Spirits of Calgary: Buffalo Trace Tasting @ One18 Empire

1 06 2018

By Tyler Derksen

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Drew Mayville of Buffalo Trace.

It’s not every Wednesday that I get to leave work in the middle of the day to try nine whiskeys (if you’re being pedantic, actually eight whiskeys and one whisky, as the spelling of the spirit varies with its location of production), but this past Wednesday was one of those days.  I had the absolute pleasure to attend a tasting of Sazerac offerings chaired by Buffalo Trace’s Master Blender, Drew Mayville.  Buffalo Trace is part of the larger Sazerac company, whose myriad of other brands we also got to enjoy.  While the whiskey was the star of the show, it was Drew’s presentation and engagement with the subject matter and with all of us that really made the tasting special.  Drew is a Canadian who began his career in spirits at the Seagram’s plant in Waterloo, Ont. in 1980, eventually becoming the company’s fourth ever Master Blender.  After Seagram ceased to be, Drew then took his talents to Buffalo Trace, which at the time he joined was a relative unknown in the whiskey world, a fact that is hard to believe now that it has earned over 500 awards nationally and internationally over the last decade.

Drew’s passion for whiskey was readily apparent.  As Buffalo Trace’s current Master Blender, it is his job to take the aged spirits created by the Master Distiller and weave them into both established product lines and new and exciting projects.  Drew’s favourite whiskey is “the one he hasn’t made yet”.  In answer to the follow-up question “how do you make a better whiskey?”, Drew immediately said, “I don’t know”, reflecting his continuous stretch for further improvement.  Perhaps my biggest takeaway was Drew’s love of experimentation, embraced by both Buffalo Trace and Sazerac, which has created at least 50 different bottling “experiments” since 2006.  He freely acknowledges that not all of the experiments are successful and lead to new product lines, but this adventurous spirit is part of the fabric of Sazerac.  This is all the more impressive when one considers the extended aging process in the creation of whiskey.  Sazerac has even built a warehouse, Warehouse X, solely for the purpose of manipulating the many variables that go into the creation of whiskey (including light, temperature, air flow, wood grain, and others) to better understand the impact of those variables on the finished product and to use that knowledge to create that elusive “better whiskey”.

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Drew’s other point of emphasis was the recipe for the whiskey, which he came back to with each successive whiskey we tried.  Buffalo Trace’s bourbons are made of a combination of 6 main ingredients (Drew would never tell us exactly how much of each).  First, any bourbon must legally be made from at least 51% corn, which gives the spirit its sweet and fruity characteristics.  Next is rye, which adds spice, pepper and herbaceous notes.  Third is barley malt, which doesn’t add flavour so much as enzymes vital to the fermentation process.  As an alternative to rye, wheat can also be used, but this is far less common and wheat bourbons make up less than 5% of the overall spirit created.  Add limestone-filtered water and yeast and you’re almost finished.  The one ingredient that is not often talked about with bourbon, but that has a profound impact on its character, is time.  As was made clear when we started sampling, Buffalo Trace ages its whiskey longer than many of its competitors.  Speaking of sampling, now would be a good time to shine a spotlight on the fantastic whiskeys we tried. Read the rest of this entry »

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 25

25 12 2017

Merry Christmas!  I am NOT blogging tomorrow.

49 different reviews, covering two totally different types of drinks and written by 4 different people, have now been posted on this site in the month of December.  It has been the most Herculean effort in the history of Pop & Pour and I’m unabashedly thrilled to be at the other end of it, but as these things always are, it has also been rewarding without measure.  It’s been a new experience to blog with others and share this space with alternate viewpoints and different frames of tasting reference, but to also be able to share what goes into getting something down on paper and then up on the site has felt like a weight off my shoulders, and when those other authors contribute as consistently and impressively as Tyler Derksen has, the burden lifts even further.  Massive thanks to Tyler for a killer blogging debut.

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Our Christmas reward.

I usually round off the KWM Whisky Advent experience with two things:  a heartfelt kudos to Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market team for somehow making this remain fresh and interesting year after year, and the list of my top whiskies of the calendar.  I emphasize the first even more than usual this year, because the breadth and diversity of whiskies in 2017 surpassed any previous year I’ve tasted through, lacking only (IMO) something from Japan to round out the lineup – maybe next year?  I may de-emphasize the second this time around, because my whisky podium for this calendar ended up decidedly weird.  But I’m sticking with it, because that’s what you do with traditions.  Here goes.

