Bear Face

Maker: Mark Anthony Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Distiller(s): Undisclosed.

Style: Single grain (corn) Canadian Whisky.

Cooperage: Ex-bourbon, then finished in French oak wine red wine barrels, then in new Hungarian oak.

Age: 7 y/o

ABV: 42.5% ABV

Michigan state minimum: $33

Appearance: Medium copper (coloring is allowed in Canadian whisky).

Nose: Roasted corn, leather.

Palate: Full-bodied and rich. Corn syrup, leather, Cabernet Franc, dried cayenne chili.

Finish: Silky and a little sweet, with a bite at the end.

Parting words: The Mark Anthony Group has nothing to do with the Roman general or the pop singer, it originated in 1972 as a BC-based wine importer. Its best known product is the (in)famous White Claw sparkling seltzer. Bearface is not Mark Anthony’s only Canadian Whisky. It also owns a brand called Dillon’s, which is not sold in Michigan, and I haven’t seen anywhere else in the US.

“What is elemental aging”? you may ask. As far as I can tell, it’s when they put the finishing casks in unheated storage containers outside and let them sit for a bit. I was a little disappointed to read that. I had hoped that they placed the casks in the woods to encounter actual bears, but alas no.

Bearface smells like a punched up version of Crown Royal (probably because of all the corn) but it’s much more pleasant to drink. Too often finishes are used in an attempt to improve bad whisky. I suspect that’s not the case here, but if it is, the attempt has been successful. $33 is a good price for a Canadian of this age and quality. The packaging is a little corny (oh no a bear attacked the bottle!) but Bearface is recommended.

The Sexton Single Malt

Maker: Proximo, Jersey City, New Jersey, USA (Beckmann Family)

Distillery: Undisclosed but almost certainly Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK

Style: Sherry cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Sge: NAS (4 y/o according to some other reviewers)

ABV: 40% (Bottle reads: “80 proof”)

Michigan State Minimum: $32

Appearance: Dark Copper.

Nose: Old sherry, oak, peach.

Palate: Medium bodied and sweet. Mango, apple, vanilla, caramel.

Finish: Creamy, with stone fruit and alcohol.

Parting words: The first thing that stands out about The Sexton is the, uh, unique bottle. It resembles a giant hexagonal inkwell, uses a variety of fonts, all in gold type, and features a skeleton wearing a top hat. What is the significance of it all? I have no idea. If you ever find out, please let me know.

The whiskey itself is slightly less mysterious. The left side of the label (which you have to turn the bottle to read) claims that it was distilled in County Antrim in (Northern) Ireland. Knowledgeable whiskey enthusiasts know what this means: Bushmills. Add to that the fact that the brand is owned by Proximo, which also owns Bushmills, makes this an open and shut case. Perhaps this was an attempt to move an excess of sherried Malt Proximo had sitting around the distillery.

Despite the weird packaging and half-assed attempts at misdirection, this is actually pretty good. America seems to agree with me (for once), since The Sexton is apparently the best selling Single Malt Irish Whiskey in the country. It’s not as interesting as Connemara or some of the other Irish Single Malts available in Michigan, but it is a lot cheaper, half the price in some cases. The sherry is not overwhelming either, which is a big plus to me, a person who doesn’t like sherry all that much.

Anyway, The Sexton Single Malt is a good sip and a good baragain. It is recommended.

Penderyn Legend

Maker: Penderyn, Penderyn, Aberdare, Wales, UK.

Style: Single malt Welsh whisky, bourbon barrel cask aged.

Age: NAS (at least three years old)

ABV: 43%

Michigan state minimum: $60

Notes: No color added, unfiltered.

Appearance: Straw.

Nose: Juicy apricot, mango, mandarin orange, alcohol, bourbon barrel.

Palate: Full bodied and creamy. Semi-dry. Orange sherbet.

Finish: Maltier, but still fruity with a bit of oak and alcohol.

Parting words: Penderyn distillery was founded in 2004. The early part of the twenty-first century saw the rebirth of the whisky industry in England and Wales. Penderyn was one of the first distilleries of that revival and was one of the first to get widespread distribution outside the UK. The distillery is located about thirty miles northwest of Cardiff, in Brecon Beacons National Park. Since today is the feast day of St. David, the sixth century monk who is the patron saint of Wales, I thought it might be a good day for my first Welsh whisky review.

