A Wee Dram… Wild Turkey 81

So, this weekend, we had a bit of a family gathering at my place and, as is the custom between my father-in-law and me, we each brought a bottle of whisky to the party. In this case it was actually whiskey on both sides as both Pops and I chose a bourbon. My contribution will get the full-review treatment later on, but I’ll do a quick “Wee Dram” for the Wild Turkey 81 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey brought by my father-in-law. 

I don’t post prices for bottles that I haven’t purchased myself but I am aware that this is a very reasonably priced bourbon. The label notes state it is a blend of whiskeys aged up to 6-8 years and that it is made special through the use of an alligator char on the casks. I have no idea what makes this type of char different from other cask-toasting methods but I do suspect that the word choice, “up to” should be interpreted as meaning that most of the spirit in the bottle actually being younger than 6 years. This bourbon is, obviously, 81 proof – 40.5% abv. 

Not a lot going on with the nose, although the basic bourbon aromas seem to be there: caramel corn, vanilla, a bit of baking spice… Nothing bad but nothing special either and a bit understated, perhaps. The flavours are again pretty straightforward for bourbon., if not all that assertive. A bit of oak, punky corn and a ribbon of vanilla-infused sweetness, with a hint of cinnamon and spice hitching along. I am a bit disappointed by the thin mouth-feel of this whisky, in comparison to many of the bourbons I’ve been enjoying recently. The finish, however, is surprising long with more oak and sweet, toasty cornbread and was a highlight of the dram. 

Overall, Wild Turkey 81 seems to be a perfectly mediocre bourbon. It’s a decent value purchase, I think, and I wouldn’t turn one down in a pinch but it’s not quite interesting enough and doesn’t pack enough bite for my liking. It is probably best suited as a mixer, in my opinion.

Auchentoshan 2000 Single Cask #1757 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)

So, I was just up to the city for yet another of my son’s spring hockey games and, on the way home, we happened to stop for a bite right beside a big new bottle shop… What a coincidence! Well, with yet another graduate course recently put in the rear view, I figured I deserved to whip in and see if there were any treasures to be uncovered. I’m not sure if it’s a treasure or not, but I did find an independent bottling of Auchentoshan, a distillery I quite enjoy. This whisky was bottled in 2014 by Berry Bros. & Rudd, from Auchentoshan cask #1757, which was laid down in the year 2000, making it a 13 yr old expression. There was no carton for this bottle but the rear label explains that this bottling was produced exclusively for the North American market. This whisky is 53.6% abv and costs about $95 CDN. 

To the Eye

Pale, straw-gold in colour. A twist of my Glencairn builds a crest that reluctantly releases fat, exceedingly stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

Apples, which are always front and centre for me, when nosing an Auchentoshan. But, on this dram, these apples seem decidedly more crisp and tart, more like a green Granny Smith than the usual sweet, ripe reds I tend to pick up from this distillery. Werther’s Original caramels, vanilla and cotton candy are also quite assertive. With time, more subtle aromas also join the party: malt, leather and a dry grassy note. 

On the Tongue

Whoa! This whisky is much richer and more potent than the typical core expressions from Auchentoshan – I guess an extra 13-14% abv will help with that! The mouthfeel is much thicker and creamier, as well. Flavours of juicy fruits, particularly stone fruit preserves jump out at me, along with Cuban honey (if you’ve had it, you understand the difference), sweet malted grain and real black licorice flavour. There is herbal, citrusy note that arrives toward the end… not exactly understated but a bit more like a lime-basil than like the actual citrus fruit. Either way, the tang is a welcome counterpoint to the sweet flavours at the onset. There is a satisfying alcohol burn in this dram, which creates a tingling, effervescent finish of medium length, full with pineapple, more licorice and a hint of barrel wood… this may sound unusual, but the finish is a little reminiscent of drinking a nice Chardonnay. 

Final Thoughts

I’m impressed! I’ve long appreciated Auchentoshan whiskies and this is a very good one. I have not gotten in to many independent bottlings but this single cask offering by Berry Bros. & Rudd has me thinking I’ve ignored this category of whisky for long enough. It’s rich, sophisticated and well-composed! Complex, yet smooth, but still providing a nice burn. Delicious and highly recommended – if this was a more readily available dram, I would consider labelling it as a new favourite!

