It should come as no surprise that sales (I did not say consumption) of beverage alcohol products have increased over the course of the
Zombie Apocalypse COVID-19 pandemic. It also seems that consumers are buying (I did not say drinking), on average, higher end hootch (with all the money that’s not being spent outside the house). Brown spirits have always made up the luxury end of the drinks category, and the winter months have typically been the time they are most enjoyed. So, to carry you through into a (hopefully) brighter 2022, some considerations for your snifter, tumbler, or tasting glass. (All bottles are 750mL unless otherwise indicated.)
Aberfeldy 18 Year Old Pauillac Cask Finish $185
This is the second red wine-finished expression from Aberfeldy (the first being a 15 Year Old in Pomerol cask, the third, an 18 Year Old finished in Côte-Rôtie casks). This version, finished with four to five months in Pauillac casks, sports distinctive black berry/black cherry/black raspberry nuances, along with the honeyed, praline, caramel/vanilla aromatic profile typical of Aberfeldy’s malts. These lead to a complex intermingling of flavours that seem to bounce back and forth between classic Highland malt and fruity eau-de-vie. An engaging whisky that somehow manages to be at once unique and traditional.
Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye Whisky $85
The annual release of this Limited Edition award-winning rye bomb clocks in at muscular 63.7 per cent ABV. Not for the timid (and definitely benefitting from a dollop of water), this is a bold, punchy whisky driven by spicy rye notes, vanilla nuances and some dark berry aromas. Spicy and assertive in the mouth, but not without some gentleness and delicacy woven in. Though it may not be quite as seamless as last year’s outstanding offering, this is a truly iconic Canadian whisky that confidently hoists the flag for our county’s contribution to the world of classic spirits.
Bowmore 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky $65
If I had a “house scotch” (and maybe it’s about time I did), Bowmore 12 would be it. Not as overtly peaty as some other Islay malts, but nonetheless smoky, briny, and with a character that defines the Bowmore style – at once powerful and assertive, yet surprisingly gentle, with distinct sweet citrus fruit and chocolate flavours intermingled amongst the muscle. If you want to pamper yourself over the holidays, consider trading up to the 15 Years Old ($105) or 18 Years Old ($160) expressions (same Bowmore character, with added layers of complexity). You could also consider the 1965 52 Years Old for a mere $52,000 (700mL).
Highland Park 15 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky $150
In my books, Highland Park can do very little (if anything) wrong, and this 15-year-old doesn’t change my opinion…at all. The trademark HP aromatic profile – a hint of sherry, heather, mild smoke and briny sea spray (with some milk chocolate and candied almond) is here in spades, and all the aromatic elements weave together on the palate in a wonderfully integrated tapestry of ripe fruit, malt, subtle smoke and gentle spice that lingers on and on.
Highland Park Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky Release No.2 $140
Without dilution, the nose of this 63.3 pr cent ABV beastie is just a tad on the hot side – no real surprise there. Just a slight dilution allows elements to balance out nicely, with characteristic HP heather, honey, brine and mild peat smoke emerging. This is (depending on how much dilution you prefer) a punchy, powerful, assertive and spicy dram that warms you to the core. More dilution smooths things out considerably – which is part of the allure of cask strength spirits. Not quite as complex or refined as the 15 Year Old, it shows the younger, brasher, louder side of what is generally a gentler malt.
Nikka Whisky From The Barrel (500mL) $70
More than 100 batches of malt and grain from the Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries go into this coveted Japanese whisky from one of the country’s leading distillers. Once blended, the whisky spends an additional few months “marrying” in oak casks before being bottled at 51.4 per cent ABV. Dried fruit and floral notes intermingle with a touch of buckwheat honey, hay and toasted grain that reemerge on the palate. Definitely assertive, but with impeccable balance, this is a distinctive, “whisky lover’s whisky” that is worth seeking out.
Bridgeland Distillery Taber Corn Berbon (Batch 6; bottle 126, 500mL) $48
The corn harvested from fields around the town of Taber, Alberta, is regarded by many as the finest in the world. This small-batch whisky, distilled from Taber corn (60 per cent, along with barley and wheat) and matured in new, American oak barrels, may cleverly be called “berbon,” but it’s considerably different (and lighter) than most of its American counterparts. There’s a nice, buttered/creamed corn element on the nose, along with hard toffee and a dusting of vanilla. Decidedly spicy (black pepper), with charred oak and a fresh, grassy element on the palate, it’s overall quite gentle considering its 45 per cent ABV strength.
