Still Waters

Review: Late-Harvest Vidal Vesper (Barchef Project) by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Barchef

Image courtesy of Barchef

ABV
35.6%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Custom Gin, Bitters, Late-Harvest Vidal
Producer BarChef (Toronto, ON) & Still Waters (Concord, ON)

One of my favourite things about my most beloved spirit, whisky, is that it presents an almost-endless complexity alongside delicious flavours without the need for anything other than a glass. The best cocktails are the same, however, they often require a fair diligent work and the best ingredients. Pre-made cocktails generally don’t even approach the arena where the top echelons of beverages reside. BUT - there are a few exceptions to this, notably, the Barchef Project.

In 2017, BarChef created a Toasted-Chamomile Old Fashioned, a bottled old fashioned that will likely trump every old fashioned you’ve ever tasted in a bar. The products coming from one of the best cocktail bars in the world are certainly in a category of their own when compared to the bottom-shelf mixers and pre-made cocktails currently on the market.

This late-harvest vesper is the second cocktail released as part of the “Barchef project”. It presents a clever take on the classic Vesper cocktail by using late-harvest vidal in place of the typical Lillet Blanc. But, if you know anything about Barchef, you’ll know nothing is that simple: this featured gin which is custom-distilled gin through hand-harvested spruce tips,

The cocktail is also vintage-dated, a nice touch that I certainly enjoy (along with other cocktail enthusiasts).

I trust the quality of Barchef to the extent that I’d recommend their products without even trying them (rare for me), but, I must caveat - these are all dangerously drinkable.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: 2019 vintage

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2020

The nose offers forward notes of juniper and spruce, but this is full of everything else you might want in a gin cocktail – spice, woody notes, fruit, and lots of spice – with a really great flourish of floral, spicy, and light mineral notes on the end. The vidal comes out, with nice clarity, on the finish. The texture of the cocktail is terrific.

I’m not much of a Vesper man but I’d take one of these any day.

This is a nice addition to the Barchef “lineup” – a lighter, gin forward cocktail as opposed to the richer whisky-based old fashioned. They both have fantastic finishes that beg another sip. I love cocktails like that.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Not convinced? See Blair’s article at canadiandistilleries.com


Review: Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Canadian Whisky (Cask Strength) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~62%
Aging
Ex-bourbon casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Still Waters (Concord, Ontario)

This is the cask strength version of the Stalk & Barrel single malt, available from their distillery. Quite similar in profile to their regular single malt, only this is, as expected, a bit punchier at cask strength.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: Cask 1

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

This cask was filled December 1, 2009 (at 60.6%), into a new oak cask. On April 4, 2012 it was moved to cask 40 for finishing (first fill ex-bourbon). It was at 61.7% at this point. It was bottled April 16, 2013 (at 62.3%), producing 209 bottles. (As an aside, the still waters website has lots of cask information).

Nose: At times, unfortunately, there’s a bit of that nagging staleness with this one. I find this one has a bit more oak than the other expressions, and with that, more caramel and a bit more of a “stewed” character – the apple and pear seem to come in the form of apple or pear crumble, with notes of apricot and raspberry jam. Interestingly enough, though this one spent the least amount of time in a bourbon cask, I find the corn and bourbon notes the strongest in this one – but they still only play second fiddle. A bit of a bakery in here – banana bread, gingerbread, with a slight sour character a bit like the tartness of plum jam. And, I think, it’s a bit more earthy on the nose than the others.

Taste: I find the flavour is better at cask strength, I think – the vanilla, and creaminess come through more and it develops a bit better. On a continued tasting of this one, I noticed more bourbon and an earthy character that the others do not have. It’s quite rich, I find – which is nice, with all the dried and baked fruit notes and the nuttiness. But, there’s more corn here from the bourbon than elsewhere – and the earthiness seems to be springing out of that. Of the three, this one is the “darkest”, and heaviest, and I think I like it the most.

Finish: This one definitely has dried fruits (raisins and apricot) to a capacity none of the others do. There’s also vanilla in larger degree than I saw in either the nose or the palate, and even a bit of spearmint! And oak and apple come forth…amazing the oakiness here in a three year old whisky. The finish is much bigger in the cask strength expressions, I find, and this is the best of the lot.

Of the first three reviewed here, I think this is my favourite – though I might even say that cask 11 is more complex and cask 8 is a bit better balanced. Cask 1 is more woody, and, carries a nice earthy bourbon character to it that I really like. The fruitiness tends more towards dried rather than fresh or candied, which is also a component I like.

