Virgin Oak

Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Dave Keon Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Dave Keon 1.jpg
ABV
45%
Aging
14 Years; Refill, Ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak, and Speyside Malt Casks
Recipe
Blend of Corn, rye, and malt whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This whisky - another of the alumni series - sets out to honour Dave Keon - aged 14 years in honour of his jerset number 14. Bottled at 45%, also, as a nod to Keon’s 45-point first season. It’s a mix of single column distilled rye, column and pot-distilled rye, single column distilled malt, and double distilled corn. And, it’s aged in 4 different casks (one for each of Keon’s cup wins)- reused Canadian whisky casks, ex-bourbon casks, new white oak casks, and Speyside malt casks. It will launch in Ontario as early as next month, but release date is still not certain. As with the other alumni series releases, 50% of the profits go to support hockey initiatives and the retired player community.

So, how does it taste?…


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Now I really like this! What a nice nose – rich wood notes, dried fruit, spices, old mossy oak (a bit bourbon-y), lilacs, roses, vanilla, clove, and dried apricot. The palate is sumptuous. A nice, thick body with a really nice set of flavours – black tea, lilac, molasses, dried apricot, prunes, red currants, rose, anise – it is just delicious! The feel of the palate, too, is great – nicely structured with tingling spices and drying tannins. The finish has lots of dried fruit, oak, rose, floral rye, hazelnut oil, and apple seeds.

This is a really nice blend. Just terrific. My second favourite of the Alumni series so far – behind Clark – but this is just a really nice whisky and it sits at a great price. Go try some, when it comes around.

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

Value: Very high. Great stuff for $45!


Review: J.P. Wiser’s Alumni Series Yvan Cournoyer Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Yvan Cournoyer.jpg
ABV
40%
Aging
12 Years; Refill, Ex-Bourbon and Virgin Oak Casks
Recipe
Blend of Corn, rye, and malt whiskies
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

This has two types of rye whisky in it - a single column distilled rye and a column and then pot-distilled rye whisky (i.e., Lot no. 40), alongside double distilled corn and column distilled malt. It was aged for 12 years - in honour of Cournoyer’s jersey number 12. It’s only bottled at 40% unlike many of the alumni series which come in a bit higher - but this is still a very nice whisky and, after reviewing it - probably my third favourite of the alumni releases behind Wendel Clark and Dave Keon. This is launching in Ontario and Quebec sometime this winter. As with all alumni series whiskies, 50% of the profits are going towards hockey initiatives and the support of retired players.

Interestingly, this recipe is inspired by the 1972 recipe for Carleton Tower, an old Hiram Walker blend. Why? Again, a nod back to Cournoyer - who was playing at the peak of his powers at the time for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019-2020

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

The nose has a really nice mix of rich rye notes and corn notes – dried corn, prune, dried flowers, dried apricot, lilac, new oak, and pine. It develops as it sits – particularly the floral notes, with rosebushes coming through quite nicely.  The palate has sweet corn, rye notes, pine, orange, and some mixed grain porridge. It has a really nice balance of flavour – fatty corn, floral rye, dried fruit notes, and spices. It’s just very enjoyable. The finish has some baking spices, mixed citrus pith, dried fruit, lilac, and orange. Very nice – probably my third favourite of the alumni releases.

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

Value: High. Great stuff for $45.


Review: Willibald Pink Gin by Jason Hambrey

Willibald+Pink+Gin+2.jpg
ABV
38.3%
Aging
Merlot and Pinot Noir Wine Casks; 1 year
Recipe
Triple distilled corn, rye, and barley with 6 botanicals
Distiller Willibald (Ayr, Ontario)

