Stalk & Barrel: Red Blend

Maker: Stillwaters Distillery, Concord, Ontario, Canada20180601_200954.jpg

Style: Blended Canadian whisky (Malt, rye, corn)

Age: NAS

ABV: 43%

Michigan state minimum: $42

Purchased for $35 Canadian at the LCBO ($27 US)

Appearance: Brassy orange.

Nose: New oak, corn whiskey, sweet cinnamon.

Palate: Medium bodied. Corn whiskey with a bit of rye spice with creamy malt on the back-end. Green cardamom, milk chocolate, oak.

Finish: Drying, chocolate covered pretzels.

Mixed: Stalk & Barrel Red did very well in all cocktails I tried: Old Fashioned, high ball with ginger ale, Manhattan, Trois Rivières, and a couple of others I don’t remember.

Parting words: Barry Stein and Barry Bernstein (actual names of two different people) founded Stillwaters Distillery, makers of Stalk & Barrel, in 2009. Their first blend was 11+1. It was entirely sourced. It has since been replaced by the Stalk & Barrel Blue (40% ABV) and Red blends which contain a combination of sourced and Stillwaters distillate. Stillwaters may be best known for their highly regarded Stalk & Barrel 100% Malt whisky which sells for $70 at the LCBO ($54 US). They also have a new (I think) 100% Rye whisky which sells for about the same price. Both are entirely made from spirit distilled by Stillwaters.

Red blend’s price is a great one in Canada. Not so much in the US. This is a good weeknight or mixing blend, but it’s not $42 US good. If you can get a bottle at LCBO prices, Stalk & Barrel Red Blend is recommended.

 

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Red Bush

Maker: Old Bushmills Distillery, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK (Cuervo)20180308_162407.jpg

Age: NAS

Style: Bourbon barrel aged, triple distilled Irish blend.

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $25

Appearance: Medium-light copper.

Nose: Blackberry jam, grape juice, Cognac, bubble gum.

Palate: Full-bodied and mellow. Grape soda, oak, sweet bourbon.

Finish: Fruity and long with a little burn.

Mixed: Did well with coffee and with classic cocktails with sweet vermouth. Clashed with dry vermouth and similar mixers.

Parting words: Red Bush is intended to be a gateway Irish whiskey for bourbon drinkers. Unlike the standard “white bush” expression and the more expensive Black Bush that both use a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, Red Bush is made using first (re)fill bourbon barrels exclusively. That gives it a fruity sweetness that makes it an easy drinker and mixer for American palates that aren’t accoustomed to sherry flavors.

Along with stablemate Black Bush and Scotch blend Highland Queen, Red Bush’s name lends itself to cheap, vulgar puns. I’m not the sort of person to engage in such things, but I will say that Red Bush is a fun change of pace for St. Patrick’s day with a good mouthfeel and pleasant aroma. Red Bush is recommended.

Canadian Club 20

Maker: Canadian Club, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Beam Suntory)20180307_101740.jpg

Distiller: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. (Corby)

Age: 20 y/o

ABV: 40%

Purchased at an LCBO store for $60 Canadian ($47 US). Not available in the US.

Appearance: Dark caramel.

Nose: Roasted corn, clove, oak, alcohol, dried flowers.

Palate: Full-bodied. Caramel corn, crème brûlée, oak, toffee.

Finish: Creamy and sweet with some heat.

Parting words: While the 8 y/o and 12 y/o expressions of Canadian Club have their own recipes, the 6 y/o and 20 y/o expressions share the same blend. The only difference is age and you can taste it. All the elements of Canadian Club are there but in much more mature form. It’s like seeing a picture of a your significant other in formal attire after looking at a picture of them as a drooling toodler. The spice, oak and sweetness are much better integrated than in baby CC. CC 20 manages to be both flavorful and very drinkable, an impressive feat at 40% ABV.

Like Scotland, Canada’s climate lends itself to long-aging periods for its whiskies. I wish there were more Canadian whiskies in the 20+ year range on the market.

It tastes even better when looking at the price tag. It doesn’t reach the dizzing heights of Wiser’s Legacy or special releases, but it’s better than it needs to be for $47. It blows away similarly priced Crown Royal expressions. If this were available in the states it would be on my regular rotation for sure.  Canadian Club 20 is highly recommended.

Rich & Rare

Distillery: Unknown. (Hiram Walker? Brand owned and bottled by Sazerac).20180105_160402.jpg

Style: Canadian blend.

Age: NAS (at least 3 y/o)

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $7.50

Mixed: Did very well mixed. Brings fruit and vanilla to Manhattans, old fashioneds and even eggnogg. I didn’t care for it with ginger ale or on the rocks for that matter.

