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Month: June 2015

Canada Rules | Blog #73

G’day Eh!!

Sounds weird for sure but an Aussie now converted into an Ausadian or Cantralian and I can tell you that with the receipt of my Canadian passport and going through the citizenship ceremony I see myself as 100% both (well maybe slightly always a little more Aussie).

So for this coming Canada day I have saved something new and awesome.

For those that have been following along and thanks by the way, You will have read a little about the trials and tribulations of Still Waters distillery in Ontario

Having been involved almost from the beginning in working with Barry and Barry to sell whatever it was that they were working on I have slogged side by side with them for over half a decade. It is really exciting for me now to be still working with them as they are starting to receive some accolades after releasing some excellent whisky.

Today’s blog is all about Canadian whisky and getting small and crafty with it. “Rye” is what most Canadians call Canadian whisky by default. Quite often it is a misnomer because the bulk of “Canadian” whisky has little to no rye at all.

Here we have an example of 100% locally grown Ontario Rye being distilled by 2 guys that have had a passion for excellence and have done the really hard yards in the face of massive obstacles to become craft distillers in the hugely government controlled province of Ontario. Before I even taste, there is a massive amount of kudos and hat dipping to both of them for sheer perseverance and love for whisky which I also share.

So on to the whisky – Stalk and Barrel Rye bottled at 46% and aged in 1st fill ex bourbon casks with medium to heavy charring. Cask No. 24 (they number their casks combined so this is the 24th cask of any kind of whisky that they have bottled) Bottle number 138.

Tasted in a Glencairn – I know I don’t use this glass often for reviews but I have had this whisky before and wanted to really have the nose accentuated for me. At 46% I also didn’t think that the singular delivery to the palate would be detrimental.

Nose: Sweet soft recognizable rye, almost cotton candy (fairy floss in Australian) very little spicy character that you would normally associate with American rye. Hints of butterscotch and toffee apple. Wow this nose absolutely shines in a Glencairn this is seductively sexy whisky and is very very pretty. Floral wildflower essence but not at all perfume like. A touch of Bourbon background and all stirred together with a Madagascar vanilla bean.

Palate: Amazingly easy on the palate for a whisky of only just over 3 years aging. The signature rye spice is there but is so soft and playful it literally caresses the buds, imparting palate coating mouth feel and complexity that belies its age. I am in agreement with Davin de Kergommeaux from canadianwhisky.org. The Barry’s hit this one out of the park for their first Rye outing.

I will drink this regularly and often. You might remember in Blog #70 that I used this in a hot toddy when I was under the weather. Well right about now I am thinking what the heck was I doing throwing whisky such as this into a hot toddy mix. In my defence though better cocktails and or toddy’s require better base spirits and this is one of them.

Finish: Continues on the way it started with enveloping soft spice with the tiniest zip on the tongue that lets you know it is 100% rye at heart. Takes a really long time to dissipate and is a gorgeous sipper. I will be tipping this bottle a lot this Summer.

Please remember that as owner of Secret Spirits I represent this whisky. I wish I could tell you that I am just bias and trying to flog you a bottle of whisky that I will benefit from the sale thereof, but that would be a load of crap. This is really, really good whisky and fully deserves the recent award as “best new Canadian Whisky” at this years Canadian Whisky Awards.

Prove me wrong and grab a bottle. I would love to hear from anyone with a craft Canadian whisky experience as there are more and more small distilleries popping up to take on the big guys.

Happy Canada Day eh!

(Aussie/Canadian hybrid)

Unobtanium…..fun to read or a big tease | Whisky Blog #72

Let’s face it most bloggers that spend enough time and energy on their hobby to garner some read solid readership numbers will begin to open up opportunities to drink more and more expensive whiskies.

As a consumer on the other side of your electronic medium of choice do you get excited about reading insights into especially rare or expensive drams? Or do you find it irrelevant when you can neither afford it or find it on shelves.

As someone who has been in and around the industry for over a decade I have of course had access to some pretty amazing whisky. Most of the expensive bottles that have found their way into my home have been sourced via channels that would normally be well above my current pay grade. For me one important question I ask myself when reviewing a whisky is if I could see myself shelling out hard earned dollars to add said bottle to my collection.

