Review: High Wheeler 21 Year Old Single Grain New Zealand Whisky by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
43%
Aging
Ex-bourbon for 21 Years
Recipe
70% Malted Barley; 30% Unmalted Barley
Distiller Willowbank Distillery (Dunedin, New Zealand)

In 1997, the last remaining distillery in New Zealand was shut down, auctioning off all of their remaining stock. At the time, it was the world’s most southernmost distillery. In 2010, a company bought the remaining 80,000 litres and began to release some of it. The company hopes to get to producing their own distillate.

This whisky was made from unmalted barley whisky distilled in a column still, which was then mixed with single malt and laid down in ex-bourbon barrels. Non-chill filtered.

On a side note, the label is simple but packed with the information I’m interested in. Nicely done.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

A great aged barley nose – rich in apple and pear, grape candies, mixed fruit drop candies, as well as a very nice bit of earth and some sundried tomatoes. There is also a bit of baking spice and a great tension between the big fruit, the sweet vanilla, and an earthy grain character very reminiscent of unmalted barley. It does, indeed, have a bit of an oily irish edge to it.

The palate continues with a bright burst of fruit, but also with a smoky edge. It tastes a bit diluted – but, I am tasting from a heel that has been open for a while. This, undoubtedly, can have this “diluting” effect from my experience and I can tell that it was better before. The fruit seems to be increasingly candied on the palate, compared to the nose, and it leads into a very slightly drying, sweet, fruity finish.

If this is indicative of all New Zealand whisky, we should all try to get our hands on more of it!

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, since this is understably a bit pricy. Depends on how much you want to explore some well aged New Zealand whisky, I suppose!


Review: The Arran Port Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
~8 Years, Finished in a port cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Arran (Lochranza, Scotland)

An Arran, initially matured in “traditional whisky casks” before finishing. I assume that is just refill cask, but it could be just about any of your standard casks. As with a lot of the lower end Arrans, it’s priced pretty reasonably for what it is.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

The base notes of arran are so nice – malty, light spicy, with some nice white pepper, apple, and fresh peach. It is just as you might expect – the port layers on fruit and spice in a very pleasant fashion. The layer of richness is very nice. On the palate, lightly oaky, sweet, with orchard fruits and a nice spicy, malty finish. The finish is fruity with a touch of spice. Dried fruits seem to carry the finish forward for a little while.

Very nice!

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average against the whisky market in general. High for Scotch.


Review: Arran The Bothy Quarter Cask by Jason Hambrey

ABV
56.2%
Aging
Ex-bourbon for 7 years, finished in quarter casks for another 2 years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Arran (Lochranza, Scotland)

A fairly cheap cask strength version of a single malt, going the route of finishing in quarter casks - given the woody influence of smaller casks combined with the ABV (which brings out more of the oak on the nose), you’d expect an oakier Scotch.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

This has a very pleasant oakiness, with nice bourbon notes, apple, fresh peach, vanilla, a nice grassy barley character, and a touch of clove. It doesn’t disappoint on the palate either, with the fruits being very well supported by the oakiness. It’s big at cask strength – medium bodied – but the oak, sweetness, fruit, and grain are just about perfect for this percent of alcohol. So, the balance is there, the flavours are good – and this is pretty great Scotch, especially at this price (if you like higher ABV scotches).

A nice pairing for an amber beer, too.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, against whisky as a whole – Scotch has trouble competing on a value basis. But, at $91, it’s hard to get a better cask strength single malt than this one.


Review: Forty Creek Foxheart Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
40%
Aging
N/A; Finished in American virgin toasted oak
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This whisky is made using a blend of aged Canadian whisky with aged Caribbean rum. It can still be labelled Canadian whisky because of the regulation in Canada permitting the addition of up to 9.09% of aged spirits (at least 2 years) or wine. Chemically, this isn’t doing anything different than a finishing barrel (unless you are aging in the finishing barrel a long time).

