Budget

Review: Gibson's 12 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Gibson's 12.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
12 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

Gibson’s whiskies used to be produced in Pennsylvania starting from 1938 until prohibition, and then in 1972 Schenley purchased the brand and moved production to Valleyfield, Quebec. After some more ownership switches the brand was bought by William Grant & Sons who have moved production to the Hiram Walker plant in 2009 (for more look at Davin’s post here) – so eventually we will start to see Hiram Walker distillate rather than Valleyfield distillate going into the blend (in this case, about 2021 for the twelve year old). However, the whisky is now blended and bottled at Hiram Walker – and this is evidenced through the changed bottles, now with a cap which is more square. The whisky has also been re-labeled “rare”, like the old 18 year old used to be, and the new 18 year old has been relabeled "venerable”.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2012

This bottling was blended and botted at Valleyfield.

Nose: I get some caramel, vanilla, bourbon, and I pick up a fair bit of corn and some plum. There’s a light touch of bitterness and sourness detracting from the nose, but they are quite light – however upon multiple tastings I found that it dominated too much. Like the other Gibson whiskies, there’s lots of creaminess to this nose. Amidst all else going on I nearly missed the rye which is sitting obviously in the middle of it all lightly directing the show. I find the nose doesn’t improve with time but grows a bit stale and bitter, which is too bad.

Taste: Thick, creamy and slightly sour with a citrus backdrop and a good kick of oaky vanilla and a touch of maple-like woodiness. At the end some dusty rye and spices kick in – clove and even a bit of allspice. The sourness/acidity is intriguing as it is a bit different and doesn’t go too far in one direction. There is a bit of bitterness right on the end – it isn’t horrible and I can’t decide whether I like it or don’t.

Finish: At first the spices take hold for a reasonable length before there’s some light dryness and oakiness remaining in the mouth, along with a touch of rye. The length and weight of the finish is decent, but the flavour could be improved.

This is smooth, thick, and easy drinking other than the touch of bitterness here and there. However, the whisky is a bit of an enigma to me – the first tasting was very impressive (probably would have come out in the low eighties), but the second and third time there was a lot of bitterness , staleness and it was way out of balance – and even tasting beside Gibson’s Sterling I found this to be inferior upon two tastings. I’ve never had such a different tasting experience two days in a row, even after conditioning my palate the same way each time. However, I’m standing with the scores from my two later reviews.

Value: Average for $30.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

This is bottling was blended and bottled at Hiram Walker.

Nose: Apple seeds and slightly dry, spicy, bitter grain – there is a richness to it as well. Dried ginger and oak comes out more as it sits. There is a thread of bitterness that detracts from the nose, especially as it is overall quite light with a bit of spicy sharpness. It is decent, but it’s really not fabulous – I find I tend to skip the nose for the palate here.

Taste: Maple – the wood comes in now out of nowhere with sweetness and light tannins – surprisingly rich after the nose, with a bit of a grain comeback to the end of it. There is some fruity richness to it as well which makes me wonder if this uses some refill casks pretty well – but maybe it’s just coming from some rich bourbon casks.

Finish: At first slight spice and tannins, with a sort of green/fresh wood feel and some light cinnamon and clove. A bit of a detrimental saccharin note at the end too, which really doesn’t help.

This is decent – I like this bottling more than the previous one I sampled in 2014 because of some new richness and vibrancy, though the style is a bit flat on the nose and finish and there seems to be less of a bourbon influence. I’m excited to see where this goes when they bottle some of the 18 year old out of Hiram Walker. Amazing to me, though, how much this whisky gains with age – all that’s best about this whisky is just enriched so much further. If they ever bottle any Gibson’s beyond 18 years, I’d bet that’d be good stuff, especially with the oak in quite good control even after 18 years! The dryness in this whisky lends itself very nicely to mixing as well.

Value: Average for $30.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A dry, broad nose with light fruit, dry orange peel, oak, and a light grainy body with a touch of matchsticks and baking spice. The palate is soft, with drying oak and spice with a splash of citrus. The oak is really nice. Depending on the flight you take this one in, it seems to bring out very different characteristics. Interesting.

Value: Average for $30.


