Sunday, 7 September 2014

Glenora Fiddler's Choice Single Malt Whisky

On July 29, 2014 Glenora Distillery released its latest product; Fiddler's Choice, a no-age statement single malt whisky which has seen ageing practices similar to those used for their flagship Glen Breton Rare 10 YO.  The key difference here is age, with Fiddler's Choice flowing into the bottle after 6 years in ex-bourbon casks (a significantly shorter period than that used for GB).

A NAS release is hardly a surprise in this day and age from any distiller even though ethics / business sense of the practice of releasing young whiskies to market is the subject of much debate.  It's easy to see why distillers want to bottle at younger ages, as shorter maturation periods means more bottles (the angels are denied a larger part of their share), lower retail prices, and more stable revenues.  Many see the NAS trend as a terribly destructive force in the industry, one that can only lead to declining quality and the ultimate bursting of the whisky "bubble."  I'm a bit more moderate on the topic.  I feel that each release ought to be judged by what the liquid has to offer, and so I approach Fiddler's Choice with high hopes and an open mind.

Presentation

Fiddler's Choice was named in honour of late Cape Breton fiddler John MacDougall.  I'm not going to pretend to be well-versed on the topic of fiddle music, or even to be a fan of it.  I like the sentiment though, and naming this bottling in tribute to a Cape Breton tradition seems appropriate.  The back of the carton features of photo of John playing in front the of the Glenora Distillery and a short write-up on who he was and what he did.

The boxboard carton is of fairly simple design.  It's black with the "Fiddler's Choice" name printed in large white text over an image of a fiddle, a barrel, and a tasting glass.  The image is curiously low resolution; at a glance you don't really notice it, but it's one of those things that really can't be "unseen" once you've noticed it.  I'm not sure why they didn't use a high-res image.  It'd look quite nice if they had.

The term "hand-crafted" is used both on the front of the carton and in huge text on the sides.  I'm glad they chose to do that, as much of the appeal of Glenora's whiskies (to me at least) comes from the small, artisan nature of their operation.   Curiously absent are "non-chillfiltered" and "natural colour" statements, which seems like a missed opportunity.

The bottle itself is the same one used for Glen Breton Rare.  It's a clear glass rectangular prism with rounded edges and a nice monogrammed cork-and-plastic stopper.  The sides have indents that make it easier to grip.  The labels are basically identical to the carton.  I've always liked Glenora's bottle and I'm happy to see them use it for this release as well.

Now the more important details; Fiddler's Choice is bottled at 43% abv without chill filtration or added colouring.  It's a 750ml bottle.

The Whisky

Colour: Pale straw, like a well aged chardonnay.  Coats the glass well, and legs form and descend fairly quickly.

Nose: Unmistakable Glen Breton character.  Fresh apples and tons of oak.  A bit of creamy sweetness and some citrus fruit, almost like an orange creamsicle.  Somehow this seems oakier than the longer-aged GB Rare 10 YO, which seems strange.  Also present are some nuts and honey (baklava?).  There's enough oak going on here that I'm reminded a little of Deanston Virgin Oak.

Taste: A bit young and feisty at first with a bit of heat nipping at the tongue.  Fresh grain and lots of oak again.  Some apple, but not so prevalent as it is on the nose, and lightly creamy.  Oatmeal with a bit of honey and apple thrown in, with some vanilla wafers on the side?  An extended savour reveals some lovely warm nutty notes, which are accompanied by a slightly unfortunate bitterness.

Finish: Lots of vanilla and a little cream, along with understated apple.  As the cream and fruit notes fade the oak truly takes over with toffee and eventually barrel tannin.  A touch of orange pith at the very end.

Overall: This is quite similar to Glen Breton Rare 10 YO, but somehow fuller, richer, and more woody.  I'm not sure how to explain it but I presume some excellent casks were selected for this release.  If you've ever wanted to try GB but $79.99 was too rich for your blood then you should seriously consider Fiddler's Choice; it's $59.99 and provides an excellent showcase of what Glenora's house style is all about.  I would go so far as to argue that it's slightly better than the 10 YO (or at least the batch that my bottle is from).

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Glenora Distillery

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Bad Apple Brewhouse Black and Tackle Russian Imperial Stout (Glenora Barrel Aged)

A few months ago I enjoyed and reviewed Bad Apple's RIS, a big, dark, roasted malt-driven bruiser of a stout.  I was aware at the time that some this delicious liquid was also maturing in single malt whisky barrels provided by Glenora Distillery.  As you can imagine this was exciting news for a beer and whisky geek; my two boozy loves were slowly joining forces to create what I hoped would be a beautiful Frankenstein monster of a baby.  Bottling time has come at last, and the good news is those bottles are available in the HRM area at our private stores (availability links at the end as usual).  Note that store websites don't seem to include this beer as a listing so may need to call.

