Saturday, 10 June 2017

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

I'm just going to say right from the get-go that I'm very much a bourbon novice and don't really have any business posting tasting notes for it.  I mean seriously, I'm sitting here with Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey 101 at the same time just so I have something to compare / contrast with.  Pretty sure that's not something one does from a position of confidence.

But I mean, I'm more comfortable with bourbon than I am with rum, and I went ahead and posted a dreadful rum review anyway, so. . .

The Whiskey

Nose: Rich, fruity; candy apple, red jube jubes.  Getting loads of apple peel, very reminiscent of preparing a snack for the girls.  A bit of vanilla bean and orange peel.

Taste: Mild heat.  Much more vanilla on the palate.  Baking spice, hard red candies.  Sweet and spicy.

Finish: Fading sweetness, nuts, vanilla, tannin.

Overall: Like I said, I'm no bourbon expert.  This is good stuff though, and I'm quite happy with what I'm getting for about $40.  I found it fruitier and sweeter than the Wild Turkey 101 I sample alongside it.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Kern Irish Whiskey

Obligatory St. Patrick's Day Irish whiskey post.

This is a bottle I picked up about a year ago in the wake of 2016's Celebrate Whisky event in Halifax.  I didn't order a bottle right away, but the taste I had at the show proved compelling enough that I picked it up a few weeks later.  Like most of my bottles, it was quickly opened and sampled, and then banished to the shelf for the better part of a year as the whisky equivalent of ADD kept me flitting between other bottles old and new, always seeking novelty.

Kern is a weird brand.  The internet has little to offer in details; the official site is a single page, featuring brief tasting notes and this surprisingly concise and informative blurb:

"Kern is made from the best Irish malts and grains. The whiskey is distilled in pot stills, blended, and then aged in American oak for 3- 5 years, then filled in our handcrafted signature ‘KERN’ bottle."

I dunno, maybe my expectations of the industry have hit rock bottom, but I'm impressed that this comically simple website managed to disclose some info on grain composition, distillation method, type of wood, and duration of ageing in just two sentences.  That good stuff aside, I have no idea who owns the brand, who's distilling and maturing it, whether it's distilled under contract or sourced, or any of those other details we geeks like to know.

What I know:
-40% abv, cool looking 750ml bottle;
-Blend of grain and malt whiskies;
-American oak for 3-5 years;
-Pot stills;
-$43 at the NSLC, scattered availability.

The Whiskey

Nose: Initially fruity with ripe Bartlett pear and spotty bananas.  Honey, oatmeal.  Only lightly influenced by oak.  Young and fresh, I'd love to know what the new make smells like.

Taste: Moderately sweet, honeyed.  Delicious ripe pears as predicted by the nose.  Savouring lets some wood come through as pencil shavings and a bit of vanilla.

Finish: Honey and banana surge first, light oak follows.  Short, mellow.  Long after swallowing there's some light barrel tanin, maybe a vague hint of lingering solvent.

Overall: You know, this is so light and easy that I feel like, as a whisky dork, I'm not supposed to like it.  I suspect a lot of reviewers will crap all over it.  But I do like it, quite a lot in fact.  I don't generally think of neat whisk(e)y as a "session" drink, but Kern could easily fill that role.  I had a taste of Bushmills at an in-store tasting today; to me this is well worth the extra $12 if you have any intention of sipping it neat.  Also a great whiskey for beginners.

Happy St. Patrick's Day folks.  Have fun and get home safe.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Glassware comparison: Glencairn vs. NS Crystal

A couple of weeks ago I received a message from a reader via Facebook.  He had noticed in my photos that I use both the industry standard Glencairn glass and the fancier shmancier single malt tasting glass from Nova Scotia Crystal, and was curious as to how they compare from a performance point of view.  "Good question," I thought; they are very similar in form and function, but I had never sat down for a serious side-by-side comparison.  So let's do it now!

So as you an see in the photo the basic shape of these glasses is pretty similar: short stem, wide bowl, narrow mouth.  There are significant differences at the top and the bottom.  The Glencairn sits atop a short, thick stump versus a more traditional stemware foot for the NS Crystal glass, and the NS Crystal flares at the mouth.  The NS Crystal is also slightly narrower at its narrowest point.

The Glencairn is a bit more comfortable to hold.  With its low weight you can easily hold it between a couple of fingers if you want to avoid transferring heat to the whisky.  The thickness of the foot also makes it quite comfortable to wrap your whole hand around if you want to let the liquid warm, Jim Murray style.

The NS Crystal glass is at least twice as heavy as the Glencairn.  Personally I like the extra heft, but I can imagine it getting obnoxious if you're going to be toting it around for extended periods.  The wine glass style foot allows you a couple of different grips.  You can pinch the flat part between your thumb and index finger if you really want to minimize contact, though I find it feels a bit risky to do so.  One can also wedge a finger into the groove between the foot and the bowl, giving you excellent stability and control.  The extra skin contact of this grip increases heat transfer, but thanks to the extremely thick glass at the bottom of the bowl you're unlikely to cause much unintentional warming.  Honestly, it's not super comfortable to hold no matter how you do it, but I love the weight.

