Merrimack Valley Whiskey Review

Welcome! My qualifications as a sommelier? I know what I like – and the science & pseudo-science of spirits tasting. Tools of the trade: a Glencairn (nosing glass designed for whisky) or the old fashioned rocks glass tumbler. I review any kind of whiskey: Single malt, Scotch, Bourbon, Rye, Irish, Canadian, etc. And oh yes – sometimes rum.

Useful articles on whiskey and Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher?

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו, מלך העולם, שהכל נהיה בדברו.

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What is Canadian Whiskey?

Map of Canada 1898

Some call it “rye”, because for a while much Canadian whiskey had some amount of rye in it, as opposed to a pure malt, wheat or corn whiskey. But for most us, especially Americans, that name is unhelpful. Most Canadian whiskey has only a low percent of rye, while American rye whiskey, by law, must have a mashbill of 51% or more rye.

Here in America we have categories like Single malt whiskey, Bourbon, wheat whiskey, rye, etc. But for Canadian whiskey I have found any naming/classification scheme. What I was able to discover is this:

  • Almost all Canadian Whiskeys are single-distillery blends
  • Canadians don’t use mixed grain mash bills like Americans.
  • Rather, Canadian distilleries makes a single grain whiskey, such as corn whiskey, rye, wheat or barley.
  • Then they age that whiskey, usually separately, in oak barrels, for at least 3 years.
  • Then they blend together 2 or more whiskeys – usually plus one other type.
  • Their blends are all from the same distillery (unlike Scotland, where it is traditional to create blends with products of several different distilleries.

So we could defined a Canadian whiskey as a single distillery blend made of  (a) some part pure-corn mashbill whiskey, aged 3 or more years, with (b) some part other-grain mashbill whiskey, aged 3 or more years.

If this had been produced here in the USA, what would it be called? Following the conventions of the US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) most Canadian whiskeys would be classified as:

A BLEND OF STRAIGHT WHISKIES : Mixture of straight whiskies produced in the same state to which harmless coloring, flavoring or blending materials* have been added.

US Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) Chapter 4. Class and Type Designation.

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High West Rye

A friend and I had occasion to visit 815, a prohibition-era speakeasy hidden away in the unlikeliest of places, Manchester, NH.  People generally find out about this place by word of mouth – no sign on the street, no TV or radio commercials, and when you enter the building, no signs to guide you upstairs – where there is no door, sign or entrance.  Just a sign in the hallway about prohibition, and a phone booth. From there you’re on your own 😉

Apparently I made it inside, where Andrew expertly served up a flight of High West Ryes.

And if you wanted something else to drink, 815 is certainly well-stocked!

815 Elm bar

So let’s see what we have!

High West Double Rye

A blend of straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 2 to 16 years. One is a very high rye sourced from MGP, and a standard rye from Barton. Aged in new, charred, white American oak barrels.
Nose: Mint, licorice.
Palate: Rye, something like menthol or eucayptus, and honey. Quite a shocker for someone used to bourbon or Irish whiskey, that I can say.

High West Rendezvous Rye

A blend of straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 5 to 19 years. One is a very high rye sourced from MGP, and a standard rye from Barton. Aged in new, charred, white American oak barrels.
Nose: Clove, caramelized sugar.
Taste: Very spicy and minty, with subtle notes of molasses or dark fruit. It finished with a large rye kick, and the flavor lingers – I had to wait a few minutes before tasting another whiskey.

Yippee Ki-Yay

The blend is described by High West as the same for those above – but this rye received a second aging, “finished in French oak barrels that previously contained vermouth and Syrah wine.”
Nose: I detected maple syrup, dark fruit, perhaps cherry.
Palet: Kicked me with a bright spicy rye burn, a bit of orange and berry, and perhaps black currants.

Midwinter Night’s Dram Act, Act IV, Scene 5.

High West reveals this blended from a 16 yo Barton and a 6 yo MGP, but the magic comes in finishing the blend in French Oak and Port barrels.
Right off the bat I detected vanilla, caramel, and some rye spice, but the rye is much more subtle than the other three. It reminded me a bit of Angel’s Envy port-finished bourbon. Easily my favorite!

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Scotch tasting event

I went to a great Scotch whisky tasting event at Kappy’s on Route 1, in Massachusetts. Thanks much to Anthony D. for being a great spirits manager and host!

Scotch tasting Kappy's

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley

Bright finish, clean, a bit fruity. Although not peated through smoking, the resulting Scotch is peaty due to the peated soil in which it grows.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley

bright finish, but this time more peated. I’d suggest either of these to someone who wants a gentle introduction to peated whiskeys.

Made by the Bruichladdich Distillery,  Islay, Scotland.  Now owned by Rémy Cointreau; it is one of eight distilleries on the island.

