Thursday, 22 January 2015

El Dorado 12 YO Rum

Every so often as I roam the aisles of the NSLC location I call my workplace / candy store, I find myself lingering near spirits of which I wouldn't normally consider myself to be a drinker.  As I gaze upon premium rums, tequilas, and vodkas I always find myself wondering if, dollar for dollar, any of them can match whisky for sipping neat.  Rum, being Nova Scotia's favourite spirit, has become of particular interest to me.  Since this fermented, distilled molasses spirit accounts for 40% of the NSLC's spirits sales, don't I owe it to myself (professionally of course!) and my customers to do a little self-guided product knowledge training?

To that end I took to the web to work out which bottle to invest in, and with the help of The Rum Howler blog I settled on El Dorado's 12 YO rum.  I had previously had the opportunity to taste their 5 YO product in-store and was impressed with what it had to offer for such an inexpensive bottle, so moving up in their range to the  12 YO was an easy decision.  This rum rings in at $38, which I find pretty reasonable for a quality sipping spirit.

Presentation

El Dorado 12 YO Rum is sold in a squat, short-necked 750ml bottle.  It used to come in a nice red carton but it seems that's no longer the case, at least at the NSLC.  The bottle is tinted brown and features a "wax" (plastic) seal stating the rum's age.  The label is attractively illustrated with a tall ship under sail.  Finally, it's closed with a cork stopper as is fitting for a premium spirit (AHEM, looking at you Writers Tears).  It's a good looking bottle.

The rum is bottled at 40% abv.  All rums used in the blend spent no less than the stated 12 years ageing in ex-bourbon casks.  It is distilled in Guyana by Demerara Distillers Limited.

The Rum

Colour: Deep amber.  Quick legs.

Nose: Leads with a big wallop of oak; rich toffee and caramel.  Somehow "rye spice" is here, inviting you in with cinnamon and cloves.  I actually found it strangely reminiscent of Wiser's Legacy.  Then there's honey, dried apricots, demerara sugar, and a dash of molasses.  Finally there's a slightly rubbery undertone (that's the best word I can find, but it's not an unpleasant scent).  Rye drinkers should find themselves in familiar-but-different territory here.

Taste: I hate using the word "smooth" to describe spirits, but I can't help it this time.  This rum is silky on the tongue and virtually devoid of alcohol burn.  The flavour is full and luxuriant, awash in sweet caramel and brown sugar, candied nuts, and chewy dried fruits.  After a short savour the wood asserts itself and you're back in familiar whisky territory with vanilla and a faint hint of bitter tannin.

Finish: Rich, creamy sugars, fruit preserves.  A slightly sour lingering tanginess I can only describe as "rummy."  The oak notes that seemed so apparent on the nose and palate are shy now, creeping in well after the sweeter aspects have faded away.

Overall: While this is noticeably sweeter than any whisky I've tried I still find myself on comfortingly familiar ground.  It's oaky and complex, spicy and sweet, and generally a thoroughly satisfying sipper.  It's really, really good.

Some links:

El Dorado Rum
NSLC Availability
The Rum Howler

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Writers Tears

Irish whiskey is kind of a weird category at the NSLC.  Despite its status as Nova Scotia's fastest-growing whisk(e)y category it occupies a tiny amount of shelf real-estate in most NSLC stores.  Additionally, Irish whiskey was largely overlooked during 2014's category review with just one new product joining the general list.  Sadly, that one new product was also given limited distribution, and appears in just 20 NSLC locations.

The new Irish whiskey in question is of course Writers Tears.  It's a blend, but not in the traditional Scotch whisky "malt and grain whisky" sense; rather, it's a vatting of single pot still and single malt Irish whiskey, all triple distilled.  The ratios of the blend are unspecified, likely because it can change between batches, plus a little secrecy breeds a bit of mystique around the brand and its origins.

