Review: Last Straw Distillery Golden Gin by Jason Hambrey

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

Image copyright by Last Straw Distillery Corp. Used with Permission.

ABV
44%
Aging
Charred Oak Casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Last Straw (Vaughan, Ontario)

A limited edition aged gin from Last straw, who also produce a standard Gin twenty-one, reviewed here.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

There is some real nice caramel to this, and some dense toasted oak, juniper, and loads of spice notes like coriander and toasted cumin. It really is quite nice as a sipper – I like this more than the standard gin, but it isn’t too oaky to fit into most gin or brandy cocktails. The oak character is nice and big, but not overpowering – and it has retained a nice lightness. It is another aged gin which has quite nicely bridged gin with a decently big oaky character, which is hard to find. Although, perhaps it should not be surprising coming from distilleries with a big passion for whisky. If it isn’t obvious from the review above, the woodiness here fits in very well with the juniper and the spices.

Whisky is my favourite spirit, and gin is probably second (some rums beat out gins, but on average, gins beat out rums for me). I wonder if gin “purists” would like this as much as me, given my liking of wood influence in aging.

I actually really like this in a gin and soda (a favourite cocktail of mine due to simplicity, lack of sweetness, and the refreshing character). The wood character works really well, and there is tons of subtle complexity. It’s really good just over ice, too.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.

$45 at Last Straw Distillery or on their online shop.


Review: Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Niagara Falls Canadian Whisky 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
4 years
Recipe
8 grains (see below), brand new American oak
Distiller Niagara Falls Craft Distillers (Niagara Falls, Ontario)

The goals of this whisky are similar to that of Niagara Falls first product, Barreling Annies - but this is markedly different in that it is their own distillate, even if the goals of this whisky are similar to Barreling Annie’s: to be an easy, light and great mixer rather than a connoisseur-style sipper. However, there is quite the mix going in here - 8 grains: Canadian barley, winter wheat, winter rye, toasted rye, flaked rye, and three other internationally-sourced grains.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is pretty light, with dry oak, vanilla, prunes, clove, nutmeg – it has the light, sweet, and slightly spicy characteristic of many classic Canadian whiskies. The oak really is central. The palate has dried fruit, more light oak, vanilla, sugar caramel, maple, prunes, and even some bean sprouts which I find from time to time in some Canadian whiskies. The finish is clean, with light dried fruit and oaky spice. Slight tannins grow on the finish.

This is more in line with the lighter, traditional Canadian whiskies which are consumed readily the world-over: dry, lightly spicy, lightly sweet, fairly light bodied. It isn’t heavy on new oak influence. It may appeal less to those looking for big or more unique flavour characteristics. It is similar in style to Barreling Annie’s.

Value: Average. Not expensive at $33.


Review: Black Velvet Onyx 12 Years Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years; Ex-bourbon
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Black Velvet (Lethbridge, Alberta)

It’s too bad - we don’t get to see many older whiskies out of the Black Velvet distillery, which produces some nice stuff - the old Danfield’s line, especially the 21 year old, was fantastic. But here is one - 12 years, a step above the 8 year old Black Velvet Reserve, and showcasing a bit more of what Black Velvet can do.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Balanced, light, broad and integrated. Very nice mix of grain, oak, and loads of spice at the end. Maple cookies! There is more: lots of blueberry, apple, and butterscotch. The palate has a nice richness, spiciness, and dryness to it. A very nice whisky! Well blended and quite enjoyable.

The most interesting part about this whisky is that it reminds me of older vintage Canadian whiskies I’ve had from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It has a distinct funk to it, almost like a mustiness, that is subtle – but present.

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

Value: N/A. I couldn’t figure out what this cost. But it’s worth about $67 in the overall whisky market (heavily influenced by the high prices of Scotch) and in the Canadian whisky market probably $35-40 as Canadian whisky (and American whisky) typically offers a better palate experience and complexity per dollar than Scotch.