Master blender Bill Ashburn is fond of rum, and, as such, wanted to release an expression that married both whisky and rum well. The base whisky is a custom-designed whisky blend that is corn-heavy, to which 12 year old Caribbean rum is added. Ashburn says that the amount of rum added “doesn’t come close to 9.09"%”, becuase “a delicate touch is needed when adding any spirit to Canadian whisky”. Indeed.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N.A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

This is very dominated by rum – molasses, berry notes, loads of spices – it’s all over the nose much more than the grain character of whisky. But, when you taste, you get both of them – spicy, orange-y rum combined with the classic toasted oak character and baking spices of Forty Creek. The finish has a nice toasted oak finish with a blast of rum (or a “howl”, as Blair Phillips says). The spices are terrific on the finish.

I’d look at this much more as a mixer, especially for a deeper take on a lot of rum cocktails. It’s close enough, but very different and with a lot of depth. But, try it in a Between the Sheets (to replace both the cognac and rum - I like 2 oz foxheart, 0.75 oz cointreau, and 0.75 oz lemon juice), tiki cocktails, an old fashioned, or even a boulevardier (my favourite of the bunch). And if rye and/or rum and coke are your thing, this does great there too.

Highly Recommended as a cocktail mixer. If you like rum, this will provide some good intrigue as a sipper, but it’s probably closer to a rum-sipper than a whisky-sipper. I recommend as a whisky, but I think it really shines as a mixer (and that’s no downgrade!).


Review: Forty Creek Master's Cut Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

Image courtesy of Forty Creek.

ABV
48.5%
Aging
5 years; ex-bourbon and refill casks
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This is quite the whisky. It is Forty Creek’s first cask strength whisky, but, about the lowest non-aged Scottish cask strength you might see, at only 48.5%!

The whisky is legally 5 years old, since it was distilled 5 years ago….but not for the first time. The story started with a number of old barrels that had gotten too woody, some from as early as 1996. As master distiller Bill Ashburn chuckles, “we all have skeletons in our closet”. These whiskies aren’t good for drinking, but they are good for distilling! The whisky was redistilled, slowly, over the course of 4 batches of single distillations to extract the flavour profile desired to an ABV of just 44.5%. It was put in the cask at this ABV, and, over the course of 5 years in ex-bourbon and “experienced” Canadian whisky barrels, the ABV rose to the final strength of 48.5%.

Most whiskies are put into the barrel at around the 60% mark. So, why put it in so low? First, one of Forty Creek’s hesitation with cask strength whiskies in the past is that you lose a lot of the subtlety and complexity of Forty Creek at high ABV (I agree with this. I think flavours on the heavy end of the spectrum work well at cask strength, but lighter and subtle whiskies don’t work as well - also why I don’t like lighter single malts at cask strength). Second, higher ABV often means that you aren’t taking as many congener (flavours) up the still. Usually, fermentation creates all sorts of undesirable flavours so you don’t necessarily want to take all of those up the still. But on a distillation of an aged whisky? You can take a lot more.

It’s very unique. I’ve been told the spirit coming off the still five years ago tasted nothing like your typical new make.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: Special Release 15

  • Bottling Code: BC/JH114008:29:48

  • Bottling Date: 2021

The nose has a good edge of spicy oak, with stone fruit alongside – peaches, apricot – and some orange. The oak character is quite nice – it isn’t dominant in the way that a bourbon would be, but it is more reminiscent of the character of barrels in a whisky warehouse. Awesome spices! But, there is lots more - dried herbs, pencil shavings (in a good way), vanilla, wood shavings,

The palate shows the grains very well, with a nice corn and barley character coming right through. The spices from the oak remain at the fore, alongside a touch of tannin.  We have toasted oak, prunes, white pepper, orange peel, and an appealing nuttiness. The finish is long, tannic, and spicy. After a number of sips, the finish leans more towards orange, vanilla, and toffee.

It is very much an expression of the base brands of Forty Creek, but amped up a level, more refined, and more elegant.

My favourite special release since 2014 (Evolution, one of my all time favourite whiskies). It’s not even close. It’s not only big and flavourful, but also just a refreshing reminder of the complexity coming out of the warehouses of Forty Creek. It’s also really nice to see a Forty creek release where the spirit really shines - no new oak or wine turning your attention to other things. It feels like a real return to the upper echelons of Canadian whisky for me - awesome stuff!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). One of the best whiskies I’ve had this year.

Value: Very high, even at $80 against the market. You don’t find stuff this good at this price point very often.