Diageo

Review: Mister Sam Tribute Whisky (Sazerac) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

ABV
66.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
A blend of Canadian and American whiskies
Producer Sazerac

Sazerac, the parent company of Buffalo Trace, has been developing a presence in Canada for some years now particularly with the Royal Canadian and Caribou Crossing brands. Diageo also recently sold a number of Canadian whisky brands, including Seagram’s VO, to Sazerac in 2018. The whiskies, thus far, have been from stock which has been sourced from other distilleries in Canada. However, that is set to change with the construction of the Old Montreal Distillery which started to distill whisky in 2018. Tours are set to begin at the distillery in 2019.

Now, Sazerac is releasing a whisky as a tribute to Sam Bronfman, one of the most ominous and greatest figures in the history of the liquor industry. Bronfman initially came to Canada shortly after his birth, the son of immigrant parents, from an area which is now part of the country of Moldova between Romania and Ukraine. He became involved in the family hotel business, which grew, relatively quickly, into a small empire in Saskatchewan with the income driven more by the bars that the family owned than the hotels.

As the temperance movement grew, Saskatchewan implemented prohibition and closed the bars. The family, in clever response, got a hold of one of the rare licenses to sell medicinal alcohol and started to develop a distribution business without much competition. Medicinal alcohol was an extremely popular “remedy” during prohibition. The company soon got into the distilling business, building the (now closed) LaSalle distillery in Quebec from stills acquired in the US. The LaSalle distillery became known for quantity, which lead to Sam Bronfman’s partnership with the Scottish DCL, a massive producer of Scotch which controlled brands like Johnny Walker, Dewar’s, and Buchanon’s . This partnership, formed in the late 1920s, catapulted Bronfman ahead of Harry Hatch as the head of the biggest whisky empire in Canada. Bronfman also obtained the ever-important Seagram’s line of brands. Among these brands was Seagram’s VO, Bronfman’s drink of choice, diluted with water. With the brands came the company’s namesake, Seagram’s.

The company stockpiled stock and assets through prohibition. Despite supplying the bootlegging business, prohibition was a challenging environment to operate in due to the challenges of the supply chain. The boom of the company came when the American market opened up: Seagram’s took control of the American market. Indeed, in the 1930s three out of five bottles of blended whisky sold in the United States were from Seagram’s. The company’s success accelerated - in 1946 Seagram’s controlled 14 distilleries, 60 warehouses, and 10 bottling plants - putting out 25 million litres a year (Source: The Bronfman’s, Nicholas Faith). To this, the company added the Chivas Regal brand and grew to become the largest liquor company in the world before it’s collapse, out of which arose Daigeo and Pernod Ricard which are now the two largest liquor companies in the world.

“Mister Sam” was not only a remarkable businessman, he was also a master blender with a remarkable understanding of the importance and technique of blending. He taught his sons the “art” of blending and ensured that he and his family could always assess the quality of his brands. To honour the legacy, Sazerac has released a whisky containing a blend of American and Canadian whiskies. It was blended by Drew Mayville, who worked at Seagram’s for 22 years and was the last master blender before the company’s collapse. The whisky is bottled at 66.9% ABV, and will be sold in the United States and Canada for about 250 USD. 1,200 bottles were produced, and the whisky is slated to be an annual release.

If you want to learn more on the subject, there are a number of good books lying about. I recommend The Bronfman’s by Nicholas Faith, Booze, Boats and Billions by C.W. Hunt. De Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky gives a nice broad overview as well. To better understand the ever-important context of the time and the ever-important American liquor market, Bourbon Empire by Mitenbuler is a great read too.

If you get a bottle of this, there is a small booklet, containing a history of the Seagram’s company written by Samuel Bronfman for his 80th birthday, …from little acorns…. There are a few great nuggets and it gives a nice picture of pieces of how the organization functioned - highlighting specifically Bronfman’s bullishness about marketing, quality control and his penchant for blending. He often tested the blends personally and interacted with the quality control executives. The company had a library of hundreds of whiskies and 240 different yeasts! As Bronfman wrote, “Nothing is more important in our business than the quality of our products”. He also speaks of how he became convinced that US prohibition would end 5 years before it did, and started to ramp up production and build warehouses to get aged whiskies ready in advance. Even once the US market opened up, he made everyone wait until the US spirits had sufficient maturation in wood: “No matter, I waited. Quality in the bottle, and our reputation for quality, were much more important to me than immediate profits.”

Notably, he also discusses being disturbed when he saw drinking culture grow again after prohibition which lead him to release an advertisement: “We who make whiskey say: ‘Drink Moderately’”.