Another aged gin from Willibald, but with a bit of a different take than their big, oaky, and spicy new-oak aged gin. This is a slightly different formulation, with a bit less caraway and cardamom so that the fruit and floral notes from the wine cask wouldn’t get lost. The wine casks are sourced mainly from Palantine Hills - the gin also has a bit of honey (from the Willibald farm) added to it to round out the drink and give a slight sweetness.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Awesome! Nice licorice notes, intense juniper, baked arugula, berries, wildflower honey, and light oxidized wine. Not as oaky or quite as big as Willibald’s typical gin, but it still has the big spicy richness. The wine character is there, but it’s light. Slightly sweet on the palate, resulting in a bit of a different experience – and perhaps one which makes it even more drinkable: it is relatively soft, complex, and lightly sweet with more subtlety rather than big and bold, like the usual Willibald gin which is big, oaky, spicy, and rich. It is very much in the Willibald “family” (which I always appreciate from a brand) but it is a very different take, and a very good one. Worth a try, especially if you like bigger gins. Great on ice, too.

It isn’t as versatile as some gins in cocktails due to its bold character, which is fine because I think this is best drunk neat or a little chilled. Interestingly enough, if it’s too chilled I find the wine character dominates. Both Willibald gins have some of the best reception of any gins that I pour during whisky tastings to whisky enthusiasts and connoisseurs.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. I have no problem laying down $40 for this, as someone who isn’t eager to spend too much on spirits - in fact, it will likely become a regular occurrence.


Review: Willibald Gin by Jason Hambrey

Willibald+1.jpg
ABV
43%
Aging
6-8 Months; Virgin American Oak Char #4
Recipe
Triple distilled corn, rye, and barley with 6 botanicals
Distiller Willibald (Ayr, Ontario)

This gin stands out to me for a few reasons. First, it’s the flagship gin of the distillery and it’s aged - they don’t even have a white version. Most distilleries focus on a clear, unaged version and then age it or create variations - not so here. It’s different to craft a gin to be aged in a barrel rather than bottled as a white spirit. Second, it’s made from three different grains - corn, rye, and barley - rather than a simple grain spirit. Third, they are using new oak, not used oak - not something that I’ve ever seen in Canadian gin yet - it brings in an intensity to the gin and not simply a complex subtlety. Fourth - it’s big and bold, which lets it remain a gin but compete a bit more fully in other cocktails.

It might not surprise you to know that the distillery is heavily influenced by American straight ryes and bourbons.


Review (2019)

  • Batch:

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

The nose is very deep for a gin, perhaps due to the age of the stuff. There is a nice matching of oak to juniper, of sharp spice like fennel and earthy coriander to the bright citrus. I must say, it’s a rather impressive nose. The palate is rich in its woodiness – but the remarkable feat is that the woodiness balances all the botanicals, adds great grip, and great tannins. There is a nice bit of vanilla and sharp woody spices, earl grey, clove, and licorice at the end, and something like anise. Really nice finish, intense, and smooth – and very easy to drink!

 A bit elegant, almost some earl grey in there at the end. I really like to sip this one – it is very moreish. I like to sip gins, but this one is unique – it’s one I’m often in the mood for unlike many gins, which are much more occasional. Makes a great pink gin, too.

A highlight in my exploration of Canadian gins. It’s an aged gin that reveals that these aged gins have some great potential.

Assessment: Very highly recommended.

Value: High. I have no problem laying down $45 for this, as someone who isn’t eager to spend too much on spirits - in fact, it will likely become a regular occurence.


Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Blender's Mash 13 Years Old by Jason Hambrey

Thanks to Crown Royal for the image. Note that this is the wine barrel finish - the bottle is the same as the blender’s mash.

Thanks to Crown Royal for the image. Note that this is the wine barrel finish - the bottle is the same as the blender’s mash.

ABV
45%
Aging
13 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
64% Corn, 31.5% Rye, 4.5% Malted Barley
Distiller Gimli (Gimli, Manitoba)

This whisky highlights the column-distilled, rye-heavy mashbill that is matured in new oak which Crown Royal makes - the process is very much the same as that used to make straight bourbons, with a mashbill, a column still, and new white oak casks. This is an older version of the Blender’s Mash (“Bourbon Mash”) released earlier this year by Crown Royal.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: Noble Collection 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

Clean and fruity – with rich rye, corn, and oak notes. Much cleaner, richer, and tightly held together, and more elegant, than the regular blender’s/bourbon mash. The nose is surprisingly elegant – not many bourbon style whiskies are so. It also is closer to a bourbon in taste profile than the blender’s mash.