Monkey Shoulder Blended Scotch

Well, this was a surprise. Heard a lot of good things about it, and was pleasantly surprised that they turned out to be true.  A very nice blend, just a hint of darkness, no peat. A blend of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie (each a single malt whisky.) Are made in Dufftown, Moray, Scottland, making this a Speyside blend. Produced by the eminent William Grant & Sons Ltd.:

“An independent, family-owned Scottish company which distills Scotch whisky and other selected categories of spirits. It was established in 1887 by William Grant, and is now run by the descendants of the founder. It is the largest of the handful of Scotch whisky distillers remaining in family ownership.” – wikipedia

Glenfiddich Project XX

This whisky has an interesting story behind it – “Glenfiddich asked its 20 ambassadors to choose their favourite cask from the distillery’s warehouses. From the character of these casks, malt master Brian Kinsman created a new, experimental whisky – Project XX” How is it? It’s non-peated, yet retains a subtle, smoky taste, appealing to me even though I’m not a fan of peated whisky.  Hints of vanilla, caramel, orange, spice. Some had been aged in Port pipes, sherry butts, or first-fill bourbon casks. Absolutely delicious.

Balvenie 12 Double Cask

First aged in used American bourbon oak casks, then a second aging in an ex-sherry cask. Medium gold color. Rich, sweet, some fruit and pepper tastes. A hint of tannins. The added sherry flavor is welcome because it is notable yet without being overpowering – exactly what I am looking for.

Balvenie 17 Double Cask

The same whisky as the 12 double cask with an extra 5 years of maturation. Mellower, darker , okay finish. Somewhat darker color than the 12 year old. Delicious but I am not sure that it is worth the added cost.

From the Balvenie distillery in Dufftown, Scotland, owned by William Grant & Sons. This makes it a Speyside whisky.

…and a lot more to come!

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Seagram’s Seven Crown

A blended American whiskey produced by Diageo

At one point a very popular whiskey blend in the United States, but it’s sales are only a fraction of its former self. Now, I’m old enough to remember the advertisements in classic magazines; some of their ads back in the day sure made it seem terrific, case in point:

Seagram's 7 Crown vintage

Drinkers beware – under US TTB regulations, all true whiskey is labeled as straight whiskey, while anything labeled as blended whiskey may be as little as 20% whiskey, with the rest being GNS (grain neutral) spirits (cheap vodka) plus flavorings.

Unfortunately, this is a blended whiskey, in this case being only 25% whiskey. So let’s call it brown vodka.

But is it any good? {sound of drink being poured} A decent amber color, and gentle nose, with just a scent of something sweet. Ok, maybe this will be fine. {drinking, sensing the flavors..} HOLY TARNATION, WHAT IS THIS SADNESS? This is nothing that I recognize as whiskey. Just a sad medicinal taste that reminds me of something unpronounceable that the doctor proscribed once when I was seven years old. I thought that I’d escaped that nightmare – but no, now the memory returns. The horror, the horror.

2 Thumbs down.

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No doubt that it is safe for most people to drink small amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, and have moderate amounts of alcohol, more occasionally. But how much is a safe amount?  Drinking and health

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My first rum reviews! Myers’s Rum, Mount Gay Barbados Black Barrel, Gosling’s black seal, Doorly’s XO Fine Old Barbados Rum, Papa’s Pilar Dark 24, and Coconut Jack

Rum reviews

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Old Ezra Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Aged 7 Years

Old-Ezra-Kentucky-Straight-Bourbon

Charcoal filtered after aging. 50.5% abv, 101 proof.
Usually $25, but on sale for $18 in New Hampshire.
Mash Bill 78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Malted Barley

Who exactly is Old Ezra? They aren’t a distillery. They’re owned by Luxco, which uses the name “Old Ezra” to sell whiskey actually distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky by Heaven Hill – and that’s a good thing. Heaven Hill is a well-known, family owned American distillery with a heritage that goes back to the 1930’s.

Why did Luxco resurrect the name Ezra Brooks? That name has a long history in of itself. The Sipp’n Corn blog tells the story here Copycat Whiskey, the Story of Ezra Brooks and Jack Daniel’s. That story aside, let’s get to the review.

Nose: Not too much here, hints of vanilla and oak.

Palette: Oaky, a dash of black pepper. Perhaps a bit like Jim Beam. I think I’m getting a little of the barrel char (and if only just barely, that’s not a bad thing.) Pretty strong, unless smoothed out with some ice or water. I initially purchased this because another reviewer said that this tasted like 10 year old Henry McKenna BiB – which would have been great. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this to be the case. Fortunately, this Old Ezra is still a decent sipper nonetheless. At this price it is a great value. As the hashtag says, #respectthebottomshelf !

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Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon

$30 in New Hampshire, from Wild Turkey Distillery

Aged 10 years in virgin American oak casks , #4 char.