  • Best Value Dram:  Glengoyne 15 Year (Day 21) — An utterly delicious 15 Year Single Malt Scotch, from a distillery that once invaded Islay as a marketing ploy, for $77?  In.
  • Honourable Mention:  Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 Caol Ila (Day 5) — Tyler gave the most props to this out of his lineup of whiskies, and Caol Ila is one of both of our favourite distilleries, somehow managing to balance Islay peat and surrounding flavour just right time and again.
  • Honourable Mention 2:  Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Day 18) — Look.  I may have been in an apocalyptic mood while drinking this whisky; it may also be that this whisky inevitably puts anyone drinking it in an apocalyptic mood.  Ardbeg is decidedly not my thing, but a week later I can objectively recognize that this was the most layered, Ardbeg-est Ardbeg I have come across.  I will never buy it.
  • 3rd Place:  Cadenhead’s Dailuaine-Glenlivet 12 Year (Day 1) — This was as rugged and rustic as a lumberjack living on the beach, but there was something gripping and honest about it that I still remember 24 days later.
  • 2nd Place:  Hyde 1938 No. 6 Black Label Special Reserve (Day 6) — The best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had?  Almost assuredly.  Hyde keeps impressing calendar after calendar, and this was the most complex and noteworthy thing I’ve had from them.
  • 1st Place:  Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky (Day 11) — OK, I’m seriously not trying to make this a Whisky Bible/Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye thing, and I’m not sure I would say that, if I blind-tasted all 24 calendar whiskies side-by-side, I would rate this as objectively the best one.  BUT:  without a shadow of a doubt, it incinerated my expectations far more than anything else I tasted in December, possibly in all of 2017.  Since Day 11 ended, I have gone back to KWM to buy more Shelter Point because it opened my eyes to the promise of Canadian whisky to such a degree.  And that is why it is my winner for 2017.

If you vehemently disagree with the above, just remember that I have no real qualification or standing to be evaluating whiskies.  Let me know what your top 3 was for #KWMWhiskyAdvent 2017! Read the rest of this entry »





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

First of all:  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Thanks for following along down this long and windy Whisky Advent road — it’s been a thrill to discover and discuss these incredible whiskies along with you!  Second of all:  UGGGGHHHHHH.  I had thought that I might be able to skate through the 2017 calendar without encountering my nemesis distillery, the one I admire in so many ways but can’t quite wrap my head around hedonistically, the one featured in FIVE prior hopeful but ultimately unhappy PnP whisky reviews from calendars past.  I had thought that by reaching the prestige cardboard door #24 I would be officially safe.  I was wrong.  Kilchoman is BACK.

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Advent cannot escape.

To be clear, this is probably very good news for most calendar drinkers, and certainly most whisky connoisseurs.  Kilchoman is a fascinating new distillery, the first that has opened its doors on Islay in over a century (during which time a great deal many of them shut down or were bulldozed), and one of the only ones that plants and farms its own grains (as noted with respect to Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point and its identical approach on Day 11).  This particular bottling of Kilchoman is also a special, exclusive one:  retailing for $200, it is a KWM-selected 25th Anniversary Single Cask, and also the first 10 Year Kilchoman for sale anywhere in Canada (not a huge surprise, since the producer is only 12 years old).  Only 212 full-size bottles — and obviously 380-odd tiny sample bottles — were made out of Kilchoman Cask 255 of 2007, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and clocking in at 56.6% abv.  I would be more hopeful were it not for the fact that this is the third straight Advent Calendar with a Kilchoman Single Cask in it, and no prior one has turned me around (see here, here, here, here and here if you’re a masochist).

