Review: Ironroot Icarus Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Icarus.jpg
ABV
53.75%
Aging
24 months; Virgin Charred Oak Finished in Peat and Port Casks
Recipe
>80% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This is one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever come across. A straight corn whisky (rare), finished in peat casks (rare, if not the only American to do so yet), and port casks. The only thing mildly in the category is High West's campfire, but even that is quite a bit different.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

One of the most unique noses I have encountered. Sharp, smoky wood, sweet fruits, sharp mineral notes, crushed glass, caramel, and corn. Very complex, and very interesting. The palate is full of that sweet, smoky character with lots of vegetal character, including milkweed and dandelion stems (very interesting!). The complex underlying corn distillate character is present, too – as seen in their Hubris bottling. The finish has rancio, smoke, oak, and corn. The closest thing to this is High West’s campfire, but they are very different in  terms of casks and distillate, so it is a weak comparison – but there are just not many spirits in this category. Quite nice at the release strength – and the complexity and intrigue is brilliant. However, it is slightly out of balance – the rich fruitiness of the port combined with a light sourness means I enjoy one dram, but probably won’t reach for a second.

Regardless, I view this as a very interesting whisky for pushing the limits, and, again, very complex and interesting.

Score: 85/100

Value: N/A

 


Review: Ironroot Harbinger Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Harbinger.jpg
ABV
58.4%
Aging
18 months; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
Yellow Corn, Peruvian Purple Corn, Bloody Butcher Corn, Flint Corn, and Rye
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

Another big beast from Texas...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 14K20-A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose has a broad array of grain notes – sweet oatmeal, rye flakes, pear, sea salt, icing sugar, and vanilla. The palate is very similar, driven by rich grain notes, reminding me very much of a mixed grain porridge, but still retaining an icing-sugar like confectionary character. Mixed grain porridge, red river cereal, caramel, and a light touch of mixed spices on the finish. For those that like very grain forward – I quite like the style, and lots of micro distilleries are producing it these days. It’s reminding me quite a bit of Ottawa’s North of 7 Whisky.

Score: 84/100

Value: 32/100 (based on $96)


Review: Ironroot Hubris Straight Corn Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Ironroot Hubris.jpg
ABV
60%
Aging
24 months
Recipe
100% Corn
Distiller Ironroot Republic (Deniston, Texas)

This whiskey is making this distillery famous - a straight, complex 100% corn whiskey with loads of flavour. It has won best corn whisky awards already - not the typical unaged or barely aged corn spirit called "corn whiskey" (there are no regulations around aging corn whiskey in the USA).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 Edition

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is very playful and fruity – full of flavor. Grape, bubblegum, spices, cinnamon, oak, fresh pizza dough, celery, and an oily richness. The palate is sweet, full of candy-fruity notes (pear, candy grape) and finishing with oak and porridge – but balanced with the complex fruit character. It’s a delicate balance – the youth is present, yet wonderfully shows the interesting distillate. The finish has some spicy oak, welcomed by me. The complexity blooms if water is added, but it is nice, big, and rich at cask strength. The best American corn whisky I’ve ever had (it’s hard to compete with the old Canadian corn whiskies, if you like that style as I do).

Score: 86/100

Value: 43/100 (based on $96)


Review: Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
64.9%
Aging
~2-3 yrs; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This bourbon is made with blue corn as the primary component, rather than the typical mass produced yellow corn in most bourbons.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is slightly sour- but shows a competition between oak, fruit, and grain. The grain is terrific – I love it when craft distillers really try to showcase the grain. Lots of sandlewood, too – it is terrific. Vanilla, toasted black pepper, celery seed, and toasted clove – an interesting , and well crafted, nose. The palate has white oak, green grape, nutmeg, rye bread, and a rich array of spice. There is some marmelade and a complex, almost, umami character. It is described as rich at mid-palate – no kidding! Lots of oak, spice, and fruit there. Terrific at cask strength. The roasted character is so central, and so strong – I love the myriad set of notes which are toasted, which fit into the grain and the oak. The finish is lightly drying, with nice tannins, white pepper, creamy corn, and pear. A nice whisky, but still, a bit less complex than the baby blue distillate. Somehow, the new oak doesn’t seem to serve balcones. But, I suppose it’s what you like.