This whisky is available in the United States (already available) and shortly to Canada: BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019

  • Bottling Code: L19011331608E

  • Bottling Date: 2019

What a nose! What a nose! I’ll do my best not to be too wordy, but even at first whiff I know that will be difficult.

Sweet oaky caramel, rich deep oak (mossy, old, but very sweet like a damp bourbon warehouse), spicy rye, but it’s balanced with the nicest set of light fruit like white grapes and white mulberries. It is very reminiscent of good, cask strength Buffalo Trace compared to a cask strength blended Canadian whisky with less of a focus on oak. It reminds me, of course, of the Buffalo Trace antique collection.

But, back to the nose. It shines through incredibly with water – it seems to transition from an American style to a bit more of an oaky Canadian style with water (without too much rye). Fruits emerge – candied, dried – but also rich baking spice, fresh strawberries, cherries, praline (hazelnut and almond), dried chanterelle mushrooms, wintergreen, and the corn/rye grain character comes out richly. It has a really nice “dusty” rye characteristic, which I love. The nose really evolves, with more and more dried fruit (prunes, then dried apricots, then dried peaches) with time. This is all tempered by massive oak.

The palate is quite oaky, but surrounded at the edges by rich dried fruits, white pepper, and grapefruit skin (including pith). We also have cherry, dried ginger, dried apricot, dried peach, fresh plum, sweet creamy corn, mixed baking spices, and tobacco. These notes converge into a complex dose of baking spices and creeping tannins. The finish is dry, with toasted baking spices, sweet oak, cherry, dried apricot, corn husks, caramel, and tobacco. The finish is deep and long.

Heavier, oakier, richer, and much deeper than Little Book Chapter 02 (can you believe it?), which has a very different presentation of rye and has a light, vibrant fruit characteristic not present in Mister Sam (similar to the Jim-Beam-owned Alberta-distilled Canadian Club 100% rye). I love that Little Book whisky too.  A better comparison is the William Larue Weller I have in my cabinet from 2015. That one is sweeter, with more almond, maple, and a heavier portrayal of corn – the Weller is a bit lighter, and less complex than this stuff which is focused more on deep fruits, nuts, spice. The Weller, notably, has a bigger finish.  If the Weller is a peach galette with some slivered almonds on top, this is a spiced blackberry+plum+peach cobbler, sprinked with baking spices and baked a deep brown. Some, no doubt, will prefer the style of the Weller. But I like this stuff more.

This is extremely pleasant at 53.5%, the nose is best a bit lower ABV, but it is still awesome for its sheer power at 66.9%. It’s one of the most dynamic whiskies I’ve ever encountered in terms of how it changes with ABV. If you have one of these and find it too hot, just keep adding distilled water until it’s to your taste. The drinking experience does not suffer.

I wonder if Mister Sam would have liked the whisky. His typical tipple was Seagram’s VO, a much lighter whisky rather than this oak bomb. Nonetheless, masterfully blended!

This is in the top 6 whiskies I’ve ever tasted.

Exceptional (4% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average, even at $250!


Review: The Singleton of Glen Ord 14 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
57.6%
Aging
14 Years; Five Casks (See Below)
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Glen Ord (Muir of Ord, Scotland)

Glen Ords are typically destined for Asia, but this is a special release with quite the set of maturation: from what I understand, it started in refill ex-bourbon american oak hogsheads, refill ex-bodega European oak butts. Then it was re-casked into charred ex-Pedro Ximinez sherry and ex-Moscatel casks. Finally, it was married together in European oak puncheons.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

A very nice balanced, fruity, and warm single malt. It does quite well with a drop of water. Fruit is front and centre, but also toffee, pear, root beer, and light spice. The palate is very rich, full of stone fruits, and woody forest. A very nice “middle-bodied” scotch - it seems they are usually on the light or heavy side these days. Vanilla, light citrus, and oak on the finish. There’s much more - but you get the gist.

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

Value: Low, at $200.


Review: Cladach Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
57.1%
Aging
First-fill ex-bourbon, refill American oak, refill European oak, Ex-sherry European oak
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Blend of malts from Clynelish, Inchgower, Oban, Talisker, Caol Ila, and Lagavulin

This is a relative rarity in the Diageo Special releases - a blended malt. This one is focused on coastal distilleries, hoping to convey a general maritime character. “Cladach” means shoreline.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

What a nice whisky! The nose starts with toffee, mixed spice, a touch of sulphur, smoke, roasted meat, light tropical notes, washed-up seaweed, vanilla, and a touch of rubber. Slightly floral, too. The palate blooms with smoke, charred chickpeas, a kick of tropical fruit, and a touch of youth that works really well with its untamed presence. The lagavulin in it is just beautifully integrated. It is phenomenal at cask strength - it starts sweet, goes oily and tropical, then ashy, and fruity. The finish has rock pools, vanilla, clove, and cedar. It is very nice.

