whiskey review

Collingwood Toasted Maplewood Stave Finish

Reviewed by: Nick

Collingwood Maple WW

We’ve all been there – at a bottleshop casually perusing the shelves with no intention to buy anything – until one peculiar bottle catches your eye and you end up leaving the shop with a bulging brown paper bag conspicuously tucked under your arm. Upon arriving home, you crack open the bottle, not expecting anything special, and then have your mind blown by this amazing but random whisky you’ve picked up.

This was emphatically NOT the case when I purchased the Collingwood Toasted Maplewood Stave Finish Blended Canadian Whisky (I’m officially NEVER referring to it by its full name ever again, you’ll be pleased to know). My story began in identical circumstances and continued in line with the above story, until the moment that it touched my lips. At this point my path diverged and I discovered I had purchased a bit of a clunker.

It’s a nice colour, I’ll give it that. This might be due to it’s finishing process which sees the spirit spend time in barrels (at least partially) made from not oak, but from Maplewood. Unfortunately, this is also the single biggest factor in the unpleasant flavours on display.

The nose is a hit of sweet rye, accompanied by hints of, you guessed it, maple syrup. The palate follows this path with a sickly sweet cinnamon flavour which is particularly unpleasant in a, dare I say it, Fireball sort of way. The finish is limp and lifeless with only the tangy syrup notes remaining.

I’m aware my tasting notes don’t read particularly well, but I have a feeling I’m being exceedingly scathing as this is far from my kind of whisky. However, eagle-eyed readers (as well as not-so-eagle-eyed readers, to be fair – it’s pretty obvious) will spot that my bottle is very nearly empty. I found a solution – while I didn’t go much on it as a sipper, I found it made a mean Old Fashioned. Handy tip that, people; if you ever buy a bottle on a whim and discover it’s actually a bit rubbish, then there’s always a cocktail out there to spare your blushes.

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Bushmills Black Bush

Reviewed by: Nick

Bushmills Black Bush

Ok, let’s get it out of the way now: upon reading the words ‘Black Bush’, who sniggered uncontrollably? I’ll admit that I definitely count myself amongst the sniggerers. I mean, come on… Black Bush? Snigger snigger…

Anyway, now we’re past that: onto the whiskey! It is important to note that Black Bush was not entirely made at Bushmills. A large chunk of it was – Bushmills claim 80% was aged for up to eight years in their Northern Ireland bond store – but the single malt is then blended with grain whiskey made down south at Midleton Distillery.

So Black Bush (snigger) is a blend. A cheap blend, no less, of a similar price to a Chivas or a Johnnie Walker Black Label. So there’s not going to be anything in here to get too excited about. Right?

Wrong. The Black Bush is a remarkable young whiskey punching well above its weight and displaying a depth of character not present in many Irish drams. The clue is in the name: the blackness of the bush (snigger).

This moniker refers to the maturation of the Bushmills single malt – part of it, at least – which has spent years aging in Oloroso sherry barrels. This variation in cask type has added a complex fruity element which really makes this whiskey stand out from its competitors.

The nose is packed with fruit and cereal, or perhaps fruit on cereal. Creamy strawberries nestle among grains, while marmalade and oak round off the edges. The palate is lightly spicy with the rum and raisin flavours from the sherry influence spreading out across the tongue. There are notes of dark chocolate and sweet pastries. The finish is quite dry with hints of red wine grapes and vanilla.

The Black Bush is far from smooth, but this actually works in its favour. Bushmills claim it only contains 20% grain spirit and the blender could have easily rounded off the edges by adding more. However the restraint shown adds complexity to the dram and gives the flavours within a chance to come to the fore.

In conclusion, if you are looking for an inexpensive blended Irish malt with a bit of character look no further than the Black Bush.

Snigger.

★★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Reviewed by: Ted

Jamesons

Like all countries, Ireland has certain things that it is known for. Old guys in flat caps sitting at the end of the bar, four-leafed clovers (5000:1 odds of finding one), improbably placed containers of gold, rocks that you have to kiss upside down, a lack of spuds, complicated socio-religious interplay (although granted that one is pretty common in most countries). In terms of beer it’s Guinness – of course there are other brands, but everyone associates Ireland with the famous ebony nectar, the black custard of Dublin. So what about whiskey? Well, like Guinness, there’s one brand that people associate with the Emerald Isle above all others:

Jameson Irish Whiskey (or Jamoes to its friends) is the best selling Irish whiskey in the world, with around 78 million bottles purchased across the globe in 2017. There’s something iconic about that bright green bottle – I mean, there are other green whisk(e)y bottles around of course (here’s looking at you Laphroaig), but when you walk into a bottle shop and see that bright emerald colour, you instantly associate it with Irish whiskey.

