Category Archives: A Favourite!

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!


The Glenrothes 1995 (Review 2.0)

Okay, Review 2.0 is not exactly a fair statement… My earlier review of the Glenrothes 1995 Vintage was of the 2015 bottling. This review is of the same vintage, but the 2016 bottling – a year longer in the wood and a 21 year old whisky, overall!

As It was not that terribly long ago that I reviewed the 2015 bottling, I won’t dally on the backstory and all the little details. Rather, I’ll get right into the review, with a focus on any differences that I can discern between the two. 

The Glenrothes 1995 Vintage, bottled in 2016, is once again a 43% abv whiskey. This time the price was closer to $80 CDN. 

To the Eye

An extra year in the casks has not added much to the visual presentation of the whisky, at least as far as I can tell. It remains a brilliantly clear, honey-coloured dram. The skinny legs are back too, although not as reluctant as I thought they were last year. 

In the Nose

I still find the sweet, malty aromas that I enjoyed previously although I am getting less toasted coconut and far more of the juicy red fruits. There is a definite sweet, toasty quality about this nose but, today, it carries more cinnamon and baking spices. The aromas are all classic bourbon-seasoned Speyside, a delicious combination of orchard fruits and caramel-vanilla goodness. I still can’t shake the idea of apple crisp!

On the Tongue

Again classic Spey flavours are delivered, with all the juicy pear and ripe red apples you can handle. There is also something interestingly complex going on in the background… Floral, herbaceous, delicious!  It is sweet but not overly so. There might be a touch more oak than I remember in the 20yr version and there is less pepper heat – today it’s a bit more like chilli-flavoured dark chocolate. The finish is longish, with more of a mineral character that combines with the oak to create a strong sensation of pencil shavings, which is joined by citrus pith and a bit of licoricey anise seed or fennel seed, I can’t quite decide!

Final Thoughts

I don’t know that there should be much difference between a 20yr and 21yr bottling of the same vintage whisky. And, to be honest, I don’t know whether I have found much difference between the two. My tasting notes for this bottle don’t quite match those from last year’s younger bottling but I can’t decide whether the differences are legitimate or just due to timing and circumstance. But let me tell you what matters here – The Glenrothes 1995, 21 yr old is an insanely good whiskey and a ridiculously good value! I hope there will be a 2017 bottling out next year!

Forty Creek Barrel Select

Do you remember, several years back, when John Hall burst onto the Canadian whisky scene with his Forty Creek products? Obviously, the lengthy aging period required to produce whisky means that brand new distilleries don’t pop up every day, so I remember some anticipation to find out what this new whisky, produced by a former winemaker, would be like. 

Distilled in Grimsby, Ontario, Forty Creek’s “gimmick” is/was the use of a meritage – 3 different grains (rye, corn and barley) are distilled and aged separately and eventually blended  for finishing. I’m not sure if this process remains in use for all of of Forty Creek’s whiskies but it was a technique that set it apart early on. Forty Creek also differs from most other Canadian whisky makers in its use of copper pot stills, rather than stainless steel column stills.

This review is for the flagship Barrel Select, which is bottled at 40% abv and costs about $25 here in Alberta. 

To the Eye

Copper with flashes of bright gold. There is something a rather beguiling about the look of this whisky for me. The clear, bright orangey-copper tones are extremely attractive… It looks a little more like bourbon than the usual Canadian offerings. 

In the Nose

The nose on this one is mild but with healthy doses of vanilla and caramel so, again, something rather bourbon-like about it. With time, biscuits and a malty sweetness emerge, along with a sweet-sour fruity characteristic that reminders me of underripe mango or stone fruits. I get very little rye spiciness on the nose of this whisky. 

On the Tongue

Exceedingly smooth… Dangerously so! Kettle corn at first, which gives way to that classic Canadian rye spiciness and am I ever glad the rye chooses this moment to assert itself. It’s not the usual dustiness I often equate with rye. Instead, it’s all of the earthy, fruity, spicy goodness I want from a rye but somewhat elevated through the sweet corn delivery. There is more body than most high-rye whiskies and I really like the full, rounded mouthfeel. Peppercorns, an almost heather-like perfume quality and a slight nuttiness. In case you can’t tell, I find this whisky to be delicious!

The finish is medium, with caramel making a return, along with oak and a mild walnut-like bitterness. 

