Whisky Review: BenRiach 15 Year Old (Sherry Cask Finish)

BenRiach 15-Year-Old (Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish)

I’ve tried a few BenRiach whiskies over the years, and most of them were heavy on the peat. There are times when I like peat, but I often find it overwhelming, so I haven’t really gotten into the brand all that much. Recently, though, I decided I would try the BenRiach 15-Year-Old. I’d read that it’s a lot different from other whiskies in BenRiach’s catalog, and having tried it, I must concur.

The BenRiach 15-Year-Old was made using a two-step maturation process. First the whisky was matured in American oak bourbon barrels. Then it was transferred to casks from the bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia. These casks previously were used to mature Pedro Ximenez sherry. Having had good experiences before with whiskies aged in sherry casks, I figured this one might be worth a try.

In the bottle, the BenRiach 15-Year-Old is a deep amber colour. Aromatic notes include caramel, vanilla, pineapple, and nutmeg. But all of these notes are melded into something dusty. The best way I can describe it would be to say that it smells like the bottle was left open in an attic for a decade.

Flavours are quite surprising given these aromas. I was expecting this to be overwhelmingly sweet because of the caramel smell and the sherry, but both of those flavours are quite well blended into the whole. Other notes include orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, wood and—yes—peat. Thankfully however the peat is very light and stays in the background where it doesn’t take over the entire flavour profile. There is plenty of spice. The finish is long and dry with the fruit flavours lingering.

I can definitely tell that this is a BenRiach whisky, but it is far more balanced to me than most of their whiskies. I enjoy peat, but I like it in short, controlled bursts. I don’t like when it takes over a drink completely. Here the peat is just one element weaving into the whole. I was also pleased that this wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet (nor does it taste like dust). All in all, it exceeded my expectations. You can purchase the BenRiach 15-Year-Old for around $50-$60, which isn’t cheap, but it’s worth your money.

BenRiach 15 Year Old: Review Summary

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, pineapple, nutmeg, dust.

Palate: Caramel, sherry, wood, orange, cherries, pepper, nutmeg, peat.

Whisky Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky Review

Japanese whisky has become more and more popular around the globe over the past few years, and Hibiki has become a big name. More than ten different malt and grain whiskies were used to create this unified blend, sourced from Suntory’s Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries as well as the Chita grain distillery. The word “Hibiki” translates to “echo.”

This whisky comes in beautiful minimalist packaging. The box is mostly white with beautiful insignia and lovely typography. The same design is used again on the label of the bottle itself. The liquid inside is a warm golden hue.

Opening the bottle, I detect fruit, flowers, and vanilla. Oranges, pineapple, and bananas accompany a bouquet of roses, mellowed and sweetened by vanilla and a hint of spice. The smell pulls you right in, and I found myself very excited for the first sip! On the palate, you get plenty of orange and a hint of peach or apricot. The vanilla is easily detectable as well, and the spices taste like cinnamon and nutmeg. And unless I am mistaken, there is a hint of ginger. It adds a great kick and a little bite, and keeps the sweet flavors from getting out of line. There is a lovely long finish which is both spicy and sweet.

This is not a cheap whisky. You will pay at least $60 for it, and I have seen bottles go for close to $100. It is well worth it, though. The flavors are beautifully blended and balanced, and dare I say “harmonious”? Yes, this whisky has earned its name. Give Hibiki Japanese Harmony a try, especially if you are a lover of citrus and flowers.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony : Review Summary

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Orange, pineapple, banana, rose, vanilla, spice.

Palate: Orange, peach, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger.

Rum Review: Dos Maderas P.X. (5 + 5)

Dos Maderas 5+5 Rum Review

Dos Maderas (5+5) PX is Caribbean rum I’d been hearing great things about for some time, so I decided to give it a try. The name “5+5” is a reference to the aging process. For the first five years, the rum is aged in the Caribbean in American oak casks. After that, it is sent to Spain. There, it is aged for another five years, this time in Spanish oak sherry casks. Thus the “5+5,” which essentially translates to “5 years + 5 years.” “Dos Maderas” translates to “Two Woods.”

The second part of the aging process actually is broken down into two steps. The first three years in Spain, the rum is aged in Palo Cartado sherry casks. The second two years, it is aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. So in total, there are three different types of casks involved. The concept of aging in sherry casks may be familiar to you if you have ever tried sherried whiskey. But sherried rum? This was a first for me, and an exciting one at that.