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

Value: Low. A bit much at $100 for this.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: Cask 11

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

This cask was filled November 15, 2010 and bottled June 20, 2013 (3.6 yrs) at 62.3%.

Nose: Of the three, the fruit seems the freshest here – fresh apple, fresh banana – this one also has perhaps the most creamy texture of the three (though I wouldn’t call it that creamy) – and some of those banana notes start to morph into banana pudding if you stick to it. Some of the fruit is a bit candied – but still not as much as cask 8. Beneath it all, there’s a good bit of malt – I think it’s more noticeable than cask no. 1 but not as much as cask 8. Also, I think, it’s the nuttiest of the three – roasted cashews (primarily) and almonds (secondarily) are definitely in the mix, and from time to time I find myself thinking of nutella. And, as I mentioned the creaminess earlier – there are notes of a vanilla buttery-ness to this one too (this one has the most vanilla on the nose). And, breezing in and out of this one, from time to time, is some bourbon.

Taste: Sweeter, I think, than cask 1 – and has quite a complex and slightly less character, which is also longer. There’s more maltiness here than cask 1, and there’s a slight spicy nutmeg note, and a bit of dryness and the lightest touch of bitterness. The most vanilla of any of the palates is present here, and the nuttiness is very rich. It’s a bit lighter, fruitier, with a bit more malt character than cask 1. There is a bit of a candied fruit note, as seen from time to time on the nose, and some of the tannins in the oak effect quite a bit of “texture” to this palate.

Finish: A bit of sharp apple, I think, with a good kick of spice. also a bit of an effect similar to baking soda in feel, which is a bit unfortunate. However, it’s of decent body and..sure enough, once all else fades, you realize you are left with oak.

Conclusion: I think this one is a bit more malty, with a bit less caramel than cask 1. I think it is the most complex on the nose, and the fruit is just brilliant in this..altogether I find it is a whisky I am wanting more and more of.

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

Value: Low. A bit much at $100 for this.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A, 60.2% ABV

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Complex. Banana, grassy spice, tea, oak, vanilla, marmalade, dried thyme, milk chocolate – expressive and very interesting. Creamy, spicy, fruity, grassy – what breadth, and what balance on a whisky with a beautiful, rich middle. The palate is rich, with brie, apples, oak, bean sprouts, snap peas, apple seeds – finishing with oak, tannins, spices, and more snap peas.  The herbal and brie notes are new to me – maybe I didn’t notice them, or maybe they are cask specific – but they are interesting!

These casks have been getting older, coming now up closer to 5 years than the original 3, and it's showing!

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

Value: Average, at $100.


Review: Stalk & Barrel Rye Canadian Whisky (Cask Strength) by Jason Hambrey

ABV
~60%
Aging
~3.5 yrs; Bourbon Barrels
Recipe
100% Rye (malted & unmalted)
Distiller Still Waters (Concord, Ontario)

This is the same rye as their 46% bottlings, except undiluted from the cask. I love their standard rye, so the cask strength offering is certainly also appealing!


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 34, 61.4%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Some confectionary sweetness, pine, coconut, marshmallow, and a layer of complex spices and some nice spice. Dill pickle is prominent. On the palate – big and enveloping, with lots of oak, vanilla, dill, apple, and light bourbon notes and terrific tea notes. Finishes with marshmallows and rising spice. I really like this stuff. Terrific!

Score: 88/100

Value: 63/100 (based on $100)


Review (2016)

  • Batch: Cask 56, 60.2%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Anise candies, white pepper, mint, vanilla – quite sweet, in fact, on the nose. Oak, also, is present in greater quantity here. Some vegetal aromas like celery, too. Lightly earthy. Coconut. When diluted to 46%, it’s softer and more creamy and oaky than the two barrels I’ve tasted at 46%.

The palate is a lot softer than expected – but lots of spices still. The barrels I have tasted have been vibrant and spicy, so I figured this one would be that, only more amped up. Not so. Lots of cloves and cinnamon, black tea, and a bit of bubblegum too, which also comes through on the palate. It is young, but this is such quality distillate that it isn’t bad. Nice spice on the end too. Granny smith apples. Surprising amount of bubblegum. Some deep vegetable notes too…particularly on the finish. And honey, too.