Baker’s Bourbon

My exploration of bourbon continues…

A gradual, but pleasant, by-product of my love for whisk(e)y is that a lot of my friends and family members have become interested in more premium spirits. Growing up, I can recall my Dad pouring the occasional Alberta Springs and cola and I remember fighting with my brother for the “throwing star” off of his bottles of Seagram’s Five Star…

But I digress. The point is that, today, my old man is a likely to pull out as bottle of Ninety 20 Yr Old or Glenlivet 15 and pour out a couple healthy drams straight up as he is to suggest a beer. Hell, even my Mom will enjoy a drop of the good stuff these days! I also take credit for several buddies who now fancy themselves as whisky aficionados, which is good since, as they I have been known to say, more drinking buddies means more drams! My brother-in-law is another recent whisky convert and, when he was putting me up for a few nights while I attended my teacher’s convention in the big city, it seemed only right to bring a bottle along. I chose Baker’s 7 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which is bottled at 53.5% abv and cost me about $60 CDN. 

To the Eye

I’ve said it before but the appearance of a good bourbon is very appealing to me. Baker’s is a deep amber gold with flashes or coppery-orange… It looks good enough to drink!

In the Nose

Classic bourbon aromas jump out of the glass: caramel, vanilla, oak and sweet corn. I expected more of an alcoholic astringency, based on the higher proof but there is actually very little. A bit of time reveals a sharp citrus tang and a woody note that is different from the initial oakiness but I can’t decide if it’s more like pine or cedar. Regardless, it smells good! I think there are also some canned plums, cloves and cinnamon lurking in the background. I also get a touch of yeasty funk, which is pretty typical for Beam products. 

On the Tongue

A nice grainy, kettle-corn sweetness is well balanced by oak tannins and pink peppercorns. There is a definite rye spiciness about this bourbon. The cinnamon I noticed on the nose is much more assertive on the palate, along with some surprising fruitiness – dark ripe cherries, perhaps. Vanilla and toffee round out the flavours and ensure a true bourbon experience. This whiskey has a satisfying burn that carries the medium-long finish of oak, walnuts and vanilla. 

Final Thoughts

Baker’s 7 Yr Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon seems to be yet another excellent bourbon! It offers pretty much everything that I am attracted to in America’s major contribution to the whisk(e)y scene. A lingering thought is just how damned drinkable this whiskey is! It is exceedingly smooth and approachable, despite the higher alcohol content. I am left kind of wondering, however, where this dram fits in the Beam lineup. Knob Creek offers similar characteristics at a slightly lower proof, older age statement and a lower price point. Booker’s, on the other hand, costs more but packs a much higher proof and intense flavours. 

In the end, I have decided that Baker’s is a very fine whiskey in it’s own right and one I am likely to buy again. 

Lot No. 40 Rye Whisky

There are many Canadian whiskies that I hold in high regard and, at any time, you’d be likely to find at least 3-4 different bottles in my cupboard. At present, I have the following Canadians available:

  • Wisers Delux – a mixer for any rye-and-coke drinking buddies that might pop over 
  • Forty Creek Barrel Select – a mid-shelf offering that I can unpretentiously share neat alongside highball sippers
  • Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – a premium bottle that’s for me and anyone else I figure is capable of appreciating its splendour
  • Alberta Premium 30 yr Old – the still unopened pride and joy of my Canadian collection… For now I just use it to show off!

What I have recently realized, however, is that my lineup of Canadian whisky has not seen much turnover for quite some time. It seems that my love of scotch and growing affection for bourbon has been keeping me from branching out and trying different Canadian whiskies. Well, no longer!

Lot No. 40 is a premium Canadian whisky distilled by Corby. It is a 100% rye whisky! distilled from a mixture of rye and malted rye. You can read all kinds of history about the brand, how it was started by Hiram Walker in the 90’s, flopped and was discontinued for many years… But I’ll leave that for you to Google and I’ll just tell you what I think of this dram. 

Lot No. 40 is bottled at 43% abv and cost me a little over $40 CDN. 