Presentation

Writers Tears is sold in a green carton decorated with a teardrop pattern.  The back has a nice little marketing write-up explaining the inspiration for the whiskey's name and style.  The full blurb reads:

Ireland has been blessed with great poets and playwrights down through the centuries.  However, most, if not all our great writers offered from writer's block.  Many sought comfort and inspiration from "The water of life"….whiskey.  It was said that when an Irish writer cried, he cried tears of whiskey.

Writer's Tears is a salute to these great writers with a style of whiskey that was popular in Joyce's Dublin.

It's a bit of a misfire though, which Chip Dykstra of The Rum Howler blog discussed it some depth.  The only issue I really have here is that it suggests that whiskey is a viable cure for writer's block, which is problematic from a social responsibility point of view.

The bottle itself is transparent glass, tall and slim with a thick bottom and is quite handsome.  The front label is clean and classy with a tear-drop cutout and raised lettering with nice gold details.  The back label is informative and free of any marketing missteps.  The only cosmetic issue with the bottle is the cheap metal screw-cap.  I mean seriously, if you're going to ask me to pay $50 for a bottle you really ought to seal with with a nice cork.

Also, the lack of an apostrophe disturbs me a little bit.

Anyway, the liquid matters a hell of a lot more than the presentation.  This one is 40% abv in a 700ml bottle.  All ageing takes place in ex-bourbon casks.  From what I understand it's distilled and blended by Midleton distillery for Writers Tears Whiskey Co.  It looks like production will be moving to the Walsh Whiskey Distillery once its construction is complete.

The Whiskey

Colour: Golden amber colour.  Fast moving legs.

Nose: Luscious and fruity.  Apples and apricots jump eagerly from the glass, seasoned with vanilla and followed by a suggestion of almonds.  There's a nice aroma of honey as well.

Taste: Soft, honeyed entry.  A gentle, gingery spiciness gradually builds, then fruit and almonds.  Oaky vanilla and a touch of salted toffee comes last.

Finish: Sweet fruits, followed by vanilla, with a touch of marshmallow drying out to pleasant woodiness.  At the very end is a hint of pencil shavings and/or brine.

Overall: This is a light, unassuming, and genuinely enjoyable dram.  Despite my general preference for slightly higher bottling strengths I found the standard 40% abv to be complementary to the style in this case.  I particularly enjoy the fruity, honeyed nose.  Good stuff!

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Writers Tears
Walsh Whiskey Distillery
The Rum Howler

Monday, 5 January 2015

Some Dark Brews From North

North Brewing Company Belgian Milk Stout

Presentation

North's Belgian Milk Stout is sold in the usual growler formats, as well as in 650ml bomber bottles at the private stores in HRM.  I got mine as a 750ml swing-top growler fill.  The label design for the new bottles is quite attractive though.

This beer is brewed to 5.5 % abv.  North was kind enough to tell me via Twitter that it was brewed using two-row, roasted, chocolate, and de-bittered chocolate malts, and hopped with northern brewer bittering and Willamette.

Oh, and if you're unfamiliar with milk stouts (as I was until very recently) you should be aware that "milk" just refers to the addition of the unfermentable sugar lactose, which sweetens the beer and rounds out the body without increasing the final alcohol content.

The Beer

Colour: Dark, opaque espresso.  The head is a handsome cappuccino colour but shrinks quite quickly.

Nose: Freshly ground coffee accompanied by faintly sweet milk chocolate.  There's also a hint of smoke, which is fantastic.

Taste: Sweetened coffee and milk chocolate.  They've exercised some restraint with the lactose; the overall effect is bittersweet rather than sugary, and it's just right.  The smoky undertone from the nose is subtly present on the palate as well, adding depth and interest.

Finish: Initial sweetness gradually flees, giving bitter dark chocolate and black coffee the spotlight.  Something vaguely herbaceous is happening here as well, presumably thanks to the Willamette hops.

