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!

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Centennial Canadian Rye Whisky

My first Canadian Whisky review, eh!

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I make no bones about it… I love Scotch. But I’m a fan of the uisge beatha because they consistently deliver unique and complex flavours. When it comes right down to it, however, I don’t really just love Scotch, I love good whisky (and even whiskey)! And I’m fortunate to live in Alberta, where some of the finest Canadian whiskies are produced, pretty much in my back yard. Indeed, it’s high time that I start reviewing some of these fine drams as well!

I won’t get into the characteristics that make Canadian whisky different from Scotch and other world whiskies. That’s been done elsewhere, if you are inclined to research the topic, and it doesn’t really matter to me – I’m just looking for interesting, complex flavours that are delicious to drink. What is important to me is breaking down the misconception that Canadian whiskies can’t hold their own against other countries’ drams. Head to head, A quality Canadian does just fine, thank you very much! Okay, enough already, let’s get after it!

Centennial Canadian Rye Whisky is produced by Highwood Distillers in High River, Alberta. It is a 10 year old whisky crafted from a blend of winter wheat and rye. It is bottled at 40% abv and is available for about $26. (Another nice feature of many Canadian whiskies)

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To the Eye
This whisky displays as a delicate amber-gold in the glass; it has an inviting, honey-like appearance. A swirl of my Glencairn reveals slender legs that quickly slip down the sides of the glass.

In the Nose
Again delicate, with obvious honey aromas that match the colour of the spirit. Dusty rye is also at the forefront, with wisps of oak and a caramel note that seems to gradually build as the dram breathes. It’s hard to exercise patience, but it is a virtue… and more time in the glass reveals bright lemon, and something slightly vegetal… hay bales? I know this isn’t a common description of a whisky’s nose, but it’s sunshine in a glass!

On the Tongue
There’s a sweetness on the front that quickly makes way for a mouthful of clean and spicy rye. The rye lingers on the exit and is joined by some oak sawdust on the short, exit that is crisp and clean. The use of wheat in the mash bill is evident in the soft profile of this dram. I wouldn’t call Centennial Canadian Rye Whisky overly complex, but it’s certainly not a one-note taste either. It’s exceedingly smooth, nicely balanced and very good!

Final Thoughts
Sophisticated. That’s the word that continues to resonate for me. This is not a whisky that requires a long time to discern and appreciate but it certainly is not a mixer. It’s clean and light and approachable… a great example of the Canadian whisky style.

Glendronach 12 Year Old

A birthday gift from a friend, I was rather excited to receive this bottle… a new whisky that I hadn’t previously tried!

I can’t claim to know much about the Glendronach whiskies but their website indicates that the distillery was founded in 1826, changed ownership several times before ceasing production in 1996, but was back in full production by 2002. This is a malt that I have seen in local liquor stores but, seeing as I didn’t purchase it for myself, I’m not completely sure of it’s price tag. The Glendronach 12 Year Old whisky is bottled at 43% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky is quite striking, almost disarming, in it’s unusually rich colour. In the bottle, it has a unique deep brown appearance and in the glass, it still appears much darker in colour than most whiskies. A dram of Glendronach 12 is a deep gold with flashes of red that immediately have me expecting a heavy sherry influence.

In the Nose
Sherry, certainly… But also plums and sweet cherries. The tasting notes on the sleeve suggest ginger and vanilla, which I’m not sure I’m picking up. I do sense a zesty character, but it’s more like orange zest than ginger in my opinion. It’s a pleasant nose, but not all that complex.

On the Tongue
Aggressive oak and sherry dominate the fist sip. It’s quite smooth and further tastes reveal black pepper and some burnt sugar. Partway into the dram, that heavy oak has become rather bitter – not in a horrible way, but not in a great way, either. It’s a lot like a slightly bitter walnut. Again, not overly complex. The finish is short, although the dry, bitter oak tannins stick around a bit longer than I want them to.

Final Thoughts
I’ve had a few drams from this bottle now and I have to admit that it’s not really growing on me. In my mind, it has a similar character to a Glenrothes and I have a similar opinion of it – okay, but it’s not threatening my top 10 (or 20) anytime soon.

