Review: High West Double Rye Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
New Charred Oak; 2 and 16 yrs old
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (USA)

Called „the spiciest rye in the world”...not quite in my books (I think Wiser’s Triple Barrel even tops this). A blend of two different rye whiskies – the founder really liked a 2 year old rye from MGP, and wanted to tame it with an older rye – a 16 year old from Barton. 95% rye, 5% malted barley combined with 53% rye and 37% corn and 10% malted barley.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 15D15

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Very spicy, with complex, young rye whisky – anise, peppercorn, celery, cinnamon, green oak, chicory, clove, mint, radish, pine, and corn husks. There is an ever so light oiliness that works great. A bit brash with all the youth – but still very nice. The palate continues, full of spice but tempered a bit with a middle that has some pear and peach, which carries it to a surprisingly soft finish – much like vanilla and spice poached peaches. The finish is nicely drying, and there are some great undertones of juniper, too. This stuff works really well. The rawness of the youth brings it down a touch, but it is still immensely interesting and well put together.

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

Value: Average.


Rating Calibration by Jason Hambrey

Since I know a number of readers closely follow the ratings given on the site, I felt it worth noting that I've taken a look at all my ratings and tasting notes over the past few months and have calibrated them all together to make sure they align, since there were a few discrepancies. Thus, I've changed a number of ratings, and I also took a look at the value score and re-calibrated the "average" price vs. value line to take into account 500 rather than 300 whiskies.

I've also decided to be more discerning at the top, which means I've rated now up to 97/100 rather than 94/100 (I have less hope now of a higher ceiling, or that I will find it, than I used to). Deceptively, it's a 50 point scale rather than 100 since I haven't ever rated below 50. Odd how that is done, but it's the standard (tells you something about who drives ratings!).

I've only changed on this site whiskies whose scores or values are above 85, and a handful of others. Ratings, still, are obviously my own and fully independent, but as much as ratings appear objective - they are more realistically subjective, since they arise from my rating scheme, preferences, and taste buds, which can vary significantly from person to person.

Review: High West American Prairie Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
New Charred Oak; 2, 6, and 13 yrs old
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (USA)

This whiskey is a blend of a 2 year old straight bourbon from MGP (Indiana), and a 6 and 13 year old straight bourbon from Four Roses (Kentucky) of the B recipe (60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Malted Barley). 10% of proceeds from the bottles goes to the American Prairie Foundation which builds wildlife preserves.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 3

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is fruity and spicy with quite a lot of rye in the mix. Apples, peaches, oak, stewed fruit, mint, plums, tobacco leaf, and some hot spice like white pepper. Dry, fresh oaky tones grow with time – vanilla and buttery notes too. An interesting nose – complex compared to the typical bourbon. The taste is sweet, with lots of broad grain character – lots of corn, dried apricot, dried rose petals, mint, fennel seed – finishes on the side of stone fruit with light spices, like fennel and white pepper, and light tannin from the oak. The spicy and dry interplay on the finish is very nice. Slightly rough, with the younger components making their say.

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

Value: Average. It isn’t expensive, so it sits in the mid-range in terms of what you get flavour-wise.


Review: Port Ellen 37 Year Old 1979 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (2017 Special Release) by Jason Hambrey

Thanks to Diageo for the picture.

Thanks to Diageo for the picture.

ABV
51.0%
Aging
Refill American Oak hogsheads and butts; 37 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Port Ellen (Port Ellen, Scotland)

Port Ellen, here we have another mothballed distillery soon to be resurrected. This special release was composed of a vatting of 8 casks, resulting in 2,988 bottles. Let's see what the old Islay will reveal...


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2017 Special Releases, 1979

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Gorgeous colour in the glass. But you forget about the colour once you get to the nose – wow! Blueberries, smoke, mixed herbs, moss, straw, dried fish, rubber, and lots of sea minerality. There’s more – grapefruit, sesame, virgin olive oil, cacao nibs, leather...more? might as well - Wet heather (plants, not flowers), blueberry bushes, vanilla, alphonso mango, black pepper, oak, brown rice, dry bacon, rockpools, apricots, light butterscotch, guanabana, himalayan pink salt...

The palate is smoky, rubbery, and yet still sweet with a load of vegetal peat szechuan pepper, and thyme – lots of thyme. Lavender, candle wax, brown sugar, chutney – rubbery on the end. Perfectly balanced between the load of flavors present, the sweet vanilla, and the peat. Creamy, tropical fruit character is still here, too.  Quite remarkable. Brightens on the finish with pickled lemons, heater, clove, oak, szechuan peppers, crispy bacon, malty beer, black olives, and a good dose of smoke. And a bit more thyme...