To assess whether the flared opening of the NS Crystal provides any particular benefits I had to pour some whisky.  I chose Canadian Club 20 YO.  I figured with its standard 40% abv and fairly subtle aromatics it would be a good candidate to highlight differences in nosing performance.


With a quick whiff from each glass it's readily apparent that the Glencairn delivers more aroma more readily, but also more alcohol vapour.  NS Crystal might make it easier to pick out subtler notes, but you have to really stick your nose in to maximum depth to to get the full effect, and even then it doesn't give you as much as the Glencairn does.  With CC20 there is no question that Glencairn wins, though with bigger, more expressive whiskies and high strength bottlings I can imagine the NS Crystal giving the better experience.  That's just speculative though, so don't mind my rambling.


The Glencairn does a perfectly acceptable job of delivering the liquid.  My only gripe is that the narrow mouth can cause the upper rim to bump into your nose while sipping, and also requires you to tilt your head back quite a bit at the fill level drops.

NS Crystal's flared opening delivers the whisky more smoothly and also avoids the nose bumping issue.  I also don't seem to be tilting my head back nearly as much.  The reduced head tilting would be nice in a social setting.


If you're looking for a real nosing and tasting glass, the Glencairn really is just the better of the two.  It does a better job of displaying the whisky's aroma, and with so much of this liquid's appeal tied up in the olfactory experience it's impossible to recommend a glass that doesn't equal it in that regard.

If you're looking for an heirloom quality piece of beautiful crystal and don't mind spending $90 (CAD), get an NS Crystal glass.  It might not function as well as the Glencairn, but it is a pleasure to look at, hold, and drink from.  I love this thing.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Time For Dark Beer

Spindrift Abyss Schwarzbier (4.8%)

Appearance: Abyss boasts a nice full head which is surprisingly slow to recede and khaki in colour.  The beer is opaque and pretty close to black.  Plenty of lace clings to the glass as the fill level drops.

Nose: Hops and malts achieve a nice balance on the nose.  Chocolate and burnt coffee are present as expected, but there's a nice citrus pith (orange?) undertone as well, plus something spicy and/or herbal.  There's a hint of cigarette smoke too, which sounds super gross but isn't.

Taste: Full mouthfeel is unexpected but welcome.  Bitterness is low to moderate.  The nose predicts the palate, but I get a bit of dark, dried fruit in addition.

Finish: Lightly bitter.  Mostly coffee with a hint of pith.

Overall: This dark lager is more "dark" than "lager" and is thus right up my alley.  Far and away my favourite Spindrift brew.

Hell Bay Dark Cream Ale (5.0%)

Appearance: The lightly tanned head is short in both stature and lifespan, but it clings to the glass well.  The beer is super dark brown, appearing black except at the edges where some light manages to pass through.

Nose: Dark bread, coffee, with subtle dark fruits underneath.  It reminds me of breakfast, even though I've never had beer for breakfast.  Some day. . .

Taste: Full and slightly creamy mouthfeel.  Richly flavourful; coffee, darkly toasted rye bread with a light smear of marmalade.  Low bitterness.

Finish: Consistent with the flavour.  

Overall: Hell Bay's English Ale is one of my most beloved NS beers.  This one is very good too, but doesn't reach the levels of near-perfection that the English Ale does.

Fuller's London Porter (5.4%)

Appearance: Light khaki head is full, firm, foamy, and happily rises to just the right height.  Excellent retention.  The beer is nearly opaque and like the previous two is virtually black.

Nose: Rich and chocolatey.  Tootsie Rolls, a dash of anise, a suggestion of dark dried fruit.  Exactly what I want from a porter.

Taste: So smooth and full in the mouth that it almost seems nitrogenated, but there's no widget so I assume that's not the case.  Mildly bitter, chocolate and dried fruit.

Finish: Coffee with cream, just right bitterness.

Overall: Lays down the blueprint for porter.  This is the standard others should be striving to achieve.  

I just realized I referred to "dried fruit" for every one of these brews.  Maybe I'm bad at this?

Friday, 21 October 2016

Gibson's Finest Bold 8 YO

Wiser's, Crown Royal, Alberta Premium, Forty Creek; all of those huge Canadian whisky names have expanded their core ranges in recent years to include big, bold, expressive whiskies targeting the discerning connoisseur.  Gibson's remained conspicuous by its absence in this trend until this year.  It appears William Grant & Sons is not content to let the Gibson's brand rest on its laurels, harvesting sales from brand loyalists' consumption of the core Sterling, 12 YO, and 18 YO bottlings; Gibson's Finest Bold 8 YO has arrived and it's here to fill the "big whisky for a reasonable price" role.

It's sold in Gibson's nice new bottle with the barrel-like details and a natural cork closure.  The single-digit age statement is featured prominently and unashamedly, and I respect that move tremendously for both its marketing savvy (an age statement heads off any NAS doomsayers' complaints) and its honesty.  It boasts and unfortunate dark brown diluted cola colour, suggesting a run-in with more than a bit of the E-150.

