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A Competition of Canadian Clubs, Regular Release vs Sherry Cask

Posted on by Eric Burke

December 1, 2013 was an interesting day for me. I was driving from Indiananpolis to Minnesota. 

This is not the interesting part.

I had been scheduled to take part in an online Twitter tasting going by the name #DavinTT2 but obviously couldn’t take part due to that aforementioned driving. The group had two whiskies to sample and I had tasted mine the previous evening in order to have notes ready to tweet out during the event. I had really liked both of them and was excited to find out what they were, what other thought of them and most importantly if I could get them in the US.

Due to extremely intermittent internet connectivity (thank you AT&T for seemingly not building a tower along a large stretch of Interstate 94 between Madison and Eau Claire, Wisconsin) I found out what the second whisky was first. And that it was a Canada only release. Drat.

The first one, I didn’t like as much as the second, but I still liked it enough to search out if available in the US for a decent price. Imagine my delighted surprise when I found out that it was Canadian Club Sherry Cask. I’d seen that practically everywhere. 

I’d seen it everywhere but had dismissed it in large part due to the fact that it was Canadian Club. I had a vague recollection of not caring for Canadian Club back when I was young and very much not into whiskey.

It’s amazing how old prejudices stick with you even when you’ve forgotten why you have them. Isn’t it? But that’s the value of blind tasting. I knew these whiskies were from Canada but that was it. It got me to taste something I had literally passed over dozens of times. And I liked it. Now I just needed to find it so I could taste more than an ounce and see if I really liked it.

I ran to the store once I got home and…they were out. Odd. I looked at the other stores I frequent. They were out or didn’t carry it. What the hell? I looked every time I stopped at a liquor store. Nothing. It got so bad that I finally ended up grabbing a bottle at Binny’s on my next vacation. Of course, when I got home, it was everywhere. And cheaper. 

Knowing that this was a tasty drink got me to wondering what the regular release tasted like. Was it something that I might want to keep on hand? I mean, it’s cheap enough. I bought a bottle to sip on during the Mad Men season premier this year. It was tasty enough. So now I had two Canadian Club whiskies. One that went for almost $30 and one that went for about $15. Was one twice as good as the other?

Canadian Club

Purchase info: $14.99 for 750mL at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: 40% ABV

Nose: Delicate nose with notes of ripe cherries, wet stone and dusty old wood

Mouth: silky texture with a malt-like sweetness. It has strong floral notes. There is a bit of mineral flavor along the sides of the tongue.

Finish: Sweet and gentle, but with just enough heat to subtly remind you you are drinking whisky.

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Thoughts: There is absolutely nothing wrong with this whisky. And, if you love delicate flavors, I can see this being a nice inexpensive bottle to keep on hand. I prefer my whisky to be a bit more in-your-face and not so eager to please so, although I wouldn’t turn down a glass if offered, I doubt I’ll be buying this one again.

Canadian Club Small Batch: Sherry Cask

Purchase info: $29.99 for a 750mL at Binny’s, Bloomington, IL

Details: 41.3% ABV. Batch: C12-232

Nose: Floral soapiness, wet stone, dusty wood, sweet caramel and raisins.

Mouth: Thick and sweet. Fruity caramel paired with dark chocolate. 

Finish: Sweet and of a decent length. Lingering fruitiness that fades to bitter. Dries the mouth nicely.

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Thoughts: This is a good conversation whisky. Buy it to have with your friends for those times you’d rather think about your friends than your whisky. It’s not a complicated whisky, but I like it. Just not for every pour.

In the end, the Sherry Cask is better than the regular release. Is it twice as good? No. But then whisky math is seldom that straightforward. If I pick this up again it will be as a change of pace whisky. It doesn’t perfectly line up with my palate, but it’s not far enough off that I wouldn’t want a glass now and then.

Read This: Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh

Posted on by Eric Burke

Tonight is a night for a cocktail. It’s a warm, but not too warm, summer evening and I’m in the mood for something a little off of the beaten path. Something cold and refreshing, but strong enough to cut through the last bit of the cold I’ve been fighting this week.

I have a lot of cocktail books on the shelf. It’s easy to get excited by them while I’m out shopping. Excited to the point that I forget that my prefered method of imbibing usually consists of only a whiskey and a glass. So yes, there are a lot there. And I’ll admit, most never end up getting read. Just as a cookbook doesn’t make a very interesting read, neither does a cocktail recipe book. Unless it brings something to the table beyond the recipe. 

To me a cocktail book worth reading has a few things between it’s covers. Obviously it needs tasty sounding drinks. That’s a given. To me it should also have a bit about each drink. It’s history, where it comes from or even why it works. I like to learn. It should also be entertaining. There is seriously no reason why you shouldn’t have fun reading about things that will help you have fun.

Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh is all of these things. It is entertaining. The preface hooked me. I loved the history section. And the anecdotes about the cocktails included often brought a smile to my face. I learned a lot. Both about the history of the cocktail and about why certain drink work as well as they do. And it has tasty sounding drinks. Though very few where I won’t need to go shopping before I start mixing. In fact, there was only one drink in the entire book that I could make for myself tonight. The Pegu Club. (Yes. I happened to be out of vermouth. So no, there were no boulevardiers. Which is ok as that is the only drink in the book I’d had before.)

