Whisky Review

Review: Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
51% rye, 35% Corn, 14% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This was released a few years ago from Heaven Hill - who already produce the well-known rittenhouse and pikesville ryes. It is a corn-heavy rye mashbill, with only 51% rye - but this has come to the market with much acclaim and represents another high-quality, reasonably priced rye.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2022

The “first to char oak” on the label gave me a good eye-roll before I jumped in to this.

The nose is rich, and full of oak and the waxy, vanilla, and light coconut aroma that you get with new American oak. There is a very appealing light dusty character, spice, and dried fruit character with a rich, fatty, corn character still in the mix. Some nice candied fruit notes too. The palate is spicy, oaky, and with a light touch of corn husk and the fullness of fatty corn too. The finish is lightly fruity – dried fruit on the dried berry character – as well as having a spicy, herbal character of rye. It still has an interesting nutty note, too.

How does this compare to Rittenhouse? It is richer, with more oak and a bit more focused, frankly, on the corn characteristics with a heavy rye accent rather than the rye characteristics with a heavy corn accent. Overall, a nice aged, corn-heavy rye whisky. I like it more as a sipper than Rittenhouse, but less as a mixer (and, notably, less of a sipper than Elijah Craig bourbon).

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

Value: Average at $80.


Review: Willet Family Estate Small Batch Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
54%
Aging
~4 years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Willett (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Willett is making their own rye whiskey now, after a very successful run with purchasing some very nice rye and bourbon barrels which were previously bottled under their “family estate” brand.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N.A, 54%

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling date: N/A

The nose is woody – vanilla, beeswax, coconut, and with youthful rye tones that are slightly herbal and quite earthy. The earthy character is quite remarkable – it reminds me of fields of grain in the fall, dried up and a bit dusty. There is some light dried fruit character, too – on the lighter side towards peaches rather than richer apricot. The palate has a bit more of a spicy intensity but it is tempered significantly by a wave of sweet, American oak full of vanilla and coconut. The waxiness persists. The finish is slightly raw, with grain, lots more earth, and baking spice. Slightly tannic, but not too much.

A bit disappointing, to be honest, after the incredible quality of their other family estate ryes from single barrels (at least the MGP versions I’ve tried).

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

Value: Low (based on $110)


Review: Whistlepig 10 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
50%
Aging
10 Yrs; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
100% Unmalted Rye
Distiller Alberta (Calgary, Alberta)

This whisky is somewhat notorious for trying to disguise both the source of its origin (Canada), and the fact that they don’t actually distill any of their product (yet). If you go hunting on the label, on the back, in the corner, is a small little statement “imported from Canada”. I should note, however, that not all of Whistlepig is sourced from Alberta - some of their recent rye bottlings are sourced elsewhere in the States.

Dave Pickerell, the former master distiller at Maker’s Mark, a well known whisky consultant who has a love for rye, is at the helm of the Whistlepig operation – and this product has been a huge success. The hope of the Whistlepig farm (in Vermont) is to do a complete seed to glass process, growing their own rye, distilling it, and aging it.

This whisky is sourced from Alberta Distillers, like some other successful and excellent whiskies such as Masterson’s Rye. It is made from 100% rye, unmalted – and, as Alberta does – this likely went in the barrel just short of 80% ABV, and came out likely above 80% before dilution. This shows the quality of the stuff that goes into the blends in Canada – typically a process with a “base” whisky which provides the bulk of the body and profile, and then this is “flavoured” with a stronger, perhaps spicier, whisky such as this one. I wish, among many others, that these flavouring ryes would be released because of their incredible quality…but sadly most of them are not - though we are starting to see more of them these days.


Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Oak, and rye – simple, and beautiful – strong off the nose, with some wonderful earthiness too. Caramel, orange, a bit of arugula…a very similar style to masterson’s. Lots going on – vanilla starts to emerge, with some canola oil, tabacco, caramel, mint chocolate, star anise, a touch of smoke, and butterscotch – quite a wonderful and wide array of buttery and caramel notes. A bit of fruit, but it’s not overly fruity – cherry notes are present. A few odd notes start to come out with time, which I don’t like much – reminding me of ketchup chips (quite unlike anything else I’ve nosed). But, overall, quite good.

Taste: Fairly sweet, with a sharp arugula-laced rye body (the arugula is interesting – I find it strongly here, in Masterson’s, and in the Collingwood 21 Year old – all 100% ryes). There is a nice oaky underlying spice explosion (white pepper and cinnamon)- this is very, very enjoyable, and oak takes over towards the end. There is vanilla, too, wonderfully balanced in the palate. And, with all that, there are some nice, bright, floral notes hinting of lilac.

Finish: Marmelade, caramel, black currant jam, cinnamon, and a bit of dry oak….and our arugula. It grows as you drink more, with more spice (cayenne pepper, clove) and more fruit (I find green apple comes out)…and then woody notes like cedar start to appear. Very good body, spiciness, and sweetness.

