Finish

Review: Two Brewers Special Finishes Yukon Single Malt Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

Image courtesy of Two Brewers, photographed by Michal Kostal.

ABV
43-46%
Aging
7-8 yrs in first cask, finished for about a year in finishing cask
Recipe
100% Malted Barley - mostly pale malt
Distiller Two Brewers (Whitehorse, Yukon)

The abv above is because the first release was 46%, the second was 43%. Here we have the terrific Two Brewers single malt - but this time finished in a variety of different casks, depending on the release - they say they hope no two releases will be the same. It is worth noting that the finishing period here is longer than typical - most barrel finishes are quite short (more like an "infusion") as most of the liquid remaining in the finishing barrel is absorbed in 90 days or so. The amount of liquid soaked into a finishing barrel is significant - barrels have gallons of soaked liquid in them once they are finished maturation. Thus, most distilleries aren't doing a whole lot more in finishing than adding in another ingredient, in a way that passes as legal because it's soaked into a barrel. However, a longer finish means also that you get a bit of maturation from a second, different, barrel, which means it really is more of a finish. This year long period of finishing means we get to see some of the effect of that.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 02

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Distilled in 2009 and finished in PX sherry barrels, 46% ABV.

Very green, and interesting - unripe pear, unripe banana, unripe mango, black pepper, soy sauce, and some sweet grain. The palate brings in lots of pineapple, yellow ripe apple, and a decent strength leading into orchard fruit and light smoke on the finish.

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

Value: Average. Starts to compete with other $100 whiskies, which has quite a few of the best drams in the world.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 04

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Blended and finished in a bourbon barrel. 1440 bottles, at 43%.

The nose is vibrant and fruity with exotic fruit – guava, soursop – with some mint, vanilla, dried peach, sweet potato, and malt-driven beer notes. The palate has a sweet, malty core on top, middle fruit notes with peach and apple – all with an earthy, nutty edge to it. The end of the palate and finish is very vegetal – arugula and spice, reminding me quite a bit of rye. The finish is clean, spicy, and creamy with light earthy smoke, peach, almonds, and dried papaya.

This whisky is one with great texture, movement, and complexity – I highly recommend.

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

Value: Average. Starts to compete with other $100 whiskies, which has quite a few of the best drams in the world.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Release 09

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Finished in European PX barrels.

The nose is full of dried fruits – but more „standard” fruits for a single malt – raisins, prunes, dried apricots. Very sherry driven, with dried orange peel, sherry spices, and oxidized wine playing key parts in the nose. We also have rich grain, in the two brewers style, but it is subdued. Horseradish, too!

The palate is a bit less dominated by sherry, with a strong malty core and a classic spicy, grainy finish. It is still loaded with dried fruit – though the tropical fruits come through, too. The finish has rancio, dried fruit, and a sharp herbal characteristic – thyme and basil. And the herbal grain character comes through, too – I love it.

This is a nice whisky, but I think the cask dominates too much – the fruity, complex and tropical character of two brewers is taken over by a sherry cask which loads the experience with dried fruits, spices, and rancio – still very good, but I don’t think the best pairing for Two Brewers.

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

Value: Average. Starts to compete with other $100 whiskies, which has quite a few of the best drams in the world.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Release 15

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Another sherry barrel finish. The nose starts with the typical bright fruit, notably peach this time, sharp grainy aromas, cinnamon, and rich and sweet stone-fruit wine notes. It has almost a dessert-like quality to it, but, oddly enough, it fits in really well into some of the earthy notes on the nose. The palate is rich, with oak coming in but offset against the grain and herbal notes. The finish has arugula, baking spice, and sherry.

I think this is probably my favourite of the sherry finishes to date. The nose, I find, is just about perfect and has a nice delicate balance between the components.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, as above.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Release 18

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Another cask strength (58%!) from Two Brewers - this time with an age statement! It is from two seven year old barrels, a combination or first fill ex-bourbon and new barrels. Non-chill filtered, no colour added - what we like to see! It’s the first age statement, but it isn’t the oldest. Two brewers batches have a range of ages, typically - for example, a recent release was 5-9 years old, and pretty evenly spread across the range. Each batch has a different formulation depending on what they are trying to achieve. So, how does this taste?