Final Thoughts

There is far more going on with this dram than a $25-bottle deserves and more than is usually found on the lowest rung of a core range! This is terrific whisky and a mainstay in my cupboard. It’s interesting and complex enough for serious sippers but also inexpensive enough that there are no hard feelings when one of my buddies inevitably add cola or ginger ale. Forty Creek is a tremendous example of the quality available in the Canadian whisky scene.  

Highland Park 12 Year Old

Well, I went with a bit of a hockey analogy back when I reviewed the Highland Park 10 Year Old, so what the heck.

Let’s call HP 12 the Ron Francis of whisky… I’ll explain later.

 The Highland Park distillery is situated in the Orkney Islands and, although technically a Highland malt, it is sometimes classified as a “West Coast” or “Island” whisky.  Personally, I like this specific terminology since, in my opinion, it acknowledges a unique character within these malts, which include examples such as Highland Park, Jura and Talisker. These whiskies are rather unique, often sharing nearly as much in common with Islay whiskies as they do with mainland Highland drams. Think of slightly tamer versions of Islay – still robust, peaty and smoky but more subdued so that other characteristics can also share a bit more of the stage.

Anyone who has read my review of the Hp 10 already knows that I’m very fond of this 12 year old whisky. But, in fact, I think I just have a general appreciation for the Highland Park distillery, so let me just be upfront about that from the get-go. I remember that my first bottle of HP 12 was a gift from my wife several years ago when I was kind of graduating from novice to intermediate whisky connoisseur… This just might be the drop that cemented my love for single malts!  HP 12 is bottled at 43% abv and costs about $45 in my locale.

To the Eye

This dram is a deep golden honey in colour. I know Highland Park spends some time in ex-sherry casks but this dram is lighter in colour than many sherried whiskies. It’s appearance reminds me more of a Canadian whisky, although it appears to have more body. Tilting my Glencairn produces a thin oily sheen that quickly releases skinny legs that rapidly run down the glass.

In the Nose

Oh yeah! If you haven’t yet experienced the Highland Park nose, it is, in my opinion, about as good as it gets.  Every HP whiskey has that sweet, peaty, floral character although the 12 year old possesses a richness and balance that, in my opinion, surpasses any of the other expressions that I have so far tried.

Honey is upfront, more pronounced and clearly recognizable than any other dram I can think of while peat and heather also firmly assert themselves to create a wonderfully earthy, floral aroma.  Vanilla, oak and toffee are present as well, along with a wisp of smoke that threads itself throughout the nose and ties it all together. As I said, rich, balanced and complex!

On the Tongue

This dram is so well-balanced that I almost struggle to pick out individual flavours. It’s not at all a one-off profile, it’s just that the flavours work so well together and enhance each other that I find it difficult to think of them separately but I’ll give it a shot:

A peppery, oaky spiciness serves as the backbone that supports and carries the other flavours. Buttery toffee and honey are right at home in there along with a herbal anise/licorice and peat that, in combination, remind me of tarragon. Once again, there is a hint of gentle smoke weaving in and out, offering the suggestion of cigar tobacco and dark chocolate.  The finish is loooong, with oaky wood shavingings and pink peppercorns lingering along with that licorice flavour and just a hint of salt. Here is also where the influence of the sherry casks also finally asserts itself for me, leaving a mouthful of chewy raisins and cherries like wine gums candy. Complex and very, very delicious!

Final Thoughts

Ok, so I will try to avoid making a habit of personifying whiskies and relating them to hockey players from here on out. I can make excuses about being Canadian and all that but I know it’s terribly cheesy! However, I said at the top that I’d explain HP 12 as the Ron Francis of whisky, so here it is:

You probably need to be a hockey fan to really get my meaning here but I’m sure that, if you don’t know hockey, you can sub in another player from your sport of preference who was flat-out brilliant but missed out on the deserved amount of credit because the spotlight was often focused on flashier individuals. Ron Francis was that type of hockey player – a model of unbelievable consistency built on a foundation of tremendous but slightly-subtler skills than some of his better-known contemporaries. (For example, while Gretzky and Lemieux were stealing the spotlight, it was easy to forget that Francis scored 20+ goals 20 times, was better than a point per game 15 times and that he quietly accumulated the fifth-most point in NHL history!)