In the bottle, Dos Maderas (5+5) PX is a deep amber color, the hue so saturated it is almost red. It’s beautiful just to look at. This color is typical of a sherried beverage. The aroma is just what I would expect—sweet. You can detect a lot of different notes if you take the time to breathe them in: caramel, nuts, dried dark fruit, vanilla, sherry (of course), and something heavy and musty like leather.

The taste is absolutely incredible. Sweet notes of sherry dominate, along with caramel, vanilla, spice, and dark fruit. There is a hint of chocolate and coffee in the backdrop. It tastes like no other rum I have ever tried, especially with respect to all the fruit notes! The finish is long and delectably smooth. Oak emerges along with a hint of anise. The sherry flavors linger on the tongue before melting away.

The craziest thing about this rum to me is the price point. You can pick up a bottle for just $35-$40. Normally I would expect a drink like this to cost substantially more. It would easily have been a good buy at $60! So the fact I got it for $35 makes it a ridiculously good deal. It really is a unique experience, and again, very different from any other rum out there. If you enjoy rum and sherry, you will love Dos Maderas (5+5) PX, a perfect melding of flavors. This is the ultimate in sweet and smooth!

Dos Maderas 5+5 PX Review: Summary

Colour: Deep mahogany, almost red.

Nose: Caramel, nuts, vanilla, sherry, dark dried fruit, leather, earth.

Palate: Sherry, caramel, vanilla, spices, dark fruit, chocolate, coffee, oak, anise.

Whisky Review: Brenne Estate Cask

Brenne Estate Cask

Brenne Estate Cask is a French whisky distilled in Cognac. Production is limited to 30,000 bottles a year, and it’s matured in French Limousin oak barrels before being finished in young Cognac casks. The farm that produces Brenne Estate Cask has been in operation since the 1920s and has been making single malt whisky since the early 2000’s.

The barley used in Brenne Estate Cask is organic and locally grown. The soil in the Cognac region apparently has a nice pH balance which helps to produce a smooth distillate. Since Brenne has only been bottling their whiskies for the past few years, this is an entirely new experience for me. Let’s see how Cognac’s unique soil and Brenne’s innovative distillation processes pan out!

You will pay around $50-$60 for a bottle of Brenne, which is significantly more expensive than a lot of whiskies I have tried, but still in a reasonable range. The bottle has a simple, classic design with minimal flourishes and a bright blue label. The blue contrasts beautifully with the deep amber liquid inside.

Opening the bottle, I detect so many aromas that it takes me a few minutes to start sorting them out. There are a lot of fruit aromas here, and I can’t be entirely sure what they all are, but I think I am picking up pineapple, peach (or apricot), and maybe even coconut—but that might be vanilla. There is something a bit citrusy in here, and a hint of something else candy-ish, maybe licorice. Basically, I feel like I just walked into a candy store full of fruit gum drops and other sweets.

This tastes exactly like it smells—like you are strolling through a dime store candy aisle. I am getting pineapple for sure, maybe banana, and definitely peach or apricot. There may be raspberry in here too. It’s just packed with sweetness, but there is a hint of something tart here too. The tartness balances out the sweetness so that it isn’t overwhelming. There is also a subtle taste of something grounding and mature in the backdrop, maybe oak. I think if not for that oak, the subtle tartness, and a hint of spice that weaves through it all, this would be an odd experience, and a bit too “high pitched” for me. But the oak and tartness round out the flavors nicely, bringing them back to earth.

… Not for long though. The finish here is nothing; it just evaporates. I wasn’t sure what to think of this whisky at first, but I found myself gulping down more to make up for the nonexistent finish.

So in short? It’s good stuff, but not what you usually picture when you head out to buy some whisky. It’s very sweet, but not too sweet. If you are a candy lover, this is like a party in a bottle. I think since this is a different kind of whisky, it may also appeal to people who usually don’t drink it. A very interesting and unique purchase.

Brenne Estate Cask: Summary

Colour: Deep rich amber.

Nose: Candied fruits: pineapple, coconut, peach or apricot, citrus, vanilla, licorice.

Palate: More candied fruit: pineapple, banana, peach, raspberry, vanilla, oak, subtle spice.

Whiskey Review: Teeling Small Batch

Teeling Small Batch

When you think of Irish whiskey, odds are one of the first names you think of is Teeling. Until relatively recently, most of the whiskey produced in Ireland came from three distilleries: Cooley, Old Bushmills, and New Midleton. The Cooley distillery was founded in 1987 by John Teeling. While the Colley distillery was purchased by Jim Beam just a few years ago, former manager Jack Teeling decided to start his own brand. And that is how the Teeling Whiskey Company was born. Teeling Irish Whiskey is the flagship product for the brand.

