Canadian Whisky

Review: Last Mountain Wine Cask Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
3.2 yrs in used Bourbon Barrel; 6 months in wine cask
Recipe
100% Wheat
Distiller Last Mountain (Lumsden, Saskatchewan)

Here we have a different take on last mountain’s wheat whisky - a wine cask finish! A very different lens to Last Mountain’s wheat whisky (which is my favourite wheat whisky that I’ve tasted), Note that this is a pre-release sample as it will be released shortly, but the profile should remain very similar if not the same. The wine cask used was a Saury Oak barrel which had a Californian red wine in it.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A soft, wine driven nose with loads of rich, dried fruits and spices typical of a red wine. Freshly sawn white oak, fruit gummies, black currant, cherries, rising cinnamon buns, and light toffee – but underneath, light sweet wheat and some clean oak. A bit of water to take it slightly below 45% reveals a lot of complexity but the oak is less dominant, which may or may not be preferential depending on taste – I like it with a drop of water. The palate is very interesting – very much driven by the cask – and very good – reminding me of many lighter port-finished whiskies. There is a really nice oiliness and the spices really bloom, but there is also a rich toffee middle to the whisky which bridges all the fruit from the wine to the oak, which creates a very nice contrast in flavour. The finish is lightly sweet and very fruity, with tannic red wine, dried apricot, blackberries, and freshly ground white pepper.

This is much more cask-dominant than the other stuff I’ve had from last mountain – but it’s still very good, and a very different lens to their wheat whisky. I’m glad, that, despite the big wine influence, it has gone towards the richer, deeper side of wine. I do think it squashes a bit of the complexity of the underlying wheat whisky, which is fairly light, since the cask character is so heavy. However, it’s still very good, and very clean and complex for a whisky this young.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $43.70/375 mls.


Review: Rocking R 100% Rye Whisky (Rig Hand Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand distillery.

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
3 years; ex-wheat whisky, ex-bourbon, and ex-sherry barrels
Recipe
100% Alberta Rye
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Rig Hand’s first rye has come online! The whisky has the same maturation process as their single malt: 8 months in 10-gallon ex-wheat whisky barrels, 9-months in 25 gallon used bourbon barrels from Ohio, 18 months in ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky, and finished in 55-gallon used sherry casks. There are many more barrels stashed away, and the distillery is planning to increase the age of the product with time.

They also have some bourbon-style whisky on the way.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has a nice set of floral notes, with a rich spiciness – which I quite like. Lilacs, clove, hibiscus, light oak, rose hip, and vanilla are involved. The palate is soft, full of fruit - dried and fresh, baking spice and a touch of dusty minerality as well. There are also quite nice pepper notes in this whisky. The finish is light, with light spice and floral notes, and a bit of white pepper. The tannins rise slightly at the finish.

This shows great promise, and has a very clean and refined sense of big rye. It’s one of the cleaner ryes I’ve had from a small distillery (at least of the ones which have big rye flavor). I’d love to see this with a few more years on it and at a bit higher ABV, but this is doing quite well as it is!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Against the overall whisky market, this is in the average value camp, at $89.


Review: Diamond S Single Malt Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand Distillery.

Image courtesy and copyright of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
45%
Aging
3 yrs; ex-wheat whisky, ex-bourbon, and ex-sherry barrels
Recipe
100% Single Malt
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Rig Hand’s first single malt came of age in December of 2018, and was released to the market. The whisky is made with Rahr Malting’s 2-row malted barley, and starts in a 10-gallon ex-wheat whisky barrel for 8 months, followed by 9 months in a 25 gallon ex-bourbon barrels from Ohio, followed by 18 months in 53 gallon ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky and finished in 55 gallon sherry casks. This is the first batch, but Rig Hand is sitting on the rest of their barrels for a longer period to encourage further maturation. Particularly with single malts, time greatly improves the product - so I would expect the product to improve in the coming years.

Also, rig hand has put away some single malt smoked with Alberta peat (!!!).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 001

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Fruity, buttery, and spicy – with a nice nutty characteristic to it and some oak and vanilla. There is toffee, mixed grain, green pear, baking bread, biscuit, caramel, and macadamia nuts. It’s spicy on the nose, too. It’s still a bit rough, but it has a really nice rich farm characteristic to it – in a very good way – like the great earthy smell of rich earth and agriculture.  The palate has lots of dried fruit a really nice malty kick at the end. The finish is slightly sour and spicy. The finish is big and farmy, with a nice malt characteristic at the end!

I really like the rich earthiness, and it has a great core which will improve with time it the cask. Also, it’s a spirit that will get better as it sits in the bottle, I expect.

