My Favorite Drams of 2015

IMG_20150711_214833805As I complied this list, I have realized that they were special beyond simply tasting spectacular. On that note, there is only one reason that I was able to taste all of these – friends. Particularly with rare, expensive, and/or inaccessible bottles – no one needs all of them, but everyone wants to taste all of them, and the solution to this problem is friends in a whisky community. If you don’t have any, I recommend joining a site such as Connosr to see if there are any enthusiasts in your area. Broadly, I have found, the whisky community is eager and generous – a very great quality indeed.

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My Favorite “Standard Drams” of 2015

IMG_4430As the end of the year approaches, I was thinking back to some of my most enjoyable drams over this past year – standard whiskies, not special releases or necessarily the best – but whiskies that I simply thoroughly enjoyed. As much as there is always hype over special releases – understandably, as they provide something new and different – standard bottlings often don’t get their due.

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Home Smoked Whisky – why not?

IMG_1570  I’ve always loved cooking, and the way flavors come together – but experimentation for me in food has largely been brought on from cocktails. Just a year ago, really, I was exposed to some of the art of cocktails through some pretty fantastic bars (notably Bar Chef in Toronto) – and was quickly mesmerized with all the unique and quick (usually…) pairings that can be created in a cocktail. All this to say – this has brought a lot more food experimentation in my life.

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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.

***As I have tasted other whiskies in this category since, here is a list, which I will try to keep updating, of ones that likely would have made the list if they were available at the time:

Do Open Bottles of Whisky Keep?

Had a number of discussions recently on this topic, so I thought I’d repost this entry. Sku also has an excellent entry on this topic at http://recenteats.blogspot.ca/2011/03/whiskey-wednesday-whiskey-age-and.html

Whisky Won

I have been told that one of the benefits of whisky is that it is supposed to keep very well once opened, and many of my friends and simple (perhaps not directly whisky related) online forums seem to suggest this.  However, I was interested to explore this after some of my own observations.

I recently had another go at a bottle of mine (century reserve lot 15-25), and noticed it wasn’t quite what I had remembered. I had noticed before with peaty scotch that the peat diminishes over time as the bottle remains open, but I wasn’t sure how things would go with rye and bourbon. As Century Reserve Lot 15-25 is a good quality and relatively cheap whisky I decided to purchase a new bottle and compare how the new bottle was to the old one.

I had bought the old bottle roughly one year ago, and had kept…

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My rye: Out of the barrel and into the glass!

IMG_1390 (Large)On April 16, I took out my rye from the barrel (if you haven’t followed this story, please see here) – it kept getting better, but it was getting pretty good and I didn’t want to lose too much to evaporation. 430 mls came out at 59%, which was a marked improvement from the 44% (590 mls) that went into the barrel. So, all in all, it spent 2 weeks in a medium char new white American oak cask, and an additional 6 weeks and 2 days in a “bourbon” cask. This is quite a bit less than the 21 years that my “bourbon“/corn whisky spent in the barrel, but there is much more grip and oak on this rye than the other one. Also, the evaporation rate was faster (I did, in fact, move houses during this time), coming to roughly 7.5% per week (compared to 6.5% for the last one). However, these figures are pretty rough.So how did it taste? A lot better than my last one, I think. Here are some tasting notes, along with notes on how the flavour developed. I also rated it, as I would other whiskies (with as little bias as possible).

Nose: Still a touch harsh, with some (beautiful) caramel, a touch of smoke, green tea leaves, a bit creamy, the caramel and brown sugar is quite nice – almost like good, dark maple syrup. Oak is definitely there…still has slightly green rye character throughout, and the black tea, both from the new make- but they very much sit in the background now. A slight mustiness is there, with stewed apricot, and canned peaches. There are a few harsh elements at first…these calm down as it sits. This would be a bit higher if it were not so volatile on the nose (a little like the Stalk and Barrel 1+11 Blend). Much of the off-notes present at 2 weeks were removed over the course of the time in the cask. 25.5/30

Taste: Compared to the previous weeks – more viscous, fuller, bolder, sweeter – with lots more oak (but not too much – nicely balanced). It’s dry and spicy with vanilla, and is reasonably oily, with some manuka honey, hot white pepper – there’s lots going on, it’s complex, and very good. The rye backdrop is still there, too. The bite of spice at the end is great and grows as you sip it. 26/30

Finish: Quite a nice finish! Spicy and sweet! And cleansing, with hot white pepper, vanilla, and lighter honey – not the manuka I found earlier – more like lighter wildflower honey. So spicy! especially as you drink more…I love this as a spice lover. 12.5/15

Conclusion: Much better than my bourbon, I have to say. I quite enjoy this, though it is quite a bit different from most flavour profiles I come across – but this one is very enjoyable. It’s very good…my last cask product I would like to share with friends, but would have to “qualify” it by saying it is my own cask-aged product, and my first one. This one, however, would need no such qualification…17.5/20

Overall: 81.5/95 = 86/100

This is quite a bit better than the 76 I gave to my corn whisky.

