Collingwood

Review: Bearface Triple Oak Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Bearface 1.jpg
ABV
42.5%
Aging
7 Years; Ex-bourbon, French Red Wine, and Virgin Hungarian Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Canadian Mist (Collingwood, Ontario)

Canadian whisky is an incredibly diverse style of whisky, with flavour shaped by a combination of grain, stills, yeasts, enzymes (such as malt), and barrels. Canadian whisky uses multiple types of each of these to create flavour – but Bearface whisky is doing something rather unique. They are using an intense blending process that is focused around the impact of multiple types of wood on a relatively light corn whisky. Bearface is all about what happens after distillation and initial maturation, and it is therefore a bit different than many brands. Many brands are working with finishes, but there isn’t a small brand I’ve come across focusing on as intense of a finishing process in Canada, particularly one which uses a blend of finishing barrels so meticulously. Some of the big producers do this, but it’s rare to find a small producer taking such a complex approach to finishing. I wanted to give a picture of what they are doing.

Bearface is shaped around a 7 year old light corn whisky which is a “canvas” in the words of Andres Faustinelli, the master blender for the brand. The finishing process is all about filling in the gaps of the corn whisky, using all the nuances created by different casks.  It’s not a linear process. While there might only be two “stages” of finishing, each stage has different casks involved that are eventually blended together. The first stage is based on wine casks and the second is based on virgin Hungarian oak.

The whisky, at 76% ABV, is placed into a mixture of French oak and American oak wine casks: the French oak for vanilla, cranberries, and apricot and the American oak for vanilla and coconut. It comes out of the cask rich in wine colour and with an infusion of oaky wine notes. The wine casks are chosen carefully with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot used for the whisky. Other varieties are available, they don’t suit the desired flavour profile. After 90 days in these wine casks, the mid-palate (lacking in the original whisky) is now full of dried fruit and a dry finish to beg another sip after the first finish.

The second stage of finishing is used to round out the whisky. It is put into powerful Hungarian oak which is toasted, not charred – to give rich toasted and woody notes. Much thought is given to these Hungarian oak casks. Andres uses 3 different types of Hungarian casks to create his desired profiles: a medium toast, a “medium+”, and a heavy toast barrel which is close to a charred barrel but without the damage on the surface that a charred cask would have. The staves which make up the Hungarian casks are all seasoned for 3 years in Hungary. The seasoning process breaks down the tannins in the wood and creates a complex set of flavour characteristics while reducing tannin levels. This last set of Hungarian casks builds up the spicy finish in the whisky and reinforces the structure of the whisky.

The different Hungarian casks give different notes to the whisky – the medium toast lends tannic astringency and a dry finish, the “medium+” gives lots of spice and the heavy toast lends a lot of savouriness, bacon fat, and fattiness – but without the tannin and spice. This second finishing process is only 2-3 weeks, depending on taste.

The Hungarian casks are only used three times, with the best extraction coming on the second use. All three barrel types, with the three refill numbers, are blended together – each batch comes from about 100 barrels. At the end of the life, the casks become solera casks.

Complicated enough? I’d say so. After the time in Hungarian oak, Andres spends about 2 days tasting through all the casks and separating them into flavour “families”. The rest of the week preparing his blend.

It’s quite an oaky whisky – but it’s where the palate is focused these days. The whisky has been received well, winning one of the 25 gold medals at the 2019 Canadian whisky awards. My review is below.

For more info, I highly recommend Mark Bylok’s interview with Andres on The Whisky Topic.

I’m making a bit of an assumption that Canadian Mist is the distillery, given that it’s the only major distillery on the Georgian Bay, as the label states…

On an “interest” note, I’m a bit surprised the LCBO stocks the whisky- they are pretty bullish on not having any danger associated with alcohol (as a “bear” or scars might). I know a few brands who have had their label shot down as it “implied danger”. From my end, nothing against the branding, on my end - I think the bottle is great!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

First time I smelled this, I thought – nice corn whisky! And indeed – nice creaminess, light corn husks – but lots of oak: cinnamon, pencil shavings, clove, and charred oak. The wine influence might not be what you expect – it’s more on the line of blackcurrants, red pepper jelly, and currants. Lots of varied dried fruit. Despite all the oak, the distillate character is not lost…

The palate has a rich oily body, with some nice corn at the centre – both kernel and husk. The palate has a nice “zing” to it with oaky spice, dried fruit, and tannins playing off one another. There is a core of sweetness which works well. The finish has charred oak, cherries, cinnamon, even some gooseberry (without the tartness) and apple skin. It reminds me a bit of the oiliness in Forty Creek whiskies.

