Cask Strength

Review: Amrut Peated Cask Strength Indian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Amrut Peated CS.jpg
ABV
62.8%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Amrut (Bangalore, India)

A fully peated, cask strength whisky, from Amrut. They also offer another version at 46%. All the barley in this whisky is from Scotland, peated to 23 ppm.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 12

  • Bottling Code: 41640

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Woody, floral (in a dried flower sort of way), vegetal, and peaty with dried fruit and caramel- quite an interesting one here weaving together some very interesting flavor camps. Strong peppermint (like candycanes) too, alongside the rich oakiness. The mintiness, is, in fact, almost like the menthol-like nature of freshly milled green cardamom when amidst the various spices here. But of course we have so much more: dried apricot, dried pear, dried hibiscus, apple seeds, apple sauce, and almost a general mixed bag of spices that all meld together – cloves, cinnamon, saffron (particularly), black peppercorns…This isn't aged long but feels as though it is full of fabulous age - that Indian climate certainly does its work! Not overly peaty, though the earthiness and light smoke are certainly around, especially towards the end of the palate. Complex, interesting, and very nice. With water, it grows a bit, and apple emerges more fully....but I like this one at full strength more. A winner.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). One of my all time favourite whiskies.

Value: Very high. 107$ for this is incredibly worthwhile.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 28

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: Jan 2016

Recently at the airport, and I was debating between picking up batch 28 or batch 35. There was a remarkable difference in colour – 35 was much lighter. Wasn’t sure if I wanted to roll the dice with perhaps a more cask influenced bottling, but I decided to - given how much I loved the oaky intermediate sherry earlier this year. I was intent on buying another to see if there was more peat influence.

A dense, rich, gorgeous nose. Woody and tropical and slightly floral: Leather, heather flowers, lavender, dried peach, dried apricot, dried papaya, light sweet smoke (wood smoke/char rather than vegetal peat smoke), custard. The palate is quite smoky, and rich – fire roasted chickpeas, lots of dried fruit, oak – ever so slightly astringent, in a good way -tannins and tobacco play in lightly. Finish is lightly smoky, vegetal, dry – still lots of tropical fruit and dried fruit. There’s a growing richness and smokiness, a flourish of spice, and I get some more tobacco oils (like the finish of a good cigar, a few hours after it has been smoked).

Batch 12 was more malty, less woody, less smoky – and sweeter. That being said, they are definitely in the same family, and they are both brilliant. This is smokier, and, oddly, brighter at the same time. I like this with a touch of water added – it’s a bit too dense at cask strength. Richer, smokier, but not as well balanced as batch 12. A terrific buy, I should have picked up 35 as well...

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Not quite the last batch, but nearly there, and on the edge of the highest recommendation category.

Value: Very high. 107$ for this is incredibly worthwhile.


Review: Lot No. 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Lot no. 40.jpg
ABV
55.0-58.4%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Here we have a rarity - a cask strength, 100% Canadian Rye whisky, well matured and released by a major producer. The only other bottle I can think of which fits into this category (so far) is Whistlepig's Boss Hog, an independent bottling from Alberta Distillers (though I must note that there are some notable young cask strength ryes from micro distilleries like Stalk & Barrel). Basically, it is the connoisseur's dream - this juice.  Given the splendor of the standard Lot no. 40, you'd expect this to do some good work too. Originally single casks of this were handed around at whisky festivals, but now we have an annual release - beginning at a very commendable 12 years of age. The golden age of Canadian whisky is here! 4968 bottles.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 05 05100 (55.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: June 2016

This sample was generously sent to me by Mark Bylok of whisky.buzz, who also reviewed this batch of Lot no. 40 CS.

Lots of onion pickle, in fact, in this tasting. Dill, floral rye, new wood, and lots of nuts - hazlenuts, walnuts, almond, clove, floral rye, black tea, terrific caramel, cinnamon, dried rose, dried hibiscus, praline, rosehip….

Brilliant tingling spices on the palate, with lots of spice, caramel, orange, clove, blood orange, cola, walnut…immense at cask strength and lots of rye! But it comes easy with lots of nut, tea, and oak notes surrounding. Some terrific dried floral notes too. Dries off in a huge, spicy finish still with lots of nuts and more light rye notes – almost jasmine-like in their floral nature - and cinnamon, tobacco, drying reeds in the fall, arugula, nut brittle, and some orange peel. Not to mention lots of continued floral notes. Not hard to drink and balanced at cask strength.