Why lower than baby blue? Less complex. But, when it hits 5 years of age – I can only imagine!

Score: 86/100

Value: 35/100 (based on $105)


Review: Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
65.7%
Aging
~2 yrs
Recipe
100% Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is older than Baby Blue, but still only about 2 years old - and made of the same 100% roasted heirloom blue corn.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What marvelous color! The nose has some nice, rich fresh oak – with spicy, competing grains underneath. It is quite nutty – lots of walnut – but the nose seems a bit stuck on nuts and oak, without the underlying complexity in the distillate shown in baby blue. Roasted, rich, pecan, too. The palate is rich, but grainy – with lots of dark cacao, dark coffee, and charred oak. Sweet and slightly confectionary – the roasted character actually reminds me of some mezcals, with some roasted jalapeno notes. At cask strength, it is big – and the spices are terrific. It has quite a bit of great woody character – like gentian, but not bitter. The finish is full of nuts and spice, but it remains sweet and ever so lightly creamy.

Corn whisky is often fairly plain – they are showing that this isn’t the case here! In Texas, they do things big – no surprise to find this, then.

Score: 85/100

Value: 11/100 (based on $98)

 


Review: Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
Used 5 Gallon Barrels
Recipe
Roasted Heirloom Blue Corn
Distiller Balcones (Waco, Texas)

This whiskey is made from double distilled heirloom blue corn, matured in used 5 gallon casks for a limited time. It is released young and youthful - intentionally - in order to display the character of the blue heirloom corn used to make the whiskey. The first whiskey released in Texas since prohibition, and perhaps the cornerstone whiskey which established Balcones as a leader in craft distilling.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is sharp and young – oily, unripe pear, jalapeno, white pepper, but is full of lots of toffee, mixed roasted nuts, and lots of tropical fruit. But – it evolves, with cinnamon, sunflower oil, dried corn, and terrific roasted notes. The palate has lots of toffee, with some spice, tea, and light oak – and rich sunflower and corn oil (which does a nice trick!). The finish is lightly sour, with more toffee and some pear – but rich and spicy - the spices on the end are brilliant. Young, but very well crafted – though quite candied – maybe more than I would like. But – I respect what they do in showing their distillate – it is terrific!

I really like it. The youthfulness on the nose does detract the score, though. But, that being said – I do like whiskies that show good underlying distillate – and this has that.

Score: 87/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $70)


Review: Highland Park Valknut Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

 Image provided by Highland Park.

Image provided by Highland Park.

ABV
46.8%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

The second of Highland Park’s Viking (what else?) Series, following Valkyrie. It is to be a smokier and dryer than Valkyrie, with a higher ABV (slightly). The release is largely matured in sherry casks and includes a higher phenolic (peat) influence than Valkyrie, and includes a small amount of Orcadian tartan barley.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2018

Smoky, fruity, and rich on the nose with honey, fresh orange, light smoke, and a rich earthiness to it – which fits in nicely with the highland park profile. Also, I get a bit of white grape – never seen that in a highland park yet! And the lightest tropical fruit influence, too – very nice! It has the lightest spicy tang to it, almost sulphurous (which I don’t like) – but this I like. Nice “edge”. A rich, complex, interesting nose. My only slight critique is some rough oily edges usually caused by youth which slightly detract.

The palate is dry, smoky, indeed – lots of rich fruit including typical Highland Park orange. It has a bit of oily, younger components which slightly detract – but it’s still good. The orange carries through, along with a lot of fresh fruit – yet contrasted with the sweet smoke – quite the balancing act! It works well. The palate isn’t perfectly balanced but it’s integrated really well.

