Johnnie Walker Green Label

A special anniversary requires a special gift. The anniversary in question was our 15 years of marriage, the gift was a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label. The Green Label is symbolic as it is a mixture of some fine whiskies with a minimum age of 15 years. But unlike the other whiskies in the Johnnie Walker range, the Green Label is a blended malt whisky. No grain whisky is blended into the carefully selected mix of malts used in its preparation. The box indicates that the Green Label is a mix of Talisker’s The Power, Linkwood’s The Finesse, Cragganmore’s The Heart, and Caol Ila’s The Mystery. The blend is bottled at 43% alcohol and is quite elegantly packaged ina deep green box with matching label.

Visually, the whisky is a smooth amber colour, not very deep but not pale either; somewhere between the Black Label and Gold Label.

On the nose, one finds cinnamon and black pepper with a hint of honey, fruits, and floral bouquet.

The palate is smooth and rich. There is a strong oak presence which combines with spices, a touch of peat, and a subtle sweetness that eases into dried fruit as one continues drinking.

The finish is not overly long but satisfying. Pepper lingers and hints of the dried fruit persist in the background.

A few drops of water creates a more vivid experience as the sweetness is enhanced. The pepper on the finish becomes more pronounced as well.

Overall, an excellent choice for a special occasion and a very thoughtful gift from my wife. This whisky was discontinued in 2013 but recently made a return to store shelves. It can be had for about $80 in Quebec and Ontario at the SAQ and LCBO respectively and US $55 in New Hampshire.

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Sivó – Le Rye Whisky

During a recent excursion to the Société des alcools du Québec, a particular bottle of rye whiskey caught my attention. The product in question intrigued me, not because of its age statement or rarity, but rather its provenance. The whisky had been produced right here in Quebec. Never having consumed a whisky of local origin, I immediately purchased the bottle and can now share with the world my impressions of a local product.

The product is brought to us by Sivó, a company claiming to be a master distiller. The product is called “Le Rye Whisky”, presumable the only rye produced by Sivó.

Sivó states that this rye “is distilled from local Quebec rye (2/3) and malted barley (1/3) and aged patiently in new oak casks, before being finished in Port casks.”. Sivó, based in Franklin, Quebec, notes that it won the New York International Spirits Competition in 2017 as best Quebec distillery of the year. I assume there was limited competition in that narrow category, but still, it’s something.

This rye is bottled at 42% and has a deep amber appearance. There is no age statement anywhere on the bottle.

On the nose, I am introduced to notes of ripe grape, honey, a hint of lemon, and clove.

The palate starts off with a tart, woody taste before turning to roasted nuts and black pepper. Eventually, it turns slightly sweet, but one must let it linger for a few seconds before arriving at this pleasant twist. The finish is long and satisfying, leaving peppery notes dancing on my tongue and reintroducing a light taste of honey and lemon.

Adding a bit of water opens up the nose, keeping the original scents but enhancing them. The palate adds some more spice and a faint memory of fruit. The finish remains the same.

Overall, I would rate this as a decent whisky at a reasonable price of $46 before any discounts at the SAQ. However, there are others in this price range that are better. If you are curious, definitely a bottle to try, especially if there is a promotion at the SAQ.

How is Scotch whisky aged?

One of the most important parts of whisky production is a component that is hardly overlooked. In fact, most bottles mention it proudly right on the label. We’re talking, of course, about the type of barrel used in the aging process. The raw spirit produced in the distillation process is colourless and lacks the rich taste the wood in the barrels will provide after years of maturation. The barrels play a huge role in giving the final product its flavour and appearance. So what are the various types of barrels used? Well, Scotch is aged in oak casks. American or European oak to be precise. But that’s not all, there’s much more to it than just the cask. What these casks previously held before the raw spirit was placed in them for aging is even more interesting in terms of what the final product will taste like.

Most whisky, as any trip to the SAQ or local liquor store will confirm, is made from barrels previously holding bourbon. Bourbon casks are only used once, so it makes for a great relationship between the two industries. The casks, once used, are shipped across the Atlantic to Scotland to find a second life as ex-bourbon whisky casks. Bourbon casks are charred on the inside, and provide a distinct range of flavours. Many Scotches are produced using casks previously having held sherry. Again, different flavour profiles can be achieved though these ex-sherry casks. The remainder can be all kinds, the bottle of the whisky you are purchasing will normally indicate what you’re looking at. In some of my tastings, I have noted that the Scotch is principally aged in one type of cask and finished in another. This is clever play on tastes and differentiating one product from another, even within the distiller’s own line.