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

Value: Very Low (based on $312 - though you might get a better deal)


Review: Oban 21 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
57.9%
Aging
21 Years; Refill European Oak Butts
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Oban (Oban,Scotland)

One of the most highly anticipated bottlings of the 2018 Diageo Special Releases - a cask strength Oban, natural colour, and 21 Years Old. Oban 14 is a favourite of countless Scotch drinkers, so it is only natural that many got so excited by this.

I split this sample with Emmett Hossack of whiskyscores.com. His review is here.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

The nose is oaky, with light dried fruits, lots of spice (increases with the addition of water), a great “old” smell, like the reference section of a library, hazlenut, biscuits, marmelade, pear, rosehips, and milk chocolate. Spicy and creamy.

The plaate is big, spicy, fruity, with a developing set of flavours. Dried peach, cinnamon, almond…A nice warming finish - this is very pleasant. The finish is fruity (dried stone fruit), spicy, and lightly tannic. Richer and deeper than the 14, which is a bit sweeter and focused a bit more on caramel.

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

Value: Very low, at $680.


Review: Carsebridge 48 Year Old Single Grain Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
43.2%
Aging
48 Years; Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Recipe
100% Grain (Likely Corn)
Distiller Carsebridge (Alloa, Scotland)

Carsebridge was a lowland grain distillery which closed in 1983, but at one point it was the largest distillery (by area, not necessarily production) in Scotland in 1886. It was thought to be the largest grain distillery in Scotland when it closed. Scottish grain whiskies are becoming more common now, column distilled from corn or wheat into a very light whisky which is used as the base for blends.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

What a nose! It is incredibly rich, and not too oaky. I really like old, lighter whiskies.

It’s slightly sour, with lots of vanilla, and touches of a floral character. That combined with the vanilla makes me think of a dried vanilla flower, if such a thing even exists. Yet, the nose is still intense and oaky. Old, dry seville marmelade, dried dill, honey, and luscious aged whisky notes. Also, it’s a bit dusty. The palate has this - but it’s quite sweet, creamy, and slightly sour with a sense of umami throughout. The seville marmelade really comes out, but also the honey, vanilla, dried flowers, peach, and not too much oak at all! Finish is short and light, lightly sweet and clean.

I tried this next to Nikka Coffey Grain and it made Coffey Grain taste like a bottom shelf product (it is not!).

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Nearly, but not quite, a level higher.

Value: Very Low (based on $1500)


Review: Inchgower 27 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
55.3%
Aging
27 Years; Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Inchgower (Buckie, Scotland)

You don’t see many Inchgowers, as they mainly go towards blends - malt madness indicates that less than 1% of its output goes to single malts, while its main uses are to fill out Johnnie Walker, Bell’s, and White Horse blends. The distillery was built in 1871 to replace the Tochieneal distillery.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

A very nice, lightly herbal and fruity nose. Baked apples, applesauce, and dried thyme. That really comes out, but with some other dried herb notes like savoury. Also straw, almonds, and lots of spice - it’s also really dusty! How often do we see that? A bit of wet cardboard, like many old scotch whiskies.

The palate is rich, spicy, dry, and fruity - yet still very clean with dried herbs and flowers at the core. It’s light, yet rich. Peaches and other stone fruit, too. The finish is light and hot, with a touch of sulphury spice. It’s very unique, and the combination of herbal and dried floral characteristics is fantastic. It grew on me as I went back to it again and again.

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

Value: Low, based on $600.


Review: Pittyvaich 28 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
52.1%
Aging
28 Years; Refill American Oak Hogsheads
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Pittyvaich (Dufftown, Scotland)

Pittyvaich is a mothballed distillery which only operated for a few years – it was only operated from 1975 to 1993. This bottling came towards the end of the distillery – distilled in 1989. Pittyvaich closed because of industry restructuring, but was used largely for blends so its single malts have never been widely available. This whisky has lived longer in a barrel than the distillery did!