This is amazing – but I can only imagine a batch version. As it is, you can tell it is more of a single barrel given the profile and doesn’t quite have the breadth of complexity in some lot. No 40s, but it makes up for it with emphasis and magnitude.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). To get a cask strength rye whisky of this complexity, depth, and breadth is just awesome.

Value: N/A (not available on the market)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 1st Edition

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L17200 EW13:27

  • Bottling Date: 2017

What a whisky! What a nose. This is definitely Lot no. 40, and exactly what you would expect – a lot of punch and flavor! Coincidentally, natural colour too. Rich: caramel, lilacs, loads of spices, dried fruits, apricot, brioche, lilacs, clove, nutmeg, icing sugar...it gets better with air. The palate has lilacs, loads of rye, dried apricot, patchouli, cedar, dried apricot, black tea – wow. This batched version is better than the barrels I have tasted. The finish is loaded with rye and oak, along with dried fruit (prunes, raisins, dried apricot), cumin, lemon zest, orange peel (dried), icing sugar, fresh spinach, and a touch of dill.

This batch smells older and a bit more developed than the lot no. 40 which is on shelves now, though I think I’ve had a bad batch in my last bottle – but this still smells a bit more mature than the lot no. 40s on shelves now.  If you like Lot no. 40 (at all), you should buy this. Amazing whisky.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation). One of the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted - it’s mighty, complex, and incredibly moreish. If you want to see what great cask strength Canadian whisky can be, look no further than here.

Value: Very high. $70 CAD for something like this! Take a look at the best of the cask strength American ryes, as a comparator - you won’t find something to spar with this at this price (especially one with 12 years of age!).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Second Edition (11 Years Old; 58.4%)

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L18204 EW1325

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Very different than last year’s release (but still lot no. 40) - it came from a different bond, and each bond has different characteristics. It is very fruity – strawberries, cherries, plums, prunes, and green apple – but also with floral notes – lilac, spice, clove, loads of brown sugar and oak. There’s a nice caramelized nut characteristic too, verging on corn – like candied pecans or caramel popcorn. Rich, deep oak opens up as it sits. Gorgeous. The sweet nature of the oak really comes out too – it is a nice complement to the massiveness of the whisky everywhere else.

The palate is rich, oaky, fruity – tons of lilac and tons of spice. It’s what you expect from the nose – but the fresh fruit character, like strawberry jam that has just started to boil when you make it – is central and exceptional. Still, it’s tempered by loads of spice and oak. Really big, even with water added. Also, a bit less of a “grip” and movement on the palate compared with last year, even with a bit less ABV. But, still absolutely awesome.

Really nice tannins on the finish, and dries out really well. Spices slowly unfold, alongside dried fruit, green apple skins, and tannins. The more you drink, the bigger and better it gets. Lovely.

In comparison – last year’s release was more woody, richer, and heavier – and you get the full range of coconut and rich nut oils and black tea there which aren’t as big here. Think spicy/oaky /floral/fruity vs fruity/spicy/floral/oaky in terms of flavour impact. And the fruit is more vibrant – like fresh berries – vs say berry jam. This is still epic, but I liked the darker richer character last year – and it was a bit deeper.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I review to date get this recommendation or higher). This is still an outstanding bottle, but it doesn’t have the depth or integration to take it to the level that the 2017 release was. Still, outstanding - incredibly big, fascinating, rich, and deep.

Value: High. An increase in price and not quite the stunner of last year still leaves this as an excellent value buy, but increases in price could change this in the future - but it is still an excellent value buy.


Review: Amrut Single Cask Peated Port Pipe Indian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Amrut Peated Portpipe 2.jpg
ABV
59%
Aging
Port Pipe
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Amrut (Bangalore, India)

Here is an odd one: Indian barley smoked with Scottish peat, matured in a port pipe.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Portpipe/2712 filling: Jan 2011, bottling: Feb 2016, one of 660 bottles

  • Bottling Code: Above

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Really interesting notes on the nose – dried orange, spicy barley, cinnamon, anise seed, and vanilla. Light creaminess throughout. The combination of the berry-like port, with a bit of oxidation, is really interesting with the peat. Really interesting spices – green peppercorn. Rich oak and biscuits really come out on the undiluted at CS.

The palate is fruity, spicy, and smoky – still quite dry. It’s an odd mix – lots of stewed fruit as well, but it doesn’t quite come together despite having a set of solid flavours. The dried fruit (surprisingly bright) sits above, the peat underneath, and the spices oddly in the middle. The finish is tannic and spicy, with a touch of sweetness and cacao. The spices are sweet – in line with cinnamon and star anise.

Interesting, and integrated, but lacking balance

Value: Low. It’s interesting, but I’m not crazy about this for $90.