To be honest, it’s surprising to me how much it reminded me of Masterson’s – they are both independently bottled from the same recipe and age of the same distillery. Whistlepig, though, is less intense – a bit woodier, and, perhaps darker – but less spicy, sharp, and refined with a bit less complexity and development.

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

Value: Average, at $70 CAD.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: A/354

  • Bottling Code: 20220317

  • Bottling Date: 2022

A few things have changed since the last time we checked this one in – while it used to be 100% unmalted barley from Alberta, it is now a blend of straight rye whiskeys. The nose is fruity, rich, and broad – capturing both the spicy, herbal, and rich rye to the big fruity characteristics that you can find in rye.  It isn’t as intense as it used to be and is a bit diluted compared to the previous version – however, it is still very nice and well-balanced. The spice/medicinal/herbal components are not as intense and I find it slightly less appealing as you don’t have the same intensity of rye at the forefront – it is somewhat diluted by corn. A nice, interesting whisky – but I like the younger, 100% rye piggyback over this version – that is an intense and fascinating whisky.

However, this might be more up the American rye-drinker style which still has corn as a significant player compared to the Canadian flavouring ryes which hold all the intensity of rye – which, if you’ve read a handful of my notes – is right in line with my favourite category of Canadian whisky.

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

Value: Lower at $100.


Review: Compass Box Orchard House Blended Malt Scotch Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
46%
Aging
See below
Recipe
100% Malt Whisky (see below)
Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

This is a relatively new compass box whisky, an addition to their core lineup that generally offer great value for money (as opposed to the very highly priced limited editions). The conception of the whisky is to blend together a very fruit-forward malt that is fragrant and balanced. It’s nice to see another one - these “core” compass box whiskies are very good. The batches vary slightly, but this batch is a mix of:

  • 30.6% clynelish single malt scotch (to contribute apple, wax, honey), matured in a first-fill ex-bourbon casks

  • 24.9% linkwood. matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (to contribute pear, vanilla, maltiness)

  • 2.4% highland malt blend., matured in a custom, heavily toasted French oak barrel (to contribute chocolate, cinnamon, ginger)

  • 2.4% caol ila single malt whisky matrued in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (to contribute smoke, almond, vanilla)

  • 6.6% aberlour single malt matured in oloroso sherry (to contribute red apple, sultana raisins, and malt)

  • 6.4% clynelish single malt matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (to contribute apple, vanilla, and spice)

  • 12.6% benrinnes single malt matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (to contribute fudge, apple, maltiness)

  • 14.2% linkwood single malt matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (to contribute apple blossom, honey, vanilla).


Review (2022)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: L18 01 22 3:06:06 BB

  • Bottling Date: 2018

This has such a nice malty core – you can tell just as soon as you pour it from the bottle. The fruit, indeed, is very bright – fresh apples, pears, peaches – but there is also bright, citrusy barley and a light foundation of oak. And, some very nice bourbon-y notes on the nose. The palate is fruity, and there is a lovely thread of smoke that adds terrific savoury and earthy character – it really increases the depth of this whisky. The toffee on the palate plays in so brilliantly with the whisky, and there is an underrant of dried fruit that works brilliantly. The finish is waxy, a bit earthy, and still with lots of that fruit.

A really nice Scotch, especially for the price.

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

Value: Pretty good value at $60-80!


Review: Forty Creek Art of the Blend Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
45%
Aging
N/A
Recipe
Blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies infused with grapes
Distiller Forty Creek (Grimsby, Ontario)

This is the 2022 limited edition whisky from Forty Creek. Very little is actually communicated about the blend, other than that it is made with whisky “infused with grapes harvested in the darkest hours of winter from the Niagara region.“ I assume that means icewine grapes macerated in whisky, rather than maturation in an icewine barrel. I suppose this moves them closer to their “Niagara” rebranding recently. Other than that, not a lot is said about how this is made - though I assume it is blended with the typical corn/rye/barley whiskies of Forty Creek.


Review (2022)

  • Batch: Special Release 16

  • Bottling Code: N.A

  • Bottling Date: 2022

The nose is very nutty, with roasted hazlenuts, mixed roasted nuts, cinnamon, toasted oak, vanilla, and a very interesting grape-quality much like grape skins. Citrus peel, milk chocolate, cloves, fuzzy peaches, wet wood, light earthiness – a bit all over the place. Some younger, oily spirits underneath too that have their charm but don’t fully fit here.

The palate is nutty, oaky, and spicy – very flavourful. It has sweet citrus and the nutty/citrus/vanilla reminds me of some flavoured whisky styles that I’ve judged – granted, without the sweetness. The finish is tannic and light.

I loved the 2021 release, Master’s Cut, which was a hearkening back to the early days of the special releases which set the bar for Canadian whisky. This release goes back to the style that we’ve seen for most of the last decade, which I haven’t been a big fan of – while being complex and flavourful, it hasn’t been clean or mature in character, rather it’s been young, a bit raw, and dominated by finishes and additions.

I love Forty Creek, and barrel select remains one of the best buys in Canadian whisky. But, I do wish their special releases would get back to setting the bar.

Value: low at $90.