Wheat

A Few Whiskies on the Way from Black Fox Farm, Saskatchewan by Jason Hambrey

Black+Fox+Whiskies+2.jpg

These days, most folks who start up a distillery have a background in brewing or distilling. However, Black Fox got an interesting start – from grain farmers John Cote and Barb Stefanyshyn-Cote. Many of the original distillers, indeed, were farmers who were able to distill grain to preserve it, make it easier to transport, and at times, make a bigger profit.

The prairies grow a lot of grain, and Saskatchewan is the heart of the prairies – indeed, there is more agricultural area in Saskatchewan than the other prairie provinces of Alberta and Manitoba combined. Based near Saskatoon, the farm distillery is taking a Canadian approach by focusing on single grain whiskies of various bases – wheat, triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid), and oat.

The whiskies, at present, are of age – about 3.4-3.6 years old each. I got sent some samples of a 100% unmalted wheat, 100% unmalted oat (toasted to help fermentability and flavour), and 100% unmalted triticale whisky each matured in new American oak as a preview – a date has not yet been set for their release. Triticale, particularly - is exciting - a hybrid of rye and wheat. The distillery had to go through a variety of different varieties until they found one which was good for flavor and fermentability. All the whiskies use a staged fermentation with multiple yeasts and are put into new oak. They are all coming along very well and they are in the group of higher quality whiskies which are currently on the market from Canadian craft distilleries and small producers. I wrote a few tasting notes below - note that these whiskies are not yet available and I will post proper reviews of the whiskies when they are ready to be released.

See a few notes on how they are progressing below:

Black Fox 100% Wheat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 11/9/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.4 yrs) 48%

The nose has charred oak, cream of wheat, red currants, orange, and a bit of black pepper. Some quite nice fruits to it – like elderberries and black currants. It is quite oaky, with an assortment of wood spices – it is a very nice woodiness. The nose isn’t raw, which is rather impressive at this age even with new oak.  The palate is lightly sweet, full of toasted oak flavours, orange, and light, sweet spice at the end along with freshly baked bread. The sweetness does well to balance out the spice and the oak – it’s lightly sweet, not too much. It has a really nice sweet wheat character to it. The finish has some more dark fruit, more oak, and spice.  The grain characteristics continue for some time, along with a bit more dried fruit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Oat Whisky Cask Sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/22/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Again, we have some really nice grainy notes here. It smells, indeed, like oats! But there’s also some rich baking spices, a rich spicy woodiness, toasted oak, and even some more exotic wood notes like bamboo. Pear, too. Deep wood – it does a nice trick.

The palate is light, with creamy porridge, vanilla marshmallow, and a great creaminess. Vanilla and spice come in on the end, which is full of sweet creamy grain, light spices, and light charred oak. A bit more dried fruit and spice comes out on the finish. The finish has a set of notes I’d characterize as oats just starting to toast on a skillet. The finish is lightly tangy and sweet – which I quite like! Despite the new oak, the oat spirit is a worthy competitor and isn’t lost. Not as oaky or as sharp as the wheat, and a bit softer.

I recently pulled this out at a Japanese tasting and it was a hit.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Black Fox 100% Triticale Whisky cask sample

  • New American oak, filled 8/10/2015, sample drawn 4/03/2019 (3.6 yrs) 48%

Of the three samples I tried, this one takes the best to the new oak.

Quite different from the other casks. Coconut, pineapple, and a rich set of fruity rye-like spices, dried, fruit, cacao nibs, and vanilla. Lots of oak and toasted oak notes. This reminds me of rye whisky, with all the floral and spicy notes.  Nice caramel too. There is a nice grainy middle, and oaky base, and a spicy-floral intense set of top notes. Prunes, dried apricot, lilac, whole grain bread, whole mixed-grain porridge, toasted oak, and cinnamon.

The palate has a really nice spicy sharpness, lilac, clove, and a sweet grainy finish. There is a really nice set of dried fruit characteristics here which aren’t present in the other Black Fox whiskies. It has a really rich middle with quite good depth to it. The finish has dried stone fruit (prunes, peaches, apricots) but also fresh plums, peaches, and apricots – along with green pear, oak, baking spices, lilac, cream of wheat, and an Irish pot-still like green oily spiciness.

If this whisky were to be released today, it would be in my “recommended” group.