Parting words: Rich & Rare is a pretty old brand. It was founded in the 1920s by Harry Hatch of the Godderham and Worts distillery in Toronto. G & W stopped distilling whisky in 1950 and R & R was moved to the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor. Sazerac now owns the brand, but chooses not disclose the distiller. It seems reasonable to assume that it’s still being made at Hiram Walker, though.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good R & R was straight and in classic cocktails. In the <$10 category, Canadian blends tend to fall into one of two categories. Either they’re flavorless or have a sappy pungency that resembes burnt creamed corn or kitchen garbage that should have been taken out two days ago. R & R has a bit of that pungency, but it’s kept in check by vanilla and fruit. The result is a wonderful, full-bodied (and cheap) sipping and mixing whisky. H2O is not R & R’s friend, though, causing the whisky to virtually disappear. It can be a little hard to find here in Canadian Club country, but it’s worth picking up. There is also a Rich & Rare Reserve (R & R R) available for $2.50 more in Michigan that I hope to review soon. Rich & Rare is highly recommended.

Crown Royal, Tippins Hand Selected Barrel

Maker: Crown Royal Distillery, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada (Diageo).20171110_194508.jpg

Style: Canadian rye.

Age: NAS

ABV: 51.5%

Michigan state minimum: $55

Appearance: Light copper.

Nose: Alcohol, roast corn on the cob, bubble gum.

Palate: Grape bubble gum, alcohol, touch of oak.

Finish: Aniseed candy, burn.

Mixed: Adds a fruity undertone to Manhattans, perfect Manhattans, and Old Fashioneds. Was also able to stand up to Benedictine when I used it in a Monte Carlo. Be sure to account for high proof if mixing this. It can sneak up on you.

Parting words: Crown Royal gets trashed a lot by whisky enthusiasts, and I think rightly. Crown Royal and Crown Royal Reserve are both garbage. I did like the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, though. It is a solid value, if you enjoy Canadian style rye.

This whisky is closer to Northern Harvest Rye than the standard Crown Royal or the Reserve. The barrels used for these retailer/hand selected barrel CRs are flavoring whiskies. Like Scotch and Irish blends, Canadian blended whiskies are blends of relatively flavorless base whisky with bold flavoring whisky, often but not always made with rye.

Tippins is located on Saline road, on the outskirts of Ann Arbor Michigan. They’re known for good service, good whiskey selections and owner Dominic Aprea’s, uh, let’s say “eccentric” online persona. Aside from an irritating snub on FB, I haven’t had any negative experiences with him, although I have witnessed some strange online behavior from him. At any rate, the man knows how to pick a barrel. As with all CR offerings, the price is high, but $55 isn’t too bad for over 50% ABV. Crown Royal, Tippins Hand Selected Barrel is recommened.

Powers John’s Lane Release

Maker: Irish Distillers, Dublin, Ireland (Pernod Ricard)20170818_195107

Distillery: New Midleton, Midleton, County Cork, Ireland (Pernod Ricard)

Style: Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Cooperage: Bourbon with a little Oloroso sherry

Age: 12 y/o

ABV 46%

Michigan State Minimum: $70

Appearance: Burnt orange.

Nose: Oak, leather.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet. Toffee, overaged bourbon, maybe a tiny bit of plum.

Finish: New oak, burn.

Parting words: Powers John’s Lane release was created as a tribute to the old John’s Lane Distillery in Dublin where Powers was originally distilled. It has received many accolades over the years, including a whiskey of the year designation from pennenial internet punching bag Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.

After writing up my notes, I consulted a couple other blogs (My Annoying Opinions and Diving for Pearls) to make sure I wasn’t completely off base. I wasn’t. I love Powers (though maybe not as much as Mr. Kravitz) but I don’t love this whiskey. It’s unbalanced with an overbearing raw oak note similar to the small barrel flavors in Tuthilltown’s dreck. Aside from a hit of toffee in the front of the palate that’s all I can really taste and it’s bad. I don’t know what the hell happened here but $70 is $65 too much. Powers John’s Lane is not reccomended.

 

 

 

Centennial Limited Edition

Maker: Highwood Distillers, High River, Alberta, Canada.20170728_183830

Style: Blended Canadian rye (with wheat base whisky)

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

LCBO: $27.45 ($22 US)

Appearance: Medium copper, medium, evenly spaced legs.

Nose: Caramel, tarragon, plum, roasted sweet corn.

Palate:  Medium bodied and spicy. Peanut brittle, black pepper, clove, serrano chilies, butterscotch hard candy, caramels.

Finish: Creamy and a little fruity. Vanilla cream, dried dates, brown sugar.

Mixed: Did well mixed but hampered a bit by the proof. Tried it in a Manhattan, 8e Arrondissement, Frontenac and Mammamattawa.

Parting words: Highwood Distillers is a relatively new distillery, founded in 1974 in High River, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies. They’re Canada’s largest privately owned distillery. Centennial also comes in a variety of flavored iterations including spiced, maple, coffee bean and dark chocolate. In addition to the Centennial line, Highwood also makes the White Owl white rye whisky, Ninety, Century, Highwood, and Potters whiskies among others. They also produce vodka, gin, liquers and import rum.

