Wednesday, 4 May 2016

At the Bottom of a Bottle: Alberta Premium Dark Horse

Another  bottle has been emptied at last!  Dark Horse lived a short life by my standards, having stayed in the house for a paltry seven months.  Consumption accelerated when I got over myself and started mixing up old fashions (or is it "old fashioneds?"), a drink which I must sheepishly confess I only first tasted in November '15.

The penultimate dram I enjoyed neat from a Glencairn in true whisky geek fashion.  Boredom was nowhere in sight; Dark Horse remained engaging to the very end.  It boasts impressive complexity on the nose, even as sherry, oak, and rye somewhat butt heads while vying for supremacy.  The palate is huge, robust, and warming.  At $31 this
stuff punches way above its price point.  I would keep a bottle on hand at all times if only my cupboard could handle it.

Now, the final drink?  The aforementioned Dark Horse old fashioned.  I slightly modified the tradition recipe slightly, using maple syrup in place of a sugar cube (because Canada).  Otherwise it was by the book: a splash of water, some bitters, and a good slug of Dark Horse.  I omitted the orange peel and maraschino cherry garnish because I can't be bothered to keep such things on hand.  

I generally think of Dark Horse as a sipping whisky, but it plays wonderfully with bitters and ice.  This is a big whisky; a couple dashes of Angostura doesn't overwhelm it, nor does ice. The old fashioned lets the whisky be the star, and to me that's what a good whisky cocktail should be about.

I should also mention that a couple months ago I tried the "Horse Whisperer" cocktail, a recipe I found on an in-store neck tag and looked up again later online.  It was a tasty drink consisting of Dark Horse, ginger beer, bitters, ice, and a garnish of orange (previously muddles).  While delicious I found the whisky disappeared beneath that spicy Propeller ginger beer; if I were to make one again in the future I'd seek out a more mellow ginger beer brand, or possibly even swap in ginger ale instead.  

So there you have it!  750mls later Dark Horse is still a damned good drink.  

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony

Let's pretend I'm not several months late with this.

Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony comes hot on the heels of Canadian whisky deity John Hall's 2014 mad scientist release, Evolution.  Evolution boasted some fascinating production notes (ie. redistillation of mature whisky, prolonged ageing in cabernet barrels) and flavours to match; to put it simply it was a rock star.

Harmony's fact sheet isn't quite as quirky, but the inclusion of stocks laid down just after Forty Creek was founded in 1992 is more than a little interesting.  23 year old Forty Creek is swirling around in here, although in what proportions is not disclosed (young corn whisky is also part of the blend and probably forms the backbone).  Davin at states that just 30 casks were blended to make this whisky.

Harmony's production run was limited to 9000 bottles.  It is likely sold out in most markets, but can still be found at a few NSLC locations (availability here).

So, can 2015's release rival Evolution?

The Whisky

Nose: Lots of rich butterscotch first.  Maple sugar, prune juice.  Crisp oak, cedar wood, dusty rye spices.  Hint of anise.  Overtones of honey.  A little water reveals some lightly perfumed floral notes.

Taste: Round and creamy with minimal burn.  Butterscotch, red fruit preserves, and rye spices.  Oaky, including some tannic characteristics.  Vague leather and forest notes.

Finish: Initial spice surge, oak follows with maple bringing up the rear.  Lingers fragrant and woody.

Overall: A delicious Canadian whisky that doesn't quite fill the shoes left empty by its predecessor.  It's complex and interesting, but for reasons I can't explain it just doesn't fully strike a chord with me.  At $70 it's a bit too pricey for an enthusiastic recommendation; that said it's pretty well required reading for the Forty Creek enthusiast.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

A Bit Lighter: a Lager and a Sour

Notes for two beers from two different breweries!  Darmouth's Spindrift Brewing Co. is a relative newcomer to the NS craft beer scene.  Notes for their flagship brew, Coastal Lager, follow.  Also here is the more venerable North Brewing Co. with their new Sauer Sagen Hat, a sour SMaSH.  This beer is nearing the end of its run and may not be around by the time you read this, but ask North's Twitter account if you're really curious.

The Beer(s)

Spindrift Coastal Lager (5.0% abv)

Appearance: Nice amber colour, crystal clear.  Head is foamy and off-white with very good retention.  Leaves a really nice lace as the glass empties.