I quite like that despite all the oak, the distillate is not lost. Also, not too winey – which is easy to do – it comes out on the nose and on the finish – but not too much, but it adds quite well to the whisky with the spice, fruit, and lightly oxidized set of flavours.  Intriguing, moreish, and a great addition to the Canadian whisky landscape.

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

Value: High. $40 combined with the quality of this means you can’t do a whole lot better for the price.


Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Oak, then toasted maple stave finish
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Canadian Mist (Collingwood, Ontario)

This whisky is aged in white oak barrels and finished with toasted sugar maple wood. The whisky is blended together and then put in a marrying vat for nearly a year with toasted maple staves, to "mellow" the whisky – producing a very similar effect to placing them in maple barrels.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2013

Nose: Fresh cut wood (green), brown sugar, light floral and fruity rye, pear, and a bit earthy and candy-like… maple syrup and caramel also is present. Integrated is a light floral note, perhaps peonies.  A very enjoyable nose. There’s also orange peel and some berry notes – raspberry in particular- which I notice more clearly the farther my nose is from the glass. Oak is also in the background ever so slightly. The one thing I don’t love is that the rye sometimes seems a bit misplaced in the nose which doesn’t help it, and there’s a sour, meaty note coming from, I assume, the corn…

Taste: It’s quite sweet…the fresh wood from the nose comes in and gradually heats up with some rye flavour and spice before being covered for a second by sweet, syrupy wood notes before finishing with rye spice once more. It does a decent job of going with the theme but I wouldn’t object to more complexity. I like the combination of the sweet and the spicy in this whisky – there’s not too much of either for me but they’re both distinctly there. It’s pretty easy drinking too.

Finish: Dusty and spicy rye, framed with a bit of sweetness from the maple. It fades slowly into a more oaky, dryfinish. Quite pleasant – I like the changing nature of the finish and the final result is good.

Decent, and quite approachable. My uncle doesn’t usually drink whisky, but he says he loves to have guests over and set a bottle of Collingwood in the centre of the table and watch as it is gradually drained dry over the evening. This is a fabulous mixer, for sure, and an enjoyable sipper.

Value: Average. Ok for $35, but you can do better.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Rich grain, chocolate coated cranberries, raspberry creamsicle, spice, and still creamy with some creamed corn influences. Oak and dark brown sugar come through with good mouthfeel on the palate, which turns dry as it closes with dried berries, caramel, and bean sprouts.

Value: Average. Ok for $35, but you can do better.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Mixed porridge, apple seeds, rose, vanilla sugar, barrel char, baking bread – all sorts of nice grain notes, in fact. Toasting blueberry eggos, buckleys, grape drink – loads of candy syrup notes. The palate continues on, continuing an easy path forward despite the spices and the caramel pulling you back in. Great body on the finish, full of toffee, spice, dried fruit, and a bit more rose. Lots of sweetness – wow. Like rich maple syrup.

Value: Average. Ok for $35, but you can do better.


Review: Canadian Mist Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
3 yrs
Recipe
100% corn whisky blended with rye-heavy whisky
Distiller Canadian Mist (Collingwood, Ontario)

This whisky is distilled at Collingwood Distillery, a town about 150 km north of Toronto. It is a distillery owned by Brown-Forman (who also own Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve) which was developed to create Canadian whiskies tailored to American palates. Initially, Canadian Mist was formulated for one market and made in this single distillery. The distillery now also produces Canadian Mist Black Diamond and Collingwood. According to Davin De Kergommeaux’s excellent book, Canadian Whisky, Canadian Mist is made from a single base nearly 100% corn whisky and a flavourful rye whisky (which we tasted the likes of in Collingwood 21 Year Old). The corn is fermented for a shorter time (about 3 days), bringing out cereal and nutty notes, and the rye is fermented for about 5 days, which enhances floral and fruity flavours.

