Category Archives: Not Bad At All

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!

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A Wee Dram… Tangle Ridge Canadian Whisky

Trying something different here.

Grad studies, kids’ activities, everyday responsibilities of teaching and school administration at this time of year – they all seem to be conspiring against my blog. It’s been damned near two months since I did a review and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to do a little better.

Enter A Wee Dram… I’m going to try writing brief entries for some those whiskies I get to try but can’t put through a full review process. After all, it’s not like the only time I enjoy a dram is when I sit down to carefully jot down tasting notes three separate times en route to a new review post. 

There might not be pictures, there won’t be a ton of depth to my comments,  but I hope it’s still worthwhile!

Tangle Ridge Canadian Whisky

Stopped out at my parent’s farm for a visit on World Whisky Day 2016 and, of course, Dad asked if I was up for a drop… Silly question! Ever the champion of Canadian whisky, especially those produced right here in Alberta, so I wasn’t the least bit surprised to see him produce Tangle Ridge from his cupboard. 

Not my pic; borrowed from http://www.thelonebiker.com
It had been a while since I last tasted this whisky. Much deeper copper colour than I expect from Canadian whisky – it says this is a 10 year old dram, but still! A little overly sweet, maybe, with loads of caramel and vanillins in this one… Extremely smooth exit!

Not quite my preferred profile these days, but Tangle Ridge is still a decent enough sipper on a cold, rainy day while shooting the shit with the Old Man! (I did accept a second glass. 😉)

Cheers!

The Macallan Amber

I’ve tried a few Macallan whiskies and always found them quite nice, but maybe just a bit uninteresting. I’m not exactly sure why that is, I think I generally just prefer a bolder dram. Nevertheless, I was interested to find out what The Macallan’s newer NAS offerings would have to offer. Not so long ago, they did away with several age-statement expressions from their core range and replaced them with what has been called the “1824 Range”, which differentiates whiskies based on colour. In this new lineup are the new Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby whiskies. As the names suggest, each whisky is a darker, more deeply coloured dram than the one before it and, judging by the prices, it’s clear that the distillery’s assertion is that this is their new basis for quality… What could this mean for the use of E150a? (I’d rather not think about it too much!)

Anyway, this review is for The Macallan Amber, which I’m left to assume/hope will at least be of similar quality to the old 12yr Fine Oak. The Amber runs around $80 per bottle here in Alberta – it’s bottled at 40% abv.  

To the Eye

Amber, go figure! The bright old gold of a rich honey… This is how I like my whisky to appear. A swirl of my Glencairn eventually reveals thick, stubborn legs that reluctantly return to the dram below.

In the Nose

Overall, a gentle and approachable nose, as I expect from The Macallan. Fruit-filled sherry is up front, along with some juicy orchard fruits, vanilla, toffee and cardamom. As the glass breaths a bit a fresh citrus is revealed and some interesting, slightly vegetal aromas develop – there’s a subtle dusty hay-like quality about this dram and occasional hints of some salty seaweed. With time, an almost meaty aroma also develops… I can’t shake the idea of some kind of Asian aroma and I’m left thinking of those weird rice crackers in those snack mixes.

On the Tongue

That Eastern character is solidified as the first sip is full of umami and that notion of meatiness comes up again. This dram is not sweet and, while it does hint at some rather young whisky as part of the malt, it’s still nicely balanced and there seems to be a modest variety of flavours to coax out. Oatmeal squares cereal, leather and a subtle oakiness all make an appearance. I’m left wanting for those juicy fruits that were suggested on the nose. The finish is medium-short, with a strong impression of graphite and a buttery flavour, kind of like breakfast toast.

Final Thoughts

Good. There’s not really anything to dislike but neither is there anything particularly memorable about it. The Macallan Amber has some interesting qualities about it, but it certainly didn’t knock my socks off. There are several drams at a similar price point, and less, which I would rank well ahead of this whisky.

Glenburgie 10 Year Old (Gordon & MacPhail)

So, as I write this, I have just submitted a 20-page reflective essay on leading educational assessment reform… Yeah, it’s about as interesting as it sounds! But turning that paper in marks the end of yet another graduate course, and the beginning of a few weeks of relative normalcy before the next course begins. Well, at least a return to the type of normalcy that one gets with 3 young children who participate in every activity under the sun! Anyway, it’s cause for celebration, even on a Monday night! And for me, celebrate = whisky, And it just so happens that I have some tasting notes for this dram waiting to get finished off into a proper review.

I’ve said before that gifts of whisky are the best, and this bottle of Glenburgie 10 comes straight from Scotland via my wife’s bestie – maybe she likes me better! Her goal was to bring me something I hadn’t tried before and she hit the nail on the head! This whisky is bottled at 40% abv.

 To the Eye

This Speyside whisky certainly looks the part, all golden honey and syrup with some brighter flashes in the light. A twist of my glass results in skinny legs quickly trickling down the sides.

