Peat

Review: Highland Park 15 Year Old "Viking Heart" Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
44%
Aging
15 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Highland Park (Kirkwall, Scotland)

I love older Highland Park, generally, and 15 years is a real sweet spot - their older whiskies can attain such magnificent heights. This one is matured in sherry-seasoned European and American oak casks along side some refill casks. This is coming to Canada for a recommended retail price of $150. It has already hit shelves elsewhere in the world.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Code: ~2021

What a beautiful nose! It is starting to get some of those gorgeous aged Highland Park notes – waxy, floral, sweet. Bright barley, heather, vanilla, beeswax, baking spices, blueberry, marmalade, oak, poached pear, canned peach, stewed apple, and custard – among other things! Beautiful complexity. Magnificent nose, that. The palate starts out with dried fruit, but then there is a flourish of bright barley before fading into toffee, baking spice, and earthy barley. The finish is loaded with bright grain notes, baking spice, orange peel, leather, slightly smoky toffee, and a touch of earth and smoke.

Gorgeous! Just a beauty of a scotch. I’m always a sucker for a great nose. Better yet when everything else backs it up!

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

Value: Low, at a price of $150. While this is better, the 10 and 12 year olds offer great value.


Review: Lot No. 40 Rye Explorations Peated Quarter Cask by Jason Hambrey

ABV
55.5%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak; Peated Quarter Cask
Recipe
100% Rye
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

We’ve seen a few distillers in Canada experiment with using peated quarter casks, notably Shelter Point - but, to the best of my knowledge, they’ve all been done using malted or unmalted barley as the base. Here you have two of the largest components of flavourful whisky, married: pot still, 100% rye whisky and peat.

After initially aging in new oak, it is finished for 17 years in first-fill peated single malt casks.

This is one of Wiser’s special releases this year, edition 1 of the “rye explorations” expression after a few successful years of cask-strength lot no. 40.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: Release No. 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

There is so much going on with the nose. On top – spice notes and a real kick of earthy, smoky peat. But then you also have bold, fruity, spicy, and floral rye underneath. The nice black tea notes of Lot 40 come through nicely. The rye is big and brash – it isn’t rounded out. This continues on the palate – smoke on top, rich fruity rye in the middle, and peaty earthy notes underneath. It’s a whole mishmash of flavours exploding in the mouth, but it doesn’t feel very organized or balanced. The earthy peat notes combined with the rye notes gives something somewhat reminiscent of a tequila – it doesn’t taste like one, but it has some of the same interplay between different flavour groupings.

This isn’t up my alley – but it is among the most unique Canadian whiskies (or whiskies in fact) that I’ve tasted. But, to me, peat and rye here aren’t a great marriage. I’d welcome more experimentation that has more to do with other factors than barrel finishing. While I understand finishing is a pretty easy way to do something different, it just isn’t that interesting most of the time. And, that’s something of the territory of the pike creek brand. I’d be all over some yeast, grain, fermentation, or maturation experiments that didn’t involve a finishing cask.

Value: Low at $90.


Review: Two Brewers Peated 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%
Aging
7-8 yrs
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Two Brewers (Whitehorse, Yukon)

A bit of a rarity- you don't often see Canadian peated whisky! This, however, gets its smoke from UK sourced peated barley. Canadian peat has been used in quite a few distilleries in the states, but for now it seems Canada is still looking to the UK for their peating demands.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 03

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

1750 bottles released. Fruity, and rich – guava, candied apple and pear – and still a bit of a spicy background alongside cacao, smoke, peat, leather, and dried apricot. Lots of pear. Develops a bit more broadly with time. On the palate, continues with pear, smoke, peat, cacao, dried apricot and peach - but arugula and spice start to sweep in! It finishes with more candy, caramel, smoke, and spice.

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

Value: Average. Good whisky, but starts to compete with the other best $100 whiskies.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Release 07

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

The only gold winning medal from a micro-distillery at the Canadian whisky awards. Quite remarkable!

The nose is smoky – lots of it - with some nice minerality and medicinal notes – while also being bright with terrific earthy notes. Vegetal and rich – dry straw, white pepper, ripe yellow apple, young leather...

The palate starts with limestone and rich orchart fruit – apples, pears, and ripe peach - closing out with smoke and a burst of wet earth. The finish remains on the earthy, smoky notes with some roasted malt too. Eventually it fades to malt and the enduring fruit – pear, apple, pineapple. I don’t know if I’ve ever encountered a peaty whisky which integrated such bright fruit. Impressive.

It has just a terrific collapse of smoke, minerality, and peaty earthiness with an earthiness from the barley malt. Just terrific. Smokier than batch 03.

