Saturday, 17 September 2016

Gibson's Finest Venerable 18 YO

It took me a long time to talk myself into Gibson's 18 YO.  Despite its reputation at one of Canada's best sipping whiskies, I found the $75 price tag always made me look elsewhere.  I finally took the plunge after coming into $75 in NSLC gift cards, so this basically cost me nothing.  Hey, maybe that reduces the chance I'll want to like it just to justify the expense?

The Whisky

Nose:  Orange peel, vanilla, sawn lumber (pine and cedar?).  Strawberry Campinos and light spice.  A second nosing session yielded different notes: apricots, honey, sweet cream, dusty spice, and a dash of brine and solvent.  Poised, complex, and subtle.

Taste: Sweet entry.  Spicy heat gives it an almost spritzy feel, helping to break up that creamy sweetness to usher in good, clean wood, cereal grains, and hints of red berries.

Finish: An initial surge of spice and sweet honey quickly give way to vanilla, which quickly fades to try, tannic wood.  Relatively short.

Overall:  Very much a member of Canadian whisky's old guard; flavourful rye whisky is employed to add spicy depth to a blend that's mostly about good grain and great wood.  I found the subtle profile was not immediately impressive in the way bigger ryes tend to be, but after spending a bit more time with it it became a rewarding and satisfying dram.  I'll miss this when it's gone.

That said, there are value per dollar issues with Gibson's 18.  It's one of the most expensive Canadian whiskies you can get here at $75, and its very easy to spend less and get something equal to it or better.  Wiser's Legacy for $50, Lot 40 for $45, all of Forty Creek's special releases for $70. . . you see what I'm saying here.  While all of those whiskies are stylistically quite different from G18, they just beat it silly in the value for your money department.  For that reason I'm taking a "take it or leave it" position on Gibson's 18.

PS: I forgot to mention Canadian Club 20 YO, which is $60, sort of similar in style, and in my eyes superior.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

At the Bottom of a Bottle: Wiser's Double Still Rye

Wiser's Double Still was a very easy bottle to empty.

Ever since I start keeping and sharing notes on the whiskies I've enjoyed I've largely abandoned mixed drinks and cocktails.  It makes sense really; if you're going to be nitpicking a spirit you've gotta drink it neat.  Tastings segued naturally into an oddly specific brand of snobbery where I felt that if I wasn't drinking it neat then I wasn't drinking it properly at all.

That neat-or-bust attitude was happily corrected when I started dabbling with the Old Fashioned.  The Old Fashioned is a wonderful drink.  It's easy to make, the ingredients are readily available, it's easy to modify if you're so inclined, and most importantly it allows the spirit to shine.  While I won't deny the simple pleasures of a nice rye and ginger, I can't pretend it's even half as good (at least to me) as an Old Fashioned.

Now, with Wiser's Double Still (original notes here)I would say I consumed about half the bottle neat, one little drink at a time.  And you know what?  For a $30 whisky it stands up really well to the scrutiny of straight consumption.  It's a big, flavourful Canadian rye with good depth of character.  Hell, I'd argue that it's on par with the heavyweights of its price bracket, Dark Horse and Copper Pot (admittedly I'm in the minority, as the internet's general consensus is that both of those whiskies are superior).

With Double Still I mixed up a couple of simple rye and gingers for the first time in years.  Surprisingly it didn't impress me; basic Crown Royal seems to make a superior version of this drink.  I never did get around to trying it with Coke, which in retrospect might have made a better match.

In an Old Fashioned (made correctly with sugar, bitters, ice, and a twist of orange peel) it just seemed okay.  It was a tasty enough drink but it didn't send me into the throes of pure bliss the way I thought it would.  With the recipe modified though?  Goddamn.  Swap out the sugar for good maple syrup, discard the fruit or keep it as you please, and Double Still makes a hell of a drink.  I don't know if you can still call it an Old Fashioned, but its absolutely delicious.

Anyway, final impressions over the course of a full bottle:

Neat:  Very good indeed.  Fantastic on the value per dollar front.
Mixed:  Eh, wasn't super excited with it.
Old Fashioned:  Pretty good, much better than as a basic mixed drink.
Modified Frankestein Old Fashioned with maple syrup:  Awesome, just awesome.  Canadian Whisky Enthusiast would murder me and turn me into some cannibalistic gourmet dish for saying so though.

What's sad about this whisky is how it is seemingly being ignored by the Nova Scotian market.  I'm not basing that statement on sales figures or anything, but on my own observations as a retail clerk at the NSLC.  It just doesn't seem to move.  I figure it suffered significantly from the timing of its release, which coincided with that of Crown Royal Northern Harvest, which was followed shortly thereafter by the Jim Murray hysteria effect.  Coupled with the strength of the Crown Royal brand in Nova Scotia it feels like Double Still didn't stand much of a chance.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Breton Brewing: Red and IPA

Red Coat Irish Red Ale (5.0% abv)

Appearance:  Head is firm and foamy, relatively short in height and slightly copper-tinged in colour. Fairly brief head retention, settling with relative haste into a creamy looking sheen of bubbles on the surface.  The beer is a dark, coppery shade of dark amber and quite hazy (as usual I'll just assume this is quite deliberate).

