Category Archives: whisky

Spirits Sipped: Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix

While it may play into stereotypes somewhat, there is some truth to the old adage about Scots being both thrifty and ingenious. So when the record snowfalls that struck Great Britain in the winter of 2009-10 caused the roofs of several warehouses holding casks of Glenfiddich whisky to collapse, it was almost inevitable that Malt Master Brian Kinsman (pictured above) would figure out a way to turn a potential disaster into something great.

Along with his team, Kinsman checked the contents of between 400 and 500 of the exposed casks – some ex-sherry, some ex-bourbon, with liquids ranging in age from 13 to 30 years – and selected around 200 to be melded into a special one-off bottling, something that is quite rare for the distillery. The result is Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix, a whisky limited to 60,000 bottles, with a portion of that recently arriving in Ontario (LCBO 236752 – $89.95/750 mL).

Kinsman recently came through town to hold some one-on-one tastings of Snow Phoenix, along with a run through of the standard line-up of Glenfiddich 12, 15 and 18. I shared my thoughts on this classic trio over on Taste T.O. last fall, so I’ll skip those here and go straight to the new arrival:

First of all, it’s worth noting that unlike most Glenfiddich whiskies, Snow Phoenix isn’t chill filtered, meaning that it has a slight haziness that becomes more pronounced when a splash of water is added. It’s also bottled at a higher proof than the regular range – 47% abv vs. 40% – which raises the expectation of it being a bit hotter than a regular Glenfiddich.

At first nosing, though, the increased alcohol is not especially evident. Instead, there’s a very pleasant melange of the fruit, honey and toffee typical of the Glenfiddich house style, along with some spice (cinnamon and clove), orange oil and faint oak as backing notes. On the palate, the honey and orange oil are the first to hit, with notes of sherry and vanilla filling the middle, before the booze finally takes over in the warm, spicy and slightly woody finish.

As we tasted, Kinsman stressed that while it’s limited nature has inevitably led to Snow Phoenix being viewed as a bit of a cachet product, his intention was still to make a whisky that is easy and pleasurable to drink, not just something to display on a shelf. He definitely succeeded in this regard.

In addition, the $89.95 price point puts Snow Phoenix at a cost quite reasonable for a limited specialty Scotch, making it accessible to more than just the collectors. Although if you have a few extra bucks kicking around, you might be interested in its sibling, Glenfiddich 50 Year Old, a single bottle of which is available now at the Summerhill LCBO for a mere $26,000. For the rest of us, though, Snow Phoenix will do just fine.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Century Reserve 21 Year Old & Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that things being late is pretty much par for the course. So just as with my previous week of tandem whisky and beer reviews, the one intended to posted on Friday was, uh, not. I’m sure no-one but me noticed, but for the sake of completeness, here it is now…

Century Reserve 21 Year Old
(LCBO 231704 – $48.95/750 mL)

This 100% corn whisky is one of a multitude of spirits and liqueurs produced by Highwood Distillers in Calgary, and while some of their brands are aimed at the mid- to low-end of the market, this is one of their more premium bottlings, and it’s gotten a fair bit of acclaim from critics and aficionados of Canadian whisky. And after tasting it myself, I’d say that the praise is well deserved. Showing a light, bright golden hue, it has a soft aroma of butterscotch, pepper, citrus, honey and toasted wood. The flavour opens with a good hit of citrus – notably lemon peel – with some pepper behind, followed by notes of butterscotch and toffee that build toward a sweet middle, and then subtle finish where the pepper comes back into play. A very good whisky that’s quite different from the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 that I reviewed earlier, but at a similar level of quality for less than half the price.