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I enjoyed the heck out of it. Both the drink and the book. One thing I liked especially liked about the book was it's binding. It has a large spiral binding covered by a hard backing. This is a book designed to lay flat. This is a book meant to be used. I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in old cocktails, fans of historical bottles or advertisements or anyone who might want to make an extra special shopping trip to pick up the out of the ordinary ingredients that are included in almost every recipe. I look forward to a few of those trips myself.

Purchase info: $19.99 at The Afternoon, Mall of America, Bloomington, MN

Brenne French Single Malt Whisky and an Experiment

Posted on by Eric Burke

I could write an entire article about how much I admire Allison Patel. She’s a blogger at www.whiskywoman.com, entrepreneur, and a whiskey lover. She is also the person behind Brenne, a French Single Malt finished in ex-Cognac casks. 

It’s no secret that I love the people associated with craft spirits. I love the passion and the drive to create something new and innovative. The desire to not only bring people something they haven’t had before, but something that they will want again. In the world of craft spirits, it is commonly held that there are two categories. There are the distillers and the non-distillers. And while this is true, it is simplistic enough of a categorization that non-distillers often all get painted with the same brush. 

And this isn’t a good thing, necessarily. Certainly there are a lot of folks who just go buy something and pretend that it is their own product. But there is another whole group that I would call curators. They find/think up/get their hands on a good product, release it to the world and are justifiably proud of it. This is Allison. She exports American craft products to the world and imports a fantastic French Single Malt to the US.

I love supporting small businesses. Yes, I shop at Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon and Best Buy. I buy my groceries from one of the many SuperValue brands that happen to inhabit the Twin Cities of Minnesota. But I will go out of my way to support a small business if I can. I visit my local hardware store for everything other than a big project. I shop at small local liquors stores about 75% of the time. I like supporting small businesses for the same reason I like supporting craft spirits (also small businesses). Passion and a commitment to what they are doing that you can’t get at Target or Wal-Mart.

So it was with great excitment that as I was searching the Binny’s website before my last vacation I saw that Brenne was in stock in one of the stores I would be passing. I’d been reading about it for a while. the story was facinating and the product sounded intruiging. The main problems were that it wasn’t available in Minnesota and to that point, I hadn’t yet found a malt whiskey that I’d prefer over a bourbon. But I love supporting passion and Allison seemed to have that in spades. So when I saw it on the shelf, I had no hesitation about picking it up.

Brenne French Single Malt

Purchase info: $59.99 for a 750 mL at Binny’s in Bloomington, IL

Details: Barrel#: 257, 40% ABV

Nose: Very fruity with distinct notes of strawberry, melon and peaches followed closely by cooked cereal and honey

Mouth: Slightly syrupy with an initial burst of heat. Subsequent sips follow the nose with strawberry, melon, peaches and honey.

Finish: Lingering fruitiness along with bitter grapefruit pith.

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Thoughts: This qualifies as the first single malt that I liked instead of just tolerating. It is really sweet and as a bourbon drinker, I would like to see that balanced with a bit of spice. But that is just preference. This one is a winner and I plan to pick up another bottle next time I see it.

So ordinarily, this would be the end of the story. I’d pack up my keyboard and get ready to submit this article. But a while back, I noticed a similar melon note between this and the Old Forester Single Barrel that I have open. The rest of the flavors were different, but it got me to thinking. I wonder what these would taste like blended together. Based on the fact that I have multiple bourbons open at one time and that I have a short attention span, I combat the inevitable need to open a new bottle by trying to blend the ones I already have open and see if anything interesting shows itself. 

And this time, boy did it.

50/50 Blend of Old Forester Single Barrel & Brenne French Single Malt

Nose: Baked apple with brown sugar and baking spices along with muted mineral notes

Mouth: Sweet and floral with well balanced brown sugar, floral and spice flavors

Finish: Lingering ripe honeydew melon flavor. Medium length warmth, but long lasting flavor

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Thoughts: This was a really fun experiment. Having tasted both of these seperately before mixing them, it was cool to distinctly taste both of them in the blend. I found it odd that the melon note that brought them together in my head really only presented itself in the finish after blending them together. They played together very nicely though. And though it was not more than the sum of it’s parts, it was another cool way to experience them. Brenne brought fruity sweetness and Old Forester Single Barrel brought richness and spice. I liked it a lot and will be going back to it on occasion.

Two Old Foresters Head to Head, Signature and Single Barrel

Posted on by Eric Burke

I’ve described my last trip through Kentucky as a bit of a let down. Apparently a Sunday in February is as little fun there as it is here in Minnesota. There are good points though. The temperature is nicer for one. Another is that the liquor stores are open so there is a good chance of walking away with something that will make you happy you stopped. My stop at the liquor store involved me picking up the first bottle of Old Forester Single Barrel I ever saw. Old Forester has only offered a private barrel program for a little over a year now and at that point none had made their way up to the frozen north.

