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Oh Canada, my home and native land… | Blog #16

Well an epic week for me after living in the Great White North for over 12 years, I finally sealed the deal and became Canadian.

Swearing the Oath to the Queen and becoming official on the 12th of June 2014 at  9:30am. So now I have a split personality part Australian and part Canadian, or Aus-adian!

Really the perfect segue into a blog on Canadian Single Malt whisky. There has been, for the past two decades, only one choice for patriotic Canadian’s wanting a home grown Single malt. Glen Breton from the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia has been the benchmark Canadian Single Malt Whisky producer. Their “Canada’s Only Single Malt” label I noticed just changed recently with their new releases to “Canada’s First Single Malt”. No doubt they have been keeping tabs on developments in the industry and knew it was just a matter of time before someone else joined the party.

It amazes me that they had it all to themselves for so long.

There are now a number of distilleries working up to Single Malt releases. Keep a look out for Shelter Point on Vancouver Island, Okanagan Spirits in Kelowna and Urban Distillery in Kelowna.

Still Waters Distillery in Ontario released their Single Malt last year and have already received great acclaim. Recently picking up the Best Single Cask award in Whisky Magazine, Still Waters have made a definite market impact already on the Canadian micro distillery scene.

To be up front with everyone I have been working with the Barry’s now from their early days as Independent bottlers. Their early entry into the market was frustrated by crazy outdated laws that forced them to have 2% Canadian content in their single casks of Single Malt Scotch. This meant that they had to create a whole new whisky category that consumers could not understand. It was certainly a tough way to start a business. However their passion for whisky never faltered and soon after their still was installed and running.

Most new distilleries on their path to releasing whisky invariably distill something faster to take to market and bring in much needed capital. Still Waters was no exception releasing their Single Malt Vodka under two different labels.

The vodka, while smooth and delicious with a hint of sweet barley on the nose, entered into a tough category that is driven by big marketing budgets and fancy packaging. Vodka is a very lucrative market and is the volume piece of the spirits puzzle. Gaining market share in a crowded sector with a product that is basically shades of grey when comparing quality and flavor is certainly a challenge. I encourage any whisky drinker that wants a vodka for any mixed beverages to check out the Still Waters Single Malt Vodka. Remember that you are directly helping the micro whisky industry drinking small batch spirits. You should, if you are in BC, be buying anything from Shelter point right now to help them get over the line with their Whisky.

Sorry for that slight deviation from topic. I do tend to have a passion for small hand crafted product over the mass produced brands and try to get anyone who will listen to think about supporting the small guys.

So, onto the whisky.

I am going to look at two Single Malts today from Still Waters and do a comparison between single casks and also at cask strength vs 46%.

First up is Cask number 2 bottle number 156 bottled at 61.3%

Tasted in a Reidel whisky glass – my favored glass for Cask Strength and I have a gentle dishwasher.

Nose: Sweet vanilla bean with hints of Seville orange marmalade – just that nice hint of bitter rind. Really inviting nose and very soft in the Reidel. Would no doubt be potentially overpowering in a Glencairn.

Palate: Instantly palate filling with plenty of tingle as it spreads over the tongue with creamy sweet spice laden cinnamon and nutmeg. The 61.3 certainly gives it a dryer edge but is remarkably balanced for such a young malt. With just a drop of water the alcohol really fades away with more of a hay bail and fresh grass tinge underlining the spices. For this whisky I think my preference is at cask strength as it drinks with lovely balance and the alcohol does not inhibit the bulk of the flavor from coming to the foreground.

Finish: long and lasting the sweetness fades away leaving strong barley notes and more of that earthy straw and grass component.

This is a great whisky and has some unique character that barley (Canadian 2 row) and climate (Ontario – Summer heavy humidity courtesy of Lake Ontario and cold persistent winter snow) provide. I can only imagine how good these whiskies will be as time works its magic over the next decade.

Second up is the only 46% cask bottled so far thanks to the Liquor Depot group that purchased the majority of the barrel and requested the lower strength to make it a little more consumer friendly. Cask number 4 bottle number 37.

