts. A bit oaky as well, not too much, but just enough. it’s fruity, sometimes even showing some brandy character, as well as some raisins – a touch of a fruitcake comes in at times. A touch smoky, with the signature forty creek toasted oak present in the middle. The sweet/spice dynamic is brilliant, and the fruitiness is just about perfect to compliment the two. And even with that, there’s some intriguing tartness. 28.5/30

Finish: Long, slow, tingly, warming, slightly dry, and sweet. Very pleasant – you can chew on the flavour for some time. A bit earthy, with good depth and some maple syrup, nuts, vanilla, and some grassy rye. The tingly spice is also brilliant, with a touch of clove, and it is one of my favourite mouth experiences. Also, the tartness is also ever so slightly present just asking you to take another sip. As I sip, I find the finish has a bit more and more oak. 14/15

Forty Creek Confed Oak (3)Conclusion: hugely enjoyable with a fantastic (and approachable) flavour profile and brilliant balance. The soft, sweet flavours sit beside the spicy and bolder flavours, and a remarkable amount is going on. This is one of my absolute favourite Canadians, if not my favourite. 19/20

Overall Score: 95/100

 

 

Fast Review: Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve Canadian Whisky

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An image from Forty Creek’s Website

This whisky was originally a special release of Forty Creek, but is now a part of their regular line. Every year John Hall, the whisky maker, drives down to Kentucky to hand-pick the bourbon barrels that go into this whisky – and he doesn’t accept just any old cask – it must match the profile he wants. In the style of forty creek whiskies, the barley, rye, and corn are distilled and aged separately in different casks, and then married together and combined into a bourbon barrel. My sample is from lot no. 240.

For more information on the unique whisky making process at Forty Creek, please see my review for Forty Creek Barrel Select.

Bottle + Presentation: 5/5. fantastic bottle, as with all the other forty creek bottles.

Nose: It’s forty creek with a bourbon edge! there is the Forty Creek signature toasted oak, alongside bourbon aromas of earthy corn, dried apricot, and caramel. Honey and rye comes through very nicely, as well. A nice graininess comes through as well, reminding me of white flour and oats, and, interestingly, hot green pepper. 25/30

Taste: The bourbon flavours make up the base to this one, upon which sit rye, toasted oak, vanilla, a slight sweetness, and cinnamon, a touch of clove, and warm spiciness. There are some dried fruits as well – raisins, prunes, and dried apricots. The toasted oak and wonderful subtle sweetness and spiciness is still present, and is wonderful. There are some strawberry notes too. 26/30

Finish: Dried fruits slowly fade to a slightly dry spiciness and oakiness. Nice mouthfeel as well, with the whisky coating the inside of the mouth and slowly breaking down as well. 13/15

Conclusion: This is quite a wonderful player in forty creek whiskies – and I’ve found the more I have it, the more I like it. The bourbon cask wonderfully complements the forty creek style, and the style is still very much present – the cask does not overwhelm it at all. However, it’s not as deep or as rich as some of the other releases (and I find the price point a little difficult when it’s so much cheaper to go with copper pot or barrel select, which are both fabulous whiskies). 17/20

Overall: 86/100

Review: Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve Canadian Whisky

Forty Creek Copper

This whisky came out in 2012, and since then has become one of my favourites and my pick of choice in general for my staple Canadian whisky – largely because of the incredible flavour and price. Forty Creek Barrel Select, though also a wonderful whisky, sits $2.50 less than Copper Pot….and I think it is worth paying every cent of that extra $2.50 for this version.

For general information on the unique Forty Creek whisky making process, see my review for Barrel Select. Copper Pot is created with a blend of single grain rye, malt, and corn whiskies which are then blended together and re-barreled before bottling. Copper Pot comes in at 43%, higher than the nearly ubiquitous 40% for Canadian whiskies – which much better suits this whisky.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5. The copper colour on this one looks much better in the design and appeal, at least to me, than on the barrel select.

Nose: Much bolder than the barrel select; the signature forty creek toasted oak comes forth, alongside port, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla, raisins. It’s fairly complex – even with a touch of mint and a sense of some sweetness! Caramel develops as the glass airs. I find I also get traces of chocolate and a bit of earthiness, and even a few wisps of smoke. 26.5/30

Taste: Fairly smooth citrus entry with some good nice oakiness (lots of toasted oak!). Spicy rye builds up followed by a vanilla fade followed by warming dry rye once again. The whole whisky has a bit of a port wine feel to it also. The whisky also can seem to change as you drink it, as if you are drinking a different one every time. Toasted oak, cloves, honey, and a bit of nuttiness also feature. There’s some good underlying sweetness throughout as well, and pretty nice mouthfeel as well…quite brilliant. 27.5 /30

Finish: A long dry lingering spicy rye finish, with some nuttiness and a touch of grape juice. Eventually the spice dies down to vanilla, particularly if one drinks some water after. After some time there is even some black olive coming through…which to me is a manifestation and development of some of the earthiness found in the nose. 13/15

Forty Creek Copper (2)Conclusion: Very good (especially for the price!). Complex and interesting, with good spice and flavor balance. The finish is great and leaves a spicy and dry aftertaste. The finish even seems to nicely affect the water that is drank after the whisky. 18/20

Overall: 89.5/100

 

Review: Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky

An image from the Forty Creek website (fortycreekwhisky.com)

An image of barrel select from the forty creek website (fortycreekwhisky.com)

Forty Creek is one of my favourite lines of Canadian Whisky, and at last I am getting around to providing some reviews. There really isn’t any member of the line not worth drinking, even the sister whisky Canada Gold. They’re complex, fruity, and oaky – and for me they all have a very signature toasted oak flavour to them.

