Cask Strength

Review: Lot No. 40 Rye Explorations Peated Quarter Cask by Jason Hambrey

ABV
55.5%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak; Peated Quarter Cask
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

We’ve seen a few distillers in Canada experiment with using peated quarter casks, notably Shelter Point - but, to the best of my knowledge, they’ve all been done using malted or unmalted barley as the base. Here you have two of the largest components of flavourful whisky, married: pot still, 100% rye whisky and peat.

After initially aging in new oak, it is finished for 17 years in first-fill peated single malt casks.

This is one of Wiser’s special releases this year, edition 1 of the “rye explorations” expression after a few successful years of cask-strength lot no. 40.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: Release No. 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

There is so much going on with the nose. On top – spice notes and a real kick of earthy, smoky peat. But then you also have bold, fruity, spicy, and floral rye underneath. The nice black tea notes of Lot 40 come through nicely. The rye is big and brash – it isn’t rounded out. This continues on the palate – smoke on top, rich fruity rye in the middle, and peaty earthy notes underneath. It’s a whole mishmash of flavours exploding in the mouth, but it doesn’t feel very organized or balanced. The earthy peat notes combined with the rye notes gives something somewhat reminiscent of a tequila – it doesn’t taste like one, but it has some of the same interplay between different flavour groupings.

This isn’t up my alley – but it is among the most unique Canadian whiskies (or whiskies in fact) that I’ve tasted. But, to me, peat and rye here aren’t a great marriage. I’d welcome more experimentation that has more to do with other factors than barrel finishing. While I understand finishing is a pretty easy way to do something different, it just isn’t that interesting most of the time. And, that’s something of the territory of the pike creek brand. I’d be all over some yeast, grain, fermentation, or maturation experiments that didn’t involve a finishing cask.

Value: Low at $90.


Review: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Canadian Rye Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Alberta Premium Cask Strength 1.jpg
ABV
63.7-66.0%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

Alberta Premium is well-regarded as the best producer of rye whisky in the world. However, usually their rye is found in the standard bottlings of Alberta Premium, Canadian Club 100% Rye , or others. This is seen in the success of brands like Masterson’s or Whistlepig which source a lot, if not all, of their product from Alberta. If you were to just taste those brands, you might not realize how good the rye is that is made at Alberta Distillers. Not only is there rye of exceptional quality, the flavours of the different types of ryes made are quite diverse - you can tell this by tasting an Alberta Premium, Canadian Club 100% rye, and a masterson’s or a “imported from Canada” whistlepig side by side.

Here is one for the connoisseurs, though - a 100% cask strength rye! This is just fantastic. More than half of Alberta’s product gets sold directly into other brands (it is a big distiller) with a growing use from Jim Beam in some of the new Basil Hayden’s and others. But, I love Alberta rye, and I love cask strength - and I’m glad they left some for us.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L9212ADB01341225

  • Bottling Date: 2019

What a nose! This is much closer to Canadian Club 100% Rye (which is also made at Alberta Distillers), in terms of profile, than the standard Alberta Premium which is a relatively soft whisky compared to this. This is rich, and loaded up with rye. The nose has tons of complexity – banana, orange, clove, new charred oak, dried cherry,  grapefruit, dried orange, caramel, toffee, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, white pepper, wintergreen, corn on the cob – really, it’s nothing like the nose of the standard Alberta Premium which serves a different audience – a light, slightly sweet, slightly spicy whisky. Some dusty notes, too, which I don’t find too often anymore but which I quite like. The banana notes come out hugely at higher proofs, less so at lower proofs. Slight medicinal notes grow with time. This, is a whisky for rye connoisseurs. At least one time when you taste it, I recommend gradually adding water to the mix. This reveals all the layers of complexity here.

The palate has a nice touch of oak, vanilla, arugula, dried apricot, grapefruit zest, and more orange. There is lots of sugar caramel, too, and tingly spices. The “middle” of the whisky is medium bodied and textured, with dried fruit, orange, and vegetal notes on top with sweetness on the back end and spices around the edges. Hopefully that “visual” helps you understand how I understand this whisky. The arugula, oddly, gets a bit lost at lower strengths but is really good at around 48%. It’s also very good at cask strength.

The finish has lots of orange, rich rye spice (quite vegetal), grapefruit zest, orange, arugula, prunes, hibiscus, and oak. And if you think all rye tastes the same, give this a go beside Lot no. 40 cask strength!

