Pernod Ricard

Review: Mister Sam Tribute Whisky (Sazerac) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

Image courtesy of Sazerac.

ABV
66.9%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
A blend of Canadian and American whiskies
Producer Sazerac

Sazerac, the parent company of Buffalo Trace, has been developing a presence in Canada for some years now particularly with the Royal Canadian and Caribou Crossing brands. Diageo also recently sold a number of Canadian whisky brands, including Seagram’s VO, to Sazerac in 2018. The whiskies, thus far, have been from stock which has been sourced from other distilleries in Canada. However, that is set to change with the construction of the Old Montreal Distillery which started to distill whisky in 2018. Tours are set to begin at the distillery in 2019.

Now, Sazerac is releasing a whisky as a tribute to Sam Bronfman, one of the most ominous and greatest figures in the history of the liquor industry. Bronfman initially came to Canada shortly after his birth, the son of immigrant parents, from an area which is now part of the country of Moldova between Romania and Ukraine. He became involved in the family hotel business, which grew, relatively quickly, into a small empire in Saskatchewan with the income driven more by the bars that the family owned than the hotels.

As the temperance movement grew, Saskatchewan implemented prohibition and closed the bars. The family, in clever response, got a hold of one of the rare licenses to sell medicinal alcohol and started to develop a distribution business without much competition. Medicinal alcohol was an extremely popular “remedy” during prohibition. The company soon got into the distilling business, building the (now closed) LaSalle distillery in Quebec from stills acquired in the US. The LaSalle distillery became known for quantity, which lead to Sam Bronfman’s partnership with the Scottish DCL, a massive producer of Scotch which controlled brands like Johnny Walker, Dewar’s, and Buchanon’s . This partnership, formed in the late 1920s, catapulted Bronfman ahead of Harry Hatch as the head of the biggest whisky empire in Canada. Bronfman also obtained the ever-important Seagram’s line of brands. Among these brands was Seagram’s VO, Bronfman’s drink of choice, diluted with water. With the brands came the company’s namesake, Seagram’s.

The company stockpiled stock and assets through prohibition. Despite supplying the bootlegging business, prohibition was a challenging environment to operate in due to the challenges of the supply chain. The boom of the company came when the American market opened up: Seagram’s took control of the American market. Indeed, in the 1930s three out of five bottles of blended whisky sold in the United States were from Seagram’s. The company’s success accelerated - in 1946 Seagram’s controlled 14 distilleries, 60 warehouses, and 10 bottling plants - putting out 25 million litres a year (Source: The Bronfman’s, Nicholas Faith). To this, the company added the Chivas Regal brand and grew to become the largest liquor company in the world before it’s collapse, out of which arose Daigeo and Pernod Ricard which are now the two largest liquor companies in the world.

“Mister Sam” was not only a remarkable businessman, he was also a master blender with a remarkable understanding of the importance and technique of blending. He taught his sons the “art” of blending and ensured that he and his family could always assess the quality of his brands. To honour the legacy, Sazerac has released a whisky containing a blend of American and Canadian whiskies. It was blended by Drew Mayville, who worked at Seagram’s for 22 years and was the last master blender before the company’s collapse. The whisky is bottled at 66.9% ABV, and will be sold in the United States and Canada for about 250 USD. 1,200 bottles were produced, and the whisky is slated to be an annual release.

If you want to learn more on the subject, there are a number of good books lying about. I recommend The Bronfman’s by Nicholas Faith, Booze, Boats and Billions by C.W. Hunt. De Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky gives a nice broad overview as well. To better understand the ever-important context of the time and the ever-important American liquor market, Bourbon Empire by Mitenbuler is a great read too.

If you get a bottle of this, there is a small booklet, containing a history of the Seagram’s company written by Samuel Bronfman for his 80th birthday, …from little acorns…. There are a few great nuggets and it gives a nice picture of pieces of how the organization functioned - highlighting specifically Bronfman’s bullishness about marketing, quality control and his penchant for blending. He often tested the blends personally and interacted with the quality control executives. The company had a library of hundreds of whiskies and 240 different yeasts! As Bronfman wrote, “Nothing is more important in our business than the quality of our products”. He also speaks of how he became convinced that US prohibition would end 5 years before it did, and started to ramp up production and build warehouses to get aged whiskies ready in advance. Even once the US market opened up, he made everyone wait until the US spirits had sufficient maturation in wood: “No matter, I waited. Quality in the bottle, and our reputation for quality, were much more important to me than immediate profits.”