Mash bill: Uncertain, but I’ve read 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley.

Visited the Cheesecake Factory, and perused their whiskey list. Found Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Bourbon, which I’ve heard a lot of talk about over the past couple of months, so I thought that I’d give it a try. This is supposed to be a big step up from their baseline, “bottom shelf” Wild Turkey 81 Proof. That Wild Turkey was a favorite of Hunter S. Thompson, famed gonzo journalist.  So, how is the 10 year old?

Color: Deep caramel

Nose: A delicious experience, some vanilla, butterscotch, and pepper.

Palate: Rich mouthfeel. Delicious and warm on the front palate: molasses, oak, and then a bit of crisp green apple! But an astringent taste going back that almost overwhelmed the initial sensation. I drank this slowly, over a half hour , and the rough landing past the back palate was consistent: alcohol, pepper, something oddly organic. Definitely going to try this again sometime, but based on this first experience I’m not planning on a buying a bottle at this time.

Russell's Reserve 10 Year

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Revel Stoke Spiced Whisky

Misc Flavored Whiskeys

Canadian Whiskey, imported by Phillips Distilling Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota
No age statement; website says that it is a mix of a 3 year old and an 8 year old.
Mash bill unavailable, 90 proof.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have a background in spiced liquors, either whiskey or rum. Straight, yes, Flavored with something like maple? Perhaps. But “spiced”? Outside of my experience. Such concoctions could be “delicious” to some people, but my first response to this unusual spice experience is “this isn’t whiskey!” Lots of spice, pepper, a hint of cherry. There eventually is a slight, nice undercurrent of caramel. Was that flavor added – or part of the original whiskey? Also, this is a bit sweet. Could their be added sugar? Their website states “Features hints of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom” – since I don’t know what cardamom and coriander would taste like in whiskey, I’ll take their word for it – maybe it’s in there and I just don’t recognize it!

Would I recommend this? Well, not to a whiskey enthusiast who likes straight whiskey, but it might be nice for people to sip on, on a cold winter night. As the photo below shows, this is just one of a line of flavored whiskys; if I come across the others I’ll be sure to review them.

Other flavored whiskeys reviewed here.

Revel Stoke Canadian Whisky flavors

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Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon

Woodford Reserve Eagle Rare Colonel E.H. Taylor

First had this whiskey a couple of years ago, and finally getting back to it for a proper review – and it’s far more delicious than I remember! It is made at the old Labrot & Graham distillery (1878) later purchased by Brown-Forman, which they renamed Woodford Reserve, as it is in Woodford County, Kentucky.  Made on pot stills and triple distilled. 90 proof (45 abv.)

Mashbill  72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt.  Triple distilled in new oak barrels.

Color: amber.  Nose: light maple, alcohol , light oak

Palate: Light toffee or caramel; a hint of flavor reminding me of whiskey finished in a sherry cask; a hint of smoke, and all on a corn-bourbon base. Very highly recommended!

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Can one age whiskey in wood other than oak?

As far as I knew, all forms of whiskey had to be aged in oak barrels/casks/butts.  But I recently learned about this, from the Liquid Irish blog, by David Havelin.

There is a little extra wiggle room in the definition of Irish whiskey compared to Scotch. Whereas Scotch must have been aged in oak casks, Irish whiskey regulations specify simply that the casks must be wooden.

It has only been of theoretical interest up to now, because in practice oak is exclusively used in Ireland. But they are curious folks at Midleton and because they could, they did. Seven chestnut casks were commissioned from a cooperage in Bordeaux. The wood is sometimes used for wine in Europe.

I learned, by the way, from Master of Maturation Kevin O’Gorman, that the sweet chestnut tree involved here bears no relation to the horse chestnut tree we are more familiar with in Ireland. It is, rather, a first cousin of beech and oak, and grows reasonably straight and knot-free, making it suitable for coopering.

The seven toasted virgin chestnut casks were used to finish a medium style pot still whiskey for 12 months. There are 900 cases in this batch but there are more casks being filled so if it’s well received, we’ll see it again.

When Midleton Dair Ghaelach was released, the distillery boffins noted the higher contribution of furfural and vanillin from Irish oak, compared with American or Spanish oaks. These are credited with imparting enhanced vanilla, caramel and chocolate flavours. According to Kevin, the levels of these compounds in sweet chestnut are higher still.

Method and Madness, on Liquid Irish

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Contents

Main page: Merrimack Valley Whiskey Blog
Rum reviews
Page 7 Whiskey reviews
Page 6 whiskey reviews
Page 5 Irish whiskey special
Page 4 whiskey reviews
Page 3 Flavored whiskies, other spirits
Page 2 whiskey reviews
Page 1 whiskey reviews
Useful articles on whiskey 
Is all whiskey and Scotch kosher? 

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