Overall: I really enjoyed this and hope they make it a year-round offering in the future.  There's just enough sweetness to make it different and interesting without being cloying.

North Brewing Company Strong Dark Belgian (Glenora Barrel Aged)

Presentation

North's barrel aged version of their strong dark is available only in the new 650ml bomber format and sold at the aforementioned private stores and at the brewery on Agricola Street.  There's a good chance it's sold out by now.

The barrels used to age this beer were previously used to age single malt whisky at Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton.  That ageing contributes to the mighty 10.5% abv alcohol content, though I have no idea whether it's due to residual whisky seeping from the wood, evaporation of water, a secondary fermentation, or some form of boozy witchcraft I'm not yet familiar with.  The bitterness is a fairly moderate 37 IBU.

The labels on the new bottles are looking good.  They'd look even better on the shelf in every NSLC, but I think it'll be a while before North has the brewing capacity to achieve that goal.  

The Beer

Colour: Hazy copper with red undertones.  The head is of moderate height and shrinks pretty quickly, settling into a thin foamy film. 

Nose: Sour, tangy dark fruits are at the forefront and followed by a healthy dollop of chocolate.  There's some vanilla in there as well, and dark, toasted rye bread.  Taking a whiff of this immediately brought a smile to my face.

Taste: Demerara sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla.  Baked apples and booze.  Really, really, delicious.

Finish: Tangy fruits and bitter chocolate.  Dark yeasty rye bread and a dash of vanilla.

Overall: I have no idea if it's still around, but don't let it get away if you find it somewhere; this is phenomenal beer.  Also, don't forget it's a big format for a 10.5% abv brew so you may want take your time or split it with a friend.


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Bowmore 15 YO Darkest

Last night, as I lounged around on the couch sipping at a dram of Bowmore 15 YO, I found myself pondering the much-discussed topic of age-statement vs. NAS whiskies.  Generally speaking I consider myself to be a fence-sitter on the subject; while I firmly believe that each and every whisky (indeed, every drink) should be judged on the merits of the liquid, I also fear that skimping on maturation time can be a great way to cause quality issues.  I don't think I'm saying anything new here; "it needs to taste good" is a statement everyone more or less agrees on.

As I pondered I got to thinking about why exactly we hold age so dear in whisky.  I believe it isn't just out of concern for quality (there are plenty of NAS whiskies that rival their well-aged siblings for taste and complexity).  I think it has a great deal to do with the nature of time itself; its inexorable, irreversible forward march; its simultaneous abundance and scarcity, cost and economy; and its infinite yet so very finite supply.  Time is the final, essential ingredient in whisky, and producers can use as much or as little as they please (regulations and money permitting).  We the consumer, however, are organisms.  Our time is limited; sooner or later, we all expire, and it's that very fact that makes us truly value time and the investment of it.

Take this Bowmore 15 YO Darkest as an example; I bought this bottle in 2013 when I was 33 years old.  That means I was 18 years old when this spirit entered the barrel.  I was fresh out of high school and had no idea what in the world I wanted to do in life.  I was vehemently anti-alcohol and felt prohibition was a great idea for society at large, even though it ended up being a fairly futile experiment.  Fifteen years later and I'm buying and writing about whisky, have a child, a wife, a bachelor's degree, a mortgage. . . you see what I'm driving at here.  Time changes everything when used in sufficient quantity, and so we revere it and whisky that contains a lot of it.

Anyway, let's taste some Islay.

Presentation

Bowmore 15 YO Darkest is sold in a handsome cardboard carton adorned with clear statements regarding both the age of the whisky and wood regimen applied to it.  It's bottled at 43% abv in Bowmore's signature bottle.  Since the packaging says nothing about colouring or chill-filtration we'll just assume that both are at work here.

The back label of both the bottle and the carton has some brief tasting notes, which is fun for comparison purposes.

The Whisky

Colour: Burnt orange.  Red tones suggest the sherry wood is at least partially responsible for that rich colour.  I'll just mention again that I don't know for a fact that caramel colouring was used; I'm just assuming.