Canadian Club Chronicles “This Whisky Sixes” 44 Years Old Canadian Whisky $330
While on the subject of astonishing Canadian whiskies, Canadian Club’s “Chronicles” series – starting officially with the 41 Years Old (though a 40 Years Old expression was previously released) – represents the royalty of our country’s signature distillate. This edition represents the oldest age-stated Canadian whisky ever made available for sale. Subtle yet complex on the nose, with vanilla, a touch of apple, some creme brûlée. In the mouth you’ll experience a collage of earth, spice, buckwheat honey, dried citrus fruit, and plum that give way to a long, slightly peppery finish.
The Macallan “A Night On Earth In Scotland” Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky $175
A special seasonal release that celebrates Hogmany – the Scottish New Year – with packaging designed by Japanese-French illustrator Erica Dorn. Textbook The Macallan on the nose, with browned butter, candied almond, apple crumble and baking spice – all of which carry onto the warm, silky palate that’s redolent of fruitcake, marzipan, cocoa and sherry.
Kinsip Cooper’s Revival Canadian Rye Whisky $60
Kinsip House of Fine Spirits is a boutique distiller in Ontario’s Prince Edward County that obviously (and gloriously) has no interest in appealing to the “bland is beautiful” set. This is a bold whisky indeed, crafted mostly from (very) local rye and matured in charred ex-red wine barrels. Loads of spicy/dusty/leathery rye grain aromas combine with some dark plum and tobacco leaf undertones, with a dash of herbal/forest floor. Distinctive, earthy flavours combine with dark fruit and wild herb flavours that persist on the caramel and smoke-tinged finish.
Nikka Whisky Yoichi Single Malt (700mL) $94
This superb single malt kicks off with a mild whiff of peat on the nose, enhanced with some briny, slightly woody and decidedly floral, liquorice root overtones that mingle and develop with air and a drop or two of water. Smoke, spice, wild herbs, plum, red apple, malted grain…where does it stop? The finish certainly doesn’t stop, but continues to build on a peat-smoke/sea spray and anise coattails that finally expire almost a full minute after swallowing.
Writers’ Tears Copper Pot Inniskillin Ice Wine Cask Finish Irish Whiskey (700mL) $100
This limited edition expression of Writers’ Tearssports intense, exotic aromas suggesting sweet, ripe apricot and tropical fruit, with subtle honeyed nuances, an underpinning of malted grain, a dusting of cocoa powder and a dash of baking spice. Beautifully balanced in the mouth, it features a seamless integration of fruity grape and malted grain, with hints of ginger, clove, toasted nuts and spice, all of which persist on the incredibly long finish. It took the Best Blended Whiskey Limited Release title at the Irish Whiskey Awards 2021.
Appleton Estate 15 Year Old Black River Casks $80
“Black River Casks” pay homage to the Black River that runs though Jamaica’s Nassau Valley and which supplies the limestone-filtered water used by the distillery. Essentially the “upper tier” of the core Appleton range, you can expect an aromatic compilation of tropical fruit, candied orange peel, ginger, a trace of molasses, and just a bare whiff of acetate. Full-bodied and rich, with flavours of fruitcake, marmalade, vanilla, hazelnut, and coffee, all of which segue nicely into a long, spice-tinged finish.
Bacardí Ocho Reserva Sherry Cask Finish $37
The household name in rum continues to explore premium options, including this limited edition sherry cask finish. Loads of “holiday” aromas here, with nutmeg, orange peel, vanilla, cocoa, caramel and sultana. Rich and decadent in the mouth, it delivers layers of warm spice, toasted nuts, raisin pie and toffee before trailing off in a long, silky finish. Good value.
Diplomatico Mantuano $44
The rums from this Venezuelan distiller tend to carry a subtle – and balanced – sweetness, giving them a lush, luxurious quality. This expression is no exception, with its intense nose of butterscotch, dried fruit and marmalade. Flavours lean towards mocha, baking spice, citrus compote and caramel. A fireside sipper for sure that would also work in classic rum-based cocktails.
Kinsip Dark Waters Rum $60
Looking for a rum that’s sweet, candied, and fat – this ain’t that! The aromatic profile leans towards dried fruit, vanilla extract, caramel, and a slight suggestion of chamomile. Dry, spicy, and bracing in the mouth, with the 45 per cent ABV enhancing the overall intensity, and the cinnamon heart candy on the finish (with a dollop of flambéed banana), this is a rum that takes a decidedly different – a very welcome – tack from the commercial dark rums most of us are probably familiar with. The style is more reminiscent of some of the small-batch Barbados rums I’ve encountered.
