Glenfiddich 14 Yr Old Rich Oak

It’s kind of an unwritten rule for get-togethers with my father-in-law, that we each bring a bottle of scotch to share. We never go too over-the-top with the whiskies that we bring… It’s all about sharing a dram or two, not trying to impress each other with something expensive. (Pops puts a lot of ice in his dram and we want to feel comfortable leaving whatever is left in each other’s cabinet, but maybe we’re just a little on the cheap side!) Nevertheless, we do both like to bring something expected to be a new experience for the other. Generally, it’s quite a bit of delicious fun!

Well, this year was once again time to spend Christmas with my wife’s family and this time I decided to bring two bottles that fit the bill for our little whisky exchange: a personal inexpensive favourite in Bruichladdich Classic Laddie and something I hadn’t yet tried before – Glenfiddich 14 yr Rich Oak. (In case you’re wondering, Pops’ bottle was Aberlour 12.)

Apparently this Speyside malt is aged for 14 years, using Glenfiddich’s usual casking regime before separate finishing periods in both European and American casks. This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and it cost me about $65 CDN. 

To the Eye

This whisky displays a rich coppery-gold that brings bourbon to mind. I suppose this could be expected but it also has me wondering about caramel colouring. My usual tot and swirl results in some moderate legs that dissipate quite quickly. 

In the Nose

The name alone had me expecting a big blast of wood from this dram… That’s not really what I found, however. The oak does linger in the background but it’s not an assertive aroma nor one that really seems to provide a backbone or common thread to the nosing experience. Instead, I picked up some of the usual Glenfiddich character: orchard fruits, vanilla and a herbaceous note. Each of these were rather muted, though, and that herbal note, in particular was quite a long way off from the fresh, grassy quality that I usually enjoy from Glenfiddich and many other Speyside malts. I also find vanilla and a touch of biscuity malt but it’s kind of flat.

With water, the fruits stand out a bit more and become a little more juicy and maybe even somewhat tropical

On the Tongue

If I had to sum it up succinctly, I’d say this whisky comes across as rather bourbony, without coming close to the complexity or deliciousness of a quality bourbon. There is sweetness, but a metallic bitterness quickly makes you forget about it. There are a few spices but they are overpowered by vanillins. The oak is certainly there but it’s a muddy sort of dominating flavour, if that makes any sense – it just doesn’t compliment anything else that’s going on in my glass. The finish is on the short side, with bitter oak tannins and a dry, acrid metallic after taste that again suggests the use of E150a. 

With a few drops of water, I found the oakiness and the vanilla flavours were tamed and pointed in a more complimentary direction that allowed a malty sweetness to come forward. Water also helped some citrusy flavours to assert themselves and it also changed the finish into something more toasty much less bitter. 

Final Thoughts

I don’t usually water my whisky but I was forced to try it with this one. While I was not enjoying my first couple of drams, my father-in-law was finding his glasses of scotch-flavoured ice to be quite delicious… So I figured I could give it a try. In this case, I found a little water transformed the Glenfiddich 14 yr Rich Oak from something almost undrinkable into a pretty decent drop. 

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 yr Old

The Balvenie has been a distillery that I’ve… let’s not say avoided… It more like ignored.  Fair or not, you know what they say about first impressions and I was not a fan of the Carribean Cask as my introduction to the Balvenie and, well, I just haven’t had much urge to give ‘er another go… until recently. 

Lately, my whisky journey has been leading me toward drams that market themselves as throwbacks in some way. Call me old fashioned but I guess I kind of romanticize the idea of doing things from scratch or, at the very least, small-scale, hands-on craftsmanship. So, I’m in the bottle shop and I finally pull down a carton for the Balvenie and I read the words:

Hook, line and sinker… It was time to give them another chance! This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and cost me approximately $80 CDN. 

To the Eye

Lovely bourbony copper-orange with the odd flash of brighter brass. A tilt of my glass produces thick, stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

My first sniff reveals loads of orchard fruits – ripe red apples and juicy pears. Then comes some red licorice, honey and some typical vanilla-caramel goodness. Eventually, with time, a firm, spicy oak backbone reveals itself along with a subtle note that reminds me of kosher pickle brine. Overall, I find the combination of aromas to create a soft yet sophisticated nosing experience. 