This small-batch whiskey was hand-selected and then matured in barrels formerly used for rum. It’s non-chill filtered and 46% ABV. The rum barrels are noteworthy, since it is far more common to mature Irish whiskeys in barrels which were previously used for sherry or bourbon. As a result, there is a very distinctive flavor to this whiskey. The 46% ABV is also notable, since 40% is much more common for Irish whiskeys. Small-batch production like this is uncommon as well. So naturally, there is a lot to get excited about here, especially backed by the Teeling name.

The bottle is very dark green, almost black, so there isn’t a whole lot to see when you look at the bottle. You can only see the color of the whiskey when you pour it. It turns out to be a beautiful golden yellow. Lifting the glass to my nose, I smell something that immediately reminds me of Christmas. It takes a moment to figure out why, but I believe it is a combination of dessert-type aromas blending with the sharpness of pine. Focusing more closely, I detect vanilla, caramel, and apple. The smell is very much a warm apple pie on a crisp winter day with the Christmas tree nearby.

This whiskey is very smooth on the palate. The flavors are sweet, with vanilla taking the front seat and apple still prominent. There are also elements of lemon and something syrupy and almost floral. I taste hints of caramel and coconut. The finish is a bit of a surprise twist. Instead of staying sweet, the flavor turns peppery, contributing a nice warmth and balancing out the sweet flavors. That hint of pine is there in the backdrop the entire time, contributing a sharp edge. That spicy sharpness keeps the sweetness from becoming overwhelming, and also makes the flavors glow.

You can purchase Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey for around $50 per bottle. While that is by no means cheap, it is also not ridiculously expensive, and the quality is very high. It is a unique blend, and one which is very evocative for me of wintertime and Christmas comfort. If you enjoy sweet whiskeys with balanced flavors, it is definitely worth a try. I will savor this one.

Teeling Small Batch

Color: Rich yellow gold.

Nose: Apples, vanilla, caramel, pine.

Palate: Apples, vanilla, caramel, coconut, lemon, pine, pepper.

Whisky Review: Talisker Skye

Whisky Review: Talisker Skye

A couple years back I reviewed the Talisker 10 Year Old, a Scotch whisky with flavors of peat, seaweed, fruit, spices, wood, and … peat. Lots of peat. Just what you would expect from a Scotch whisky. I enjoyed it quite a bit, so when I found out that Talisker released a new whisky earlier this year called the Talisker Skye, I knew I wanted to try it. While I enjoy peat in my whisky, I can see where a lot of Talisker whiskies might be overwhelming for other drinkers. The Talisker Skye has been aged in refill and toasted American oak casks so that it will have a milder peat flavor.

The Talisker Skye is named for the beautiful island of Skye where the Talisker distillery is located. You can see an image of Skye on the box as well as on the label. It looks like cold, beautiful, rugged country—a stark kind of paradise. Is the Talisker Skye paradise in a bottle? Let’s find out.

This whisky is exactly the same in appearance as the Talisker 10 Year Old, with a warm golden color. On the nose, I am picking up peat (as expected), honey, spices, toffee or caramel, and orange. There is a smokiness to the scent. Taking a drink, a lot of the flavors on the palate are similar to what I remember from the 10 Year Old. There is orange and spice in there, probably cinnamon and nutmeg. The toffee or caramel I smelled actually tastes more like chocolate with a hint of vanilla. There is a long peppery finish. The orange lingers on the tongue for a while. The peat is definitely there, but as I expected, it is a lot less pronounced than I am used to with Talisker. In fact, if I didn’t know it was a Talisker, I might not have been sure.

Like the 10 Year Old, the Talisker Skye sells in the $45-$60 range. This puts it in the somewhat expensive price bracket, especially if you cannot get it at the lower end of that price range. Should you get it? Overall, I found it a very enjoyable whisky, well blended with some delicious flavors. Your expectations definitely should play a role in your decision, however. If you are a big peat fan and that is why you usually flock to Talisker, you may be disappointed by the Skye. If you enjoy peat whiskies but wish they were a little less overpowering, the Skye may be exactly what you have been searching for, and a very good purchase.

Talisker Skye : Summary

Colour: Bright, rich gold.

Nose: Smoky honey, peat, spices, caramel, toffee, and orange.

Palate: Peat, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange, pepper.

Tincup American Whiskey

Tincup American WhiskeyTincup American Whiskey is a product which, if you believe the marketing materials, is made in Colorado by Jess Graber, the same guy who created Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. I don’t want to dwell on the details here too much (I’m more interested in trying the whiskey), but if you dig a little deeper, you will find the marketing is deceptive. Tincup definitely is not distilled in Colorado, and it is actually only bottled by Strananhan’s.

