Wednesday, 6 January 2016

At the Bottom of a Bottle: Glen Breton Rare 10 YO Edition

I finally finished another bottle.  Glen Breton Rare 10 YO has been in the house for a couple of years now.  Still half-full in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2015, I resolved to make an effort to drink it up before the new year arrived.  I'm unaccustomed to that level of boozy dedication, as I typically drift from brand to brand, whisky to beer, and almost always just one drink at a time.  I like GB10, but by the end I was sick to death of it.

As you can see in the photo I poured an extra-large helping in my haste to finally empty the bottle.  That was a mistake, as this whisky really seems to need breathing room to really shine.  The large pour seemed harsh and lemony, and was a very sad experience compared to previous sips.

Nose: GB10 has a very perfumed nose.  Apples and vanilla are most obvious; lavender is also there but to me it was subtle.  Lemon zest and a bit of almond come out with time.  You won't get much of the nice stuff from a large pour like the one pictured; all I got from that was lemon and harsh spirit.

Taste: A sweet entry of honey and apples gives way to toasty wood and nuts after a bit of a savour.  Reminiscent of oatmeal with sliced apples, sweetened with honey.  It sounds nice when I put it that way, but it's a bit too hot and rough for the price tag.

Finish: Short to medium length.  Apples, oak, oatmeal, lemon zest, some flowers.  Vague solvent towards the very end.

Overall: I really wanted to love Glen Breton with all my heart.  As a Nova Scotian whisky nerd I find the idea of a Scottish style malt whisky made in New Scotland at a distillery built in Scottish-looking highlands to be incredibly romantic, especially considering Glenora's David and Goliath legal battle with the SWA.  Unfortunately, at $80 it just isn't what it needs to be to justify opening your wallet; there are many other whiskies (single malt and others) that you can get for way less money that are just objectively better.

I'm afraid I won't be replacing this bottle unless I hear tales of serious quality improvements in the coming years.  It's not bad, but it's just too expensive for what it is and it certainly didn't maintain my interest when it was getting the "daily dram" treatment.

What I'd really like to see from Glenora one day is a rum cask finished malt.  Rum is far and away Nova Scotia's favourite spirit, plus rum casks finishes have been executed very successfully elsewhere (ie. Balvenie Caribbean Cask).  With more local distillers than ever now producing rum (and therefore casks) it just makes a lot of sense to me and represents a perfect marriage of old and New Scottish spirit traditions.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Dark Beers

I got into a bunch of dark beers over the past few weeks.  Here are some notes!  Please allow me to apologize in advance for the excessive use of "coffee," "chocolate," and "cherries" as flavour / aroma descriptors.

Boxing Rock U-889 Russian Imperial Stout (8.89%)

Nose: Fresh vanilla beans come first and foremost but don't overwhelm the classic dark malt aromas. It's really quite nice on the nose, though maybe not very RIS-ish.

Taste: Heavy body, low carbonation. The vanilla that was so nice on the nose positively swamps the palate. Some chocolate and cherries manage to surface periodically, but this is all about vanilla and very unbalanced.

Finish: A huge wave of vanilla is followed by some coffee and bitter dark chocolate.

Overall: The third release of Boxing Rock's much sought after winter seasonal is a big disappointment for me. It's just so heavy on the vanilla that I found it impossible to enjoy anything else. It's not necessarily a bad beer, but to my taste it was gimmicky and too far removed from what I expect from a RIS. Also, I know I've said this a million times, but that 650ml bomber is a truly bullshitty format for such a strong beer. Have some sense and bottle it in a half-litre size or smaller.

Good Robot Tom Waits For No One (7.8%)

Nose: Typical coffee and chocolate aromas, along with some raisins and a hint of smoke.  Mouth-watering.

Taste: Low bitterness and nice, full body.  A little booze and lots of chocolate.  Light hints of coffee.  Big, flavourful, delicious.  Also dangerously easy-drinking.

Finish: Light on the bitterness but nice and roasty.  A faint hint of citrus gets blown away by tonnes of coffee.

Overall: Go out of your way to try this one.  Good Robot in general is not to be ignored, and this brew in particular is a killer.

North Brewing Co. Dartmouth Dark Lager (4.5%)

Nose: Coffee jumps out first, accompanied by the typical dark malt chocolate note.  There's a hint of dark cherries as well and a nice whiff of the spice cupboard.

Taste: Nice and roasty with a hint of spice and fruit leather.  Nice bitterness and effervescence levels.

Finish: Cherries, chocolate, and of course coffee.  Just-right bitterness.