Review: Gibson's Finest Bold 8 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
8 years
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Valleyfield (Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec)

This whisky is a new release of this year, with something you don't often see - a younger whisky coming in with an age statement, rather than just a non-age-statement. It's good to see - always nice to have a better sense of what you are drinking, and I am in high favour of knowing what the youngest part of the whisky is...this was released in 2016 to add to the lineup of Gibson's Sterling, 12 year old, and 18 year old - but it comes in at 46% compared to the other botttlings which are at 40%. Let's see how it does...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L16134HW 20:45

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose is dark and rich – molasses, dark and dense rye bread, orange peel, mossy oak, roasted grain, butter – but goes more creamy and buttery as it sits – rich maple butter, coconut cream, hazelnut toffee. Terrific. The palate has a load of rich grain – corn, rye – alongside some peppery spices, stewed pear, plum, orange, and a light coating of oaky vanilla. Seeing this at 46% makes me wish Gibson’s did this with all their whiskies – it is a phenomenal difference in amping up flavour, spice, and finish – diluted with water this whisky becomes much more ordinary (though still full of flavour). The finish has lots of buttery grain, cinnamon, and clove. Slightly tangy- and very nicely dry. Very full. Too bad, though, that it looks like someone dropped some ink into the bottle (well…) – I think even someone really new to whisky won’t even think that is natural colour…

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

Value: High, at $30.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Green grape, coconut, celery, pear, clove. A really interesting floral thread is present, integrated with candied fruit, grape juice, prunes, and butterscotch. Yet, the grain characteristic throughout the whisky is brilliant. It really does work nicely at the bit higher proof.

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

Value: The extra 2$ is now tipping it into the top end of the “average” category at $32.


Review: Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

This whisky, it seems, took most people by surprise. I don’t usually get surprised by a new whisky release, but this one I didn’t see until it just about hit the shelves. Though it is Canadian Club, it is not actually distilled at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor (like the rest of the Canadian Club line) – it is actually distilled and bottled in Alberta, from Alberta Distillers. However, they’re both owned by Beam-Suntory so some stock-swapping isn’t as difficult as it otherwise might be, and it makes sense to sell Alberta rye from a marketing perspective because Canadian Club has a much bigger brand name.

Read More

Review: Forty Creek Barrel Select Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of rye, corn, and barley whiskies
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

“Barrel select”, the flagship rye of Forty Creek, is so named because no two barrels of whisky taste the same – each are hand selected. Some young barrels taste “older”, and some older barrels taste “younger”, depending on the barrel, even in a climate controlled warehouse. Barrel select is formed from single grain whiskies typically 6-10 years old, after which time they are blended and further aged in a sherry cask.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Quite the nose! Spicy rye, vanilla, marmelade, and a very distinctive toasted oak smell. A bit of lighter tropical fruit, almost like guavas. Oak also comes through, with heavy vanilla notes and caramel. The spiciness in the rye is very inviting. Additionally, it’s quite creamy, with scents of buttercream. The vanilla, the rye, the toasted oak are all quite prominent and well balanced. Black currants, plums, and orange peel are also to be found lift the nose to be fresh and light – in some ways, the fruitiness is reminiscent of port wine. Cinnamon is present in the nose too, which builds as it sits…

Taste: Slightly viscous, with a dry rye spice build up, which dies down and subsides to vanilla and a reasonably complex grain taste and toasted wood. In the middle, malt seems to come a tiny bit forward with a bit of a grassy note, and creaminess from corn also comes in. Fruity, with a bit of a sherry note, and a few dried berries seem to emerge at the end with some of that marmelade from the nose. The spices tingle slightly at the end, with touches of clove and ginger. The toasted oak plays center stage, with the rye vying heavily for it. The sweetness is at a great level, I think too, for this whisky – just enough, but not too much for the profile.

Finish: A bit dry…light with a bit of rye and the oak, but it’s not very complex or engaging. I find that as I drink more the spices come out a bit more, which I certainly don’t mind, with come cinnamon and ginger and white pepper. A bit of the creaminess comes through as well, as well as a bit of black currant after some time…I did hope for a bit more than this after the nose and taste.

Great for the value; with a beautiful nose, enjoyable and complex taste, a bit of a lacking finish. Very enjoyable, and incredible value – good to sip and also good to mix. Additionally, I have to say, the flavour profile of Barrel Select is just about perfect for a rye and coke, and is my rye of choice for the drink as the flavour does not get lost or forgotten, but still wonderfully complements the coke.

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

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Oakleads the way - slightly musty and earthy, with some clove and almond and some vanilla, coffee cake, butter icing playing about subtly in the background. The grain and spice balances out the oak quite well. Cacao on the palate, with a bit of saccharin sweetness, and some maple in the mix too. A bit of rising spice at the end, which adds nicely to everything.

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: AEG297279 09:58

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

It’s been too long since I’ve reviewed a nice portion of this - this was from a 200 ml bottle. I had a batch that tasted quite young last year, so I was curious to see how this one fared since that might have been a botched taste (I had a cold at the time).

Toffee, toasted oak, nice corn husks, and some rich malted barley come off the nose along with some green grassy spices. The palate leads with toffee, old oak, vanilla, and some tingling clove and cinnamon on the finish. Though I’ve had my issues with the more expensive bottling of Forty Creek the last few years (special releases and double barrel) – this is still terrific whisky. The full finish develops with tannins and spices.

