French Oak

Review: St. Remy Authentic XO French Brandy by Jason Hambrey

St+Remy+XO.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
French Oak, >10 years
Recipe
Blend of different red and white grapes
Distiller St. Remy (Nantes, France)

This brandy, from the largest French brandy brand in the world, is made from red and white grapes sourced from throughout France (Burgundy, Champagne, Rhone, Loire, etc.). It is distilled in a column still and aged in French oak barrels.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is quite rich, with lots of dried fruit and spice. It’s much oakier and richer than the VSOP, at the same time, it is a bit less vibrant. Raisins (Thompson and golden), dried currants, gooseberries, black currant jam, marmelade, candied orange peel, white pepper, vanilla, clove, and a bit of dry-ness on the nose. There’s almost a bit of fruity burnt-caramel on the nose, like jam that has been boiling to the point of just beginning to burn. The palate is sweet, with orange blossom honey, green tea, dried apricot, lots of dried fruit, and lots of baking spice – it follows much from the nose, but is surprisingly lighter than the aromas on the nose. It has a nice bit of tannin to it as well, which gives it some nice grip, but also wouldn’t lead me to having three of these in a row. The finish is slightly nutty, with almond and lots of raisin and a touch of apple. Honey and cinnamon, too. Medium bodied: it’s not a light brandy, nor a really heavy one.

This is a great launching pad for starting to explore Armagnac and cognac. With all the interest in heavily sherried scotch, I’m a bit surprised that more aren’t exploring good brandy.

This is a common pick for me for cocktails or to put on my Christmas cake.

Assessment: Recommended.

Value: Great value for $30.


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: Shelter Point French Oak Double Barreled Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

ABV
50%
Aging
6 yrs; American Oak; Wine Finish
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Shelter Point double barreled some of their whisky in French oak blackberry wine casks - here is something unique! This was after about 6 years in American oak.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Finished in blackberry wine casks.

Coconut, vanilla, caramel, pineapple, and rich orchard fruit and sharp baking spice. Big on the palate – spicy, rich, and full of grain and milk chocolate notes even amidst all the fruit sitting overtop. Lots of rich dried fruit, particularly apricot – frankly, it’s remarkable how well the apricot fits in. The finish rides on a wave of vanilla. My favorite Shelter Point to date. It doesn’t have the finish of some of the artisanal cask finishes but it brings a whole lot to the table…

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Finished in blackberry wine casks.

Toffee, broad grain notes, marzipan, and apple juice – yet still with lots of oak, dried fruit, and berries. There is a really great nuttiness shining through, complemented nicely by the oak. It is sweet, easy, and fruity – both fresh fruit and dried fruit, with a bit more emphasis on dried fruit – both stone fruit and raisins and currants. Excellent, and even a touch better than last year!

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review: Shelter Point Distiller's Select Cask Strength Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Shelter Point Cask Strength 1.jpg
ABV
58.4%
Aging
First Fill Bourbon Barrel; Finished in French Oak
Recipe
4 casks single malt + 1 cask rye
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

That's right, Patrick Evans is a fan of rye, and decided to throw in a cask of rye with some of Shelter Point's single malt and release it at cask strength. This is now their second whisky release, and has been available only recently at the distillery for $69. It is an odd mix, a vatting of single malt and rye, then finished in French Oak - but I must say after this Shelter Point is quickly moving into competition with Still Waters for my favorite Canadian micro-distillery producer...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 2016

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The nose has much of the standard single malt notes – fruity, with apple and cherry, oak, buttery pastry, icing – but with absolutely terrific cereal notes too, good earthiness, and some nice stewed apricot too. Diluted down to a similar strength as their single malt, it is richer and more complex but not quite as lively. Nice spices develop with time. It’s still young, as with the other Shelter Point I have had – but the youth doesn’t come through as much on the palate as with the other one. The palate has some creamy grain, but an incredible vegetal spice grips the palate towards the end leading you into a very rye-laden finish. Quite fascinating in fact – the malt leads you gently in, and the rye boldly ushers you out. Definitely more complex than the standard single malt, and the rye provides wonderful intrigue.