Review: Black Velvet Reserve 8 Years Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
8 Years; Ex-bourbon
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Black Velvet (Lethbridge, Alberta)

A “reserve” version of black velvet which has spent an additional 5 years in casks - it is indeed a huge step up. Not available in Ontario but available in some other parts of Canada and in the USA.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Fairly subtle…light spice, light wood, light grain, light pine. It also has some nice white wine and herbal notes. The nuances are bourbon-like, with vanilla and dried fruit coming through – but also spicy notes, peach, and a thread of floral notes. Very much in the style of a classic Canadian whisky (not necessarily a modern one, though), with a light complexity to a whisky which is light-bodied with a spicy edge.

This reminds me of a Crown Royal, but, other than Danfield’s products, I don’t have much experience of better black velvet products. Definitely deeper and rounder than the standard BV, and it’s more like a Crown royal in terms of creaminess, vanilla, and brighter fruits like grape and gooseberry – like the limited edition, perhaps – but it isn’t quite as creamy and it sits a bit on the spicier side.

If you don’t have access to much Canadian whisky and you are wanting to explore, this is not a bad place to start getting exposure – but see if you can find any whiskies which I recommend more highly on my highest rating page.

Value: I’m not sure, as I couldn’t find prices online against my typical benchmarks. Against the whisky market (including Scotch, which drags the market up due to its high price for a given quality of taste) this is worth about $40, so I expect this is good value although I couldn’t find values online. I’d pay $26-30 for it, and I expect it’s even below that in the US.


Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Larry Robinson Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's Alumni Larry Robinson.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
6 Years; Refill, re-charred, ex-bourbon, rum, and virgin French oak
Recipe
Blend of Corn and Rye Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Well this whisky is a bit nuts - 6 years old, matured in 6 casks - to commemorate Robinson’s 6 championships. I’ve never seen a whisky matured in both new oak, rum, and port casks - not to mention the others - so it is a bit unique. The corn is double distilled, with single-distilled rye.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: L19080EW1429

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Quite the mix on the nose here, clearly the result of a number of different barrels of maturation (no surprise there). Lots of dried fruit, wine notes, dark brown sugar, vanilla yoghurt, and some richer rye notes. It’s quite a busy nose, almost so much so that I nearly missed the very obvious spicy oak characteristics. The fruit notes remind me a bit of a drink that I used to drink growing up from various fruits boiled in water and then strained.

It’s interesting to me that rye seemingly plays a bigger role in this spirit, even with the 6 barrel types. I would have expected it to have less punch from the grain, in Wiser’s typical style when they use finishes. These releases really show off the diversity possible from a distillery like Wiser’s. It’s a younger and punchier use of finishes, which you don’t see often.

Rich spicy character too, but the oak is compensating for a spirit which is too young, I think. I like finish-driven whiskies less, so not as much up my alley – but lots find this style quite appealing. It reminds me of a lot of blended Scotch where there are so many different flavours batting about.

The most complex of the new set of releases, but actually my least favourite - I tend to favour grain focus over finishes, so it’s not a surprise.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s toward the bottom end of the category – it’s very good and interesting, but it isn’t as integrated as I like.

Value: Average, based on $45.


Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Paul Coffey Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser%27s+Alumni+Paul+Coffey+1.jpg
ABV
48%
Aging
7 Years; Refill, Ex-Speyside, Ex-Bourbon, and Virgin Oak
Recipe
Blend of Corn and Rye Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Another whisky which incorporates a few “easter eggs” to celebrate NHL player Paul Coffey. It’s 7 yeras old as a nod to Coffey’s #7 jersey, with 48% nodding toward Coffey’s 48 goals in one season (the most ever for a defenseman).


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: L19084EW0945

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A drier character, with a nice grain character at the fore. Corn husks, light oak, vanilla, pear, and light mixed nuts. Slight bitterness on the nose, in a classic Canadian fashion. There is a nice dry oaky character which I quite enjoy in some lighter whiskies. The palate carried on in a similar fashion – even at 48%, this is a relatively light bodied whisky flavour-wise. We have sweet corn, dry oak, dried apricot, vanilla, burnt-sugar caramel, brown sugar, maple, and a flourish of baking spice at the end. The ABV really helps the finish which combines nice spice, oak, and in the middle a good grain character.