The Kilchoman 10 Year KWM Single Cask is a strange aromatic mix of the refined and the rugged, peaches and cream on top of oily peat, a delicacy in a longshoreman’s vessel.  Tar, pitch, pepper and dank undergrowth roil around, with some of Bourbon’s friendly maple and vanilla trying to peek through.  That off-putting (to me) cheesy Parmesan-rind funk that I’ve come to associate with Kilchoman is the first thing that hits on the tongue, followed by heavy briny peat, scorched apple, iodine, liniment, charcoal and grime; anise and melted plastic predominate the finish.  The complexity is all there, the flavours impressively layered, and any Kilchoman fan will likely find this their finest hour.  It still just misses me, unfortunately.  It’s not you, Kilchoman, it’s me.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As all good things must end, so too does my tenure as guest blogger for Pop & Pour and this year’s KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these eight (as of today) whiskies with me.  My final whisky of this calendar, the Gordon & MacPhail’s Collection Highland Park 8 Years Old, ties back to a number of the previous seven I have written up in a number of ways.  First, as with my first write up on Day 5 (the Caol Ila) and Day 13 (the Balblair), this whisky comes to us from independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (the Balblair was also part of the MacPhail’s Collection).  Second, including today, exactly half of the whisky that I pulled from the Whisky Advent Calendar come from a Scottish island.

Highland Park Distillery is located on one of the Orkney Islands, a collection of over seventy islands north of mainland Scotland (only twenty of which are inhabited).  The Orkneys were conquered by Vikings from Norway in the late 800s and were a staging ground for their raiding efforts in Britain, and they did not become part of Scotland officially again until 1472.  Located where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are exposed to such severe weather that no trees grow there.

The main island of the archipelago is fittingly called The Mainland and it is in the burgh of Kirkwall on The Mainland that Highland Park is located.  The distillery smokes its barley over 9000 year-old peat cut from Hobbister Moor (and has done so for over 220 years).   Their newest kiln is over 100 years old!  Highland Park embraces the islands’ Viking heritage and its founder, Magnus Eunson, was a direct Viking descendant and sounds like he could have a show on the History Network as well.  By day, Magnus was a mild-mannered butcher and church officer, but by night he was a smuggler who set up an illicit still at High Park.  The Highland Park distillery claims 1798 as its official date of foundation, but that was merely the year that Magnus was finally caught – whisky was being distilled at High Park before that.  Highland Park’s Viking heritage can also be seen in many of its bottlings, including Valkyrie, Voyage of the Raven, Thor, Freya and Loki – the latter three being part of the Valhalla Collection with phenomenal wood packaging.

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The Highland Park 8 Years Old is a pale straw in the glass and is bottled at a restrained 43%.  The nose smells of malt, apple, vanilla, as well as peat and brine which call back to the whisky’s island birthplace.  The palate is a wonderful combination of leather, wood, smoke, sea salt, pepper and a bit of honey.  For only 8 years of age, this whisky has a remarkable depth and I could definitely see myself drinking it on a longship on the way to sack a coastal English monastery.  Skol!

Merry Christmas everyone!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 22

22 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

For those of you that have been following along at home as Peter and I have explored each of the whiskies thus far in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, you will note that there has been a wide variety of offerings from a number of different countries.  It is a testament to the hard work of Andrew Ferguson and Kensington Wine Market that there have been no duplicate producers…that is, until tonight.  It was with a sense of excitement and trepidation that I reached through the little cardboard door and found a familiar cylindrical container.  Glenfiddich.  Again.  Of all of the whisky that I have tried this Advent season, it was the Glenfiddich 15 that has most disappointed.  As I said back on Day 10, that is not to say that it is a bad whisky, I just think it tries too hard to appeal to too many people and sacrifices character for such mass appeal.

Just as one must seek out the opinions or views of those with whom they disagree in order to grow intellectually, so too must one be willing to try all kinds of whisky in order to grow as an uisgeophile.  I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to purchase a bottle of Glenfiddich, so I looked forward to sampling a new offering.  Today’s whisky is the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old Small Batch Reserve, which is the most aged whisky I’ve tried from the distillery.

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This Glenfiddich 18 was aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and American oak and each batch is individually numbered (apparently only on full-sized bottles, as the 40 ml sampler doesn’t have a number).  In doing some research on how this whisky was made, Glenfiddich once again uses the word “consistency” in its marketing.  Sigh.

