Review: Islay Mist Aged 8 Years Blended Scotch Whisky

Islay Mist 8This is a blended scotch which includes a number of whiskies, of which the core component is Laphroaig. It can give someone a budget introduction to smoky islay whiskies, as these are often love or hate first (expensive) experiences – but this one doesn’t show the complexity, grace, and power of many of the Islay malts.

Bottle + Presentation: 4/5

Nose: Light lemon peel, orange, apple, combined with some light smoke and vanilla, and some raw almonds. At times it’s a bit sour and slightly stale and bitter. It could use a bit more complexity, but it is light and pleasant as is with the interplay of the citrus and smoke. 24.5/30

Taste: A bit of the smoky peat comes in with a bit of bitterness (which is ever so slightly present throughout), and there’s an odd bit of sourness which is misplaced. The sweetness builds towards the end, but the whisky sort of collapses into the finish. It’s a bit raw, almost – but as I drink more I become more accustomed to it and notice more of the underlying richness and sweetness. 23/30

Finish: It sort of collapses on the finish, and there is a light peppery smoke which sits on the front of the tongue. There’s a bit of sweet vanilla as well, with some cinnamon, almond, a bit of earthiness, green apples, some light malt, and a touch of salt. It has decent length, but could do with a bit more flavour. 11/15

Conclusion: The nose is a bit intriguing but the taste doesn’t match up to the expectations. Elements of it speak clearly enough, and well, but the combination of all the elements is a bit discordant and cacophonous. Originally, I was interested to see if this one would work as a peaty mixer for a fewIslay Mist 8 (3) interesting peaty cocktails – so I don’t have to waste money or spend good scotch on them. It works ok – it still doesn’t have enough peaty kick for cocktails that demand the peaty levels of a laphroaig or similar – but it is quite a decent peaty mixer and I can usually make do with it. 15.5/20

Overall: 78/100

 

Review: Grant’s Family Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky

When Glenfiddich was founded (1887), there wasn’t a single malt market when glenfiddich formed – the money was in blends. So, in 1898 William Grant’s family launched the blend as a product alongside their single malts. It’s bottled in same triangular bottle as glenfiddich – and they are owned by the same company so this is not surprising at all.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5.

Nose: Heathery peat is the first thing that comes out, fig, vanilla, overall with a texture of creaminess and slight spiciness. Some maltiness comes through, along with some cherries, milk chocolate – it’s quite complex, and dense. Lots of honey comes through, alongside sultana raisins. The grains bring out a slightly stale and very lightly bitter character, which I do not like the effect of too much. 25/30

Taste: Much softer than the nose, with a wonderful side of smoke alongside the malt, with apples, sultana raisins, prunes, almonds, oak, honey and a rich malty character also coming through. There is some graininess that comes through, and a bit of grassy character. The sweetness is just in balance, in this one, I find. I also find that the smokiness fades as I drink more and I notice it well. There’s a good level of tartness, too – it makes the whisky very easy to drink. 26/30

Finish: Slightly smoky and very clean – it’s good. There’s some malt, honey, raisins, cinnamon, and almond. The smokiness fades pretty quickly. The almond is quite distinct, I find, especially after some time sipping- it’s quite nice – like a fresh almond with the skin still on. 13/15

Conclusion: I really like this blend – I think it is complex, rich, and tasty. The nose is fairly engaging, and matches up with the well balanced profile quite well. And, at the price, I don’t know who would complain… 16.5/20

Overall: 85/100

Review: Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

An image from the Jack Daniel’s Website

Jack Daniel’s, the founder of this famed distillery in Tennesse, at 14 years old ran away from his stepmother and lived with his lay uncle preacher, in louse creek tennessee, where whiskey was distilled. As his uncle went to fight in the war, and he learned how to distill from a slave of his uncle, Nearest Green. Soon enough, Jack set up business for himself, moved to Cave Spring with Nearest Green’s sons. And this is where distillery still is – a county which is dry, interestingly enough – so although lots is produced there, none can be drunk there. A common misconception with this whiskey is that it uniquely uses a “sour mash” process, when in fact this is the common practice of most bourbons.

Here we have the biggest selling whisky/whiskey in the world, drunk well all over the world. It is made in Tennessee, where it undergoes the Lincoln County Process, where the new make spirit off the still is filtered through charcoal before being put into the barrels. This has the effect of filtering out some elements from the distillation – notably harsher elements. To be called “Tennessee whiskey” it must undergo this process.

Bottle + Presentation: 4.5/5.

