Jameson's Caskmates owes its origins to a chance meeting between the master brewer of the Franciscan Well craft brewery and the master distiller of Jameson's at a pub in Cork, Ireland. The brewer was looking for some casks to condition his latest stout and thought some ex-Jameson barrels would be interesting to test as a finish. By all accounts, the resulting stout was delicious and it led the distiller from Jameson's to ponder, "What might happen if we finished some of our whiskey in these stout casks?" 

Using the standard, triple distilled, Jameson's blended Irish whiskey, the newly "stouted" whiskey casks from the Franciscan Well were filled and left to finish for nearly 4 months. The result, as they say, was a whiskey "greater than the sum of its casks." The colour looked the same but a subtle stout influence appeared in the whiskey's flavour profile with new aromas of coffee, chocolate and butterscotch. 

From that experiment the idea for Caskmates took off and the folks at Jameson's recognized that they had a fantastic opportunity ahead of them. Not only could they innovate on their product line with a new beer cask finish but they would also reach out to select brewers around the globe to build new partnerships under the framework of the Caskmates program. Jameson's would provide their ex-whisky casks to brewers, who would in turn use them to condition their ales for a few months and then the brewers would ship the casks back to Jameson's to be used to when finishing the next version of Caskmates. 

Within months, Jameson's established a series of partnerships with craft brewers that would see the Irish whiskey giant loan out barrels on an unprecedented scale. For Jameson's, the appeal was two-fold: the possibility of developing more prosperous relationships in existing mature markets and the opportunity to experiment with dozens of styles of beer soaked barrels for future, limited runs of Caskmates unique to the brewer's country or region of origin. A partnership with a brewer in Kenya, for instance, would yield a beer conditioned in Jameson's casks for the local market and, later, a special version of Jameson Caskmates finished in those Kenyan ale-filled would be made available exclusively for Kenya. 


So when Jameson's reached out to Steve Beauchesne, co-founder and CEO of Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, about participating in the Caskmates program he was understandably, "over the moon!" The chance to partner with a leader in the spirits business on a cask exchange program is the stuff of fantasy for most Canadian brewers; after all, Ireland is a long ways off and "what are the odds they'd look here for a partner?" mused Steve at a meeting in downtown Toronto earlier this year, "but I think they took notice of our use of organic ingredients and our experimental, collaborative approach to brewing and I think that spoke to them." 

To most Canadians, the eastern Ontario brewery is probably best known for their flagship "Lug Tread" lagered ale but the award-winning, innovative, craft brewery has a varied product line with upwards of 50 different beers made each year. But before fully committing the sole Canadian brewery to the partnership, Mr. Beauchesne and team "traveled to Cork and met with Jameson's fifth generation cooper Ger Buckley to learn more about their process.

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It was to be a meeting of the minds as Ger's experience and passion for his craft confirmed for Steve that the venture promised to be a fruitful partnership for both parties. "There's a bit of urgency to the process when you're working with beer casks," chuckled Ger at our meeting, "as the wood can go a bit funky if it's exposed to air for too long." Since the casks are broken down for transport, it's up to Ger to put them back together again for use at Jameson's, "there's no room for error when repairing and reconstructing a barrel...it has to be water tight as the cost margins are so narrow!" said Ger in between the bangs of his hammer as he assembled a barrel for my education.

For the Caskmates partnership, Steve had just the beer: a seasonal Irish Red ale named  "Strong Patrick"they've produced every year since 2012 in honour of St. Patrick's Day. All organic and brewed to 6.7% ABV from roasted malt, Pilgrim hops and Irish Red yeast, about a sixth of the total volume of beer was finished in Jameson casks for about 4 months before being re-introduced to the rest of the beer prior to bottling. According to Steve the result was "really the best [version] we've ever made," with its bold take on the style, brewed stronger than usual, and with a creamy texture, with flavours of toasted caramel, coffee notes and a mild bitterness at 24 IBU.