I picked this one up during my last trip to the Windsor, Ontario LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) stores. The old ten-year-old expression of Centennial was a popular favorite with Canadian whisky lovers. The new NAS version is still popular from what I understand. I had heard good things, but never tried it. I was reluctant because of the low proof, but Centennial packs a lot of flavor into 40% ABV. It’s full of classic Canadian rye aromas with the wheat contributing just enough sweetness to pull it all together. It’s a well balanced but full flavored Canadian rye. Pick one up at your next opportunity. Centennial Limited edition is recommended.

 

Last Barrels

Maker: Corby, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)20170407_200835

Distilled: Hiram Walker, Windsor, Ontario, Canada (Pernod Ricard)

Style: Unblended sour mash Canadian whisky

Age: 14 y/o

ABV: 45%

Price: $65, Canadian ($48.50 US; Ontario only)

Thanks to Andrew for helping me acquire this bottle!

Appearance: Medium copper with long clingy legs.

Nose: Sharp young oak, black walnut, old oak, grape soda, alcohol.

Palate: Full bodied and silky. Dark chocolate covered caramels, caramel corn, bubble gum.

Finish: Plum juice, chopped walnuts, alcohol

Parting words: This whisky is weird. It’s made from a bourbon-like recipe of  80% corn , 11% rye and 9% malt (similar proportions to Early Times or Buffalo Trace) all mixed together before fermentation (unusual for a Canadian). Unlike most Canadian whiskies, it was also made with a sour mash like bourbon, but it was soured in an unconventional way. According to Canadian whisky sage Davin de Kergommeaux,  master distiller Jim Stanski placed a carton of milk on the counter in the lab at Hiram Walker and allowed it it to sour. He then poured it into the mash to lower the Ph. The idea seems insane but it’s hard to argue with the results.

This limited run (2,000 cases) whisky is called Last Barrels because it made up of the last barrels filled at Hiram Walker during Jim Stanski’s tenure as master distiller. Fear not, Jim didn’t leave the distillery, he just moved up the corporate ladder. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) was looking for a special release for Father’s Day 2016 and the folks at Corby thought Jim’s wacky last batch would be a perfect fit.

I was not a fan of the nose at first, but it has mellowed since I first opened (that or my nose got used to it). It is too sharply woody, like craft bourbons aged in small barrels. It’s wonderful on the palate, though. Full bodied and lucious, it’s like cuddling up in a soft blanket with a soft friend on a warm winter night. It’s stupid cheap too, probably too cheap for how few barrels there are. I’m not complaining, though. There are a few still kicking around the LCBO system, but with the limited number of bottles and a strike looming, act fast. Wiser’s Last Barrels is highly recommended.

 

Jameson Caskmates, Stout ed.

Maker: Irish Distillers, Midleton, Cork, Ireland (Pernod-Ricard)20170317_163447.jpg

Style: Beer barrel finished blended Irish whiskey

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Michigan state minimum: $33

Parting words: The concept behind this whiskey is identical to the New Holland Beer Barrel bourbon I reviewed here, back in 2013. The only difference is that the whiskey producer is issuing this rather than the brewer. The brewer in this case is Franciscan Well brewery in County Cork. The beer that formerly occupied the barrels was their Jameson Aged Stout.

This is a much more successful whiskey than Beer Barrel Bourbon was. Like BBB, contact with the beer barrel has brought out fruity aromas and flavors that aren’t present in the whiskey normally. That fruit complements the floral aromas in Jameson where it clashed with the caramel and spice of the MGP bourbon used in BBB.

I’m not a big fan of the standard Jameson, so I like the idea of using finishes to flesh out its normally thin profile. I hope more editions of Caskmates are planned for the future (and are at this reasonable price). Jameson Caskmates, Stout edition is recommended.

Knappogue Castle 12, A & L selection

Maker: Castle Brands, New York, New York, USA20170112_143446.jpg

Distiller: Unknown. Either Cooley or Bushmills.

Selected by A & L Wine Castle, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA (216 bottles)

Style: Triple Distilled Irish Single Malt

ABV: 46%

Purchased for $50

Appearance: Brassy orange.

Nose: Alcohol, oak, tarragon, vanilla scented candle, pineapple.

Palate: Medium bodied. Green apple on entry, buttercream, persimmon pudding.

Finish: Big and creamy. Oakm then pineapple upsidedown cake.

chanin_building_side_up
The Chanin Building, home to Castle Brands.

Parting words: Long time readers will remember that Knappogue Castle was one of the first Irish whiskeys I really fell in love with. The love affair continues with this beauty.

A & L did a great job selecting this barrel. It’s creamy, fruity and complex, with power rare for Irish Whiskeys. In 2013 I wrote the following about the standard Knappogue 12: “My only quibble is the low proof. I would love to be able to taste this at cask strength, or at least 46% ABV.” I’m glad they took my words to heart.

These Knappogue selections are rare, but if you find one, I highly recommend that you buy it!

 

 

 

Photographs

Bottle picture taken by me.

Chanin Building picture By Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA – ny_mayday02_09.JPG Uploaded by xnatedawgx, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11332153