Nose: Oak and maple come out, with a good dose of honey and slightly peppery spice. The aroma itself is a bit sour, with lots of corn coming through, orange peel, eucalyptus, vanilla, apple, and floral notes of daisies, with a slightly creamy and oily texture. The nose itself smells quite sweet, but it is pleasant. 25/30

Taste: Slightly grainy, with some buttery corn, caramel, vanilla, maple, apricot, and some distinct rye notes. It’s quite sweet, which seems to enhance the honey in the taste. It’s almost a bit tart, surprisingly enough, and at times tastes a bit sour. Overall, it’s decent but a bit flat and could use some more complexity, depth, and excitement. 23.5/30

Finish: A touch dry, with lots of spice and some more corn and some tannins. I feel the spiciness on the back of the tongue, and there’s a bit of oak as well and some very light fruity notes and a bit malty and sweet. If the finish were a bit less dry and less grainy, it would do better. 11.5/15

Conclusion: The whisky is ok, but not great. It’s a bit sour and tart, but it is certainly distinctive. It is pleasant, easy going, and a bit unexciting – but drinkable and very mixable. Though it’s an extremely simple cocktail, this is one of my favourites with coke. 15.5/20

Overall: 80/100

Review: Canadian Mist Canadian Whisky

Canadian Mist 1This whisky is distilled at Collingwood Distillery, a town about 150 km north of Toronto. It is a distillery owned by Brown-Forman (who also own Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve) which was developed to create Canadian whiskies tailored to American palates. Initially, Canadian Mist was formulated for one market and made in this single distillery. The distillery now also produces Canadian Mist Black Diamond and Collingwood. According to Davin De Kergommeaux’s excellent book, Canadian Whisky, Canadian Mist is made from a single base nearly 100% corn whisky and a flavourful rye whisky (which we tasted the likes of in Collingwood 21 Year Old). The corn is fermented for a shorter time (about 3 days), bringing out cereal and nutty notes, and the rye is fermented for about 5 days, which enhances floral and fruity flavours.

Though this bottle was bought in Canada, it even says “Imported from Canada” on the label – it is all bottled in Kentucky. The bottle says it is at least 36 months old on the label, which means, for sure, that there is a good bit of young spirit in it. In Canada, the definition of “whisky” is that it is aged at least 36 months, so this doesn’t really add much to the value.

Bottle + Presentation: 4/5.

Nose: Fruit comes nicely off the nose, with some white grape, granny smith apples, and gooseberries. A bit of this “whitish” fruit is similar to that found in Collingwood, the premium brother to this whisky also produced at the same distillery. It’s a fairly light nose, with some bourbon nods and some corn aromas. There’s also a slight bit of malt coming through, and a good amount of dry oak as well. It’s a bit spirity, and has a bit of a meaty character, which detracts a bit. Vanilla, as usual, comes out increasingly as the glass sits. It has a bit of a spicy edge (which doesn’t meld too well with the harshness of the nose), though it doesn’t resemble clear spices to me. 22.5/30

Taste: Still a decent amount of fruit, with some young corn flavours and rye spiciness coming in with more force than noticed on the nose. There is some movement, as the palate starts largely with fruit and moves towards more oak, maple, cedar, and vanilla near the end, with a bit of spice. It tastes quite young, which lends some harshness and raw-ness which doesn’t help the effort. Because I get many of the harsher, young notes, and still a decent amount of wood, I wonder if they blended some old whiskies into a generally young whisky blend to give some backbone. There’s also a really interesting flavour, perhaps from the yeast, that is reminding me of plain greek yoghurt, interestingly enough! At the end, there’s a bit too much undue bitterness – but it doesn’t detract as much as it might. Overall, as well, it is a bit sweet. 22/30

Finish: The flavour does a good job of continuing on the palate after swallowing, but is a bit flat and fairly quickly fades off to a bit of bitterness, but doesn’t die out for some time. The finish is fruity, but a bit darker than the nose and the finish with some earthiness and a bit of rye spiciness. 11/15

Canadian Mist 2Conclusion: One thing I like about this whisky is that there’s a bit of movement – the nose is light and fruity, and the palate goes a bit heavier and darker until, I find, the finish is the darkest and heaviest of all. However, it’s a bit raw and unpleasant – despite some promising elements of light fruitiness and some decent bourbon notes on the nose. 14.5/20

Overall: 74/100

My Top 15 “Mid-Range” Canadian Whiskies (Sept. 2014)