I can see that writing about super rare and expensive whiskies actually does a lot to help those agonizing over a purchase to consider whether or not to take the plunge. Rare and older whiskies are always expensive but are not necessarily amazing. From this perspective it is probably even more important if you are buying the whisky strictly for consumption rather than investment that you read up on as many opinions as possible so as to make a somewhat informed decision.

Everyone has a different pallet and therefore opinions will vary greatly. 

It’s like reading reviews on Trip Advisor. It doesn’t matter how amazing a resort is or how awesome their customer service, there will always be a number of people that are either habitual complainers or did in fact have a horrible experience. Never base your decision on just one review. Make sure you either weight more highly sources that you have come to trust or go by the vast majority or reviews either good or bad.

Finally having taken all this into account you should just go with your own choice. I have for example thoroughly enjoyed many movies that critics were scathing with their detrimental comments. The difference is that when I go to the movies I can just enjoy it as a relaxing form of escapism and entertainment and am not analyzing the deficiencies for a newspaper column.

Whisky is the same way. The more bloggers write, the more we can potentially become jaded and opinionated. Read my blog #67 on Mellow Corn to see that even believing that I am completely open minded and always try to judge every whisky on it’s merits does not always hold true.

It is so easy for all of us to be swayed by age statement, distillery, colour and definitely packaging and expense. You can read my Blog #69 written about blind tastings and how beneficial it is not knowing everything about a whisky before trying it.

So lot’s to think about every time I reach for a higher end bottling.

With all that in mind however it is time that I visit the most expensive bottle of whisky that I currently own as it has fallen below the marble limit (see blog #60) and needs to be finished off this year.

Glenglassaugh 41 Year Old Decanter edition (Pre Benriach sale)

I came upon this bottle due to an unfortunate series of events that caused some leakage en-route which made it non-saleable. Terrible when these things happen 🙂

Tasted in the Glenglassaugh crystal cut glass that came with the whisky.

Distilled in 1967 this whisky is older than me and I’m getting to that age where this is going to become much more expensive to say. This was the first release of Glenglassaugh 40+ whisky after the revival of the distillery in 2008. Presented in a beautiful cherry wood box it comes in a crystal decanter and 2 Glenglassaugh crystal glasses in case you have a really good friend or family member that would be deserving of sharing this with.

Colour: Rich amber and mahogany and looks every bit the 41 year old sherried whisky it is.

Nose: Takes me back home to when my awesome mum prepared rich Christmas puddings during the holidays between Christmas and New Year that would hang wrapped in cheese cloth until the following year. The smell of rich Christmas spices, sherry, brandy and candied orange would waft from the pantry every time it was opened. I looked forward to Christmas day as much for mum’s puddings as for the pressies under the tree.  This Glenglassaugh expression contains all of the above but also kicks in another of my childhood favorites – dried apricot. My Grandpa had several huge apricot trees in his back yard and my brother and I ate them till we were almost ill. So many buckets that the only way to handle the harvest was to dry them. A staple item in the daily lunchbox they were a juicier and more flavorful version than found at your local supermarket.

Palate: Roll on the lovely dark slab of rich Christmas pudding drowned in home made vanilla bean custard…..(mum time to make another one I’m coming home for Christmas). Even slightly diminished due to sitting in the decanter for 5 years (thank goodness for the marbles) it is a really great example of why 40+ whiskies that retain the youthful sparkle with the seasoned experience of age are truly amazing. Sherry influence is there but not overpowering and the dried fruits complement the spice. No overtly powerful cask influence to ruin the delicate balance.

Finish: Soft fruits linger on and a tapestry of delicate flavors develop, definite apricot that gets its look in amongst the fruit basket that also has some hints of cassis and blackberry. Finally kicking in some candied bitter orange peel like hand made marmalade.

So this little beauty sold for $ 3600 in BC $ 3500 in the UK and was an absolute steal here in Alberta for a mere $ 2600. There are still bottles out there so feel free to contact me if you are on the hunt and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Would I pay the money? There are certainly drams that I have had that are less expensive and provide similar amazing qualities. However it is going to be a lot more expensive and a lot more difficult to find these lovely fruit driven 40+ year old whiskies in the future so if my level of income allowed it I would ante up. This is one bottle that I shall be very sad to finish.