Notably, he also discusses being disturbed when he saw drinking culture grow again after prohibition which lead him to release an advertisement: “We who make whiskey say: ‘Drink Moderately’”.

This whisky is available in the United States (already available) and shortly to Canada: BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019

  • Bottling Code: L19011331608E

  • Bottling Date: 2019

What a nose! What a nose! I’ll do my best not to be too wordy, but even at first whiff I know that will be difficult.

Sweet oaky caramel, rich deep oak (mossy, old, but very sweet like a damp bourbon warehouse), spicy rye, but it’s balanced with the nicest set of light fruit like white grapes and white mulberries. It is very reminiscent of good, cask strength Buffalo Trace compared to a cask strength blended Canadian whisky with less of a focus on oak. It reminds me, of course, of the Buffalo Trace antique collection.

But, back to the nose. It shines through incredibly with water – it seems to transition from an American style to a bit more of an oaky Canadian style with water (without too much rye). Fruits emerge – candied, dried – but also rich baking spice, fresh strawberries, cherries, praline (hazelnut and almond), dried chanterelle mushrooms, wintergreen, and the corn/rye grain character comes out richly. It has a really nice “dusty” rye characteristic, which I love. The nose really evolves, with more and more dried fruit (prunes, then dried apricots, then dried peaches) with time. This is all tempered by massive oak.

The palate is quite oaky, but surrounded at the edges by rich dried fruits, white pepper, and grapefruit skin (including pith). We also have cherry, dried ginger, dried apricot, dried peach, fresh plum, sweet creamy corn, mixed baking spices, and tobacco. These notes converge into a complex dose of baking spices and creeping tannins. The finish is dry, with toasted baking spices, sweet oak, cherry, dried apricot, corn husks, caramel, and tobacco. The finish is deep and long.

Heavier, oakier, richer, and much deeper than Little Book Chapter 02 (can you believe it?), which has a very different presentation of rye and has a light, vibrant fruit characteristic not present in Mister Sam (similar to the Jim-Beam-owned Alberta-distilled Canadian Club 100% rye). I love that Little Book whisky too.  A better comparison is the William Larue Weller I have in my cabinet from 2015. That one is sweeter, with more almond, maple, and a heavier portrayal of corn – the Weller is a bit lighter, and less complex than this stuff which is focused more on deep fruits, nuts, spice. The Weller, notably, has a bigger finish.  If the Weller is a peach galette with some slivered almonds on top, this is a spiced blackberry+plum+peach cobbler, sprinked with baking spices and baked a deep brown. Some, no doubt, will prefer the style of the Weller. But I like this stuff more.

This is extremely pleasant at 53.5%, the nose is best a bit lower ABV, but it is still awesome for its sheer power at 66.9%. It’s one of the most dynamic whiskies I’ve ever encountered in terms of how it changes with ABV. If you have one of these and find it too hot, just keep adding distilled water until it’s to your taste. The drinking experience does not suffer.

I wonder if Mister Sam would have liked the whisky. His typical tipple was Seagram’s VO, a much lighter whisky rather than this oak bomb. Nonetheless, masterfully blended!

This is in the top 6 whiskies I’ve ever tasted.

Exceptional (4% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average, even at $250!


Review: Havana Club 7 Years Old (1980s) by Jason Hambrey

Havana Club.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
7 Years
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Havana Club (Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba)

This is an old bottling of Havana Club, and the air has certainly done good effect on the rum, hence the lack of rating. However, always fun to taste old stuff - the bottle is about 30 years old, likely from the 1980s sometime.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~1985

Dry, and spicy. Then edgy brown sugar comes in, with nuts and macadamias. An old oxidized note - like that of burning dust when you turn on a toaster that has been neglected for some time. The taste is dry and light, with molasses and a slight earthiness. A light, quick finish - a touch of a medicinal note at the end. Vanilla comes, throughout - nose, palate, and finish - with time.

Assessment: N/A (would be a C+ bottled, but clearly has oxidized so not sure what the starting point would have been)


Review: Beefeater 24 London Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Beefeater 24 2.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Producer Pernod Ricard

A premium Beefeater's gin, with more botanicals and a bit more "modern" in style than the baseline beefeater gin. It comes in at 45%, so is more flavorful than the 40% baseline version. When I initially explored gin a few years ago, this was one of my favourites (before the bottle went red...) - but I still like it and it's one of my favourites to have on hand for good mixing.