So, that’s a job well done! Now I have to find a use for my cask, and see what I can get out of it. Some experiments now with Glen Breton, but, after that, I am contemplating experimenting with a barrel-aged gin.

And Out of the Barrel It Comes

This post pertains to the corn whisky I am maturing in my own cask, which has previously been discussed here.

So not too long ago I started taking my biweekly sample from my cask and I opened the spout to find no whisky coming out. Slowly it began to dawn on me that perhaps the fast evaporation out of the small 1 litre cask has taken it’s toll…and a quick shake of the barrel confirmed my fears. I drained the barrel, and found this:

IMG_1324

Not a whole lot was left (105 mls) after the 750 mls I put in there initially, so I decided to take it out as it had matured reasonably though I would have liked to leave it in a bit longer. This means that, assuming roughly 75 mls of sample were taken, and none remained in the wood (as it was a fresh cask full of rye whisky beforehand), roughly 565 mls evaporated through the wood – this is about 75% of the spirit I put into the barrel! This translates to about 6.5% per week evaporation rate. What they say about high evaporation rates of small barrels is very true – it is very high.

However – what beautiful colour. So, I took it out on March 3, and as it was put in October 8, it spent about 21 weeks in the barrel – significantly more than the 4-6 weeks recommended. However – this was the shocker. I used my hydrometer to measure the alcohol content. Generally, ABV will decrease in the barrel through evaporation in humid environments, and increase in dry environments. Over the winter, it’s been fairly dry so I expected this to go up. I calibrated my hydrometer to some vodka and had my temperature ready for adjustments…and checked the ABV of my whisky. I saw it drop, past 40, 50, and 60 until it finally settled at around 75%. I was shocked. In my excitement I ran to get my housemate to show off the proof of my creation, when we both noticed the hydrometer sat at the bottom of the measuring tube. This means, of course, that the ABV was even higher. When I added more of my whisky, I found the hydrometer continue to drop – all the way to 86%! 86%! That’s 172 proof! No wonder it burned so much in the samples. It’s drinkable, but I think better diluted.

So, today I took out my samples I’d saved over the course of the project and tasted them. I have samples from the new make, week 10, week 15, and week 21 as shown below:

IMG_1348My tasting notes follow:

New Make: quite oily, with yeast, lots of corn, cornmeal, and a bit of a barnyard aroma with some water. The taste is thick, sour, creamy and oily with some spicy rye kick. Some anise seed is present as well, and there’s almost a bit of riesling minerality present as well. There’s a touch of lemon as well.

Week 10: It came a long way! there’s lot of maple on the nose, and the distinct oiliness is still there, along with the anise seed and there’s some black pepper and vanilla as well. It’s sweeter on the taste, and is quite mouth-filling and sharp, with a hard rye finish and a bit of bitterness. It’s not as sour or barnyard-y as the new make. The finish is sharp, with some tingling spice and coconut and is quite long with just a touch of oak. Much more pleasant than the new make, but still quite a bit raw.

Week 15: At this point, it almost seems a bit less mature than above! There are some new stewed fruits which appear, as well as some caramel, but it’s harsh and a bit bitter. It’s sweeter, hotter, and sharper on the taste and still quite raw I think. The finish is a bit lighter than before with black pepper and is a bit tangy.

Week 21 (final): It came very far in the final 6 weeks! It’s creamy and rich, with lots of vanilla, tapioca, coconut, dried apricot, vanilla pudding – yet it still does not really resemble bourbon. It’s quite the burner on the taste before some water is added! It’s sweet and thick with maple, vanilla, lemon, dried apricot, and a bit of spice on the finish. And, as before, it’s quite tangy. The finish has lots of coconut, vanilla, and tangy prunes. It’s mouth-filling and has some cacao as well. Overall, its’ ok – not too incredible. It’s certainly enjoyable, but in rating this whisky, relative to my other ratings, it comes out to roughly 76/100. So…I’ll enjoy it, but it hasn’t convinced me that you can produce fabulous results at home, though good ones, for sure, are possible. Perhaps I’ll have to get another cask and see….

So now my rye has gone back in, and we’ll wait on that one….it had already been in the new cask for two weeks, and there is 590 mls going in, sitting at roughly 44% ABV when it went in.