The bottle claims that Jameson has been established since 1780, however the truth is a little more convoluted. The Bow Street Distillery in Dublin was actually originally founded by a family called the Steins in 1780. John Jameson, a lawyer from Alloa in Clackmannanshire, married Margaret Haig (the Haigs were a notable distilling family) in 1786, before moving to Dublin to manage the Bow Street Distillery for the Steins (who were relatives of Margaret). In 1810 John and his son, also John, took over the company and officially renamed it to the John Jameson & Son Irish Whiskey Company.

In its heyday, the Bow Street Distillery was the second largest in the country and one of the largest in the world. However, during the 20th century the Irish whiskey industry went into sharp decline, thanks a combination of factors including a devastating trade war with the British Empire and the rise of prohibition in the USA, locking Irish distillers out of their major markets. In 1966, John Jameson & Son merged with John Power & Son and the Cork Distilleries Company to form the Irish Distillers Group, basing themselves out of a new purpose-built facility at Midleton.

The modern Jameson Irish Whiskey is made using a blend of grain spirit and triple distilled single pot still spirit, all produced in-house on New Midleton Distillery’s massive pot stills and column stills. The spirit is then allowed to age between 4 and 7 years in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-oloroso sherry casks before being bottled at 40% ABV. The use of triple distillation, which is an iconic trait of Irish distilling (Scotland generally only distills twice), means that Jameson has a reputation for being incredibly smooth and easy drinking.

The nose is light and floral, with honey, beeswax, hazelnut, peach, apple, musk, mandarin and marmalade. There’s also a dash of sultanas lurking in the background from the Olorosso influence.

The mouth feel is extremely smooth for such a young whiskey, which can be attributed to the triple distillation ironing out some of the kinks as well as the neutral base provided by the grain spirit. The flavour is nutty through the mid palate before opening up to a spicy finish and a sweet aftertaste that lingers solidly at the back of the tongue.

The easy going flavours and smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum palate means that the Jamoes is not only an excellent introduction to Irish whiskey, but also to whisk(e)y drinking in general. Even the most novice of dram slayers should be able to find something pleasing to the senses in the contents of the green bottle. The voice of the great unwashed agrees too, with a pretty much universally high rating across online sellers. If you’re looking for an easy drinking whiskey that definitely won’t break the budget and tastes half decent to boot, then the Jameson Irish Whiskey has your back.

As the Jameson motto says, buy this one Sine Metu, or ‘Without Fear’.

★★★

#IrishWhiskeyWeek

Flóki Single Malt

Reviewed by: Ted

Floki Single Malt 1

Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, or Flóki as fans of the History Channel’s hit show Vikings would recognise him as, was a pretty interesting guy. Born around 830AD in Norway, he would later become an explorer, with his main claim to fame being that he was one of the first people to visit Iceland.

Acting on rumours of a land North-West of the Faroe Islands, Flóki set sail with his family and crew, taking with him three ravens. According to legend, Flóki released the ravens during the voyage; the first flew South-East back to the Faroes, the second landed back on the ship, but the third flew North-West and did not return, leading Flóki to the island and bestowing him with the nickname Hrafna, meaning raven.

The crew apparently spent an excellent, easy summer on the West coast, leaving them ill-prepared for the harsh winter that followed. When spring finally returned, Flóki climbed the highest mountain in the area and sighting ice flows still sitting heavy in the fjords even as the weather warmed, named the island ‘Ísland’, or Iceland as we now know it. On his return to Norway he gave a poor report of the place, although that did not stop him from returning and living there until his death in the early 9th Century.

It is therefore fitting that a modern day pioneer of Iceland takes its name from the spirit of this early explorer of the Northern seas. Flóki, made by Eimverk Distillery, is the first single malt whisky to come out of Iceland.

