In 7 days, Cask 17 at Still Waters Distillery will be 3 years old, and thus, legally of age to be called whisky. I believe it is coming out on the 25th of this month (about 290 bottles, at 46%), and I eagerly anticipate the release as their new make (the distilled product before put into the barrel) is the best new make I’ve ever had, and when I matured some of my own the result was great – and I can just imagine how much better it would be done properly in a good (full size) cask. The rye they make is from 100% Ontario rye, a mix of malted and unmalted. Expect it to be spicy!
Still Waters distillery was established in 2009, in Concord, Ontario – in an area you might not expect to find a distillery, that is, amidst industrial warehousing on the outskirts of Toronto. It was the craft distillery in Ontario to start producing whisky, and the only current source of Ontario Single Malt. It was founded by Barry Stein and Barry Barnstein, and the distillery produces Rye, Single Malt, and Corn whisky – they have also put away a few barrels of wheat whisky to see what comes from that. Alongside this, they also produce an award-winning blended whisky, Stalk & Barrel Special 1+11 Blend, which has sold so well that they can’t keep up with demand (though, really, this is on the supply side rather than their side as the components of the blend are sourced.
Along with this, they also produce a gin for the Georgian Bay Gin Company, which is difficult to find at the moment but should become more available in Ontario soon enough. They also make an award winning vodka from single malt, and have also produced a brandy (which, though I am no brandy expert, tasted excellent and I am glad to have snatched up a bottle). All this comes out of their small 450 litre copper pot still – though they will soon add a stripping still as well. On another interesting note, they only use flour to create their beer to distill – no grist (“chunks” of grain). Their whisky is matured in ex-bourbon barrels.
Reviews: Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Cask 1, 8, and 11 So, on to some reviews. I got a bottle of cask 1 (62.3%) shortly after it was released, and recently was able to also pick up cask 8 (46%) and cask 11 (62.3%). I chose cask 8 and 11 out of a number I tasted, as I liked them. As the products are from the same family, and familiar, here are my general tasting notes for their product, followed by cask-specific tasting notes.They are made from 100% Canadian barley, and not coloured or chill-filtered (as can be expected from craft operations!).
Overall Tasting Notes
Nose: First, just as a note – it’s sharper at cask strength, and a bit more broad (well, based on my sample size of 3 casks). There’s a defining oily, and grassy floral character – a bit like the fresh cut grass notes you get in chamomile. The floral nature reminds me a bit of Glenora Single Malt, or Cardhu. A nuttiness comes through, mainly showcasing almonds. The fruit is largely apple, or pear – ranging from fresh and green to baked or boiled and mashed (i.e. applesauce). To varying degrees, spice is present – mainly ginger, but sometimes a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg. The maltiness in the nose is also present, though to varying degrees, and it seems to compete with the fruit for the backbone of the nose – but that depends on the cask, at least from these three samples. At times, too, it’s a bit buttery. I have also found that the nose improves as the whisky sits – both in a glass over time and in an emptier bottle – it lightens up a bit and the fruit becomes a bit more vibrant.
Taste: The oily, slightly floral quality definitely takes its place here, supported by the nuttiness and the malt, to varying degrees. Vanilla is present – but in quite varying degrees between the casks, and the sweetness level is also different between the casks. The bourbon is present, to varying degrees, and fruitiness – though a lot less than let on by the nose. That said, it isn’t difficult to think of baked apples stuffed with nuts and honey when you’re sipping these.
Finish: Spicy and a bit drying, with an impressive amount of oak for the age. It can be a bit dense, seeming like a concentration of wood notes and woody spices – but largely, the finish is quite different for the three casks reviewed here in terms of what stands out and what dominates.
Conclusion: These don’t seem like 3 year old whiskies to me – the wood has done good work in little time. The style, frankly, isn’t my favourite for malts – but as I’ve sampled these over the last two weeks they have certainly grown on me – especially as I have spent my time nosing them. The rich nuttiness, bourbon notes, and woody, spicy edge have done some of their magic on me and I took my first sips thinking these were low 80s but found that over my tastings the score has crept much higher than that.
I prefer them at cask strength – on the palate I find 46% decent, but I long for a bit more body as the spirit is somewhat light. At cask strength, it is bigger on the palate and the finish. However, I know whiskies at such high ABV are difficult for some.
Cask no. 1 Review
This cask was filled December 1, 2009 (at 60.6%), into a new oak cask. On April 4, 2012 it was moved to cask 40 for finishing (first fill ex-bourbon). It was at 61.7% at this point. It was bottled April 16, 2013 (at 62.3%), producing 209 bottles. (As an aside, the still waters website has lots of cask information).
This cask is darker than cask 11, which isn’t surprising because it spent some time in new oak.