I recently posted a list of my top 10 Canadian budget whiskies, so now begs the question – what happens if you find 10 dollars on your way to the liquor store and have $40 to spend? Of course, the definition of “mid-range” could be widely varied, but, because at this point there aren’t too many whiskies over $50, if I increase the price much more the list will start to look like my report card.  I spent much of the summer doing head to head tastings of my top 31 Canadian whiskies available in Ontario costing less than $40. Here are the top 15, of whiskies which were available in Ontario in 2013:

Top “Mid-range” Canadian Whiskies

  1. Pike Creek 10 Year Old, $40

Fruit and spice, juxtaposed together brilliantly – this is Pike Creek – a spicy rye finished in port barrels. To be honest, whether this or Lot no. 40 hits the top of this list is likely more dependent on my mood than anything else. If I want a slightly sweeter, more overtly fruity whisky still with some good rye spice bite- I take Pike Creek. If I want a more broadly spicy, bolder whisky – I pick Lot no. 40. In fact, some days, I might arrange my top 3 as lot no. 40, forty creek copper pot, and then pike creek. But, today, I give it to Pike Creek.

  1. Lot no. 40, $40

A 100% malted rye whisky full of complexity, spice, and fruit.

  1. Forty Creek Copper Pot, $30

Spicy, Fruity, Complex, Elegant…much like the ones above. This was number one on my budget list, and you can see that even with an extra 10$ added to the cap, this whisky still holds its own very well.

  1. Century Reserve Lot 15/25, $33

A 100% corn whisky from Highwood Distillers which includes stocks between 15 and 25 years old – yet it’s still surprisingly spicy and reminiscent of rye.

  1. Hiram Walker Special Old, $25

A wonderful spicy rye coming from Hiram Walker distillery – forgive the tacky bottle and you’ll find some pretty great stuff inside.

  1. Alberta Premium Dark Horse, $30

This dark, fruity whisky comes in at 45% and has some controversy associated with it due to the small amounts of sherry added to the whisky during blending – regardless, it tastes pretty good.

  1. Crown Royal Limited Edition, $40

This whisky is light and elegant, and packed with fruit. It’s always one I often introduce to people just starting with Canadian whisky, and I quite like it, though it’s quite a bit lighter than the previous 6 whiskies on this list.

  1. Canadian Club Small Batch Classic, $28

A 12 year old “small batch” offering from Canadian Club, it has a wonderful combination of earthiness and spice.

  1. Wiser’s Small Batch, $30

A wonderful spicy offering with a bit lacking on the nose and finish, which it well makes up for in its delivery on the palate.

10. Schenley Golden Wedding $25

Serving you good rye since 1856.

11. Stalk and Barrel Special 1+11 Blend, $40

This whisky comes out of the Still Waters craft distillery near Toronto, Ontario – a true “blended” Canadian whisky from different distillery sources, bottled without added colour or chill-filtration in the truest craft sense. It’s in great demand and they can’t keep up with it at Still Waters.

12. Royal Canadian Small Batch, $40

A whisky made from a blending of barrels from a large stock bought by Sazerac a few years ago. Well done, complex, and subtle – done in line with the Canadian style.

13. Centenniel 10 year old, $27

A wheat whisky from highwood distillers in High River, Alberta, consisting of wheat and rye – from the Canadian distillery which specializes in production of wheat whisky.

14. Crown Royal Black, $33

A bit of a “bolder” Crown Royal, though still holding to their elegant and rich style. Though not that much larger in body than the usual Crown Royals, it treads the line between bold and delicate pretty well.

15. Seagram’s VO, $25

Also a whisky that has been in production a long time, since its initial production for a wedding in the early 20th century and a key illicit whisky during American prohibition.

 

*it should be noted that $40 is an arbitrary number and there are some fabulous whiskies just a few dollars more than this, including Danfield’s 21 Year Old ($45, which would easily top this list if $45 were the mark), and Century Reserve 21 Year old at $48. But, then, it’s a unforgiving cycle and we’re fast approaching the even better Wiser’s Legacy ($50), and Crown Royal Reserve ($53).

The whiskies evaluated in this tasting series were: Alberta Premium, Alberta Premium Dark Horse, Alberta Springs 10 Y.O., Canada Gold, Canadian 83, Canadian Club, Canadian Club Reserve, Canadian Club Small Batch Classic, Canadian Club Small Batch Sherry Cask, Centenniel 10 Year Old, Century Reserve Lot 15/25, Crown Royal Deluxe, Crown Royal Black, Crown Royal Limited Edition, Forty Creek Barrel Select, Forty Creek Copper Pot, Gibson’s 12 Year Old, Gibson’s Sterling, Hiram Walker Special Old, Lot no. 40, Pike Creek 10 Y.O., Proof, Royal Canadian Small Batch, Schenley Golden Wedding, Schenley OFC, Seagram’s V.O., Stalk & Barrel 1+11, White Owl, Wiser’s Deluxe, and Wiser’s Small Batch.