Nose: Obvious but not overwhelming peat smoke up front.  Dark cherries and plump raisins hide a bit deeper in the glass.  There's a neat sweet-and-savoury thing going on here, and while it's not necessarily harmonious it's definitely interesting and enjoyable.  An extended rest in the glass also unveils a little brown sugar and maple, which is nice.  "Thanks for your patience, here's a little something extra."

Taste: Sweet up front, with heat nipping the tongue and lips a bit more enthusiastically than expected.  The sherry influence is dense and chewy, with slightly bitter oak countering the sweetness.  It feels weird to say this about whisky, but there are firm tannins at work here.  Sherry and oak are co-dominant here, with peat surprisingly subdued.

Finish: Oak, smoke, and sherry share the initial surge after swallowing.  Tannins take over as things progress, drying things out quite a bit.  The smoke transforms from earthy peat into a great cedar campfire note.

Overall: While I found Darkest to stumble somewhat on the palate, it makes up for it a great deal with an interesting nose and very satisfying finish.  It's very good and worth checking out, but I do feel it has some "value for money" issues at $72.


Some links:

Bowmore
NSLC Availability

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Two Saisons From North

I made it downtown last Sunday for a growler fill at North Brewing Co.  They had two different Belgian saison brews available: Saison de l'Acadie and their Winter Saison.  I came away with a 750ml swingtop of each.

Saison de l'Acadie

Presentation


North's Saison de l'Acadie is sold in branded, refillable growlers of various sizes.  Mine is the 750ml swingtop version with the old "Bridge" branding.

L'Acadie is brewed to 7.5% abv.  This is where it gets interesting; North brewed this with l'Acadie blanc grape must courtesy of Avondale Sky winery.  They've also added a generous dollop of honey to help balance out the high acidity of the grapes.  

The Beer

Colour: Golden straw coloured and quite cloudy.

Nose: The banana-and-clove notes typical of North's brews are immediately apparent, but there's a lot more going on here.  A slightly sour wine-y undertone is countered deftly by a soft aroma of honey.  Some floral notes tie the whole thing together.  Complex and very nice indeed.

Taste: Richly flavoured.  The initial attack is tangy and sweet.  Grape, honey, and pineapple shine through, and a touch of  hop bitterness and plenty of Belgian yeast keep it from being cloying.

Finish: Yeasty finish with lingering tropical fruits.

Overall: Interesting, nuanced, and rewarding.  This is a genre-bending brew, and while it doesn't necessarily blur the lines between beer and wine it does at least smudge them a little.  Quite excellent and highly recommended.

Winter Saison

Presentation

North's Winter Saison is sold in the same format(s) as their other brews.  As usual I picked up a 750ml swingtop.

The special ingredients this time around are ginger and black pepper.  It's brewed to 6.0% abv. 

The Beer

Colour: Golden and hazy with a frothy white head.

Nose: Banana-and-clove yeast.  Fir, complemented by extremely subtle ginger (if I hadn't known it was brewed with ginger I probably wouldn't have picked up on it).

Taste: Very Belgian, plenty of yeast.  Grassy with faint-but-enjoyable black pepper.  

Finish: Yeast, ginger, lingering black pepper.  Dry and slightly herbal.

Overall: Enjoyable Belgian-style beer.  Recommended, unless you hate yeasty brews.

Some links:



Thursday, 6 November 2014

Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye

This Autumn saw the launch of a new addition to the Canadian Club stable of products; Chairman's Select 100% Rye.  It rings in at a reasonable $28.49 here in NS, which makes it slightly cheaper than Alberta Premium's excellent Dark Horse bottling and slightly more expensive than most brands' flagship whiskies.  The price and the clear "100% rye grain" marketing caught my interest, so shortly after the launch I picked up a bottle.