Drinking at cask strength, it really is upped in flavor compared to the diluted version of this whisky, with almond and coconut seeming to come out more. The rye comes into its own with complex vegetal and spice notes particularly on the finish. Not quite as graceful as the inaugural release single malt, but more interesting and more complex. I like it more, but not quite enough to bump it up a percent.

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Five casks of single malt whisky were combined with one cask of rye whisky to make this limited run of 1200 bottles. They were all finished in a French oak cask.

Vanilla, oak, crème brulee, unripe pear, nectarines, stewed fruits, dill, strawberry, and a light floral character. There’s a nice, subtle, candied element to the nose. The palate is big, full of toffee and dried fruits and finishing with spices, mint, and dried apricot. The dried apricot is just remarkable. Big finish – lots of complexity and spice. Lots of nuts, throughout, and nice complexity even if a bit brash at times.

This was one of my top 25 whiskies in the Canadian Whisky Awards in 2017. And for good reason - it’s big, complex, and interesting.

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

·         Batch: 2018

·         Bottling Date: 2018

·         Bottling Code: N/A

This is big, and full of rich grain. It’s quite something – sharp toffee, hazelnut oil, a light grain characteristic, and light spice – but with a comfortable bracing of oak. The palate is sharp, rich, intense – lots of flavor from spice, nuts, oil, and loads of fruit. There is a spicy grain character at the core which I just cannot help but love – and the finish is loaded with dried fruits, umami, and light pepper notes. Very nice…

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

Value: Average, at $86, against other whiskies at this cost.


Review: Shelter Point Montfort DL 141 Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

ABV
46%
Aging
Various
Recipe
100% Unmalted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

The Montfort DL 141 indicates where the barley was grown (at shelter point) which makes up this whisky. Interestingly, it is made completely from unmalted barley - a fairly rare style of whisky. Though a limited release, the barley itself was grown by shelter point and is the start of the exploration of terrior by the distillery, which will be a focus.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Aged 4.5 yrs in American Oak.

A lot on this nose: dried chanterelles, bready notes, vanilla, green hard pear, banana, dried apricot, pineapple, oak, coconut and gentian. The palate has coconut, green pear, and a plethora of grainy notes with a rich middle. The finish is nicely balanced, with vanilla, malty notes, dried apricot, and nutmeg. Almond throughout, espcially on the finish, which is quite nice.

More crisp and condensed than the standard Shelter Point, and not as fruity. Still a bit young which would round out quite well, I think, with age. That’s really all it is...needs more time in the cask. There’s some wonderful stuff underneath.

Doesn’t quite have the complexity, balance, or breadth of the standard shelter point – but it offers something different, with more oak and a denser flavour profile which unfolds in a slower, different way (i.e. it is less apparent on first sip, and requires a bit more study to understand). A very nice addition to the lineup, and I like what they are doing...

I do really like the compactness of the grain in this and the tannic grip it has. It’s a bit hard to talk about. Really nice, and a ton of potential – I think score would significantly jump at 8 or 10 years – it is a great direction.

Value: Low, based on $80. A very unique product though - the next year’s batch is much better, in my view.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2018

This has more French oak than the previous bottling and was aged a year longer than the batch above. It seems to pay off:

Quite fruity –peach, sour pear, vanilla, custard, and light black pepper – yet also having a growing toffee and sugar characteristic, and, with time, an earthy cigar characteristic. There is a beautiful grain character present, with flour and nut oil notes richly present in the middle. Also, great berry notes – blackberry tea, raspberry – and a great earthiness in the middle. This whisky is about terrior – and I find in this a much deeper earthiness than in the standard shelter point – unique and awesome.

This is quite an improvement over last year’s bottling, and seems to have started to gain quite a following!

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review: Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey (Barrel Finished) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
10 yrs; Matured and Finished in Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This is Masterson's standard 10 year old rye, but finished in new charred virgin oak of different types. Since the base rye of each finish is the same, it really showcasing the effect of different oaks for maturation.

