Review: Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel 2 Eau De Vie De Vin Chestnut Wood Finish by Jason Hambrey

Pierre+Ferrand+Renegade+Barrel+2.jpg
ABV
47.1%
Aging
6-26 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Maison Ferrand (Cognac, France)

Despite coming from a cognac house, this is not a cognac because of its rather unique aging regimen - a chestnut barrel! Apparently, this was a practice before the second world war but it has fallen out of fashion (and regulation – this is called a grade eau de vie because it cannot be called cognac due to the cask type). This is made with a Pierre Ferrand cognac from Ugni Blanc grapes, matured for 5-7 years in 350 litre new and used oak barrels. There is a small amount of 25 year old cognac included as well. Then, the blend is finished in a 225 litre chestnut cask for a year which apparently gives notes of candied fruits, floral, and honey notes. 18 casks went into this release.

Although we don’t see many chestnut casks for whisky or other spirits, they are still used in the production of certain items, like balsamic vinegar.

Currently available at the SAQ in Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Renegade Barrel #2, cask 1/18.

  • Bottling Code: 1P020518

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A spicy, oaky nose with charred oak, wood spices, raisins, dried cranberries, black tea, and deep woody notes. It’s quite torn between rich dark fruit, rich oak, and spice. Caramel, fig, berry jams, star anise, pineapple, stewed plums, wet wicker baskets, brazil nuts, and even some woodworking shop notes like leather and maybe furniture polish. I really like that this is bottled at 47.1% since it brings out the wood notes really well.

The palate has lots of wood notes, and, indeed – some chestnut notes. Vanilla, dark chocolate, dried currants, dried cranberries, dried papaya, dried pineapple, chesnut spread, and sweet fresh sawdust. It has some nice, unique roasted notes – like roasted wood, but not oak. It’s richly creamy, but more like a cacao butter than vanilla. The finish is slightly tannic, with dried hibiscus flower, dried cranberries, golden raisins, and buttery wood notes. The finish is deep and complex.

Well, this is quite unique – especially in the unique creaminess and woodiness – it’s one of the rare spirits which is pushing me to increase my tasting vocabulary.

Assessment: Highly recommended. There are some incredibly complex threads woven into this one.

Value: Low, at $136.


Review: St. Remy Authentic XO French Brandy by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
40%
Aging
French Oak, >10 years
Recipe
Blend of different red and white grapes
Distiller St. Remy (Nantes, France)

This brandy, from the largest French brandy brand in the world, is made from red and white grapes sourced from throughout France (Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone, Loire, etc.). It is distilled in a column still and aged in French oak barrels.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is quite rich, with lots of dried fruit and spice. It’s much oakier and richer than the VSOP, at the same time, it is a bit less vibrant. Raisins (Thompson and golden), dried currants, gooseberries, black currant jam, marmelade, candied orange peel, white pepper, vanilla, clove, and a bit of dry-ness on the nose. There’s almost a bit of fruity burnt-caramel on the nose, like jam that has been boiling to the point of just beginning to burn. The palate is sweet, with orange blossom honey, green tea, dried apricot, lots of dried fruit, and lots of baking spice – it follows much from the nose, but is surprisingly lighter than the aromas on the nose. It has a nice bit of tannin to it as well, which gives it some nice grip, but also wouldn’t lead me to having three of these in a row. The finish is slightly nutty, with almond and lots of raisin and a touch of apple. Honey and cinnamon, too. Medium bodied: it’s not a light brandy, nor a really heavy one.

This is a great launching pad for starting to explore Armagnac and cognac. With all the interest in heavily sherried scotch, I’m a bit surprised that more aren’t exploring good brandy.

This is a common pick for me for cocktails or to put on my Christmas cake.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Great value for $30.


Review: Sivo Rebel Le Moonshine Du Rye by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
42%
Aging
None
Recipe
2/3 Quebec Rye, 1/3 Malted Barley
Distiller Maison Sivo (Montérégie, Quebec)

Janos Sivo, the founder of Maison Sivo comes originally from Hungary where Palinka - clear white brandy - rules as the national drink. He told me that he has been incredibly impressed with rye as he has worked with it, even right off the still before it enters into a barrel. As a result, he releases his unaged rye spirit - a mixture of rye and single malt new make - to show off the spirit. It is available at the SAQ in Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is grainy, spicy, and sweet. It’s very fruity, with touches of floral notes too. Lots of berries! The complexity of rye is on full display. The palate is light, quite herbal, and spicy. The sweet grain character of the spirit rises towards a lightly hot finish with a light roughness and dryness.