To The Eye

Beautiful, deep gold – in some ways, it actually looks more like a scotch than a typical Canadian rye! Thick, stubborn legs cling to my Canadian Glencairn after the usual swirl. 

In the Nose

Wow! This is rye whisky!  There is a beautiful dusty, dry rye sensation that is accompanied by a sourdough rye bread note, but it quickly moves aside for a fruity, floral aroma. There are oak notes, dark syrupy and molasses notes and lots of grainy and herbaceous notes… I get some dill and some caraway seed! But then that floral, perfume-like quality makes a return. There is a lot going on in this glass and I find myself delighted by the bouncing back and forth between the typical rye aromas and those of something entirely more sophisticated and complex!

On the Tongue. 

This dram is thick and rich on the tongue, carrying as many flavours as the nose suggested. Toasty cereals, plums, and a sweet citrus note that reminds me of mandarin oranges. There is a funky, mineal sort of character that adds a lot of interest to this dram, as well as oak tannins, vanilla and a touch of a dry, grassy herbal note. The entire experience is held together by a familiar rye spiciness. 

The finish is extremely long and full of another burst of flavours, including malt, lime zest, tobacco, milk chocolate and that floral, honeyed sweetness. The finish leaves me contemplating whether it’s more mini wheats or wine gums… It’s incredible!

Final Thoughts

How much more would you like me to gush about this whisky? In my opinion, this is the rye against which all other ryes should be measured! At the current price, this dram may be the pound-for-pound champion and another example of the quality to be found in Canadian rye… Go out and buy a bottle right now!

Strathisla 12 Yr Old

After a rather lengthy hiatus from my blog, it’s time to get back in the saddle. My graduate courses, coaching a Pee Wee AA hockey team (To a league championship and a provincial bronze medal, mind you!), not mention the job that actually pays the bills and family responsibilities… Let’s just say that something had to give for a while and it was my whisky blog that took a backseat.  

This does not mean, however, that I haven’t been making time to drink whisky! I’ve been keeping notes and I will try to get personal reviews complete for a few drams I’ve been sitting on. Today, I’m celebrating the start of the Easter break with one of those drops, the Strathisla 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 

This is the first Strathisla I have purchased. According to the carton notes, it is the oldest working distillery in the highlands of Scotland, but all I really want to know is if it’s any damned good?  This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and cost me about $45 CDN. 

 

To the Eye

This whisky is a beautiful golden colour and a swirl of my glass produces thick, moderately stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

Not quite the quintessential Speyside nose, maybe a bit more interesting, actually. There’s fruit, yes, but it’s slightly more citrusy than the typical orchard fruits of a Speyside. There is also a herbal note but, instead of the usual grassiness, the Strathisla 12 offers a more floral character. Vanilla, cardamom and sweet, toasted malt round out the main aromas. 

On the Tongue

Malty, that’s the first thought the crosses my mind. And the thick, creamy mouthfeel is the second. There is a raisiny sherried note, along with some baking spices and a hint of apple sauce. (I guess that counts as some of those orchard fruits I was expecting.) a bit of caramel but the main thing I notice on the back is a bitter astringency. It’s not altogether unpleasant but it’s not altogether delicious either. That bitterness lingers into the otherwise short finish, although a meaty umami quality does develop.

Final Thoughts

The Strathisla 12 is a whisky that kind of leaves me feeling like I got what I paid for… which is rarely a good thing. The nose had me intrigued every time I poured a dram but that buildup as never fulfilled by the rest of the experience, which was disappointing. For me, this is a rather single-note single malt, with too much bitterness for the limited flavour it has to offer. For only about $10 more, there are several far superior whiskies to enjoy. 

A Wee Dram… Actually, Three Wee Drams!

I recently attended a local Burns Night, once again put on at a local establishment that is managed by a friend. And, once again, the event did not disappoint… especially considering that it was taking place in my small hometown of Camrose, Alberta. 

Because of my son’s basketball tournament, I was not able to make it until the event was well underway. Fortunately, there aren’t too many scotch fanatics in Camrose so I was confident, so long as my dramming pal Richard and his father hadn’t cleaned the place out, that I’d still be able to sample some terrific whiskies. 