Overall: I love it.  It's a sessionable but characterful dark lager, and to me it's better than Propeller's Nocturne offering.

Propeller Revolution Russian Imperial Stout (8.0%)

Nose: Strong hop presence first.  The hop profile is bitter and orange peel-y and wonderfully complements the ensuing aromas of coffee and molasses.  Nice dark fruits underneath it all too.

Taste: Very bitter, somewhat lighter bodied than you might expect.  Huge density of flavour.  Tootsie Rolls, coffee, dark cherries, very subtle vanilla.  A bit boozy.

Finish: Bitter dark chocolate and lots of coffee beans.

Overall: It's unapologetically aggressive.  Bitter, boozy, and generally great.  Definitely a "not for the faint of heart" kind of brew.

Friday, 27 November 2015

So, Northern Harvest Is Sold Out

UPDATE: Okay, it's back in stock at the NSLC.  Let the hysterics resume.

In the wake of Jim Murray's hype bomb, the NSLC has completely sold out of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye.  Like, completely sold out, province wide.  But don't panic, it'll be back.  I'm not sure how long it will take (every province is likely playing catch-up) but it will certainly be as soon as physically possible.

The timing of such a shortage is most assuredly a bummer, but there are plenty of worthy whiskies that are as good as (or better than) Northern Harvest that you can try as an alternative, whether it be for your own  enjoyment or to put under the Christmas tree or cram into a stocking.  I've assembled a list from stuff that I've actually tasted (with one exception) that might be suitable.

So, what's your budget?

$30 and Under

Alberta Premium - Find It
$26.98 for 750ml, also available in 1140ml and 1750ml sizes.  This is one I've yet to try, but it is the easiest way to find out if you trust Jim Murray.  He routinely scores it north of 95 points.  Most others consider it to be a light whisky suitable mostly for mixing.  

Currently on sale for $26.99.  Features the fruity character CC is known for but is bigger and (in my opinion) better thanks to the spice profile of all that rye.

Currently on sale for $28.49.  A more traditional Canadian profile of toffee and spice.  Bolder and more complex than the brand's flagship Barrel Select bottling.

Currently on sale for $27.99, and my pick for best at this price bracket.  A huge whisky loaded with spicy rye character.  I actually prefer this to Northern Harvest, though admittedly I appear to be in the minority.

$30 to $40

Alberta Premium Dark Horse - Find It
$30.99.  A favourite of Canadian whisky guru Davin de Kergommeaux.  A big, rich, rye-driven whisky made bigger and richer by a slug of corn whisky and a little bit of sherry.  

Caldera Hurricane 5 - Find It
$33.99.  Most of this list consists of big, spicy, high rye whiskies; Hurricane 5 is an exception.  A richer take on the classic Canadian blended style, this whisky is butterscotch-y with rye spice providing subtle complexity.  It is made in River John, NS.  Every Nova Scotian whisky drinker needs to try it at least once.  Also, the visual presentation is quite beautiful.

Crown Royal Black - Find It
$34.99.  An amped-up bourbon-ish take on Crown's house style.  Higher alcohol content and a fuller, richer flavour drive this into sippin' whisky territory.

Pike Creek 10 YO - Find It
$39.99.  Pike Creek is aged predominantly in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in port wood.  Classic Canadian toffee is present, plus rich fruits and generous rye spice.  Nice visual presentation.

Over $40

Glynnevan Double Barreled Rye - Find It
$44.99.  A local-ish whisky; mature whisky from somewhere out West is disgorged and put in new barrels in Guysborough, spending the end of its barreled life ageing on the Atlantic coast prior to bottling.  I've only had one small taste of it to date, but it reminded me of CC 100% Rye on steroids.  This is an Authentic Seacoast product, the same company responsible for the excellent Fortress and Sea Fever rums. 

Knob Creek 9 YO Kentucky Straight Bourbon - Find It
$45.99.  As a bourbon this is something of a hail-Mary alternative.  I included it both because it's fantastic and because I found it has a maraschino cherry note in common with Northern Harvest.

Lot No. 40 - Find It
$44.99.  Lot No. 40 is liquid excellence.  It absolutely blows Northern Harvest out of the water.  It is $10 more expensive and somewhat difficult to find but is worth every penny and then some.  Made from 90% rye and 10% malted rye.

Wiser's Legacy - Find It
$49.99.  Legacy is another high rye Canadian that makes Northern Harvest feel ashamed of itself.  Like Lot No. 40 it is truly world class.