Presentation

BAB's barrel aged RIS is sold in 500 ml glass bottles tinted the usual dark brown.  The pry-off cap is a simple metallic gray and unbranded.  The bottle shape is slightly stocky with a short neck and low shoulders.  The label is identical to that of the regular RIS but sports a medium sized logo clearly declaring that it's the barrel aged version (which is important; time in the barrel has had a profound effect on the beer).  I think I've said before that I like BAB's branding, and that holds true today.

Barrel aging has significantly increased the alcohol content (11.6% versus 9% for the un-aged version).  This could be due to evaporation of water, residual alcohol from the barrel-proof whisky, or a combination of those factors.  This beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised.

The Beer

Colour: Deep, dark espresso; as close to black as brown gets.  Totally opaque in all but the tiniest quantities.  The head is a bit reluctant to rise even with a vigorous pour; it maxes out fairly short and shrinks slowly.  It's foamy and has a nice khaki hue.

Nose: Glenora's barrels have done great things here.  The coffee, dark chocolate, and ash aromas of roasted malt have become muted background features.  Fresh apples and vanilla straight out of Glen Breton Rare 10 YO come first but give way to rich, dark fruit.  Cherries smothered with milk chocolate, Tootsie Rolls. . . I can't detect any serious hop presence, nor ethanol.  Really, really fantastic nose and an altogether new experience.

Taste: Very densely flavoured.  Tootsie Rolls and fruit leather, vanilla, and a great nutty quality.  Bitter coffee and chocolate reluctantly show themselves if you savour long enough.  Fairly heavy mouthfeel is slightly lightened by some effervescence.  Complex stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.

Finish:  Nuts and chocolate; almost brownie or fudge-like but not sweet.  Nuts go on for ages and gradually give way to the classic coffee of darkly roasted malt.

Overall: It seems like the barrel has sucked out a lot of the trademark bitterness of a RIS and swapped in some wonderful malt whisky and dark, dried fruit character.  BAB has used quality wood to make great beer into incredible beer.  Very highly recommended.

Some links:

Cristall Wine Merchants (call for availability)
Premier Wine and Spirits (call for availability)
Harvest Wines and Spirits (call for availability)
Bishop's Cellar (call for availability)
Bad Apple Brewhouse

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lot No. 40 (2012 Edition)

What can I say about Lot No. 40?  I hadn't even heard about it until I received my first issue of Whisky Advocate by mail last year.  Flipping through the buyer's guide section I was surprised to see a Canadian whisky score a whopping 94 pts.  Since I didn't recognize the name and a quick search of the NSLC's website told me I couldn't get it here anyway I promptly forgot about it and moved on with my life.  A couple months later I got a bee in my bonnet about this mysterious liquid and took to the internet again; Davin de Kergommeaux's excellent blog told me its story, the comments section reinforced its legendary quality, and a fresh search of the NSLC website told me it was now available and could be mine for $45.  A whisky geek and his money are easily parted so Lot No. 40 soon joined my small collection.

Presentation

Lot No. 40 is sold in a clear glass 750 mL bottle sealed with a plastic-and-cork stopper.  It's shaped like a red wine bottle but with a shorter neck and slightly highe
r shoulders.  They've used thick, heavy glass that gives a nice hefty feel in the hand.  The front label is set at a steep diagonal angle and resembles an antique movie ticket.  Engineering diagrams and technical jargon decorate the front directly on the glass.  The back label is just a simple rectangle with a bar code, Corby's mailing address, and the following statement: "Pure Canadian Rye Whisky in its simplest form."  Also, not pictured here is a circular neck tag affixed by a thin copper wire; I found it annoying when it came time to pour so I threw it out quite a while ago.

This is a damned good-looking package.  A presentation of this quality reflects the pride the distiller takes in the liquid they've worked so hard to create.  I wish more distillers would follow suit (Dark Horse and Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve are just begging for cork stoppers).

Lot No. 40 is bottled at 43% abv (yes!).  I have no idea whether colouring or chill-filtration is used, though both are likely.  It is distilled in pot stills (yes!) from a mash of 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye.

The Whisky

Colour: Burnt orange.  A quick swirl coats the glass nicely.  Legs form slowly and descend at medium speed.

Nose: Oh my.  Super lush rye spice surges forth from the glass; cloves, nutmeg, a dash of cinnamon.  This isn't "dusty" though; this is fresh, luscious, juicy.  There are prunes, hard candies, a little rye bread. . . something sweet-and-sour, plum sauce perhaps.  I'm searching my vocabulary for the words I need to describe this aroma and I'm coming up short.  It's possibly the best thing I've ever smelled.