Tasted in a Glencairn glass which is the best for nosing and is great for understrength whiskies.

Nose: Much more barley up front than its cask strength sister and even at 46% the Glencairn fires the alcohol to the nose enough for some nostril burn if you get too close. As with the cask strength when watered, there is a lot more of that hay bail grassy note. Still perceptible is the vanilla cream but none of the marmalade that I can detect.

Palate: Softer as expected on the palate with very subtle spices and persistence of sweet hay and malt with background vanilla. Almost reminiscent of a scratch and sniff vanilla malted milkshake (throw back to the 80’s).

Finish:  Shorter than the cask strength but still lingering and delicious with continuing sweet barley and vanilla.

For the price, the 46% version is well worth it and will also help new whisky drinkers appreciate a fantastic Canadian made Single Malt. For a deeper and more complex experience, paying the extra for a cask strength version will have its rewards.

There are no cask strength bottles available in the Western Canadian market as yet, but will be coming this fall for the Christmas season.

Both these whiskies are an exceptional expression of fantastic hand crafted Canadian micro distilling. Both the Barry’s should be applauded for taking the financial risks associated with a start up distillery and keeping true to their mantra of not cutting corners and being patient to release a truly great whisky.

As a new Canadian I am proud to be drinking and representing such a great distillery.

I would love to hear your experiences with Canadian whiskies and Single Malts in particular (not a lot to choose from but there are a number of expressions out there).

Next week I’m going to get my Stampede on and look at some Cowboy inspired whiskies from the US and Scotland.

Yahoo!!!!

Jonathan

4 Glasses – 1 Whisky Part 4 | Blog #11

Now that we are finally on the last part make sure you start with Blog #8 followed by Blog #9  and Blog #10 which are part one, two and three of this series.

This little trip has been extremely fun and I have found out a lot about my palate and it has changed the way I will drink whisky in the future. I will certainly pay a lot more attention to what glassware I will use depending on mood and surroundings.

Duncan Taylor Dimensions Mortlach 1993 54.1%

So after trying the whisky in 4 different glasses at both cask strength and at 46% here are the tasting notes.

Nose: Vanilla wafer, hint of marzipan with a touch of lemon meringue pie or lemon drops. Some fresh hay and a whiff of an old barn door underlying everything.

Palate: Oat biscuits, citrus cream – key lime pie with vanilla bean Hagendaaz back dropped with a tang of lemon zest and salted cashews.

Finish: Citrus comes through even more over time with the vanilla fading away to be replaced by a much more savory note.

Below is my final take on all four glasses with each having its merits and potential deficiencies. Ranking 1 to 4 with 1 being the best.

# 1 – The Glencairn Scotch Whisky glass

Glencairn has pretty much been my go to glass in the past and I still think it delivers possibly the best experience you can get for nosing any whisky. On the palate however it seemed much to focused and did not allow me to pick out as many flavors as the other glasses without numerous tastes and extensive watering. Given that taste is at least equal to nose for a full whisky experience I will probably not use Glencairn as much in the future although with 20+ assorted Glencairn glasses in my whisky cabinet it will still be the convenient choice. Robust and strong, difficult to break and easily racks in the dishwasher it ranks high on the every day usage scale. Everyone should have a Glencairn in their arsenal. Chunky enough for ice and stones so a good all round glass that is not too expensive and will last a long time. Dishwasher is no problem.

Nose rank # 2
Palate rank # 4
Everyday use rank # 2
Whisky warming friendly # 4
Price rank # 2

# 2 – The Reidel Whisky Glass

The Reidel has always been a favorite of mine and gets a lot of use especially for any whisky that I want to really get into. The careful design really allows for a full experience of both nose and taste. It is however delicate and a little harder to warm so this affects the palate score a little. To be honest I thought this glass would fair better than it did in the competition and it was extremely close in both nose and palate to the Spiegelau. The expense of the Reidel and its fragile nature are points against it. You do definitely want one in your collection and I would if given a choice use it over a Glencairn on most occasions. Does not do well with whisky stones. Dishwasher is normally okay but be careful.