The finish is dry, smoky, and very fruity – but integrated and balanced. White pepper and heather honey - quite a nice finish. I think I like this more than Valkyrie. Nice work, and affordable, too!

Score: 89/100

Value: 68/100 (based on $100)


Review: J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's 35.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
35 Years; Refill and Virgin Oak Casks
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn and Rye Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

The oldest release of Wiser's ever - in fact lots of old Canadian whisky is now coming on the market, quite affordably. This is largely double distilled corn whisky - distilled to a high abv, with a relatively light flavor - which would be an example of a "base" whisky used for blending - except that this is aged for a long time in a reused cask. At the distillery, it is very impressive - mature whisky is sucked right out of the casks from the top of the barrel after which point the barrels move about a metre and are filled with new whiskies, sitting empty for a matter of seconds. But, this light corn whisky picks up flavor as it ages years upon years in the cask, and becomes something rich and delicious. If you've had Wiser's 18, it has many of those characteristics, except - it is much older, richer, and contains about 10% column and pot distilled rye (matured in virgin oak casks) to give it incredible character.

This is part of the 2017 Northern Border Collection, originally released at the Victoria Whisky Festival. It is an annual release, and they have some great plans for next year.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose here is glorious – light oak, old rye, black tea, raosted root tea, arugula, blueberry, rich old corn whisky, slate, tobacco, molasses, tofee, burning oak, boiled tomato, amber beer, and even complex underlying vegetal notes reminding me of roasting agave. One of the best noses I have had the pleasure of enjoying – marvelously complex, balanced, and interesting. The palate is full of flavor, starting with old, brilliant corn whisky before the rye in all its brilliance creeps in – floral, with lilacs, aged tea notes, and spices – clove, cinnamon, fiery arugula, and also oak bringing with it light tannins and smoky notes. The finish is full, rich, and encompassing – with luxurious blueberry, green apple, tea, roasted fennel seed, and clove. Ever so lightly, and pleasantly bitter.

Corby’s and Canadian Club have a bit of a bitter history over who got the distillery, and, likewise, two of the best Canadian whiskies ever released – Wiser’s 35 and Canadian Club 40, overshadowing the Wiser’s in age, have been released – and they are both of them marvelous whiskies. Wow. I do love the rye in here, and I find it more interesting – but perhaps less luscious than the equally terrific Canadian Club 40.

Score: 97/100

Value: 94/100 (based on $165)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18205 EW12:47

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has lots of stone fruit – peaches, apricot, flavorful plums – but also green apple. There is a brilliant thread of spice in the background – star anise, clove, and freshly cracked black pepper (with all the cedary implications). It’s quite creamy, too! And, interesting – it has a nice, subtle grassiness to it – like a freshly cut lawn, in the spring, when it’s wet – not dry like in the fall. Lest we not forget grain, there’s also lots of notes of high-quality multigrain cheese crackers. The stone fruit is really well done here – it is less “quirky” than last year and fits more into the generic style of a top-of-the-line whisky (no slight against last year’s fantastic release). Great nose.

The palate carries through with all of the expected fruit, but leading in a bit with that earthy, funky rye which adds a terrific layer of complexity. There’s almost a smokiness to it – it is immensely complex. The fruit is great – it’s a rich, intense, dried fruit characteristic – most like dried peaches. Oolong tea, too.

The finish is fruity (dried peaches), lightly oaky, and carries a terrific thread of earthiness and intense floral characteristic. The rye has a great vegetal characteristic – spinach, kale, and arugula…nice.

Doesn’t have the rye-forward complexity of the previous years release, which had lots of earthiness – I found it quite fascinating. This is more on the fruit, and it’s a little more typical in profile. While I find it a bit less intriguing, it is easier to drink, and I keep reaching for another – moreso than last year’s release.

Another stunning whisky.