Though this bottle was bought in Canada, it even says “Imported from Canada” on the label – it is all bottled in Kentucky. The bottle says it is at least 36 months old on the label, which means, for sure, that there is a good bit of young spirit in it.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Fruit comes nicely off the nose, with some white grape, granny smith apples,  gooseberries, and some bourbon nods. A bit of this “whitish” fruit is similar to that found in Collingwood, the premium brother to this whisky, also produced at the same distillery.  There’s also a slight bit of malt coming through, and a good amount of dry oak as well. It’s a bit spirity, and has a bit of a meaty character, which detracts. Vanilla, as usual, comes out increasingly as the glass sits. It has a bit of a spicy edge (which doesn’t meld too well with the harshness of the nose), though it doesn’t resemble clear spices to me.

Taste: Still a decent amount of fruit, with some young corn flavours and rye spiciness coming in with more force than noticed on the nose. There is some movement, as the palate starts largely with fruit and moves towards more oak, maple, cedar, and vanilla near the end, with a bit of spice. It tastes quite young, which lends some harshness and raw-ness which doesn’t help the effort. Because I get many of the harsher, young notes, and still a decent amount of wood, I wonder if they blended some old whiskies into a generally young whisky blend to give some backbone. There’s also a really interesting flavour, perhaps from the yeast, that is reminding me of plain greek yoghurt, interestingly enough! At the end, there’s a bit too much undue bitterness – but it doesn’t detract as much as it might. Overall, as well, it is a bit sweet.

Finish: The flavour does a good job of continuing on the palate after swallowing, but is a bit flat and fairly quickly fades off to a bit of bitterness, but doesn’t die out for some time. The finish is fruity, but a bit darker than the nose and the finish with some earthiness and a bit of rye spiciness.

One thing I like about this whisky is that there’s a bit of movement – the nose is light and fruity, and the palate goes a bit heavier and darker until, I find, the finish is the darkest and heaviest of all. However, it’s a bit raw and unpleasant – despite some promising elements of light fruitiness and some decent bourbon notes on the nose.

Score: 70/100

Value: 70/100 (based on $26)


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2015

Interesting in style - a bit yeasty, with white wine notes, vanilla, floral soap, nail polish remover, and a bit of baking bread. On the palate, a bit sour and spirity, with fresh bread and some oily spice that comes with young whiskies, and a touch of bitterness and oak on the end. Some nuttiness comes through as well, though I don’t know if this is more from the alcohol than the grain itself (in the way that many vodkas are a bit nutty).

Value: I can’t recommend this one, even at the bottom shelf…


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Probably a whisky I should stop following…oh well.

Some very interesting, rich spicy notes – sesame oil, toasted coriander, cinnamon – but also dried apricots, dried peaches, vegetable oil. The palate is full of vanilla, toasted coconut, dried peaches, and light confectionary notes, yet also a touch of dried cherry and dried apple. Nice earthiness. The finish is lightly spicy with earthy and spicy notes, and light saccharin.  But the youthful oiliness is still all over this…

There appears to be a candied fruitiness reminiscent of Canadian mist – it’s in the Collingwood products too. Interesting.

Value: I can’t recommend this one, even at the bottom shelf…


Review: Collingwood The Town Collection Double Barreled Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
Once used oak, finished in Virgin Oak, then finished with toasted maple staves
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Canadian Mist (Collingwood, Ontario)

This is an interesting whisky! The whisky is finished in virgin oak (heavily toasted, lightly charred) after initial maturation in once used oak, and then put into a stainless steel vat with toasted maplewood. It's unique - the only whisky which undergoes such a process, and then bottled at 45% and has been put forth as a limited release. Collingwood last did this with their impressive 21 year old rye.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L192711402

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Insanely floral – this whisky is often described jokingly as a cologne bottle, but there is a serious nose here – full of roses. It’s remarkable. Dried rose, rosehip, dried rosebushes, daisies, oak, coconut, prune, corn husks and wet earth. The palate is woody, but still with lots of floral notes and fruit – but there is some terrific underlying rye and vegetal aspects underneath. Fascinating. The finish is light, with more oak, floral notes, and underlying vegetal spice. Great dried fruit development on the finish too. I still can’t get over the roses though – a very different whisky than Collingwood, and yet in many respects very similar – lightly tannic. The rye integration is just brilliant, and the higher proof carries the finish farther. Slightly creamy, too – throughout, and yet it retains its sharpness.

This is all the floral and fruity tones of Collingwood on steroids, and it makes for a fascinating addition to a diverse whisky shelf (as mine is).

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

Value: High. It’s in the top tier of what you can get for $45.