Legend is Penderyn’s entry level single malt. The others available in Michigan are Myth (bourbon & “rejuvenated” casks, $70), Celt (finished in peated quarter casks, $70), Madeira Cask ($80), and Sherrywood ($90). At least they were all available in Michigan. They seem to have dropped off the most recent price book, although they’re still on shelves in many liquor stores in Southeastern Michigan.

It’s easy to taste why Penderyn has been so successful. Legend is a well-made, easy-drinking malt roughly on par with Scotch competitors in the same price range. If I can find them somewhere, I’d love to give the other expressions a try, especially Celt. Penderyn Legend is recommended.

Knappogue Castle 14 y/o: Twin Wood

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA (Pernod-Ricard)

Distiller: Cooley, County Louth

Style: Triple distilled Irish single malt, aged in sherry and bourbon casks.

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $60

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Wood varnish, sawdust.

Palate: Full-bodied and mildly sweet, then big oak.

Finish: Apricot custard under a mountain of sawdust.

Parting words: I love Irish Whiskey and I especially love Knappogue Castle. I’ve gushed over their whiskeys before so when I saw this 14 y/o version on the shelf I was nearly giddy with excitement.

So imagine my surprise when I tasted my first sip of this sawdust bomb. It’s been a long time since I’ve been this disappointed in a whiskey, especially an Irish one. There’s a solid custard base here, but it’s nearly completely overwhelmed by the heavy-handed (to say the least) use of oak. It’s reminiscent of the sharp, shop class floor aromas in young micro-distilled bourbons that have been aged in small barrels as a shortcut. There’s no excuse for an Irish whiskey of this age to be this oaky, and there’s no excuse for it to be so poorly integrated either. I could continue to rant about this but in the spirit of mercy I will end my review here. Krappogue Castle 14 Twin Oak is not recommended.

Wiser’s 23 year old Cask Strength Blend

Maker: Wiser’s/Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Pernod-Ricard)

Distillery: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Style: Canadian blend

Age: 23 y/o

ABV: 64.3%

Michigan state minimum: $90

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Christmas spices, caramel, leather.

Palate: Very full bodied. Sweet custard and caramel, then burn. More spice comes out with water. Chinese five spice, brown sugar.

Finish: Horehound cough drops, eucalyptus.

Parting words: This is a brand new offering from Wiser’s in the US. I’m very glad this and the 35 year old Wiser’s are now available in Michigan, since the Canadian border is more or less closed to booze shoppers like myself.

I’m even gladder that these offerings are at a high ABV. It makes the premium price more palatable, and helps overcome the dull palate and finish that plagues many Canadian Whiskeys, at least the ones that make it to the states.

Bourbon may be overblown and Scotch prices tariffed out of control, but we are living in the golden age of Wiser’s. I can’t think of very many better ways to ring in a new year than with an elegant, perfectly balanced, and relatively affordable aged Canadian whisky like this. Wiser’s 23 is highly recommended.

Hell-Cat Maggie

Maker: World Spirits, Princeton, Minnesota, USA (Phillips)

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Distiller: Cooley, Louth, Leinster, Ireland (Beam Suntory)

Style: Blended Irish Whiskey

Age: NAS (at least three years old)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $22

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: Sweet malt, a little sherry, leather, woodruff, anise.

Palate: Full bodied and soft. Caramel, butterscotch candy with a little bit on the back end.

Finish: Vanilla custard, white pepper, nutmeg, alcohol.

Parting words: Like 2 Gingers, this is another Irish whiskey from Minnesota (?!) but this one comes with a story about someone in a gang in New York or something. I don’t care about NDP marketing bullshit, so I’m not going to get into that.

I’m a big fan of the Cooley Distillery, and Hell-Cat Maggie is in the classic Cooley style, so it has that going for it. It’s not as elegant as Tyrconnell or Knappogue Castle but it’s a little more refined than 2 Gingers (which one would expect at $8 more). It mixes well too. My only criticism is that this Hell-Cat lacks claws and teeth. She would benefit from 2%- 6% higher ABV. Still, I like her. Hell-Cat Maggie is recommended.

The Quiet Man, 8 y/o

Maker: Niche Brands, Derry, Northern Ireland, UK (Luxco)20191101_223603.jpg

Distillery: Undisclosed.