Based in Garðabaer (perhaps taking its name from another early explorer of Iceland, Garðar Svavarsson?), the whisky is billed as ‘Grain to Glass in Iceland’ (aka Paddock to Plate), using local barley and water distilled in Eimverk’s handcrafted pot still and, according to the blurb, “aged for three years… under the roots of Mount Hekla”.

The particular bottle in my possession is part of a limited edition single-barrel bottling released in November 2017; according to the label I possess Barrel #1 Bottle #307. I will admit that I experienced a brief moment of doubt about opening it, but in the spirit (geddit?) of science I have taken the plunge for you dear reader.

As mentioned before, the Single Malt is aged for three years in what the label curiously describes as ‘ex-Flóki Young Malt barrels’. I have previously reviewed the Young Malt, a special edition duty-free 1-2yo spirit released as a preview to the main event. I am assuming that after the first release of Young Malt in late 2014, which used virgin American oak, they refilled the now-seasoned barrels and left them for just a hair over three years for the Single Malt.

The packaging game has always been strong with the Flóki and this one ups the anti by including a box! The box artwork has a black gloss background with irregularly shaped matte black highlights, the effect of which I suspect is meant to look like the rock walls of a fjord. The cool viking crest makes a return and oh my Odin I have literally just realised it has three bird figures around it representing Hrafna-Floki’s ravens! Totally did not pick that up before.

Floki Single Malt

Bottled at 47%, the Single Malt is a natural copper colour. It’s actually lighter than the Young Malt, which has a redder hue that is probably an effect of the virgin oak compared to the second-fill used for the Single Malt.

On the nose the Single Malt is light and grassy, perhaps straw, with undertones of caramel, honey, pineapple, green plum, apple, orange, pine sap, juniper, rose, sandalwood, cereal and metal. In comparison the Young Malt is heavier and sweeter, with notes of banana, oatmeal and meat.

The palate is dry and textural, eschewing the heavy, sharp, sweet, alcoholy, bourbony feel of the Young Malt for a much lighter, zingier sensation. The undertone is of oaky wood dust, almonds, walnuts and burnt orange, while the finish is sharp, hot and bitter, coating right across the back of the tongue and lingering for some time.

The differences between the Young Malt and the Single Malt are intriguing as the latter is a definite evolution of the former. Compared to the heavy, ham-fisted virgin oak-driven flavours of the Young Malt, the Single Malt is a much lighter, zestier affair. It’s interesting how a second filling of the same barrel with the same spirit can produce such different results.

Still, the balance of the Single Malt is perhaps a little off, with the nose needing some extra depth and the mouth, particularly the finish, needing some rounding out. It’s definitely better than the Young Malt (and both are miles above the undrinkable Young Malt Sheep Dung Smoked edition), but as I have commented before and will reiterate now, I am curious to see what effect some extra aging time would have on the Flóki.

Floki Single malt 2

Nitpicking aside though, this is a worthy first attempt from Eimverk and I think Hrafna-Flóki himself would have had a much more favourable opinion of the place if he had had a few bottles of his namesake whisky to keep him company through that first winter.

★★

 

Catto’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Reviewed by: Nick

Catto's Blended Scotch

I’m not going to lie to you, fellow Wafflers. I bought this bottle of distinctly bottom-shelf blended scotch for numerous reasons – none of which concerned actually drinking the whisky. Firstly, it was the most Aussie sounding bottle I’ve ever seen (try saying it in an Australian accent – it’s very satisfying); secondly, you can’t look past a $30 price tag; and lastly because there was a sick masochistic part of me hoping I could label it the ‘worst whisky in the world’!

I was left rather disappointed. For the first time in my life I was disappointed that a whisky was better than I had thought. Instead of being completely putrid, it was merely rather awful.

Sweet honeyed notes accompany the alcohol burn on the nose while vanilla toffee struggles to break through. The palate is rough; spicy and leafy with flavours of barley sugar amid the burn. The finish is unpleasant and too long for my liking with a lingering sweetness that I found myself longing for it to dissipate.

There you have it folks. Who would have thought, a blend called Catto’s is simply dreadful rather than being soul-destroyingly disgusting. And despite all my criticism and complaining, if you have a look at the photo, you’ll see the bottle is nearly empty. Sometimes a bit of rubbish bottom shelf is exactly what you need.