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

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: Blanton's Straight from the Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~65%
Aging
Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 15% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, Kentucky)

This is a Blanton's not available in North America, but comes at a hefty price in Europe. The whiskey comes off the still at 70%, dumped into the barrels at 62.5%, and uses a 6 month seasoning (air drying) on the staves before they were put into the barrels. I love Blanton's, and a cask strength and unfiltered Blanton's is just about my favorite cask strength bourbon, dependent a little on mood...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Barrel 566; Warehouse H (65.7%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Distinctly Blanton’s! I love it! All that dried and tinned apricot, and dried rose. Very intense in that respect, particularly at this strength. Vanilla, prunes, dense oak, dried apple, potpourri, maple fudge, and a bit of dry earth also come through. The palate is full, deep, and complex with lots of peach, grapefruit, rosehip, and dried berries. Phenomenal. All in balance, and all with terrific flavour at this strength. And a terrific, complex finish with many of those dried apricot notes, grapefruit, oak, and nut brittle. Watered down, it’s still a nice bourbon – but it rides much better at full strength. Too bad this isn’t more available, like in the North American markets…but if it were, I don’t know if anyone would get a taste…however, if I were American, I would (rightly so) feel a bit robbed.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 221; Warehouse H; Rick no. 31; Dumped 6.26.14 (64.4%)

  • Bottling Code: B1417815:49J

  • Bottling Date: 2014

A rich, full nose – slightly musty, with loads of vanilla and floral rye. Dried rose, tea, dried fruits, cacao, spearmint, raw cane sugar, and lots of clove and oak. The palate is full of tannins and the floral nature of the rye shines through. The sweetness is just about perfect to balance the spice and the proof. Raspberry tea is distinct, melding beautifully with some black tea. A nice rising spice on the jammy finish, and the finish is slightly bitter with all the oak. Dried corn comes out particularly in the finish, and it is there where we also have some of those typical dried flower notes from Blanton’s. And a bit of coconut. I just love the essence of Blanton’s here in this bottle.

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

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 706; Warehouse H; Rick no. 44; Dumped 2.11.16 (64.4%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Butter, cumin, a stale bag of mixed baking spices, dried corn, dried apricot, strawberries, and stewed stone fruit. Slightly farmy, too. A spicy, full palate, with a huge wave of sweet corn which is then completely conquered by sharp, spicy rye and some dried flowers. Dried corn, spices, and oak on the finish. Wonderful bourbon, but not quite up to the stuff I’ve had in the past from Blanton’s.

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

Value: Low (based on $121)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Barrel 265; Warehouse H; Rick no. 11; Dumped 4.04.16 (62.8%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

This goes into the barrel at 62.5%, so the proof didn’t really increase in the barrel at all – it must have been in a cool or humid part of the warehouse. Very fruity – strawberry, banana, and a bit of blackberry too – the rye comes in nicely too. Brown sugar and light oak too. The palate is sweet, and doesn’t pack a huge punch. The grains seem to sit at the forefront of this bottle – rather than the fruit. There is a bit of dense dried flowers at the end, in the Blanton’s style, which is quite nice. Some dried chanterelles and strawberries on the finish. A nice bottle…

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

Value: Average (based on $121)


Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~65%
Aging
12 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Malt
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

A (magnificent) cask strength version of the standard Elijah Craig...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 12th Release; 64.0%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Lots of oak on the nose – not surprising for a 12 year old bourbon. Very rich - lots of vanilla, furniture polish, apple, caramel, maple, and a slight bit of rocky mineral character. Very woody, and dry too. Also some sweet floral character – it sweetens with added water, but comes out more as a dried flower note on the nose. The nose itself is dry, but brings to mind a number of dry things – like potpourri. Dried orange, roasted macadamia nuts. Very enjoyable!

The palate has apple, oak char, and tannins creeping up – almost too much, but they’re not over the edge. Well balanced, and a good set of flavours. Loads of oak on the finish. A fabulous delivery, oily in feel (and lightly on the palate) – but restrained so it’s not overwhelming at 64%. Lots of tingly tannins on the finish, and some black tea.

Kentucky sure has some nice distilleries. Terrific stuff.

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

Value: Average (based on $112)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 5th Release (67.2%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Nice and rich dark colour. I’ve been tasting a Blanton’s straight from the barrel beside this one and it definitely pales in comparison. Nutty, oaky, and full of spice. Light fruit, gooseberry, spices, cacao, smoky wood char. The corn is just brilliant! Oak is supreme on the finish. It is a bit hot, but not very – it has an incredible feel and the balance at cask strength is terrific – sweet, oaky, spicy, and rich. The palate is oaky and rich, packed with fruit ranging from strawberries to apples – dried, jam, and fresh. The corn has just a terrific showing in this – it is wonderfully embraced by the spice, fruit, and oak. What a palate!  Beautiful oak on the finish, which is a touch creamy too. Praline and hazelnut cream too. A terrific Elijah Craig.