Score: 93/100

Value: 44/100 (based on $200)


Review: Gooderham & Worts Eleven Souls Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Gooderham & Worts 11 Souls 2.jpg
ABV
49%
Aging
Various Casks
Recipe
Wheat, Rye, Barley & Corn, Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

I always enjoy these - this is one of three whiskies in Corby’s limited annual releases in their Rare Range, all premium versions of the standard (and excellent) Lot no. 40, Pike Creek, and Gooderham & Worts. We have Lot no. 40 Cask Strength, focused on pot distilled rye, Pike Creek 21 Year old, focused on barrel finishing, and this - focused on blending. The setup really works. Last year we had a 17 year old wheat, rye, and corn whisky - it was unique and very good.

This whisky is named after the 11 orphans that William Gooderham adopted on his way to Canada - as a tribute, this whisky was blended from 11 spirit types. This is incredibly impressive to blend together such a wide array of flavours into something so cohesive. The blend is composed of:

  • Grains: Brasetto Rye (a very flavorful type of rye that has been in recent production at Hiram Walker), Rye, Rye Malt, Red winter wheat, Barley, Barley Malt, Corn

  • Distillation regimes: column still, double column, still, pot still

  • Woods: Ex-bourbon and new oak

It was bottled at 49% in honour of the address of the old gooderham & worts distillery, 49 Wellington.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Eleven Souls (2018 Rare Range)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18213EW131

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is gorgeous. Coconut, oak, beeswax, old corn whisky, sharp baking spices, dried apricot, prunes, uncooked wild rice, semi-dried tomatoes, and light confectionary elements – evolving slowly. Light lilac too – very nice. Adding water opens it up, but it is perfect at 49%. There is a great richness – a great “middle” - to the nose. It certainly demands extra study from my nose – it draws you in beautifully. And it shows a bit of a different side each time you take a look at it.

The palate is rich, varied, and complex – from rich, oily to spicy (cinnamon and clove) to oaky to fruit (mixed dried fruit). The mouthfeel is fantastic – very viscous – and there’s a gradual development from grain notes to fruit notes to sweet, vanilla notes and finally to spice. It tells the story in a measured way, and the core is simple, but the fringes are complex. And the movement in the mouth is amazing – smooth and viscous to slightly drying and still richly mouthcoating, and then the dry-ness fades and then picks up again. Excellent.

The finish is clean and very moreish. Slightly fatty/creamy – it leaves a very pleasant coating of grain and oak on the palate. Lots of creamy grain, baking spices, stone fruit, and dried fruit.

I described more the textures and impacts of the whisky, as opposed to just tasting notes (I could do this too) – because this is the unique and special part about this whisky. It speaks to the quality of the whisky that I can do such a thing. It also has an array of flavours – grain, wood, fruit, spice, candy, floral, and some umami - but my list will make this review a bit long.

Very different than last year’s release, which was a bit narrower and with a very different set of flavours. More oak centred, more biscuit-like, fruity in more of a winey sense, and not as broad, integrated, or complex (though still a fine whisky).

My favourite of the “Rare Range” releases this year – but, much more than that – one of my favourite Canadian whisky releases, ever.

Score: 94/100

Value: 94/100 (based on $100)


Review: Pike Creek 21 Year Old Double Barrel Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 21.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
21 Years; Finished in Various Barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is part of the very impressive “Rare Range” (previously Northern Border) collection, and, in the "Pike Creek" tradition which highlights the impact of finishing. In 2017, the release was finished in a scotch cask sourced through a chivas regal connection (both Pernod Ricard). They also sent over some lot no. 40 casks, for their finishing purposes - so if you see a "rye finish" somewhere in the chivas family/distillery set, it's a good chance it's lot no. 40.