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René
(LCBO 224824 – $6.45/375 mL)

It’s going to be a month or so until this one appears on the shelves along with its companion, Lindemans Kriek Lambic (LCBO 224816 – $5.95/375 mL), but it’s been so long since we’ve had a proper gueuze at the LCBO that I couldn’t resist reviewing it now. Traditionally an unflavoured and unsweetened blend of both old and new lambics, much of the gueuze available today has been sweetened to appeal to a wider range of drinkers, but Cuvée René is the real deal. It’s crisp and tart and funky, with notes of barnyard and lemon and musty leather coming through in both the aroma and flavour. While quite noticeable, the sour tartness isn’t overpowering, which makes this brew a good introduction to traditional gueuze for those who may be unfamiliar with the style. And while more seasoned drinkers may consider it inferior to the beers of such venerable gueuze producers as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, the odds of us seeing any of their bottles on LCBO shelves any time soon is probably pretty damn low, so let’s be at least somewhat thankful that we’ll soon be able to get this one.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Isle of Arran 10 Year Old & Christoffel Blond

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today, it’s two that I’d have no trouble drinking a lot of on a regular basis…

Isle of Arran 10 Year Old
(LCBO 221069 – $49.95/750 mL)

Here’s something that proves I still have a lot to learn about whisky: When I see “Isle” on a label, I expect something peaty and smoky to come out of the bottle. Not only because I love whiskies in that style, but because “Isle” makes me think of Islay, the Scottish island where almost every whisky they make fits that template. But then I remember that there are distilleries scattered across other islands that produce whiskies in a variety of styles, from soft and sweet to full of peat. This 10YO from the Isle of Arran Distillery leans more towards the sweet side, although the aroma starts with a bit of sea and smoke before elegant notes of vanilla and cream come through. The mouthfeel is soft and supple, and the flavour holds a nice combo of melon, vanilla, coconut, pear, subtle oak, and a hint of spice in the finish. Not one to wow the crowd, but for an everyday easy drinking malt, it’s a great choice.

Christoffel Blond
(LCBO 696955 – $2.85/330 mL)

When choosing which beers to write up from the seasonal releases, I usually pick ones that are first timers, as they may need a bit more attention than those that have been on the shelves here before. But I’ll make an exception for Christoffel Blond, as it’s a beer that I will praise any chance that I get. Plus it allows me to poach from an earlier review, when I described it as having “a rich golden hue and a good sized snow white head”; an aroma that “reveals a strong herbal and floral hop character, with some candyish notes as well”; a body that’s “crisp and full and quenching”; and a flavour that is “a tasty combination of sweet orange candy, sharp green herbs, and a refreshingly bitter citric finish.” Gorgeous stuff that I drink loads of every time it shows up in Ontario – and it’s great liquid for steaming mussels as well.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Sheep Dip Malt Whisky & Brasseur De Montréal Coeur Brisé

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today, it’s a pair that pleasantly surprised me…

Sheep Dip Malt Whisky
(LCBO 231688 – $44.95/750 mL)

While most of the Scottish selections in the Whisky Shop rotation are higher end single malts, they do keep a blend or two in there as well, and some of them – like the Famous Grouse Gold Reserve – are deserving of their spot. But something about the name Sheep Dip had me not expecting much from this one. Thankfully, I was wrong, as this blend of 16 single malts from a variety of distilleries and reasons is a not a bad little whisky. Notes of grass and hay are at the forefront, with some marzipan and orange marmalade sweetness, and threads of cinnamon and clove. Yeah, it’s not especially complex, the flavour is a bit muddled, and the palate a little softer that I’d like, but it’s a big step up from many blended whiskies. (Still not as good as that Grouse, though.)