Of import is also how many times the cask is used for aging. The first time the barrel is used for whisky imparts more flavour, the more a cask is used, the less of its features will be transferred to the final product. Again, this can be used to modify the final product depending on what the distiller is hoping to achieve. A strong product using first fill ex-bourbon? A weaker bourbon cask mixed with a strong first fill ex-sherry to pull some more sherry and limit the effects of the charred oak cask? All kinds of possibilities are available to a master distiller.

Sherry casks come in many different types, the one I see the most on labels happens to be Oloroso. Sherry being a type of fortified wine, the grapes end up impacting the flavour of the final product.

I spoke about the size of the cask and its potential impact in my Laphroaig Quarter Cask review and won’t go into it further here. However, other conditions, such as allowing the whisky to age near the sea and let the salt water permeate the barrels, also plays a role in the final flavouring. The type of cask, ex-bourbon or ex-sherry, also plays a part in the colour of the whisky. Ex-sherry casks will give off a deeper amber while ex-bourbon is typically in the gold hues range. Some whiskies are even finished in a barrel holding another type of alcohol altogether, such as rum. Fascinating stuff really and only limited by the distiller’s imagination.

By law, Scotch must be aged at least three years to be called such. Most, of course, is aged longer. Longer does not necessarily mean better. As you can see, several factors play into the final product and everyone has a different definition of a good whisky.

Hope that helps, I’ll add more as I learn more about this subject and notify when I update this space.

Cheers!

What is a blended malt?

We are all aware of Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal, Grant’s, and Dewar’s. These whiskies are not single malts however. These are blends. They consist of other whiskies from different distilleries blended together to come up with a unique flavour. For Scotch, this must be sourced from other single malts. However, let’s not be confused, blending product from different batches or casks of single malt from the same distillery can still be called a single malt. The age on the bottle of a blended malt indicates the age of the youngest single malt included in the blend.

The blending process does not diminish the quality nor speak to the craftsmanship that goes into producing these whiskies. In fact, producing a blend may be quite a difficult task indeed. Consider that over the years, despite changing cicumstances, the blender must produce virtually the same product or risk losing his clients. Why is it difficult to maintain a consistent product? There are just so many variables at play. Your source products may change over time, including the way it is aged, the casks used, the barley used, etc. Also, if a supplier were to stop making one of the products in your blend, you would be forced to find an alternate which would not affect the taste of your blend. Perhaps you would even have to change other components of your blend to achieve the same flavour as previous by trying new combinations. The permutations are countless.

I have not yet tasted a blended whisky for the purposes of reviewing on this blog, but that situation should be rectified in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned.

Cheers!

What is single malt whisky?

What is whisky? A simple question with a complex answer. The nature of whisky can be interpreted several ways. Does one want to know how whisky is made? There are several answers to that question. Does one want to know the components used in whisky production? What it’s made of? How it tastes? Again, multitude of answers.

In this post, I will briefly explain single malt production.

All Scotch is made from malted barley. Malt is dried germinated cereal grain. The grain is soaked in water to germinate and then dried by hot air to stop the germination process. This allows it to produce sugars.

Some manufacturers will use peat to dry the malt, giving the flavour to the barley.

The malt is then ground and mixed with hot water in what is called a tun. Starch turns to sugar at this point. The sweet liquid, called wort, is drained until all the sugar is gone. The speed with which the wort is pushed through the tun affects flavour. The quicker the wort is sent through the tun, the more cereal, nutty, and dry the final product.

The wort is cooled and sent for fermenting in a contained called a washback. The washback is made of wood or stainless steel. Yeast is now added.

The wash is then distilled in copper pot stills. There are different kinds of stills that lend different characteristics to the wash depending on the length of time the alcohol vapour is in contact with the copper. Long stills extend this contact, resulting in generally lighter spirits. The opposite effect occurs with shorter stills.

The vapour is then liquified using cold water through a condensation system. The vapour hits the cold pipes and turns back into liquid form. Again, the copper exposure plays a role in whether the final product will be light or heavy.

The spirit must then be cut. And early versus late cut will affect the flavour as well. Early cuts will tend to be more fragrant, a later cut will result in a more heavy product.

The spirit is now ready for maturation. The alcohol content is reduced to just about 60% alcohol by volume and placed in oak casks. Often, these casks have been used before for bourbon or sherry.

A bourbon cask is made from American oak. Sherry casks are made from European oak. Refill caks have been used by the distillery before. Usually a distiller will use all three to distinguish their own brands and develop flavours.