For me, that’s Highland Park 12… with more aged, pricier and uniquely casked whiskies running distractions, it can be easy to overlook how damned fantastic this drop really is!

Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Rye Whisky

Alberta Distillers is, in my opinion, one of the most under-appreciated makers of Canadian Whisky. Known primarily for their extremely affordable but high quality 100% rye whiskies, Alberta Distillers have recently begun to push their way into the more premium market with expressions that feature bolder flavours (such as their bourbon and sherry infused Dark Horse Whisky) and some very old – especially for Canadian Whiskies – age statement drams.

Although there was a 25yr expression released several years ago, the Alberta Premium 30 Year Old is the most mature expression to date and in a world where Canadian whiskies often take pride in reaching even an 8-year maturation, this is rather remarkable. According to the tasting notes on the box, this whisky is “Canada’s oldest and rarest 100% Rye Whisky.”  When this whisky was released a couple of years ago, it was available for the amazing price of about $55 per bottle, making it easy to justify grabbing a bottle out of curiosity. At that price, I wasn’t surprised that it was sold out when I rushed back to get more… fortunately my Mom and Dad support my dramming habit and they had already picked up a couple bottles which were gifted to me at my next birthday and Christmas, respectively… yeah, my parents are the best!

While my glass was filled from the second bottle, the picture shows my the third and only remaining unopened bottle.  This whisky is bottled at 40% abv.

To the Eye

I would have expected 30 years of aging to result in a more heavily coloured spirit… Nevertheless, this is a beautiful, typical Canadian whisky – bright straw-gold. A swirl of my Glencairn produces a thin film that quickly produces skinny legs that rapidly slip down the glass.

In the Nose

I know this is a strange description but, for some reason cola bottle gummy candies comes to mind. This whisky has a very unique nose. Obviously, there is the dusty, grainy character that belongs to rye whiskies but there is something fresher and brighter about this one. A floral character is front and centre and, while I’m not enough of a flower gardener to pin it down specifically, it’s both sweet and spicy at the same.  There is plenty of vanilla and, floating in the breezes are some mandarin oranges and a hint of cinnamon and maybe even a wisp of bourbon-like corn. Oak eventually makes an appearance but it’s extremely gentle for a whisky that’s spent so much time in the cask.

On the Tongue

Spicy rye, of course…. It’s absolutely delicious!  There is a slight honeyed sweetness along with the flavours of cinnamon, cardamom and a hint of peppery ginger which warm the mouth. Vanilla is fairly front and centre and, eventually, oak again makes it’s appearance towards the end but the nutty, slightly bitter oak tannins linger along with some dark chocolate and black pepper in what is a fairly lengthy finish for a Canadian dram.  A nice gentle warmth in the throat leads to the next sip.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes I wonder if I give older whiskies extra credit… I mean, it’s 30 years old so it must be special right?!  Regardless of the age, however, this Canadian whisky is something else and I feel fortunate to have gotten my hands on a few bottles! If you like rye whisky, Alberta Premium won’t disappoint, even if it’s the 5 year expression, but this 30 year old definitely takes pure rye to another level. It’s complex for a Canadian whisky but extremely drinkable and yet another proof that our whiskies, and rye whisky in particular, can stack up against the great drams produced anywhere!  (And let’s not forget, this is a 30 year whisky that retailed for about $55 per bottle!)  if I am allowed one complaint, it would be that a whisky this old and this special should have been allowed to remain above 80 proof… I would have loved to see what this dram might have offered at 45% or higher!

Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

My first whiskey review…

I can’t claim to be an expert on bourbon in any way, shape or form.  Living in Alberta, Canada, whiskey just isn’t the whisky of choice, with scotch and Canadian whiskies dominating the market. Needless to say, my experience with bourbon has, to this point, been fairly limited. Of course, I’d tried a few of the mass-produced mixers and, to be honest, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would choose to ruin their cola with them!

In the past couple of years, however, I’ve noticed that a couple of my local liquor stores have been expanding their selections of bourbons, particularly of the more premium varieties, and I found my curiosity piqued. Recently, I decided to stop window shopping and give bourbon another go. I didn’t have much to base my decision on but the bottle I chose was Four Roses Single Barrel because I liked the rich colour of the spirit and because I thought it had an attractive bottle presentation. This bottle, which comes from warehouse DN and barrel 1-5E, according to the hand written label, is bottled at 50% abv and cost me about $45.