On the Tongue

I had been a little discouraged that this dram was only 40% but it’s one of those good 40% whiskies that delivers plenty of flavour!  Oak, buttered toast, filberts. It’s not nearly as sweet as the nose suggested, although there is a drop of honey in there. Vanilla, a hint of cinnamon, dark, stewed fruit… Perhaps a bit of marmalade. (Maybe it’s the time of year but I get a vague sense of Christmas pudding but not in a heavy or overly sweet way.) Man, I really like how that oakiness asserts itself early and serves to harness all of the other flavours, weaving them into a thread of pleasant toasty, nutty bitterness!

The finish is medium, with pepper and licoricy fennel seeds, followed by a return of the oak and some mineral notes, with honey bringing up the rear. This dram exits with a similarly pleasant bitterness that was found earlier on the palate and creates a nice, slightly dry finish that encourages another sip!

Final Thoughts

I’m sure glad I grabbed this bottle and got sucked into the romanticized farm-to-glass marketing – this is a quality drop! I find The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 yr Old whisky to be wonderfully balanced and I love how it seems to hint at sweet while playing a savoury riff throughout. This is a well-composed whisky that needs to be in your cabinet, if it’s not already – I think all whisky drinkers, newbies or experienced drammer’s will appreciate it!

Pike Creek

Time for another Canadian whisky…

Not so long ago, I became an immediate fan of Corby Distillers’ Lot 40, so I was more than happy to pick up a bottle of Pike Creek, another offering in their premium lineup, which I believe also includes the Gooderham & Worts brand. Pike Creek recently was switched to a rum cask finish but, since I never had the pleasure of sampling the original port-finished version, a comparison is impossible for me. Carrying a 10 year age statement, it’s nice to see a well-aged Canadian whisky. This bottle cost me about $45 CDN and is bottled at 42.5% abv. 

To the Eye

Quite a deep orangey-brown… Kind of makes me suspicious of a artificial colouring agent. My customary tilt and swirl of the glass results in a “sheeting effect” where moderate legs might quickly and fleetingly form, but it actually looks more like an oily sheen builds then immediately disappears, leaving only a few lonely droplets behind. Weird!

In the Nose

Lots of caramel and vanilla. Brown sugar, I suppose, which makes sense due to the use of rum casks.  There is a bit of savoury, buttery popcorn too but not a whole lot else. 

On the Tongue

What immediately stands out is the soft, oily mouthfeel of this whisky.  I wish it was the flavour that made the first impression but it’s not to say that this is a bland dram. I am stunned by how strong the rum influence comes across in this whisky, as the dominant flavours all remind me of molasses, brown sugar and, well, rum! In the background, I seem to find some rye spice, but not the floral, fruity flavour of malted rye, rather it is more of the dry, dusty character of rye-grain whisky.  There is also a nutty, walnut-pith bitterness on the end that precedes a short finish that re-establishes the notion of rum, as well as an acrid, metallic sensation that I believe confirms my suspicion of E150 being used to colour this whisky. 

Final Thoughts

I’m confused about how I feel about this dram. I find it exceedingly smooth…but that’s not necessarily a desireable characteristic for me, these days. In the end, I once again decide that I still like whisky and I still feel mostly indifferent toward rum. I have yet to taste a rum-finished whisky that I thoroughly enjoy, and that includes this one. It’s certainly drinkable and, if mixed cocktails, I’m sure I could find a good pairing for these bitter, rummy flavours. But I don’t often mix cocktails, so I have to be honest and rate this dram as “just alright”.

Bulleit Bourbon 

I’ve been finding myself buying bourbon with increasing frequency as the American spirit continues to capture my attention and interest. When I started my bourbon journey, I was mostly looking at upper-mid level drams, as I tried to figure out if I really wanted to reallocate much my whisk(e)y budget away from scotch and Canadian offerings. In short time, however, I began to branch out toward both ends of spectrum, exploring more top-shelf and entry-level offerings as I attempted to gain a more complete understanding of the genre. 