The nose is very buttery and creamy – in fact, it almost has an Irish whisky nature to it. It’s a very compelling whisky with green wood, baking spice, custard, vanilla, oak, orchard fruit, grassy spice, baking sourdough, and a light vegetal characteristic. It develops, slowly, with time. More of a spicy and custard characteristic than most two brewers, and it is a bit more oak forward – indeed, I didn’t even recognize this one blind as a Two Brewers in a recent blind tasting – but I scored it very highly. The shape of the whisky is quite different than most Two Brewers – but it is excellent! It takes water very well – in fact, I think I prefer this with a drop or two of water.

The palate is creamy, buttery, and rich. What fantastic whisky! Tremendous stuff. Coconut, custard, clove, banana cream pie, tannins, pear, and nutmeg. The finish is long, creamy, and sweet. Great oak. There is a really nice vegetal, umami character that emerges too – it’s really great. And a beautiful cedar note to look for.

I guess all the new oak really shifted this whisky a bit further outside the boundaries compared to most Two Brewers– but it is very good and surprisingly (to me) different. Very well balanced, still. I think my second favourite two brewers, after batch 10…

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, but towards the higher value end of the category. Relatively expensive at $125, but also very good…


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Release 23

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

This single malt is a lightly peated single malt matured in ex-bourbon, then finished in both sherry and port barrels. So, intensive on the finishing time now! Something a bit new.

The nose is very two brewers – tropical fruit, rich grain character – but also smoky, oaky, and winey. It’s quite a mix of flavours here – bright port, rich sherry, sharp peat, and vibrant spirit. A fascinating, layered, nose with lots going on. The sherry has a really nice binding effect on the whisky.

On the palate, a classic rich grain character comes in sharply before sherry softens it out into a sweet, very fruity finish. Not your classic two brewers fruit (lighter orchard fruit and tropical fruit) – but candied orange, prunes, currants, berries, and fruitcake. The peat comes and outlasts the fruit on the finish. You can taste all the components – the sherry, the peat, the port, and the spirit. I always like that.

One of the richer two brewers, I think. A fantastic mix of flavours, but they aren’t quite as clearly balanced as some of their other whiskies. But can I complain? No. Excellent stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average based on $100.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Release 23

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

This release was made from two brewers single malt, finished in sherry seasoned oak casks. The nose is very nicely balanced, bright, and complex – tropical fruit – mango, papaya, and even a bit of lychee - grassy spice, white pepper, baking spice, nutty sherry, orange peel, raisin, toffee, and jammy citrus, stone fruit, and berry notes. And it all works. The palate starts with vanilla, toffee, honey, and fruit before building to those great spicy and herbal grain alongside a lot of toasted nut. You’d think it was all over – but then you get a whole second defined wave of flavours on the finish! It builds to an incredible rancio note. It’s just awesome – nutty and fruity, but interspersed with the herbal and spicy grain character from Two Brewers. Some nice malty notes on the finish also. Great stuff. My favourite sherry finish of theirs, and one of the better two brewers overall – to my taste.

The quality of this cask is quite good. The impact it has on the whisky reminds me of Westland’s sherry casks (take the whisky part aside, and just compare the sherry).

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average based on $100.


Review: Pike Creek 22 Year Old Finished in PX Sherry Casks by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
22 Years; Finished in PX Sherry Casks
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

We get an old Pike Creek this year that is finished in Pedro-Ximinez (PX) sherry casks, which are impregnated with leftover PX wine - a sweet wine made from dried PX grapes that is fortified with brandy. The last three Pike Creek special releases have been wine finishes - Oloroso, Cabernet Sauvignon, and now PX. What is next - Brandy? I’d take a look at that if they did it…

On another note, I think this is the oldest pike creek so far.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L21138EW2247

  • Bottling Date: 2021

Lots of fruit on the nose! Rich dried fruit – raisins, prunes – but also stewed plums which are complemented by spice and light oak. The spice is quite rich on this one. It has lots of aged whisky notes. The fruit notes from the pedro ximinez (PX) sherry are quite dominant, but the aged whisky apple/blueberry notes actually fit in quite well. On the palate, it’s quite sweet – this sweetness builds to a syrupy finish that has a nice kick of tannin and dry spices. The finish remains sweet – it is a bit cloying. Over time (as the finish is quite long) it fades and there is a really nice, slightly dry and oaky finish. Surprisingly, the fruit doesn’t come out on this one.

