Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: Tasting Notes for the Best Whiskey of 2015

Crown Royal Canadian Whisky Tasting NotesJim Murray releases a Whiskey Bible every year and the 2016 Edition of Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible named a Canadian whiskey as the world’s best.

Not a single Scotch made the top five.

(the top five were Crown Royal Northern harvest Rye, Pikesville Straight Rye, Midleton Dair Ghaelech, William Larue Weller Bourbon 2014, and Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 2014)

The Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye scored 97.5 out of a possible 100 points and he called it a masterpiece.

I don’t know what I’d call it but when I saw it for $28 at the local store, I picked one up.

So what do we know about this before we pop open the bottle? First, a little background on what makes something a Canadian whisky. Canadian whisky tends to be lighter and are blends of multi-grain liquors, most of which will be corn based. Just as in Scotland, it must be aged for at least three years in Canada and be at least 40% in alcohol. Many Canadian whiskies contain rye (albeit sometimes very little) but are not always explicitly labeled as such.

The Northern Harvest Rye has a mashbill with 90% rye and clocks in at 90 proof (45% abv).

Now that we have the accounting out of the way, what’s it like?

Tasting Notes

  • Nose: Light, sugary without much alcohol vapors, rye spice, fruit and caramel
  • Taste: A little sweeter than I expected, not as much spiciness as I expected but has the rye bite I was looking for, cinnamon, molasses, cloves.
  • Finish: Medium finish with a lot of sweetness, bite of rye, and it lingers nicely.

OK so here’s where I get tripped up. It tastes very much like the fall, like the scents of the holidays (Christmas!). Now is that because ’tis the season or is it really like that? I’ve tried this on three separate occasions, with different glasses, to see if my original impressions were right.

They were. This is like a rye designed to be sold during Christmas. It’s kind of unexpected really.

Overall, it’s pretty good. For $28, it represents good value.

I don’t consider it a masterpiece but that’s personal preference. Whereas I love Laphroaig’s Cairdeas expressions, where they finish Laphroaig in desert wine casks to marry the smoke with the sweet, this one is a marriage I’m unsure about. If they got divorced in three years I don’t think anyone would be surprised. 🙂

Personally, I prefer my rye whiskey to have a little more spiciness and bite without the other flavors like molasses, fruit, and cinnamon.

Your thoughts?

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Tasting Notes Review

hibiki-japanese-harmonyIt shocked the world when Jim Murray, author of The Whisky Bible, named The Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as the best whisky in the world. It was the first time, in the 12 year run of The Whisky Bible, that the first place spot didn’t go to a whisky from Scotland. In fact, Murray didn’t put any Scotches in the top five!

Yamazaki is a product of Suntory, which also makes The Hakushu and The Hibiki. Yamazaki and Hakushu are both single malts, Hibiki is their blend and means harmony in Japanese (fitting for a blend). Today, I had the pleasure of sampling Hibiki’s latest no-age statement whisky – Hibiki Japanese Harmony.

In Japanese culture, there’s a reverence of craftsmanship. If you have Netflix, watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it’s a documentary that chronicles the life of 85yo Jiro Ono, considered one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs. He runs a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station and was awarded a 3-star Michelin Guide rating. That’s astounding, until you watch the painstaking detail and world class craftsmanship involved.

I bring that up because harmony with nature is another highly regarded belief, one that’s harder to demonstrate (certainly in a documentary), but that harmony is what Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo was aiming for in the Hibiki Japanese Harmony blend. The best way to give you an idea of what they were trying to achieve actually comes from their manufacturing notes:

Hibiki Japanese Harmony is heralded as the foundation of the Hibiki range, leveraging the same key malt and grain whiskies from the original Hibiki blend, Hibiki 17 Years and Hibiki 21 Years. American White Oak malt whiskies create a solid base. The rare Mizunara (Japanese oak) and sherry cask malt whiskies are the dressing. The smoky malt whiskies enact as subtle accents to create depth and further complexity. Grain whiskies from Suntory’s Chita distillery act as the “dashi,”or broth, to complete the personality of the malt whiskies and enhance their overall harmony.

There’s a lot going on in the blend and the fun part is that they tell you.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Floral sweetness, emphasis on the floral, some pine and sandalwood
  • Palate: Caramelized honey akin to sherry (it’s one of the sweetest I can remember), candied orange, cinnamon (think about the baking area of your spice drawer… that whole smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, etc), rosemary, a little smokiness that surprised me
  • Finish: Medium finish and clean, some dark chocolate sweet bitterness, lingering honey

Overall, it’s a light whisky with a lot of fun flavors, heavier emphasis on the floral which is fun because you see that’s what they were going for with Harmony. The aspect I wish I could recognize is the characteristics imparted by the Mizunara (Japanese oak) casks. It’s like knowing there’s a new type of stringed instrument in the orchestra but not being able to hear it because I don’t know what to look for.

I’ve had some of Suntory’s other creations and I see this one as a good way to get into Japanese whisky if you’ve never had any. It’s bottled at 43% abv and retails for $68 locally – if I can find one, I’m getting one.

Syndicate 58/6 12-Year Old Tasting Notes Review

Syndicate-586When I first heard about Syndicate 58/6, I was a little skeptical at the name.

Where are the Glens? What’s this Syndicate? I can pronounce it too easily… what’s with the numbers?

Let’s talk about the name, the Syndicate 58/6 refers a group of six original members of the group (hence the six) and how the origin dates back to 1958 (hence the 58), when a blend of whiskies was discovered in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is said that after the discovery, six of the founding members of the Syndicate went on to bottle it and replicate it for future years.