Nose: Caramel, with nice toasty baked goods (biscotti?).  Hoppy tropical fruit undertone, plus a dash of ground ginger to boot.  Super nice aroma happening here.

Taste: Crisply effervescent.  Bitterness up front gives way to a nice biscuity sweetness.  Malty with a dash of spice.

Finish: Hops are more assertive on the finish.  Bitter, spicy; light tree needles and citrus pith.  Bitterness lingers

Overall: If you saw "lager" on the can and thought "bland," you were mistaken, as there's plenty of flavour to be had here.  This version seems nicer than the original release, with the dialed-down bitterness bringing things more into balance.  Since it's available in single tall cans for a paltry $3.60 it'd be silly not to give it a go.  I'll be looking forward to Spindrift's future releases (I believe their IPL is NSLC bound "soon")

North Brewing Sauer Sagen Hat (4.0% abv)

Appearance: Pale, hazy (nearly opaque), pineapple juice yellow.  Head is short-lived, white, and fizzy.  

Nose: Light lemon zest, mild tangy yeast and. . . not much else?  It's light stuff on the nose.

Taste: Sour yellow lemon candies.  Carbonation is very lively indeed, zingy even.  It's a bit one-note; characterful but simple.

Finish: Lemon juice, yeasty white bread.  Minimal bitterness.  Mostly citrus characteristics but with a hint of spice.  

Overall: I've tried plenty of North's brews and this is my least favourite of the bunch.   That said I'm inexperienced with sours, so maybe my palate just isn't acclimated.  Whatever the case may be, I found it interesting; to me that's the most important characteristic of any drink.  I think this will run you around $6 or $7 per 650ml bottle; at that price I'm sad to say I would pass it by unless your curiosity simply must be sated.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Dinner at a Brewpub, and a Whisky Show

Honestly, as a beer and whisky nerd I have a hard time envisioning an evening more pleasurable than that which unfolded this Saturday past (March 5th).  The NSLC's annual whisky show, Celebrate Whisky, was set to go ahead as planned despite a healthy dose of winter, courtesy of this March's first (perhaps only?) nor'easter.  Plans were in place; I was to meet some new whisky friends for dinner at the Gahan House and enjoy some beer made in-house before moving on to Casino NS, the show's venue.

The friends in question in question were Johanne McInnis (aka WhiskyLassie), her husband Graham, and Thomas and Crystal (@ThomasBCP and @CNasonPerry on Twitter respectively).  Excellent beers were consumed; the maple whisky porter was fabulous, as was the raspberry sour according to Johanne and Thomas.

Here's what I've really come to love about this whole #WhiskyFabric thing I've stumbled into: it can take perfect strangers and make them into friends.  A little over a year ago I didn't know any of these people.  I first spoke to Johanne when she invited me to participate in a tweet tasting of Ardbeg Supernova.  She later invited me to participate in her #C2CC blind tasting contest, and it was through that competition that I first met Thomas (we exchanged samples of Longrow Peated and Amrut Fusion).  I met Graham and Crystal later when Johanne hosted a guided tasting at the Middle Spoon in Halifax.

Despite having met in person only once or twice we enjoyed an evening largely free of the social awkwardness which can accompany such relative unfamiliarity.  Our mutual interest in the wonderful liquid that is whisky created a relaxed atmosphere usually reserved for the company of good friends. . . an atmosphere helped along in no small part by the feelings of general goodwill that characterise the #WhiskyFabric, not to mention the social lubrication provided by the drams in question.

Johanne and Graham, being the fantastic whisky ambassadors that they are, even brought samples for myself and Thomas and Crystal to take home.  I'm staring down a vial of David de Kergommeaux's Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel, and a 15 YO Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Mortlach as I'm typing; Thomas and Crystal took home a nip of Velvet Fig and something else I can't seem to remember.

At the show we milled about willy nilly, sometimes gathering into a group and then splitting up again to pursue our next must-taste drams.  A couple of really great moments occurred later in the evening.  I met Jarret Stuart, head distiller and founder of Caldera Distilling in person at last.  We had corresponded via email quite a bit while I was assembling my post on Caldera's Hurricane 5 bottling and it was great to finally put a face to the name.  After a chat I tracked down Johanne and Graham to let them know that the man himself was pouring the samples.  Ten minutes later, lo and behold, Johanne is behind Caldera's table getting photos and telling me how much she loves the stuff.  (Although I know Johanne and Graham had intended to hit that table up anyway, it's fun to think I had some part in playing whisky match-maker.)