Taste: Hot, but more in a "cinnamon hearts" way than an "ethanol" way.  Rye bread is much more present on the palate than on the nose.  That bread is served with a generous smear of dark fruit preserves of some kind.  Oak is almost completely hidden under spicy heat and some citrus pithiness.  Delicious.

Finish: First comes the big surge of rye spice along with some ginger.  Orange peel.  Eventually becomes almost bourbon-like with a big kick of vanilla and toffee, but seasoned with that ever-present rye spice.  A bit of sourness lingers on and on.

Overall: Amazing whisky by any measure.  It's an insane value at $45.  Many Canadian whisky drinkers will balk at this price, which is very very sad.  If you have even the slightest fondness of rye this is a must-buy for you.

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Corby Distilleries

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Uncle Leo's Smoked Porter


Uncle Leo's Brewery is a young craft brewery operating in Lyons Brook, Nova Scotia.  When I say young I really mean it; they opened in June of 2013 and are just over 1 year old at the time of this post.  They haven't made an appearance on NSLC shelves yet, but it can be found in three of the four private stores in the HRM (availability links at the end per usual).

Presentation

Uncle Leo's Smoked Porter is sold in a 650 mL brown tinted glass bottle with a red pry-off cap.  The label is a stylish black-and-white portrait (presumably of said uncle) framed in a pale blue oval overlaid with the product name.  I find it visually appealing.

Beer facts such is IBU and OG weren't readily available on the company's website.  It is 6.8% abv.

The Beer

Colour: Black and almost completely opaque.  The darkly tanned head starts thick and foamy.  It shrinks at a moderate rate and eventually settles into a thin, even layer.

Nose: Smoke!  Not the pungent, overwhelming smoke of peated Islay whisky though; this is much more subtle and reminiscent of burnt cedar.  The smoke fits in wonderfully with other dark aromas of black coffee and bitter chocolate.  There's something here that reminds me of peanuts as well.  If there's a hop presence in the aroma it's too subtle for me to pick up; this is all about dark malts and subtle smoke.

Taste: Thick, heavy mouthfeel is lightened slightly by a tingly but subdued carbonation level.  The heavy texture is matched with dense flavours of very dark chocolate, black coffee, and a touch of molasses.  A sniff of this beer gives you a good preview of what it's like on the palate.

Finish: Vaguely prune-like sweetness is quickly blown away by bitter roasted malt.  Smoke, black coffee again. . . if it's dark and bitter you can probably find it in here somewhere.  The cedar notes linger very pleasantly.

Overall: A new classic in NS craft beer is born!  All the things a craft porter should be: dark, dense, bitter, and strong.  I'd love to see this get wider distribution, because it's outstanding stuff.

Some links:

Cristall Wine Merchants Availability
Premier Wines and Spirits Availability
Harvest Wines and Spirits Availability
Uncle Leo's Brewery

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Gibson's Finest 12 YO

Time for a Canadian whisky!  Gibson's Finest is one of Canada's most respected whisky brands, thanks in no small part to their nigh legendary 18-year old product.  Today I'm talking about their flagship 12 year old whisky, because I don't have $75 to spend on a bottle every time I want to write a new post.  First world problems?

Gibson's is currently owned by Scotch whisky giant William Grant and Sons and is distilled under contract at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, ON (for more on the history of the Gibson's brand visit this much better blog).

Presentation

Gibson's Finest 12 YO is sold in a squat, round, low-shouldered bottle of clear glass.  It's closed with a plastic screwcap housed in decorative plastic foil.  The Gibson's coat of arms decorates the label and the cap.  It's nothing mind-blowing but the squat bottle shape is a nice visual change of pace.

This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and is available at the NSLC in 375 mL, 750 mL, and 1140 mL bottles.  I bought the little one.

The Whisky

Colour: Golden in colour.  Legs are long.  They form slowly and descend pretty rapidly.

Nose: Solid rye presence, more "dusty spicy cabinet" than "baking rye bread."  There's a very apparent solvent-y sweetness.  Nice undercurrent of berries and cream, like strawberry shortcake made with vanilla sponge cake rather than a tea biscuit.  Lots of oak.  Not bad overall; a bit less solvent quality and it'd be really nice indeed. A lengthy rest in the glass really let's those berry and cream notes shine.

Taste: Starts sweet and fruity, like caramel-dipped apple.  Oak comes next with lots of caramel and vanilla only to get shoved aside by the rye; hot peppers and rye spice with a dash of brown sugar.  I found the palate to be better than the nose.

Finish: Big surge of vanilla first.  Toffee.  Lingering sweetness offset by a pleasant pithiness.  This is a very wood-dominant finish yet lacks any bitterness or barrel tannin to speak of.  At the end it's reminiscent of bourbon.

