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 malt, 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, I’ll have had words with my friend about the spelling error on her selection menu, 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!

Just a Thought… The Norlan Whisky Glass

This past Christmas (I know, I know… And I have no good excuses for my delay to post), my ever-thoughtful sister gifted a beautiful pair of glasses to me.  I can only imagine how her search for my gift actually went but, to hear her tell the story, it involved wonder about what to get a “whisky nerd” who apparently has everything already, while also feeling a little unsure about an outright display of support for my dramming habit by giving me an actual bottle of booze, not to mention completely ignorant toward how to choose a bottle I was sure enjoy… I don’t think you need to know my sister personally to pick up on all of the not-so-subtle jabs she was taking at me.

Nevertheless, I was quite thrilled to open my gift and see a carton of two Norlan glasses. I have been interested in this technology since reading about it on other blogs but my satisfaction with traditional Glencairns as well as the unavailability of Norlan glasses in stores (online orders only, I believe) had so-far kept me from getting my own.

 

For my comparison, I sampled some nice Classic Laddie in both the new Norlan and my usual Glencairn. Here’s what I thought:


Glencairn Nose

Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla. The Glencairn also delivers a clear malty-cereal character as well as some citrusy goodness on the nose. 

Norlan Nose

Noticeably less pronounced nose compared to the Glencairn. Honey and floral heather… Graphite… Vanilla… Those aromas are all still there, I just had to work a bit harder to find them. The malty character is pretty much absent but there is now a distinct herbal quality in its place – minty, eucalyptus. 

Glencairn Palate 

Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality.  The Glencairn delivers my sip directly to the tip of the tongue, which helps to highlight the sweet honey and bourbony elements of the whisky. The finish is medium, maybe medium-long, with pencil shavings, caramel and a nutty sensation. 

Norlan Palate

Very similar. Oak, rose water, vanilla, subtle baking spices and a mineral slate-like quality are all in the mix once again. The Norlan glass seems to bring a sip of whisky a bit further back on the palate, which makes for a slightly more bitter and peppery profile. The finish is again medium with flavours of oak and minerals, sweet caramel and nuts. 

Verdict

The Norlan Glass is a beautiful piece of glassware. I like how it feels in my hand and, if I’m drinking with friends who mix their drinks in tumblers, maybe I won’t feel quite as pretentious with the Norlan as with a Glencairn.  Maybe, but probably not… I have no qualms about matching my glass to whatever I’m drinking, so I may just stick with my trust Glencairn or, perhaps, my Canadian Glencairn. 

I should probably do more side-by-side comparisons, in the name of science of course, but I’m not yet sure that I can say the Norlan glass is better or worse, in terms of an overall drinking experience. The nose is decidedly subdued, compared to a Glencairn, and there seems to also be a slightly different taste experience, due to how the whiskey is delivered to the tongue. However, some aromas and flavours did also seem to be enhanced by the Norlan, so maybe it’s a trade-off in the end. I, for one, love to nose my whisky so I find the subdued nosing experience of the Norlan to be a strike against it. That said, however, I’m sure my new Norlan glasses will see plenty of use, especially when I can show them off when a buddy drops by come over for a dram. 

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

You know, the more I drink bourbon, the more I like bourbon…

How’s that for a philosophical opening statement?  It’s funny though, because I can remember a time, not so long ago, when I thought bourbon was really inferior stuff. No longer, however! I now find myself perusing the American whiskey aisles in my local bottle shops as often as I visit the scotch sections. And, while it’s kind of a chicken-egg thing, I have realized that I prefer bourbon-barrelled scotch whiskies over other finishing regimes. The thing I am enjoying the most about my growing infatuation with bourbon, though, is that it has opened an entire new category of taste experiences for me to enjoy. 

This brings me to my most recent purchase: a bottle of Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This dram is aged for 9 years before being bottled at 100 proof (50% abv). This whiskey cost me $50 CDN. 


To the Eye

I’ve said it before, I love the colour of a proper bourbon! Deep amber, almost coppery-orange with flashes of brighter gold. Very appealing… A swirl of my Glencairn reveals a crest that eventually releases extreeeeeeemely stubborn, thick legs!

In the Nose

Brown sugar, burnt sugars and cinnamon are the first aromas to greet me. What really strikes me is an absence of alcohol burn. Some rye spiciness, more distinct cinnamon and some oak soon join the party.  Time in the glass eventually allows a ginger-bread quality to develop, along with a pine note and maybe a touch of marshmallow. 

On the Tongue

Nicely balanced. Caramel popcorn and oak form the backbone of this dram but there is also a fruitiness about it… apricot jam continually comes to mind. The are more subtle qualities woven amongst the more dominant flavours too: that rye spice is lurking in the background, along with a charred flavour that is not quite smoky, but more like something off the grill – barbequed corn-on-the-cob?  It’s not as sweet as I fear I’m making it sound. A little bit of cocoa powder and some vanilla are also evident. 

The finish is long. Actually, what’s longer than long? Seriously, the flavours linger on and on, several minutes after each sip. Oak for sure, but those sweet, ripe apricots return as well and almost gain strength before fading to something cherry-like (more like cherry wood than the actual fruit) and a smack of hazelnut at the end.

Final Thoughts

Delicious stuff! I still don’t know if I know enough about bourbon to make a statement like this, but Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon just seems to be an honest, well-crafted whiskey. It tastes like good bourbon! I have had whiskies that knocked my socks off more than this dram… Yet, those apricots! But for my money, this bottle is a very good value. I’m sure it won’t be a one-off in my cabinet!