Later still, our entire group got to meet The Nose, Richard Paterson.  Johanne had already met Richard for an interview the day before, but for most of us it was a pleasure to meet one of the industry's true stars in the flesh.  Indeed it was a pleasure amplified by Richard's apparent lack of arrogance; he seems to genuinely delight in meeting new people and giving impromptu whisky lessons (Crystal said she learned more from him in 5 minutes of talking than she had in the past year of dramming).

After meeting Richard I snuck away to the order desk, where I spent the remainder of the evening in line (really just 15 minutes) waiting to expend the night's budget on a pair of my favourites for the night.  Canadian Club 20 YO and Jura "Duirach's Own" 16 YO will be joining me at home soon.  There were many others that I truly loved, but there's only so much whisky spending a retail clerk's wallet can handle.

But now on to the matter at hand. . . Johanne's samples!

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel (Davin's Bottling, 51.5% abv)

Nose: Opens with a huge wave of butterscotch.  Lovely muted spices follow.  Underlying pears and peaches.  Crisp wood ties it all together.  Awesome.

Taste: A bit searing undiluted (no more than expected at 51.5% abv).  Tremendously flavourful.  Orange pith, wee hint of pineapple.  Spice is more prominently featured on the palate than it was on the nose, and the butterscotch somewhat more subdued.  Nice sour rye bread under-current.

Finish: Luscious wave of butterscotch, vanilla, subtle fresh fruits and delicate spice.

Overall: Davin picked of a hell of a cask.  Really excellent.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 YO (43% abv)

Nose: Glazed ham?!  Big, meaty, redolent with sherry influence.  Raisins, confectioner's sugar, maybe some maple sugar.  Mild medicinal undertone.  Really powerful stuff.

Taste: Sweet prunes, savoury nuts, some crisp cereal and muted oak.  Big whisky. 

Finish: Chewy dried fruits, a little glazed ham.  Wee hint of smoke late, along with vanilla.  Spicy oak throughout.

Overall: A wonderful sherry monster.  Thanks Johanne!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Gooderham & Worts Canadian Whisky

Gooderham & Worts Canadian Whisky is the third of Corby's recently(ish) resurrected Canadian Whisky Guild series, following Lot 40 and Pike Creek.  It's a four grain blend (corn, rye, wheat, and barley) bottled at 44.4% abv.  Corn presumably forms the backbone of the blend, with a generous dose of rye flavouring whisky providing more character and the other grains remaining more or less undetectable to anyone not in possession of sorcery or mutated witcher senses or what have you.

The Gooderham and Worts name is a very old and storied one.  Its Wikipedia entry provides a decent introduction, but read chapter 12 of Davin de Kergommeaux's excellent book to get the full story.

I looked into special ordering G&W late last year as it is not yet available in NS.  I didn't have any luck; it turns out it was still LCBO exclusive at the time, though it appears to have become more widespread since then.  It's still absent here but I was fortunate enough to have a friend provide me with a bottle.

The Whisky

Nose: First whiff gives an impression of red fruit preserves and fresh rye spice.  Diving deeper yields orange peel and butterscotch.  Spicy oak suggests some new wood in the mix.  There's a suggestion of mint in there too.  This is super nice on the nose.  A splash of water mellows things out a bit; fruit preserves become dried fruits, fresh spice turns dusty, and spicy oak gets very soft (or maybe that's the wheat coming through?).  Maple and some maraschino now too.

Taste: Sweet, bourbon-y entry.  Spice and rye bread emerge next.  With water the grain softens and further sweetens, like brown-sugar sweetened oatmeal with a dash of spice.  A few seconds of savouring and it gets hot and peppery.

Finish: Sweet cereal grains, savoury baking spice, delicious toffee, mild rummy molasses.  Clean wood with a hint of mint.  Lingering vanilla.  Nice hint of anise way at the end.

Overall: If it comes to NS at its LCBO price point of $45, this is worth your while.  It's very good indeed.  G&W has plenty of flavour and good complexity, making it more than suitable for sipping.  It's kind of a happy medium between the big rye attack of Lot 40 and the fruitiness of Pike Creek (tasting the three together should be a fun experiment).  Incidentally it makes quite a nice Old Fashioned as well.

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.