Nose rank # 3
Palate rank # 3
Everyday use rank # 3
Whisky warming friendly # 3
Price rank # 3

# 3 – The Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler

Due to being able to warm the whisky by really cupping both hands completely around the base of this glass I think that the nose and palate were a little better than the Reidel. The Spiegelau places the whisky in the same area of the palate as the Reidel but is much heftier and can easily handle larger ice cubes if desired and whisky stones are no problem. Dishwasher safe, patio safe and geek whisky tasting safe the Spiegelau I feel is the best all round glass for the price.

Nose rank # 2
Palate rank # 2
Everyday use rank # 1
Whisky warming friendly rank # 2
Price rank # 1

# 4 – Traditional Balloon (snifter)

The Brandy Snifter was the big eye opener as I had used it in the past very seldom and then mostly for Cognac. This glass scores highly in some aspects and poorly in others and should almost come with a safely label something like this …

Warning extreme whisky experience ahead, please proceed with caution!

To be honest it was amazing and by being a little patient and easing into it like lowering into a relaxing hot tub that has the temperature set a bit high the rewards are generous. The nose was amazing but had to be approached carefully. The palate was richer and more complex than any of the other glasses. It was made to cup in the hands and because the glass is thinner than the Spiegelau you can get a more immediate warming effect. Plenty of room for ice and robust enough for stones. It only ranked last on the every day use scale due to its size, expense and difficulty in cleaning. It takes up a quarter of the dishwasher if you want to try but is safer being hand washed. In a previous Blog I talked about whisky toys including a Death Star Ice Cube. This is the glass that could pull that off. It also lends itself really well to balancing over a cup of hot water to be steamed. There are many variations on this style of glass and you can spend as much as you want or pick up a bargain. It got the worst price ranking as I think in general you will want to make this a special purchase and buy a quality piece for your whisky cupboard.

Nose rank # 1
Palate rank # 1
Everyday use rank # 4
Whisky warming friendly rank # 1
Price rank # 4

So the final overall rankings are:

First place – Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler – 8 points
Second Place – Brandy Snifter – 11 points
Third Place – Glencairn – 14 points
Fourth Place – Reidel – 15 points

I would think, that if you don’t already, you should have all of these glasses in your cabinet. In much the same way as we have many different styles of whisky because we don’t want to drink the same thing all the time its good to have multiple glass options.

Send in your comments about your glassware experiences – let me know if you have found a particularly good whisky glass that was not part of this tasting.

Next week I am blogging about my recent trip to a big retailer in the US Total Wine and my “secret shopper” whisky aisle experience with the staff.

Cheers, cheers, cheers, cheers

Jonathan

4 Glasses – 1 Whisky Part 3 | Blog #10

Before reading any further make sure you start with Blog #8 followed by Blog #9 which is part one and two of this series.

So here we are finally getting to the nitty gritty and having a taste or two. The first round of tasting was done with Duncan Taylor Mortlach 1993 at full cask strength of 54.1%.The whiskies, having already been nosed and glasses handled, were all in various states of slightly warmer than room temperature depending on how well the glass lent itself to being cradled. Before we get into it, I do need to let you know that for this part of the exercise I will be talking about how the whiskies affect the palate from a mouth feel and alcohol impact perspective. Looking at how a glass delivers the whisky to your palate can make your choice easier in matching your next dram to its perfect glass, or for that matter, the perfect glass depending on what you feel like you want from your experience that day.

# 1 – The Glencairn Scotch Whisky glass – Cask Strength

The Glencairn, while keeping the nose subtle, delivered the whisky to the palate like a laser. It hit my tongue and the alcohol fairly spanked it causing me to tear up with the accompanying dry throat syndrome as a partner. The second sip was not quite the same story as I was more prepared for it, however, the focused nature of the Glencairn opening really placed the whisky onto my palate in a way that was not conducive to picking up subtle flavors for this exercise and enhanced the effect of the alcohol at cask strength.

