Wine Finish

Review: Shelter Point Double Barreled Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

Image courtesy of Shelter Point Distillery.

ABV
50%
Aging
6 yrs; American Oak; Wine Finish
Recipe
100% Malted Barley
Distiller Shelter Point (Vancouver Island, British Columbia)

Shelter Point double barreled some of their whisky in French oak wine casks - here is something unique! This was after about 6 years in American oak.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Finished in blackberry wine casks.

Coconut, vanilla, caramel, pineapple, and rich orchard fruit and sharp baking spice. Big on the palate – spicy, rich, and full of grain and milk chocolate notes even amidst all the fruit sitting overtop. Lots of rich dried fruit, particularly apricot – frankly, it’s remarkable how well the apricot fits in. The finish rides on a wave of vanilla. My favorite Shelter Point to date. It doesn’t have the finish of some of the artisanal cask finishes but it brings a whole lot to the table…

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Finished in blackberry wine casks.

Toffee, broad grain notes, marzipan, and apple juice – yet still with lots of oak, dried fruit, and berries. There is a really great nuttiness shining through, complemented nicely by the oak. It is sweet, easy, and fruity – both fresh fruit and dried fruit, with a bit more emphasis on dried fruit – both stone fruit and raisins and currants. Excellent, and even a touch better than last year!

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

Value: Average, based on $80.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2018

  • Bottling Date: 2018

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Aged for 5.5 years in American oak before being finished for 335 days in quail’s gate pinot noir casks - we’re now not in blackberry cask territory.

This whisky opens with a terrific nose - really nice rich, fruity notes, raisins, red currants, cardamom, sour notes, green apple, baking spices, and great oak. Light shelter point barley characteristics. Lightens up nicely with time. Really opens up with water. The taste is slightly salty, with currants and loads of fruit and tannins – but there are some really nice malty and toffee notes as well. It is very savoury. The finish is winey, thick, and spicy – with some roasted grain notes. Nice body on the finish.

I really like it! It is a departure from before – it has more wine, fruit, and richness. The blackberry releases previously were a bit spicier. I like this version even more.

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Average, based on $80. But it’s above average if we’re just looking at Canadian single malts.


Review (2019)

  • Batch: 2019

  • Bottling Date: 2019

  • Bottling Code: N/A

Finished in Quail’s Gate foch wine casks.

Raisins, vanilla, hazlenuts, some really nice floral notes (geranium!), clove, orange peel, and that slightly tangy character in shelter point malts. The nose opens nicely with time – it rewards patience, and more complexity slowly seeps out.

The whisky has a nice body on the palate, with orange and a nice mix of dried fruit, sweetness, and spice. A nice savoury character on the palate, too. I like this with a few drops of water. Opens up some of the dense character. The finish has nice oak, vanilla, dried fruit, baking spice, and pearl barley.

Compared to last year’s pinot noir cask, this is spicier, nuttier, and oilier and isn’t quite as well rounded. It tastes a bit harsher. The last three double barrels have been really good – from blackberry, to pinot, to foch. If anyone chances to have all three, it would make for a great side by side.

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

Value: Average, based on $80. But it’s above average if we’re just looking at Canadian single malts.


Review (2021)

  • Batch: 2021

  • Bottling Date: 2021

  • Bottling Code: N/A

This is my favourite “standard release” of Shelter point that’s been around for a while (this is now the fifth release). They are all a bit varied but all of high quality – I think it’s one of the best single malts in Canada, as far as regular releases go. The single malt is aged for 6 years before being finished for 99 days in blackberry casks.

The nose is rich and spicy: cacao, hibiscus, dried berries, cinnamon, cardamom, prune, dried cherry, berries, apples, wine gums and sharp oak.  The palate continues with the richness – big fruity and oaky character but also some sesame, dried peach, and wet earth. There is a light acidity that really accentuates the flavours. The finish is big – first spicy, then fruity, then oaky. Slightly oily, in a very appealing way. Lots of movement on the finish.

Nice to see another blackberry cask. I did like some of the pinot noir finishes they did, but I really like how the blackberry meshes with Shelter Point’s whisky. Excellent stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (19% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High at $85.


Review: Goodridge & Williams Northern Grains Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
40%
Aging
Ex-bourbon; Wine barrel finish
Recipe
Wheat and Malted Barley
Distiller Gooderidge & Williams (Delta, British Columbia)

This whisky is made from wheat and malted barley, matured in an ex-bourbon cask and finished in a red wine cask from the Okanagan.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2019

Some solid Ferrero Rocher, here! Lots of nuts, chocolate, baking spices, green pear, hazelnut skins, banana bread, and toffee. A touch of red wine tannins on the finish, too, and some dried fruit contribution. A bit like a blended Scotch, in terms of whisky – with lots going on from many different angles. I’m impressed with the chocolate and Ferrero Rocher, though.