A very nice whisky. It’s a bit too “CC100%” for me, with such intense bubblegum-like fruit that I find it isn’t as great as I’d hoped. I’d have preferred if it went the route of Masterson’s/Whistlepig/Jefferson’s which were all sourced from Alberta. However, it’s still very good and I you try it, if you can find it.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Nearly into the next category, but not quite.

Value: High. A great price for this quality.

Curious about a second opinion? Check out Mark Bylok’s review here.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

Very similar to last year’s release – rich spices complemented by candied citrus, oaky caramel, rye bread, orange zest, vanilla cream…the spices maybe have a bit more pop in this release and the grain notes are slightly deeper -  but the whiskies are very much alike and the differences are smaller than the general taste comparison error. The palate brings in rich dark fruit – prunes, figs – on top of the candied citrus and the plethora of spice. Definitely a spice bomb here! The spices on the finish are just fantastic.

So much different than the usual Alberta Premium whisky. Really great.

I actually like this one around 45% - it still has a good bite, even then.

Highly Recommended (50% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High at $65


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

The profile of these releases, unlike some releases, are so consistent in character that some tasting notes need no repeating – there is the very bright, candied citrus notes alongside confectionary characters, stewed apples, toffee, vegetal rye, and SPICE. The palate follows – I love how this one maxes out the fruity characters of some rye whiskies while also presenting an incredibly rich, complex character vegetal and slightly medicinal character that sets Alberta’s ryes apart so specially.

How does this compare to releases 1 and 2? As I said, they are very consistent. But, if you want to pick them apart: this one is a bit more creamy, with a bit more toffee and the “breadth” between the top confectionary notes on one end and the spicy, vegetal backbone is a bit broader than in release 2. The spice is more evident (but not necessarily bigger), in release 1 and 2 than in release 3. The first releases are a little more spice/barrel centric, while this has a bit more fruit and toffee but without losing the depth. It actually seems like this one has just as much underneath but a bit more on top – at least that’s how I would describe it in a tasting. What a great release this has been!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). This was on the cusp of this category last year but it’s made it this year. It’s just ever so slightly better.

Value: still high, despite a price hike from $65 to $80. Great stuff!


Review: Glendalough Pot Still Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Glendalough Pot Still 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
4 years (3 yrs ex-bourbon, 1 yr virgin Irish oak)
Recipe
Unmalted and Malted Barley
Distiller Glendalough (Glendalough, Ireland)

Irish whiskey has one of the most interesting histories of any country, starting (perhaps) as the birthplace of whiskey and following numerous cycles of growth and almost-complete collapse. Toward the end of the 18th century, the “big four” in Dublin of Jameson, Jameson, Powers and Roe were each among the largest distilleries in the world making Dublin the ultimate world whiskey powerhouse. Irish was battling Scotch as the global leader. Indeed, in Scotland at the time, more Irish whiskey was consumed than Scotch.

At the time, the big, definitive style of Dublin was “pure pot still” whiskey which was made from a combination of malted and unmalted barley. To this day, the style is the definitive style of Irish whiskey and isn’t produced in any significant manner anywhere else in the world. But, there were other regional styles abounding in Ireland: single malts in Northern Ireland, pot still whiskeys in Dublin, Waterford, and Galway and many examples of distilleries using turf (peat) smoking.

However, the dominance of Irish whiskey on the world stage faced numerous unique threats: the temperance movement of the 1830s, the potato famine of the 1840s, and the purchases of Irish distilleries by Scotch distillers who subsequently closed them down to eliminate competition. Ultimately, the two biggest Irish whiskey markets closed, with the British market closing after Ireland’s liberation and the American market drying up during prohibition. Then, to cap it all off, the great depression hit.

The Irish whiskey industry was nearly wiped out. Distillery after distillery closed up until the 1975 when the few remaining southern distillers banded together and moved to the Midleton distillery in County Cork. At the time, Irish whiskey was left with only two distilleries: Midleton in in the south and Bushmills in the North.

The diversity of Irish whiskey was dramatically reduced, but, since that time, Irish whiskey has continued to be on the rise. One outcome of the process is that nearly all of Ireland’s characteristic style, pure pot still whiskey, is produced at Midleton (the home of Jameson). In recent years, Irish whiskey has boomed, and with it, so have the diversity of pure pot still whiskeys.