One of the best whiskies which I’ve ever tasted.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Low. You don’t buy a $4000 whisky for value.


2018 Canadian Whisky Awards - Runners Up by Jason Hambrey

The Canadian Whisky Awards is quite an event - a nonprofit whisky competition with a revolving door of 10 judges from across Canada who each take a full month to plot their way through nearly 100 different Canadian whisky samples (all blind, the samples are numbered), tasting them each at least twice. It takes me about an hour a day for a month, if I have my way with time (which isn't always the case). This year, the winner was the wonderful Wiser's 35 Year Old. Remarkable, since older competitions usually don't get their due since all tasting is typically done in a flight, which tends to highlight big complex whiskies over subtle complex whiskies. However, Wiser's 35 year old is still bottled at 50%, so it's no slouch either...

As usual, I wanted to present the top whiskies of the 2017 Canadian whiskies awards, as defined by the average of all the 11 judges individual blind scores. To illustrate how close of a race this was, look at how minutely different the top 5 were in terms of score (all within 0.4%!!). Masterson's lost its chance at a repeat by less than 0.05%! All of these fared very well in the competition:

1.  J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old

2. Masterson's 10 Year Old (behind 0.045%)

2. Wiser’s Dissertation (behind 0.045%)

4. Wiser's Union 52 (behind 0.3%)

5. Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel (behind 0.4%)

6. Canadian Club 40 Year Old (behind 0.5%)

6. Lot no. 40 Cask Strength (behind 0.5%)

8. Wiser's Last Barrels (behind 1%)

9. Gooderham & Worts 4 Grain (behind 1.4%)

10. Caribou Crossing Single Barrel (behind 1.8%)

So, the Hiram Walker distillery accounted for (at least) 7 of the top 10, and Corby's snagged 6 of the top 10.

As a (interesting) comparison, here were my top 5 ranked whiskies in the awards:

1. Wiser's Union 52

2. Masterson's 10 Year Old Rye

3. Lot no. 40 Cask Strength

4.  Canadian Club 40 Year Old

5. Lot no. 40

Review: Brora 34 Year Old 1982 Single Malt Scotch Whisky (2017 Special Release) by Jason Hambrey

Thanks to Diageo for the picture.

Thanks to Diageo for the picture.

ABV
51.9%
Aging
Ex-Bourbon Barrels; 34 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Brora (Brora, Scotland)

You wonder how much Brora is still left - this is the youngest Brora in some years, distilled the year before the distillery closed. This year, Diageo started plans to re-open the distillery, which will come with much fanfare and likely expensive price tags in the future - but good news, nonetheless. Let's hope the quality matches some of the best Brora years...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Special Releases, 1982

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Lots of creamy fruit on the nose, and tropical too. Jackfruit, kiwi, mango, toffee, slight woody smoke, soot, apples, gooseberries, blueberries, leather, light earthiness, almonds, lemons, rose petals, and growing waxiness – almost meaty. Immensely complex. Waxiness grows. The palate is much more smoke forward than the nose, with vanilla, butterscotch, limestone, straw, and lemon surrounding it. The tropical fruits still remain central, with spice, smoke, and the sweet vanilla/butterscotch/custard filling in the gaps. The finish is smoky, but bright with lots of fruit – apple, kiwi, white pepper, oak, and spicy tobacco. Dry, woody, and smoky with time. The old notes are terrific.

Not nearly the smoky, fruity Brora I tried last year- but this is still fantastic.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low. Coming in at over 2000$ in most places, even the best of whiskies aren’t high value.


Review: Johnnie Walker Green Label Blended Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Johnnie Walker Green Label 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
Blend of Single Malts
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This whisky is probably my favorite Johnnie Walker, and it's only recently back after being off the shelf for a number of years. Unlike the rest of the lineup, it is a blended malt, meaning that it is composed of a blend of single malts with no grain whisky. Moreover, it carries a 15 year old age statement, is bottled at 43%, and lists many of the core malts used – talisker (wood smoke, pepper, oak, and rich fruits), linkwood (fruit, flower, and cedar), cragganmore (malty taste, slight smoke, and sandalwood), and caol ila (rich fruit, drying sea salt, and peat smoke). Moreover, an attractive bottle and a cork.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7234DN001 00038026

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose presents a broad mix of fruits – apples, poached pears, mandarins, and peaches -  with toffee, honey, light smoky charcoal, maple, and touches of floral notes. Broad, lightly elegant, and easy – with soft edges. The fruits just grow, and grow – and the lightest touch of peat is brilliant. If you ever doubt this just add water – you can smell just about every non-tropical fruit you find in scotch whisky here. The palate starts sharp and lightly smoky, with drying pepper and loads of toffee and fruits to back everything up. The peat is nice – lightly smoky and vegetal – but it is so nicely integrated into the whole toffee-laden and fruity palate. Light finish with light spices and loads of fruit and toffee, fading relatively fast to a sweet, spicy, and slightly dry finish with a few nuts. Overall, it’s still a fairly light whisky so there must be some lightly flavored base here.