Value: Low. Doesn’t quite do it for me.


Review: Pike Creek 15 Year Old Cabernet Sauvignon Finish by Jason Hambrey

Pike Creek 15 1.jpg
ABV
42%
Aging
15 Years; Finished in Wine Barrels
Recipe
Double Distilled Corn Whisky & Rye Whisky
Distiller Hiram Walker (Windsor, Ontario)

Well, with COVID-19, I’m hoping there won’t be a drought of nice whisky releases. But, thankfully, the ever-bountiful Corby continues to deliver new (and diverse) whiskies. This one was finished in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from the Foreign Affair winery in Niagara. Notably, the whiskies were distilled in 2004, the first vintage of wine from the foreign affair winery.


Review (2020)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 54SL24 L2005Z EW 08:25

  • Bottling Date: 2020

The colour of this is very red – wine barrel indeed! The whisky presents typical aged Canadian whisky top notes – blueberry and royal gala apple skin – but also light smoke, wine tannins, black currant, light bourbon nuances, toffee, raisins, vanilla, and baking spice. Slightly sour on the nose, too. There is a touch of rye which supplies its usual magic. Loads of complexity.

The palate leads with light Canadian whisky but then transitions into more wine-forward notes with loads of plum, cherry, black currant, before fading to bean sprouts. A touch of rye comes through on the finish, along with lots of fruit and a bit of wine tannin.

I wondered if this might be terribly unbalanced – it’s not. Wine casks are a big challenge with whisky, and, as usual, the team at Hiram Walker has struck the right balance here.

During some of my tastings with this, I found the tannins combined with a bitterness in a way that I didn’t appreciate – but other times not as much. When that happened, air and/or a bit of water helped. But, I’ve found this one is a bit more sensitive to “palate conditioning” than some other whiskies (…it wasn’t a good cheesecake chaser, but few whiskies are…)

Highly Recommended (49% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Lower end of average, based on $70.


Review: Bearface Triple Oak Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

Bearface 1.jpg
ABV
42.5%
Aging
7 Years; Ex-bourbon, French Red Wine, and Virgin Hungarian Oak
Recipe
N/A
Distiller Canadian Mist (Collingwood, Ontario)

Canadian whisky is an incredibly diverse style of whisky, with flavour shaped by a combination of grain, stills, yeasts, enzymes (such as malt), and barrels. Canadian whisky uses multiple types of each of these to create flavour – but Bearface whisky is doing something rather unique. They are using an intense blending process that is focused around the impact of multiple types of wood on a relatively light corn whisky. Bearface is all about what happens after distillation and initial maturation, and it is therefore a bit different than many brands. Many brands are working with finishes, but there isn’t a small brand I’ve come across focusing on as intense of a finishing process in Canada, particularly one which uses a blend of finishing barrels so meticulously. Some of the big producers do this, but it’s rare to find a small producer taking such a complex approach to finishing. I wanted to give a picture of what they are doing.

Bearface is shaped around a 7 year old light corn whisky which is a “canvas” in the words of Andres Faustinelli, the master blender for the brand. The finishing process is all about filling in the gaps of the corn whisky, using all the nuances created by different casks.  It’s not a linear process. While there might only be two “stages” of finishing, each stage has different casks involved that are eventually blended together. The first stage is based on wine casks and the second is based on virgin Hungarian oak.

The whisky, at 76% ABV, is placed into a mixture of French oak and American oak wine casks: the French oak for vanilla, cranberries, and apricot and the American oak for vanilla and coconut. It comes out of the cask rich in wine colour and with an infusion of oaky wine notes. The wine casks are chosen carefully with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot used for the whisky. Other varieties are available, they don’t suit the desired flavour profile. After 90 days in these wine casks, the mid-palate (lacking in the original whisky) is now full of dried fruit and a dry finish to beg another sip after the first finish.

The second stage of finishing is used to round out the whisky. It is put into powerful Hungarian oak which is toasted, not charred – to give rich toasted and woody notes. Much thought is given to these Hungarian oak casks. Andres uses 3 different types of Hungarian casks to create his desired profiles: a medium toast, a “medium+”, and a heavy toast barrel which is close to a charred barrel but without the damage on the surface that a charred cask would have. The staves which make up the Hungarian casks are all seasoned for 3 years in Hungary. The seasoning process breaks down the tannins in the wood and creates a complex set of flavour characteristics while reducing tannin levels. This last set of Hungarian casks builds up the spicy finish in the whisky and reinforces the structure of the whisky.