Very broadly, the differences between the oaks is subtle. The American oak is more creamy and sweet, and the "smoothest". But, I think, the least complex, though still very complex. The Hungarian oak is the earthiest, and the most unique and hence interesting. The French is the most complex, and the most "old-world" reminding me of the oaky influences on old world wines and spirits. It is also the most tannic and has tons of dried fruit notes. Interestingly, for the side by side tastings I have done, the American has the best nose, the French the best palate, and the Hungarian the best finish. It's a fascinating side by side, if you ever get the chance....


Review (2017)

  • Batch: PSA3 / American Oak Barrel Finished batch 001

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

The winner of the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards, a month-long blind judging competition by a jury of 10 judges. The staves for this finish were from Missouri and seasoned (air-dried) for over two years to develop flavor before being crafted into the finishing barrels for this whisky. The wood was largely (80%) tight grain oak. I have two batches above, since I tasted them side by side and the same tasting notes and rating applies to both batches. I thought they were quite consistent.

This whisky is finished in American oak, and, as such, it is a bit different than the regular Mastersons. More woody – broader, but not quite as sharp. We have the best of the creaminess of Masterson’s, but enhanced with a buttery, slightly oaky, and anise laden covering. Some really nice black tea notes too, which emerge beautifully over time. It is different – not as sharp as previous masterson’s, but everything is still there. The palate is woody, with oak, but such a terrific backbone of awe-inspiring rye. Arugula, cinnamon, oak, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, anise, black tea, and a whole mixed bag of spices and vegetal notes and some sharp medicinal notes characteristic of Alberta rye. Lovely! The finish is full, oaky, creamy, and loaded with rye.

I love the sharpness in batch 1 and 3 of the non-finished whiskies. This isn’t quite there – but whether this is your favorite, or whether the unfinished batches are – will be more up to personal preference than quality. These are all so terrific.

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

Value: Average.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Hungarian Oak Finish, Batch 001

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Hungarian oak is its own species, quercas petraea also known as Sessile Oak, much like American oak (quercas alba)  – one of the two prominent European oak species (alongside French oak, quercas robor). The trees are from a slow growing region of Hungary, air dired outdoors for two or more years. The folks at 3 Badge, who produce Masterson's, says it contributes a nutty profile to whisky. By the way, Hungary is a beautiful country (I lived there for a few months), so it's interesting to taste a bit of the land, so to speak.

Spicy, with prominent persimmon and earthy Armagnac notes. Oaky. Peach, plum, apricot, and some floral notes also come in on the heavy fruity nose – but still so oaky. Spiced candied citrus rinds, vanilla, earth, cashews, menthol, and sharp candied notes. The palate continues on with the big fruit before a big vanilla-laden oak and very dry finish. Currants, and wine tannins too. The finish is wonderful, with a mix of vegetable, wood, and spinach and arugula notes. Dried mushrooms (chanterelles) too. Once the oak fades, the arugula emerges. Brilliant. Perhaps the most interesting of the finished mastersons.

Amazing the difference between the oaks. Much more spicy, dried fruit, and dry than the American oak finish which is more creamy and light.

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

Value: Average.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: French Oak Finish, Batch 001 (PSF3)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Finished in virgin French oak.  Air dried staves for at least 2 years.

Oak, oak, oak, but also currants, arugula, clove, and it still has a spicy, candied set of flavours not seen in the American oak finish (but seen in the Hungarian) – it reminds me very much of spicy cognacs. But, to the rye...Complex - oak, apple, light toffee, unripe pear, arugula, black tea, juniper, black pepper, creamy tropical fruit, fresh orange, and dried corn. The notes continue, more or less, on the palate, with slight astringency. A decent strength of finish - and a good bit of rye. The dried fruit notes fit in so brilliantly with the rye. Brilliant whisky.

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

Value: Average.


Review: St. Remy Authentic VSOP French Brandy by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
French Oak, >4 years
Recipe
Blend of 10 grapes (see below)
Distiller St. Remy (Nantes, France)

St. Remy is quite available, good, and cheap - it is a French Brandy, so, although it isn't from the region of Cognac or Armagnac, it is still in the same category - but cheaper because it doesn't have the prestigious regional designation. It's also easy to drink and fairly approachable - when I was first getting into brandy I did a side by side of this and Courvoisier VSOP cognac side by side and came out liking this one more, so if you're interested in exploring other spirits I recommend it. The XO is also worth a try too - it is even better and very similarly priced.