McClelland's Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

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The McClelland's brand of regional single malts is a fairly common sight on LCBO shelves nearly everywhere across the province. Named after 19th century Glaswegian whisky firm, T&A McClelland's, it's four expressions are inspired by Scotland's "key whisky distilling regions": Lowland, Islay, Speyside, and Highland. Bottled at 40% ABV, all the whiskies share the same $45.20 price tag making them among the cheapest Scottish single malts around. But without a distillery name or an age statement, is it worth a gamble?

Given that the Morrison Bowmore Distillers' "McClelland's" product line isn't a distillery nor owns any distilleries, there's much speculation that it's regional single malts are actually unnamed whiskies from the parent company's distillery holdings: Auchentoshan, Bowmore, and Glen Garioch. Being a lover of Bowmore, I tested this theory with the Islay expression and it was a let down. 

Could the Highland expression be better?

Nose:  Sharp; redolent of wood shavings and damp cardstock with a whiff of vanilla buttercream icing. A little time in the glass reveals a delicate fruitiness.

Palate: Light-bodied with flavours of thinned caramel, more wood shavings, fruit lozenge, ginger, and a dash of cocoa powder.

Finish: Plenty of hang time here the cocoa notes are stretch out by squirt of lime to become a sour, burning tootsie roll whose smoldering embers steadily release a mouth-coating reek of whisky-soaked ashtray.

Overall: Truly unpleasant and that finish tastes like someone cleaned out my throat with an old bong brush. There's not much appeal here for me and the cheap-ish price still doesn't make it go down any easier. If McClelland's Highland expression really is Glen Garioch, (and I don't think it is...) I can understand why they'd rather not say.

Redbreast 12 Year Old Irish Whiskey

Redbreast-12YO-SinglePotStill.jpgConsidered by many to be the quintessential expression of the single Irish pot still style, Midleton Distillery's Redbreast 12 year old is named after the European robin; one of the few songbirds who overwinter in Ireland. 

For those of you unfamiliar with the style, it's similar to single malt with a key distinction: the mash must be made from a mixture of malted and un-malted barley distilled in a pot still and, interestingly, the mash may also contain up to 5% of other cereal grains.Traditionally, the whiskey is distilled three times but there is no legal requirement to do so. Like the Scottish single malt definition, there is a geographic requirement that the whiskey must be aged for a minimum of 3 years in a wooden cask, in Ireland, and the resulting bottling must contain only distillate from the same distillery. The story goes that Irish whiskey makers began the practice of mixing malted and un-malted grains in the early 1800s as a reaction against the "English Malt Tax" which imposed a levy on producers based on the amount of malted barley they used. Not only did Irish whisky become cheaper to make but the addition of un-malted barley added some key differences to the flavour profile of the whiskey; namely a creamy texture and a characteristic spiciness.

Redbreast is made using a mixed mash bill of locally sourced malted and un-malted barley that's triple distilled and matured in ex-Sherry casks before being bottled at 40% ABV. 

Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch Whisky

Monkey Shoulder is a blended malt whisky produced by William Grant & Sons and contains a mixture of single malts from the brand's Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie distilleries. Matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, the whiskies were then vatted for around 6 months before being bottled at 43% ABV.

Created by the now-retired legendary Master Blender, David Stewart, in 2005, Monkey Shoulder was conceived as a blended malt whisky made for mixing. In fact, the brand is the title sponsor of the annual "Ultimate Bartender" competition which tests participant bartenders on 7 crucial skills needed to earn the top spot. 

With no less than twelve cocktail recipes featuring Monkey Shoulder listed on their site, it's evident that the spirit plays nicely in a mixed drink - but how would it hold up on its own, neat?

Hail Caesar!

The Ardbeg Caesar: your "morning-after" Burns Night restorative

On or around, January 25th, Scots, and lovers of all things Scottish, gather to celebrate the life and works of 18th century poet Robert Burns. Burns Night, as its called, is a feast in honour of Scotland's national bard that typically feature selected readings, dancing, haggis, and of course, whisky. 