This search is what recently drew me to Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, a bottle I had previously ignored because I felt the bottle presentation seemed rather low-end, an assumption that also seemed to be affirmed by the decidedly reasonable price…

Well, ahead of a camping trip, this summer, I found myself reconsidering Bulleit Bourbon as I looked for a dram I could possibly enjoy neat while also sharing with friends who’d be just as likely to add ice and too much cola. I’d seen Bulleit in many a drinking establishment and I’d read on other blogs that it was relatively underrated, so it was settled! Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey is bottled at 45% abv and cost me about $40 CDN

To the Eye

You know me, I think bourbon in my glass is a pretty sexy dram… All coppery and orange. Fairly nice legs, too!

In the Nose

For the most part, it pretty much has the standard bourbon smells of sweet caramel and vanilla, with some punky corn. But, with a little time in the glass, dried apricots and, interestingly, some dill pickles make their presence known. That dill pickle character seems to build and build until it is the dominant aroma in my Glencairn! There is also something almost soapy as well as a subtle charred smokiness lingering in the background. 

On the Tongue

Fairly straightforward bourbon, once again. Oak and vanilla, caramel corn and some rye spice. There is a drying bitterness that isn’t altogether unwelcome and which makes me want to take another sip. It has a nice alcohol bite, which is pretty much required for me to enjoy a bourbon, these days. The finish is shortish but full of oak and a sort of mineral-like quality, so let’s just call it pencil shavings and move along!

Final Thoughts

This is not the best whiskey or bourbon I’ve ever had… But it gave me exactly what I asked of it when I made my purchase! Reasonable price, plenty good to sip around the campfire and the family and friends who tried it (with or without mix) all seemed to enjoy it better than the whiskies they did (or didn’t) bring along themselves! 

So, while I can’t exaggerate Bulleit Bourbon to an unreasonable level of excellence, I do need to tout it as an honest and versatile whiskey that punches above its weight class price point. In fact, over the course of the summer, I ended up choosing to bring along a fresh bottle of this dram for each of two camping trips and a charity hockey tournament that I played in! So, while I have only given this whiskey my third-highest rating, I do recognize the niche that Bulleit Bourbon fills and that I highly respect how well it it fill said niche!

Glenfiddich IPA Experiment

In addition to whisk(e)y, I’m a sucker for beer… Especially the big, hoppy, flavourful types! So imagine my excitement when I noticed a couple bottles of the Glenfiddich IPA Experiment, tucked away on the top shelf at one of my local liquor stores! While I have tried “hopped” Canadian whiskies before – which didn’t particularly impress me, mind you – I was curious to see what kind of riff a big-time scotch distillery might play on this idea. I was even more intrigued, seeing as the bottle presentation seemed to make it quite clear that this was not a low-end offering!

From what I can gather, the IPA Experiment is one of two whiskies in Glenfiddich’s recent experimental series, with the othe being dubbed Project XX. Since I haven’t yet stumbled upon the latter, I am forced to focus on just the IPA Experiment today.  Apparently, this is a collaboration between Speyside Craft Brewery and Glenfiddich, where a special recipe India Pale Ale was commissioned to season Glenfiddich whisky casks in such a way to impart specific, intentional effects upon the single malt over a 3 month finishing period. I read that the IPA recipe made good use of Challenger hops, which, as a former homebrewer, I know to be a particularly aromatic type of bittering hop, so I imagine that its floral, spicy character and sweet citrus flavours might be a good match for Glenfiddich’s fruity, Speyside profile. 

Enough rambling… This whisky is bottled at 43% abv and cost me about $115 CDN. 

To the Eye

Gorgeous bright gold … The appearance has me quite at ease that this whisky is free of artificial colourings but the bright clarity, not to mention the abv, leads me to believe that it is chill filtered.  A customary tilt of my glass reveals moderate but rather speedy legs. 

I think it’s also worth mentioning, here, that this brown beer-bottle version of the Glenfiddich  presentation, as well as the understated carton is really cool!