Very characteristic of Sivo. Fairly clean overall. It’s not one I’d reach for to sip, but I find new makes so interesting in understanding what maturation does to a whisky. If you are curious to try new make whisky spirit, and haven’t, this one is decently priced at $25/500 ml.

With ice, it has a soft grainy front and is fairly sweet.


Review: Shelter Point Single Cask Rye Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
59.7%
Aging
~10 yrs
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

This whisky is about 10 years old, originally distilled in Alberta (not at Shelter Point) and brought to BC in 2011. It is a distillery-exclusive, single cask release, 100% rye, with only 206 bottles - and will not be a regular release. For you Shelter Point fans, this is a good one.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Distinctly shelter point with the oily notes, but still very different – marshmallow, sharp flowers (lilac and lavender), clove, white pepper, dark chocolate, and even some pepper. Sweet vanilla, and a nice bracing from the oak too. There is a nice spicy edge to this one, throughout - The palate remains sharp, with a rich oily core and loads of floral notes, finishing with lightly bitter spice. It has a really nice middle, and isn’t too spicy at cask strength. The finish is sweet, with vanilla, custard, some dried fruit, and a nice oiliness. Baking spice and tannin, too. The sweetness nicely balances the alcohol strength, and it has enough richness to do well at 60%.

I really like that it’s bottled at cask strength – I quite enjoy this. I love the continued exploration of rye in Canada. My favourite way to drink it is neat, at cask strength, in a cognac snifter.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, but nearly in the average category at $110.


Review: Fils Du Roy Appalachia New Brunswick Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
2.5 yrs Ex-bourbon; .5 yrs Virgin Oak
Recipe
60% Malted Barley, 40% Malted Rye
Distiller Fils du Roy (Petit-Paquetville, New Brunswick)

The first rye from Fils du Roy - a fantastic distillery - so I’ve been looking forward to a taste for some time! This is produced using a low temperature fermentation and distillation only of the liquid components of the wash (i.e. no solids). This is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and char #3 virgin oak. Three barrels were released in 2018, yielding 1000 bottles. There is more coming in 2020, but the focus at Fils du Roy is single malt so it is relatively limited.

However, of interest is that Fils du Roy is preparing some maltings to peat their own rye with New Brunswick peat. A 30 acre field of rye has already been earmarked for the project this fall.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Lots of grain, with a thick, almost porridge-like grainy characteristic – it’s quite nice. This is balanced against a clean, light oak and mixed orchard fruit. Broad, pleasant, and interesting on the palate with a rich grainy character with a nice touch of dried citrus peel in the middle. This is quite impressive, and a step above the other stuff that Fils Du Roy has produced. It’s full in flavour and balanced, and it really has a nice middle to it.

There is some nice rye spice to it, over and above what is present in their single malt – but it still has a lot of the richness which is present in a lot of Fils du Roy whiskies.

This whisky was tied for my 20th favourite whisky (of well over 100) in the 2019 Canadian Whisky Awards, tied with whiskies like Lot no. 40 (which isn’t what it used to be, mind you). That says something.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: N/A. I’m not sure what this costs. I’d see if you can try before you buy and form your own opinion on if it’s worth purchasing!


Review: Fils Du Roy Single Malt Homage at Congres Mondial Acadien 2019 by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
3 yrs
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Fils du Roy (Petit-Paquetville, New Brunswick)

Another Fils du Roy single malt, specially released for the 2019 world acadian congress, composed of two barrels. It was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and char #4 American oak. 415 bottles were produced, each numbered with a date from 1604 (when Acadia was created) to 2019.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

A nice wheatiness to this one – cream of wheat, but also orange, clove, and coconut. But more – pastry creams, pistachio, caramel, and vanilla. The palate is clean, light, with a slight dried fruit zestiness and a rich graininess towards the finish. A nice kick of oaky vanilla, just at the end. The fruitiness is quite vibrant here. Young and complex.

This is worth trying, but it still has more time to go.

Value: N/A. I’m not sure what this costs, and is probably not very available given the limited nature of the bottling.