Nose:  Light roast coffee positively leaps from the glass.  Brown sugary baked treats.  The general impression is warm, toasty, and inviting.  No hop aroma as far as I can discern.  Malty and excellent.

Taste:  Bittersweet entry; carmelized sugars, very mild coffee, and a hint of fresh cherries.  Moderate effervescence lightens the body.  Plenty of flavour while still "sessionable."

Finish: Low bitterness, vaguest hint of anise.  Coffee and caramel persist.

Overall:  Excellent red ale.  Flavourful enough to stand up to scrutiny, mellow enough to drink in volume if you're so inclined.

Black Angus India Pale Ale (6.2% abv)

Appearance:  There doesn't seem to be much happening in the head department; it's fizzy and off white and beats a hasty retreat.  The beer is hazy and a nice amber-orange colour.

Nose:  Grapefruit rinds and a hint of ammonia let us know we're in fairly standard IPA territory.  There's a bit of orange marmalade in there as well.  Black Angus isn't reinventing IPA, but is executing it really really well on the nose.  I'm not sure my flaccid descriptors are doing in justice - it's an especially nice IPA nose.

Taste:  Naturally it is bitter.  There's loads of grapefruit pith and conifer needles, and while hops certainly rule the roost here they're propped up by a nice toasty malt backbone.  Yummy beer, unless you're sick to death of hoppy brews.

Finish:  Marmalade and other citrusy things.  Toasty malt, a bit of brown bread.  Umm. . . poached salmon?  I don't know if the banana I ate twenty minutes before writing these notes is screwing me up or what, but I swear I'm catching a hint of salmon.  I hope I didn't just stumble into irredeemable douche territory.

Overall:  Go buy some, Breton crafted a great IPA.  

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Canadian Club 20 YO, plus a glimpse into the wonderful madness of CWE

A few weeks ago Gary Schroeder, aka Canadian Whisky Enthusiast (blog, Facebook) and I collaborated to review Canadian Club 20 YO.  As you will see we connected on a deep, personal level; neither of us shall ever be the same again.

Please enjoy the train wreck embedded below.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A Trio of Hoppy Brews

May saw the arrival of three new locally crafted hoppy brews at the NSLC.  I drank them and wrote some notes.

Spindrift Riptide IPL (6.5% abv)

Appearance: Hazy (presumably by design) pale orange.  Foamy head develops enthusiastically, retains fairly well, and leaves lots of lace.

Nose: Pine and grapefruit rind.  Faint sweet and sour pineapple.  A spicy or herbal undertone almost reminiscent of a hefeweizen.  Quite pleasant!  They've skirted the cat-urine aspect of hop aroma nicely.

Taste: Tart-sweet citrus entry, pineapple meets oranges (tasting notes on the can say tangerine, which is probably a better descriptor).  Sweetness quickly give way to hop bitterness.  Becomes herbal and slightly astringent if you savour for a few seconds; I guess this is more of a "down the hatch" brew.

Finish: Bitter and citrusy and one might expect.  Faint caramel and dried apricots.

Overall: Though the experience is marred somewhat by the astringency on the palate, this is a good lighter bodied hoppy beer.  Honestly, that astringency only becomes apparent when you hold the stuff in your mouth for an abnormally long time in an attempt to nitpick it, and the fruity complexities really make up for it.

Nine Locks IPA (6.9% abv)

Appearance: Amber orange and just slightly hazy.  Copper-tinged foamy head with nice lacing left behind.

Nose: Unsurprisingly the nose is all about hops.  Very citrus driven with fir needle undertones and a faint hint of ammonia.  

Taste: Bitter and pithy first, turns more tree-needly after a few seconds savour.  Work at it a bit longer and some toffee maltiness finally comes through.  None of the astringency issues from which Riptide seemed to suffer.  

Finish: Bitter of course.  Citrus eases off now and lets the malt get to work.  Toasty, plus a subtle hint of coffee that becomes increasingly dominant over time.

Overall: This is the kind of beer that pays for brewery expansions.  You should certainly give it a go if you haven't yet.

Tatamagouche Deception Bay IPA (6.2% abv)

Appearance: Amber, clear.  Very little head formation to speak of; seems low on carbonation, and I'm unsure whether that's deliberate or not.  Note: after topping up with the last dribble from the can it took on tonnes of haze; I guess its unfiltered and had time to settle before pouring.

Nose: Ohhh that's nice.  Orange peel and grapefruit pith, a little spruce.  Wee bit of ammonia.  The orange aroma is a real treat.

Taste: Bitter of course.  More tree-ish on the palate than it was on the nose.  Maybe a hint of orange gets through, though I'm getting more of a general impression of citrus than I am specific fruits.  Note: after topping up as mentioned above it became a bit more complex, gaining some nice stone fruit characteristics (apricots!) and a bit of marmalade.

Finish: Bitter, citrus pith, tree needles not so prominent now.  Post topping up it's offering some toasty qualities as well. 

Overall: It was a bit middle-of-the road at first but become really nice after dumping that sediment in.  Pour with gusto for the best experience.

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.