It's very different than the 21 year old oloroso pike creek, which was my favourite pike creek. That one had all sorts of subtle synergies between the sherry and the whisky, and it really revealed to me that oloroso sherry can work really well with old light Canadian whisky – which I doubted before the fact. But, I don’t think PX is up to the same task…

Recommended (81% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Sub-par for these aged Pike Creek whiskies, but it still portrays some interesting components. And, if the slight sweetness doesn’t bother you, this could be up your alley with the kick of fruity notes.

Value: Low at $90.


Review: Wiser's Red Letter Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Wiser's Red Letter 4.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
10/15 Years; Virgin Oak Finish
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky, at least in terms of name, is a very old release – Wiser’s “Red Letter Rye” was a highly regarded whisky first produced in 1857 when Canadian whisky was often known for their quality relative to the other whisky or spirit producers at the time. This particular bottling pays tribute to that whisky (and its recipe). A similar Wiser’s Red Letter was released as a 150th anniversary of Wiser’s in 2007 – though I did not try that one, I have heard that this one is similar in profile.

This whisky is aged in American bourbon barrels and is then further “mellowed” in virgin oak casks. I say “mellowed” since virgin oak casks have capacity to impart some pretty strong flavour – but the whisky likely did not spend (relatively) long in those casks. It is bottled at 45% ABV, rather than the typical 40% found in almost all Canadian whisky. Additionally, earlier batches were non-chill filtered – both a process that isn’t often stated on a Canadian label and a practice not that common within Canadian whisky. In fact this is the only non-chill filtered Canadian whisky at the present time as far as I know (I’m not sure what the craft distillers are up to!). This should give better weight and texture to the whisky as the oils and fatty components in the spirit are not filtered out to increase clarity.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: 2013 Release (10 years old)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: At first my nose picks up some fresh/baking rye bread notes, toasted oak, and toffee. Some cedar comes through, along with some wonderful earthiness that reminds me of moist soil with lots of vegetation and roots. Some vanilla and maple comes through as the nose sits some. It’s intriguing, and deep, but a bit quiet. There’s a bit of tawny port-like fruitiness and some interesting earthy vegetal notes of beets and celery root – though these are very slight. I smell a touch of sourness and spiciness, though it is slight. The nose seems fairly closed, and I find I get whispers of what might come rather than clear declarations. In that sense it is intriguing, yet also could be a little more outspoken.

Taste:  This one goes down easy! quite buttery in its feel and slightly sweet, with some spicy rye and a beautiful kick of spice at the end which keeps developing for quite some time. There is some sharp and grassy rye throughout, and with some vanilla and oak backing. The grains seem to shine through in this one as well, and you can taste the rye and the corn involved. Rye bread comes out quite nicely in this one, and the rye in this is just signature Wisers. It goes down quite easily, as I said, and is quite balanced. There are some citrus notes and grape-like fruitiness in the background, and are simply present just enough. You can sense the bourbon backbone of this whisky – it is fairly gripping especially towards the end – but I find I mainly notice this if I’m sipping it slowly, interestingly enough. I find just at the end of the palate the flavour drops off a bit and alcohol primarily comes through, which isn’t quite what I’m looking for. However, overall, this is fantastic stuff. This score would probably be a touch lower if not for the incredible weight and feel of the whisky, which does help it out a lot.

Finish: Dry with the tannins, and a beautiful glimpse of rye and vanilla with just enough acidity to keep you quite interested – the spiced picks up, with some cinnamon and clove, and the movement continues for some time in the finish which is excellent. I find I get some apple peel after some time as well. Quite excellent.

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

Value: Average.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Distillery Release (2020) - 15 Years Old

  • Bottling Code: L20329IW07:21

  • Bottling Date: 2020

These new-oak finished, lighter whiskies are becoming quite a trend, not only in Canada but also around the world. This was released as a distillery exclusive, with the age bumped up from 10 to 15 years. The previous labels embellished the fact that they were non-chill filtered, while this one makes no mention on the label.

The nose is as one might expect - the nose is greeted first with the barrel finish: generous new oak, vanilla, caramel, douglas fir, and woody spices like clove. But, of course there is more behind the oak – light dried flowers, lilac, almond, corn husks, blueberry, green apple, red river cereal, and orange peel. The palate follows suit, but with a rich, caramel-laden texture and a firm handful of tannins to direct traffic across the palate. The finish slowly unfolds, with a tannic texture, bean sprouts, vanilla, and yet fresh with citrus peel.

It’s always quite nice for those new to whisky to contrast this whisky with a bourbon – both corn based and both with new oak as a major flavour driver, and yet, completely different based on how they are made.