If all else fails and you simply HAD TO HAVE Northern Harvest for Christmas, you could always give them $40 worth of NSLC gift cards instead; it'll cover the price of the bottle and leave them an extra $5 for a beer or what-have-you.

So, be calm everyone.  There are a bunch of great whiskies to pick from, and Mr. Murray's favourite will be back in stock as soon as possible.  

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye

I picked up a bottle of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye when it was first released locally back in September.  It had a small taste of it as soon as I got it home and then set it on the shelf for later review (Wiser's Double Still and Hurricane 5 just had me more excited).  I never suspected that two months later Jim Murray would decree it to be the BEST WHISKY IN THE WORLD.

I'm not going to launch into a big discussion of Jim Murray and his book (others have already done it better than I ever could - this piece on The Whisky Sponge is excellent).  All I'll say is that I've resolved to mentally re-write the title "World's Best" as "Jim Murray's Favourite" and hope that it is indeed his legitimate favourite this year, and not just an oddball controversial pick meant to drive book sales.

One thing is certain: Diageo is jumping for joy.  This stuff is selling like crazy at the NSLC right now.


Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye is sold in the brand's standard crown-ishly shaped 750ml glass bottle.  The label is slightly different from the standard bottling in colour (green drapes instead of purple) and proudly trumpets the blend's 90% rye whisky content.  Crown's typical plastic screwcap is present.  I always prefer a cork, but at least Crown's cap is high-quality plastic and is easy to grip.  Any bottler using a metal screwcap should do some soul-searching and then copy Crown Royal.

Part of me wants to belly-ache about the the generic Crown Royal presentation.  The other part of me knows that Crown has one of the most easily recognized (and best selling) bottles in the world; if I were at the helm of a brand so strong, I wouldn't take liberties with the visual presentation either.

Northern Harvest Rye is bottled at 45% abv.  Good on Crown for breaking the 40% barrier again.

The Whisky

Colour: Amber.  A nice coating on the glass resolves into long legs after a few seconds.

  Very rich and sweet at first.  Caramel and apple pie.  Cinnamon and cloves lurk beneath the sweetness.  Maple and a hint of maraschino cherry.  There's lots to enjoy here, and more complexity than these notes indicate.

Taste:  Sharp grain and lush spices first, carried along on a torrent of sweet caramel and apples.  Spice gradually pushes the sweetness aside and in turn gives way to clean, dry wood.  It requires a few seconds of savouring to get the full effect.

 Vanilla, spice, apple sauce.  Creamy and sweet.  Lingering maraschino.

Overall:  It's a damned good Canadian rye whisky.  The sweet caramel characteristics typical of Crown Royal are certainly present and balanced out nicely by the spiciness of its rye-heavy composition.  Also, it makes a pretty mean Old Fashioned.  For $35 you should definitely try it. . . unless you hate rye.  In that case you might want to pass.

Please don't let all of this Jim Murray silliness ruin this whisky for you.  Sláinte.

NSLC Availability

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Propeller Nocturne Dark Lager


Propeller Nocturne Dark Lager is sold in single 500ml glass bottles.  They're the same shape the brewery always uses for their half-litre beers.  The label is dark with glow-in-the-dark-paint looking text, and seems a good match for the whole "art at night" theme of Nocturne.

This beer is brewed to 4.8% abv.
The Beer

Colour: Nice firm tan head, fantastic retention and lace.  The beer is not quite opaque, with a deep espresso colour (almost black).  Nice looking brew.

Nose: The usual roast malt suspects are present; slightly burnt coffee, dark chocolate, dark yeasty bread, and a hint of smoky singed paper.

Taste: Crisp effervescence lightens the body.  Coffee, dark chocolate and tootsie rolls.  It's all about those dark malts.

Finish: Finishes moderately bitter.  Coffee, tootsie rolls, and light smoke.

Overall: This is the beer Guiness Dark Lager wanted to be.  Light in body and full in flavour, it's a really gratifying beer I'll look forward to drinking each Fall.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Caldera Hurricane 5 (Batch 0001)

50th post!  How fortuitous it is that it should happen to coincide with the release of Caldera Distilling's first bottling, Hurricane 5 Canadian Whisky.

It was only a couple of weeks before the product launch that I even became aware, accidentally, of Caldera's existence.  I was scrolling idly through my seldom-viewed Facebook feed and found a post from The Viral Barman promoting the NS Spirits Festival in Lunenburg, and thinking that NS has very few distillers I could actually name I clicked the link to learn more.  Well learn more I did, discovering that no fewer than eight local distilleries (five of which I had never heard of before) would be in attendance.  From there I found Caldera's website, and a local distiller that promised to make all of my nerdy whisky fantasies come true.

