Micro Distillery

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: River's End Gin (Wolfhead Distillery) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

ABV
43%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Wolfhead (Amherstburg, Ontario)

This gin is made using a wheat spirit base. A number of botanicals are incorporated through vapour distillation with the spirit being distilled through a botanical basket that includes Italian juniper, coriander (from Canada and India), Moroccan orris root and grains of paradise, California grapefruit peel, Egyptian hibiscus, Haitian bitter orange peel, Chilean rose hips, Vietnamese star anise, Indonesian cinnamon, and Guatemalan cardamom. Now that’s a world tour!


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Immediately, you get the three classic pillars of gin – juniper, citrus, and spice – in full complement and playing off one another brilliantly. Underneath, there is a really nice berry character and the richness of the juniper is terrific. The brightness of the lemon has been captured really well, and the spice pops on the palate more than the nose – making this a perfect cocktail gin. It’s very clean throughout with a nice long bright, spicy finish. Anyone who reads my gin reviews knows that I really like juniper – so this one plays right up to my style.

The gin is quite scrumptious – it has a nice balance and an underlying sweetness that really plays well off the spice, citrus, and wood. It makes it very easy to sip….

Highly recommended.


Review: Wolfhead Vodka by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

Image courtesy of wolfhead distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% wheat
Distiller Wolfhead (Amherstburg, Ontario)

Wolfhead distillery makes this vodka from wheat, which tends to give vodkas a good mixture of sweetness and texture with a bit of a grainy bite. Once the wheat mash is fermented, it is distilled seven times to get a pure product.

I’ve done a lot of vodkas recently, which may surprise some - but, it’s mainly because I’ve had a pandemic discovery - I quite enjoy both vodka martinis and gin martinis if there is a good dry vermouth to use. And, pretty well, the better the vodka, the better the martini.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Very clean and slightly creamy with very subtle light blueberry, white pepper, almond, and a slight note of plaintain chips. There is a slight perception of sweetness on the nose. It is clean, light, and very smooth on the palate. The finish is clean, creamy, and maintains that slight perception of sweetness. Once the initial finish fades, everything brightens up slightly with some bean sprout notes.

Highly recommended.


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: Barrel Aged Gateway Gin (Lone Pine Distilling) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

Image courtesy of lone pine distilling.

ABV
45%
Aging
Ex-bourbon cask
Recipe
Wheat and botanicals
Distiller Lone Pine Distilling (Edmonton, AB)

This gin is made by maturing Gateway Dry Gin, the rich and spicy flagship gin of Lone Pine Distilling, in ex-bourbon barrels for a few months.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Very spicy and citrusy coriander, a heavy juniper character, and big lemon. The barrel character is there, with vanilla and toffee – but it doesn’t dominate. On the palate it has a very calming influence on this full-bodied gin, with vanilla and a creamy character coming alongside the big spicy body of the gin. The finish has charred oak, lemon, juniper, and more coriander.

A nice barrel aged gin – barrel character has been added without dominating, keeping it firmly in the gin category for mixing and sipping.

Highly Recommended.