Review: Fils Du Roy Single Malt Homage a Richelieu International by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
2.5 yrs in Ex-Bourbon Barrel, 0.5 yrs in Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Fils du Roy (Petit-Paquetville, New Brunswick)

Another Fils du Roy single malt bottled for Richelieu International, with 500 bottles produced only available to members of the organization which celebrated its 75th anniversary this month. Richelieu International is a Francophone organization which helps youth and children in need.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Rich baking spices, red river cereal, anjou pear, cinnamon, earth– and a striking combination of spice and grain, like a particularly spicy mix of lightly roasted grain. The fruitiness is quite vibrant here, and there is a deep set of fermentation flavours. Young and complex. The spices bloom on the palate with a rich roasted graininess, dried apricot, dried peach, and even a bit of dried mango. The fruitiness really builds towards the finish. The finish is full of light grain, vanilla, and white pepper.

A nice rich grainy palate, which does a nice trick. I really like the spiciness. The best single malt I’ve had from Fils du Roy.

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

Value: N/A. I’m not sure what this costs, and is probably not very available given the limited nature of the bottling.


Review: Mister Sam Tribute Whisky (Sazerac) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

ABV
66.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
A blend of Canadian and American whiskies
Producer 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.

If you get a bottle of this, there is a small booklet, containing a history of the Seagram’s company written by Samuel Bronfman for his 80th birthday, …from little acorns…. There are a few great nuggets and it gives a nice picture of pieces of how the organization functioned - highlighting specifically Bronfman’s bullishness about marketing, quality control and his penchant for blending. He often tested the blends personally and interacted with the quality control executives. The company had a library of hundreds of whiskies and 240 different yeasts! As Bronfman wrote, “Nothing is more important in our business than the quality of our products”. He also speaks of how he became convinced that US prohibition would end 5 years before it did, and started to ramp up production and build warehouses to get aged whiskies ready in advance. Even once the US market opened up, he made everyone wait until the US spirits had sufficient maturation in wood: “No matter, I waited. Quality in the bottle, and our reputation for quality, were much more important to me than immediate profits.”

Notably, he also discusses being disturbed when he saw drinking culture grow again after prohibition which lead him to release an advertisement: “We who make whiskey say: ‘Drink Moderately’”.

This whisky is available in the United States (already available) and shortly to Canada: BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019

  • Bottling Code: L19011331608E

  • Bottling Date: 2019

What a nose! What a nose! I’ll do my best not to be too wordy, but even at first whiff I know that will be difficult.

Sweet oaky caramel, rich deep oak (mossy, old, but very sweet like a damp bourbon warehouse), spicy rye, but it’s balanced with the nicest set of light fruit like white grapes and white mulberries. It is very reminiscent of good, cask strength Buffalo Trace compared to a cask strength blended Canadian whisky with less of a focus on oak. It reminds me, of course, of the Buffalo Trace antique collection.

But, back to the nose. It shines through incredibly with water – it seems to transition from an American style to a bit more of an oaky Canadian style with water (without too much rye). Fruits emerge – candied, dried – but also rich baking spice, fresh strawberries, cherries, praline (hazelnut and almond), dried chanterelle mushrooms, wintergreen, and the corn/rye grain character comes out richly. It has a really nice “dusty” rye characteristic, which I love. The nose really evolves, with more and more dried fruit (prunes, then dried apricots, then dried peaches) with time. This is all tempered by massive oak.

The palate is quite oaky, but surrounded at the edges by rich dried fruits, white pepper, and grapefruit skin (including pith). We also have cherry, dried ginger, dried apricot, dried peach, fresh plum, sweet creamy corn, mixed baking spices, and tobacco. These notes converge into a complex dose of baking spices and creeping tannins. The finish is dry, with toasted baking spices, sweet oak, cherry, dried apricot, corn husks, caramel, and tobacco. The finish is deep and long.

Heavier, oakier, richer, and much deeper than Little Book Chapter 02 (can you believe it?), which has a very different presentation of rye and has a light, vibrant fruit characteristic not present in Mister Sam (similar to the Jim-Beam-owned Alberta-distilled Canadian Club 100% rye). I love that Little Book whisky too.  A better comparison is the William Larue Weller I have in my cabinet from 2015. That one is sweeter, with more almond, maple, and a heavier portrayal of corn – the Weller is a bit lighter, and less complex than this stuff which is focused more on deep fruits, nuts, spice. The Weller, notably, has a bigger finish.  If the Weller is a peach galette with some slivered almonds on top, this is a spiced blackberry+plum+peach cobbler, sprinked with baking spices and baked a deep brown. Some, no doubt, will prefer the style of the Weller. But I like this stuff more.