Not the first special release bottling we’ve had (there was a 20 year old in 2009) – but this is quite fun!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is incredibly fruity, with pear, apple, fresh peach, fresh apricot, pineapple – but also light spice in white pepper, olive sourdough, and mixed citrus peel. A bit waxy at cask strength, but this dies down with water. The palate continues, lightly fruity – but it has a core of magnificent barley. It’s quite beautiful – the barley, clean and rich, sits at the centre of everything – with fruit overtop and light oak underneath. It has a bit of the classic older scotch characteristic to it, which is a bit cardboard-y. Nice apple on the palate, and the finish is creamy and slightly tannic, with some nice spice. Great mouthfeel, and it really does well at cask strength – I don’t often like lighter Scotch malts at cask strength, but I’ll take this one at full force! There is a great mix of barley, fruit, light baking spice, and earthiness on the finish. A fantastic single malt!

The empty glass is rich and enticing, too – spicy and oaky, but still with very nice barley.

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

Value: Low, based on $655.


Review: Talisker 8 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Diageo Special Releases 2018) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Diageo.

Image courtesy of Diageo.

ABV
59.4%
Aging
8 Years; First fill ex-bourbon
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Talisker (Carbost, Scotland)

This whisky was distilled in 2009, not the first Talisker 8 - there used to be a series of them in the 1970s and 1980s. This is the whisky I was most excited for of the Diageo special releases this year - and a cask strength young version - yes please!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Diageo Special Releases 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

What a terrific nose. Pear, smoke, light tar, apple, maple, mixed nuts, loads of baking spice, and something tropical too. More medicinal than most Taliskers – and really sharp, and incredibly earthy – just awesome. Like a handful of peat – the full earthy, damp richness gets captured. Seems to brighten with time to reveal some peach, too – and the creaminess comes through. The palate is rich, lightly sweet, oaky, and loaded with vanilla – it is young, but not immature. The sweetness and light creamy texture perfectly offset the broad earthiness and sharp smoke. The tropical note is still there – mangosteens, I should think. The finish is sweet, spicy, smoky…milk chocolate, light smoke, white pepper, pear, and a touch of coconut still. Lots more – light iodine, ash, soursop, oak, and light tannin. It really opens up well with water, and it isn’t quite as sweet – and the spice and smoke come right out: 48 to 50% is the sweet spot for me.

I’m quite pleased with this – my 800th review and the dram I saved for my birthday this year.  I hope this becomes regular.

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

Value: Average, based on $150. But I’d get it myself - it’s right up my wheelhouse.


Review: Talisker 18 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Talisker 18.jpg
ABV
45.8%
Aging
18 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Talisker (Carbost, Scotland)

I don’t always love the older peated whiskies, since I love immense peat quite a bit (i.e. I’ll take the younger Laphroaigs over the 18) – but Talisker 18 and Longrow 18 are both fantastic examples of terrific, old, heavily peated whiskies. It really works a trick with Talisker…


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7319CM015 00001560

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Rich oak – and a terrific fruity character – apple juice, pear juice – but also vanilla, baking spices, raisins, and white pepper. Lightly sweet on the nose. The palate is lightly sweet, lightly smoky, but also with a great sense of age to it. The balance is just tremendous – and it’s very easy to drink. The finish really comes on – it’s really earthy – but also with lots of chocolate, spice, nuts, raisins, vanilla, and even a touch of celery seed. A masterclass in balance.

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

Value: Low, based on $250.


Review: Oban Little Bay Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Oban Little Bay 1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
Sherry, refill, new oak, and "small" oak casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Oban (Oban,Scotland)

I like Oban. Whenever someone asks for a classic, easy Scotch, I often think Oban. This is a non-age-statement (NAS) offering from the distillery which has historically just released its classic 14 year old and a finished distiller’s edition. As with the other Diageo-owned distilleries, a NAS offering has been put forward from Oban (like with Talisker with the Storm or Caol Ila with the Moch).

The whisky is matured in european oak sherry, refill casks, and new oak casks before being married in small oak casks.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L7282CM011 00012784

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A clean, fruity nose - light tropical fruits (pineapple, breadfruit, banana, and guava), mixed orange and lemon peel, baked apples, vanilla, creme brulee, white pepper, dried ginger, and pear. It has a growing nose of dried fruit and spice (that’s the sherry cask) with even more orange. Light earthiness integrated as well...quite nice. The palate has toffee, pear, light malt, lightly toasted bread, marmelade, with a slight earthiness and smoke towards the finish. It comes together very nicely. Slightly earthy on the finish with pear, good maltiness, clove, and toffee. Ever so lightly bitter. Kudos for staying above 40%.

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

Value: Average, based on $100.