French Oak

Review: Shelter Point 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 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 (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Aged for 5.5 years in American oak before being finished for 335 days in quail’s gate pinot noir casks - we’re now not in blackberry cask territory.

This whisky opens with a terrific nose - really nice rich, fruity notes, raisins, red currants, cardamom, sour notes, green apple, baking spices, and great oak. Light shelter point barley characteristics. Lightens up nicely with time. Really opens up with water. The taste is slightly salty, with currants and loads of fruit and tannins – but there are some really nice malty and toffee notes as well. It is very savoury. The finish is winey, thick, and spicy – with some roasted grain notes. Nice body on the finish.

I really like it! It is a departure from before – it has more wine, fruit, and richness. The blackberry releases previously were a bit spicier. I like this version even more.

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

Value: Average, based on $80. But it’s above average if we’re just looking at Canadian single malts.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Finished in Quail’s Gate foch wine casks.

Raisins, vanilla, hazlenuts, some really nice floral notes (geranium!), clove, orange peel, and that slightly tangy character in shelter point malts. The nose opens nicely with time – it rewards patience, and more complexity slowly seeps out.

The whisky has a nice body on the palate, with orange and a nice mix of dried fruit, sweetness, and spice. A nice savoury character on the palate, too. I like this with a few drops of water. Opens up some of the dense character. The finish has nice oak, vanilla, dried fruit, baking spice, and pearl barley.

Compared to last year’s pinot noir cask, this is spicier, nuttier, and oilier and isn’t quite as well rounded. It tastes a bit harsher. The last three double barrels have been really good – from blackberry, to pinot, to foch. If anyone chances to have all three, it would make for a great side by side.

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

Value: Average, based on $80. But it’s above average if we’re just looking at Canadian single malts.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: 2021

  • Bottling Date: 2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

This is my favourite “standard release” of Shelter point that’s been around for a while (this is now the fifth release). They are all a bit varied but all of high quality – I think it’s one of the best single malts in Canada, as far as regular releases go. The single malt is aged for 6 years before being finished for 99 days in blackberry casks.

The nose is rich and spicy: cacao, hibiscus, dried berries, cinnamon, cardamom, prune, dried cherry, berries, apples, wine gums and sharp oak.  The palate continues with the richness – big fruity and oaky character but also some sesame, dried peach, and wet earth. There is a light acidity that really accentuates the flavours. The finish is big – first spicy, then fruity, then oaky. Slightly oily, in a very appealing way. Lots of movement on the finish.

Nice to see another blackberry cask. I did like some of the pinot noir finishes they did, but I really like how the blackberry meshes with Shelter Point’s whisky. Excellent stuff.

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

Value: High at $85.


Review: Shelter Point Montfort 151 Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

ABV
46%
Aging
French and American Oak; ~5.5 yrs old
Recipe
100% Unmalted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

The Montfort DL 151 is another single-field barley product, like the Montfort DL 141 Series. The whisky, thus, is made from a single field and one of the rare whiskies which actually explore terroir at a detailed level (generally, terroir is not that applicable to whisky). The field is near both forested land and the ocean. I think this stuff is just terrific.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

Rich toasted wood notes, dried fruit, vibrant plum, pear, baking spice, red pepper jelly, hazelnut, vanilla, coconut grassy notes – the palate brings these all together with some added, sharp nuttiness, and a real woody richness. It develops nicely with time. The finish is woody, with caramel notes, dried stone fruit, light acidity, hibiscus tea, dried apple, and oats. A bit candied, too.

Different than Montfort 141, for sure. This one seems a bit richer, more on the hazelnut side of nuttiness (141 is more on the almond side), and grassier…the 141 has more orchard fruit as opposed to richer, dried fruit in the 151. But, perhaps beyond the point – single field whiskies are among the most exciting things happening in whisky at the moment.

It's a touch longer in the French oak than I would have chosen to finish it, but really, this is a minimal complaint. Yet, the French oak does really complement the whisky.  I really enjoy this stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). From a pure taste perspective, this might be more along the lines of a „highly recommended” but given the interesting „single field” whisky, I can’t help but bump this up a level. This is worth trying.

Value: Very high at $55.


Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection French Oak Cask Finished Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Thanks to Crown Royal for the image.

Thanks to Crown Royal for the image.

ABV
40%
Aging
Finished for six months in Virgin French Oak Casks
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

Here is another Crown Royal finish - another crown royal which has been finished in a French oak cask - but this is no cognac or wine cask, rather, it’s a virgin French oak cask which lends a very different character. The release is once again focused on the US market and isn’t available in Canada where it is produced.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019 Noble Collectoin

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

French oak, indeed! Toasted and rich oak seems to dominate the nose, but, of course, as a crown royal we have lots of layers: a nice thread of floral and vegetal rye, light creaminess, dill, and confectionary notes are present also. A lot more oak than typical for a Crown – but it isn’t a rich bourbon oak, much more like the new oak finishes which are increasingly common in Canadian and Scotch Whisky.

The palate has a nice kick of spicy oak, and grain underneath. Tannins, vanilla, butterscotch, toasted fennel, green cardamom, and clove are all in the mix. The finish is sweet, herbal, and lightly tannic – lots of baking spices, white pepper, prune, and grapefruit pith.

Very different than the wine barrel finish, which, although French oak also, is a lot softer and fruitier. The wine finish is also a bit deeper and more complex, with a fairly big wine character. I know the palate is going towards oak, but this one seems to be at the loss of some of the complexity of the spirit. It’s similar to what Wiser’s has been doing with their Pike Creek 21 YO last year, or seasoned oak.

Quite enjoyable. I’m glad that the noble collection continues to provide a diverse set of releases.

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

Value: Average. Around $80 CAD isn’t great for this, but it’s still a decent whisky for the price when compared against the whisky category as a whole.


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.