American Whiskey

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

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ABV
46%
Aging
New Charred Oak; 2 and 16 yrs old
Recipe
Blend of 6 and 16 year old straight rye
Distiller Multiple (USA)

Perhaps the most well known product from High West, Rendezvous is a blend of 2 rye whiskies – a 6 year old and a 16 year old. 6 year rye from MGP (95% rye, 5% barley) and the 16 year old rye is from a mashbill of 80% rye, 10% corn, and 10% malted barley from Barton. This uses a large proportion of unmalted rye. Now, the 16 year old rye from Barton is being phased out, replaced with High West’s own rye.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 16E11

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

A nice, rich, oaky nose – full of spicy mint and some terrific underlying floral notes. A terrific nose – great underlying dried fruit, cherry, earth, brown cardamom, corn husks, and some light mineral notes. Much richer and broader than double rye – buttery, oaky, and full of such rich rye to boot. The palate is spicy, broad, and complex – with a contrast between the sweet oak, spice, and rye floral notes. And great underlying vegetal notes. I do love floral rye. The finish shows some dried apricot and toasted macadamia. Terrific!

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

Value: Average. Great whisky, but fairly pricy too.


Review (2019)

  •  Batch: 17C23

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

This rye is still using the 16 year old rye from Barton, but it’s one of the last batches to do so.

Loads of dill, sweet and sharp oak, vanilla, cinnamon, rich marsh, arugula, mint, mixed berries, and some toasted fennel. What a nice whisky! The palate is oaky, spicy, and lightly fruity. Chipotles, oak, dill, maple, charred oak, sorrel, and a touch of nutmeg. The finish has some nice dill, oak, and clove. A nice mix of leafy, spicy vegetables (radish sprouts, arugula), baking spice, oak, and sweet oak.

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

The taste is on the edge in terms of this rating category, but this is such a classic example of a deep, complex, and broad American rye – it really is quite unique. Furthermore, it’s not too oaky and has a nice elegant touch to it as well. It’s one of my favourite – if not my favourite – American rye that is fairly easy to find.

Value: Average. It’s a very nice whisky, and sits in the average price range for a whisky of this qu


Review: Wild Turkey Longbranch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
43%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg, Kentucky)

This whiskey was produced in collaboration between Wild Turkey and Matthew McConaughey - it has resulted in a bourbon about 8 years old which is filtered through both american oak charcaol and texas mesquite charcoal to soften out the whiskey a bit.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose is spicy, with apple, oak, and corn – but it is quite clean and light for a bourbon. What glorious oak! It’s lighter than i expected for a wold turkey – which makes sense given the charcoal filtration. The taste is full of grain - dried fruit and rye, and nice vanilla laden oak, but also with light-spices  and dark fruit, and toasted notes. A very easy-going bourbon. The finish is oaky, with dried fruit. Lightly sweet. A very easy-going bourbon.

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

Value: Average, based on $60. But, in the bourbon category, below average.


Review: Jack Daniel's Barrel Proof Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
66.65%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~80% Corn, 8% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jack Daniels (Lynchburg, Tennessee)

These are rather hidden secrets coming from Jack Daniel’s, not too hard to find and not too expensive. It’s certainly a much more refined, bigger, and expressive Jack!


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Barrel 18-0394 (bottled 1.11.2018, 66.65%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This smells so much like Jack Daniels with the hit of spicy caramel, but it’s so much bigger, spicier, and rounded. Rich oak, caramel, toasted fennel seed, dried orange, clove, wood char, and dried berries. The palate has a depth of corn, with a touch of nice vegetal rye (arugula), spices, and loads more caramel. Lots of banana, too. The palate is so big and spicy, even if water is added! The finish is rich with corn, spice, and caramel notes. There is a nice kick of oak and tannin on the finish, too. Fantastic!

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is pretty universally liked among my bourbon lovers who don’t like most Jack Daniel’s bottlings, so I suggest giving this one a try if you like big bourbons.

Value: Average. It’s not a bad price for a cask strength whisky of this calibre, but it’s still sitting around 65 USD.