Value: Low, based on $115. In large part, young micro-distilled single malts can’t compete on a price level with the whisky market at large dollar for dollar.


Mister Sam Tribute Whisky (Sazerac) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

Sazerac, the parent company of Buffalo Trace, has been developing a presence in Canada for some years now particularly with the Royal Canadian and Caribou Crossing brands. Diageo also recently sold a number of Canadian whisky brands, including Seagram’s VO, to Sazerac in 2018. The whiskies, thus far, have been from stock which has been sourced from other distilleries in Canada. However, that is set to change with the construction of the Old Montreal Distillery which started to distill whisky in 2018. Tours are set to begin at the distillery in 2019.

Now, Sazerac is releasing a whisky as a tribute to Sam Bronfman, one of the most ominous and greatest figures in the history of the liquor industry. Bronfman initially came to Canada shortly after his birth, the son of immigrant parents, from an area which is now part of the country of Moldova between Romania and Ukraine. He became involved in the family hotel business, which grew, relatively quickly, into a small empire in Saskatchewan with the income driven more by the bars that the family owned than the hotels.

As the temperance movement grew, Saskatchewan implemented prohibition and closed the bars. The family, in clever response, got a hold of one of the rare licenses to sell medicinal alcohol and started to develop a distribution business without much competition. Medicinal alcohol was an extremely popular “remedy” during prohibition. The company soon got into the distilling business, building the (now closed) LaSalle distillery in Quebec from stills acquired in the US. The LaSalle distillery became known for quantity, which lead to Sam Bronfman’s partnership with the Scottish DCL, a massive producer of Scotch which controlled brands like Johnny Walker, Dewar’s, and Buchanon’s . This partnership, formed in the late 1920s, catapulted Bronfman ahead of Harry Hatch as the head of the biggest whisky empire in Canada. Bronfman also obtained the ever-important Seagram’s line of brands. Among these brands was Seagram’s VO, Bronfman’s drink of choice, diluted with water. With the brands came the company’s namesake, Seagram’s.

The company stockpiled stock and assets through prohibition. Despite supplying the bootlegging business, prohibition was a challenging environment to operate in due to the challenges of the supply chain. The boom of the company came when the American market opened up: Seagram’s took control of the American market. Indeed, in the 1930s three out of five bottles of blended whisky sold in the United States were from Seagram’s. The company’s success accelerated - in 1946 Seagram’s controlled 14 distilleries, 60 warehouses, and 10 bottling plants - putting out 25 million litres a year (Source: The Bronfman’s, Nicholas Faith). To this, the company added the Chivas Regal brand and grew to become the largest liquor company in the world before it’s collapse, out of which arose Daigeo and Pernod Ricard which are now the two largest liquor companies in the world.

“Mister Sam” was not only a remarkable businessman, he was also a master blender with a remarkable understanding of the importance and technique of blending. He taught his sons the “art” of blending and ensured that he and his family could always assess the quality of his brands. To honour the legacy, Sazerac has released a whisky containing a blend of American and Canadian whiskies. It was blended by Drew Mayville, who worked at Seagram’s for 22 years and was the last master blender before the company’s collapse. The whisky is bottled at 66.9% ABV, and will be sold in the United States and Canada for about 250 USD. 1,200 bottles were produced, and the whisky is slated to be an annual release.

If you want to learn more on the subject, there are a number of good books lying about. I recommend The Bronfman’s by Nicholas Faith, Booze, Boats and Billions by C.W. Hunt. De Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky gives a nice broad overview as well. To better understand the ever-important context of the time and the ever-important American liquor market, Bourbon Empire by Mitenbuler is a great read too.

I will post a review shortly.

Review: North of 7 Canadian Whisky (3 Grain Wheated) by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by North of 7 Distillery. Used with Permission.

ABV
45%
Aging
3 Years+; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
74% Corn, 21% Wheat, & 5% Malted Barley
Distiller North Of 7 (Ottawa, Ontario)

This is a single barrel, made from terrific ingredients - barrels from Independent Stave Company (which supplies most of the big Kentucky distilleries) and grain from Against The Grain, a local grain company specializing in heirloom grains. They use yellow corn, purple corn, wheat, rye, unmalted barley, and purple Ethiopian barley sourced from there - terrific stuff. The colourful grains often have more flavor.

This is matured in a heavily toasted, lightly charred barrel to give a rich set of toasted wood notes without being overly clean and caramel-laden.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Cask 26

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is quite nutty and very oaky – with wood, caramel, charred wood, vanilla, roasted nuts, corn husks, mint, radish sprouts, green pear, fresh whole wheat flatbreads, fennel seed, and clove. The palate is thick, with a great kick of nuttiness and a terrific cask character full of white oak and rich toasted notes. The oak is sweet, rich, and spicy – quite deep. It has a real richness to it, with deep oak offset by corn and light dried fruit. Very nice to drink. I’m very eager to see what this is like in a few years – it’s already quite good. The finish is slightly sour, spicy, and oaky. The more you sip at this one, the oakier it gets. Works quite nice in cocktails – manhattans with a spicy vermouth, or it works well in an old pal. Very moreish.