I’ve claimed to like Old Forester for a while now. I liked the Signature enough that I’ve recommended it to people instead of Woodford Reserve, though admittedly I only buy it when it’s below $20 and it hasn’t been that for a while. I enjoyed the 86 proof, but remember it as being a little weak. The Birthday Bourbon is good basically every year. So the chance to pick up a Single Barrel version and taste it was a no brainer for me.

Now you may wonder why I used the word “claimed” above. Well I thought that it would be a good idea to taste this along side the one I’ve recommended for so long. You know, see how it stacked up to one that I remembered liking so much. Could it possibly be worth twice the price I used to pay?

Old Forester Signature

Purchase info: $17.99, 750 mL (on sale) MGM Wine & Spirits, Prior Lake, MN

Details: 50% ABV

Nose: brown sugar, dusty oak, cocoa powder and cherry

Mouth: Thin and hot. More bitter than I would have expected from the nose. Flowery. A splash of water helps this, diminishing the heat and bringing out more honey, bitter orange and earthiness.

Finish: Hot, long and flowery. Fades to bitter. Water doesn’t help here. It’s now warm, but short with just a hint of floweriness.

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Thoughts: Hotter and more bitter than my memory led me to believe. Water is a mixed blessing allowing you to taste it through the burning, but killing the finish. I wonder now if I would prefer the 86 proof version as this one is just hot. Meh.

Old Forester Single Barrel

Purchase info: ~$40 with tax for a 750 mL at Westport Whiskey and Wine, Louisville, KY

Details: 45% ABV. Barrel# 2012. Lot ID: 08E30. Barreled: 5/30/08. Dumped: 10/21/13. Bottled 10/23/13. Barrel Proof: 134.2. Warehouse L

Nose: brown sugar, wet stone and a fruity waxiness along with hints of fresh sawn lumber

Mouth: Warm with classic bourbon vanilla/caramel at the front of the mouth. Fruity honeydew melon and spicy ginger appear as it moves back.

Finish: Warm and long with lingering spice and brown sugar sweetness

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Thoughts: Classic bourbon flavors dominate but a nice fruitiness enters partway through as well. My total bill was roughly $40 with tax so not only is it good, but it’s a nice value as well. I like this one.

Now you know where “claimed” came from. I was shocked by the bitterness I encountered on my first sip of Signature. I won’t be recommending the it to people anymore. If they want Woodford, let them spend the money on it. The Single Barrel is good though. And I think it really was worth just less than twice the price of the Signature. It tastes more than twice as good to me.

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition, Port Barrel Finished Bourbon

Posted on by Eric Burke

I have the best wife ever. 

There are a lot of guys that think this. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one that is correct though. To show you why, I’ll need to take you back in time a couple months to Valentine’s Day. We were on vacation in Virginia, looking to see if it was a place that we might want to move someday. It had snowed the night before and the city’s 18 plow trucks had been out for most of the night trying to make the city streets passable. At least they were until two of them tipped over and they gave up. Being hearty Midwesterners, we were out and about early enough to see that there wasn’t really that much snow and that most of it was already turning to slush. 

With our trip around the city’s neighborhoods done by mid-morning we were left looking for something else to fill the time between lunch and our planned Valentine’s night activities. You know: ordering a local pizza and trying a couple amazing local beers while binge-watching Game of Thrones in the hotel room. (That's what you call romance when you've been married for over 16 years.)

I had made a comment on our drive across Virginia that I wished we had made time to stop into the A. Smith Bowman distillery. It’s owned by Sazerac and is the producer of both the Bowman line of bourbons and Virginia Gentleman. We were sitting down to a nice Valentine’s Day lunch of Popeye’s chicken when my wife proved to me, yet again, that she really is the best wife ever by announcing to me that she was taking me up to the distillery for a tour.

We had a good time talking with the tour guide. He kept describing the place as a “microdistillery,” but when questioned about it he admitted that it was part of Sazerac. We had a nice tasting and we bought some souvenirs to take home, a glass and some barrel char in a bag. No bourbon though. They had bourbon to buy, but it was only their standard release stuff. Back at the VABC in Richmond, I had noticed a bottle of a Bowman Special release and I really wanted that instead. 

Abraham Bowman Limited Edition Port Finished Bourbon

Purchase info: $69.99 at Richmond area VABC

Details: 50% ABV. Distilled March 30, 2001. Bottled August 17, 2013.

Nose: Cherries, a peppery tingle, tobacco and hints of sawn oak

Mouth: Sweet and spicy. Reminds me of my mother’s snickerdoodle cookies. Vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. Cherry preserves.

Finish: Warm and peppery with a smoke and fruitiness that just sort of hangs around.

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Thoughts: This is my first Abraham Bowman limited release and based on this, I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on more. It is a very good whiskey. It’s a bit peppery at bottle strength but a splash of water brings out more brown sugar sweetness. 

On our way back to the hotel after the distillery visit we ran back to the VABC to pick up this bottle even though, round-trip, it was a half-hour out of the way. I really do have the best wife ever.