It’s the most grain-centric whisky in the new batch of releases, in my opinion. I liked the first three releases better, but all 6 are so different – different even than any of the other Wiser’s bottles currently available – that personal preference may well play a big role in what people prefer.

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

Value: High. I think it’s a good buy at $45, particularly against the whisky market as a whole.


Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Darryl Sittler Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser%27s+Alumni+Darryl+Sittler.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
10 Years; Refill and Ex-Bourbon Casks
Recipe
Blend of Corn, Rye, and Malted Barley Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Another addition to the alumni series, whiskies produced to represent portions of NHL player’s games. The players themselves go to the blending lab at Hiram Walker, the home of Wiser’s, to take part in understanding the full blending process. The whisky is aged 10 years to celebrate Sittler’s famous 10 point night. Even the blend proportions tie back to that 6-goal and 4-assist game with 6 parts rye to 4 parts wheat. Wiser’s has been loading up consumers (Ontario at the least) with a lot of different releases, and they all have a different profile - I am quite impressed (and not surprised) at the diversity.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Alumni Series 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: L19081EW1106

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is nicely balanced between lighter floral notes and some underlying grain of light to medium richness. There is dried fruit and lots of subtlety, especially with some water added. Prunes, dried apricot, orange peel, almond, orange peel, and dried bay leaves. The palate shows the corn at the centre, but has other grain notes – nuttiness, earthiness, and a grassy character. There is also dried apple, brown sugar, light bitterness, The finish is dry and spicy, with cacao, baking spices, tannins, and vanilla.

I like the information they present on the bottles - grains, age, and barrels. It’s nice as a consumer to know a bit of what you are buying, especially in Canada where there isn’t as much transparency.

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

Value: Average, based on $45


Review: JP Wiser's Triple Barrel Canadian Whisky (USA) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
Virgin American Oak, Ex-Bourbon Casks & Canadian Rye Whisky Casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This is the USA’s bottling of Triple Barrel - a bit of an amped up version of the Canadain Triple Barrel which is bottled at 43.4%. The whisky contains mostly rye with a bit of corn whisky, with the various casks being used to try to balance out the spicy rye characteristic. It is designed for the slightly bolder USA profile, with an eye towards rye cocktails.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Light fruit, and something nicely spicy about this – light lemon and cumin – and nice bourbon nuances and rich rye. Wintergreen, too! Some really nice floral and spicy rye notes, dried fruit, and rich grainy notes. It’s spicy – as rich as Wiser’s Triple Barrel – but it has a lightness and elegance to it, to the extent you might mistake this for a rich or rye-heavy Crown Royal (as I did when I tasted this blind). Very much, it feels like a bigger, older sibling of the Canadian Triple Barrel. It is very nice.

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

Value: Very high. This stuff is incredible for $25 CAD.


Review: JP Wiser's 10 Year Old Triple Barrel Canadian Whisky (European Union) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
10 Yrs; American Oak; Canadian Rye whisky barrels; first-fill bourbon barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky and Column Distilled Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky, one of master distiler Don Livermore’s favourites is a blend of three barrel types - reused American oak, ex-Canadian rye barrels, and first-fill bourbon barrels. The result is a whisky which is versatile as a sipper or in cocktails - but it is an EU exclusive.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Rich, spicy, and fruity on the nose with some maple and dried fruit. Light orange, vanilla, prunes, and some herbal spice notes - celery and dill seed! The palate has some nice brown sugar and slight bitterness, which gives good grip. Deeper and rounder than Wiser’s Deluxe. The finish has some dried citrus, dried fruit, and gooseberries. A bit drying, too – which I quite like.

Decent, straightforward, with a little bit of spice in the background. I like the heavier, spicier or older wiser’s products, but this isn’t bad nor particularly special. There is a light thread of rye in here, but it isn’t huge…

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). I think it’s worth a try if you aren’t exposed to Canadian whisky. It is a bit of a representation of a mid-level Canadian whisky if you live in an area where not much is available. If you have access to other Canadian whisky, I’d suggest that there are much better options. It does give an introduction to a bit of decent Canadian whisky and the terrific Wiser’s brand – while acknowledging that this is still at the bottom of Canadian whiskies I’d recommend.

