Blended Whisky

Review: West Cork Bourbon Cask Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

West Cork Bourbon 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
First Fill Ex-Bourbon Casks
Recipe
Grain and Malt Whiskies
Producer West Cork (County Cork, Ireland)

West Cork only opened in 2003- and are now releasing a range of their own whiskies, including this one. The distillery is focused on using Irish grain, triple distillation, and pot stills - they even malt some of their own barley. It's not a very big distillery, but it's making itself a name (certainly relative to the nearby Midleton). This whisky is a first-fill bourbon matured Irish whisky, composed of 75% grain whiskey and 25% single malt whiskey.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 01817

  • Bottling Date: ~2017

The nose is full of bourbon, lots of creamy oak, dried apricot, and a light nutty, grainy character. Thyme, red apple, caramel, straw mats, banana, and overall a nice tripical character with mango and dried papaya. The palate is nutty, with a nice mouthfeel. Creamy and slightly spicy, lightly oaky with pear and some dried peach. The finish is sharp, as if a concentrated wave of flavours slowly unfolds – with dried mango, banana, vanilla, peach, light grain flavours (somewhat not fully defined), and light oak. The finish has good grip. The bourbon cask plays a large part in this one, but I quite like it.

Really nice casual dram, I like the balance and feel of it.

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

Value: Average, at $42.


Review: Tullamore Dew XO Caribbean Cask Finish Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Tullamore Dew XO 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
Finished in Demerera Rum Casks
Recipe
Malted and Unmalted Barley
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

Tullamore DEW, along with the rest of Irish whiskey, has been enjoying a resurgence- with a distillery being built for the brand in 2014. This is a new release, finished in Demerera Rum Casks.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code : L1 50781D 17/11/2017

  • Bottling Date: 2017

This is a spicy nose – lots of clove and coconut, with a sweet and rich rum characteristic in the background – it isn’t subtle! Banana, dried fruit, creamy tropical fruit (guanabana, mongosteen), pear, and cinnamon – a fairly heavy, spicy nose overall. The palate starts out with spicy grain notes before a rich middle comes through, with banana bread, vanilla and orchard fruit, and finishing with the spices again. There is a nice bit of sharp pot still character integrating with rich molasses right before the finish which is terrific – the finish being sweet and spicy, with lots of pot still, light oak, cinnamon, and more baking spices. Dry and tannic on the finish.

It’s a bit rough, overall, but I kind of like it – it reminds me somewhat of Canadian Club in terms of feel. I kinda like the whiskies – but they aren’t soft and elegant. It opens up really nicely with some water and the tropical notes burst forth, and the rum really comes through.

Value: Low. Not expensive, but really not too great…


Review: Stalk & Barrel Red Blend Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of Canadian Whiskies
Distiller Multiple (Canada)

The higher end blend from Still Waters, coming in at 43% and $40, containing more of their whisky relative to the sourced stuff.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Vanilla, caramel pudding, apricot, pine, and a nice rye heart. Oh, and lots of milk chocolate – it’s quite impressive.  Vanilla wedding cake, lilacs, and light oak come in as well. With time – cookie batter, cinnamon, and lots of milk chocolate. The palate is creamy and clean, balancing well the spicy rye and the sweet oak. At times, youth is felt – but it is all coming from the terrific young Still Waters product which I still find so appealing.

Brilliant spices, complexity, and balance. I am partial to their rye, but this is still a very worthwhile whisky. What I like about all the new two blends from Still Waters is that the blends are different from what they have made in the past, but they are have the distinct Stalk & Barrel style, which is a good one.

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

Value: High (based on $40).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Apple, apple juice, oak, lilac, and some toffee, oak, and grassy spice underneath. Lots of vanilla! The nose grows beautifully with time. The palate has a delicious, tangy and tannic structure on which apples, pears, grassy spice, clove, and vanilla sit. The finish fades out with gorgeous spices and light tea notes. Terrific!

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

Value: Average (based on $40). lower than above because I didn’t like this one quite as much, but it’s close.