Even though the label doesn’t say “bourbon” anywhere on it, the high corn content makes it one. The reason it’s not on the label is possibly the fact that the rye content is higher than you would typically expect from a bourbon. The rye, corn, and malted barley actually are farmed in Indiana and not Colorado, but water from the Rocky Mountains is apparently blended into the mix, which presumably is the other reason the “Colorado” label is stamped under the name of the whisky.

Tincup American Whiskey comes in an attractive bottle debossed with the Tincup name and logo running vertically up the sides. The blue label wraps around the top of the bottle. Inside, the liquid is a bright amber color, which incidentally stands out nicely against the blue label.

When I uncap the bottle, I smell caramel, apples, spice, and a hint of oak. It kind of puts me in mind of apple cider, between the scent and the color. Tasting it, I’m surprised that the apple doesn’t come through as much as the other flavors of caramel, rye, corn, and spices. The finish is mild, but it lingers, and presents a slightly different flavor profile. Now the apple is coming out, and a hint of some other dried fruit. The cinnamon spice is still prominent, and there’s a sweetness that tastes like vanilla.

I wouldn’t say this is the most unique bourbon whisky I’ve ever tried; the flavor profile is pretty standard. I like the way the notes transform on the finish, though, and the flavors are plenty enjoyable. I’ve seen it sell anywhere in the $27-$37 price range. I’d say that at the lower end of that bracket, it’s a reasonably good deal for a pleasant, enjoyable drink. At around $37, however, I think it is a bit steep for something that isn’t all that standout or groundbreaking—and is sold through deceptive marketing tactics.

Tincup American Whiskey: Summary

Colour: Amber.

Nose: Apple cider: applies, caramel, spices and oak.

Palate: Caramel, sweet corn, rye, cinnamon. Vanilla, apple, dried fruit on finish.

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

These days, it’s hard not to be familiar with Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, at least in passing. It was only available in Canada for a long time, and wasn’t very well-known anywhere else. Over the past few years its popularity has exploded around the world. It’s now quite well-known in the US and the UK, and of course remains a favorite for Canadians.

According to the marketing story that goes with Fireball, originally developed as part of a line of Seagram flavored schnapps in the 1980s, it was created by a Canadian bartender trying to warm up in the wake of an Arctic blast. In 1989, the Sazerac Company purchased the rights from Seagram and started marketing the drink as Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Whisky.” In 2006, it was rebranded with its current name, “Fireball Cinnamon Whisky.”

Now, Fireball is everywhere. In 2013, it became one of the ten most popular liquors in existence. This has perhaps caused a lot of whisky connoisseurs to avoid it, including me. Why? Well, when something gets to be that popular, that fast, it’s hard not to think of it as anything other than a passing craze. As real whisky aficionados, those of us who love the drink tend to think of ourselves as being above passing trends. On the other hand, just because something is hugely popular doesn’t mean it isn’t great, so I thought it was time to check out Fireball for myself.

The bottle features a simple design; the Fireball label has a “charred” look around the edges, suggestive of the whisky’s hot flavors. The liquid inside is a clear, bright gold. Opening the bottle, I don’t even smell whisky at all. All I smell is cinnamon. In fact, that is literally all I smell. No other notes, no nuance, just straight-up cinnamon. It smells a bit like Big Red gum.

On the palate, it is syrupy and sweet at first, and then comes a big punch of cinnamon. The hot cinnamon flavor sticks to your palate for a long time on the finish. Once again, I don’t really taste whisky. The taste is no more nuanced than the smell. It’s just cinnamon.

If you really, really love cinnamon, I can see where this could be an enjoyable drink. And I can see why the young people are all crazy about it. It’s definitely the addicting kind of drink you can just chug down. Since there’s nothing subtle about it, there is nothing to slow down and really appreciate. And for that reason, I can see the justification for avoiding it if you are a real whisky aficionado.

Price-wise, you are going to pay around $18 for a bottle. While this is hardly expensive, it is not exactly cheap either. I would say that makes it pretty overpriced for what you are getting. There are so many better beverages you can get in this price range. And yes, there are better flavored options out there too, if that is what you are into. I am glad I tried it, just to know what everyone is talking about, but I can safely say that I was right the first time; Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is not a serious whisky enthusiast’s drink.

Summary: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Color: Bright gold.

Nose: Cinnamon.

Palate: Cinnamon.

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