Brasseurs De Montréal Coeur Brisé
(LCBO 224212 – $2.95/341 mL)

Like the whisky above, I went into this beer with low expectations, although not because of the name (which translates to “broken heart”), but because of the style. While I always enjoy a proper Belgian-style framboise, I find that most other raspberry-flavoured beers tend to be sickly sweet and/or artificial tasting, and are often made using a base beer that is pretty mediocre to start with. Coeur Brisé, however, seems to be based on a well made golden ale, and both the aroma and flavour have a very natural and fairly tart raspberry character, with a bit of toasted malt sweetness and a hint of citric hops. The body is full enough to be noticeable, and crisp enough to be refreshing. It’s still not my favourite style, but as far as pale raspberry ales go, this is a pretty damn good one.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Bond & Southern Tier 2xIPA

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today I’ve got a pair from south of the border – one of them from a bit further south than the other…

Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Bond
(LCBO 230813 – $34.95/750 mL)

As the ‘e’ in ‘Whiskey’ suggests, Rittenhouse is created in the tradition of classic American rye whiskies – specifically, in the Monongahela/Pennsylvania style – while the “100 Bond” designation indicates that it’s a 100 proof (50% alc) spirit that’s been “bottled in bond“. All of this old-tymey stuff might smack a bit of gimmickry, but Rittenhouse is actually a really solid whiskey that has had a lot of success throughout the US, no doubt due to the trend towards better quality cocktail spirits. And while I imagine it to make an impeccable Manhattan, it’s quite fine on its own as well, with a dark amber hue that resembles that of well-aged lacquered furniture, and a myriad of aroma and flavour notes including pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey and marmalade. Too bad the LCBO stock is already dwindling.

Southern Tier 2xIPA
(LCBO 224220 – $2.95/355 mL)

Speaking of dwindling stock – while this beer hasn’t hit the shelves yet (it’s due next week), it’s bound to be snapped up quickly when it does, given the combination of Southern Tier’s strong reputation from previous LCBO appearances by some of their other brands, and the general scarcity of highly hopped beers in Ontario. Anyone familiar with big American-style IPAs will find just what the expect here – i.e. a huge hit of citrus (especially grapefruit) with backing notes of pineapple, peach and pine resin, supported by enough caramel-accented malt to keep the harsh edges of the bitterness in check. And just as the Rittenhouse above is quite smooth for a 50% whiskey, so too is the 2xIPA a very easy drinker considering that it weighs in at 8.2%. Consume the two in tandem, and you’ll probably want to make sure you’ve got no big plans in the morning…

A Shot with a Beer Back: Crown Royal Cask No. 16 & Celt Golden Crafted Ale

Since today is Victoria Day – aka Canada’s unofficial first day of summer – it seemed fitting to review some of the beers in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. And since the format seemed to be popular when I did it a couple of months ago with the Spring release, I’ll be pairing them up with notes on a few of the newest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program. Here’s the first duo, with another pair to follow each day this week.

Crown Royal Cask No. 16
(LCBO 64337 – $99.95/750 mL)

Named for the origin number of the Congac oak casks from the Limousin forest in France that are used to age this premium blend of more than 50 whiskies before it’s bottled, Cask No. 16 comes from the higher end of the Crown Royal range – only Crown Royal XR (Extra Rare) is more spendy. Hints of the Congac-infused wood come through in the aroma, along with plenty of fruit (peach, apricot, sweet orange), toffee, toasted nuts, and suggestions of leather and cinnamon. The flavour shows more of the Congac and fruit – taking on almost a fruit cocktail character – but this is still a Canadian whisky at heart, as evidenced by the notes of rye, vanilla, oak, and black & white pepper. While you can feel free to mix it with Coke or Canada Dry if you’d like, it would really be a waste, as this is a whisky more suited for sipping neat.

Celt Golden Crafted Ale
(LCBO 224600 – $3.45/500 mL)

There are a slew of UK golden/blond ales in this release (the others are listed below), and while the Celt wasn’t my favourite, I chose it to review over the others due to the uniqueness of it being a beer from Wales, which I believe is a first for the LCBO. The body, as the name suggests, has a golden-orange hue under a small white head. The aroma is intriguing – there’s the expected grass/hay maltiness, and some leafy hops, but also something around the edge that reminds me of lychee, as well as hints of candied citrus peel. The flavour is a bit more standard for the style – lightly roasted and moderately sweet malt, balanced by hops that are a herbal and a bit earthy. Mild citrus and a wisp of licorice come through in the end. It’s a very nice summer quaffer, as are the other golden ales in the release: Dark Star Sunburst (LCBO 223818 – $3.45/500 mL), Badger Golden Champion (LCBO 244632 – $3.50/500 mL), and Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew (LCBO 676858 – $3.50/500 mL) – the latter brewed with and tasting pleasantly of honey, just as the name suggests.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Compass Box Spice Tree & Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor

Each weekday last week, I was planning on posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Due to various factors, I was unable to get Friday’s post done in time, so here it is now…

Compass Box Spice Tree (LCBO 220806 – $67.25/700 mL)

If you know whisky, you’re probably aware of the stir that Compass Box and its founder/whiskymaker John Glaser has caused in the whisky world in the last decade or so. Even as a casual whisky drinker, I’ve been aware of the cult-like status that Glaser has developed for his products, as well as the controversy that some of them have caused. (Google “John Glaser” and “Scotch Whisky Association”  together to get a taste of the latter.) In simple terms, Glaser obtains whiskies from various distilleries, combines them, and then matures the blends in different woods to create artisanal blended whiskies that are ranked as high as premium single malts by many aficionados. Spice Tree is one of Glaser’s Signature Series whiskies, and the appropriateness of the name comes clear from the moment it’s poured, as big notes of clove and ginger come forward, with supporting notes of cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel. Ginger dominates the palate as well, with toasted oak, vanilla and cinnamon behind, along with a developing hint of nutmeg, and a whiff of wood smoke.

Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor (LCBO 211284 – $3.10/330 mL)

Just as the whiskies of Compass Box are considered unorthodox, so too can Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor be looked at as a bit of an oddity, and a product of a modern and experimental beer culture. For years, the ales of Belgium have been known to emphasize aromas and flavours produced primarily by malt and yeast, with hops playing a backing role. But more recently, as the hops-forward beers favoured by many American breweries have started filtering back to the Old World, some brewers there have been cutting loose and beefing up the hops in their recipes. Hopsinjoor is one of those beers, brewed using four strains of hops, each added at a different point in the brewing process to bring out their aromas and flavours to full effect. It pours a beautiful golden colour with a vague haze and a huge cap of rocky white foam. Forcing their way through the head are rich aromas of peppery yeast, fruits like pineapple and orange, some lemon zest, and a slightly medicinal pine-like note. The body is quite active, giving a crisp and effervescent mouthfeel that cleanses the palate and lets the hops shine through in the flavour, with notes of grapefruit, pine sap and cut grass, along with hints of banana and pineapple, and a bit of pepper in the finish.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt & Ölvisholt Skjálfti

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today’s picks are a whiskey from Ireland (yeah, I’m doing the St. Paddy’s thing…) and a beer from Iceland.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Single Malt (LCBO 223776 – $48.60/750 mL)

While the Scottish single malt whiskies get most of the attention, there are quite a few Irish single malts out there as well. This one from Knappogue Castle is the first in their range to have an age designation – previous bottlings had been given vintage years, making it difficult to know exactly how long the liquid was inside the wood, which is something that most aficionados want to know. As is typical of many Irish whiskeys, it has a mellower character than a comparable Scotch might have, with an inviting aroma of biscuit and toasted grain, and smooth flavours of light golden sugar, vanilla and lychee. It finishes light as well, with a bit of orange zest and a suggestion of pepper. A nice session sipper.

Ölvisholt Skjálfti (LCBO 168393 – $3.90/500 mL bottle)

In addition to their similar names and fairly close geographic proximity, Ireland and Iceland have some strong historic connections, with Irish monks believed to be the first settlers there before the Norse showed up. So I guess it’s fitting that I feature this Icelandic beer alongside an Irish whiskey. As I noted when I reviewed it for Taste T.O. last summer, Skjálfti is unique not only because of where it comes from, but also due it being brewed using lager yeast, but fermented at a warmer temperature more typical of ales. That combined with the use of Cascade hops – a strain that contributes notes of bitter citrus that are more commonly found in American pale ales – makes Skjálfti a full-bodied, flavourful and well-bittered beer that even the most anti-lager ale-head would enjoy.

