Future – Past Whisky
Sometimes successfully moving forward necessitates a look back. Distillers around the world are looking to history, traditional ingredients, and even older reserves to create new expressions.
The Glenora Distillery on Canada’s picturesque east coast is keeping the country’s distilling heritage alive with a nod to whisky-making traditions that extend far further back than those of its native land — namely, to those of Scotland.
The Glen Breton Rare 19 Year Old Single Malt Whisky (750ml, 43% ABV, $200) is a distinctly Highland-inspired single malt that incorporates local ingredients for a distinctly unique character. Aromas of malted grain, honey, orange zest, mild smoke and a hint of brine give way to flavours of vanilla/mocha, pear, cocoa powder and toasted nuts wrapped into a rich, viscous palate. Simply put: wow.
Far on the other side of the country, British Columbia’s Okanagan Spirits Craft Distillery is also serious when it comes to distilling small-batch whiskies with an emphasis on the terroir of regional grains. Its BRBN “Family Reserve” (750mL, 40% ABV, $60) and BLK BRBN “Limited Edition” (750ml, 54% ABV, $80), though obviously paying homage to their south-of-the-border cousins, come off as decidedly different. The former leads with dark berry/plum notes with some citrus, vanilla, and a hint of polished wood on the finish. The latter is dry, assertive, and peppery with cherry compote, caramel corn, charred wood, and candied citrus peel both on the nose and in the mouth. Laird of Fintry Single Malt Rum Barrel Finish (750ml, 42% ABV, $75) pays tribute to BC’s coastal heritage and features an intriguing aromatic collage suggesting banana, black cherry, browned butter, and nutmeg, all of which resolve onto a palate that is fruity, malty, and mildly spicy on the tail end.
American whiskey, historically, was rye-based as opposed to the largely corn-based bourbons of today. The Redemption line of bourbons aims to offer a “rye revival” – spirits based on the high-rye content whiskies of US yore. Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey (750ml, 42% ABV, $50) employs a mash bill of 21 per cent rye (pretty high by bourbon standards), while the Redemption Straight Rye Whiskey (750ml, 46% ABV, $50) takes this up to a full 95 per cent rye. The Bourbon, with its predominantly corn component, comes off as the slightly sweeter, mellower, more caramel-tinged of the two, whereas the Rye carries more of the classic sharp, spicy, dusty, citrus-tinged rye character. If you find most American whiskies to be a bit too sweet and caramel/wood-infused, Redemption’s duo might offer a worthy alternative.
If your distillery was founded in 1779, it may well be sitting on some very nicely matured older stock with which to create your art. The Art of Time® is the motto of Scotland’s Bowmore Distillery, and the Islay-based whisky institution certainly has some mature old stock with which to create new blends. The Bowmore Master’s Selection 21-Year-Old, Edition 1 (700ml, 52% ABV, $500) is, well, mind-blowing. It’s always worth remembering that when it comes to scotch, the age statement given represents the youngest spirit in the blend, so who knows how far back some of the component whiskies in this one go (okay, the master blender obviously knows). The nose is captivating, complex, and all-encompassing with layers of integrated peat smoke, kelp/brine, heather honey, chocolate-orange, and that certain Bowmore “something” (which is hard to nail down, but traverses the entire Bowmore range). Intense yet gentle. Viscous and silky. An integrated spice medley wrapped in a saline, woodsmoke-laced corset, with a near never-ending finish. Sipping this is – I would imagine – akin to sipping tears of a (somewhat naughty) angel.