Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – December 2015
Whisky Wonders – Canada on Top
by Margaret Swaine
We know our Canadian whisky is great but it’s always nice to hear the world tell us so. For the first time in history, a Canadian whisky was named World Whisky of the Year by renowned English born whisky writer Jim Murray. While he is known for stirring the pot with his annual Whisky Bible there’s no questioning his expertise. (He tasted and rated some 4,600 whiskies for his 2016 edition.) So just in time for the holiday season, here’s the reveal of this winner among my highly recommended Canadian and world whiskies as well as other beautiful brown spirits.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye Whisky earned the title of 2016 World Whisky of the Year bestowed by Murray (www.whiskybible.com). The Harvest Rye which was first released in Canada in the fall of 2015 is the brand’s first blended 90% rye whisky. Truly delicious it’s the latest variant introduced by Crown Royal whose traditional Deluxe Blend is the number one selling Canadian whisky brand in the US by value. Crown Royal Deluxe, crafted from 50 select whiskies, was first made to commemorate the first grand tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1939. www.crownroyal.com
Highwood Distillers in Alberta is another Canadian producer making gorgeous whiskies from Canadian grains. Their Century Reserve 21-year-old put them on the map as top-drawer whisky makers. Blended and casked for over two decades it’s smooth as silk with a butterscotch toffee flavour and refined sophisticated style. Ninety 20 Year Old Whisky which is aged a full 20 years in charred oak barrels and bottled at 45% alcohol was named by the Whisky Advocate as the 4th best whisky in the world. www.highwood-distillers.com
Celebrating the legacy of William Gooderham and James Wort, millers in the Town of York (the predecessor to Toronto) who went on to produce whisky in 1832 is the new Gooderham and Worts Four Grain Canadian Whisky from Corby Distillers. Made with a grain blend of rye, corn, wheat and barley, it’s well constructed with typical Canadian whisky sweetness.
J.P. Wiser’s Hopped brings the whisky and beer worlds together by adding the taste of hops to a classic J.P. Wiser’s Canadian whisky recipe. J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye blends a rye crafted in a traditional copper pot with one distilled in a modern copper column still.
From Scotland, Glenfiddich “The Original” makes its debut in Canada just in time for the holidays. This historic expression is the recreation of the original 1963 Glenfiddich Single Malt that started the single malt category and craze in America. Ian Millar, Global Brand Ambassador for Glenfiddich, told me that up until that point blended whisky was king and while single malts were sold in small quantities to cherished customers they weren’t promoted. Sandy Gordon Grant, great-grandson of the distillery founder William Grant, made what was a bold decision at the time to market Glenfiddich Straight Malt beyond the UK.
It made its debut in 1963 in New York and the single malt category as it’s known today was born. (About 10% of all scotch sold globally on an annual basis is now single malt.) For this new release, Brian Kinsman, sixth malt master, carefully reproduced the historic taste of Straight Malt. He started by nosing an original sample then checking the recipe in the 1960’s ledgers. From there he drew upon the collection of aged whiskies at the distillery to recreate as close as possible the original taste. www.glenfiddich.com
In November Glenfiddich released a bottle of 50 Year Old in British Columbia listed at $36,000. Only 450 bottles of Glenfiddich 50 Year Old will ever be released – just 50 a year over nine years. I’m not sure if this rare and pricy spirit was snapped up yet by some wealthy whisky lover or bar in need of a showstopper dram (though I can’t find it listed online at the BC liquor stores site).
Dalmore Highland Single Malt is another brand with well-aged, highly expensive scotches for sale. The Dalmore Constellation Collection is a group of natural cask strength vintages from the years 1964 to 1992. Some have recently been released into the LCBO and while I see “prices pending” on their website, the notes I have from the distillery show Constellation 1976 Cask 3 (LCBO 434712) for $18,556, 1991 Cask 27 (LCBO 434738) for $4,976 and 1980 Cask 495 (LCBO 434720) for $9,226. Not for the faint of heart or wallet.
The Dalmore Distillery was purposely built in 1839 (rather than being a farm first which added a distillery to utilize excess grain as was the custom in the day). Owned by Whyte and Mackay who also have Jura whisky and their own blend, The Dalmore is not as big or well-known as many scotch distillers. However Richard Paterson, the master distiller with over four decades of expertise (aka The Nose), is big on experimenting with different woods. Playing around with different cask sizes, different woods and sources over time has resulted in a limited number of special barrels available to be bottled individually for the Constellation Collection.
Much more accessible are Dalmore 12 Year Old, Dalmore 15 Year Old, Dalmore Cigar Malt and King Alexander III. There are more treasures and surprises coming out over the next year according to Jonathan Driver, Rare Whisky Director at The Dalmore but he’s not allowed to say more. www.thedalmore.com
Jura Brooklyn is a whisky style “chosen” by the people of Brooklyn. In 2013 master distiller Willie Tait crossed the Atlantic to Brooklyn with six Jura cask samples. With the help of some of Kings County’s influential establishments (among them Fine & Raw, Bam Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn Magazine) a taste profile was settled upon.
The Glenlivet established in 1824 in Livet Valley Scotland offers a taste of their original in The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve, inspired by pioneering founder George Smith’s original vision almost 200 years ago.
Remote Highland Park Distillery established in 1798 on the Orkney Islands has come out with a new expression, Highland Park Single Malt Whisky Dark Origins. Orkney is a string of about 70 islands several miles beyond where the dramatic northern coastline of Scotland ends. It’s a different world: one where you can walk through 5,000 years of history in a few steps viewing standing stones, brochs and Viking settlements. Dark Origins is naturally darker and contains 80% first fill European sherry casks.
Not new but highly recommendable are this trio: Auchentoshan 12 Year Old, a Lowland single malt, is one of the smoothest, most delicately complex Scottish whiskies thanks to triple distillation (the only remaining distillery in Scotland to insist on triple distilling). Bowmore has been distilling on the island of Islay since 1779. Bowmore 12 Year Old is a peaty, smoky and briny malt that has been nurtured for 12 years in Bowmore’s legendary #1 vault, the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland. Ardbeg 10 Year Old is another wonderful dram for those who love peat, smoke and brine.
Writer’s Tears produced by Walsh Whiskey Distillery in Ireland is my family’s go to whiskey (whiskey is spelt with an e in Ireland) when we want a super smooth yet flavourful spirit.
This isn’t a whisky but it is a perfect libation for gifts or drinking this season: Hine Rare VSOP Cognac. It’s silk and sensuality in the glass.
Thanks to new arrivals and old, there are a lot of options for gifting and sipping this December. Gotta get my list to Santa pronto.
To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
Editors Note: You can find Margaret’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!