Glendalough is a prime example of a brand producing pure pot still that tastes completely different from the examples found in Jameson or Redbreast. Glendalough’s pot still whiskey start with a particularly heavy style of pot still, made from 2/3 unmalted and 1/3 malted barley and triple-distilled. After maturing for 3 years in an ex-bourbon barrel, they continue to ladder up the flavour by maturing the whiskey for a year in virgin Irish oak casks. These casks are sustainably sourced from trees around the distillery. Indeed: each bottle lists which tree the whiskey came from – the very tree that you can see online on their website.

Irish oak is rarely used in modern times. Glendalough’s Irish oak is harvested by the distillery and shipped to a cooper in Spain who makes the barrels. Irish oak is a subset of quercas robor, European oak, but it has thinner cell walls and a higher proportion of vanillins (vanilla), furfural (burnt almond), and aldehydes compared to other species of European oak. The distillery describes the flavour of the oak as “sticky toffee pudding and dark molasses”.

This is what I love to see! Whiskey expressions going out of their way to use local ingredients to push the boundaries of the current local style. This is natural colour and un-chill filtered. Time for a taste!

This whiskey is available in Canada in Ontario and BC (for now).


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

Lots going on here in the nose – and nice, big flavours. Coconut, woody spices, toasted oak, grassy spices, apple, walnut wood, pine, Weissbier, currants, orange marmalade, dried cherry, molasses, and light herbal notes. The herbal notes come out, big time, on the palate – and it is awesome. It has an incredible unmalted barley character- rice notes, herbal character, broccolini – but some cinnamon and raisins too. The finish is big, oaky, herbal and spicy.

 This whisky is very unique in character, and in very good ways. There is certainly a lot more to explore with unmalted and malted barley mixes, especially with bigger spirits that can hold up to a lot of oak.

 This is right up my alley. Oddly, I find that you can drink it too fast – too fast, and the tannins take over – but slowly and it works wonders.

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

Value: High, based on $80.


Review: Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

DB_750ml_MRes.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
4 years (3.25 yrs ex-bourbon, 0.75 yrs ex-sherry)
Recipe
Organic Corn and Malted Barley
Distiller Glendalough (Glendalough, Ireland)

This whisky is made from a combination of light corn and malted barley whiskey, aged in ex-Wild Turkey casks for over three years before being finished in a sherry barrel for 9 months. It is the “gateway” whisky to the range of Glendalough - but, by this, the lightest and most casual.

Available in all provinces in Canada except PEI and Nova Scotia.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2020

The sherry really comes through quite cleanly and beautifully here – I’ve had this whisky before it has gone through the sherry finish and it really is lacking intrigue. Before the sherry, it is creamy, buttery, with a hint of grassy grain. The sherry finish adds to that base with rich baking spices, lots of dried fruit, light rancio, and some fairly distinct cinnamon and oak. There is a nice grassy grain character to it - although overall it is still a light-medium bodied whisky. Vanilla and coconut are present throughout.

 I like the light tannins on the finish. This one is cleaner and more focused than most other younger blends in this category, which is a plus. Plus, the grain isn’t lost in here – the malt certainly, and a bit of the corn – it’s not all lost.

This one is described as a bit of a “gateway” whisky to the style – I suppose so, because it is relatively light-bodied. However, it certainly isn’t my experience that this is how most people start to appreciate the category. All that to say - if you find this one a bit bland or crave for something more punchy and unique – jump right to Glendalough’s pot still whisky. There is no lack of character there!

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

Value: Upper end of average at $45.


Review: Aberlour A'Bunadh Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Aberlour Abunadh 2.jpg
ABV
~60%
Aging
First Fill Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Aberlour (Aberlour, Scotland)

The story with this whisky goes that a few stillmen found an old bottle of whisky from the turn of the 19th century and wanted to replicate it – and so, Aberlour puts forth a monster of a whisky – a cask strength, heavily sherried single malt. Each bottle has a batch label on it, and batches vary in quality but this is a longstanding classic and favorite of many connoisseurs. It isdeep red and brown in colour, with no coloring added or any chill-filtration. “A’Bunadh” means “of the origin” in gaelic, speaking to the old style of this whisky.

The exclusive sherry maturation is reasonably uncommon, and each batch is composed of barrels roughly 5 to 25 years old. Quite terrific. A'Bunadh was one of the old classic sherry monsters, first released in 1997 - but this style is now becoming more prominent with other whiskies such as GlenDronach Cask Strength, Tamdhu Batch Strength, and many others.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 44 (59.7% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: LKPF3820 290 10 27

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose:  What a brilliant combination of sherry and malt. The cask strength on this lets you feel that at full force - sherry, rancio nuttiness, threads of rich barley, cinnamon, raisins, prune, tobacco, vanilla, and apples, oak, and fabulous earth. Brilliant- integrated,  complex, and deep.