This is extremely pleasant at 53.5%, the nose is best a bit lower ABV, but it is still awesome for its sheer power at 66.9%. It’s one of the most dynamic whiskies I’ve ever encountered in terms of how it changes with ABV. If you have one of these and find it too hot, just keep adding distilled water until it’s to your taste. The drinking experience does not suffer.

I wonder if Mister Sam would have liked the whisky. His typical tipple was Seagram’s VO, a much lighter whisky rather than this oak bomb. Nonetheless, masterfully blended!

This is in the top 6 whiskies I’ve ever tasted.

Exceptional (4% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average, even at $250!


Review: Pemberton Apple Brandy by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
44%
Aging
Depends on Cask
Recipe
100% Whole BC Apples
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

Apples have been used to make spirits since at least the 16th century in France. In Europe, Apple Brandy is still commonly made, in both aged and aged forms - most notably in the region of Calvados which is famous for its aged apple brandies. Pemberton Distillery uses whole BC apples, distilling them and aging them in oak casks.

This is made in a very similar process to a Calvados, distilling the apples whole rather than just using part. As a part of the Calvados regulations, up to 30% of the base can be pears - in Pemberton’s case, they use 10% pears. Where possible, Pemberton tries to get as much diversity as possible from the apples and pears, using 8 varieties of apples and 3 types of pears. The cask type is different between the batches, from French oak, new American oak, ex-bourbon, and Canadian oak but the distillery is settling on using Canadian oak for the initial aging and ex-bourbon casks to finish. This batch is made completely from Canadian oak.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2017 Harvest, Aged 14 Months

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

This reminds me quite heavily of Pemberton’s single malt, interestingly enough (not very surprising, though - most distilleries have a style between the stills, barrels, and yeasts). However, it is very different from Pemberton’s whisky.

The nose is rich in apple aromas, with applesauce, apple seeds, apple skins – but also hazlenuts, green pear, white pepper, vanilla, and even light over-ripe berry notes. I quite like the combination of the nuttiness with the apples. The palate is dry, full of apple sauce and light tannin, a touch of acidity, and more nuttiness but on the softer side like macadamias and almonds. There is a light bitterness which I quite like on the palate. The finish is slightly sweet, with vanilla, light oak, and more apple sauce. The hazlenuts are back on the finish. Baking spices come through on the finish, which is very complex especially as the spices make their way in. There’s even a nice herbaceous character subtly present throughout - but especially in the finish.

This is quite different than any other Apple Brandies I’ve had (which isn’t many). It is much heavier-bodied and nuttier and spicier, with more bitterness. If you read much of my reviews, I favour the unique and interesting – this is like that, for the spirits enthusiast. At first I didn’t know what I thought of the bitterness in the middle, but as I drink more of it and it combines with the spices and tannins, I love it.

Assessment: Recommended.


Review: Schramm Organic Canadian Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Schramm+Gin.jpg
ABV
44.8%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Potato Spirit, Organic Herbs & Botanicals
Distillery Pemberton Distillery (Pemberton, BC)

This is a gin made from a base of distilled local potatoes, combined with juniper berries, coriander seed, orange peel, rosemary, angelica root, Ceylon cinnamon, rosehips and hops - all listed clearly on the label. I quite like how the ingredients are listed right on the label. It takes 18 pounds of potato to produce a single bottle of this!

The gin includes a very narrow hearts cut - only across 4 alcohol percentage points off the still - this was the best balance Pemberton could find between the heavier juniper and the lighter fruit notes.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 45 (Distilled Feb 2019)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Rich juniper aromas, and an incredible wild sort of herbal and floral notes. It reminds me of certain blooming meadows, rich in a light mixed floral notes and sharp herbal notes. The hops come through, slightly – and they are awesome giving a real sharp character which contrasts with the cinnamon and dried orange. The juniper is strong, as I like it.  It’s a big gin, with a complex character. In the middle too, there is a flash of sweetness coming from the distillate, which isn’t lost – another big plus, for me, in gin. The finish has the juniper, earthiness, and a nice set of complex spices and woody notes.

I quite like the stuff. There is a light touch of earthiness too, I assume from the potatoes.

Chilled, the sharp vegetable character really shines through, along with the juniper. It is remarkable how strongly the flavours shine through, even chilled. It has a good voice in a cocktail, as I believe spirits should: this mixes well.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.