Immensely enjoyable. I think bookers lovers might find this quite appealing – but it is richer and rounder – for good effect. But, yes, quite oaky too, but not overdone.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: High (based on $113)


Review: Talisker 57 Degrees North Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
57%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Talisker (Carbost, Scotland)

A non-age-statement, but cask strength, Talisker which has a great reputation in my circle of friends. It is expensive in Ontario ($175 when you can find it) but I once found it in the Toronto airport for $75, which is where I obtained this bottle. I think they just forgot the leading "1" since I haven't seen it that cheap anywhere else - I am happy for the mistake.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L2290CM000 05954480

  • Bottling Date: ~2012

Ash, peaches, custard, slightly spicy. Wood smoke, pears, lemon, peat, mineral character – quite bright with all of the stone fruit though. Dried apricot, gooseberries, vanilla – quite zesty.

The palate is sweet, with quite a big, fairly sweet, body – particularly with water. Tinned peaches, smoke, mint, thick vegetation (i.e. peat), sharp earthiness – certainly big on the palate. It is a touch young for my liking – but it’s on the edge. Certainly an interesting contrast of all that fruitiness and the mineral peat. Oh, and it’s also reasonably creamy. Nice balance.

A drying finishes with clove, black pepper, prunes, tannins, and more mineral character. A terrific malt, but certainly overpriced – well, in Canada, I suppose, where it goes for about twice the price of the 10 Y.O.

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

Value: Low, at $175.


Review: The Macallan Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~60%
Aging
100% Oloroso Sherry Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Macallan (Craigellachie, Scotland)

This whisky, unfortunately, has been discontinued. Many cried out for a cask strength Macallan, and this received very positive reviews. Bottled at natural colour, and without chill filtration. It seems a connoisseur’s dream! Matured exclusively in oloroso sherry casks. There were a few different batches of this, all at slightly different ABVs.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A (60.1%)

  • Bottling Code: L10 - 09 07 22 :27

  • Bottling Date: 2010

The nose is incredibly rich – intense sherry, rich toffee – but also, incredible malt underneath. In many of these sherry monsters it seems cask quite significantly over distillate – but here, the distillate is holding its own. Dried orange peel (as you see in some teas), milk chocolate, vanilla, raisins, and light spice – cloves and cinnamon – but not sharp, more softly present as in a spiced sauce of some kind.

The palate is full of spice, but in the middle is full of incredibly rich toffee and cinnamon before spiced butterscotch pudding and the lightest touch of malt takes hold in the long finish. I love the richness of the whisky, and it comes in quite spicy in feel as well, as might be expected from the heat. The oak gets a bit less with added water – it is densely present at full strength. The finish is a bit dry (though it does lighten up over time), but I always like that, and there’s also some vanilla which really shines through nicely in the finish. The toffee richness in the middle is incredibly impressive, I might add, once again, especially as the “middle” of sherry monsters often get lost. Undeniably Macallan, and very big.

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

Value: Average, based on $120.


Review: Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~60% (varies)
Aging
6-8 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
~75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Jim Beam (Clermont, Kentucky)

This whiskey was introduced in 1992, and was originally released because Booker Noe (the master distiller of Jim Beam at the time) used to bottle his favorite bourbons straight from the barrel and gift them to his friends. After so much hype about these gifts, he started to bottle bourbon straight from the barrel – uncut (no water added – so at the alcohol percentage in the barrel) and unfiltered (most whiskies have oily compounds stripped from them to increase clarity). This is a bit of a landmark bourbon – when it was released, the category of unfiltered, cask strength bourbons essentially did not exist, and this bourbon did a lot to establish the category which is now the ultimate for bourbon enthusiasts.

As the story goes, Booker found that the barrels in a particular section of the warehouses were quite polished, and soon realized the bellies of warehouse workers had polished up the barrels from this particular area of the warehouse as they stole out little drams of the whiskies from this area! Originally, booker used old chablis to bottle this whisky for his friends, hence, it is still bottled in a wine style bottle.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: C04-J-19 (63.65%, 7 yrs 11 months old)

  • Bottling Code: L2266CLA 07322510

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Some floral rye comes out right off the bat, but this progresses to deeper and heavier notes as it sits. The nose is oily, creamy, and vibrant especially with a bit of water added. Banana custard, dried apricot, corn husks, butterscotch, nutmeg, almond milk, green bell pepper, oak, and black tea – and a bit of shy bitterness. There is a lot in there and you may well take the entire bottle to unpack it all. The nose, itself, is a bit shy, and you need to take your time with it.

