Category Archives: Not Great

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”.

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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!

Scapa Glansa

The Scapa distillery sub-titles itself as “The Orcadian” and markets its claim to being the second most northerly distillery in the world, due to being only a short drive south from its Orkney Island roommate, Highland Park. Well, if you read this blog, you’re probably well aware of my appreciation for Highland Park whiskies, so I was quite excited to see if proximity would lead to the concoction of similar magic. 

Scapa Glansa is an NAS offering that, apparently, is the first peated offering from a whisky maker that usually goes to lengths in order to keep peat out of the profile. However, the peated character of this whisky is achieved not by peat-smoking or through the use of peat-infused water source, instead, Scapa Glansa is finished in oak casks that were previous seasoned with peated whisky. Since this distillery does not manufacture any other of their own peated expressions, I am left to wonder from where these peat-seasoned casks might have been sourced… Scapa Glansa is bottled at 40% abv and it cost me roughly $75 CDN. 


To the Eye

 I don’t usually bother commenting on bottle presentation since it ultimately has zero impact on the quality of my dram but this is one of the rare occasions when I feel compelled to acknowledge a top-notch presentation. Scapa Glansa comes in a rather elegant, yet masculine bottle, housed in a striking blue and brown carton that instantly makes me think of a coastal location. I also appreciate the distillery information and the profile notes that are provided. For what it’s worth, I think it looks terrific. 

As for the whisky, I see a nice golden honey-coloured liquid in my glass that produces skinny legs that fall rapidly down my glass after the customary tilt and swirl. It looks good!

In the Nose

Okay, so where is that peat? Right out of the gate, I get a sweet waft of pears and honey. There is vanilla and maaaaybeee just the faintest wisp of smoke, but that’s about it. Seriously, though, no peat?!

On the Tongue

There it is! It seems strange to have a whisky offer such little indication of peat on the nose but still smack me with a mouthful of the stuff on my first sip. This is also where I seem to find a hint of Scapa’s Orcadian heritage since it’s a very floral, heathery type of peat flavour that reminds me very much of Highland Park. (Hmmm… Since this whisky only becomes peated through the use of ex-peated casks, is it possible that Scapa’s peat-seasoned casks are simply rolled down the road from their neighbours on the island?) Other flavours include pepper, a sweet, vaguely banana flavour and a bitter, burnt sugar note on the end. Underlying it all however, is an alcohol astringency and a sense of a very young, underdeveloped whisky. (Hmmm… Could THAT be the real reason for the peat-cask finishing?) The shortish finish delivers a nutty note, with more bitter alcohol. 

Final Thoughts

I feel like maybe I am being unnecessarily harsh so the Scapa Glansa but, when it comes down to it, I feel like this whisky is a disappointment. It’s not undrinkable but, from the price tag to the snappy bottle presentation, I expected much more. Highland Park 12, for example, despite seeing a recent increase in price in my locale, can still be had for about $10 less than the Scapa Glansa and is, in my opinion, a much better dram. 

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… Kirin Fuji Sanroku Tarujuku 50 Whisky


While on a joint-family vacation in the Okanagan for a week, my buddy Richard and I both had the unsurprising yet brilliant idea to bring a whisky to share. Surprisingly, however, neither of us selected a scotch or a Canadian whisky. I chose to bring Booker’s Bourbon, while my friend brought a bottle of Kirin Japanese whisky. Japanese whiskies are quite rare in the bottle shops where I live, and I’ve never seen Kirin before, but Richard had just recently returned from spending a year in his wife’s homeland of South Korea and had visited some of her relatives in Japan. Smart guy that he is, of course he grabbed something I wouldn’t have had a chance to try before. The information on the bottle was written almost entirely in Japanese characters, except for “Non-chill Filtered”, so we couldn’t figure out much except that this whisky is bottled at 50% abv. 

My poor photography skills don’t show the true pale-straw colour of this dram. The nose was somehow vaguely familiar and I immediately identified it as a blended whisky by the distinct grainy-floral aroma that also offered a little vanilla and some orchard fruits. A bourbon-like character arrives after the dram breaths a bit. On the palate, Kirin whisky once again seemed familiar, reminding me a bit of a Johnny Walker Green Label… maybe… but perhaps just the Red Label. It’s pleasant enough, and quite easy-drinking, but not at all complex – some green apples, a hint of caramel and maybe a little oaky vanillins on the back end. Once again, slightly bourbony, so I expect American oak is involved in casking. The finish was short but fairly smooth, with a bit more oak and a slight twist of orange zest. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to give Kirin a try, even though it was somewhat uninspiring. 