Review: Jameson Caskmates Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Jameson Caskmates 2.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
Finished in Stout Barrels
Recipe
Grain and Pot Still Whiskies
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

What do you think of when you think of Irish alcohol? Likely, stout beer (i.e. Guinnes), Jameson (i.e. Irish Whiskey), and Irish Cream (i.e. Baileys). Why not combine two of these categories - stout beer casks and Jameson? Thus, we have a stout barrel finished Jameson. As with the standard Jameson, this is triple distilled and made at Midleton distillery in County Cork.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Pot still character comes out right from the outset, apple, balsamic vinegar, fried mushrooms, but with the stout character coming in just at the end – burnt toast, roasted malt, and light acidity. It is much more smoothed out than the standard Jameson, and the pot still character is a bit more central. The palate is loaded with vanilla and carries on with the richness of the stout character. Nice chewy texture. Finish is a lot of the malty, stout characteristic but with some toffee and hard caramel candy, and a bit of apple. Lightly bitter on the finish, with some light arugula, stout, vanilla, and dried leaves.

Value: I don’t particularly like this, but it’s also not particularly expensive - so average- in value.


Review: Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Powers 2.jpg
ABV
43.2%
Aging
American Oak
Recipe
Grain and Pot Still Whiskies
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This is the best selling Irish whiskey in Ireland (globally it is Jameson), and it is made at the massive Midleton distillery. Historically, it was a single pot still Irish whiskey but now it is a blended Irish whiskey with some grain whiskey in the mix. It originated in Dublin, and at one time (late 1800s) it was being produced at the massive Dublin distillery on John Lane (900,000 litres per annum) at the time when Dublin distileries were the largest in the world and Irish whiskey was booming. However, after US prohibition Irish whiskey struggled and consolidation saved the industry, which for the past several years has been the fastest growing segment of whisky in the world.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L724815684 15:57

  • Bottling Date: 2017

In some ways, it’s rougher than Jameson – but it has a nice rich character to it with more body which I do enjoy. The nose is full of dried fruit – prunes and dried cherries – alongside apple juice and nice spices – clove, star anise, and nutmeg. It works a trick. The palate is spicy, full of toffee and vanilla underneath, and letting you off easy with a sweet and light finish of baked pear, custard, mixed nuts, and black pepper. The baked pear grows and grows. Nice texture. The 43% carries it nicely, and it has a nice oily character to it. There is the oily, grassy, fruity pot still in here too – and I love it. It’s perhaps not the most dominant, but it is at the centre.

A bit rough, but I like it. The grain whisky asserts itself more than I would like, but, hey, it’s still good.

Value: Average, at $40.


Review: Jameson Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Jameson.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
4 yrs+
Recipe
Grain and Pot Still Whiskies
Distiller Midleton (Midleton, Ireland)

This classic blended Irish whiskey is triple distilled (unlike most Scotch Whisky), matured and bottled in Ireland. It is made from pot still whiskey from malted and unmalted barley and corn, and matured in sherry casks. It is the flagship whisky for one of the most recognizable names in whisk(e)y, and is often an easy entry point for new drinkers.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: It at first appears herbal to me – sage and thyme.  I also get grassy notes, and some seaweed and vanilla with some mineral notes. The vanilla comes out more and more as it sits, with a bit of maple as well and some allspice. Has a nose full of pot-still essence…

Taste: At first I get some malt, followed by a bit of sharp grassy spice and then finished with a wave of vanilla and bean sprouts. It’s a bit bitter, I find, in places. I also find quite a lot of mineral notes in this, like mineral water. Lightly nutty and fruity (orange).

Finish: The minerals linger on the palate for a bit - it’s reasonably clean after some time, and a touch of vanilla surfaces.

This doesn’t really wow me, and certainly I didn’t like it at all when I first drank it. Although the seaweed smell off the nose is intriguing, I don’t love it. I have found it time and time again as I have had Jameson. Although it’s matured in sherry casks, the fruit doesn’t really seem to come through in the bottling. I have some friends who say it’s one of the better cheap whiskies, but, unfortunately, I don’t think that I agree and it still hasn’t won me over.

It's quite decent in ginger ale.

Value: Average. Not great, but also not expensive.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L713714147

  • Bottling Date: 2017

  

It has been some time since I’ve had this. I don’t love Jameson, though many of my friends think it’s among the best of the cheaper whiskies – there’s always a slightly fishy character to it (as in, reminds me of a fish store), and I don’t love it. It’s odd. Well, on to it!