To the Eye

As I noted, the rich colour of this whiskey is what first drew me to give it a try.  In the glass, this Four Roses Single Barrel displays as deep copper with obvious flashes of orange. My usual swirl of the glass reveals a thick oily sheen that eventually releases moderate but extremely stubborn legs.

In the Nose

Corn, obviously, but it quickly gives way to a sweet honey-like aroma that also carries a malty cereal. But there’s way more on this nose… Cinnamon briefly dominates, along with a fruity, almost banana bread character. As the dram breathes, a few other baking spices and oak make an appearance. It’s a great nose that deserves some time to be appreciated.

On the Tongue

Honey? Maple syrup? Corn syrup?  I believe it’s all three, but not nearly in the overly sweet way that it sounds. There is a sweetness, but it’s more like the suggestion of sweetness that comes off the delicate flavours of vanilla and caramel. Oak, for sure, and I can taste the char from the barrel in there too, which combines to be a little like burnt sugar.  Spicy rye and a hint of cinnamon warm up my palate, before giving way to a surprisingly pleasant dark-chocolately and nutty bitterness. The thick, oily mouthfeel of this dram ensure a long finish that offers a lingering sense of baking spices, citrus pith and pencil shavings.

Final Thoughts

I didn’t know what to expect when I grabbed this bottle off the shelf but I have been pleasantly surprised. Obviously, it’s not scotch and it’s quite different from a Canadian whisky but it’s delicious – definitely a dram with a lot to offer and that deserves respect. It’s rich and complex and can be appreciated for each of its appearance, nose and flavour. Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon is a dram that has made me an instant fan of another whisky style, and it will definitely not be the only bottle of Four Roses to find a home in my cabinet. I enjoy this whiskey so much that I’m damned near willing to classify it as a favourite even though I’ve only bought a single bottle… if I still think so highly of the next bottle, I will be re-ranking it among my faves!

Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Whisky

It’s been too long since I added a new post, so what better way to get back in the saddle than with a review of my favourite Canadian Whisky!

This beauty is another fine expression from Highwood Distillers located in High River, near Calgary, Alberta. The first bottle of Ninety-20 that I ever picked up was as a Father’s Day gift for my Dad. Fortunately, we shared a nip when that first bottle was opened, so I was able find out in short order that this was a whisky that needed a home in my cabinet as well.

Ninety 20 Year Old is bottled at 45 abv (hence the brand name to reflect that it is 90-proof) and is available in local liquor stores for about $43. I know, 20-year old whisky for that kind of price… You almost can’t afford not to drink it!

To the Eye

Straw-coloured liquid gold, this whiskey looks exactly the way a Canadian dram ought to look. There is obviously no artificial colouring here and I doubt that any special casks were involved… Probably just good old charred oak, which should allow the rye to shine. A swirl of my Glencairn produces reasonably thick, stubborn legs.

In the Nose

The breezes above my glass reveal, at first, a fairly typical Canadian profile. There’s plenty of dusty rye and an obvious oakiness, along with a good dose of sweet corn. But, as the glass breaths, a very untypical – for Canadian whisky – richness develops. Honeycomb comes to the forefront, along with butterscotch and cinnamon. I can’t put my finger on a specific type, but there is also a subtle fruitiness lingering in the background as well. This nose is gentle and inviting, but surprisingly complex!

On the Tongue

Wow! This dram is rich, yet balanced, and extremely delicious. Right away, I get a gentle but firm hit of oak, along with some assertive dusty, grainy rye. The rye brings a spiciness that is well-balanced with some butterscotch and vanilla and a subtle nuttiness… hazelnut? I can also taste that fruitiness that I was picking up in the nose but, again, it’s difficult to pin down. It seems a little bit like citrus peel, but maybe somewhat more herbal like cilantro. Whatever, it’s wonderful! Surprisingly, this is also a Canadian with a moderately long finish, where the rye returns with baking spices and that dusty, drying rye character that will guide you to the next sip.

Final Thoughts

For me, this is the one – the best Canadian whisky I know of! Rich and complex, in my opinion, Ninety 20 Year Old can hold its own against almost any other whisky out there. At the same time, this dram somehow stays entirely true to the Canadian style, remaining light and clean on the palate. Flat out, this is a remarkable whisky!