A Shot with a Beer Back: The Balvenie Caribbean Cask & Panil Barriquée Sour

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today’s picks are a sweet whisky and a sour beer.

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask (LCBO 221200 – $99.95/750 mL)

The newest permanent addition to the Balvenie line-up – although only available temporarily in Ontario – this is a 14-year-old expression of the whisky that’s been finished in rum casks. As you’d expect, this layers the aroma and flavour notes you’d find in rum – dark sugar, toffee, vanilla, spices – on top of the soft honey, fruit, heather and oak notes typical of Balvenie. The result is a spirit that is quite sweet, but never cloying, as all of the notes find just the right balance. (It’s also a treat to try this side-by-side with other Balvenie offerings, which I recently had the chance to do – a write-up on that is coming soon.)

Panil Barriqu̩e Sour (LCBO 210591 Р$14.00/750 mL)

Aside from the frequently infected beers from a local brewery who shall remain nameless, sour beers are not often seen at the LCBO, so for those of us who are still pining for the days when Rodenbach Grand Cru was (briefly) available in Ontario, the inclusion of this Italian delicacy in the Spring beer release is a godsend. Intentionally soured with lactobacillus bacteria and triple fermented – 15 days in iron, 90 days in cognac and bordeaux barrels, and 30 days in the bottle – Panil Barriquée Sour is a hazy ruby brew with a tart and funky aroma holding notes of sour cherry, cranberry and wood. The flavour is a wonder that seems to change with every sip – I picked up lemon, cranberry, sour cherry and other overripe berries, grape must, yeast, cheese, wood and leather. The finish is dry and dusty and quite acidic, leaving the palate craving more. It is, as the cliche goes, an acquired taste – but once you’ve acquired it, you’ll be saddened by the reality that this beauty will only be available in Ontario for a limited time.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Maker’s Mark 46 & Amsterdam Spring Bock

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today’s picks are a new variation on a classic bourbon, and a returning seasonal beer from a veteran Toronto brewery.

Maker’s Mark 46 (LCBO 225565 – $49.95/750 mL)

Created by aging the original Maker’s Mark bourbon for an additional few weeks in modified barrels containing charred French oak staves, Maker’s Mark 46 (which is actually 47% abv, despite the name) shows a good deal more complexity than the regular brand. Spices in particular are more prominent – cinnamon especially, with lesser hints of clove and ginger – and there are also caramel, vanilla and dried apple notes that serve as connectors to the original MM. Burnt oak is also in there, but in more of a supporting role. I found the 47% to be just high enough to give more of a boozy burn than I usually like in the finish, so I don’t know if I’d turn to this as a sipping bourbon, but in the right hands, it would make a fine cocktail.

Amsterdam Spring Bock (LCBO 208942 – $3.95/500 mL)

First brewed in 2009 based on a recipe developed by homebrewer Derek Hyde, Spring Bock has become a regular part of Amsterdam’s seasonal beer program, and is now the first of those seasonals to graduate from being available only at the brewery store to LCBO distribution. This likely means that it’s now being brewed in larger batches, but the quality doesn’t seem to have suffered because of it. Dark mahogany with an off-white head, it has an aroma of sweet toasted malt, dark dried fruit, cocoa, a bit of smoke and wood, and light herbal hops. The flavour gives what the aroma promises, with nutty malt and bittersweet cocoa coming to the forefront as it warms. A great beer that is superior to other bock in the release, Höss Doppel-Hirsch (LCBO 106237 – $3.75/500 mL), in pretty much every regard – although to be fair, the latter has likely suffered somewhat due to having to travel from Germany rather than Bathurst and Lake Shore.