A lot of grain whisky on the nose – that slightly rough, slightly spicy characteristic, alongside apple, light oak, spicy green grass, caramel, and vanilla. The palate is slightly bitter and carries light pear, apple, caramel, and vanilla and leading into a light finish with some white pepper and chilli flakes (not spicy, just the flavour). Slightly bitter on the finish too. Pleasant enough, but not that interesting. I find an odd mix of sour and bitter which I don’t find that appealing.

The whisky, I’m sure, hasn’t changed – but my palate has. I like it more than I used to – I think I actually didn’t like the pot still characteristic years ago. Now I do like it. When ratings change, people often think it’s the whisky, but it’s no secret that our palates develop and tastes change!

 I love most whiskies from Midleton distillery – this one still not as much!

Value: Average. Not great, but also not expensive.


On the Base Whiskies of the Remarkable Crown Royal Distillery by Jason Hambrey

An aerial image of the Crown Royal distillery in Gimli, Manitoba.  Copyright Jeremy Dueck, Courtesy of Crown Royal.

An aerial image of the Crown Royal distillery in Gimli, Manitoba.

Copyright Jeremy Dueck, Courtesy of Crown Royal.

Many believe that Crown Royal is in fact a bourbon due to the luscious creamy and vanilla notes contained at the heart of many of their products. It is not - it is made in Gimli, on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba.

Crown Royal is a remarkable distillery. They make 5 different types of distillates which filter into an assortment of brands once aged. It’s well worth talking about. These 5 spirits go into a variety of different woods (new oak, once-used, re-used, cognac, etc.) and are taken out of the barrel at a variety of different ages – which is why Crown always boasts of their blends of 50 or so whiskies – all are, in fact different, due to different barreling and aging regimens. It is perhaps a bit overstated, but nonetheless remarkable.

Gimli was founded in the 1960s when Seagram’s Valleyfield distillery couldn’t produce enough for the demand of Seagram’s VO and Crown Royal, so the Gimli distillery was built. Originally, it was to focus on VO but Crown outgrew VO and its efforts shifted there. Ok, let's get to the spirit!

Base whiskies

Here, the emphasis is on creating a great base upon which to blend upon. These whiskies allow the characteristics of highly flavored whiskies to be highlighted.

  1. Continous Corn-Based Whisky: This whisky is corn-based (100% Corn), and is all about a light base whisky that is easy to produce, distilled to high proof – but it is nothing like vodka. It is cooked in a continous process before spending about 60 hours fermenting, and is distilled in a continuous beer still before being sent to another set of continuous column stills for distillation to higher proof and to produce a very light, clean base whisky. This is quite an industrial process – a continual process of transforming grain into whisky, with corn coming in and distillate coming out in a continuous process. It is dumped into re-used barrels ,which pick up the Crown Royal house style from previous whisky stored in the barrels. Despite being distilled to a very high poof, this tastes nothing like vodka. At about 7 years old, this whisky has a heart of light toffee, light corn, and white pepper with a light spicy finish. If you have a whisky like Canadian 83, you get a sense of what this style is like - but even this is a blend with other whiskies at the centre - the base whiskies aren’t showcased. If you want to taste it, the only way is in a Crown Royal masterclass if they let you taste the components...
  2. Batch Base Corn Whisky: This whisky is different from the above in the sense that it is produced in batches rather than as a continuous process, as the name implies. It is high corn –  now 100% (it used to be 97% corn, 3% malted barley) – again, cooked but this time in batches and fermented similarly for about 60 hours. It is then distilled in the continuous beer still, and then distilled in a copper kettle and column still – something like a pot still with a continuous still set on top. Like typical pot still distillation, the heads and tails are discarded and only the heart is collected. The whisky goes into re-used barrels. This whisky is richer than the continuous corn base whisky – but still light, with a light nuttiness, corn, and yet still being quite sharp and very creamy. I quite enjoy it. Crown Royal Limited Edition has a fair amount of this whisky in there, but, again, it’s a blend where the base doesn’t dominate, though it is the main support of the whisky. The true example of this is Orphan Barrel Entrapment is fully based on this whisky, but at 25 years old – but the sample I had which was about 10 years old I liked more than the Orphan Barrel, so it’s not necessarily indicative.

Flavouring Whiskies

Here, the emphasis is all about flavour, and more care is taken at each step to generate flavor.

