Barley

Review: Newfoundland Aquavit by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
Barley Spirit, Peat-smoked juniper, and honey
Distiller Newfoundland Distillery (Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland)

I don’t often go after unaged spirits, but this one caught my eye on a beer coaster which was advertising this product - it is made with peat-smoked juniper, barley spirit, and honey. I’ve tried some other Aquavits I quite liked this year, and it’s a category I think which could be explored more. Peat-smoked juniper? Yes, I want to try that.

This, notably, was the first spirit produced in Newfoundland which has been fully grown and legally distilled in the province.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has a rich grain character, smoke, juniper, lemons, and a light mineral essence. I like the grain-forward nature of the spirit. I really haven’t had a spirit quite like this before – it is perhaps like some smoky whisky new makes that are quite smooth, but it’s quite different as well. It has a really nice savouriness to it, almost like roasted tomatoes. Or, perhaps – smoked tomatoes (you can buy these, but they aren’t easy to find…). The smoke really comes through on the palate, at the end – a bit like a meat smoker with cherry wood.

This is a complex, interesting, and unique spirit – it has endless application in cocktails. I can just imagine great pairings with tomato, dried apricot, fresh stone fruits, or honey and soda.

This aquavit and Sheringham’s are both terrific – I think more distilleries should pursue this type of spirit.

Assessment: Highly recommended.

Value: High, if you like smoke and unique spirits. $35 isn’t bad for that.


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


The Wonderful World of Westland's Single Barley New Makes by Jason Hambrey

Westland Barleys.jpg

Single malts exist all over the world in various shapes and sizes, and few scottish malt producers talk much about the flavour of the grain they use. Instead, it’s a lot of focus on yeast and maturation - perhaps because mostly they all use the same barley!

One of my “wow” moments in my whisky journey was visiting Westland distillery during the past year. I was able to taste new make distillates produced by Westland which are made from different varieties of barley. Westland is involved at the front end not only of whisky production, but also barley breeding, working closely with the grain genius Dr. Steve Jones (of Washington State University). Westland partners with Dr. Jones to breed barley varietals for flavour in whisky production. Successfully breeding a new strain of barley takes about ten years, if the strain is a success. What whisky producer wants to add ten years on the front end of an already long process!? I’m sure glad they do. Let me describe a few new makes from different varieties:

Copeland Barley

Copeland is the most commonly grown species of barley in the USA. This new make is the most like their whisky, with strong fruity notes and a rich grain base and slight spice. Rich, fruity, and clean.

NZ151 (Ricard) Barley

Sharply fruity, with lots of dried fruit notes. It’s also more earthy and definitely more spicy. Very unique – this is my second favourite of the distillates.

Talisman Barley

More “simply” grain – the grain comes forward more at the centre here than in any of the other new makes, with candied fruit still playing around in the background. This is nice – I quite like the grain forward nature. However, it isn’t as complex as the other distillates, and it is ever so slightly astringent.

Purple Obsidian Barley

Incredible – rich barley, pine –evolving over time. It is abundant in flavour: rose, rich rice, jasmine tea, licorice, clove, Campbell’s tomato soup, and green tea. This is absolutely phenomenal – rich, complex, balanced, textured. Excellent.

You can’t taste these, but the other stuff Westland makes is fantastic: I recommend the Westland American Oak, Sherry Wood, Peated, and Garryana.

Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Lanny McDonald Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lanny McDonald.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
9 Years; Refill, First-Fill Ex-Bourbon, Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
Blend of Corn, Rye, and Barley Whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky is a blend of column distilled rye (matured in first fill ex-bourbon casks), double distilled corn whisky (matured in refill casks), and pot distilled wheat (matured in new oak). It’s blended around the wheat grain, to honour the prairies where Lanny McDonald comes from.

Exclusive to Alberta.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Alumni Series

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very nutty, and spicy – yet still we have nice dried and candied fruit. Loads of spices – hazelnut skins, old baking spices, and nutmeg. The wheat comes through with time, growing slightly with time. It has a very nice light floral note to it, also – lilac – our good old rye comes in. The palate is nicely rich with grain notes, and there is a light cream of wheat characteristic in the middle. I wouldn’t say that it is “wheat forward” but the wheat is definitely integrated into the whisky. The finish brings in some nice dried fruit, and the column still rye with all its baking spices and floral notes comes in at the end, with light tannins and more nuttiness. Very well put together- the spiciness and nuttiness is very Canadian in style, and I like that – it’s a bit dusty, and I’ll never complain about that!

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

Value: Average. $45 isn’t much for good whisky, but there are better whiskies for the price.