It is not as far along, but I like this more than the 4 grain recipe, I think. Also, it’s a bit younger than the 4 grain stuff that’s been on the shelves.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average (based on $60)


Review: Eau Claire Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Eau+Claire+Whisky+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
First fill ex-bourbon and sherry hogsheads; 3-4 years old
Recipe
100% Alberta Malted Barley
Distiller Eau Claire (Turner Valley, Alberta)

This whisky is the first release from Eau Claire, a distillery in Alberta which opened in 2014 and focuses hugely on Alberta Grain, specifically very local grains produced within 100 miles of the distillery. Moreover, the distillery itself has a stable of plough horses with a focus on the production of house-grown grain.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 02

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is quite rich and grainy – pepper jelly, currants, roasted malts, white pepper, and mixed nuts all jump out of the glass. The spirit isn’t very heavy, and carries with it a very nice balance of fruit, spice, and grain. The palate has a rich set of caramels, milk chocolate, lightly roasted malt, toasted macadamias, spicy dry oak tannins, and clove. The finish is still full of dried fruit, toasted grain, and a touch of baking sweetbread. There is a real richness here, yet the spirit is quite clean and balanced. Very well done for a young single malt!

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is a very pleasant surprise. I haven’t seen many young single malts that have been so refined in Canada. It actually reminds me a touch of Westland’s single malt – which is much oakier, nuttier, and deeper – but they share some similarities.

Value: Average. Toward the low end of my “average” category, but it isn’t “low” value even at $102, and certainly not in the context of craft single malt - which shows the quality of this stuff.


Review: Sivo Le Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Sivo+Single+Malt+2.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
New European Oak; Sauternes Barrel Finish
Recipe
100% Quebec Malted Barley
Distiller Maison Sivo (Montérégie, Quebec)

Sivo Le Single Malt is matured at first in new oak and then finished in Sauternes casks, giving a rich and developing fruitiness to the whisky. It’s in high demand, and in Sivo’s own words - they can’t make enough of it. At present, it is only available in Quebec. I’ve tasted a number of cask samples from there - they have some interesting casks going, including an incredibly honeyed beer barrel.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019; Finished in Sauternes Casks

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Sharply nutty and full of quite intense grain – like buckwheat soba noodles, but also pain thinner and sharp rye sourdough. Very sharp and unique, but still could use a bit more barrel time – much like le rye. Dried, sweet, fruit throughout, too – dates, raisins -  with a growing sense of roasted grain on the palate and a lot of woody – oak, maple, and chestnuts. There is a nice charred and smoky note – a bit like cacao – towards the end. Nice medium bodied, mixed grain finish with dried fruit, cacao, oak, and oaky spices. It has a terrific finish with a great balance between the dryness, sweetness, and tartness. The finish makes the whisky very moreish – it is having me come back and back.

It is sharp and nutty much like Le Rye – but the palate is softer and lighter. In terms of 3 year old single malts, this is pretty good. The grain character is not too heavy/rough (though it is sharp) - it  works well. It doesn’t have the spicy or tea notes of the rye, but it isn’t as rye. I like it more, but it isn’t as interesting. They are both whiskies to watch as they continue to develop and age.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It still has the harshness of youth and heavy oak, but this is very interesting and carries spicy, earthy, wine, and grainy notes really well.The finish is just awesome, and it really draws you in. It is very complex, and worth trying. Notably, it’s a touch better and more balanced than the first batch I tasted.

Value: Average. Exactly in the middle of the category too. Notably, cheaper than most craft distilled single malts at $55 and this had a sauternes finish to boot.


Review: Sivo Le Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
42%
Aging
New European Oak; Port Barrel Finish
Recipe
2/3 Quebec Rye, 1/3 Malted Barley
Distiller Maison Sivo (Montérégie, Quebec)

Maison Sivo was started by the Sivo family, who originally came from Hungary where the national drink is palinka, an unaged fruit brandy. With that background, Maison Sivo distills a number of fruit spirits along with some whiskies, currently a rye and a single malt. It’s a relatively new product.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

There is paint thinner and nail polish remover on the nose, and the alcohol is a bit prominent at its bottling strength of 42% - but with some water this fades and complexity is really drawn out. The nose is centred around some really nice grainy notes, reminding me of the warm smell of fermenting rye grain. There are lots of peppery notes, loads of rye spices (baking spices, green and grassy spice, and lilac), along with cherry juice, prunes, and a sweet wine character. The palate is sharp, spicy, and fruity – very jammy, with a nice oaky backbone. The spicy, dried fruit character of the port really comes out towards the end of the palate. The finish is dry and spicy, with white pepper, lilac, dried cherry, and vanilla.