Nose: At times, unfortunately, there’s a bit of that nagging staleness with this one. I find this one has a bit more oak than the other expressions, and with that, more caramel and a bit more of a “stewed” character – the apple and pear seem to come in the form of apple or pear crumble, with notes of apricot and raspberry jam. Interestingly enough, though this one spent the least amount of time in a bourbon cask, I find the corn and bourbon notes the strongest in this one – but they still only play second fiddle. A bit of a bakery in here – banana bread, gingerbread, with a slight sour character a bit like the tartness of plum jam. And, I think, it’s a bit more earthy on the nose than the others. 24.5/30 (82%)
Taste: I find the flavour is better at cask strength, I think – the vanilla, and creaminess come through more and it develops a bit better. On a continued tasting of this one, I noticed more bourbon and an earthy character that the others do not have. It’s quite rich, I find – which is nice, with all the dried and baked fruit notes and the nuttiness. But, there’s more corn here from the bourbon than elsewhere – and the earthiness seems to be springing out of that. Of the three, this one is the “darkest”, and heaviest, and I think I like it the most. 26/30 (87%)
Finish: This one definitely has dried fruits (raisins and apricot) to a capacity none of the others do. There’s also vanilla in larger degree than I saw in either the nose or the palate, and even a bit of spearmint! And oak and apple come forth…amazing the oakiness here in a three year old whisky. The finish is much bigger in the cask strength expressions, I find, and this is the best of the lot. 17.5/20 (88%)
Conclusion: Of the lot, I think this is my favourite – though I might even say that cask 11 is more complex and cask 8 is a bit better balanced. Cask 1 is more woody, and, carries a nice earthy bourbon character to it that I really like. The fruitiness tends more towards dried rather than fresh or candied, which is also a component I like. 18/20 (90% )
Overall Score: 86/100
Cask No. 8 Review
Nose: The nose is definitely a bit more tamed (though it’s never that wild, I suppose) in a lower strength. This one carries some good nuttiness of roasted cashews, and the fruit is very candied – like banana laffy taffy and apple skittles. There is a slight bit of vanilla in the background – it is, perhaps, the best balanced nose of the lot. Vanilla comes out with a bit more force as it sits, and this sweetens it, but as it continues to sit I just notice more and more nuttiness. Along with the cashews previously mentioned, there is also nuttiness to it like ground raw almonds (so you know I’m not totally making this up…at Christmastime I tend to make my own marzipan, but I leave the skins on, and this smells like the mashed almonds), and pastry from pie that is getting brown. apple starburst. 26/30 (87%)
Taste: Fairly sharp, and a bit sweeter than let on from the nose. It has moderate “grip”, which I would attribute to it’s acidity and slight spicy undertone (though it’s not huge). A bit of bourbon appears at the end of the palate, with some grape, but it does seem a bit “untamed” to me- and young. Wood does some wonderful work to break down some bits that seem “oily” to me in new make spirit – and I think I would like a bit more time in wood for this one. After tasting with the cask strength expressions, though, it seems a bit watery…a few tastings into this I also found an intriguing cucumber note in this, which sort of lead into the green beans on the finish, as you’ll soon read. 24.5/30 (82%)
Finish: Some oak, with some caramel-accented malt coming through as well, and a bit of clove and some earthiness emerges out of nowhere! A bit oily, but of the kind I don’t like too much. It can seem a bit dense, too, with the spices – as if woody without specific woods coming forth. There’s also some green beans in the finish, oddly enough, in the finish, which I have found on repeated tastings. 16.5/20 (83%)
Conclusion: I would actually be interested to see how this one would fare in a sherry cask. A bit less vanilla would I think less bring out the floral nature, but some more raisin and spice notes typically arising in sherry casks might compliment the nuttiness and fruit in this spirit. However, I do wish for a bit more flavour in this spirit – at times it’s a bit simple. 16.5/20 (83%)
Overall Score: 83.5/100
Cask no. 11 Review
Nose: Of the three, the fruit seems the freshest here – fresh apple, fresh banana – this one also has perhaps the most creamy texture of the three (though I wouldn’t call it that creamy) – and some of those banana notes start to morph into banana pudding if you stick to it. Some of the fruit is a bit candied – but still not as much as cask 8. Beneath it all, there’s a good bit of malt – I think it’s more noticeable than cask no. 1 but not as much as cask 8. Also, I think, it’s the nuttiest of the three – roasted cashews (primarily) and almonds (secondarily) are definitely in the mix, and from time to time I find myself thinking of nutella. And, as I mentioned the creaminess earlier – there are notes of a vanilla buttery-ness to this one too (this one has the most vanilla on the nose). And, breezing in and out of this one, from time to time, is some bourbon. 25/30 (83%)
Taste: Sweeter, I think, than cask 1 – and has quite a complex and slightly less character, which is also longer. There’s more maltiness here than cask 1, and there’s a slight spicy nutmeg note, and a bit of dryness and the lightest touch of bitterness. The most vanilla of any of the palates is present here, and the nuttiness is very rich. It’s a bit lighter, fruitier, with a bit more malt character than cask 1. There is a bit of a candied fruit note, as seen from time to time on the nose, and some of the tannins in the oak effect quite a bit of “texture” to this palate. 25.5/30 (85%)
Finish: A bit of sharp apple, I think, with a good kick of spice. also a bit of an effect similar to baking soda in feel, which is a bit unfortunate. However, it’s of decent body and..sure enough, once all else fades, you realize you are left with oak. 17.5/20 (88%)
Conclusion: I think this one is a bit more malty, with a bit less caramel than cask 1. I think it is the most complex on the nose, and the fruit is just brilliant in this..altogether I find it is a whisky I am wanting more and more of. 17.5/20 (88%)
Overall I have found, as I’ve sat more with Stalk & Barrel Single Malt and tasted more of it, that it has grown on me and I will enjoy my bottles all the way. I like the slight spiciness, with the light malt and the oily, buttery character – but overall this isn’t my favourite style of malt. It is really neat to taste from different casks and discern out the differences
Overall Score: 85.5/100