Share your most amazing whisky experience to date, I would love to hear your stories.


Single Malt…….Vodka?? Blog # 71

With the market for small distillery hand crafted whisky at an all time high there are a lot of new start ups looking to ride the wave over the next 5 to 10 years.

Starting a distillery is an expensive prospect. 

Just the equipment alone demands hefty capital. When you throw in the minimum 3 year aging for Canadian whisky it becomes a waiting game while the distillery soaks up funds like a dry sponge.

Even with a passion and vision to make exceptional whisky many new distillers have to turn to another source of income generating spirit to keep things afloat and hopefully pay for their whisky aspirations.

The two most popular stop gap spirits are Vodka and Gin. Vodka is the easier of the two however in an effort to get that smooth clean vodka profile many rounds of distilling are in order.

With a big factory setup vodka can be distilled over and over in quick time. If you are a small distillery with one still then distilling a vodka 6 times is a lot of work.

Still Waters Vodka Still Waters Vodka

A good example of how tough it is to make money this way is Still Waters Distillery that was utilizing the same barley that was going into their casks of future Single Malt. Barley is a more expensive option for vodka given that anything that has sugars or starch to convert to alcohol will do. With a premium quality vodka on their hands and all capital tied up in equipment, barrels, ingredients and a number of really expensive safety compliance hoops to jump through there was little money left for marketing.

Hitting the shelves with a stock bottle and basic label is a tough road to the consumer when it comes to vodka. Flashy packaging and custom bottles are the norm along with heavy advertising budgets and discount programs all designed to get the consumer to switch their brand. When it comes to differentiating between one vodka and the next there are really only shades of grey.

Yes, premium vodka is less boozy a lot cleaner and can certainly be worth the extra dollars. It is just inherently difficult to woo the consumer when there is such a narrow range of flavor defining the category.

Gin on the other hand can be extremely unique and encompasses a lot more complexity and a vastly wider range of flavor profiles. The craft gin category has exploded in recent years as consumers look for something interesting and delicious.

Many whisky companies have turned their hand to gin making and some that I have worked with include Wemyss Malts, Duncan Taylor, The Malt Whisky Company and Whistling Andy. Flavor profiles ranging from Saffron to Cucumber to Pepper and more all built on the Gin staple ingredient Juniper.

If you love whisky and are crazy about awesome small company offerings then don’t forget to help support these fledgling brands by grabbing a bottle of their white spirit offering when you get the chance. You just might be securing an amazing whisky purchase for yourself down the road.

Getting back to the Still Waters story for a bit, we find that even though their bottled vodka was a tough sell, the quality of the drink itself meant that another small local Ontario company looking to fill a niche in the ready to drink category was keen to use it as the base for their new vodka soda.

Social Lite launched last year is at the moment the only pre-mixed drink on the market that does not include any sweetener. That means no sugar and no artificial sweetener of any kind. Throw in 100% all natural, Gluten free, low glycemic and the lowest calorie count for a full 355ml can and it’s easy to see why the brand has started to see some success in the Canadian market.

Proudly stating that their vodka is sourced from Still Waters Distillery, it is an all Canadian product that is bringing craft distilling to a wider audience.

It is fun to think that every can of Social Lite consumed helps fuel funds for more barrels which means more awesome Still Waters Stalk and Barrel whisky like their rye and single malt.

I know that once the Summer kicks in I will be working through many 4 packs of refreshing Social Lite in between whiskies.

It’s an exciting time for consumers who are looking for hand crafted spirits. The more we can support these great little companies the more interesting offerings we will see on the shelves.Have fun hunting down the cool and eclectic

Quick tasting notes on Social Lite:

Lemon Cucumber Mint – all cucumber on the nose and reminds me of cucumber water at the spa. Exceptionally clean finish with no real hint at the vodka contained therein. Bubbly cucumber water with a hint of lemon and just the tiniest touch of mint on the finish.

Lime Ginger – Lime is the dominant nose and its all lime refreshment until just a touch of tangy ginger on the finish.

Hats off to Aware beverages for their risk taking in making such a unique drink and by default helping the cool whisky category at the same time.