Names are fun but what about the whisky? Syndicate explains that the blend consists of 18 single malts and 4 single grains, mixed with some of the original 1958 batch, and is aged in a Solera system. Solera is an aging process where older and older whiskies are blended in and aged, with the average age increasing with each blend. The younger spirit is transferred to a new barrel, with the older spirit on the bottom. A lot of dessert wines, like Sherry, Madeira, and Port; are aged this way. (you may recognize the name as it appears in Glenfiddich’s Solera Reserve)

After all the blending is completed, they finish it in Oloroso Sherry casks for up to two years. The 58/6 has a 12-year old age statement and 40% abv.

I’m a little hesitant to fully buy into the idea that there’s much of the 1958 batch included in each blend, unless there was a tremendous amount or the production runs of 58/6 is tiny (neither of which seem too plausible) and Oliver at Dramming did a little research on the company and its constituents. I personally am not that skeptical or cynical but I saw his writeup and felt it warranted a mention.

That said, it’s about the whisky.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Light fruit on the nose and alcohol, give it some time in the glass and it opens up. There’s malt, vanilla, sugar, bit of grass
  • Palate: Some grassiness and wine, probably from the Oloroso finish, along with molasses and cinnamon.
  • Finish: Somewhat short finish with the vanilla and cinnamon coming through

All in all, it’s a fun blend that isn’t overpowering in any particular area. It’s lightness, likely owing to its single grain blend, is comforting and lets you really investigate some of the subtler flavors. It’s a delicious dram.

The budget minded consumer in me thinks that at $160 a bottle, it’s a stretch strictly based on dollars. The whisky is good but I think the exclusivity premium is a wee bit high. If you’re into collecting and want something that isn’t always available, this would make sense on your shelf. If you’re looking for a daily drink, this is a fine one at a not so fine price.

Grangestone Bourbon Cask Finish Review & Tasting Notes

boubon-cask-tube-and-bottleI’m walking through Total Wine (and More, though I don’t know anyone who says that part!), a cart full of beer and wine, when I see a random display of scotch in the middle of the aisle. Our cart is jammed because we’re having a birthday party this weekend (it’s for a four year old but kids have parents and parents need survival supplies too!) but it had room for another bottle.

There’s always room for another bottle.

Grangestone. Bourbon finish. $25.

Eh, why not? I knew that Grangestone wasn’t a private label by Total Wine, unlike Shieldaig, so I thought I’d give it a try. It did, after all, win a gold medal at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

This NAS whisky is 40% abv and it is first matured in traditional American oak, followed by a finish in first fill bourbon casks.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Vanilla, floral, hint of raisin and toffee
  • Taste: Smooth, again the floral and a little spice, not much sweetness.
  • Finish: Goes pretty quickly, not memorable.

It’s OK, not my favorite and I wouldn’t get it again. I don’t dislike it, it’s just young, tastes young, feels young, and that might be my excuse to leave it in my case for a while (yes yes, I know it won’t do anything).

A quick search online found a two year old post on Reddit where someone sleuth that it might be Kininvie. Kininvie is one of the three (the others being Glenfiddich and Balvenie) that go into Monkey Shoulder.

Personally, I’d spend more and go with Monkey Shoulder. And throw those stupid spirits competition awards out the window… Shieldaig won a Gold too and I found that to be on the other side of bad. Grangestone Bourbon Cask is not bad, just not great and likely worth the $25 price tag… if I didn’t have a blend I like better in that range.

Glenfarclas 105 Tasting Notes Review

Glenfarclas 105 with brother Glenfarclas 12 on the left and an organic Benromach on the right

Glenfarclas 105 with brother Glenfarclas 12 on the left and an organic Benromach on the right

So this past week my wife and I spent ten days in England (London and Beverly) and Spain (Barcelona) on our first trip away from our two little kids. We were visiting college friends of ours who now live near Beverly and had the pleasure of traipsing around in two countries with them.

(Expect a look into some duty free shops in the coming weeks as I edit the photos and write the posts)

Richard, who is a member of our mighty little Facebook group and frequent commenter, has a pretty delicious looking whisky collection and in winding down our July 4th celebrations (the irony of celebrating July 4th in England was not lost on us), he kindly offered me my choice.

As a good steward of your time and mine, I opted for a distillery I’d heard many a good thing about but hadn’t yet tried – Glenfarclas.

Glenfarclas is a Speyside distillery owned by the Grant family, not to be confused with William Grant & Sons who owns Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and many other brands. The name, Glenfarclas 105, refers to it’s alcohol content in the old British Proof system where 105 meant 60% alcohol by volume.

First reactions – WOW that’s got a kick.

Funny enough, I didn’t know it was cask strength so I didn’t prepare my senses! Once I stuck my nose in the Glencairn, I knew. I took a cask strength sip, could taste the sherry and chocolate but the alcohol overwhelmed the rest. Might have had a spicy finish… or it was the alcohol, I couldn’t tell.

I put in a couple drops of water and got to scribbling some notes.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose: Sherry notes with chocolate espresso
  • Palate: Sweetness from the sherry, rummy, chocolate, some dry fruit like raisins with a smooth creamy nuttiness like almond
  • Finish: Spicy, long and lingering sweetness revealed once the spiciness fades

It’s a no age statement, as most cask strengths are, and I found it to be delicious. A little context, I enjoyed this dram as kind of a wind down to the evening (which featured lots of beer and wine drinking, and a mid-party nap) and so I wasn’t expecting a cask strength wake up call… but there it was.

I’m a fan, for sure, however I think given the choice between this ($75) and Aberlour A’Bunadh ($65), I’d pick the A’Bunadh.