Nickel9 Distillery Island Diaz Spiced Rum (375ml) $40
Nickel9 is a boutique distillery located in Toronto. It specializes in distinctive small-batch spirits crafted using local ingredients. This three-year-old spiced rum delivers ultra-intense baking spice aromatics – a virtual gingerbread house in liquid form – with hints of clove and nutmeg. In the mouth, this spirit is certainly more about spice than rum (though at 44.4 per cent ABV, the rum is certainly there). Warm and viscous, it delivers bold, cayenne pepper-tinged ginger flavours that linger on the warm, peppery finish. Great label.
Bridgeland Distillery Eau De Vigne (Grappolo from Gewurztraminer; Batch 3; bottle 273; 375ml) $49
Calgary’s Bridgeland Distillery has picked up a slew of medals and was honoured as Alberta Distillery of the Year at the first Alberta Spirits Awards. Though you likely won’t find its products outside of Alberta, keep your eyes open for the distillery’s distinctive cube-shaped bottles. This spirit is surprising (in a very good way) on a couple of levels. First, a grappa from Alberta. Right. Then, a grappa distilled from Gewurztraminer. Really? But it so works. The nose is fresh and forward with notes of rosewater layered over a bed of slightly funky, earthy, tobacco leaf aromatics. Spicy, fruity, earthy, and pretty bold in the mouth, with lychee fruit intermingling with earthy caramel, leading to a zingy, zippy, peppery finish that lingers warmly. Hard to believe this is Canadian…it’s just so Italian.
Bridgeland Distillery Moscato Brandy (Batch 4; bottle 80; 375ml) $46
Crisp and forward, with an intriguing combination of fruity/savoury aromatic notes with a hint of sappy wood. Nicely viscous in the mouth, with lively spicy/fruity flavours that linger, with a mild dash of white pepper, ginger and clove on the finish. Warming and well-rounded.
Nickel9 Distillery Golden Temple Canadian Apple Brandy (Batch 87; bottle 640; 500ml) $80.00
Considering their abundance in Canada, I’ve always wondered why more distilleries haven’t taken a shot at an apple brandy. Nickel9 Distillery has stepped to the plate with its Calvados-inspired apple brandy. The nose offers up caramel, vanilla, and cider barrel lead into vaguely earthy, caramel apple-laced flavours. As with all Nickel9 spirits, the packaging is as unique as the product (though perhaps a tad hard on aging eyes – by squinting and turning the bottle just so I noticed this is bottled at a pretty high proof: 52.5 per cent ABV).
St-Rémy Signature $43
For her first original creation, St-Rémy Master Blender, Cécile Roudaut chose to give her Signature expression additional maturation in small, virgin oak barrels. The result is an elegant, lighter-style brandy that ditches the harshness and heat that sometimes plague traditional brandies. Expect some bright, fresh tropical fruit notes underpinned with hints of marzipan and nougat. Mid-weight and crisp, it shows a delicate fruit/spice/nutty interplay in the mouth, with lively yet mild cayenne pepper end notes.
Stock 84 Riserva (1140mL) $42
This Czech Republic spirit is generally referred to as a “brandy,” though it’s hard to really put it in that category considering one of the ingredients listed is, in fact, brandy (along with almonds and walnuts). Maybe it’s kind of like Greek Metaxa – sort of a “brandy plus” thing. Whatever it is, it’s a nice winter warmer, offering up suggestions of polished wood, dried apricot, and milk chocolate and an extremely balanced mouthfeel with nuances of caramelized citrus fruit, a slight sweetness and a bare hint of “rancio.”
Luxardo Amaretto Di Saschira $28
Producers of Amaretto can use a variety of flavouring ingredients to achieve the classic fruity/nutty profile. Luxardo’s blenders use a combination of the leaves, stems, pits and skins of the unique Marasca cherry, with the pips lending the distinctive almond-like overtone. Sweet and unctuous for sure, but with a balancing touch of bitterness and acidity. Try a shot (or two) in your (holiday morning?) coffee.
Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey $50
While it probably won’t do it for diehard whisk(e)y geeks, there’s no denying the drinkability of this off-the-wall number that has actually been flying off liquor store shelves. The peanut aroma and flavour is certainly there, but not in an overpowering way, rounded out with some suggestions of caramel, vanilla, hazelnut and more serious, spicy, whiskey notes.