# 2 – The Reidel Whisky Glass – Cask Strength

The Reidel opened immediately and was considerably softer on the palate, dispersing the alcohol although there was still some minor tingle as I was expecting. Overall easier to pick out flavor and a so much more pleasant tasting experience. The second sip was more of the same with even more discernible flavor as the whisky spread out over the tongue.

# 3 – The Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler – Cask Strength

Here there was only the tiniest hint of alcohol prickle on the very tip of the tongue. Very creamy overall mouth feel and very soft layering flavor. Warming this glass had a definite effect on the whisky and could account for the difference between this glass and the Reidel as they both place the whisky on the same spot on the palate.

# 4 – Traditional Balloon (snifter) – Cask Strength

A huge overall alcohol tingle and you still cant help but be a little overwhelmed by the huge aroma as you bring the glass to your lips. A heady and intoxicating experience, the whisky flows over the entire palate with a big barrage of flavor and smell. From Nose to Tongue this is a punchy experience that can quickly overwhelm the senses.

I then tasted the whiskies again having watered all 4 of them down to just below 46% as they were all now slightly cloudy.

# 1 – The Glencairn Scotch Whisky glass – Watered

Flavors opened up a lot more and the palate did soften a lot. However there was still noticeable tingle which was surprising considering the amount of water added. This was by far a much easier way to taste this whisky from this glass shape.

# 2 – The Reidel Whisky Glass – Watered

Considerably softer with water and very easy on the palate indeed with just the smallest almost imperceptible alcohol tingle. More flavor coming out and a great way to delve into the flavor.

# 3 – The Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler – Watered

Softest easiest flavor profile yet with really no alcohol making its presence felt at all. A lovely balanced mouth feel making it very easy to pick out flavor and really enjoy the whisky.

# 4 – Traditional Balloon (snifter) – Watered

Wow – Yeah Baby! I have to say that water in this instance tamed the beast and turned her into a beauty. Smooth (lots of people don’t like that word as it is over used but I like it as a lot of consumers can relate) like silk with a gorgeous balance. Yummo.

You must all be chafing at the bit to find out what all these flavors are and next week I will write up full tasting notes and sum up the whole experience.

I hope you have been trying along with me with some different glassware on your own multi-glass tasting. It has been the first time I have done this and has been an excellent learning exercise. It can be so much fun to try and delve into something so complex with a focused ambition to teach yourself something new.

Share some of your experiences in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.

Until next week,

Cheers!

Jonathan

4 Glasses – 1 Whisky Part 2 | Blog #9

Before reading any further make sure you start with Blog #8 which is part one of this series.

Having poured a healthy dram into each glass lets look at how each one effects the nose and palate.

Nose:

Nosing whisky is a big part of what makes this spirit so interesting. If you have been drinking whisky for any length of time then you have no doubt experienced one of those amazing drams that you could just sit and nose for an age.

*All nosing done at full cask strength of 54.1% alcohol.

# 1 – The Glencairn Scotch Whisky glass

Remembering that this design was created for nosing it should get us off to a great start. Initially restrained with no noticeable alcohol prickle it takes a while to draw the subtleties out. You can really get your nose close to the glass and still have no alcohol effect which is impressive at 54.1%. With the chunky stem it is however hard to get a good warming clasp on the bowl.

# 2 – The Reidel Whisky Glass

Allowing for a much more open nosing experience as a trade off for the positioning of the whisky in a specific way on the palate, I was expecting a slightly harsher experience. It was in fact slightly more subtle with the barest hint of alcohol. I was able to get my nose really close and still not get any alcohol kick back. Easier to get the hands around to warm the whisky it is however still very delicate and feels like you have to be careful in how you handle it.

# 3 – The Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler

With the same diameter and flare of the Reidel I was expecting a very similar nose. It might have been due to being able to fully cup this glass with both hands and warm the whisky but the nose was much more pronounced with a little more discernible alcohol. Could not sink the big shnoz as close with this glass without a little too much overpowering prickle.