Review: Maker's Mark Private Select Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey (Selected by BC Liquor Stores) by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
55.2%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
70% corn, 16% wheat, and 14% malted barley
Distiller Maker's Mark (Loretto, Kentucky)

These Maker’s Mark private selections are fantastic. It is like a customized Maker’s 46 (which I quite like), but at cask strength with custom staves. The whisky is made by putting aged Maker’s Mark into barrels with 10 custom staves for 9 months. It is different from Maker’s 46 in two ways – it has a custom set of staves and is bottled at cask strength.

These was selected by BC liquor stores, with a few different staves – 1 baked American pure stave, 3 Maker’s 46 staves, 4 Roasted French Mocha staves, and 2 toasted French spice staves. It’s bottled at cask strength, 55.2% ABV.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L8235MMC 02252 1521

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Rich, diverse aromas. Corn, cacao, baking spices, rosehips, baking almond cookies, prunes, dried apricot, orange, and some pear. A great, complex nose - and it’s full of rich, spicy, buttery oak. The palate is big, with a kick of fresh polenta, uncooked basmati rice, layers of oak, more dried fruit, spice, and a nice balancing sweetness. The finish is mostly on oak, but with a fair share of dried fruit as well. Excellent!

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

Value: Average. A nice buy for 100$ CAD, if you want to spend that.


Review: Little Book Blended Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
59.4%
Aging
8-40 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
A blend of straight rye and corn whiskies
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This is quite the endeavor - a blend of Kentucky Straight Rye (8 years old) with a Canadian straight rye (13 years old) and a Canadian corn whisky (40 years old). One can assume the Canadian portion came from Alberta, since Beam owns that remarkable distillery - but it may have been sourced elsewhere. Talk about unique.

This review is for the second release, which differed from the first release which was based around a 4 year old straight bourbon, a 6 year old rye, a 13 year old corn whiskey, and a 6 year old 100% malt whiskey..


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Chapter 2: Noe Small Task

  • Bottling Code: 1689597L5 13:53 17199

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Sharp, diverse, and complex nose. Mint, lemon peel, pickled lemons, arugula, oak – loaded with oak, so it’s not very much like a Canadian blended whisky despite the Canadian components. It’s a bit sweet – and it’s quite deep. Sweet tarts, dried chanterelles, truffle oil, toasted macadamias, toasted hazlenuts, mixed sprouts, blueberry, canola oil

Deep, yet quite soft. The palate is full of a mix of all sorts of rye – fruity, spicy, herbal (radishes), and cinnamon. Still, there is a nice corn body to this, and a very nice mix of spicy and rich grain notes. What a nice, complex whisky. There is an incredibly rich nuttiness and herbaceousness present, and the balance is terrific – especially at cask strength. The finish is lightly sweet, with some nice spices in tow. The herbal characteristics are not lost at all, and the rich oakiness remains throughout. This is just about a perfect fall whisky.

It has less colour than most bookers, probably because the Canadian rye was refill casks. It is an entirely different animal than a booker’s which is much more focused on corn and a bit more focused on a big bourbon profile than Little Book, which is very much in its own category – but with deep American rye whiskey nods.

One of my favourite American-produced whiskies to date.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is at the higher end of this category, too.

Value: Average (based on $130).


Knob Creek Cask Strength Rye Whiskey (Barreled 2009) by Jason Hambrey

Knob Creek 2009 2.jpg
ABV
59.8%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
N/A (but at least 51% Rye)
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This was a special release in 2018, and it came with anticipation - a cask strength, 9 year old knob creek rye! Some people certainly liked it, given that Whisky Advocate named it their number 2 whisky of the year.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Barreled in 2009, Warehouse A

  • Bottling Code: L3182CLH 13282005

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very oaky, and quite intense. Some of that classic Jim Beam rye nuttiness and vegetal character (buckwheat, perhaps?), mint, sorrel, cacao, and oak. Very rich. There is more – hazelnut oil, roasted celeriac, baking spices, a hint of patchouli, freshly milled whole wheat, and a bit of mandarin.

The palate is sharp and spicy, with loads of oak (fairly tannic), mint, patchouli, bitter clove, black pepper, mint, wild rice, lilac, and tannic oak. Corn is not absent either, with some rich corn husk coming through at the end. Extremely flavourful. The finish is quite herbal, tannic, and oaky.