In 2018, the whisky was finished in a variety of different oaks. About 50% of this blend was finished in French oak - both Quercas Robor and Quercas Petrea, about 25% of the blend was finished in Hungarian oak from the danube forest region (seasoned for 36 months), while the remainder was American oak. Each type of oak has a different set of characteristics, and the flavour compounds vary significantly - for example, in one sample of wood, vanillin was the highest in French oak, 20% less in American oak, and 35% less in Hungarian oak. Similar analysis can be done for other flavours - almond, smoky notes, etc. The finishing regime here highlights the breadth of oak, and, the best part is that it still isn’t too oaky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017 (Finished in a Speyside Malt Cask)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

It smells old! And, indeed, it is. A rich nose, that just develops. Not really the same thing at all as it’s younger brother, the 10 year old pike creek finished in rum casks – the brand is about finishing, not about necessarily having the same profile (as when they switched from port to rum casks, but kept the brand the same). Not nearly with the same buttery, brown sugar notes of the rum finish. In fact, though they’re part of the same brand, I wouldn’t really compare them at all.

The whisky is largely double distilled corn whisky matured in reused casks...e.g., what is in Wiser’s 18 Year old, but a bit older and finished in a Speyside malt cask (take a guess... a Speyside from Pernod Ricard – Wiser’s also sent over some Lot no. 40 casks for them to use in finishing, though I haven’t seen the result of this yet). However, there’s also a bit of rye added in this time too. But, from the nose to the finish, a different whisky than the 10 year old.

The nose has rich blueberry, mushy peas, green apple, white grape, corn oil, and some old oak. Maple, toffee, candied nuts. The palate is very clean – light grain, celery seed, prune, with a finish that is slightly dry and spicy – an ever so light touch of either earthy barley or peat. Nice mouthfeel. Ever so lightly bitter on the finish – as I have found with most Pike Creeks, in fact. The finish, though, is still bright and fruity – mulberries, spices, and dried fruit (raisins, apricot). Finish isn’t very long, but is nice and grainy while it sticks around. A very nice whisky – those old age notes present in this whisky are continuing to attract me, and this blows the other pike creeks out of the park.

An interesting pour beside Wiser’s 18. Much lighter, more elegant, refined, and less spicy. But, better...Don Livermore, the master blender, said if he were to have two whiskies to sip from the Northern Border collection, he’d have Gooderham Little Trinity and Pike Creek 21. Interesting.

Terrific whisky. Fun to see Canadian whisky stepping up its game.

Score: 88/100

Value: 62/100 (based on $90)


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 2018 Rare Range (Finished in European Oak Casks)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18235EW1202

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Oaky, through and through – and it’s nice. But it’s not the bourbon sort of oaky, where it’s loaded with new wood. Also not the Scottish “too oaky” – it has a huge kick of oak, complex, but it still sits lightly above a fairly vibrant, aged corn whisky underneath. It’s very nice – there are nice grain notes lurking underneath, and rich spices – green cardamom, nutmeg, clove. If you like oak, but in a broad sense (i.e. not just heavily caramelized oak) you’ll love this.

The palate has dried fruits, light spice, and some jujube-like fruitiness at the centre – but oak sits overtop everything – like a freshly sawn pile of oak. Earthiness finds its way into the centre of the palate before tannins take over and we are left with light, sweet corn, spice, and white grape. Honey, too – and sweetness opposes the light oak quite nicely.

The finish has a rich, dried flurry of spice – a mixed old bag of baking spice (clove, white pepper, nutmeg, green cardamom) and a kick of dried fruit that slowly unpacks itself alongside some toasted almond.

Natural comparators are last year’s Pike Creek, or this year’s Seasoned Oak – a 19 year old whisky finished in seasoned oak. At a very basic level, this is more oaky, the seasoned oak is much more fruity and seems to have more influence from vibrant rye, and last year’s Pike Creek 21 has light barley overtones like Scotch (as one might expect) – think applesauce and green apple.

I like this a lot more than last year’s release (which was also great). Highly recommended. Also, I prefer the seasoned oak release, which is in a similar category (old finished corn whisky) but quite different.

Score: 90/100

Value: 73/100 (based on $100)