Review: Last Mountain 100% Wheat Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
~3.5 yrs; Used Bourbon Barrel
Recipe
100% Wheat
Distiller Last Mountain (Lumsden, Saskatchewan)

Last Mountain Distillery views wheat as the unsung hero of the grains, utilizing the abundant wheat in Saskatchewan to craft their whisky. They are now releasing their own wheat whisky after sourcing whisky to get them going in their terrific bottlings like Private Reserve. Now, they have their own.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: Cask 13.08.01

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Very confectionary, in the style they have developed. Icing sugar, wheat – cream of wheat, wheat flour, and it is pretty clean – light spices and creamy oak in the background, a touch of orange zest, and barrel char – even at only 3.5 years, this doesn’t taste immature! The palate is loaded with fresh oak and light spices, cream of wheat, and a strong confectionary character as well. It perhaps is a bit less complex than the sourced/blended business (this is a single cask, mind you), but it is easy to drink and presents the wheat so beautifully! Light spices and dried fruit as well – some nice bourbon influence. The finish carries on with very light spices, lemon zest, light minerality, hints of bourbon, light oak, and of course, creamy wheat. It is, in fact, the finest wheat whisky I have tasted. Though complexity isn’t massive, the core of this whisky is just immensely pure and enjoyable.

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

Value: High (based on $50)


Review (2019)

  • Batch: Cask 14.06.02

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This whisky was aged in 10 gallon barrels for 6 months before being put in once-used bourbon barrels for 51 months. That’s almost 5 years of maturation!

The nose leads with freshly sawn lumber, wintergreen, marzipan, and oaky spices. The palate is light, oaky, and with moderate complexity. Some bourbon nods, here – with good vanilla and light corn characteristics. The whisky itself is light and rich, but this has a bit of a different characteristic than the previous single cask I had. It’s cleaner, lighter, with a bit more ex-bourbon character and not quite as much wheat coming through. The finish has some berries and a nice tannic character. This is very easy to drink.

Also this whisky won a gold medal at the Canadian whisky awards, a blind tasting which occurs over 6 weeks with over 100 entrants – less than 20% of the whiskies entered get a gold, and this includes not only micro-distilleries but all the big industry players.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher). I liked the previous cask a bit more, but this is still my favourite wheat whisky.

Value: High. Very good for the price.


Review: Last Mountain Wine Cask Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
3.2 yrs in used Bourbon Barrel; 6 months in wine cask
Recipe
100% Wheat
Distiller Last Mountain (Lumsden, Saskatchewan)

Here we have a different take on last mountain’s wheat whisky - a wine cask finish! A very different lens to Last Mountain’s wheat whisky (which is my favourite wheat whisky that I’ve tasted), Note that this is a pre-release sample as it will be released shortly, but the profile should remain very similar if not the same. The wine cask used was a Saury Oak barrel which had a Californian red wine in it.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

A soft, wine driven nose with loads of rich, dried fruits and spices typical of a red wine. Freshly sawn white oak, fruit gummies, black currant, cherries, rising cinnamon buns, and light toffee – but underneath, light sweet wheat and some clean oak. A bit of water to take it slightly below 45% reveals a lot of complexity but the oak is less dominant, which may or may not be preferential depending on taste – I like it with a drop of water. The palate is very interesting – very much driven by the cask – and very good – reminding me of many lighter port-finished whiskies. There is a really nice oiliness and the spices really bloom, but there is also a rich toffee middle to the whisky which bridges all the fruit from the wine to the oak, which creates a very nice contrast in flavour. The finish is lightly sweet and very fruity, with tannic red wine, dried apricot, blackberries, and freshly ground white pepper.

This is much more cask-dominant than the other stuff I’ve had from last mountain – but it’s still very good, and a very different lens to their wheat whisky. I’m glad, that, despite the big wine influence, it has gone towards the richer, deeper side of wine. I do think it squashes a bit of the complexity of the underlying wheat whisky, which is fairly light, since the cask character is so heavy. However, it’s still very good, and very clean and complex for a whisky this young.

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

Value: Average, based on $43.70/375 mls.


Review: Highwood Rye Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Rye and Wheat
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

This whisky is distilled from rye and wheat, and is the flagship whisky for Highwood - though it is not available in Ontario. The grains are distilled and aged separately, with wheat as the base, before being blended - in a typical Canadian style. According to Chip Dykstra, the whisky is about 5 years old.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 5114 07:26

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Sour, with some dry rye spice, flambeed bananas, orange peel, and some rich vanilla laden grain in the background with some mixed fruit drop notes. Grape and white raisin come in on the palate, slowly fading to light rye spice. The spice lingers for some time, with a bit of a cleansing and enduring, and lightly fruity finish with some canned peaches. Alongside being an enjoyable sipper, that rich grain in the background is the sort of thing that would turn this into a very nice mixer. The wheat, as often, brings in some quite bright candy fruit to the mix.

Score: 81/100

Value: 75/100 (based on $26)


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Coconut, peaches, orange peel, pine needles, vanilla, clove, and vanilla lead into a light palate with a bit of coconut, more pine needles, and dried orange peel. The whisky finishes with spices (clove and cumin), light oak, and orange peel. Young, but complex and quite enjoyable. Terrific mixer.