Caldera Distilling is located on an old farm in River John, NS.  Their goal is to run a true field-to-glass operation; they will ferment, distill, and mature whisky crafted from their own organically estate-grown grains.  I say "will" because the company's establishment date of 2013 raised some obvious mathematical questions given Canadian whisky's minimum three year ageing requirement.  Fortunately Caldera is really good about answering questions.

The mathematical impossibility of Hurricane 5 is explained like this: Caldera started distilling before they were called Caldera.  While this pre-Caldera distillate is 100% their own grain, the other half of the current bottling is not; it was distilled under contract by another large Canadian distillery according to Caldera's specifications.  This distillate is not "sourced" in the usual sense (ie. Caldera didn't buy existing stock from the other distiller).  The arrangement was described by Caldera's Jarret Stuart as "our recipe, different kitchen."  The newest barrels, however, are 100% Caldera's juice, so the 100% estate grain goal should be achieved by the end of 2018 (provided the spirit and the barrels decide to cooperate).

Hurricane 5 is available in select NSLC stores now.


Hurricane 5 is sold in a round, stocky 750ml clear glass bottle.  It is sealed with a soft plastic stopper topped with a wooden (or does it just look wooden?) cap, which is stamped with Caldera's anchor logo.  The wrap on the short neck displays a four digit batch number and a short informative statement regarding the distillery's story.

The front label is a beauty.  An irregular octagonal shape, elegantly stylized depictions of grain, and great font choices are all pleasing to the eye.  Even better, the look and feel of the label is of unfinished wood.  I'm not sure what material they used to achieve this effect but I love it.  I guess CFNapa did the branding, and a hell of a job they did.  (Update: Jarret told me in a new email that that the cap is indeed wooden, and so is the label [birch].  Over a year of collaboration with CFNapa went into bottle design alone).

Hurricane 5 has no added colour and is not chill-filtered (though Jarret informed me they are looking at adopting a chill filtering process in the future).  It's bottled at 40% abv.

The Whisky

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Opens with butterscotch and light ground ginger.  Honey, undefined fruits, and light rye spice.  A hint of cedar wood and a youthful spirit undertone.

Taste: Creamy butterscotch sweetness, balanced well with spicy rye and light oak.  Roast nuts.  Minimal heat.

Finish: Cereal, vanilla and baking spices (ginger and cloves).  Fairly short, turning dry and woody pretty quickly.

Overall: This is a true Canadian style blended rye whisky.  The rye component balances out the creamy, sweet characteristics of what I assume is a corn base whisky, resulting is a well-balanced and approachable sipping whisky at a reasonable price.  It reminds me of Forty Creek's core range (Copper Pot in particular), which is never a bad thing.  This is a very nice first bottling from Caldera and a good buy at $34.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Picaroons Harvest Ale

Fall is here!  Delicious seasonal brews are upon us, so let's get right to it.


Picaroons Harvest Ale is sold in a chunky 500ml glass bottle sealed with a pry-off cap.  The label is handsome and autumn-y with its pale tan palette and illustration of two guys on stilts.  There is no informative text to give you a sense of the beer's characteristics.

There IS however a four-digit number preceded by the name of a specific hop variety.  Through the Picaroons website you can use that info to find out where the hops in your bottle were grown, and by whom.  My bottle is Crystal 3687, from Wallace Ridge Farm in Malagash, NS.  The farmers are Allen and Jacqui Cole.  Cool.

Since each batch contains hops of different varieties from different farms, your own bottle could differ significantly from this one.

This beer is brewed to 5.5% abv.

The Beer

Colour: Pours coppery orange.  The head is foamy and off-white, and recedes slowly to a thin but persistent layer.  There's plenty of lace left behind as the glass empties.

Nose:  Oh this is super nice.  Fresh hops are evident first, presenting as citrus and pine.  It's assertive but not overpowering, and allows toffee, a dash of coffee, and a vague suggestion of maple to come through.

Taste: The hops are now delegated to a supporting role; the palate is primarily malt-driven with light coffee and toffee leading, accompanied by mild nuttiness.  Faint baking spices and sprucy hops round things out.  It's good but the taste doesn't really compare to the aroma.

Finish: Moderate bitterness.  Tree-ish hops, light coffee, and caramel.  Dark bread.

Overall: Good stuff overall.  That wonderful nose almost makes the rest of the experience a bit disappointing.  Almost.  I'd most certainly drink it again.

NSLC Availability