Taste: Sour and tannic at first, before heavy corn, hay, tobacco, vanilla, black tea, almond and some cherries come in. It’s quite hot at its natural strength, and I prefer it with a bit of water added to bring it down to around 50%. Overall, it’s a bit nutty and oily too – with nice mouthfeel. There is so much going on with all of its brute force that it can be a bit hard to keep up at times. Really, this is quite fabulous – at full strength or with a bit of water added.

Finish: A bit tannic and somewhat empty, though oak, dried fruits, and vanilla make their presence known. It’s spicy, rather than juicy and fruity – and the oak is suprisingly subdued. However, at this proof, the finish is quite deep and lingers for a good long while.

Conclusion: This is good, but this batch doesn’t quite come together for me. If you’re adding water to this, a bottle can go quite a far way – and this is a bourbon that every whiskey lover needs to try – it is very highly regarded across the board and is reasonably priced and available.

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

Value: Average (before the price started shooting up).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2016-01E (63.85%, 6 yrs 1 month old)

  • Bottling Code: L2266CLA 07322510

  • Bottling Date: 2016-01E

Lots of caramel, plum, oak, and nice, nutty oiliness. Peaches, apricot, freeze dried strawberries, and rye that is almost a bit dusty (usually you see this in Canadian, not American, ryes!). Terrific body on the palate – that unfiltered business works really well. Corn, hazlenuts, marshy and earthy notes, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove – an amazing development of spices. There is a brilliant spicy flourish where sweetness and vanilla start to edge themselves in before oak takes over the show and dries out the finish. The finish is terrific – complex, long lasting, and developing – tobacco, dried corn, spice, oak, orange bitters, caramel, and a touch of poplar wood, I think. Not the best I’ve had, but a really nice bookers.

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

Value: High. A good batch of this for 85 CAD? Yes please.


Review: Canadian Rockies 35 Year Old Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

Image courtesy of the Fountana Group.

ABV
79.3%
Aging
35 yrs; Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
100% Corn
Producer Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Here we have a very notable whisky - the oldest bottling of Canadian whisky with an age statement since the pre-prohibition bottling of a 37 year old Seagrams, at my best guess. It is another 100% corn whisky sourced from Highwood distillery by the Fountana Group, primarily for Taiwan, though they have released some of the terrific 21 Year Old in Canada (and I have seen a few bottles of this 35, too). It is from a single cask, divided between 211 bottles - 181 at 50% ABV and 30 at the whopping cask strength of 79.1% (yes, you heard it right). The dryness in Alberta means that more water than alcohol evaporates from the cask, resulting in a slowly increasing alcohol level, giving us a whisky that makes the George T. Stagg's and other hazmat whiskies of the world seem diminutive.

I kindly received the last of a 3 oz sample bottle that has travelled over 5,350 km, initially in Davin De Kergommeaux's possession before being passed on to Blair Phillips and now its story ended with me. There was only about half an ounce left, but it still left its mark!

Word has it that there is a 40 coming...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Distilled December 12, 1980 (79.3%)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date 2015

At this strength, it isn’t even very spirity. Incredibly creamy, woody, dry, and rich on the nose – butterscotch, corn husks, tobacco, dried dill, and light spicy and earthy notes. Wood dominates at lower ABV strengths, but at full strength it is more into balance with succulent, creamy sweet caramel and vanilla. The palate is silky smooth, with stewed peaches, creamed corn, oak, dried apricot, toffee, light cacao, and of course wood. The finish is full, creamy, and spicy – one of the longest rambling and developing finishes I have ever encountered, playing in texture and feel for minutes after a small sip – first sweet and creamy, then spice is added, then drying, them creamy again, then sweet and dry – not always in the same order. Perhaps the creamiest finish i have experienced, and one of the most notable. This is delicious!

I never thought one of the silkiest whiskies i have tried would be bottled at nearly 80%. At this strength, you can’t take a big sip – a few mls are enough to do wonders. This is one of the most elegant and notable whiskies I have ever tasted. The only knack against it is that it could have more complexity, but this is so subtle and fragile I also wouldn’t want to change anything. A wow whisky.

But don’t take it from me – check out Davin’s review here and Blair’s review here.

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

Value: Very Low. Unique, yes - very. But $850? That may be a nice bottle, but not a value one.