I've had the chance to attend a few Burns' Nights over the years and no two are alike. Ranging from a salon of erudite aesthetes quoting Burns and his contemporaries to something closer to a raucous ceilidh; everyone has their own take on the tradition. The one thing that is constant for me across all these Burns' Nights however, is the dull roar of a headache that generally follows the next day. 

Thankfully, I've discovered a remarkable restorative to dispatch the fog: the Ardbeg Caesar. 


For those of you unfamiliar with the Caesar, it's a distinctly Canadian phenomenon that resembles a Bloody Mary but with clam-flavoured tomato juice as the base. 

Sounds odd, yet it works so well in this drink; especially since you'll be using a pungent spirit like Ardbeg 10. The briny elements in both liquids act as a sort of flavour bridge which makes the smoke and peat turn slightly tangy against the backdrop of tomato juice with seasonings. Unctuous, smooth, and lightly smoky, the Ardbeg Caesar is an unexpectedly delicious twist on the recipe. 

How do you make one? Simple. Replace the vodka in a standard Caesar with an equal measure of Ardbeg 10. 

But, if you really want to go for broke and enjoy the ultimate Ardbeg Caesar, swap out the standard celery stalk for a crispy and, well patted-dry, piece of bacon. 

I mean, what is the point of being "health conscious" when you're preparing a single malt Caesar at anytime before noon, right?

The 2017 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

With the holidays upon us it's time for our yearly Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky to help take some of the confusion out of shopping for the right bottle for the whisky enthusiast on your list. Whether you're looking for a hosting gift, a celebratory bottle, a gift for a new drammer or a seasoned enthusiast, this year's list has something for every taste. As always, this guide is written to give you a short-list of the best valued whiskies currently on LCBO shelves with high availability province-wide. With a price limit of $100, you are sure to find a gift suggestion in this list that's bound to delight your recipient. 

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, there are a couple of steps one should take in advance whenever possible:

Examine your intended recipient's existing collection as I will do my best to provide you with some flavour profiles to provide a frame of reference for determining to which palates a particular whisky will likely appeal. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock before heading out to your local store. It is important to remember that the LCBO does provide inter-store transfers of bottles, though delivery times will vary from 3 to 7 days depending on distance between your store and the store of origin. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store to confirm availability. 

Finally, each whisky listed below is available in the LCBO at the time of publication. The title link navigates to the LCBO page while the links in the description will direct you to one of our reviews of the whisky - if available - so if you'd like more detail, the full notes are a click away.

Johnnie Walker Green Label

Strolling through the LCBO earlier this year I was intrigued to see Johnnie Walker Green Label back on the shelves. After vanishing a few years back it was rumoured that parent company Diageo was discontinuing the expression in favour of replacing it with a non-age-stated (NAS) blend variant. Given the trend for the "majors" in the industry toward NAS bottings it wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility that Green Label would come back as a shadow of it's former self. 

Yet, the rumour never came true. The age statement was kept and so was the formulation of the blend. The blended malt comprised of aged spirit from Diageo's Talisker, Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Linkwood distilleries. Containing whisky from nearly all of Scotland's whisky regions, Green Label is one of only two of Johnnie Walker blends to bear an age statement in the core range and is bottled at 43% ABV.

Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye

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Ninety 20 Year Old Canadian Rye is the "ultra premium" offering from Highwood Distillers' "Ninety" whisky product line. While Highwood Distillers may not be an immediately recognizable name on LCBO shelves, fans of Canadian whisky may be more familiar with the Alberta distillery's other brands: Centennial, Century Reserve, Potters, or maybe even White Owl? 

Using the term Canadian Rye in the "traditional" sense, Ninety is a blend of mostly, if not all, corn whiskies aged for 20 years in charred oak barrels and is bottled at 45% ABV.

Nose: Quite sharp on the nose, especially for a whisky of this age and ABV, then a blast of wood shavings with custard and damp cardboard lingering behind. 