Presentation

Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye is sold in a clear glass 750ml bottle with a plastic screwcap closure.  The green label and neck wrap look quite nice against the rich colour of the liquid.  For $28.49 a screwcap is to be expected, but man, a cork sure would have been nice.  I have an unhealthy love for cork stoppers.

This whisky is made entirely from rye grain.  That "internet" fellow tells me it's sourced from Alberta Distillers rather than the Hiram Walker plant where most of CC's whiskies are distilled.  It's bottled at the standard 40% abv.

The Whisky

Colour: Dark honey brown.  Fast-moving legs speak to the standard 40% alcohol content.

Nose: Really dusty spice cabinet.  Sort of like opening a cedar cupboard full of spice jars you haven't used in a couple of years.  Ground ginger and maple sugar seem dominant, with cinnamon sticks hiding beneath.  There's also toffee and vanilla.

Taste: Spicy, peppery heat.  Dark rye bread, some nuts.  Hard red candies and plenty of oaky toffee and vanilla.  Warming and pleasant.

Finish: Nice dark rye bread and walnuts, orange pith, ginger and cloves.  Fades slowly to fairly gentle tannic dryness.

Overall: A real class act.  Canadian Club has crafted a pretty remarkable whisky here at a really outstanding price.  It proves a worthy adversary for Dark Horse at the $30-or-less price point.  I'd happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys rye.

Some links:

Canadian Club
NSLC Availability

Friday, 31 October 2014

A Pair of Pumpkins

Gahan Pumpkin Ale


Presentation

Gahan's Pumpkin Ale is sold in a 500ml bottle.  It's the short, stout shape Gahan uses for their other brews (Picaroon's uses the same style).  The label is pumpkin-pie brown with an illustrated pumpkin underneath the large-font name of the brew.

This beer is brewed to an assertive 5.8% with brown sugar and "pumpkin pie spices" (presumably cinnamon and nutmeg, maybe cloves and allspice as well).

The Beer

Colour: Honey brown to amber in colour.  Really nice head; creamy, firm, with an off-white colour.  It recedes slowly, leaving nice lace behind.

Nose: Subtle on the noses; spices are muted and seem to happily share the stage with dry, dusty hops.

Taste: The spices that were shy on the nose are more apparent on the palate, but not excessive.  Nice citric hop presence as well.  Very quaffable stuff, really good balance.

Finish: Dry finish with dusty spice almost reminiscent of rye whisky.  Mildly bitter.

Overall: I really liked this one.  It's fairly restrained on the spices; they're part of the show instead of the whole show.  If you find Propeller's pumpkin ale to be overly-spiced give this a try, it might be more your speed.


Garrison Double Jack Imperial Pumpkin Ale


Presentation

Garrison's Double Jack is sold in a 650ml bomber bottle.  The label is red with a big orange jack-o-lantern split by the brew's name.  It's a pretty cool looking label.

This one gets the imperial treatment and is brewed to 8.0% abv.  In addition to pumpkin spice this one uses actual pumpkin.

The Beer

Colour: Burnt orange, or red tinged amber.  It's a rich colour.  The head is an off-white beach sand colour, and nice and firm.  This is a good-looking beer in the glass.

Nose: Pumpkin spice is obvious but not excessive or cloying.  I'm getting nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of ginger.  There's a whiff of toffee-like maltiness as well, and a dash of hops.

Taste: Plenty of spice.  Brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg. . . ginger emerges a little later.  The hop bitterness is just right and wards of any excessive sweetness.  I'm even getting a bit of apple pie from this, and some dark fruit comes through with some savouring.  Full, rich mouthfeel.

Finish: Dry, hoppy finish with nutmeg and cloves lingering.

Overall: This is the best pumpkin ale I've had.  Spicier than Gahan but less so than Propeller, and the fruity qualities are an unexpected treat.

Some links:

Gahan
Garrison
NSLC availability (Gahan)
NSLC availability (Garrison)