John K. Hall, the whisky maker at Forty Creek Distillery (named so because it is located by Forty Mile Creek, a creek originally thought to be located forty miles from Niagara Falls), uses a unique process for his whiskies, inspired by his past as a winemaker. Each grain (barley, rye, and malted barley) is distilled, and aged separately. They are only distilled once, in one of two copper old eau-de-vie pot stills. The larger of these John Hall modified so that there is more reflux (alcohol that recondenses along the inside of the still, resulting in more copper contact and a lighter spirit) and so that the new make spirit comes off the still at 60 to 72%. Last fall I took some pictures of the two stills:

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The larger 5000 litre still

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IMG_0753

The smaller 500 litre still

After each grain has been distilled, it is aged separetly in different barrels according to  the grain type. The rye is aged in lightly toasted barrels, the barley in medium toasted barrels, and the corn in heavily charred barrels. This is, as Hall says, to bring out the fruitiness and spiciness of the rye, the nuttiness of the barley, and the heartiness of the corn. Having tasted each of these individually, the barley whisky does stand up well as a single malt, and the corn whisky tastes like a decent bourbon too – but the rye is surprising because it is light and floral. In the absence of heavy wood influence, rye can be surprisingly light and delicate – often you would assume it would be big and spicy, but not necessarily – the spice may come from the rye, but the “size” of the spirit, often, is not.

Once the single grain whiskies have been aged in a temperature and humidity controlled warehouse, they are then blended and re-barrelled according to the whisky being produced. “Barrel select”, the flagship rye of Forty Creek, is so named because no two barrels of whisky taste the same – each are hand selected. Some young barrels taste “older”, and some older barrels taste “younger”, depending on the barrel, even in a climate controlled warehouse. Barrel select is formed from single grain whiskies typically 6-10 years old, after which time they are blended and further aged in a sherry cask.

Bottle + Presentation: 4/5. At first I didn’t like the bottle much, but it has been growing on me of late.

Nose: Quite the nose! Spicy rye, vanilla, marmelade, and a very distinctive toasted oak smell. A bit of lighter tropical fruit, almost like guavas. Oak also comes through, with heavy vanilla notes and caramel. The spiciness in the rye is very inviting. Additionally, it’s quite creamy, with scents of buttercream. The vanilla, the rye, the toasted oak are all quite prominent and well balanced. Black currants, plums, and orange peel are also to be found lift the nose to be fresh and light – in some ways, the fruitiness is reminiscent of port wine. Cinnamon is present in the nose too, which builds as it sits…26.5/30

Taste: Slightly viscous, with a dry rye spice build up, which dies down and subsides to vanilla and a reasonably complex grain taste and toasted wood. In the middle, malt seems to come a tiny bit forward with a bit of a grassy note, and creaminess from corn also comes in. Fruity, with a bit of a sherry note, and a few dried berries seem to emerge at the end with some of that marmelade from the nose. The spices tingle slightly at the end, with touches of clove and ginger. The toasted oak plays center stage, with the rye vying heavily for it. The sweetness is at a great level, I think too, for this whisky – just enough, but not too much for the profile. 25/30

Finish: A bit dry…light with a bit of rye and the oak, but it’s not very complex or engaging. I find that as I drink more the spices come out a bit more, which I certainly don’t mind, with come cinnamon and ginger and white pepper. A bit of the creaminess comes through as well, as well as a bit of black currant after some time…I did hope for a bit more than this after the nose and taste. 11/15

Conclusion: Great for the value; with a beautiful nose, enjoyable and complex taste, a bit of a lacking finish. Very enjoyable, and incredible value – good to sip and also good to mix. Additionally, I have to say, the flavour profile of Barrel Select is just about perfect for a rye and coke, and is my rye of choice for the drink as the flavour does not get lost or forgotten, but still wonderfully complements the coke. 16/20

Overall Score: 82.5/100

Review: Canada Gold Canadian Whisky

Canada Gold (2) This whisky is made at Forty Creek Distillery, under the supervision of John K. Hall like other Forty Creek whiskies. When I was there a year ago, John Hall said that it was their “budget whisky”, which he deemed important for a whisky brand – likely because barrels can be re-used beyond their normal life. However, it is 24.95 vs. 26.95 for barrel select, in Ontario, so the difference is not that large. It can be difficult to find, and is getting harder and harder to find in Ontario – so we’ll see what happens with this one.

Bottle + Presentation: 3/5. These PET bottles are probably my least favourite of all, but I can’t give lower than a 3/5 for a whisky which costs less than $25. The label is decent.

Nose: A bit of sharp rye comes through on the nose, a touch of sherry, and I get some other dried fruit – mainly prunes, both in the scent and the slight tartness. I get some raspberries as well, with vanilla emerging more with time. There’s a touch of slight astingency in the nose as well. 22/30

Taste: Quite sweet, with some honey notes and a nice balance of tartness and spice, and I also get a bit of sherry. Goes down quite easily, with some tingling spices as well. It’s a bit raw still, but it isn’t bad at all. There are some berry notes of raspberry as well and a few touches here and there of vanilla, ginger, and toasted oak. The balance is good, the acidity is enticing, and the spiciness is compelling…I’m impressed! The astringency from the nose is slightly present in the taste, but less than I expected. 24.5/30

Finish: Finishes with some grainy notes, with the slight sweetness carrying through – which is actually a wonderful support for the light oak which is also present. The spices are slight, but slightly present. It’s short, and could be bigger – but it’s well done. 11.5/15

Canada GoldConclusion: There really isn’t much that is “off” with this whisky. It is straightforward, a bit simple and raw, but enjoyable. Not one that would detract from mixing, and certainly one you wouldn’t mind casually sipping though it’s not one to command your attention as the best do. 15.5/20

Overall: 76.5/100