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

Value: Average. Good whisky, but starts to compete with the other best $100 whiskies.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Release 12

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

An earthy nose which has smoke, spicy earthiness, vanilla, and dried fruit. The palate carries through the peat, but offsets the flavour with some rich grain (think whole, mixed grain cereal like red river) and dried stone and tropical fruit – dried peach, papaya, pineapple, and prune. Rich, but not quite as bright or balanced as release 07 which was rather fantastic. However, this has a strong and dry earthiness which isn’t in release 07, so from a peat perspecitive, this is a bit stronger, but it isn’t quite as balanced. Nonetheless, it’s still terrific!

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

Value: Average. Really good whisky, but at $100 it starts to compete against other possibilities in the $100 range.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Release 19

  • Bottling Code:  N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

I really liked batch 12 (my second favourite whisky from my judging in last year’s Canadian whisky awards). The peat is big here, and slightly medicinal – smoky, briny, woody, peppery peat combined with herbal grain, bright fruit, and white pepper. Great tension. The palate is smoky at first, then medicinal, and then woody with tropical fruit (some papaya even), ash, and black pepper. This is really good.

Maybe not quite as intriguing as Batch 12, but this is the most well rounded of the peated batches, in my opinion – and the most medicinal. The Two Brewers Peated releases are really hitting their stride.

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

Value: Average at $100


Review (2020)

  • Batch: Release 25

  • Bottling Code:  N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2021

They do it again – full of that glorious bright, tropical Two Brewers fruit with a smoky, ashy tinge. The core of these whiskies are so similar (and of incredible quality) that there isn’t too much point in repeating my previous reviews, rather, we can focus on the variations around the theme.

This one isn’t as smoky as some of the previous releases, but, with that, it’s brighter in terms of fruit and it’s spicier.  It has a biscuit-like character that hasn’t been as prominent in previous releases, (at least, I haven’t noticed it before) and notes of apple juice really pop out in this one.

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

Value: Average. Really good whisky, but at $100 it starts to compete against other possibilities in the $100 range.


Review: Ardbeg Wee Beastie Islay Single Malt Whisky 5 Years Old by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47.4%
Aging
Ex-bourbon and oloroso; 5 yrs
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Ardbeg (Port Ellen, Scotland)

It’s pretty great to see age statements coming from Ardbeg, even on something as young as this. The smokiness of peated whiskies decreases with age, so we might expect this one to be on the smokier side. I quite like young, good malt as long as the oiliness isn’t too raw (I didn’t use to, this has come with time). So I expect this one to be up my alley.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: N/A

The nose is rich, oily, smoky, briny, and almost a bit waxy. Not nearly as refined or delicate as the 10 year old, one of my favourites – but it has a really nice appeal to it at just 5 years. There is really nice complexity here – no surprise – and it’s very Ardbeg (is there any point in saying that?)….

The palate is quite sweet, full of smoke, brine, dried fruit notes, touches of sherry, black pepper, spinach, brown sugar, and apple. The finish is a bonfire on the beach, with some dried fruit, vanilla, and raisins.

I like it, but I do feel like Ardbeg could have done better. I was hoping for something a bit more intense and oily, a bit surprised to find something more on the subtle and delicate side. But, very good.

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

Value: Upper end of average at $85.


Review: Octomore Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Octomore 9pt1 1.jpg
ABV
~60%
Aging
Typically 5-7 yrs
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Bruichladdich (Bruichladdich, Scotland)

This whisky generally represents the most heavily peated whisky in the world, in terms of parts per million of phenol (the peat flavor components) in the barley before the whisky is distilled. The peating levels vary - often around 170 ppm but one release 6.3 was peated to 258! For comparison, Port Charlotte is peated to 40 PPM and Caol Ila and Lagavulin are peated to about 30-45 ppm. That is a lot of peat!

It needs to be noted, however, that the peat level is measured when the barley is smoked - not after it is distilled. Thus, depending on how you distill, you can bring out more of the smoky or earthy character of the peat - or not much at all. So it isn't really a proper measure of how peaty a whisky is, but rather an indication of its potential. Above a certain level, as with bitterness units in beer, I imagine our palates can't distinguish any difference. The whisky is expensive, but only 5 years old - it is a delicate balance with peat because the smokiness of a whisky will decrease with years in the cask - so it can be a balance of peatiness and maturity.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 6.1 (57% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: P/132371 26 MAR 14

  • Bottling Date: 2014

This batch was peated to 167 ppm and matured in an ex-bourbon cask.

The nose is full of smoke – not only from the peat but also seemingly from the barrel char, slightly. Incredibly earthy, too – with sharp peat, salt, brine, apricot, honey, bourbon barrel char (sure enough, it’s an ex-bourbon cask!), and porridge. The palate is thick and spicy, with lots of brown sugar and caramel alongside peppery peat, caramel, smoke, and chilli flakes. And rich chocolate mousse. It’s pretty soft for 57%! The finish has incredible marine, mineral, and peat character. Dark chocolate, clove, cinnamon (like mayan hot chocolate), white pepper, rockpools, and of course smoke, moss, and damp earth. This really is a clear cut representation of peat – really quite brilliant stuff.