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

Value: Average, at $80.


Review: Rig Hand Bar M Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

Picture courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
45%
Aging
~4 yrs
Recipe
Wheat, Barley, and Rye
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB) and Last Mountain (Lumsden, SK)

This is Alberta's first micro-distillery whisky (released in November 2017), made with a collaboration between Last Mountain and Rig Hand distillery - a blend of Last Mountain's 100% Wheat Whisky (who produce the best wheat whisky I've tasted...) and Rig Hand’s 10% Rye, 40% Wheat, and 50% Barley mashbill. The Rig Hand component has seen a variety of casks: 10 gallon used wheat whisky barrels from Last Mountain, 25 gallon used bourbon barrels from Stillwrights, Ohio, 53 gallon used bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill, Kentucky and 60 gallon used French sherry casks.

Rig Hand hopes to collaborate more with Last Mountain to produce similar releases in the future and maintain the flavor profile. Rig Hand has other whiskies to be released when mature  - a 100% rye, a bourbon style corn whisky, and a single malt.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Grainy notes, light clove, roasted green peppers, coconut, orange peel, and grape lead into a palate which lends soft molasses, cream of wheat, light icing sugar, and that classic, dusty Canadian rye backbone of light spices. Lots of peppery spice notes on the nose. There is a light oiliness which is terrific, and a rising set of waxiness and woody spices towards the finish. The finish has some green pear, clove, and cinnamon with brown sugar making an appearance too once much has faded.

This isn’t a raw whisky – I say this only because often tasting something from a craft distillery means it is too young – this is not so, it is ready. It’s light, it’s fairly easy, and it is a whisky that leaves you wanting more. There isn’t much wrong with it – it’s balanced and interesting – but not overly complex. A good inaugural release - we’ll have to see what is next for Rig Hand!

Value: Low, for now - but almost up to average. I imagine with time we’ll see more. But, also - try their Brum!


Review: Westland Distillery Peated American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
46%
Aging
First Fill Ex-Bourbon & New American Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley (6 malts)
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

This is Westland's peated whiskey - made with Saison yeast and a mixture of 6 malts, one of which is a heavily peated malt. It's peaty, but they also make a massively peaty Peat Week limited release each year. Bottled non-chill filtered and without caramel colouring.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Here is some peat! Banana, pear, sharp and mineral-laden peat, clove, moss, prunes, sandalwood, and celery seed. Caramel and fennel grow in the glass. The palate is full of pear, smoke, caramel, toffee, and white pepper – all with a really nice body. The finish has some roasted lemon, celery, toffee, sea salt, and cacao.  I really like it – increasingly as I continue to drink it.

It’s nice – this tastes peated, but not in the style of a Scottish single malt.  

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

Value: Average.


Review: Rig Hand Brum (Sugar Beet Rum) by Jason Hambrey

Photo courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

Photo courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Sugar Beet Molasses
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Here is something you don't see very often! Rig Hand distillery in Nisku, AB, wanted to make a local rum, however, sugar cane doesn't grow in Ontario. They turned their attention to sugar beets, instead, but initial experiments using sugar beets directly produced a spirit that had a dirt flavor no matter what level of cleaning was done. Consequently, they turned their attention towards sugar beet molasses sourced from the Rogers/Lantic plant in Taber, Alberta. It is reasonably sweet, but this is not from added sugar but rather from a backset flavouring technique where some of the unfermented water/molasses mixture is set aside before fermentation and added to the final distilled spirit for both flavouring and colouring.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Quite the nose! Earthy, earthy and fruity – loads of black licorice, spices, red cabbage, plums, red currants. Complex and interesting. A surprising palate, revealing more than the nose – clove, light nuts and loads of dried fruit – raisin, dried apricot – it also, for whatever reason, has many touches that remind me of rancio. Anyone who likes licorice flavors and sherry might find this of interest! Terrific finish full of spices, leather, raisins, red currants – it reminds me quite strongly of armagnac.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended. Taste alone would land it in the range of a recommended, but this is so unique and intriguing it’s one of my favourite tries of the year! Pick up a bottle, if you can find it.

Value: High.