St. Remy sources wines from all over France to distill into their products, and they use a combination of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Gamay, Ugni Blanc, Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon's. They distill twice in a column still (though they use copper pots sometimes too), and mature in small french oak barrels. And they've been doing it for a while - since 1886.

I often make Christmas Cake (i.e. traditional fruitcake), and it is doused with this stuff usually - it does the trick nicely, and I usually have a brandy alexander every other week when I am re-dousing the cake. Also highly recommended...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Fresh, fruity, and lightly spicy. Very vibrant. White grape, nutmeg, clove, cardamom – and sweet smelling, too. The palate is very bright and fruity, with some underlying tannin from the oak. Slight spices and nuts emerge on the finish. Very clean – really it’s quite nice, though not overly complex.

Value: This is decent stuff, and not expensive, so it fits in the average-high range.


Review: Damblat 10 Year Old Armagnac Napolean by Jason Hambrey

Damblat.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
~7-8 years
Recipe
Distilled from Wine from Colombard, Folle Blanche, and Ugni blanc
Distiller De Montal (Bas-Armagnac, France)

The Damblat and Havion family have been making Armagnac at the Chateau in Ayguetinte Village since 1859. The Chateau where the brandy ages was first built by the Templers in the 13th century, and is surrounded by vineyards. The company Damblat blends brandies from the regions of Bas Armagnac and Tenareze to produce their products.

This is one that seems to come somewhat regularly to the LCBO, so it's one of the few us Ontarians get a look at..


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 5-09

  • Bottling Code: 305/5310

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

This one is a bit funky. Oaky, with lots of date, fig, stewed prune, tabasco, anise, and lots and lots of spices – ginger, black pepper, candied papaya, green peppercorn, star anise, fresh spinach. The palate continues with more candied papaya, anise candies, cumin, lemon peel, dates, and light rancio. It is very interesting, but I’m not sure if I love it. Different than my limited interation with Armagnac, and in the funky/earthy camp for me which means it may have a tendency to divide opinion. Tannic finish with rancio.

Assessment: Recommended. There are some really nice spice notes in here.

Value: Average. A decent spirit for the price.


Review: Amrut Spectrum Indian Single Malt Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
3 yrs ex-bourbon; 3.5 years in hybrid cask (described below)
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Amrut (Bangalore, India)

This whisky, it would seem, was a really wild late night idea. The whisky is a limited release of 1000 bottles, and is made from a single malt that was first matured in ex-bourbon barrels for 3 years before being further matured for 3.5 years in a barrel consisting of a hybrid barrel made from 5 different types of wood - new American oak, new Spanish oak, new French oak, ex-Pedro Ximinez sherry and ex-oloroso sherry. Not really a "finish", more of a maturation as it was quite a long period - hence, we expect lots of wood(s) influence here.

Thanks to Eric at Whisky Analysis for the sample.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

A gorgeous nose that you don’t have to work hard for. The complexity of the charred oak, dried fruit, maple, rancio from the sherry, creamy light bourbon notes alongside light vegetal notes, bean sprouts, celery seed, caramel truffles, and some rich grape notes that remind me of moderately aged Armagnac. Some nice spices, as Amrut seems to produce – that I don’t find elsewhere often – toasted citrusy ones like cumin and coriander. Caraway, too. The nose, also, smells lightly tart. Very complex, and layered with all of the oak and the finishing – not, however, very grain driven.

The palate, indeed, is a bit sour, and our malt finally takes hold. On top, rich rum cake, candied fruits, currants, prunes, figs – and underneath some beautiful rancio and clove. The finish is very full of sherry, brown sugar, molasses, and toffee. There is some fruit hidden in behind it all – pear and dried mango. Though it’s a very nice whisky, my question is - where’s the middle? All of the rich rummy and toffee notes on top, the dried fruit, nutty, and spicy finish – but the middle is a bit blank except for a bit of fruit that I need to go looking for. So, incredible complexity, but not intricate movement of the best of the best. But don't get me wrong – this is still terrific.

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

Value: Low. $250 is a pretty hefty price tag for me!