Palate: Medium-bodied and showing a slightly sweet mix of thinned honey and gingerbread studded with candied fruit on entry. But it's not long before this gentle sweetness is overtaken by woody spice that's both fiery and bitter with cloves, ginger and nutmeg. 

Finish: After the thunderous spice hit, the finish resonates with bitter heat before flattening out with muted toasted oak and vanilla tones. A splash of water certainly improves the flavour here by dampening the heat yet it does nothing for the bitterness and doesn't substantially change the finish. 

J.P. Wiser's 15 Years Old



New to the Wiser's core range, J.P. Wiser's 15 years old is billed as "a complex whisky with a hint of rye spice," meant to be sipped and savoured. Bottled at the standard 40% ABV and, like many of Wiser's whiskies, this expression made from a blend of separately distilled and matured grain whiskies combined by Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

Nose: Inviting aromas of toasted oak and spice atop a strong toffee note with a hint of green apple.

Palate: Full-bodied and smooth; like liquid dessert. Mouth-coating caramel, buttery toffee, and dried fruit notes are complemented by a hit of mint and clove-laden spice that keeps things from getting overly sweet.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed

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As a fan of Wild Turkey since my days in university, it was a special treat to visit the distillery a couple of years ago and meet the brand's affable patriach Master Distiller, Jimmy Russell. After a personal tour of the new visitor centre, the grounds and the grand, old, 6 story "Warehouse A", we returned to the centre where I purchased this bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed labelled Batch No WT-03RB

Bottled at 54.1% (108.2 Proof), Rare Breed is a highly awarded blended bourbon expression from Wild Turkey. While its alcohol content and taste may vary slightly from year-to-year depending on the blend, it's probably safe to assume any given version contains spirit from between 6 - 12 years old.

Nose: Heady aromas of marzipan, vanilla, brown sugar and roasted peanut shells burst from the glass. With a little time, fruity notes of cherry, purple grapes, and orange oil reveal themselves along with a light herbal, almost minty scent. 

Palate: Full-bodied and remarkably smooth for a whisky of this strength. Caramel sweetness with candied fruits, vanilla and a hit of camphor just before the finish.

Liquormen's Ol' Dirty Canadian Whisky

liquormen-s-ol-dirty-canadian-whisky.jpgReleased in 2016, Liquormen's Ol' Dirty Canadian Whisky is a sourced whisky from an unnamed distillery in Alberta then bottled by Rock Spirits (a blending and bottling subsidiary of the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Commission) for Dartmouth Spirits Inc. - the IRL drinks business side of the Trailer Park Boys media group. 

According to the label notes, the Trailer Park Boys launched this whisky to honour the legacy of liquor thieving bandits from the old West. Bottled at 40% ABV and aged for just three years in charred, white oak casks; it's a young whisky. 

While I was bemused by the idea of grabbing a bottle to play the home game, yet given the Boys' other attempts at making and selling booze I didn't have high hopes for the result

Ed. note: links might be NSFW...

J.P. Wiser's Dissertation

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J.P. Wiser's Dissertation is the distillery's latest release in their Rare Cask Series; a limited run of one-off bottlings put together by Master Blender Dr. Don Livermore. This one however, is particularly special to Dr. Livermore as the whisky in the blend came from 114 barrels he used during his doctoral research to develop a method of predicting the effect of wood on the maturation process.

"How do you know a barrel is any good?" asks Dr. Don somewhat rhetorically. "Well, typically, you look at the barrel and smell it...and then make a decision, but you won't really know until the spirit has had time to mature, and by only then would you know with any certainty if it worked out or if it was a loss." 

The so-called "wood character" of a barrel is one of the most important factors when it comes to producing whisky. Not only does the wood draw out unwanted flavour compounds in un-aged spirit like dimethyl sulfide - which displays a potent cabbage-like aroma even at low concentrations -  but it's also responsible for imbuing the liquid with all kinds of delicious and desirable flavours. One way that distillers attempt to alter the chemistry of the wood is through charring the barrel, but is more or less char on the barrel better when aging whisky? 

"Back in 2005 when I started the project, my thinking was a bit like 'Tim the Tool-man Taylor' you know? More Power! I thought deeper levels of char would give the best results," says Dr. Livermore with a laugh. 

In order to test his hypothesis, he created a method of using infrared sensor technology to determine exactly how much "wood character" would be extracted into the whisky after just a 30 second scan of an empty barrel. The result: less is more. A char level of just 2mm seemed to deliver the best flavour results. 

"I was surprised! We learned that 2mm was the right amount for our whiskies." After the experiment was over, he turned to writing his dissertation and "kind of forgot about the barrels." 

Twelve years later he and his colleagues re-discovered the barrels in the Pike Creek warehouse and decided to try and make something with them. "It evolved quite organically, there was a lot of interest in our other Rare Cask bottles so we wanted to see how these whiskies might work." Containing a mix of what would have been Red Letter, Lot 40 and a double distilled rye, Dissertation is bottled at 46.1% ABV, is non chill-filtered and shows natural colour.   

Given the title of the whisky, I ask if there's something he'd like people to take away when sampling this dram. "I think we're challenging the status quo of the category. We're not making caramel-flavoured vodka here.... so let's stop apologizing for Canadian whisky; other countries recognize our success before we do! We can make quality whisky that consistently wins international awards." 

Dewar's 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky

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Dubbed The Ancestor, Dewar's 12 year old blended Scotch whisky contains up to 40 aged malt and grain whiskies  
that were "double matured." After the initial blending and marrying, the blend was left to mature in oak casks for an additional 6 months before being bottled at 40% ABV. Dewar's 12 is undoubtedly chill-filtered and likely contains colouring. 

Nose: Lightly floral and fruity with aromas of red apples and raisins accompanied by a whiff of marzipan and vanilla

Palate: Slightly oily in texture, it's full-bodied and mellow with a rich caramel tone and a gentle nuttiness. There's more red apples and raisins here too; bobbing along with a sprinkling of warming woody spice.   

Finish: Medium long with bitter chocolate, anise, raisins and dark dried fruit flavours that evaporate into an almost flat and mineral-like, drying finish. A splash of water brings out more sweetness in the finish while simultaneously dialing up the bitterness of the anise.

Overall: I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised by this blend from Dewar's. There's a decent amount of malt in the mix with the grain component only really showing itself midway through the finish. Well-balanced, not overly complex, yet compellingly quaffable and food friendly. Good value buy at $47.25 in the LCBO; recommended.
Father's Day is just around the corner and ScotchBlog.ca has compiled a baker's dozen of affordable gift ideas for the whisky-loving Dad(s) in your life! 

If you can, it's worth noting what bottles are in your recipient's existing collection. What types of whiskies occupy the shelves? Blends, single malts, bourbon, Canadian whisky? This will help you avoid duplicates (unless you've already been given a clear signal to buy yet another bottle of the fave) and will lend some context to your decision-making. 

For Ontario readers, make use of the embedded links to check stock (look for the hyperlinked price!) before heading out to your local store. Remember, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. As always, every attempt has been made to ensure that all whiskies listed herein are available in the LCBO at the time of publication. With many of the whiskies listed, the title links to a full write up of the bottle - if we've reviewed it - in case you want a little more detail. 

Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky

Bastille 1789 Blended Whisky is the creation of French Master Distiller Jean-Marc Daucourt whose family name is typically associated with Cognac rather than whisky. Building upon the family tradition of distillation, Daucourt studied Scotch whisky production in Scotland for a number of years before launching his own uniquely French whisky. 

Using a combination of wheat and malted barley grown in Brittany in the north west of France and limestone-filtered spring water from Gensac in Grande Champagne, the Master Distiller sought to make a whisky evocative of the French terroir. The spirit was distilled in an alembic still, traditionally used for Cognac, and then aged for 5-7 years in a combination of French Limousin oak, cherry and acacia casks before vatting and bottling at 40% ABV. 


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