Once again, the selection was better than expected and the prices were favourable!  I sampled three whiskies: The Highland Park 18, the Lagavulin Double Matured and the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Reserva.  Here are some brief thoughts on all three, in the order that I tasted them. 

Highland Park 18

I have had the HP18 before but it has been a while. Anyone who has spent much time on this blog (especially early on) probably knows how much I adore Highland Park whiskies, so seeing the HP18 on the list made it a no-brainer for my first dram of the evening.  Golden in colour and with the classic subtle smoke and honeycombe Highland Park nose. On the palate, flavours toffee, toasted mal, vanilla and baking spices predominate, along with some orange zest and maybe a hint of dark chocolate. That familiar HP floral, heathery peatiness is certainly on display, which is especially evident in the lengthy honey-drenched finish. There is not a rough edge to be found on this whisky, it’s almost dangerously smooth. Great whisky… but I think I still slightly prefer the 12!

Lagavulin Double Matured

I love Islay whiskies, so I was very pleased to see a Lagavulin on the menu. (And yes, Imhave had words with my friend about the spelling error, lol!) I had previously only enjoyed the Lag8 and Lag16, so I was excited to take this PX “finished” version for a spin. Rich, bunt amber in my glass, this whisky visually hints to the strong aromas and flavours it will reveal. Peat and smoke, obviously, are on the nose, along with rubber bands, iodine, that maritime sea-weediness, and something vaguely like bananas. On the tongue, it’s all Islay, with more smoke and peat, malty sweetness and a bit more of the medicine cabinet as a menthol-eucalyptus note arrives.  The PX casks are evident in a lingering chewy-grape sweetness, as well. The finish is long and earthy as the smoky-peatiness fades to sponge toffee and s’mores. 

Glenfiddich 21 Year Reserva Rum Cask Finish

Having arrived late, I was quite content with the two drams I had selected. But, when the manager comes to offer a free-pour of the most expensive whisky on the list, it would be rude to say no, right! The healthy dram displayed dark coppery-gold in my glass and gave off fairly typical Speyside aromas of vanilla, fruit and a grassy note… There was a definite oakiness as well as an “older” note of leather. The rum did not jump out of the glass at me on the nose. The flavours were rich and delicious – maybe the knowledge of the rum finish influenced my palate, but molasses certainly came to mind, along with caramel and more vanilla. I know it doesn’t sound overly interesting, but it was a rich, well composed palate. The finish was medium in length and delivered a raisin-like quality that I only then realized had been there all along, in the nose and on the palate, as well. 

Once again, my local Burns Night delivered. Good friends and good conversation are really what make it so, but good whisky never hurts, either!

A Wee Dram… Oban 14 Yr Old

It is my extremely good fortune to have married into a fantastic family! My wife’s parents have always treated me like one of their own and they are the best grandparents I could wish for my kids. My brother-in-law and I also hit it off right away, playing senior hockey together, fishing and finding other ways to cause trouble… Although he teases about being the brother he never wanted, I’m glad to call him family and consider him one of my best friends! 

Ok, enough of the sappy stuff… What’s really important here is that my brother-in-law also continues to improve with age, just like a fine spirit! Increasingly, he has been more interested in scotch whisky and, at our most recent family get together, he surprised us by breaking out a bottle of Oban 14.  I was sure I’ve tried this whisky before but couldn’t recall where or when.  Nevertheless, I was more than happy to sample it anew!

The nose was rather soft and understated, with obvious vanilla and caramel as well hints of smoke and orange zest. I was longing for my Glencairn since I was sure this dram had more to offer than I could tease out with a tumbler! The first sip surprised me with a very full-bodied mouthfeel. The palate included vanilla and a sweet malt graininess front and centre, with burnt sugar and a herbal, floral honey. There was also a wisp of smoke but it was more like campfire than peat, in my opinion. This whisky finished medium-long, with salted caramels and lingering licorice.

All in all, I thought this was a delicious whisky!  At 43%abv, Oban 14 was smooth and easy drinking but it was also nuanced and interesting… I may have to get myself a bottle!