Back to the nose…brown cardamom, clove, rich oak, dried chilli, cacao, corn husks, maple sugar, and ketchup chips! The palate has rich corn and wood, and has a sharp set of spice. Also there we have rich oak, prunes, dried apricots, clove, toffee, creamy oak, and fall marshes. Caramel and toffee really grows. As does oak and char.

The finish has a bit of tobacco and is drying. Lots of dried fruit, oak, and baking spices, too. Brilliant whisky.

Ever so slightly tannic, but I quite like it. I like it when whiskies play close to the line of too much bitterness and tannin for balance.

Easily on my favorite of the year list. Last year’s release was also exceptionally good (as was the year’s before) – great! If anyone thinks Crown can only blend whisky of different mashbills, they are missing this. But they are continuing to get a bit better…one of my favourite Crown Royals ever.

I’ve had this mashbill at cask strength – it is absolutely awesome. If they released a cask strength version at this age I’d be over the moon. If I’m on a wish list, I’d also take a few vattings of their favorite barrels of coffee rye at cask strength too!

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). Just an awesome whisky. My second favourite of over a hundred whiskies that I judged blind this year at the Canadian Whisky Awards (behind Wiser’s 35).

Value: Very high, based on ~$82.


Review: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.jpg
ABV
45.2%
Aging
Virgin Charred Oak (twice)
Recipe
~72% Corn, 18% Rye, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Woodford Reserve (Versailles, Kentucky)

Woodford Reserve has a cooperage on site, and when I was at the distillery in 2014 they had just released this whisky and it was sold out everywhere. It is a combination of two types of casks – a heavily charred lightly toasted barrel and also a lightly charred but heavily toasted barrel which the whisky is matured for 9 months in, bringing out all sorts of oaky notes.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L300611542

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A rich, oaky, caramel-laden nose. Decadent caramel, apples, pear, cucumber, marmelade, plum jam, burnt toast, and hazlenut. It is interesting to taste woodford – because it is pot distilled, it is a lot narrower and in some senses cleaner than the typical column distilled bourbons, which means the grain comes out completely different – sharp, clean, and spicy. The oak is massive – if there was an oak centre of the brain, this would fry the circuits. The palate is full of charred oak, plum jam, caramel, smoke, and lots of spice – with lots of tannins, too. Oaky, and heavy. The palate, as they say, is going to oak – but this is a lot of oak – too much for me. It’s not that I don’t like it (I do, and I like tannic whiskies...), but I feel it doesn’t quite compete on the stage that other bourbons do. The finish is full of spice, dense fruit jam, charred oak, and tannins. Quite creamy, and it opens up as the bottle stays open.

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

Value: Average, at $72.


Review: Talisker Dark Storm Single Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Talisker Dark Storm.jpg
ABV
45.8%
Aging
Heavily Charred Casks
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Talisker (Carbost, Scotland)

This whisky, released alongside Talisker Storm, uses heavily charred casks for its maturation - not the usual choice of cask for Scotch, but rather for American Whisky.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L4197CM000 04053962

  • Bottling Date: 2014

The interplay of the peat and smoky oak is quite intriguing to me, and brings forth quite a bit of vanilla, maple, and caramel in the mix - I am not sure if I like that part. Some dried staff here - dried apricot, dried hibiscus, and some prunes. On the palate, it shows more sharpness than many Taliskers, and fairly sweet and juicy - there is one part where the ashy smoke has some wonderful wood integration, but it is still a bit flat overall with a touch of saccharin on the finish. Light creaminess comes through on the finish, with some fresh apricot, dark chocolate, and a bit of grape alongside the clove, smoke, and pepper. Not sure if maple and caramel make this “dark”….but the caramel seems to take a bigger role as the peat fades in the bottle.

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

Value: Average, based on $81.