Style: Single Malt Irish

Cooperage: First-fill bourbon cask finished

Age: 8 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $38

Appearance: Medium gold.

Nose: Butterscotch, seaspray, apricot, leather, ginger.

Palate: Full-bodied. Toffee, Sauternes, oak, caramel, alcohol.

Finish: Apricots, burn.

Parting words: This is the older sibling of the NAS Quiet Man I reviewed back in January of 2019. I didn’t really care for it at first. I thought it was overoaked and hard to drink. It’s opened up a lot since then and gotten fruitier and more complex. I like it a lot now and $38 isn’t too bad for a good Irish malt these days. The Quiet Man, 8 y/o Single Malt is recommended.

 

 

Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo)

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Photo courtesy of Diageo.

Style: Toast French oak cask finished Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan State Minimum: $70 (MSRP: $60)

Note: Noble collection series

Thanks to Lisa Wendling and Diageo for the sample.

Appearance: Medium copper.

Nose: French oak, burnt orange peel, pine resin, creamed corn, grains of paradise.

Palate: Subtle. Custard, toasted oak, vanilla, cinnamon.

Finish: Cut lumber, burn.

Parting words: Despite mocking Diageo and lionizing Vijay Mallya on Twitter for years, the fine folks at Diageo graciously sent me a sample of Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished Canadian Whiskey.

I’m not a great fan of the regular CR or the special deluxe, but I have enjoyed several of the other expressions, like the Blender’s Mash and Northern Harvest Rye. This is another good one. The French oak (sourced from the Vosges) is not overwhelming and mixes with the classic roasted grain flavors of Canadian whisky to produce pleasant potpourri aromas. Unfortunately, like many Canadian whiskies, the palate doesn’t deliver on the promise of the nose. An extra 5% ABV would probably help in that regard. Still, it’s worth the MSRP, though the Michigan price is pushing it. Crown Royal French Oak Cask Finished is recommended.

 

 

Crown Royal Blender’s Mash

Maker: Crown Royal, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada. (Diageo)20190607_210110.jpg

Style: Canadian Blend

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $20

Parting words: CR Blender’s Mash began life as CR Bourbon Mash but Diageo, which never seems to remember that it owns bourbon brands, was forced to change the name due to bourbon’s protected legal status. This decision was right and good, in my not particularly humble opinion. The decision was made after the labels were already printed and affixed to bottles, so if you enjoy collecting things that nobody cares about, try to seek out some of those bottles for your collection.

At any rate, Blender’s Mash is a Canadian blend starring one of CR Deluxe’s constituent whiskies. It has a bourbon-like recipe with 65% corn and 31% rye (malt makes up the rest). The result is a very bourbon-like product. It’s rather mild neat or on the rocks but it mixes surpringly well. It makes great Old Fashioneds and Manhattans. In Coke or in a Boulevardier it gets a little lost, but is still pleasant.

I don’t enjoy the standard Crown Royal or the Special Reserve, but this is enjoyable. It’s more refined and sweeter even if it is underpowered. $20 is $5 less than regular Crown and $25 less than Special Reserve, so this is a good QPR selection if you’re into that sort of thing. Crown Royal Blender’s Reserve is recommended.

Kirkland Irish Whiskey

Distiller: Not disclosed (likely Irish Distillers, Dublin, Ireland [Pernod-Ricard])20190313_214454.jpg

Style: Triple distilled Irish blend

Age: 4 y/o

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $40/1750 ml (comes out to about $17 for 750 ml)

Appearance: Dark straw.

Nose: Cream soda, dried flowers.

Palate: Mild, but pleasant. Lemon meringue pie, alcohol.

Finish: Vanilla, malt, toffee.

Mixed: I tried Kirkland Irish Whiskey with ginger ale, in a Blackthorn and a Paddy cocktail. I didn’t care much for the Blackthorn, but the other two were very good.

Parting words: Kirkland Irish Whiskey only comes around my local Costco in the month of March, but I wish it was available year round. It’s simple and relatively young, but still elegant. It tastes a little like Jameson, but the floral aromas are balanced with a sweet creaminess that is lacking in the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey. Not much else to say, but I’m enjoying Kirkland a lot more than the last Irish whiskey I bought, which was twice the age, incidentally. Kirkland Irish Whiskey is highly recommended.