Though I quite like it at cask strength, this one is not quite the quality of the previous two barrels I have tasted – not quite as complex. Still, however, terrific. I’m amazed, frankly – if someone were to tell me whether I would enjoy a 3 year old rye, matured in ex-bourbon barrels, at cask strength – I’d likely answer no. The distillate is just so terrific at Still Waters, though, that this one works out very well.

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

Value: Average (based on $100).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Grassy spice, oak, long-brewed black tea, icing sugar, and sharp pepper.  The palate is big, full of caramel, light corn husk notes, blueberry, black tea, and a tangy, spicy character. The finish is big, with spices and sweetness doing a bit of a dance. Brilliant spices, and lots of douglas fir notes – I love it, as usual. I rated a cask strength single malt higher this year, but I still like this style more.

The fir/pine notes are amazing, along with the grassy spice and the tea notes. At times, they almost leech to a tropical fruit like lychee. It’s remarkable. This is one of the most special and unique ryes I’ve tasted, and, frankly, I’m fascinated (which doesn’t happen often with me and flavor!).

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

Value: Average (based on $100).


Review: Stalk & Barrel Red Blend Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
43%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of Canadian Whiskies
Distiller Multiple (Canada)

The higher end blend from Still Waters, coming in at 43% and $40, containing more of their whisky relative to the sourced stuff.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Vanilla, caramel pudding, apricot, pine, and a nice rye heart. Oh, and lots of milk chocolate – it’s quite impressive.  Vanilla wedding cake, lilacs, and light oak come in as well. With time – cookie batter, cinnamon, and lots of milk chocolate. The palate is creamy and clean, balancing well the spicy rye and the sweet oak. At times, youth is felt – but it is all coming from the terrific young Still Waters product which I still find so appealing.

Brilliant spices, complexity, and balance. I am partial to their rye, but this is still a very worthwhile whisky. What I like about all the new two blends from Still Waters is that the blends are different from what they have made in the past, but they are have the distinct Stalk & Barrel style, which is a good one.

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

Value: High (based on $40).


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Apple, apple juice, oak, lilac, and some toffee, oak, and grassy spice underneath. Lots of vanilla! The nose grows beautifully with time. The palate has a delicious, tangy and tannic structure on which apples, pears, grassy spice, clove, and vanilla sit. The finish fades out with gorgeous spices and light tea notes. Terrific!

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

Value: Average (based on $40). lower than above because I didn’t like this one quite as much, but it’s close.


Review: Stalk & Barrel Blue Blend Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Stalk & Barrel Blue.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of Canadian Whiskies
Distiller Multiple (Canada)

Still Waters distillery recently released two new blends through the LCBO – a blue blend and a red blend which includes a blend of sourced whiskies and their own whiskies. I like the blends – they very much show their house style through the blends, which wasn’t seen in their original blend, 1+11. The names Blue and Red simply come from the names given to the candidate blends as they decided on their recipes. Notably, this whisky comes into the LCBO at a price of $33, meaning it is really the first micro distillery product in Canada able to come in close to $30 and compete with some of the lower priced big distillery products (which range up from $26 at the cheapest).


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Some nice rye notes at the centre here, with brilliant tea, clove, and supported with light stone fruit, apple, oak, charred wood, and wooden pencil shavings. Again, the palate has nice rye at the centre and is still very clean – I say this because many products coming out of micro distilleries are not. Lightly creamy too, with some good vanilla, chocolate, and apricot on the palate. A bit watery in places - it seems something like a whisky with a terrific superstar (the rye) but no supporting cast. Light jasmine on the finish, alongside mixed nuts and the brilliant grassy spices that tend to come out of Still Waters distillery.

Terrific blending by the Still Waters fellows. They still haven’t made a whisky that has failed to engage me as a whisky lover.

As an aside, I like this, and it is sweet enough at the beginning of the palate but not quite enough on the end or finish for this. My solution is to add a drop of bourbon (or a sweet rye, but you don’t want to mask the brilliant rye notes already in here!), which does the trick beautifully as long as it’s not too much. I like something between 8-15% added, i.e., about ½ - 1 tsp of bourbon per oz, depending on the bourbon. It brings out some beautiful notes in the blend, actually.

Value: Average. Par for the course at $33.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Bright, creamy, with lots of oak. Rich, integrated fruit too. The palate is full of very creamy oak, vanilla, dried apricot, white pepper, and lightly drying spice on the end with a touch of molasses and drying oak.

Value: Average. Par for the course at $33.