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

Value: Low at $230.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 7.1 (59.5% ABV, 208 PPM)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

This octomore is big, smoky, earthy, and strongly youthful. The peat is sharp and rich, with interesting notes also of dried brown rice and bubblegum. Yet, the rich peat is incredibly balanced with the sweet toffee, brown sugar, and hazlenut skins. The finish is rich, earthy, smoky, and salty. Awesome stuff.

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

Value: Low at $225.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: 7.3 Islay Barley (60% ABV)

  • Bottling Code: L/150264 15/218 10 05 15 12155114

  • Bottling Date: 2015

The barley in this release was sourced from James Brown’s Octomore farm. Distilled in 2010 from grain harvested at Lorgba field, peated to 169 ppm, and matured on Islay in American bourbon barrels and Spanish wine casks of Ribuera del Duero.

I do quite like most things Bruichladdich does. Here, extreme peat…extremely marine, and not as smoky as one might expect – though very peaty and farmy. Friends of mine have described this in terms of various animals – cows, sheep, etc. – lots of complexity and it’s not a grimy spirit by any means. I’d love to visit Islay as this is likely a whisky where terroir would come in – the surroundings, how it is matured, the landscape. Brilliant whisky.

Well, I suppose on to more proper tasting notes – lots of spice, lots of minerality, toasted sesame, and vegetal notes not unlike some clean mezcals. Long, and complex, drying as well. Iodine, milky tea, smoke, toffee, apricot, seaweed, salt stone, preserved lemons, smoke, vanilla, and light creaminess, with time. Ginger and melon on the palate, and melds so well with the earthy barley, peat, menthol, and smoke – finishes with lots of maritime character, spice, mixed dried fruit, the lightest touch touch of oxidized wine, and smoke. Brilliant, from start to very long finish.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). It’s a hair breadth away from “exceptional”, though.

Value: Low. Pricy stuff.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: 8.1 Masterclass (59.5% ABV, 167 PPM, first fill ex-bourbon barrels)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Sooty, and intensely earthy – moreso than smoky. Rich, and deep, too – it is very much like a faceplant into peat. Spicy, too – cacao, cinnamon, and nutmeg. There is a light bracing of vanilla and oak, too – with yellow apples and pears gradually making a slight presence on the nose, too. My reference on this tasting is Octomore 7.3 – that one is much smokier, yet just as earthy – and more oily.

The palate is richly earthy, as one might expect, and very peaty. The orchard fruit and a sweet creaminess slightly offset the deep earth of the peat, and we have rich dark chocolate coming in too. Interestingly, Chinese 5-spice (with pronounced anise) and orange peel too.

The finish is so rich in peat, it tastes like I actually just chewed and spit out the funkiest peat you can imagine. Some light cinnamon and oak, but it is very much about the peat.

It’s quite complex in terms of the incredibly rich earthiness, so much so that I don’t have the vocab to fully describe it. It’s balanced, but not that broad in a way that some of the better Octomores are - not nearly as gorgeous as the magnificent 7.3, which composes a symphony compared to this one solo. Still, very good.

Also, goes very well with hoppy beers, if you were ever wondering…

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

Value: Low (almost average) at $135. And yes, $135 was a steal….


Review (2021)

  • Batch: 9.1 Dialogos (59.1% ABV, 156 PPM, ex-bourbon barrels)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

42,000 bottles of this stuff were made. The casks were from a variety of bourbons: 51% Jim Beam, 26% Jack Daniels,15% Jim Beam (Clermont), Old-Gran Dad 8%.

The nose is rich, salty, sharp, and earthy. There is a really nice raw grain character to it and the minerality is awesome. It’s very savoury – I get olives, oysters, seaweed, pickled lemons, thyme, anchovies – but vanilla dances in and out throughout, showing its versatility.

The palate is smoky, smoky, smoky, with a bit less earth than the other Octomores I’ve had. Indeed, it is a bit cleaner. Toasted hazlenuts, sea spray, black wrinkly olives, dried apple, wet earth, and rich cacao. The finish is, as one would expect, farmy, smoky, earthy, and lightly sweet.

A very nice Islay, and terrific for the price I found it at (~$130) – but it doesn’t have some of the depth and richness of other bottlings I’ve tried. But it still does the trick, as usual…

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

Value: Relatively, for an octomore, pretty good at $130. But, it’s a lot of money against the whisky market in general, and it’d be on the lower end of average there.