How does this compare to the 2013 edition? That one had less new oak (more ex-American oak influence, relatively) and had a more viscous, thicker texture without as much tannin. Although they are similar in flavour, the oak here is much more of a flavour driver and the whisky is a bit less dynamic - but it does have more depth. I preferred the balance with a bit less oak, but that preference will be person-to-person.

Nice whisky!

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

Value: lower end of average at $100.


Review: Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or Highlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or 1.jpg
ABV
46%
Aging
12 years; Finished in Sauternes Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Glenmorangie (Tain, Scotland)

This whisky was aged in a bourbon cask for 10 years before being put into Sauternes (a sweet white dessert wine from Bordeaux in France) casks for 2 years. It is my favorite of the finished Glenmorangies, as I think Sauternes complements Glenmorangie’s profile beautifully.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2012

Nose: Light bourbon influence, some good barley, white grape (as seen in the original glenmorangie), some floral characteristics – both as seen in some sweet white dessert wines and also the retained delicate floral nature of Glenmorangie, dried apricot, mango, oak – it comes more alive the longer it sits, seemingly.

Taste: That sauternes cask fits so beautifully into Glenmorangie – it adds some fruity complexity to what Glenmorangie generally offers, and it is just a wonderful match. Knowing what Glenmorangie Original tastes like only makes this one more compelling, really – just because you see the match work out so well. It is a bit more woody, with some more tannins and spice on the end, but there is some wonderful tropical fruit and grape added overtop of the light barley of Glenmorangie. There is so much to search out in this one…

Finish: Nice, enduring finish – it does quite well – but it does lack flavour at times. Slightly nutty on the end too, with some dried apricot…creamy on the end as well.

Just about a perfect finish - the sauternes fits in very nicely without taking over the show, as if it’s filling in a hole that you didn’t see before. And it’s not too sweet, to boot. Delicious.

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

Value: Average, based on $123.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L2351151 12/02/2019

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The age statement is pretty subtle here – hopefully not an indication that it will dissapear. Nevertheless, my favourite Glenmorangie expression – I think Sauternes is a perfect match for Glenmorangie.

The nose is unmistakeably Glenmorangie, but it is woodier, richer, with more dried fruit and the orchard fruit really comes through. Almonds, barley, fresh peaches, mixed baking spice, woody brambles, a light earthiness, dried apricot, white wine, canned peaches, and cucumber. The palate is rich, with lots of vanilla, dried fruit, and citrus – particularly on the finish. The winey character is present, but subtle – and, despite the finish, there are quite a few bourbon nods with creamy corn, vanilla, and a touch of rye spice. There is a flourish of baking spices on the finish, apple, pear, custard, and a touch of coconut.

Not quite as deep as the last one, but still very good.

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

Value: Average, at $120.


Review: Pike Creek 15 Year Old Cabernet Sauvignon Finish by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 15 1.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
15 Years; Finished in Wine Barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Well, with COVID-19, I’m hoping there won’t be a drought of nice whisky releases. But, thankfully, the ever-bountiful Corby continues to deliver new (and diverse) whiskies. This one was finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from the Foreign Affair winery in Niagara. Notably, the whiskies were distilled in 2004, the first vintage of wine from the foreign affair winery.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L2005Z EW 08:25

  • Bottling Date: 2020

The colour of this is very red – wine barrel indeed! The whisky presents typical aged Canadian whisky top notes – blueberry and royal gala apple skin – but also light smoke, wine tannins, black currant, light bourbon nuances, toffee, raisins, vanilla, and baking spice. Slightly sour on the nose, too. There is a touch of rye which supplies its usual magic. Loads of complexity.

The palate leads with light Canadian whisky but then transitions into more wine-forward notes with loads of plum, cherry, black currant, before fading to bean sprouts. A touch of rye comes through on the finish, along with lots of fruit and a bit of wine tannin.

I wondered if this might be terribly unbalanced – it’s not. Wine casks are a big challenge with whisky, and, as usual, the team at Hiram Walker has struck the right balance here.

During some of my tastings with this, I found the tannins combined with a bitterness in a way that I didn’t appreciate – but other times not as much. When that happened, air and/or a bit of water helped. But, I’ve found this one is a bit more sensitive to “palate conditioning” than some other whiskies (…it wasn’t a good cheesecake chaser, but few whiskies are…)

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Lower end of average, based on $70.