Value: Average. Not a fantastic whisky, but it’s simple and quite decent - and cheap (~25$).


Review: Last Mountain Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
3-5 yrs
Recipe
N/A
Producer Last Mountain (Lumsden, Saskatchewan)

This is a wheat whisky which is aged 3-5 years in ex-bourbon barrels before being recasked to age for a longer period of time. Though this whisky is in production, along with their Private Reserve, there is hope for more wheat and rye whisky to be released as stocks mature.


Review (2015; Blind)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Light, fruity, and floral: clean grape, dry rye, cookie dough, and some rich oaky vanilla. With everything else lightly integrated into the whisky, there is a surprising set of tannins in the mix here which add to the whisky quite well. There is quite a nice confectionary sweetness and character (which really comes to its own in their “private reserve”). Really great stuff coming out of this distillery.

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

Value: Average, at $33.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Dry, spicy, and slightly sweet with palm sugar, green wood, nutmeg, clove, green wood, and light oak. The palate is slightly sweet, continuing with lots of spices in a fairly traditional Canadian style with some terrific wax. Corn and oak carry the finish nicely.  Overall, it’s slightly confectionary, and, though not the most complex of whiskies – this is very easy.

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

Value: Average, at $33.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Coconut macaroons, juniper, coconut, icing sugar, sweet wheat, and a rich grain character that only comes out towards the end of the palate. A light vegetal characteristic is present underneath which provides a very complex experience. Easy to drink, and delicious.

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

Value: Average, at $33.


Review: Rig Hand Bar M Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Picture courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

Picture courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
45%
Aging
~4 yrs
Recipe
Wheat, Barley, and Rye
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB) and Last Mountain (Lumsden, SK)

This is Alberta's first micro-distillery whisky (released in November 2017), made with a collaboration between Last Mountain and Rig Hand distillery - a blend of Last Mountain's 100% Wheat Whisky (who produce the best wheat whisky I've tasted...) and Rig Hand’s 10% Rye, 40% Wheat, and 50% Barley mashbill. The Rig Hand component has seen a variety of casks: 10 gallon used wheat whisky barrels from Last Mountain, 25 gallon used bourbon barrels from Stillwrights, Ohio, 53 gallon used bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill, Kentucky and 60 gallon used French sherry casks.

Rig Hand hopes to collaborate more with Last Mountain to produce similar releases in the future and maintain the flavor profile. Rig Hand has other whiskies to be released when mature  - a 100% rye, a bourbon style corn whisky, and a single malt.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Grainy notes, light clove, roasted green peppers, coconut, orange peel, and grape lead into a palate which lends soft molasses, cream of wheat, light icing sugar, and that classic, dusty Canadian rye backbone of light spices. Lots of peppery spice notes on the nose. There is a light oiliness which is terrific, and a rising set of waxiness and woody spices towards the finish. The finish has some green pear, clove, and cinnamon with brown sugar making an appearance too once much has faded.

This isn’t a raw whisky – I say this only because often tasting something from a craft distillery means it is too young – this is not so, it is ready. It’s light, it’s fairly easy, and it is a whisky that leaves you wanting more. There isn’t much wrong with it – it’s balanced and interesting – but not overly complex. A good inaugural release - we’ll have to see what is next for Rig Hand!

Value: Low, for now - but almost up to average. I imagine with time we’ll see more. But, also - try their Brum!


Review: Rig Hand Brum (Sugar Beet Rum) by Jason Hambrey

Photo courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

Photo courtesy of Rig Hand Distillery.

ABV
40%
Aging
None
Recipe
100% Sugar Beet Molasses
Distiller Rig Hand (Nisku, AB)

Here is something you don't see very often! Rig Hand distillery in Nisku, AB, wanted to make a local rum, however, sugar cane doesn't grow in Ontario. They turned their attention to sugar beets, instead, but initial experiments using sugar beets directly produced a spirit that had a dirt flavor no matter what level of cleaning was done. Consequently, they turned their attention towards sugar beet molasses sourced from the Rogers/Lantic plant in Taber, Alberta. It is reasonably sweet, but this is not from added sugar but rather from a backset flavouring technique where some of the unfermented water/molasses mixture is set aside before fermentation and added to the final distilled spirit for both flavouring and colouring.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Quite the nose! Earthy, earthy and fruity – loads of black licorice, spices, red cabbage, plums, red currants. Complex and interesting. A surprising palate, revealing more than the nose – clove, light nuts and loads of dried fruit – raisin, dried apricot – it also, for whatever reason, has many touches that remind me of rancio. Anyone who likes licorice flavors and sherry might find this of interest! Terrific finish full of spices, leather, raisins, red currants – it reminds me quite strongly of armagnac.