In the Nose

Lots of typical Speyside aromas jump out of my Glencairn. Juicy apples and fresh, grassy notes and some subtle, sweet caramel, vanilla and some underlying oakiness. After a few minutes, some additional characteristics start to stand out – ripe pears, marshmallows and, there it is… Hops! However, it’s not hop aromas like you experience while drinking an ale, it’s the fresh, floral and vegetal smell of fresh hops cones right off the vine. The experience is both unusual and captivating and I can’t shake the thought that it is all very similar to a nice Chardonnay. Brilliant!

On the Tongue

This is certainly a Glenfiddich, as the standard orchard fruits, vanilla and grassy, hay-like flavours stand out upon the palate. Oak is rather prominent but in no way overbearing and I feel like this NAS dram seems rather mature beyond its years… Freshly cracked peppercorns, menthol and grapefruit, pith and all. The medium finish is dry, with an espresso bitterness, eucalyptus and a faint vegetal note that could be hops but I might just be looking really hard for them!

Final Thoughts

The Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is one of those whiskies that I have a hard time assessing. It is a refreshing dram and I’ve been having a lot of fun sampling it, trying to tease out the impression that the ale-seasoned casks have imparted upon the spirit. I suppose that alone means the experiment has been a success. At the same time, I’m left wishing that the IPA influence was more obvious.  While this dram is discernibly different from other Glenfiddich offerings, I can’t really say that the IPA finish is the clear reason behind it. (Even though it probably is!)

Yeah, I’d love more hoppiness so that this dram could scream “IPA!!!” at me… but, while I love me some hoppy beer, that might not make for an enjoyable whisky. Maybe we’ll never know! All in all, this Glenfiddich IPA Experiment is a very drinkable whisky, it looks great when I pull it out to share with friends and it has offered me a new challenge, so I’ll likely try to score another bottle or two, if I can!

The Ileach – Islay Single Malt (NAS)

First off, I may as well admit that my purchase of this bottle was a bit of an impulse buy… in the sense that I entered the bottle shop to pick up beer on this occasion but, during my usual swing down the scotch aisle, it caught my eye.  My thought process went something like this:

Islay malt…. I like Islay malts! A Lot!

Never noticed this one beforeAt this point, it’s getting harder to find scotch I haven’t tried before

45 bucksKinda seems like a low-risk, high-reward proposition, doesn’t it? SOLD!!

So, knowing absolutely nothing about The Ileach Single Malt – zero – I made the purchase anyway. Eventually a closer inspection of the carton and the label revealed, well, actually nothing! There were some vague references to the quality and character of the inhabitants of Islay which I suppose was meant to assure me of the quality and character of the spirit inside but that was about it. No tasting notes, no cask regiment, no history of the distillery, no nothing. In fact, what jumped out the most was that I couldn’t even find an indication of a distillery name at all, leading me to the rather obvious conclusion that this whisky is an independent bottling of an Islay malt by The Highlands & Islands Scotch Whisky Company (which was noted in tiny font on the front of the carton). A quick Google search confirmed my uncanny skills of deduction while simultaneously filling my head with rumours of this malt being anything from a Kilchoman to a Lagavulin. 

But who really cares? After all, I bought this whisky on a whim, as an inexpensive adventure/gamble… On to the review!

The Ileach Single Malt is bottled at 40% abv and, when it was all said and done, still came in under $50CDN. 

To the Eye

Fairly rich orangey-gold. It’s a rather peculiar colour, in my opinion… Not quite red enough to convince me of sherry influence… caramel colouring, perhaps? A swirl of my glass leaves an oily sheen that dissipates almost instantly, without really leaving any suggestion of legs at all… just a few lonely beads of liquid, hovering above the rest of the dram. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before with a whisky.

In the Nose

Sweet peat, it does smell like Islay! Or at least it offers enough of the required aromas to help me connect the dots. A nice peaty backbone with hints of smoke, iodine and a salty-sweet toffee. There is also a subtle earthy meatiness in the background. Not all that complex, but nice. 