  1. Corn-Based Whisky (i.e. a bourbon-style mash): Here, the emphasis is on high flavour. This whisky is made the same was as a very high-rye bourbon. It is cooked as in batches as a mashbill of 64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley and fermented for around 75 hours – longer than the base whiskies – to enable the generation of additional fruity notes. Like a bourbon, it is only distilled in the column beer still before going directly into new charred barrels (almost exclusively, though some go into first fill ex-bourbon barrels). It tastes, unsurprisingly, like a bourbon – full of terrific dried fruit notes, rich rye spice (clove, nutmeg, light star anise), and a rich nuttiness. The closest analogy is Four Roses Single Barrel, but this has a lot more light fruit, is fruitier, and not quite as richly oaky. It is brilliant at cask strength, and I hope we see it as such at some point. They are releasing this whisky as Crown Royal Bourbon Mash soon (it will be re-named after a year since the US TTB decided against the name after it was approved). Sadly, it'll only be at 40%. After Northern Harvest, I was hoping for 45%. This isn’t clearly found anywhere, yet, until the new whisky and we can cross our fingers for a limited release – but it is showcased throughout the blends.
  2. Rye Flavouring Whisky: This whisky is a 95% rye and 5% barley whisky which, like the other flavouring whiskies, is cooked in batches, distilled about 75 hours to develop extra flavours, and distilled in a beer still. It then goes to be distilled again in a column still, before being put into new oak (mostly, but a small bit goes into first fill ex-bourbon). It tastes of incredible spice, dried fruit and oak – this can be seen in the heart of Northern Harvest rye, which is mostly this whisky. It has brilliant spicy and fruit notes and dominates at whisky competitions. Again, it tastes brilliant at cask strength – I hope we get some offerings at some point. But it’s probably a bit too intense for most (but not me!), so it may need to be tamed with some base whisky.
  3. Coffey Rye: The most renowned of Crown Royal's whiskies, this whisky starts as the corn-based whisky (bourbon mash), but after the beer still distillation it is distilled in Canada’s only Coffey Still. This is only made once a year, over a 5 week period, because so much tweaking has to be done to get this distillate just right. It is then filled into new charred oak barrels. This is seen in Crown Royal Hand Selected Single Barrel or Blender’s Select. Again, remarkable at cask strength.

It’s no wonder Gimli can output so many blends!

Review: The Toasted Old Fashioned (Barchef Project) by Jason Hambrey

Barchef Project 2.jpg
ABV
38.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Stalk & Barrel Red Blend, Bitters, Maple Syrup
Producer BarChef (Toronto, ON) & Still Waters (Concord, ON)

BarChef is my favourite cocktail bar in Canada. Just take a look at the pictures and descriptions of the cocktails that they offer, or take a perusal through the cocktail book "BarChef" and you'll know exactly what I mean. Some years ago, I took a month completely off whisky, locking up my cabinet, metaphorically - and I found myself discovering complex cocktails, for the first time. I picked up Frankie Solarik's (incredible) cocktail book BarChef and within 2 years I had made every bitter, syrup, and cocktail in the book, certainly not my typical pick and choose process. It lead me right into using dry ice, foams, alginates, soils, snows - all the best of molecular gastronomy- in my cocktails, now a go-to.

So when I saw BarChef partner with Still Waters, one of my favourite distilleries, I'm intrigued. They've together bottled a toasted old fashioned, a cocktail they serve at the bar - but as an all-in-one. It's a cocktail which is made by combining hand toasted chamomile, toasted until brown (hence, "toasted") which brings out and changes the character completely, with an assortment of spices (saffron, cardamom, and a variety of other components) to infuse in Stalk & Barrel Red Blend. Then, this is blended with more Stalk Barrel Red Blend with some maple syrup for added richness and flavor, and bottled (or served as a cocktail in the bar).

Dangerously drinkable, if you like cocktails...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: 2017

Rich, honeyed, and spicy on the nose. Chocolate, clove, honey, cinnamon, and star anise lead a spicy, rich, creamy nose - but the palate brings in even more spice, with more honey, daisies, maple, cinnamon, licorice root, fennel, and a wonderful finish of cacao, clove, cinnamon, star anise, and maple. It grows and grows, and you get a touch of the grassy still waters spices. A phenomenal balance of spices, whisky, and syrup - incredible complexity and very intriguing. Maybe I didn't elaborate enough - brilliant mix of spices, and they shine beautifully.