The name is a bit deceptive. You might think it is because of 24 botanicals, but it is because of a 24 hour infusion process of 12 botanicals including grapefruit peel, chinese tea, and japanese tea. The use of tea was inspired from a trip to Japan by Beefeater's master distiller, where quinine was banned and the bitter complement of gin, tonic, was not available. To introduce bitterness, green tea was used in cocktails, which inspired its use as a direct component of the gin.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: N/A
  • Bottling Date: ~2018

The nose is juniper-centric, as would be expected, but it’s surrounded with an immense amount of complexity – all sorts of citrus (lemon, grapefruit, orange), light spices, and coriander. The palate is balanced, with a nice balance of sweetness against assertive citrus and peppery spice. Finish is light, with medium body, but short. Complexity is very well balanced and integrated – a classic gin.

Assessment: Highly Recommended.


Review: Beefeater London Dry Gin by Jason Hambrey

Beefeater 1.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
N/A
Producer Pernod Ricard

Another massive gin brand owned by Pernod Ricard, this brand emerged with the advent of the continuous still which enabled efficient, consistent production of gin styles which didn't need sugar to cover anything up (as some of the Old Tom styles required). Old Tom slowly faded to the background as this newer, cleaner "strong" or unsweetened style of London Dry emerged. James Burrough founded Beefeater in 1863, following Alexander Gordon and Charles Tanqueray in establishing large scale production gins which were exported around the world. This gin is made with nine botanicals.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A
  • Bottling Code: LKMM0604 2018/02/15 09:59
  • Bottling Date: ~2018

Classic and definitive: Juniper, citrus, and the zestier rather than the spicier side of coriander. A slight biscuity aroma to it as well. The palate is clean and spicy, coming in waves: first sweet juniper, then spicy coriander and spicy tree bark, and then finishing with mixed pepper and a rising sweetness. Not bad, but nothing special either.


Review: Havana Club Anejo Reserva by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
From molasses
Distiller Havana Club (Santa Cruz del Norte, Cuba)

Havana Club is the most popular brand of rum in Cuba, though, interestingly, it is also made separately in Puerto Rico by Bacardi. The reason for this is that the family left after Cuba nationalized the land (and the distillery), and Bacardi bought the brand from the family that left while the brand is also produced by a partnership between Pernod Ricard and the Cuban government in Cuba. It has been the subject of a large trademark dispute. I'd be interested to do a side by side with both, except the rums aren't that great to begin with.

It is the third rum up in their lineup, after the 3 year old white rum, and the anejo especial. Reportedly, it is aged about 5-6 years.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

Not a lot on the nose – oak, a hint of vanilla, coconut, sweet, and lightly vegetal. Light and easy – really, that’s all this one is crafted for. The palate is easy and simple, featuring many of the notes of the nose. Dried berries and light oaky spices on the finish. Brief tasting notes, but I think you get the picture…

Value: Low. It’s cheap, but I still think there are more worthwhile buys even at the price.


Review: Longmorn 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Longmorn 16.jpg
ABV
48%
Aging
16 Years
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Longmorn (Elgin, Scotland)

Longmorn is well known as a sought after component of blends, lying at the core of many of the Chivas blends. On its own, it is well regarded as a great single malt by many - and this 16 year old was terrific. It has recently been replaced by a whisky which is the same age (16 years old), but has a higher proportion of first fill American oak casks and therefore less sherry and European oak casks. But, might I add - the price also jumped up considerably with the new bottling, almost an extra 50%. I'd raise an eyebrow to both of those moves...


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 2014/04/01 08:40 LPN10465

  • Bottling Date: 2014

Brilliant – you can just tell when you get a nose at it with all the grape and edgy malt,along with the apricot and dried, marshy corn stalks you smell in bourbon with some cheesy sherry notes coming through as it sits. It’s flowery, malty, sweet, earthy, grassy....on the palate a bit sour with some very nice, complex showing of barley and a good enduring creamy finish full of grape, butterscotch, barley, and dried peaches and apricots. Complex, and the weight of the whisky at 48% is just fantastic. One of my best tastes this year, continually outshining others in side-by-sides.

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

Value: High, based on $100.