Value: High. At these prices, it’s a good whisky at near bottom-shelf prices.


A Few Whiskies on the Way from Black Fox Farm, Saskatchewan by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Whiskies+2.jpg

These days, most folks who start up a distillery have a background in brewing or distilling. However, Black Fox got an interesting start – from grain farmers John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote. Many of the original distillers, indeed, were farmers who were able to distill grain to preserve it, make it easier to transport, and at times, make a bigger profit.

The prairies grow a lot of grain, and Saskatchewan is the heart of the prairies – indeed, there is more agricultural area in Saskatchewan than the other prairie provinces of Alberta and Manitoba combined. Based near Saskatoon, the farm distillery is taking a Canadian approach by focusing on single grain whiskies of various bases – wheat, triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), and oat.

The whiskies, at present, are of age – about 3.4-3.6 years old each. I got sent some samples of a 100% unmalted wheat, 100% unmalted oat (toasted to help fermentability and flavour), and 100% unmalted triticale whisky each matured in new American oak as a preview – a date has not yet been set for their release. Triticale, particularly - is exciting - a hybrid of rye and wheat. The distillery had to go through a variety of different varieties until they found one which was good for flavor and fermentability. All the whiskies use a staged fermentation with multiple yeasts and are put into new oak. They are all coming along very well and they are in the group of higher quality whiskies which are currently on the market from Canadian craft distilleries and small producers. I wrote a few tasting notes below - note that these whiskies are not yet available and I will post proper reviews of the whiskies when they are ready to be released.

See a few notes on how they are progressing below:

Black Fox 100% Wheat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 11/9/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.4 yrs) 48%

The nose has charred oak, cream of wheat, red currants, orange, and a bit of black pepper. Some quite nice fruits to it – like elderberries and black currants. It is quite oaky, with an assortment of wood spices – it is a very nice woodiness. The nose isn’t raw, which is rather impressive at this age even with new oak.  The palate is lightly sweet, full of toasted oak flavours, orange, and light, sweet spice at the end along with freshly baked bread. The sweetness does well to balance out the spice and the oak – it’s lightly sweet, not too much. It has a really nice sweet wheat character to it. The finish has some more dark fruit, more oak, and spice.  The grain characteristics continue for some time, along with a bit more dried fruit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Oat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/22/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Again, we have some really nice grainy notes here. It smells, indeed, like oats! But there’s also some rich baking spices, a rich spicy woodiness, toasted oak, and even some more exotic wood notes like bamboo. Pear, too. Deep wood – it does a nice trick.

The palate is light, with creamy porridge, vanilla marshmallow, and a great creaminess. Vanilla and spice come in on the end, which is full of sweet creamy grain, light spices, and light charred oak. A bit more dried fruit and spice comes out on the finish. The finish has a set of notes I’d characterize as oats just starting to toast on a skillet. The finish is lightly tangy and sweet – which I quite like! Despite the new oak, the oat spirit is a worthy competitor and isn’t lost. Not as oaky or as sharp as the wheat, and a bit softer.

I recently pulled this out at a Japanese tasting and it was a hit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Triticale Whisky cask sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/10/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Of the three samples I tried, this one takes the best to the new oak.

Quite different from the other casks. Coconut, pineapple, and a rich set of fruity rye-like spices, dried, fruit, cacao nibs, and vanilla. Lots of oak and toasted oak notes. This reminds me of rye whisky, with all the floral and spicy notes.  Nice caramel too. There is a nice grainy middle, and oaky base, and a spicy-floral intense set of top notes. Prunes, dried apricot, lilac, whole grain bread, whole mixed-grain porridge, toasted oak, and cinnamon.

The palate has a really nice spicy sharpness, lilac, clove, and a sweet grainy finish. There is a really nice set of dried fruit characteristics here which aren’t present in the other Black Fox whiskies. It has a really rich middle with quite good depth to it. The finish has dried stone fruit (prunes, peaches, apricots) but also fresh plums, peaches, and apricots – along with green pear, oak, baking spices, lilac, cream of wheat, and an Irish pot-still like green oily spiciness.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.