The different Hungarian casks give different notes to the whisky – the medium toast lends tannic astringency and a dry finish, the “medium+” gives lots of spice and the heavy toast lends a lot of savouriness, bacon fat, and fattiness – but without the tannin and spice. This second finishing process is only 2-3 weeks, depending on taste.

The Hungarian casks are only used three times, with the best extraction coming on the second use. All three barrel types, with the three refill numbers, are blended together – each batch comes from about 100 barrels. At the end of the life, the casks become solera casks.

Complicated enough? I’d say so. After the time in Hungarian oak, Andres spends about 2 days tasting through all the casks and separating them into flavour “families”. The rest of the week preparing his blend.

It’s quite an oaky whisky – but it’s where the palate is focused these days. The whisky has been received well, winning one of the 25 gold medals at the 2019 Canadian whisky awards. My review is below.

For more info, I highly recommend Mark Bylok’s interview with Andres on The Whisky Topic.

I’m making a bit of an assumption that Canadian Mist is the distillery, given that it’s the only major distillery on the Georgian Bay, as the label states…

On an “interest” note, I’m a bit surprised the LCBO stocks the whisky- they are pretty bullish on not having any danger associated with alcohol (as a “bear” or scars might). I know a few brands who have had their label shot down as it “implied danger”. From my end, nothing against the branding, on my end - I think the bottle is great!


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2018

First time I smelled this, I thought – nice corn whisky! And indeed – nice creaminess, light corn husks – but lots of oak: cinnamon, pencil shavings, clove, and charred oak. The wine influence might not be what you expect – it’s more on the line of blackcurrants, red pepper jelly, and currants. Lots of varied dried fruit. Despite all the oak, the distillate character is not lost…

The palate has a rich oily body, with some nice corn at the centre – both kernel and husk. The palate has a nice “zing” to it with oaky spice, dried fruit, and tannins playing off one another. There is a core of sweetness which works well. The finish has charred oak, cherries, cinnamon, even some gooseberry (without the tartness) and apple skin. It reminds me a bit of the oiliness in Forty Creek whiskies.

I quite like that despite all the oak, the distillate is not lost. Also, not too winey – which is easy to do – it comes out on the nose and on the finish – but not too much, but it adds quite well to the whisky with the spice, fruit, and lightly oxidized set of flavours.  Intriguing, moreish, and a great addition to the Canadian whisky landscape.

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

Value: High. $40 combined with the quality of this means you can’t do a whole lot better for the price.


Review: Wayne Gretzky Ninety Nine Proof Canadian Whisky by Jason Hambrey

ABV
49.5%
Aging
3 years (bourbon barrels); Wine Cask Finish (100 days+)
Recipe
Malted Rye, Unmalted Rye, Corn
Producer Wayne Gretzky Estates (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario)

Many critics consider Canadian whisky undervalued – in part because of reputation which isn’t generally merited at any shelves except the bottom. indeed, the most expensive Canadian whisky in Ontario is usually only a hair above $100 – we’ve had 21 year old rye whiskies selling for under 50$, 30 year old ryes selling for $50, 25 year old ryes selling for $25. The most expensive whisky in the LCBO now is a (terrific) 21 year old Canadian Rockies for $126. Gretzky is making a bold move, here – putting their nice looking new release in at $100, saying a lot for a whisky that is 3 years old.

Available at the Gretzky Winery and Distillery.


Review (2017)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: 711015:20L3 54SL278

  • Bottling Date: 2017

 

The nose is still in the oaky, spicy gretzky style – but bigger, and with more overt wine influence. Rich dried fruit, charcoal, black cherry, wax, and lots of old cinnamon and clove. Dried apricot, prunes, dried cherry, anise, fresh oak, caramel sauce – all there as well. The palate is very much a whisky, but with loads of wine influence – with notes of a spicy, big, cabernet blended in. The spices continue, along with oak, clove, charcoal, and toffee – with a finish of red wine tannin, clove, anise, cashews, and buttery toffee. The finish is really nice. A bigger whisky than the other Grezkys, and it does very well at this strength. Very enjoyable (especially on a cool, rainy day like today!).

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

Value: Low. Against Scottish single malts, this might compete in a value category, but against whisky as a whole $100 is a lot for this.