Assessment: Very Highly Recommended. Taste alone would land it in the range of a recommended, but this is so unique and intriguing it’s one of my favourite tries of the year! Pick up a bottle, if you can find it.

Value: High.


Review: Glen Saanich Ancient Grains by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of De Vine Spirits.

Image courtesy of De Vine Spirits.

ABV
45%
Aging
~12 Months; New Quarter Casks
Recipe
Organic Barley, Einkorn, Kamut, Spelt, and Emmer
Distiller De Vine Vineyards (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Last year De Vine Vineyards bought a farm to grow barley, and continues to develop whiskies which give homage to the impact of grain - much like Bruichladdich, where master distiller Ken Winchester apprenticed. This whisky is matured using new American oak quarter casks, and its youth allows the character of the distillate to come in without too much interferance from the cask.  There is malted barley in the mix, but otherwise the whisky is based on a combination of eirloom wheat- including einkorn (a wild wheat), kamut (khorasan wheat), spelt (dinkel wheat), and emmer (farro/hulled wheat). The grains are mostly from the northern Okanagan area.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 2017

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

A rich nose laden with grain notes – lightly confectionary (icing sugar), toffee, red river cereal, granola, honey, vanilla, and baking macadamia cookies. This is doing exactly what I like from micro-producers – a unique whisky with a focus on terrific grain notes (and not a rough whisky, either!). The palate carries on all the honey and grain notes, with light pear, atop a rich, yet still light, toffee base.  The finish is a bit malty (like an English Bitter), with some maple and nougat. It’s nice at 45%, but I like to soften it with a touch of water – it really brings out all the notes.

You wouldn’t think this is so young, as with the other Glen Saanich spirits.

One of the few grain spirits under 3 years old that I would want to call a whisky...

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

Value: High. $80 is really not bad for this!


Review: Mt. Logan 5 Year Old Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
5 Years; Ex-bourbon barrels
Recipe
100% Wheat
Distiller Highwood (High River, Alberta)

Mount Logan is a brand of sourced Highwood whisky, developed between Ryan Engen, the Director of Spirits at Liquor Depot and Wine and Beyond to create an exclusive, high quality brand of Canadian whisky. The lineup includes this 5 year old, a 100% Corn 15 Year Old, and a 100% Corn 20 Year Old - all sourced and developed alongside Highwood Distillery.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 6119

  • Bottling Date: ~2016

A soft, sweet, and spicy nose, with maple, candle wax, cedar, oak, licorice root, and cola – it favors time. Baking spice, and a bit dusty. The palate is clean, light, and sweet with cream of wheat and a nice edge of spicy, vegetal, rye – mint, licorice root, cola. As an entry level whisky, this is great – easy, yet with subtle complexity – seemingly growing in body as you drink it. The finish is mainly on dry oak, pepper, and some clove – but, eventually, full of wheat. Definitely Classical Canadian in style.

It has the body and profile to mix quite well. I do like the dry and spicy finish, and the rye really lifts this one up.

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

Value: High. A good whisky, and cheap.


Review: Last Mountain Private Reserve Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
4-5 yrs; Used Bourbon & 10 Gallon Barrels
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Multiple

I've been looking forward to putting up this review for a while. A great aspect of large blind tests, as with the Canadian Whisky Awards for me, is that there are undiscovered gems that surprise - this was one, for me. Much of what comes out of craft distilleries is raw and young, often too raw or too "finished" to compensate for the raw youth....this whisky is neither. The whisky is a blend of 3-5 year old sourced wheat whisky which is matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in new 10 gallon barrels before bottling. Sadly, the whisky is not available in Ontario - only Saskatchewan and some places in Alberta and BC. However, in combination with the Still Waters Rye, it's the best of the Canadian craft scene that I have tasted. It's been appreciated by others as well, picking up a silver medal in both the 2015 and 2013 Canadian Whisky Awards.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2015

Creamy, leading with some vanilla, freshly sawn oak, custard, and very dessert like and smelling quite sweet - like walking into a confectionary! Yet, underneath it all, there's a bit of spice giving it all a bit of an edge. On the palate, a nice mouth-feel with some corn-starch like grain coming in at the background, but staying true to the nose while also supplying some intriguing vegetable and spice threads and light tannic structure. Very elegant.  The confectionary component is surprisingly similar to Crown Royal Single Barrel. Very nice stuff coming out of this distillery.

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

Value: High, at $45.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2016

Here we have some confectionary goodness! Like walking into a candy shop with all the sugary and light fruity notes. Light oak is present, with slight wheaty notes – but we’re still mainly on confectioner’s sugar here. The palate is more grain driven, alongside some dried apricot and brilliant, clear oak. A drying finish with oak, spices, and some more candy notes.

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

Value: High, at $45.