Just a Thought… Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey

JD and I have one of those on-again, off-again relationships…

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Jack Daniel’s was probably the first whiskey that I started to enjoy on the rocks and, eventually, neat. There was something about the unique, subtly smokey flavour that I liked it better straight-up, rather than mixed. But, as my palate developed and I began to appreciate scotch and other more-premium spirits, I started to find JD a little bitter and lacking flavour.

That said, I think I’ll always have a bottle of Jack in my cupboard. It’s my old flame that still, every once in a while, I can’t help but think back fondly on… and find myself calling upon.

And, on those occasions when I can’t help myself, JD’s always there to satisfy. Sure, the rough edges and all those other elements that pushed me away are still there but so are the things that I found so appealing in my youth. There’s still the smooth carmel-corn sweetness, so nicely balanced with that wisp of smoke and that lingering charcoal exit… Yeah, as long as we don’t pretend it’s something more, every once and a while there’s nothing like a quick fling with an old flame like JD.

Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old

Admittedly, I’m a bit of a single malt snob when it comes to my Scotch. Sure, I’ve found a few blends that I don’t mind, and a couple that I genuinely enjoy but, I’ve always found more hits and fewer misses in the single malt category.

For this reason, I was somewhat reserved when my brother-in-law brought over a bottle of Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old, but I was mildly intrigued since it was a whisky I’d never even seen, let alone tried, and I was cautiously optimistic since this blend acted a little bit like a single malt with its corked stopper and classy labelling. I was about to discover that a pure malt whisky is a very different style of whisky from other blends.

Most blends, in addition to malt, contain a percentage of grain whisky, from unfermented barley, resulting in a drier, less flavourful spirit – at least in my opinion. A pure malt, on the other hand is composed entirely from malt whiskies, so the character of the dram seems a lot more like a single malt.

Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% abv and is available in Alberta for less than $40 per bottle.

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To The Eye
This is a bright golden dram that reminds me of Glenmorangie. The most striking thing about its appearance is how reluctant the legs are to return to the glass… I haven’t yet noticed another whisky do that.

In The Nose
Okay, now I’m convinced that Glenmorangie must make up a significant portion of this blend since I’m immediately reminded of it’s aroma. Ripe pears are front and centre, along with a honey-like character that I’ll call beeswax, since it’s not as sweet smelling as honey. Oak and peat are also very evident.

On The Tongue
This is a smooth, pleasant dram that displays plenty of oak on the palate, along with pepper, peat and maybe a hint of licorice. It’s not overly complex but it’s certainly easy to drink. This pure malt blend has none of that dry, puckering, alcohol-without-flavour quality that I usually find in grain whisky blends. The finish is medium, leaving me with a sense of oaky sawdust.

Final Thoughts
I won’t try to convince anyone that Glen Silver’s 12 Year Old is a spectacular whisky but it’s not a poor one either. Any time I find a bottle of Scotch for less than $40 that’s half decent, well, I’m kind of impressed! It’s not a connoisseurs dram but, if your looking for an affordable bottle that can do double duty as a sipper or a mixer, it might be exactly what you’re looking for. In addition, this bottle has opened my eyes to another type of whisky – pure malt – that I might have otherwise ignored because of my bias towards blends.

Aberlour 12 Year Old

I first encountered Aberlour a little more than a year ago, when I had a sudden dram-craving while on a camping trip. Not wanting to shell out too much for a bottle that was destined to be enjoyed alongside potato chips, s’mores, etc, I was looking for something inexpensive. What I found in that particular store was the Aberlour 10, and I soon discovered that age statements and price-points don’t always tell you much about the quality of the spirit inside the bottle – it was quite delicious! That experience led me to reach for the Aberlour 12 Year Old the next time I was snooping around one of my hometown liquor stores. After all, a couple more years in the wood should only improve the whisky, right? In any case, for less than $45 per bottle, I figured it was worth the risk! Aberlour 12 Year Old is bottled at 40% abv.

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To the Eye
This whisky is immediately identifiable as a well-sherried offering as it displays obvious red hues while still in the bottle. But, once poured into my Glencairn, it loses that redness and instead appears somewhere between deep gold and copper. A tilt of the glass leaves clinging, stubborn legs .