When I see "bold" I automatically think "sipping whisky," but the back label makes it quite clear that this was blended to make a really nice rye and Coke.

The Whisky

Nose: Strawberries and cream, which I've come to consider to be Gibson's signature, are at the forefront.  A rummy hint of molasses.  Strong spice cupboard rye presence.  A bit of tobacco.  Orange peel.  Smells like there's some new oak at work here too.

Taste: Lots of spice, pleasant heat level, hearty dark bread, wood.  Sweet and sour.  It's more or less as promised; Gibson's, but bigger.

Finish: Wood, spice, rum, alcohol.  Not especially lengthy.

As a mixed drink: Mixing with Coke Zero unshackles a bunch of vanilla extract.  I added the recommended garnish of lime, which seems to help counter the sweetness of the mix.  It's a tasty drink, I'd be curious to see how dedicated rye and Coke drinkers compare
it to their usual.  Gibson's Bold is meant to excel when mixed with cola after all.

As an Old Fashioned: Good stuff, easily handles the garnish and bitters while allowing the spirit to shine.  Capably fills the Old Fashioned role.

Overall: Well qualified for sipping.  I don't think it'll blow anyone away though, and it has a lot of competition at its price point.  It's a very logical choice for any Gibson's drinkers looking to dabble with bigger, more expressive Canadian whiskies, as the house character is still present despite the amped-up rye profile.  I'll probably drink most of what's left as Old Fashioneds.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Beer y'all

Garrison Rye & Ginger IPA (6.4%)

Appearance: Copper-tinged head is firm, creamy, and long lasting.  The beer is copper coloured with plenty of rising bubbles.  Super lacy.  Visually this stuff is fantastic.

Nose: Not getting much aroma, maybe it's too cold?  What I am getting is a little spice and some typical IPA notes, but this is really shy and I'm honestly not getting much.  After letting it warm up a bit some ginger is coming forward.

 Taste: There it is!  Ginger and spice, mild citrus pith.  Maybe a trace of pine but this is, as advertised, mostly about rye and ginger.  Typical craft IPA bitterness.

Finish: Malt, dusty spice, citrus pith, tree needles.  Bitter, maybe a trace of astringency.  Lingers, as hoppy beers tend to do.

Overall: Not a bad brew.  Ginger is employed effectively without overdoing it.  If you're looking for a departure from the usual IPA territory this might be just the thing.

Boxing Rock The Next Chapter Rye IPA (6.3%)

Appearance: Head is firm and foamy, tinged with copper.  Not as tall as the previous brew, nor as long lasting.  Lots of lace as the fill level drops.  The beer is coppery as well, and crystal clear.  A bit redder than the Rye & Ginger, and far fewer rising bubbles.  If this were a beer beauty pageant Garrison would win this round.

Nose: First impression is standard IPA territory.  Spruce, musk, a bit of the spice cupboard and muted citrus pith.  Maybe some toffee malt in the mix as well.

Taste: Bitter, lots of drying pith.  Fruity next.  Wee spice.

Finish: Dry and bitter.  Clinging spruce, with a suggestion of coffee.  Lengthy.

Overall: Good stuff.  Subtle spice from the rye adds some extra complexity without taking things outside of the style's wheelhouse.

Garrison Imperial IPA (8.0%)

Appearance: Firm, foamy, off white head.  Clings nicely to the glass but fades a bit too quickly.  The beer is orange and hazy.

Nose: Very citrus-focused.  Grapefruit pith and orange peel initially dominate.  Musky tropical fruit and a whiff of ammonia are secondary, and a little caramel starts to peek through as it warms.

Taste: Simultaneously hoppy and malty; firm hop bitterness cuts through a rich toffee malt backbone.  It's bitter (of course).

Finish: Bitter, lots of pithy dryness.  Lingering.

Overall:  I hadn't had this in years.  It was a favourite before I started chasing every new thing that came out, and I still love it now.  I wish they still used the 500ml slim bottles instead of these absurd bombers.

Propeller Double IPA (8.2%)

Note: The bottling date on this one indicates it's 3 months old.  Notes for a fresh bottle would differ significantly.

Appearance: Firm, off white head much like the previous brew.  Nice and lacy as well, but better retention.  The beer is a rich burnt orange colour and throws a haze so heavy it's translucent.

Nose: Pith and orange peel jumped out right after pouring, but quickly blew away.  Marmalade is running the show now, plus caramel.  It's a rich, malty nose that reminds me of a nice barley wine.  I seems three months in the bottle has laid waste to the hop aroma.  It doesn't smell like a DIPA anymore, but it smells really damned good.

Taste: Hop bitterness hasn't left the building yet.  The usual hop flavours are very diminished though, offering just a bit of dry pithiness that offsets rich malt and more marmalade. 

Finish: Dry and pithy.  A little stone fruit and orange peel.  The finish seems to have more hop character left.

Overall: Apparently three months changes this beer a lot.  It drinks more like a barley wine than a DIPA.  This mutated version is quite delicious though.  Also, Propeller wins a high five for using a 500ml bottle.

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 dry, 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.