In the Nose

Classic Speyside aromas on this one. Pear and other orchard fruits jump immediately to the fore. Grassy notes, along with some floral honeysuckle quickly join the party, with hints of caramel and vanilla. I’m also able to tease out some cloves before the wine-grape sweetness of the sherry cask arrives fashionably late.

On the Tongue

This is a rather rough and tumble young whisky. I was expecting a sweeter, fruitier palate and those flavours are there, but muted behind some bittersweet chocolate and that green, grassy note I picked up on the nose. Black pepper, hot cinnamon and, once again, a splash of sherry on the exit. The finish is fairly short, although the hot alcohol edge leaves a lingering bitterness that eventually finds its way into a toffee sort of flavour.

Final Thoughts 

I have no previous experience with either the Glenburgie distillery nor the Gordon & MacPhail bottling house, so I can’t compare this whisky in those contexts. As a Speyside dram, however, this 10 year old bottling of Glenburgie single malt whisky is a fairly typical offering that carries the expected aromas and flavours. There’s  nothing all that remarkable about this whisky but nothing really bad either. It ‘s a decent if rough-around-the-edges drop that would probably do well with another few years in the cask.

BenRiach 15 Year Old Dark Rum Finish

Imagine this scenario:

Man walks into the bottle shop to peruse the whisky aisles. Man spots a previously unnoticed canister and picks it off the shelf.  ‘Look at this thing… purple and gold… it ‘s hideous… What kind of wimp dreamt- Hold the phone!… 15 years?… dark rum finish?… Hmmm… Okay, quickly, while nobody’s looking at you carrying this girly-looking bottle…’

Now, there’s a chance that I’m misremembering just a tad here. But not as much as you might think. I really do hate the colour scheme involved in this presentation and I damned near did put it back on the shelf for a moment before I came to my senses. Obviously the labels outside the bottle have no bearing on the spirit within, but there I was nearly making a common but foolish mistake… Whew, close one there! 

BenRiach 15 Year Old Dark Rum Finish comes from the Speyside region of Scotland. According to the canister notes, this single malt was aged in American ex-bourbon barrels, then “finished” in Jamaican rum casks. (I’d love an explanation for their use of quotation marks!)  BenRiach 15 Rum is bottled at 46% abv and runs about $80 CDN in my locale. 

  
To the Eye

I think I’ve been pretty upfront about my appreciation for lightly coloured whiskies since I take it as unofficial evidence that no artificial colours are contaminating my dram. BenRiach 15 Rum, surprisingly, fits that description – I would have expected the rum casks to impart a deeper hue.  By the way, both the carton and the bottle point to the “Natural Colour” of this dram.

Pale straw with occasional flashes of gold.

In the Nose

This whisky has a unique nose. The first aromas that jump out at me are toasted marshmallow and a dry, grassy note, along with some juicy orchard fruits. Strange, I know, but surprisingly nice. A little time reveals dark dried fruits, dark brown sugar, along with some subtle oak. There is a tropical note to be found, I think – pineapple perhaps – but maybe I only think so because I’m looking for influences of the rum barrels.  There is also vanilla and, if I search hard enough, a herbal, heathery character is lifted on the breezes. It’s a nice nose but for some reason the actual experience doesn’t seem nearly as complex as I’ve made it out to be. 

On the Tongue

Bitter oak tannins jump my taste buds, along with some fairly typical Speyside flavours – grassy notes with honeyed sweetness. Once again, however, the grass seems drier and dustier than in most Speysides. There is also a definite malty character accompanied, once again by dark fruits which are now joined by some marmalade and apricot jam. A touch of cinnamon and a few baking spices are also present, which kind of reminds me of raisin bread or a cinnamon bun. The finish is medium long but, really, the best flavours quickly make way for a grassy bitterness and an alcohol astringency. There may be a few walnuts hiding in there too but it’s not a particularly pleasing finale. Regarding the overall flavour, as with the nose, I feel like I’ve described a bit more than the dram truly seemed to be offering.

Final Thoughts

All in all, BenRiarch 15 Year Old Dark Rum Finish is a decent enough dram but definitely not a favourite. There is some complexity to be sure but one has to search hard to discern a lot of it and the flavours don’t seem to properly complement each other, resulting in a whisky that, in my opinion, isn’t as balanced as I want my 15 yr old, approaching $100 bottles to be. 

Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch

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Mwaah Ha Ha Haa…

What was that, you ask? Not to worry, it’s just a peat monster looking to grab the back of your throat and assault your tastebuds. Well, actually, it’s just Smokehead Islay Single Malt, a no age statement Islay whisky that’s been branded to appeal to the bad ass in us all… although it may or may not still do some damage to your tastebuds!