On the Tongue

This is a young one, this dram. Despite the low abv, a rough alcohol edge is the first impression I received during each of my tastings while preparing this review. Again, just as with the nose, the basic semblance a of an Islay profile presents itself: peat, smoke, burned rubber that is verging upon a tar-like quality, and some sweet dried fruit to round it out. The finish contains a mouthful of bitter ashes that quickly fades to fleeting walnuts. Overall, the finish would be quite short if not for a final wallop of alcohol astringency and a faint but lingering note of honey.

Final Thoughts

This is a wholly unremarkable whisky and, while it receives my lowest possible designation of Not Great, I feel compelled to offer a couple of caveats. First of all, it is obvious that there is no intention of trying to create a “great” whisky in The Ileach Single Malt. From the noticeable youth of this whisky to the meagre price point, this one is more likely aimed at being a drinkable Islay malt for the more budget-conscious drammer. And, while that doesn’t really turn my crank, these days, I certainly know people who would quite happily stock this sort of dram in their home bars. Secondly, the relative inexpensiveness of this whisky probably should carry more weight in my evaluation since there are so few Islay single malts anywhere near a $50 price point.

               Did I just make the same basic point twice?!

I said that my purchase was low-risk but it didn’t come through with much of a reward, in my opinion. The Ileach offers limited complexity and has too many extra-rough edges for my particular tastes. I haven’t been left with a strong feeling that this dram offers good value, even at its low cost and, for “Islay-on-a-budget”, more or less, I would much rather buy a bottle of Johnny Walker Double Black!

Wiser’s One Fifty Commemorative Series

As a proud Canadian, I was pretty excited to get my hands on a bottle of Wiser’s One Fifty a few weeks ago, ahead of this past July 1st. Had I been better at this blogging hobby of mine, I might have had my review ready to publish on Canada Day… Ah well, better late than never, I suppose!

Wiser’s One Fifty is a special release, 17 year old whisky. (Although I’ve heard that there are some casks in this blend that are older that that.) To mark the 150th birthday of our nation, spirit was laid down in 2000 to form the base of this special commemorative release. A total of 7827 limited edition bottles were created, one for each week of Canada’s existence. My particular bottle is #7628, commemorating the week of Sept 2, 2013. From what I have read, this whisky is a blend of corn and rye whiskies. It is bottled at 43.4% abv and it cost me $60 CDN. 

To the Eye

In the bottle, I’m struck by the deeper reddish hue, which immediately connects me to the Canada Flag. Whether or not this was intentional, I can only hope it’s due to natural colours, imparted through casking. In the glass, however, my dram appears a rich, deep amber, with hints of bright copper, rather than red. A tilt of my Canadian Glencairn creates a crest that reluctantly releases thick stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

My note from my initial tasting session was, “Clean and straightforward”, and I think this sums up the nose rather nicely. Aromas of caramel, toffee, vanilla and dusty rye spice provide a classic and delicious Canadian whisky nosing experience along with a distinct oaky note and subtle, punky corn, as well. 

On the Tongue

Silky mouthfeel, thanks to the corn distillate, I imagine. Dry, spicy rye flavours dominates the palate, however. This is not a dram that follows the current trend of premium Canadian whiskies that showcase the floral side of rye, which I believe comes from the use of malted rye. Instead, Wiser’s One Fifty chooses to highlight a more traditional profile. Cereal graininess and peppery, spicy rye! A subtle minty flavour adds interest, while a fruity, almost berry-like note on the exit further wakes up my tastebuds. The finish is quite dry, medium in length, with caramel and loads of oak, along with pink peppercorns and bitter citrus pith. The finish reminds me somewhat of cough syrup, which is not nearly as bad as it may sound!

Final Thoughts

I love floral, malted-rye character in my Canadian whiskies but Wiser’s One Fifty reminds me how much I also enjoy the dusty, spicy, clean profile of a traditional rye grain whisky. This is a well-composed, well-made Canadian whisky. Smooth and easy drinking, yet surprisingly complex and mature, this is a terrific dram! If you happen to see a bottle kicking around, don’t let it slip away!