Taste: Hot at cask strength, with white raisins, malt, vanilla, cinnamon, and oak all taking their turn in a slowly unfolding taste along with a consistent chocolate presence. There is lots going on, and the strength and complexity work so well. What is more, there's a brilliant explosion of honey and malt mid-palate which works wonders.

Finish: Buttery, after all the brute force of the whisky before - with a good bit of raisin, malt, malt loaf, berries, cinnamon, clove, mulled red wine- enduring too. Sort of like a good mulled honey, if there were such a thing.

I'm grateful that the malt and spirit doesn't get lost in this - with many whiskies aged in "flavoured" casks, it's always a concern of mine that the whisky itself get s lost to the cask - but this is whisky, not high ABV sherry as some heavily sherried whiskies can be. It's very integrated, without flaws...complex, and strong...wonderful stuff. Batches vary, and this is a good one - though there are better. Well worth a dram, and very good at cask strength, too.

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

Value: High, based on $100.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: 49 (60.1% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Chocolate, sherry, cacao, nutmeg, rosehip tea, and some nice grape which lifts everything up a bit. Underneath, there is a bit of that funky cheesy sherry, but it’s light enough that it’s intriguing and not detracting (I don’t always love those sherry notes – they’re not sulphur, to be clear). On the palate, the oak shines through really nicely as the finish leads in to a spicy, cinnamon and clove laden finish. The grape and sherry control the finish, as well, and are present in good quantity – the lightest quantity of bitterness is also present, although this may have been augmented by the fact that the bottle has been open for some time before this review. The oak is carried beautifully through in this release, and the balance is quite good too, though this sample is a bit short of batch 44 in a head-to-head especially on the finish.

As a side note, based on reviews I’ve seen, this seems to be relatively below what others have given this. This may have been due to the sample I received or air in the bottle over some time, as this was a sample received from a friend - but this rating is no slouch anyway.

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

Value: Average, based on $100. It isn’t as good as the above, so it isn’t quite as high value…


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 58 (61.1%)

  • Bottling Code: LKPK4625 2016/11/15 15:59

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Vanilla, oak come off at first, with a dense, peppery spiciness. Red pepper jelly, dried cranberries, currants, pencil shavings, and some light sherry nuttiness. And some oak char. Underneath, there’s some bright granny smith apple too. The palate is sharp, with a terrific dried fruit and vanilla middle and some enduring spiciness and tannin on the finish. Great earthiness, and more herbal than I remember in previous A’Bunadh’s. Raisins are wonderful here too – just layers and layers of flavors at full strength (though it does very well with water!). There’s a light touch of oily youth, yet there is something nicely appealing about it. Light rancio on the finish, and such mighty oak and spice (quite the enduring cinnamon and allspice). An ever so slight sulphury pepper at the end, which I quite enjoy. What a finish. This is a big batch!

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

Value: High, based on $100.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 59 (60.9%)

  • Bottling Code: LKPL0522 2017/02/24

  • Bottling Date: 2017

I liked batch 58 so much that I went for another bottle only to find 59s on the shelves. Well, here we go:

Lots of sherry on this one, but also lots of biscuit notes. Dried fruits and pencil shavings develop with time, amidst lots of vanilla. The palate is big, and very cask driven – sherry and oak in every corner –the malt body itself comes through in the middle of the palate quite brilliantly, alongside mandarins and raw cacao. Opens up more and more with time, as with most A’Bunadhs. The finish is full of sherry, dried fruit, spice. Terrific, as usual, but not the 58 I was looking for...

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

Value: Average, based on $100.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: 66 (59.2%)

  • Bottling Code: LKPL05885 2019/11/27 07:58

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Very spicy, and quite woody with all sorts of tannins coming off the nose, but also plums, hibiscus, lots of clove, oak, custard, oat cakes, canned apricots, and oranges. The palate leads in with rich chocolate, a burst of barley, spices, vanilla custard, mixed baking spice, figs, rancio, and a touch of pencil shavings. The finish has clove, pencil shavings, rancio, sherry, and a light burnt match.

This batch is quite good – not quite the level of the best, but pretty good. The touch of pencil shavings detract slightly, too -but this is quite good, and more time with the dram throughout the course of the bottle reaps rewards.

Bold and complex – I suppose that sums it up for A’Bunadhs.

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

Value: Average, based on $100. One of the better deals for sherry bombs, aligned with Glenfarclas 105.