Glenfiddich 12

Considering they proclaims themselves as the world’s best selling single malt, it’s kind of surprising that I haven’t had more spaces in my cabinet occupied by the Glenfiddich 12… Especially earlier on in my dramming journey! This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my share of this malt at various times. (It is, after all, pretty much guaranteed to be on a bar shelf, even in the absence of any other scotch brands.) 

Glenfiddich 12 is bottled at 40% abv. This particular bottle was a Christmas gift from a colleague, so I won’t be posting a price.

I made a mess of the collar when opening the bottle… makes for a messy pic!


To the Eye

Gold – almost honey but not particularly deep or rich looking. You know how, when you swirl a dram, there will often be the suggestion of other tones and streaks of colour? Well there’s none of that here… And it’s kind of bugging me, to be honest! 

In the Nose

Hmm, not a lot going on now, either. Softly sweet with some kind of  indiscernible fruit at the front. Vanilla and maybe a little bit of oak. Believe me, I tried hard on multiple occasions to tease out more aromas than that, but this is about all I could come up with!

On the Tongue

Oak. It’s unusual for barrel wood to be the first flavour encountered, especially in such a young spirit but, you know what, it’s not an altogether bad thing. This oakiness is soft and clean and, although I can’t believe this was the intended profile, I find it quite nice to enjoy that woody flavour so clearly. Now, if only there was more to this… malty sweetness, a hint of burnt sugar and maybe a touch of orange peel… but that can’t be right, can it? The finish is short, with few pencil shavings sticking around for a fleeting moment before leaving me with nothing but drying, puckering sensation of alcohol. 

Final Thoughts

If you read my blog with any regularity, you probably have at least two things about me figured out: first, I enjoy most whiskies – I usually find something to like about the vast majority of drams – and, second, I base my reviews on multiple tastings – usually three or more. So it’s not like I was just having a bad day!

Here’s the lowdown – Glenfiddich 12 tastes NOTHING like what I remember. At no point in any of my tastings did I get any of those over-the-top pear and green grass flavours that I used to associate with this dram. I have no idea what has changed but there’s not much going on in this whisky  and, while I was still able to find something redeeming about it, this was one of the least interesting scotch experiences I’ve had in a loooong time!

Ballentine’s Finest

I’ve had a few of the Ballentine’s whiskies in my day, including the 18 and 21 year old blends, but none of them ever really grabbed my attention. Ballentine’s Finest is the flagship expression and one that I remember my father-in-law often having around before I helped him on his way toward single malt snobbery. I don’t think I have ever bought this whisky for myself but this particular bottle was a Christmas-time gesture from the family of one of the hockey players I coach. I’m certainly not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and I was impressed that they had gone out of their way to find out my preference for the uisge beatha. This dram is bottled at 40% abv. 

  
To the Eye

Pale gold with flashes of brighter yellow. Skinny legs rapidly drop down the sides of my glass. 

In the Nose

Surprisingly… almost non-existent. For a second I thought that perhaps an Ardbeg I’d enjoyed a couple nights earlier might have fried my olfactory senses! Ballentines has very very little offer on the nose. It smells whisky-ish but everything is so faint and subtle that I really can’t pick out any individual aromas. The empty glass was always full of caramel and vanilla but shouldn’t a full glass possess the superior nose?

On the Tongue

Quite smooth but a rather single-note profile. During each tasting session, I chewed and chewed on this one but wasn’t able to tease much out for my tasting notes… Slightly sweet, a little vanilla, a little oak, maybe a hint of charcoal.  The finish is medium short, a bit longer than I expected, actually, with a slow smoulder of alcohol and a few lingering baking spices. 

Final Thoughts

Ballentine’s Finest is not an undrinkable whisky but it is the least scotch-like scotch I have ever had – it actually reminds me more of a mass-produced, run of the mill rye mixer. This whisky tastes more like the ones I was drinking 15-20  years ago and I can see it working better with a splash of soda or ginger ale in a rocks glass than it does neat from a Glencairn. But that’s not why I buy scotch, so the only way another bottle of this dram ends up in my cabinet is if I get another one as a gift.