Overall: Gibson's 12 is tasty and I enjoyed it. . . but there's a "but."  A 750 mL bottle retails for $29.47 here in NS, while Alberta Premium Dark Horse is 49 cents cheaper at $28.98.  I'm not one to quibble over such a trivial difference but it IS problematic that Dark Horse is, in my opinion, an altogether better whisky.  I just can't wholeheartedly recommend Gibson's when there's something cheaper and better sitting just inches away.  I will say, however, that Gibson's style is milder and more approachable than that of Dark Horse and for that reason it may be of preference to the right audience.

This is a decent sipper for under $30 regardless of its competition.

Some Links:

NSLC Availability (750 mL)
Gibson's Finest

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Propeller Double IPA


Time to stop neglecting Propeller!  One of Halifax's most prominent craft brewers, Propeller offers a variety of classic and contemporary styles on both a year-round and seasonal basis.  Their double IPA is a part of the seasonal rotation and is essentially a bigger, badder version of their excellent and best-selling IPA.  It's available at the brewer and (more conveniently) at the NSLC.

Presentation

Propeller Double IPA is sold in the brewery's typical 500 ml short-necked bottle.  It's tinted the usual beer-bottle brown and is fitted with a pry-off cap.  The label is simple and attractive; the Propeller branding is there but the prop has been replaced with a big green hop.  Looks good.

This beer is brewed to a beefy 8.2% abv and boasts 85 IBUs of bitterness.  Gird your livers folks.

The Beer

Colour: Deep amber and crystal clear.  A big, foamy, off-white head shrinks fairly quickly.

Nose: All the aggressive hoppy-ness you'd expect with a nice underpinning of malt.  Piney, floral hop aromas are accompanied by some musky tropical fruit (mangoes?) and bittersweet prunes.  There's some toffee in there as well.

Taste: The hops are at full throttle but somehow the malt backbone hits first.  This is a glass positively crammed full of grapefruit rinds and a forest-floor worth of tree needles.  The malt is nearly as big as the hops; for a big bully of a beer it strikes a nice balance.

Finish: Malty caramel, citrus pith and heaps upon heaps of pine needles.  Pithiness and malt qualities linger.  Eventually ends on a dry note.

Overall: Propeller Double IPA is a bruiser, no question about it.  The style-typical hop assault is kept in check by an equally heavy malt presence.  Delicious and utterly lacking in subtlety, just the way a DIPA should be.

Some links:

Propeller
NSLC Availability

Friday, 4 July 2014

Review: Cragganmore 12 YO

Cragganmore distillery is located Ballindalloch, Banffshire in the Speyside region of Scotland.  It is owned by drinks colossus Diageo and represents Speyside in their "Classic Malts" range.

Cragganmore 12 YO was once carried by the NSLC.  It was delisted in 2012 and bottles quickly disappeared with the help of a pretty huge clearance discount.  I snapped up one of these bottles, tasted it once, then sent it to the back of the cupboard when bruisers such as Talisker and Ardbeg grabbed my attention.

Presentation

Cragganmore 12 YO comes packed in a somewhat flimsy boxboard carton.  The box is fairly simple in terms of decoration; the Cragganmore branding is displayed at the top and in much larger text (which wraps around the whole box) at the bottom, and a nice sketch of the distillery and surrounding terrain make up the background.  The usual marketing chatter adorns the back and sides.

The bottle is pretty standard; clear glass, 750 mL, and labeling that mirrors the appearance of the carton.  Somehow the branding looks a lot better on the bottle than it does on the carton.  The stopper is of the nice wood-and-cork variety.

This whisky is bottled at 40% abv with the use of chill filtration and caramel colouring.

The Whisky

Colour: Golden honey in colour.  The legs are quite thin, forming rapidly and descending like they're late for work.

Nose: Delicate, floral, and a little sweet.  Apples, honey and a little lemon zest with a big kick of toffee at the end.  Vague nuttiness (almonds and walnuts?).  I also detect just a tiny hint of peat smoke.  Fresh and delicate.

Taste: A bit thin and watery in texture.  Honey and almonds.  Some (very) subtle phenols and barrel tannins add interest.

Finish: Quite sweet and honeyed at first.  Vanilla and toffee linger for a pretty good duration before giving way to super-delicate smoke and some dry woodiness.  The toffee notes take on a salty undertone later on.

Overall: You know, I was all set to write this one off as a generic "drink it and forget it" Speysider but tasting it again as I type this post has unveiled some nice subtleties that really make it worth exploring.  It's kind of sad you can't really get it here anymore.  It still appears on The Press Gang's drinks menu so perhaps they're still pouring it.

Some links:

Cragganmore
The Press Gang Whisky List