The youth comes through on this one – but there’s lots of complexity and the whisky is quite interesting and has reasonable balance. As/if this whisky gets older, there’s a lot of potential! If you want to explore something that is a bit more unique and intriguing, I’d recommend, and I expect if the distillery can age it longer it may not be far from something special. It’s a bottle I’ve flagged to follow over the next few years.

Value: Average..


Review: Shelter Point French Oak Double Barreled Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

ABV
50%
Aging
6 yrs; American Oak; Blackberry Wine Finish
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Shelter Point double barreled some of their whisky in French oak blackberry wine casks - here is something unique! This was after about 6 years in American oak.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Coconut, vanilla, caramel, pineapple, and rich orchard fruit and sharp baking spice. Big on the palate – spicy, rich, and full of grain and milk chocolate notes even amidst all the fruit sitting overtop. Lots of rich dried fruit, particularly apricot – frankly, it’s remarkable how well the apricot fits in. The finish rides on a wave of vanilla. My favorite Shelter Point to date. It doesn’t have the finish of some of the artisanal cask finishes but it brings a whole lot to the table…

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Toffee, broad grain notes, marzipan, and apple juice – yet still with lots of oak, dried fruit, and berries. There is a really great nuttiness shining through, complemented nicely by the oak. It is sweet, easy, and fruity – both fresh fruit and dried fruit, with a bit more emphasis on dried fruit – both stone fruit and raisins and currants. Excellent, and even a touch better than last year!

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review: Shelter Point Distiller's Select Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Shelter Point Cask Strength 1.jpg
ABV
58.4%
Aging
First Fill Bourbon Barrel; Finished in French Oak
Recipe
4 casks single malt + 1 cask rye
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

That's right, Patrick Evans is a fan of rye, and decided to throw in a cask of rye with some of Shelter Point's single malt and release it at cask strength. This is now their second whisky release, and has been available only recently at the distillery for $69. It is an odd mix, a vatting of single malt and rye, then finished in French Oak - but I must say after this Shelter Point is quickly moving into competition with Still Waters for my favorite Canadian micro-distillery producer...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2016

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose has much of the standard single malt notes – fruity, with apple and cherry, oak, buttery pastry, icing – but with absolutely terrific cereal notes too, good earthiness, and some nice stewed apricot too. Diluted down to a similar strength as their single malt, it is richer and more complex but not quite as lively. Nice spices develop with time. It’s still young, as with the other Shelter Point I have had – but the youth doesn’t come through as much on the palate as with the other one. The palate has some creamy grain, but an incredible vegetal spice grips the palate towards the end leading you into a very rye-laden finish. Quite fascinating in fact – the malt leads you gently in, and the rye boldly ushers you out. Definitely more complex than the standard single malt, and the rye provides wonderful intrigue.

Drinking at cask strength, it really is upped in flavor compared to the diluted version of this whisky, with almond and coconut seeming to come out more. The rye comes into its own with complex vegetal and spice notes particularly on the finish. Not quite as graceful as the inaugural release single malt, but more interesting and more complex. I like it more, but not quite enough to bump it up a percent.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Five casks of single malt whisky were combined with one cask of rye whisky to make this limited run of 1200 bottles. They were all finished in a French oak cask.

Vanilla, oak, crème brulee, unripe pear, nectarines, stewed fruits, dill, strawberry, and a light floral character. There’s a nice, subtle, candied element to the nose. The palate is big, full of toffee and dried fruits and finishing with spices, mint, and dried apricot. The dried apricot is just remarkable. Big finish – lots of complexity and spice. Lots of nuts, throughout, and nice complexity even if a bit brash at times.

This was one of my top 25 whiskies in the Canadian Whisky Awards in 2017. And for good reason - it’s big, complex, and interesting.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

·         Batch: 2018

·         Bottling Date: 2018

·         Bottling Code: N/A

This is big, and full of rich grain. It’s quite something – sharp toffee, hazelnut oil, a light grain characteristic, and light spice – but with a comfortable bracing of oak. The palate is sharp, rich, intense – lots of flavor from spice, nuts, oil, and loads of fruit. There is a spicy grain character at the core which I just cannot help but love – and the finish is loaded with dried fruits, umami, and light pepper notes. Very nice…

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, at $86, against other whiskies at this cost.