# 4 – Traditional Balloon (snifter)

Wow, “snifter” seems like a good description as even just one good sniff and the whisky closely followed by alcohol fairly leap out of the glass. Being careful not to get too close, the complexity of the whisky is immediately apparent. Subtleties may have been lost at this point but who cares. This glass has unleashed the inner Martlach Monster. Warming played its part as this glass was designed to be cradled lovingly between two hands. So far the biggest impression however I can see that if you were tasting a lot of whiskies this bad boy would wear out your senses fast. But for the sheer fun-park ride this was the nosing winner.

Next week we do the tasting at Full Strength and then I might have to extend to a part 4 for watering and conclusion

Until then…

“Balloons Aloft!”

Jonathan

4 Glasses – 1 Whisky Part 1 | Blog #8

Over the next 3 weeks we are going to look at how different glasses can effect your whisky experience.

May I present firstly the 4 glasses we will be comparing for your tasting pleasure.

# 1 – The Glencairn Scotch Whisky glass

The shape of this glass is mostly derived from traditional “copita” nosing glasses in use throughout most Whisky labs in Scotland. Introduced in 2001 after a coming together of Master Blenders from 5 of the largest whisky companies. The majority of Glencairn glasses found on shelves are lead free crystal however for this tasting I used the rarer 24% lead crystal version that I received as part of my tasting package for the 2011 Ultimate Whisky Experience in Las Vegas.

# 2 – The Reidel Whisky Glass

The Campbell Distillers company owning Arberlour and Edradour first went to Reidel to create a whisky glass to specifically highlight the nuances and characteristics of Single Malt Whisky. The glass was first designed and tested in 1992 and was released into the market the next year. The one I used for the tasting was given to me by my wife in 2003 which was the first year I started to sell Single Malt Whisky.

# 3 – The Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler

Dating back to the 16th Century, Spiegelau has been making glass longer than most. Purchased by Reidel in 2004 the Spiegelau line still retains its own individuality. Interesting note on this however is that the Spiegelau Whisky Tumbler was released after the Reidel Whisky Glass and although is still a true tumbler with heavier glass on the base has exactly the same tulip shaped top and exact diameter measurements for the lip as its Reidel cousin. I used a glass that I received for a tasting at Willow Park Wines and Spirits when I spent a rare event on the consumer side of the table.

# 4 – Traditional Balloon (snifter)

Larger than the other three glasses the “brandy balloon” as it has so often come to be known is used more predominantly with Cognac but is equally at home with Whisky. Widely believed to have been created in the 16th Century this is definitely the oldest style in our tasting. Snifter is British Colloquialism for a small amount of alcohol in a glass (aka dram). The glass I used is from a set of 4 (now 3 – one went to glassware heaven) that my wife and I received on our 10th Wedding Anniversary in Australia.

So now that the glasses have been introduced, let me bring in the main guest.

“The Whisky”

Duncan Taylor Independent Bottlers Single Cask Dimensions Series – Mortlach 1993

Cask No. 4463 – Distilled in May 1993 and bottled in March 2012. 18 years old at an ABV of 54.1% – 519 Bottles produced.

Mortlach is a Speyside distillery that is owned by Diageo. It was founded in 1823 and is located in Dufftown. It was the first distillery to be built in Dufftown with the second, Glenfiddich not entering the scene till over 40 years after.

After many changes of hands and for a while being used as a church, Mortlach is now working at full capacity with most of its whisky being used for Johnnie Walker blends. It is seldom seen as a proprietary bottling except in the Flora and Fauna series.

Most consumers who have tried Mortlach will have found it through various independent bottlers (topic for another blog).

Mortlach has 3 spirits stills and 3 wash stills and uses what is often referred to as “partial triple distillation” Their 6 still system is unique but is a variation on techniques used at Springbank and Benrinnes.

Now that I have given you plenty to read about just to set the stage I bid you farewell until next week where the whisky hits the glass.

If you would like to experiment along with me then you have a week to find yourself the above 4 glasses and to pick any whisky of your choosing – preferably cask strength.

I look forward to getting my nose in it.

Cheers

Jonathan Bray