Now, I appreciate tattoos and rock & roll as much as the next guy but I must admit that, when a buddy brought this over for a barbecue, I was a little bit skeptical – it’s just such a massive departure from typical Scotch marketing! Funky branding, however, doesn’t mean there isn’t a good drop inside the bottle and it was a big hit with all the boys (a couple of whom are not regular whisky drinkers) so, needless to say, I’ve felt the need to give Smokehead a proper review.

This whiskey is brought to us by Ian Macleod distillers. There is much mystery surrounding Smokehead and plenty of debate about the distillery from which this single malt originates. I have read that it’s a young Ardbeg, some say it’s a baby Lagavulin. I guess if they were to tell you they’d have to… never mind, it’s just that damned devilish skull causing these dark thoughts!

Smokehead costs about $60 in my neck of the woods. It’s bottled at 43% abv.

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To the Eye

Smokehead is a very pale, straw-coloured dram. The usual tilt of my glencairn produced medium legs that rapidly slip back down the sides of the glass.

In the Nose

A lot of the typical Islay elements are there. Iodine, check. Peat, you bet. Seaweed… perhaps. Smoke… sure – but frankly I was expecting a stronger blast of soot in a dram named Smokehead. There is also some sweet honey along with hints of vanilla and cinnamon. This whisky has a very pleasant nose – it’s certainly a strength!

On the Tongue

No question that we have an Islay here and on the palate is where the smoke REALLY asserts itself. Charcoal is definitely at the forefront and its accompanied by a healthy dose of peat, offset a little bit by a fruity, pithy sweetness. Cigar ash, espresso, and a hint of dark chocolate also merge with a salty, seaweedy character. The finish is long and rather bitter, with more charcoal and burnt sugar… Perhaps a hint of sherry lingers as well.

Final Thoughts

Smokehead is an authentic Islay malt that has most of the qualities one expects from the island. What I did not find in this dram, however, was the wonderful balance usually associated with Islay malts. But I suppose that’s to be expected. After all, whichever distillery Smokehead comes from, they would have kept the casks for themselves if they had been among their best, wouldn’t they?

It’s not that Smokehead is a horrible drop but, in my opinion, there’s just a bit too much tinder box and ash tray in this dram that’s knocking the experience out of balance. Unfortunately, the cool factor of the canister doesn’t make up for the slight lack of quality inside the bottle. Thank you very much but, when my palate wants to visit Islay, I’ll go for the less expensive Laphroaig Quarter Cask or the similarly priced Ardbeg 10 every time!

Glenfiddich – Distillery Edition

Glenfiddich proclaims itself to be the world’s best selling single malt. I have absolutely no reason to dispute this claim and I imagine it to be true since I’ve seen a triangular green bottle of the flagship 12 year old in practically every bar I’ve ever visited.  Recently (within the last 5-10 years) however, I have noticed that the Glenfiddich distillery has been actively marketing more premium expressions, with a variety of special releases and older age-statement whiskies.

The Glenfiddich 15 year old Distillery Edition is one such whisky.  Although it is only a step up from the 12, this dram is distinguished from the regular 15 year old expression with a higher bottling strength.  This whisky is bottled at 51% abv and is available at my local liquor store for about $80 per bottle.

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To the Eye

The Glenfiddich Distillery Edition presents a deep honey-gold hue. It looks like a classic Speyside whisky that has avoided too much sherry influence. A swirl of my Glencairn results in a thick coating that eventually releases medium legs that stubbornly return to the dram.

In the Nose

The breezes above my glass are pretty typical of a Speyside whisky with orchard fruit upfront. Vanilla is also present along with some brown sugar and baking spices. I also sense something a little bit floral, but also kind of vegetal… Chopped chilies? It’s very nice!

On the Tongue

POW! That 51% abv whacks your tonsils right away… but it’s more of a karate chop of flavour rather than just a swift kick of alcohol-burn. Within the oily mouthfeel there is a sweet, honeyed spiciness about this dram and it has a bit of that dusty character normally associated with a Canadian rye whisky. However, the abv warms my mouth a lot and leaves my tongue tingling more than I really like. I don’t normally water my whiskies, but this one seems to be begging for it…

A couple drops of water does tame the Distillery Edition down just a bit and reveals vanilla and oaky flavours that were previously overpowered. That rye-like spice remains and I’m curious where it comes from since it’s not a flavour I usually associate with Scotch whiskies. It seems to be missing the sweetness that I expect from Glenfiddich malts. This whisky is good but, all and all, it’s a bit of a one-note flavour profile, in my opinion.

Final Thoughts

This whiskey exits fairly quickly, with a little burnt sugar and a hint of baked apples. Dominating the finish, however, is a lingering soapy bitterness. It must not be altogether unpleasant… the drying quality of this whisky does leave me reaching for another sip.

Overall, this whisky strikes me as rather ordinary. It’s fine and I wouldn’t turn down a dram… but it’s not threatening any of my favourites, or even any of the whiskies I’d put in my second tier. I know it’s not super old but I expect more from a 15 year old and from a whisky bottled at 102 proof.