Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes: Redbreast Lustau Edition

I've long been a fan of David Bowie. Few other artists have re-invented themselves with the consistency and brilliance of Bowie. From the experimental glam of his Ziggy Stardust phase to the "plastic soul" of Young Americans, to collaborations with artists as diverse as Bing Crosby ("Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy"), Stevie Ray Vaughan (Let's Dance), Brian Eno (the "Berlin Trilogy") and Queen ("Under Pressure"), Bowie touched all the musical bases. He even collaborated with Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails on "I'm Afraid of Americans" in 1997. Bowie also had several roles in film, from the Goblin King in Labyrinth, where he created a look Axl Rose would later copy, to Nikola Tesla in The Prestige.

Welcome to the Labyrinth
Like David Bowie, many whiskies attempt to re-invent themselves, or at least branch out from their standard offerings. Some succeed, but many are more David Hasselhoff than David Bowie. Redbreast is considered by many to be the embodiment of Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey. Their standard line presents a good variety with a 12 year old, a 12 year old Cask Strength, a 15 year old and a 21 year old offering. Redbreast has also released a more heavily sherried Redbreast Lustau Edition.

According to their website, Redbreast Lustau "is initially matured in traditional bourbon and sherry casks for a period of 9-12 years. It is then finished for 1 additional year in first fill hand selected sherry butts that have been seasoned with the finest Oloroso sherry from the prestigious Bodegas Lustau in Jerez." So Redbreast Lustau is a vatting of whiskies between 10-13 years old, it is unchill-filtered and is bottled at a respectable 46% ABV. On paper, there's a lot to like. But the $64 000 question is: How does it taste?

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): sweet with plenty of dark fruit; figs, dates, prunes, also some slightly brighter notes, blackberries perhaps, dark toffee and toasted oak

Palate (undiluted): very rich arrival, thick and full-bodied, sweet and buttery, more fruit (apricots?) with a hint of raw almonds and hazelnuts. With time in the glass, I also get a very slight note of unripe banana. Seriously. It's there.

Finish: medium to long, more dates and figs,  some "green"  notes (unmalted barley?), oak spices and fresh tobacco lingering.

Adding water mutes the fruitiness of the nose significantly. The oak and almonds dominate with water added. The flavour becomes much flatter. The texture becomes less like butter and more like low-fat cream. Or like skim milk. Adding water thins out the body and changes everything I love about this whiskey. I'd say avoid water altogether. It's bottled at 46% ABV, which is fairly close to my sweet spot (I prefer 48%-50% ABV for neat sipping) so water isn't necessary. One of the wonderful things about Redbreast is its rich, thick texture. There's no reason to change that. To paraphrase an expression I heard somewhere else, adding water to Redbreast is like putting a child-safety seat in Grave Digger. You can do it, but it just feels wrong. Like if David Bowie had released an album of Nickelback covers.

Redbreast's stellar reputation is well-earned. The Lustau Edition does not disappoint. It's everything I love about Irish Single Pot Still (richness and slight spice) with the dark fruit kicked up a few notches. The 12 Year Old Cask Strength is still my favourite Redbreast (full disclosure: I've never tried the 21 Year Old), but I like the Lustau  Edition. It's a nice addition to the Redbreast family. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches
May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Killing Me Softly: A review of Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity 17 Year Old

Big and bold is all the rage these days. We have super-sized portions and super-sized vehicles. We tune in to hear loudmouth politicians ignore facts and avoid nuanced civil discourse because compromise and complexity are boring. Subtle details require too much time and attention. Even whisky aficionados fall into this trap from time to time. I've been guilty of it too; ignoring "subtle" whiskies in favour of cask strength whiskies, peat-bomb whiskies or even sherry-bomb whiskies. Does subtlety still have value? Of course it does. Some things require patience, perseverance and attention to what may seem like minutiae. However, putting in the time and effort can pay dividends to those willing to invest.