The whisky may then be aged a second time for a short period in another cask that may have been used for wine, port, sherry, etc. to give further complexity to the final product.

The whisky aging process is the time it takes for the wood to add its own characteristic to the whisky. A new cask will give off more flavour than one that was previously used.

The whisky bottling process is also important in the final product taste. Chill filtration involves cooling the whisky to -10 C to 4 C and passing it through a filter. Non-chill filtration may be used, but it may resulting in a cloudy product, especially when water is added. Some distillers (and whisky lovers) feel non-chill filtration removes less flavour from the product and prefer to use this method instead.

The minimum strength is 40% for whisky.

So that’s the single malt process in a nutshell. You could get much more detailed information on this from Wikipedia or some excellent books on the subject. There are more and more these days as whisky’s popularity explodes. In my opinion, a more complex, refined drink than wine that runs none of the risks.

Cheers!

Bowmore 12

With this review, I am going back to a standard issue 12 year old scotch sold at 40% alcohol by volume. Bowmore is known for peaty and smoky whiskies and this is the least aged version in its range. This is an Islay distillery, dating to 1779 according to the bottle. The colour is a nice gold and running quick and thin when swirled in the glass.

The smell is smoky off the bat and gives way to some peat. Slightly sweet, like fruit that has sat out on a table too long. Specifically, it brings to mind apple, banana, and pineapple. You may disagree though and I would love to understand how you interpret this rich and satisfying scent.

On the tongue, it is quite smooth. It starts off sweet but yields the smoky flavour the brand is famous for. Some peat comes through as well, but it is quite different from the Bunnahabhain cruach mhona I reviewed earlier. The peat in the Bowmore mixes with the smoke rather than presenting itself distinctly and apart. Quite delicate, but there nonetheless.

The finish is of a good length and leaves behind hints of smoke and wood. Some dark chocolate makes its way out just before the sensation fades completely.

Some water enhances the smoky, fruity smell and taste. The overall change with a few drops of water is that you end up with a more velvety texture and a richer, smoother tasting experience. The finish remains much the same.

Recommended, but I get the feeling this drink ages wondefully and exposes many flavours and aromas that the 12 year aging period could not accomplish. I anticipate acquiring a 15 year old bottle at some point to put my theory to the test.

Cheers!

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The Arran Bourbon Single Cask

I really should pace myself as I am at the risk of running out of whisky to review in a few days time…but I simply could not resist. I suppose I’ll slowly acquire some more and the reviews will trickle in, or I’ll start reviewing beer or other spirits. Maybe, gasp, even wine! For now however, I am pleased to begin indulging in some Arran Bourbon Single Cask. According to the bottle, the Distillery Manager himself inspects the casks maturing in the warehouses on Arran and chooses those “that have developed the most interesting and individual character”. These are then bottled as single cask editions. These appear to be done in very limited quantity. So much so that my bottle includes handwritten information regarding its contents. The cask number on mine reads 115. The bottle number is 60/178. The distillation date is 19/07/1999 with a bottled date of 21/07/2011. Whomever wrote this had excellent penmanship. The alcohol content, again hand inscribed, is 55.5% alcohol by volume.

The Arran is a new player established in 1995 according to the bottle and appears to be the only distiller on the island of Arran. I really should buy more from this distiller to explore how their products develop as the distillery itself matures.

As for the product in the bottle, it is quite pale in colour and transparent to the point where I can easily read text through it. This is the palest whisky I have tried to date.

The legs run quick and thin.

On the nose, it’s quite sweet and floral with some orange notes

The tongue gives a chewy feel to it, with notes of orange and sweetness. Still quite floral. But deep, rich, chewy.

The finish is orangy as well, long and satisfying, tranforming into something like dried tangerine before disappearing.

Some water expands the smell and adds a hint of spice to it.

On the tongue, it is still chewy. Still orangy, but slightly more deep and dark. Rich.

It fades much the same however.

This is an easy drinking whisky. I highly recommend it just for the chewiness of it. I have never tasted a drink that gave such a sensation. The fact that these are limited issues and can change over time could also make this a whisky you will want to keep aside and break out every once in a while to compare an Arran single cask to a later edition. It may even be a collector’s edition. Ultimately, it is made to be enjoyed and this is a great whisky overall. I believe it is also quite reasonably priced, so if you can find it pick it up…and one for me. Note that the newer casks appear to be bottled at 46% alcohol by volume. I have not seen the sherry cask version in quite some time, so if you happen across it, please let me know. I remember it as being a few shades darker in appearance.

Cheers!

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