Not as complex, but I’d still take a bottling of this over the past two special releases at Forty Creek. Did this get better or change? No…I just don’t think I got it right the last few years.

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

Value: High. I liked this batch more than usual (only slightly, one or two percentage points) but that’s enough to propel a sub $30 whisky into a high value category.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Toasted oak, prune, green pear, maple, and clove on the nose. The palate reveals oily grain, prunes, dried apricot, and some lettuce. Light tanginess on the finish makes it quite intriguing. The whisky has medium body, but a nice middle of dried fruits and spice which bring things together nicely.

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

Value: Average. A pretty good sub-$30 whisky.


A guide to good, cheap whisk(e)y by Jason Hambrey

We've all been flooded with consumerism in the last few weeks. The trend these days, as it has been in the past, is to market whisky as a “luxury” drink which is all about making you feel special and special because of luxury created by marketing. BS, most of it. Whisky is great, and costs money (often a lot, rightly so), but there is some great whisky that isn’t too expensive.

So here is a recommend set of bottles under 40$ (most of them $30) which you can buy at the LCBO, and likely cheaper in the USA. The preference here is good whisky with a priority on cheapness – so it’s a great resource for cocktails, casual hosting, or exploring whisky on a real budget. There represent a broad style of whiskies. I’d start with these 6:

1.       A smooth, easy, whisky: Centennial 10 Y.O. Canadian (28$) or Crown Royal Black ($33)

2.       A complex and approachable whisky: Copper Pot ($31) or Alberta Premium Dark Horse ($32)

3.       A rye heavy whisky: Wiser’s Triple Barrel ($32) (Honorable Mention – Northern Harvest Rye $36)

4.       A bourbon: Dickel No. 12 $30 (hon. mention Four Roses $28)

5.       An Irish: Bushmills Original ($33)

6.       A smoky scotch: Black Bottle ($30) (Three Ships 5 y.o. when you can find it, $35. Honorable mention Famous Grouse Smoky Black $35)

Then, if you want to further up your game, add these whiskies, which are all great and not pricy either:

1.       A good micro-distillery whisky: Stalk & Barrel Red ($35)

2.       An Irish/Scottish standout: Bushmills Black Bush ($37) or Te Bheag ($41)

3.       A Canadian standout: Gooderham & Worts ($45), or Lot no. 40 ($40)

4.       An American standout: Four Roses Small Batch ($42) or Bulleit 95 Rye ($40)

Buying the first six will only set you back $180 for a good load of whisky, and adding the extra 4 will set you back another $160 but significantly up the breadth and quality of the collection. But that’s for a collection, which isn’t necessary – just take your pick and go bottle to bottle and you won’t spend much!

The Value Score: 2.0 by Jason Hambrey

Of all the features of my website, the most feedback I get is about my value score - it's a mathematical formulation of value based on the average cost for a given rating and a deviation from it - i.e., if, based on standard "market" values, a whisky rated 85 is worth, on average, $53, then if the whisky is cheaper than $53 dollars, it is of high value, and if it is more expensive - it is of low value. The statistical formulation is shown in a previous blog post here, if you want the details. Because of the interest (and importance) of a value score, I have added a page to the website describing the best value whiskies. Check it out!

The story of how it came about is simple - I decided to graph all my whiskies which I had rated according to price and value. What I found, surprisingly, is that there is a rough trend - higher scores, on average, came from whiskies that cost more. After carefully selecting 300 standard whiskies which I had rated, I came up with an "average" line. You can see what I mean in the graph below:

The value score has served well, and I enjoy the result: I only rate the whisky, I input the cost, and mathematics does the rest. However, it relies heavily upon assumptions (of which there are many) - how the average line is defined, what whiskies I consider "standard" to set the market value, and what standard deviation to use (I am an aerospace engineer, so please forgive the jargon if you are lost). The implications of each assumption is actually staggering- so it has taken me some time to digest the score methodology itself. However, given my data of 500 or so whisky reviews, I don't have enough data to let stats do all the work - so these assumptions are necessary.

There has been one outstanding issue with the score as is - I have found that higher rated whiskies are not quite highly rated enough. For instance, a Longmorn 18 year old, at a price of $140,. which I rated a 92, was a bottle I bought two of even though it would have a value score of 64. That being said, it's not a bad value score and $140 is a decent amount to spend.