Northern Border Collection Rare Releases

Back in October/November 2017, Corby announced a limited release of four premium Canadian whiskies. Two of these whiskies attracted more attention than their brethren. J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old caught our attention with its age and Lot No.40 Cask Strength 12 Year Old excited those of us who already love the "standard" Lot No.40 with its boisterous "it goes to eleven" nature. The other two releases, Pike Creek 21 Year Old Speyside Cask and Gooderham & Worts 17 Year Old Three Grain, didn't draw as much immediate fanfare. Whisky enthusiasts ignoring the latter two are missing out. Gooderham & Worts' Four Grain is a Canadian whisky that has grown on me over time. It's an excellent whisky to drink neat, on the rocks or even in a cocktail. If you haven't tried that one, you should. My experience with the Four Grain enticed me to buy the 17 Year Old Little Trinity. The name honours Little Trinity church, a church founded by William Gooderham in 1842 for his mill and distillery employees who couldn't afford the high pew fees in the area. So, how does this whisky taste?

Tasting Notes

Before imbibing this one, I strongly suggest you let it sit in your glass for at least twenty minutes. The Little Trinity needs some time to open up. The flavours are subtle at first, but they develop beautifully with time.

Nose (undiluted): honey, oak, butterscotch, cedar, vanilla bean, golden raisins, maple syrup, and a hint of lemon

Palate (undiluted): a contrast from the bright nose, rich arrival, thick mouthfeel, maple, butterscotch, oranges, sweet and spicy (ginger?), hot peppers, more oak with a hint of rye spice

Finish: medium length, a slight nuttiness, just a bit drying and tannic, with the sweet and spicy notes lingering along side the oak.

Adding water, even a little bit, really brings some complexity out of this whisky. The vanilla becomes more prominent on the nose, and some thick, floral honey appears on the palate. I recommend adding water, even a tiny bit, to this whisky. It is subtle, but very complex. It’s not a belter like Lot 40 Cask Strength, but it will seduce you slowly, without you even noticing.

Gooderham & Worts Little Trinity 17 Year Old Three Grain may not blow your socks off right away. There's no peat or sherry and it isn't a rye-bomb either (there are some subtle rye notes). Little Trinity is very complex though. It requires punctiliousness,  and it is worth the effort. This is a rich whisky. It's a terrific sipping whisky. Maybe it's the packaging affecting my perception, but this feels like an Old Timey whisky; like something Mark Twain would have sipped while writing Tom Sawyer. I don't know what whisky tasted like in the 1870s, so this is just a feeling, a guess. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this whisky. It's unlike anything I've tasted before.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea,
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

This is Islay! A review of Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength

Hollywood films aren't renowned for their historical accuracy. "Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story" the saying goes. I have to admit that, inaccuracies aside, the film 300 is one of my favourite action movies. I won't waste time pointing out all of the film's ahistorical content, but there are some elements of truth to it. For example, one scene dramatizes the training Spartan boys underwent beginning at approximately age 7 or 8. Spartan boys were, in truth, sent to the agoge (a-GO-ghee) for a brutal and rigorous "education" which focused on military discipline, physical endurance and duty to Sparta. The constant military drilling, and the physical violence the boys suffered ensured that when they "graduated" at 20 years old, they were ready to become part of the most feared army the ancient world had ever seen. Laphroaig is much like the agoge. 
Laphroaig does not suffer insolence
It can be brutal and demoralizing to those not prepared for its bold and unforgiving nature. And like Leonidas shouting "THIS ! IS ! SPARTA !!" at the messenger who threatened him and disrespected his queen, Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength is merciless and it will kick the unprepared or impudent into a bottomless pit. Luckily, if you like Laphroaig 10 Year Old, as I do, the Cask Strength version will prove itself battle-ready.

Opinions Welcome

Laphroaig is unapologetic. Their whiskies aren't for everyone and their cheeky marketing reflects this brilliantly. Their promotional videos emphasize the truth of their slogan "Opinions Welcome"; at one point in this one, a man says "That's good" to which the woman standing beside him replies "No, smells like sweaty workmen and tar." At the end of the video, an old Scot says "would ya really like ta know? It's like a Highland cow's horn up your arse." Many whiskies divide opinions, but Laphroaig seems to be the most divisive of all. 

Tasting notes

Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength is not readily available in Ontario. I was fortunate to obtain a sample from a friend for this review. This sample is from Batch 005 (57.2% ABV). The bottle was opened May 20, 2017, gassed after each use, and was 2/3 full when the sample was poured on Nov 5/2017.