The colour was a golden colour in the glass with a fascinating ring around the outside that looked almost clear.  The nose was much more pronounced than the 15 Year I tried a couple of weeks ago.  The sherry cask influence comes through clearly on the nose, with dried fruit taking centre stage along with oatmeal raisin cookie, cinnamon, vanilla, sawdust and a spritz of citrus.  I needn’t have been so concerned about the looming spectre of “consistency”, as the flavour was actually quite enjoyable.  The palate was brighter than expected, with flavours of vanilla, orange, pear and baking spices.  Despite being bottled at the same 40% as the 15 Year Old Solera, this whisky has a nice slow burn to follow the bright palate, which was unexpected but appreciated.  Overall, this whisky certainly exceeded my (admittedly tempered) expectations and I’m glad of the opportunity to try it.

 





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

Our 21st day of whisky; our 6th Glen, giving us a Glen percentage of 28.6%.  Not too shabby.  If you’re counting at home, it’s been:  Dailuaine-Glenlivet (Day 1 – sort of a cheater Glen), Glentauchers (Day 8), Glenmorangie (Day 9), Glenfiddich (Day 10), Glenglassaugh (Day 15), and now today’s Glengoyne, a Highland distillery whose 18 Year Single Malt graced last year’s calendar on Day 12.  I wasn’t much of a fan back then, but for tonight’s 15 Year I am much more enthused.  Glengoyne got its start illegally, distilling scotch surreptitiously in the 1820s for tax avoidance purposes before deciding to go legit a decade later.  Around that time, they signed the contract of the (19th) century, lining up a 99-year lease for the pure spring water of the adjacent burn for the measly sum of £8!!  That would be £5,000 or so in today’s currency, but still – that’s a century of water.  They have obviously retained their colourful spirit (no pun intended) into modern times:  in 2004 they rented a pirate ship and landed in the harbour at the Islay Whisky Festival with a hold full of unpeated whisky, just to be contrarian.  You almost have to like them just for that.

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The Glengoyne 15 Year is a gorgeous shimmering amber colour and comes out firing with an aromatic barrage of burnt orange peel, clove, all-spice, carrot cake and tennis balls, immediately announcing itself as more forward and somehow more developed than its 18 Year sibling from last year.  Perhaps it’s the first-fill Bourbon barrel aging before the Glengoyne mandatory sherry cask finish on this bottle, but whatever the reason, it hits the tongue loaded with sweet comfort food flavour, a rich and warm blend of Cabane à Sucre (frozen maple), treacle, butter tarts, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Golden Grahams.  The decade and a half in barrel left this mellow and loaded with confectionary depth, making it a joyous breeze to drink and a stellar value at $77.  Four more days!!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

Tyler and I have repeatedly lauded the 2017 version of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar for its diversity and novelty, for giving new whiskies and new brands who have never before graced the inside of a decorative Christmas countdown box an opportunity to shine.  Tonight’s whisky is – not an example of that.  If there is one label that is a common denominator of every Whisky Advent Calendar I’ve drank my way through, it is most definitely the Connoisseurs Choice line from massive independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, as seen on Day 5 this year and in at least a half dozen other incarnations in calendars past.  Day 10 of 2015 featured an 18 Year malt from a G&M CC bottling of a relatively obscure distillery called Auchroisk, and tonight we get its younger brother, an 11 Year distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2016 under a highly questionable scrubs-green label colour scheme.  Auchroisk is not often seen bottled under its own name but is generally known to produce fruitier whiskies due to its use of taller, slender-necked stills, which tend to result in a lighter spirit during distillation.

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Totally not sold on the hospital green colour scheme for this CC label.

The 2005 bottling doesn’t appear at all on the comprehensive Gordon & MacPhail website (which shows over 150 different Connoisseurs Choice whiskies), but it appears to have been matured in American hogsheads and retails for around $100 (it’s also not on KWM’s website, making it doubly difficult to research).  It is a friendly Labrador Retriever of a scotch from the get-go, immediately presenting with easy and appealing aromas of bananas foster, cinnamon, rum raisin cake, honey and celery root/lemongrass.  Fresh, rich and floral on the palate, it melds peach and cantaloupe fruit with honeycomb and vanilla bean creaminess, not overly expansive or complex but pleasantly direct and unabashedly charming.  A worthy CC dram, though hopefully the last we’ll see of G&M until 2018.








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