Throw in an orange peel, or better yet, a flamed orange peel, and there's little else to be desired in a winter cocktail. A way to experience one of the best cocktail bars on the planet away from Toronto...

Highly recommended. Definitely a cocktail, and amidst the best old fashioned you'll taste...

I'd be tempted to rate this, if I had anything to compare it to. But you don't see bottled cocktails that often (yet?)...


Review: Stalk & Barrel Canada's 150 Blend Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Stalk & Barrel 150.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
4-5 years
Recipe
Blend of Corn, Rye, and Malted Barley Whiskies
Distiller Still Waters Distillery (Concord, Ontario)

This whisky is built around a 5 year old corn whisky, which was found to be a rich terrific base when the distillery was moving around some barrel stocks. To this, single malt and rye whiskies were added to round out the whisky - a blend of 100% Still Waters matured whisky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: #Canada150

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The nose is rich and full of great grain notes – corn and earthy barley – alongside grassy spice, pear, caramel, coconut, peaches, white chocolate – and slightly creamy. The palate is rich, with dried apricot, vanilla, clove, white pepper, white chocolate, chocolate and a plethora of spicy tea notes – lots of complexity. The finish is dry and spicy, with notes of clove, oak, green apple, and nutmeg – and the grassy spice from the rye shines through. Light bourbon undertones throughout. A nice whisky – the best blend I’ve seen coming from Still Waters (I am still partial to their terrific rye). As my friend Blair Phillips, the Canadian Editor of Canadian whisky says – "tight and modern”. Indeed. Easy and very moreish, and not hot at 50%. Brilliant drying spice and oak on the finish. One of the best micro-distillery products I have ever tasted – the combination of good spirit and terrific blending pays off. Well done.

Get some, before it is gone.

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

Value: High, at $45.


Review: Teacher's Blended Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

William Teacher, like many of the early Scottish whisky blenders, was a grocer, and started blending in 1832 in his wife’s grocery shop. He was a bit of a pioneer – had Teacher’s dram shops by the1850s where people could go in and have a glass of whisky. They weren’t rough pubs – they were upstanding and aimed to the middle class. In 1832, Highland Cream was launched, and it continues today, with stock from Ardmore Distillery being a significant component. The blend claims to be 45% single malt, which is a decent percentage for a blended whisky.

On a side note, this is one of my favorite blends and one I typically recommend for those looking for cheap blends, alongside Grants.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Heather, coal smoke, lots of honey (and strong, like manuka honey), with both the spiciness and slightly floral nature of black peppercorns, sultana raisins, brown sugar, pears, dark toffee, cinnamon and clove. At times, a touch of bitterness seems to come forward. The feel is both a bit sweet and a bit dry. All those flavours are mixed pretty well here – almost a bit like a slightly smoky fruitcake. Also, a bit of a nutty barrage – pralines, marzipan, honey- and nut-stuffed roasted apples..brilliant. At times, though, it’s a bit overwhelming with so much going on.

Taste: Very nice feel and body to the mouth – seemingly light and yet quite mouth-filling. At this time we might see why it might be referred to as “cream”. After the nose, I’m surprised that the taste isn’t a giant mishmash of flavour – instead we have a light, citrusy lead in to a slightly honeyed malty middle, with touches of vanilla, before the smoke comes out on the finish, tingling with a few spices and some dark chocolate and a few grainy notes, and even some corn. Throughout, there’s a good bit of acidity which makes the mouth pucker up slightly, making me want to chew the whisky and keep drinking – making it seem fairly succulent. Quite nice!

Finish: The smoke dies down fairly fast leaving a lingering malty note, with some ashy smoke, vanilla, cinnamon, green apple. A bit of feel of an artificial sweetener. Like the rest of the whisky, it’s slightly dry, and a bit sweet. A touch of oak also comes out after some time.

I might wish for a touch more underlying sweetness (and I mean very slight, as I think the sweetness is almost right on, but ever so slightly short) – I think that would make this one better. Also it’s such a big mishmash of flavour that I don’t really know what to think – sometimes it’s too much for me. But, easy, and very nice to drink. And, as a bonus, quite a decent price for this – my go-to blended budget scotch.

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

Value: High, at $26.