Prepare for GLORY !!!
Nose (undiluted): very briny (sea salt), the seaweed (iodine) note is front and center, with the smoke hanging around in the background. There's also a rich vanilla note. With time in the glass, the smoke becomes more pronounced with a mineral note appearing as well. A bonfire on a rocky beach. Later still, aromas of salted caramel start competing with the smoke. The nose has a great development. This is how scotch should smell.
Palate (undiluted): surprisingly sweet arrival, very friendly for a 57.2% ABV whisky,  rich earth, ashy peat, some restrained black pepper notes with the salted caramel popping in again.
Finish: long, sweet and earthy, black pepper returning with a medicinal, menthol and iodine note lingering.  Hints of barbecue smoke (meat). I don’t want this to end.

Adding water made the nose far more medicinal and antiseptic. The smoke retreats a bit before coming back and bringing the salted caramel along for the ride. The vanilla aromas are toned down with the addition of water, but a ripe pear note I often find in Laphroaig pops in. The arrival in the palate is actually hotter with the addition of water. Black pepper comes forward but retreats quickly as the sweetness comes back, which develops to a rich, thick cigar smoke. The finish becomes less medicinal with the addition of water. The earthy peat dominates the finish with some briny seaweed hanging around. This might be, to my tastes, a perfect whisky. It is on par with Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength in my books. This is great with or without water.

There is so much going on with this whisky. It's a shame it isn't more readily available in Ontario. This is not a session whisky; rather Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength is a whisky to linger over and savour. If I had a study with a fireplace, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a large, leather chair, Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength would likely be my whisky of choice whilst I pondered whatever people with those studies ponder. This is a magnificent whisky for those of us who love big peat, iodine and smoke. Very highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea,
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

What's in a name?

I've changed the title of my blog to "Whisky Joe". Why? Scotch was the focus when I first started this blog almost a year ago, but a lot has changed since then. I've discovered a lot of terrific whisky from all over the world and I think the title should reflect that. I won't change the address of the blog since that seems fairly involved and the four people who regularly read this might not find me at a new address. Same content, new name.

Since we're on the topic of names, I thought I'd address something that came across my radar a few weeks ago. Crown Royal is selling a new whisky in the United States and it's causing a stir. Why? Because it's called "Crown Royal Bourbon Mash Blended Canadian Whisky". Why is that cause for outrage? The word "Bourbon". It seems the US Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (and many bourbon enthusiasts) have taken exception to the use of the word "bourbon" on a product that is not bourbon. It's odd that the Tax and Trade Bureau takes exception now, since it is the regulatory body that granted Crown Royal the Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) in the first place. Crown Royal can sell the product in the United States for one year before the label has to be changed or the product must be withdrawn. Why use the word in the first place?

Most Canadian distilleries produce and age their corn, rye, barley, malted barley and wheat whiskies separately, preferring to blend them later on to create a flavour profile. Bourbon, or American whiskey in general, uses a mashbill; a mixture of grains that are milled, cooked and distilled together to create their flavour profile.The majority of the whisky used in Crown Royal Bourbon Mash comes from, no surprise, a whisky that was distilled using a mashbill, rather than separately distilled and aged grain whiskies. Ergo, the name is apt.

Some have accused Crown Royal (or Diageo, the parent company) of "misleading" consumers into thinking they're buying a Crown Royal Bourbon. I disagree. The label is fairly clear. It says "Blended Canadian Whisky" right on the front. Further, I've never heard these critics chide Springbank for releasing their Springbank 14 Year Old Bourbon Wood. They never derided Glenrothes for their Bourbon Cask Reserve. There was no protest over the Glenfiddich 14 Year Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve. So why is Crown Royal a target all of a sudden? I'm perplexed. Reviews for the whisky seem wildly varied as well. Tastes vary, to be sure, but Davin de Kergommeaux has rated this one at 4 1/2 stars, while one Amercian blogger (who shall remain nameless at this point) rated it 20/100 points. I have to wonder if the label controversy negatively impacted the latter's views. Davin doesn't publicly award points to whiskies, but he states that 3 stars is a top mixing whisky and 5 stars is a beauty like Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Rye. So I'd say 4 1/2 stars is a strong endorsement. Crown Royal Bourbon Mash hasn't come to Ontario yet, so I'll have to reserve my judgment for now.

Totally fine
Anyhow, I hope the blog's name change doesn't cause as much controversy as Crown Royal did. Although it might be a good thing if it did. How does the saying go? "All publicity is good publicity". Maybe Diageo will send me a free bottle of their Crown Royal Bourbon Mash for a review. I mean, all free whisky is good whisky, right?

Slainte !