This lead me to look at options to tweak value scores at the higher end of the scale - by increasing the "average" line of what a whisky is worth for higher scores, or by changing the standard deviation for higher scores - meaning that a greater difference in price from the average cost of such a whisky matters less. But, as I said before - is this valid? Really, it implies that for higher rated whiskies value doesn't quite matter as much dollar for dollar. And then, you think, is it value? After tweaking around with the analysis, doing some more number crunching, I realized that, on a global scale, interesting tweaks help a little, but not a lot. So, the options for me: continue to refine and adjust my assumptions to try to come up with something "perfect" or just use the value score as a rough indicator, rather than the law. Coming up with more assumptions to adjust the score just means that it is more fine tuned to myself, specifically. Option 2 is way easier, and way more appropriate - it is a relatively simpler formulation of how I regard value which actually fits a broader population than just me. All this to say - despite its flaws, I have decided not to change the value score. A few considerations:

  • Beyond the assumptions, which I deem to be reasonable, the only subjective part of the value score is my taste rating of a whisky (which, indeed, is subjective - palates are incredibly diverse).
  • All prices are set to the Canadian Market. Thus, whiskies may be more valuable in different regions of the world as certain whiskies are cheaper than others depending on the market. I always say what the price is based on, but all scores are adjusted for inflation/increase in value so that the value score remains consistent with how the market value is increasing.
  • For different areas of the world - take a look at the average line in the graph above, representing the average cost for a given rating. This line corresponds to a value score of 72. If your whisky is the equivalent of $38 (the standard deviation) more expensive than this line, its value is 40/100. If it costs $38*2 = $76 less, its value is 15, etc. If it is $38 cheaper than the blue line for a given rating, its value is 91. If it is $76 dollars less, its value is 99. Etc...if you are in to this send me an e-mail.

Review: Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium 30.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
30 years
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky was aged for 25 years before being recasked together into fewer barrels so that the level of whisky in the barrels remained higher for the final 5 years of maturation. It was bottled in 2011, selling for an astounding price of 50$. You’d be lucky to find a 30 year old Scotch or American whisky these days less than 5 times that price….The whisky, as with others in the Alberta Premium line, is made from 100% unmalted rye and this has resulted in the oldest rye bottling in memory. This stuff, even with the big age statement, is far above its lackluster little brother which shares the brand name.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A (the one and only)

  • Bottling Code: L1076AD100450841

  • Bottling Date: 2011

Nose: Surprisingly more wood driven than the 25 year old with only 5 more years - the casks they were re-casked into must have been a bit more active. Maple, old mossy oak, leather, sharp rye, molasses, candied orange peel, toffee, caramel – dark, sweet, and rich. Dry, also. Vanilla, and an array of spices.

Taste: Once again, great feel – and the weight of the oak is present here with a kick of arugula which carries the palate into the finish. The overall whisky is tinted with orange peel, and it plays interesting contrast with the caramel, oak, pine, and herbal notes of the rye. Spicy, rich, oaky – and this works very well with the rye grain behind it.

Finish: Arugula, caramel, oak, spices – clove and cinnamon – with a bit of a spicy feel to it. The tannins are quite a bit higher than the 25 year old, but they are by no means too much. There is also some rye layered beneath the rest.

Not as dry or complex as the 25 year old, and the wood has taken over a bit too much in this in that the complexity of the spirit is not as well presented as in the 25 year old. The caramel notes, though good, are pulling a bit more weight than they should. Regardless, a fascinating, complex, and wonderful offering from Alberta – and the wood is certainly shining through very well in this one. The whisky is quite full of both weight and subtlety.

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

Value: Very high. $50 for a 30 year old, 100% rye - are you kidding!


Review: Crown Royal Limited Edition Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

Price-wise, this Crown Royal sits in between their ultra-premium offerings and their budget offerings. As far as I know, this was originally introduced as a Canadian-only bottling, and I believe it still is.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: There’s definitely some bourbon touches here! There’s plums, green grapes, and some orange blossom – it’s light and slightly floral. At times the orange in it reminded me of orange creamsicles. In the background we have glimpses of rye, and there’s some dried apricot, along with a bit of charcoal and some lemon, and, interestingly, cucumber. Despite being light, it’s still quite rich.

Taste: The lightness of the nose carries through to the taste. Yet, it’s still quite sharp. There’s some green grape, apricot, marula fruit, and peach – with many hints reminding you of bourbon. There’s also some light smoke and a little trickle of spice. It is quite balanced and I enjoy how it is subtly rich amidst the light body – it would be easy to just keep drinking this. It is wonderful – but could benefit from a bit more complexity and depth . The sweetness, however, is just about right for this one. I never noticed this until a side by side tasting of other crown royals, but there are very big sherry aromas that come from the nose – it’s almost all I could smell in the side-by-side tasting! It had the light-apple like nature of fino sherry and the caramel, oxidized flavour of oloroso sherry.

Finish: It’s light and grainy, with a touch of green grape and nutmeg, and some oak with a bit of vanilla eventually. There’s a bit of spice and the finish overall is quite light and bright.

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

Value: High. On the better side of whiskies you can get for $40.