In the Nose
At first, the aroma of this dram is somewhat curious. My first notion is of an air freshener… but not the overpoweringly artificial sort. My first few sniffs make me think of a fresh, toned-down fragrance… has anyone ever described a whisky’s nose as “Cool Breeze” or “Crisp Linen”? All I know is that it’s gentle and inviting.

As the nose further develops, I can definitely pick out an obvious sherry note, along with ripe red apples. With even more time, I can begin to sense toasted marshmallows, a little bit of sawdust and maybe even a hint of cinnamon. I have to admit, gentleness aside, I’m surprised by the nuances in the aroma of this whisky!

On the Tongue
Unsurprisingly, sherry is one of the first tastes I pick up, but not as strongly as I expected. This is definitely not a sherry-bomb and, in fact, oak is a more dominant early flavour. As I continue enjoying my dram, I also taste orchard fruits and, eventually, a toasted cereal character that, in combination, makes me think of apple pie. Maybe it’s that thought influencing my taste buds, but I’m sure I can also taste those flavours of cinnamon that I smelled earlier. The finish is a medium exit with a very smooth, gentle warming and that malty, fruity apple-pie character lingers for a bit.

Final Thought
I don’t expect a massive barrage of flavour from an 80-proof whisky and I find Aberlour 12 Year Old almost as gentle on my palate as it was on my sniffer. I’m not saying it’s lacking flavour, quite the opposite, actually, I just wonder what else it might deliver at an abv somewhat closer to cask strength.

This is a whisky that is easy-going enough for beginners but complex enough to be enjoyed by experienced drammers as well. I find Aberlour 12 to be a terrific all-around whisky that will be a staple every-dayer in my cabinet.

Port Charlotte – The Peat Project

The Port Charlotte brand is part of the Bruichladdich distillery’s family of single malts. I’m not yet overly familiar with the Bruichladdich lineup, but I do know they are Islay whiskies and I assume they’re a bit different from their brethren, since they’ve chosen to use a completely different branding for their more peated expressions… my curiosity was peaked by the canister statement, Port Charlotte: The Heavily Peated Bruichladdich? To that point, I had thought that all Islays were big, snarling peat monsters!

I don’t usually consider presentation all that much but I have to admit I was also partially drawn to this particular whisky by the cool factor of Port Charlotte’s distinct packaging – its bold, modern looking tin definitely sets it apart from most other scotch presentations. The Peat Project is available in my market for about $55 and is bottled at 46% abv.

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To the Eye
The first thing that strikes me about The Peat Project is how unusually pale it is. I’m not sure if this is evidence of a young whisky that’s spent very little time in the cask, or if it speaks to the degree of artificial colouring used in other brands. This malt is a very pale straw colour and a swirl of the glass reveals very skinny legs. As with the packaging, this leaves me thinking that this dram will at least be different, if not special.

In the Nose
Okay, now I’m suspecting different but not special. The Peat Project has a very straightforward nose – I get a grassy peat aroma along with a little bit of ripe pears. As the glass decants, I can also sense a little bit of smoke and some sweet maltiness along with a hint of iodine. It’s balanced but, for me, a little subdued and lacking complexity.

On the Tongue
Again, pretty simple… one-dimensional, actually. I can taste oak, which is a little surprising again considering how pale the colouring is. There’s definitely peat as well, but less than I expected from a whisky that proclaims to be “heavily peated”. At first, I taste a pleasant spiciness but it rapidly turns into a bitter astringency. This bitterness catches me a little off guard because I didn’t pick it up in the aroma. The finish is very short, leaving me only with that bitterness lingering.

Final Thoughts
The first few times I sampled this whisky, I thought that I really liked it. Even now, there are moments when I think it’s actually pretty good. There are elements to The Peat Project that appeal to me – I like that it seems to be completely naturally coloured and I do appreciate how its peatiness does not overwhelm the whisky. Unfortunately that bitter exit is just too dominant for my taste, especially considering that there aren’t a great deal of other flavours to balance it out. I do wonder if this malt might be something more impressive if the edges were knocked off by a longer maturation but, as it is, I think I’ll take a pass on buying another bottle.