My Top 10 Budget Canadian Whiskies (Sept. 2014)

One of my hopes ever since I started the blog was to release a list of my favourite budget Canadian whiskies, for a number of reasons:

  • There are a number of quite decent budget Canadian whiskies
  • It is a great way to start appreciating Canadian whiskies, and there are certainly some budget Canadian whiskies that are not very good, and won’t bring you back wanting much more from Canada
  • For those just learning to appreciate whisky in general, there is no need to break the bank – there are good, complex whiskies that cost less per serving than a decent beer or glass of wine

Over all my tastings of Canadian whiskies i selected my top 20 generally available (in Ontario) “budget” whiskies , defining “budget” to be less than 30 Canadian dollars in Ontario in 2014. All 20 are listed at the bottom of this post. I created this list by a series of head-to-head tastings involving 2 of each of these whiskies (a lengthy project!). Listed below are my top 10, listed with the Ontario price per 750 ml. As a reference for those not in Ontario, the cheapest 750 ml bottles you can get here are $24.

 Top Budget Canadian Whiskies

  1. Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve, $30
  • Spicy, Fruity, Complex, and even at 43%. I can’t really recommend this whisky highly enough, particularly because of the price. It has all the elegance of Forty Creek Barrel Select, but with added complexity and boldness. This is the Canadian whisky I offer to guests – and it is just good drinking.
  1. Hiram Walker Special Old, $25
  • A wonderful spice-loaded, but not too heavy, rye coming from Hiram Walker distillery – forgive the tacky bottle and you’ll find some pretty great stuff inside.
  1. Alberta Premium Dark Horse, $30
  • This dark, fruity whisky comes in at 45% and has some controversy associated with it due to the small amounts of sherry added to the whisky during production- regardless, it tastes pretty good.
  1. Canadian Club Small Batch Classic 12, $28
  • A 12 year old “small batch” offering from Canadian Club, it has a wonderful combination of earthiness and spice.
  1. Wiser’s Small Batch, $30
  • A wonderful spicy offering with a bit lacking on the nose and finish, which it well makes up for in its delivery on the palate.
  1. Schenley Golden Wedding, $25
  • A “marriage” of three whiskies of different ages to capture the characteristics of each. They’ve been making this one a long time (since 1856!)
  1. Seagram’s VO, $25
  • Also a whisky that has been in production a long time, since its initial production for a wedding in the early 20th century and a key illicit whisky during American prohibition.
  1. Centenniel 10 year old., $27
  • A wheat whisky from highwood distillers in High River, Alberta, consisting of wheat and rye – from the Canadian distillery which specializes in production of wheat whisky.
  1. Canadian Club Reserve, $27
  • A nine year old offering from Canadian Club with more rye grain in the recipe than other Canadian Club offerings, resulting in a bit of a spicier character in places.

10. Forty Creek Barrel Select, $27

  • This whisky is fabulous, accessible, with a brilliant nose. It’s the bottom of the lineup at Forty Creek, but it’s a good one.

*It should be noted that if the “budget” threshold were $33, then Century Reserve Lot 15/25 would have been the number 2 whisky on this list.

 

I recommend all of the whiskies on the list, though I don’t think they’re all equally approachable. The distribution of Canadian whiskies isn’t great to countries beyond the US (and even that is limited), so if you are from elsewhere and are looking into Canadian whisky hopefully you can find one or two bottlings to help you start.

The whiskies evaluated in this tasting series were: Alberta Premium, Alberta Premium Dark Horse, Alberta Springs 10 Y.O., Canada Gold, Canadian 83, Canadian Club Premium, Canadian Club Reserve, Canadian Club Small Batch Classic, Centenniel 10 Year Old, Crown Royal Deluxe, Forty Creek Barrel Select, Forty Creek Copper Pot, Gibson’s 12 Year Old, Gibson’s Sterling, Hiram Walker Special Old, Schenley Golden Wedding, Schenley OFC, Seagram’s V.O., Wiser’s Deluxe, and Wiser’s Small Batch.

I also included whiskies up to 40$ in my tasting competitions, and I will post a “mid-range” list soon. For a non-cost constrained opinion, see my report card.

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