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

Value: Average. A very nice whisky, but still a fairly high price (~100 CAD). If you like it more than I do, as some do, value would be higher, of course.


Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel for Kensington Wine Market (2019) by Jason Hambrey

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ABV
47%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Malt
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

One of many single cask selections that Kensington Wine Market in Calgary does, but mostly Scotch – only a couple of bourbons are chosen. Barrel 5214622, warehouse F, floor 3, barrel 17 F.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Barrel 5214622

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Soft for an Elijah Criag, not quite as oaky as many. Sweet honey, roasted hazlenuts and pistachios and other mixed nuts, corn oil, tobacco, leather, maple, and even something a bit floral – like potpourri! Old musty oak too – I love that smell in a bourbon. A sweet, oaky palate which is fairly complex – with nuts, spices, and some orange all working well together. The finish is full of oaky caramel, honey – and a bit of earthiness too which is a very nice touch. Quite a nice finish – rich, complex, with decent length.

Oddly, lots of oak here but not very tannic. I’m a bit surprised; it makes it seem a bit lighter than it is.

I rate it very similarly, but I think I actually slightly prefer the official bottlings of Elijah Craig, as I do like the bigger oakiness in Elijah Craig – but I think this would appeal to those who like softer, less oaky bourbons. This showcases a different side of Elijah Craig stock.

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

Value: Average. In bourbons alone, it’s a bit below par.


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: American Rockies Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

Picture courtesy of the Fountana Beverage Corp..

ABV
44%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Producer Wyoming (Kirby, Wyoming)

This is produced by the Fountana group, alongside their terrific Canadian Rockies whiskies. This is sourced from the mountains of Wyoming, so in all likelihood it is from the well-reputed Wyoming Distillery.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose has some sharp wood – almost with sharp pine-like notes. Orange peel, bean sprouts, cream of wheat, anise, corn grits, clove, dill, and prunes. Some nice candied notes too – Reisen and Toffifee. And with time, some berry notes. The palate is very well integrated, with a very nice thread of dried corn, light spice, mixed dried Italian herbs, and very pleasing vanilla and toffee. The balance between the fruit, grain, and oak is terrific. The finish is sweet, lightly oaky, lightly grainy. This is good! It’s quite a lighter style of bourbon, but it has some nice elegance to it.

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This is a really nice complex bourbon that isn’t too big. It’s a bit different, too, to its credit – with more herbal and unique fruit notes than in many bourbons.

Value: Average. It’s not a bad buy, but you could do better with different bourbons for $71.


Review: Westland Celebrious American Single Malt Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

Image courtesy of Westland Distillery.

ABV
52.7%
Aging
American Oak (47 months) + tequila barrel ( months)
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Westland (Seattle, Washington)

Westland releases an April Fool’s day bottling of single malt every year, joining the likes of the esteemed “Boldsmooth” and “Sport Dram”. This year is a parody of social media - with whiskey swag alongside “Celebrious” branded mirrors, tacky “celebrious status” badges with the invitation to “everything awesome” and pro-tips on maintaining celebrity status.

“In the age of celebrities

and the spirits that celebrate them,

In a world where everyone can have their moment in the spotlight,

there is a new star rising….

Any celebrity worth 15 minutes of fame,

deserves their own whiskey.

A whiskey that says, ‘I’ve made it'!’

Now you can count yourself among the echelon of the elite.

You are one of the rare few to have the adoration of thousands,

and the whiskey to prove it”.

More seriously though, how often do we see Tequila finishes? They are becoming more popular, but are still not commonplace yet.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has a nice mix of dried red berries and dried fruit, roasted jalapeno, soursop, white pepper, light smoke, baking bread, vanilla, and hard caramel sugar candies. The palate has tequila spices and dried fruit notes which fade to spice and oak, with a nice kick of roasted grain leading into the finish. The finish has a rich dried fruitiness, spice, light oak, and a touch of minerality and earth. Lots of dry tequila spice on the finish.

Quite good and reasonably balanced, but it doesn’t quite come together in terms of both depth and breadth like some of the other Westlands – but maybe that is the point. It’s a bit sweet, too. Still, quite nice - and 52.7% is quite nice.

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

Value: N/A.