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

This whisky was first made in 1951, by master distiller Jack Napier. He called in “Black Velvet” after loving the taste. It is distilled in the Black Velvet distillery in Lethbridge, Alberta, even though originally it was distilled at a Toronto distillery where demand caused a new distillery to be built in Alberta. It is “blended at birth”, which involves blending an aged 90% rye whisky (aged 2 years) with corn spirit right off the still before being put into Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. This whisky is extremely popular in the US – less so in Canada, and can even be hard to find in Ontario.

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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

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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.

Review: Black Fox Oaked Gin by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Oaked+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
6-8 months, American oak
Recipe
100% triticale spirit with botanicals
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

This aged gin is sold as a single barrel product. The gin has a bit of a bigger profile, particularly with more anise, than the other Black Fox gins - this gives it a bit more body to balance out the oak. The distillery releases about 20 casks of this per year.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The wood comes off initially – vanilla, caramel, dry white oak – but behind it we have spice, cucumber, sawdust, juniper, leather, and cinnamon. The palate has nice sharp spice, citrus, and floral characteristics embraced by sweet woody notes, vanilla, and structured with light wood tannins. Very nice! The finish has a bit more cucumber, caraway, dried floral notes, and almost a marshmallow-type wood characteristic.

For whisky enthusiasts, you might notice characteristics of a nicely toasted cask here – specifically the toasted, not charred wood characteristics. Excellent!

A very nice aged gin. It’s one that I like to sip neat. It’s good chilled – some of the complexity is lost and the woody notes come out at the core. Still quite good chilled, but I’d take this neat so as not to lost all the complexity and balance.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.


Review: Black Fox Cucumber Gin #7 by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Cucumber+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
Not Aged
Recipe
100% Triticale Whisky with botanicals and cucumbers
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

Whole cucumbers are added to the gin after it is finished to macerate in flavor and colour. Once the gin is finished, the used cucumbers are used in the production of the next batch of gin. The recipe is distinct from their dry gin and aged gin, to appropriately surround the cucumber notes.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is very rich in cucumber – it takes me to peeling field cucumbers. It reminds me particularly of sharp, slightly bitter cucumber peel rather than cucumber flesh. The palate is spicy, with cucumber at the centre and coriander spice surrounding it, alongside white pepper and a slight drying nature. There is a touch of cucumber peel bitterness in the palate which I actually really like. Caraway, quite brilliantly, comes out in the big finish. It’s a bit soapy – perhaps a combination of the cucumber and coriander, reminding me of some natural soap shops (not a bad thing). The cucumber on the finish is enduring.

I find the herbal notes are quite prominent, and at times too much – this sometimes smells a bit like the crisper section of my fridge when herbs have been in there a bit too long. This is not always to my liking, when sipped neat. But, chilled or in a cocktail these notes are lost and the freshness of the gin really shines through. I tested this with friends and many of them didn’t make any such association, so it might be a fairly personal preference. When chilled, the cucumber notes really come out, so it does exactly what you would want in a cocktail. This is a cocktail gin for me, not a sipping gin (as most gins are). As suggested, it works great in a gin & tonic or with ginger ale.


Review: Black Fox Dry Gin #3 by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Dry+Gin.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
Not Aged
Recipe
100% triticale with botanicals
Distiller Black Fox (Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

This gin is the basic dry gin from Black Fox, designed as a martini gin - and it certainly works very well in a Martini (as in a honey gimlet). It is made with 15 different botanicals including Calendula flowers and rhubarb from the Black Fox farm. Also, an amazing bottle - they use the glass stoppers like Shelter Point does. The base for the spirit is Black Fox’s tasty triticale spirit which is spicy and fruity, and gives the gin good depth.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is deep, with a nice contrast of flavours to it – slightly sweet, slightly floral, slightly spicy.  The bottle, also, is beautiful. Orange and rhubarb play off a slightly tangy sweetness (similar to yoghurt – this doesn’t smell like yoghurt; but the tangy/sweet characteristic is analogous to it), with a rich spice backbone that is quite woody like cloves and cinnamon. The palate is big, rich with floral notes (violet and chamomile) again contrasting woody spices. This is held together by a clean, slightly sweet spirit which isn’t lost either – quite excellent! The finish is sweet, spicy, and lightly tannic. The notes start with citrus and floral characteristics, but fade slowly to lightly grainy, woody, and sharp spice notes. Awesome!

When chilled, this retains the sweetness and the spice, which makes it for a kick-ass martini gin (as advertised). I do love the woodiness of the spices – these are not lost amidst being chilled. Similarly, in a pink gin or a gin & soda, this has a great character – so this is a premium mixer, too.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended.