Bunnahabhain 12 year old

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bunnahabhain_12.jpegLocated on the northeast coast of the isle of Islay, Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced 'Boon-a-havin' and meaning "foot of the river" in Scots Gaelic) was established in 1881 and has been producing whisky ever since. The distillery is perhaps most famously known among whisky enthusiasts for being the only one on the island that produces unpeated spirit as part of their house style. 
 
Bunnahabhain 12 year old, the distillery's youngest in the core range, is back on LCBO shelves this summer after a nearly 2 year absence. "Un-chillfiltered" for extra body and depth of flavour, the whisky is bottled at a respectable 46.3% ABV and contains no colourants or additives. 

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 2003

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In the world of independent bottlers there are many names and labels, but few are more recognizable or reliable than Gordon & MacPhail. One of their most recent releases to hit LCBO shelves was a "Distillery Label" edition of single malt Scotch whisky from one of Speyside's old guard distilleries, Glen Grant. The Distillery Label series is a testament to the enduring relationship between Gordon & MacPhail and the industry. In the past, they partnered with distilleries to "officially" bottle the whisky under license and used a unique distillery label for each client. Today, these relationships with distillers allows Gordon & MacPhail to bottle whiskies at various ages, strengths and vintages that may differ from the "house range;" with each bottle bearing their traditional label design from those early days.

Bottled at 40% ABV, the whisky was distilled in 2003 and then matured in ex-bourbon casks until 2014. With this bottling Gordon & MacPhail have produced an expression that is more or less in line with Glen Grant's house style but, at an atypical 11 years old, it exists outside of the distillery's core age ranges.



ScotchBlog's 2015 Father's Day Gift Buying Guide

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With Father's Day less than a week away on Sunday, June 21, 2015 we at ScotchBlog.ca have compiled our yearly Father's Day Gift Buying Guide with a list of suggested gift bottles. But, before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well-wishers. Please don't buy your Grandfather, Dad, Step-Father, or Father-in-law whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Prior to embarking on your shopping trip, examine your intended 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. It is important to remember that as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free 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. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 

Those of you lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end of the article to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. We are always here to help! 

We've tweaked the format a bit this time around and have forgone the price bracket approach in favour of grouping our "best-bets" by a broadly defined categories of "whisky-drinking Dad." If your Dad, Step-Dad, Grandfather, or Father-in-Law enjoys whisky you likely have some sense of what type of whisky he enjoys and his level of engagement with his dram. This year's format offers up 3 different whiskies for each "Dad-type" ranging from: Dads who rock the CC and Cola, to brand loyalists, to the backyard barbecue grillmaster, to those who prefer a single malt with the company of a cigar, to smoke-loving peat freaks, and those with a serious collection.

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, so if you need a little more detail please click away.

Ok, enough of the preamble. Are you ready to get started? Close your eyes, take a deep breath and think about your Dad. What's your Dad like?

Ardbeg Perpetuum

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Ardbeg distillery witnessed its 200th anniversary on May 30th and as in years past, Ardbeg Day was celebrated around the world with a new commemorative whisky. Released on the final day Islay's annual Feis Ile, Perpetuum is the result of Whisky Creator Dr. Bill Lumsden's inspiration from the differing styles of whisky his predecessors have created over the last 200 years. The whisky contains a blend of spirit, some from as far back as the 1970s, the standard 10 year, and a healthy dose of sherry cask and re-fill cask matured whiskies. Non chill-filtered, it shows natural colour and is bottled at an unconventional 47.4% ABV. 

Last week I had the good fortune of sampling Perpetuum and revisiting the brand's current product line at Ontario's first and only Ardbeg Embassy, The Caledonian in Toronto. Still decked out in Ardbeg Day related regalia, the tasting room was full of tongue-in-cheek futurism, from the magnetically levitating Ardbeg branded whisky glasses, to the Space Pod which held one of the vials of Ardbeg "space whisky" sent to the International Space Station as part of a zero-gravity maturation experiment, to the Ardbeg "Haar," or cold mist, generator that vapourized Ardbeg for guests to inhale through a straw, all overshadowed by the vaguely sinister 200th anniversary banner depicting two hands and forearms - a human and some sort of robo-Celt-bot - poised in an act of Slainte!  

Suppressing anxieties of the coming Singularity, my thoughts returned to the flight of Ardbeg in front of me: would Perpetuum appeal to those beyond the Ardbeg Committee fan club members and collectors or was this an instance of "all sizzle and no steak?"

Bunnahabhain Ceòbanach

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Located on the northeast coast of the isle of Islay, Bunnahabhain distillery (pronounced 'Boon-a-havin' and meaning "foot of the river" in Scots Gaelic) was established in 1881 and has been producing whisky ever since. The village of Bunnahabhain and its distillery are accessible by following a single track road north from Port Askaig with the Sound of Islay dropping away on one side and green rolling hills rising on the other. Venturing out to this relatively remote and picturesque distillery, with the Wyre Majestic wrecked and rusted upon the rocks of the harbour, you have the unmistakeable feeling of travelling back in time. 

Bunnahabhain's latest release 'Ceòbanach' harkens back to an earlier time in Islay's history. Pronounced 'kyaw-bin-och' and translating as 'smoky mist' in Scots Gaelic, the name is a reference to a time on the island in the 1800s when the air was thick with foggy sea air and smoke from the peat fires that warmed people's homes. Inspired by this sense of place and time, Ceòbanach is Bunnahabhain's latest small batch experiment with making a peaty whisky. Matured in ex-bourbon casks for over 10 years, bottled at 46.3% with natural coulour and non chill-filtered, this expression is a departure from Bunnahabhain's typically un-peated house style; itself a rarity on Islay, the land of peaty whiskies!

Glenmorangie Tùsail

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Tùsail is the latest addition to Glenmorangie's award-winning "Private Edition" collection. The brainchild of  Dr. Bill Lumsden, the Director of Distilling and Whisky Creation, Tùsail (pronounced to-SAIL and meaning "originary" in Scots Gaelic) is an experiment to explore the role of a distinctive variety of barley's influence on Glenmorangie single malt.  A carefully-selected parcel of Maris Otter barley was floor-malted by hand using traditional techniques, distilled, aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and then bottled, non chill-filtered, at a respectable 46% ABV.

It's been a big year for the "now-rare" strain of  two-row "winter" variety of barley as both Glenmorangie and Brittany distillery Glann ar Mor have released single malt whiskies showcasing the grain's rustic and nutty flavours. Originally bred at Cambridge University in 1965, Maris Otter is a cross of "Proctor" and "Pioneer" barleys and was developed for use in brewing. Over time Maris Otter's popularity was eclipsed by higher yield strains and the once ubiquitous varietal fell into disuse. By the late 1980s, uncertified seed and cross-pollination had put Maris Otter at risk of extinction. This greatly alarmed some in the brewing industry, who still depended on its unique flavour to produce
their cask-conditioned ales. Reacting to these concerns, two English seed merchants formed a partnership to rejuvenate the variety, and in 1992, began a program to build the stocks back to an acceptable standard. 

When Dr. Lumsden heard of their efforts the rest, as they say, is history. He explains: "When we heard the story of those determined to preserve such a flavoursome grain, their ethos - and the barley itself - seemed the perfect match for a Glenmorangie single malt. I knew its deep flavour profile would provide an intriguing contrast to Glenmorangie's more delicate house style, creating a whisky to enchant connoisseurs. The result pays homage to the Maris Otter variety, with rich, rustic flavours of nut toffee, sweet barley malt, ginger, cinnamon, molasses, and dates, complementing the more familiar Glenmorangie notes of peaches, oranges and smoked pears."

Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Years Old

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yRichOak14yo.jpgReleased in 2010, Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Years Old appeared in Duty Free shops and finally popped up on LCBO shelves last year. This limited run expression is Malt Master Brian Kinsman's experiment with virgin oak finishing techniques. 

Aged 14 years in ex-bourbon casks in the traditional manner,  the liquid is then finished for up to 12 weeks in new European oak before spending six weeks in new American oak and bottled at 40% ABV. This is a significant twist on Glenfiddich's finishing process which typically has the spirit finish in an ex-"something" casks, e.g. sherry, bourbon, port, or wine. In fact, this is the first virgin American and European oak double finished whisky in the world.
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Imagine my surprise seeing a bottle of Grant's labelled with a sticker bearing the words "A Travel Exclusive," that I had yet to try, on the shelf of a Duty Free kiosk at the Siem Reap airport in Cambodia?

"Finally," I thought, "something other than rummy Thai whisky or Johnnie Walker and Chivas!" Bending over to inspect the carton, I noticed the price: $17USD for a 1L bottle of the Distillery Edition of Grant's Blended Scotch Whisky. A quick scan of the shelves showed nothing else boasting that level of value from a brand I've historically known and loved. What's more, it's bottled at 46.3% ABV - higher than most other blends, including those from Grant's - and it's non chill-filtered; I was sold!

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey

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irish_tee3.jpgTeeling Whisky is a relative newcomer to the Irish whiskey scene. Brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling "resurrected" their ancestral family brand in 2011 as a small batch craft distillery. In fact, theirs was the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. 

With corn making up the bulk of the mashbill, the single grain whiskey is distilled through a column still and, in a bold move, is fully matured in ex-Cabernet Sauvignon red wine barrels sourced from California. After an unspecified period of maturation, the non chill-filtered whiskey is bottled at 46% ABV.

Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve

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It should come as no surprise to you, gentle reader, that we at ScotchBlog.ca are very fond of Forty Creek and it's ever-innovative whisky maker, John Hall. Since launching his distillery in 1992 he's brought new life to the Canadian Whisky landscape and has arguably been responsible, in large part, for its renewed interest among consumers.  His whisky even caught the attention of global drinks giant Gruppo Campari who purchased Forty Creek outright for a whopping $185.6 million with the condition that he stay on as Chairman and whisky-maker. In short, if you're not drinking Forty Creek whisky yet: what's wrong with you?

Fans of the brand are likely familiar with the Barrel Select and Double Barrel Reserve editions, but what about the Copper Pot Reserve? According to John Hall, "it's made in the same style as Barrel Select  but it's 'amped' up in flavour, delivering a bolder and richer taste profile."  The Copper Pot Reserve begins it's life as component grain spirits.  Corn, rye and barley spirits are distilled separately in a traditional copper pot still and then each spirit is aged in white oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years. After sufficient maturation it's time to mix and marry the blend. It is in the selection and blending of these separately aged barrels that this first generation whisky-maker's versatility and artistry shine. 

In addition to the "amped up flavours",  the Copper Pot Reserve also boasts a higher ABV of 43% compared to the other two, which are bottled at 40% ABV.

The GlenDronach 15 year old Tawny Port Finish

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I received this bottle of GlenDronach 15 year old Tawny Port Finish as a birthday gift from the SB crew. They know my tastes well, so when one of them saw the label notes describing a "fruit laden whisky to enliven the tastebuds" and dessert flavours:dried fruits, fine dark chocolate, "fruit shortcake drenched in vanilla custard;" there was no doubt that this would be my b-day bottle.

Released in 2011, this version was designed to replace the 20 year old variant and, as of last year, was replaced by the 18 year old edition. Suffice to say, there's been some experimentation with this finishing technique. Matured in European oak and finished in "the finest tawny port casks," the whisky is non chill filtered, of natural colour, and bottled at 46% A.B.V..

Since 1826, GlenDronach has produced scotch whisky in Forgue by Huntly near continuously with just a short, 6 year, break between 1996-2002 despite changing ownership half a dozen times. In 2008, the distillery was acquired by BenRiach whose Master Blender Billy Walker now performs double duty for the two distilleries. 

This past Saturday, January 24, 2015 I attended a Robbie Burns Day celebration hosted by Johnnie Walker at Toronto's majestic modern-day castle, Casa Loma. Upon arrival, guests were treated to 2 varieties of Johnnie Red-based cocktails with an inspired collection of hors d'oeuvres. Just before dinner, a pipe band struck up a tune and lead the procession of guests to the dining room where we were entertained by a troupe of Highland Dancers. 

As Emcee for the evening, the knowledgeable Mortlach Brand Ambassador Georgie Bell introduced each course and provided some tasting notes on the whisky pairing. Before long, the haggis was piped in followed by a toast to the "bard" and more dancing. We finished off the evening with a decadent chocolate course paired with my personal favourite of the Johnnie range, Gold label. 

I had a great time revisiting the Johnnie line, mingling with guests and, as you can surely tell from the pictures, the food was delicious. Thanks to Amy at North Strategic for the invitation.
 

Breaking the Status Quo at the LCBO

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During a three month period early last year, I'd been stopping by my local Liquor Control Board of Ontario store weekly, waiting patiently for new whisky releases. Each time I surveyed the shelves I was let down, finding that not only were there no new products to be found, but also that the shelves under the large words "single malt" were slowly becoming bare.

These sad few months inspired me to embark on a quest to understand why we in Ontario have the dubious honour of both paying some of the highest alcohol prices in the world as well as being unworthy of having year-round accessibility to unique and interesting whisky products. Let me start by saying that the results of my investigation have left me fuming over the disadvantaged position Ontarians are in.

While the LCBO is proud to show off the upsides of having a crown corporation provide booze to the citizens of Ontario, there can be no argument that consumers are losing out; both regarding the money from their pockets, and the products on the shelf. Full LCBO privatization is not something that any government has been receptive to. As such, the solutions presented within this article are focused on working with the current system to build and improve upon it.

To illustrate this, let's compare LCBO operations to those of privatized specialty alcohol retailers in other markets. I recently had the fortune of interviewing Andrew Ferguson, Co-Store Manager and Whisky Expert at Kensington Wine Market (KWM) in Calgary. As a private retailer, he has much less clout in the industry than a behemoth like the LCBO would, yet KWM outshines even the best LCBO store in numerous ways.

The 2014 Gift Buyer's Guide to Whisky

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Regardless of whether you celebrate anything at this time of year or not, it is highly likely that you or someone you know will be looking for a few tips on what to get a whisky lover. Be they friend, family, coworker, or neighbour, your intended recipient should receive something that fits your budget and that they enjoy. It is with that in mind that we delve once again into the mire of the LCBO's "selection" to choose a handful of bottles in three price ranges with the aim of enabling you or whomever you share this with, to walk away with just a little extra smugness that you absolutely nailed it when choosing that gift. 

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

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

  2. 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 as one of the last redeeming features of its existence, the LCBO does provide for free 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. So you may not need to drive several hours to get a bottle. Lastly, for any locations showing one bottle of something, be sure to phone the store confirm availability. 
For those lucky enough to reside elsewhere, there will be links provided at the end to other shops in select cities that will likely offer these bottles, and in the event that the specific ones listed are not there, their whisky knowledge is sound enough to provide a viable alternate. Should you not have the most educated personnel at the ready in your location, please do not hesitate to reach out to us in real time on Twitter, via email by using the address supplied to the right, or any other form of communication you feel will be effective. We truly are always here to help! 

Before we get going, please allow me to offer some advice on what not to buy: whisky stones. Every year whisky drinkers the world over are gifted these cubes of soapstone meant to provide cooling effects to glasses of whisky without diluting them. While the intent of the product is admirable, their usefulness is highly suspect as we have written about before; and to top it all off, if your intended recipient has been drinking whisky for more than a year or two, the odds are quite high that they already have several sets from previous well wishers. Please don't buy your loved ones whisky stones this year. I'm sick of... I mean they probably already have a set or three.

Alright, let's get to what should be bought, shall we? 

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend

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The Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Limited Edition Canadian Whisky was created to celebrate the brand's history and its relationship to British royalty. Seventy-five years ago, in 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth journeyed across North America and were gifted a bottle of Crown Royal to enjoy as they toured the continent by train.

Seeking to commemorate the occasion, Crown Royal Master Blender Joanna Scandella was asked to hand-select whiskies from the brand's extensive stock including a special whisky from the historic Coffey rye still, residing in the company's distillery in Gimli, Manitoba to make this one-time-only blended Canadian whisky. Our bottle, generously provided by North Strategic for Diageo Canada, is encased in a gold and silver coloured carton with a magnetic enclosure. The bottle itself, which is taller and broader than the standard offering and topped with a large plastic gold crown cap, is contained within a soft silver bag embroidered with gold accents and is a variation on the iconic purple bag long associated with the brand. Along with the deluxe packaging is a certificate of registration indicating the batch lot and bottle number which, in our case, reads 0008 and B47R4 respectively. 

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