Category Archives: Taste of the…

Gateway Series #12: Canadian Round-Up

After Crown Royal, we decided that providing two negative reviews for the remaining Canadian whiskies was a bit overkill.  So Richard took one for the team and reviewed two of the other three on our list.  I think I got off pretty easy (the Canadian Mist was my contribution).

Canadian Club Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Citrus, vanilla, and burnt tire.  This smells pretty awful.
Palate: I would say that the only good thing about the palate on this is that it got the taste of Seagram’s 7 and Black Velvet out of my mouth from the same tasting but that’s not an improvement.  This is like industrial drain cleaner.
Finish: The finish is actually the best part.  It is rather smooth but the after taste is too reminiscent of the palate.
Comments: Wow, this was not a pleasant experience at all.  I know we pledged to review the often over looked entry level stuff as part of the Gateway Series but I can only hope that if you’re reading our site then you’re drinking better than Canadian Club.  Please tell me you are.
Rating: Possibly the worst whisk(e)y I’ve ever drank.

Black Velvet Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Juvenile oranges and rubbing alcohol with notes of sweet vanilla.  Agitation make the nose almost industrial.
Palate: On the palate this tastes like unaged grain alcohol.  Very little flavor and very rough.
Finish: It actually finishes rather smooth on the throat but it leaves a hornet’s nest in your mouth.
Comments: Every time I see this somewhere I think of that Alana Miles song about Elvis.  Unfortunately this doesn’t resemble the King in any way, shape, or form. Don’t bother.
Rating: I’ll Pass (so bad that I’m adding another rating to our system)

Canadian Mist Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV/80 Proof

Nose: Really nice right after the pour, like high-rye bourbon.  Sweet, toffee, and caramel.  When agitated, the nose becomes antiseptic (rubbing alcohol).
Palate: Not much to it.  It tastes more like a honeyed Lowland Scotch than anything from North America.  The flavor is very delicate.  What little flavor is present, is honeyed and cereal with an oily mouth feel.
Comments: This seems like it would be a good mixer.  It stands out among the other gateway Canadians in that it is not retched.  That being said, it is like whisky light.  This could be a true gateway whisky for folks unaccustomed to drinking alcohol with flavor.
Rating:  Average

So, there you have it.  The Canadian round-up.  You may think that we are being unfair to our Northern cousins, but we cannot help our tastes.

We still have a few more gateway reviews on the way, so stay tuned.

Matt & Richard

Gateway Series #11: Crown Royal

Crown Royal Fine De Luxe Blended Canadian Whisky
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Around $25, Widely Available

What The Distiller Says:
The distinct blend of 50 full-bodied whiskies has captivated senses for 70 years and continues to be a staple of our portfolio. Though created in 1939 to celebrate the visit to Canada of King George VI and his Queen Elizabeth, Crown Royal remains approachable and unpretentious to the everyday drinker.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Caramel, hazelnuts, vanilla, and mint. There is also something sour lingering in the background (smells like stomach acid). Water opens up the rye notes (mint and spice) to create something quite lovely.
Palate: Not bad upfront, with toffee sweetness, but turns woody and bitter. Although Richard Paterson suggests holding whiskies “long in the mouth,” I would not suggest doing that with this particular dram. It becomes thoroughly unpleasant, not unlike chewing the shrapnel from a barrel explosion. While water helps the nose, it kills the flavor (which may be a good thing).
Finish: Smooth and oak-y with a hint of mint. Water kills the mint.
Comments: Supplying Redneck high school girls with low cost purses for 70 years, Crown Royal is probably as known for it’s purple velvet bag as for the whisky inside. It is a shame really, Crown Royal is actually capable of producing good whiskies. The standard expression is not one of them though. It is not the worst whisky in the Gateway Series, but I cannot recommend it.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Richard Says:
Nose: The nose seems surprisingly alcoholic for an 80 proof whisky. I get fruitiness on the nose reminiscent of fruit brandies. There is also just a hint of nuttiness that I can’t quite place.
Palate: Peppered oak lollypops? Seriously. Sickly candy sweetness on the front of the palate. As the drink settles into the palate it turns to peppery oak. Not in a good way. The longer you hold it on the palate, the worse it gets. Definitely drink it quickly.
Finish: The finish starts out not too bad but the burn kicks in and punches above it’s 40% ABV. The after taste is rough, woody, and unpleasant.
Comments: My early experiences with Crown Royal really turned me off to the drink altogether. That said, I tried to give Crown the benefit of the double. For my trouble I found all the things that originally turned me off of Canadian Whisky. The only way I’ve found that I can tolerate Crown Royal is in a Red Snapper.
Rating: Probably Pass

Overall Rating: Probably Pass

Crown Royal is really our first major departures from one of the whiskey writers we both most identify with, John Hansell. He gives standard Crown an 88/100. I can’t fathom how. It just goes to show you that everyone’s palate is as individual as their fingerprints.

Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie Astar
57.1% ABV, 114.2 Proof
Around $75, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
From the tall peaks of Missouri ‘Ozarks’ to the sweeping grandeur of the Highlands of Scotland, Astar (in Gaelic it means “journey”) is the story of our quest to ‘design’ the very best oak casks that will deliver perfection in the final spirit; the result is a deep, rich, silky and creamy malt that embodies Glenmorangie’s art of whisky creation.

What Richard Says:
Nose: The high bottling strength makes for a trying nose.  The alcohol tends to get in the way.  It’s very delicate and clean.  Crisp apples. With water there is a hint of peat and more of a nutty character.  Also more apple and under ripe fruit.
Palate: Very tart opening with a mild vegetal quality but soon the alcohol bulldozes everything out of the way.  Not a dram to be had without water.  The flavor is too delicate for bottle strength.  With water a honey sweetness develops and is followed by grassy notes.
Finish: Straight, the finish is all alcohol burn.  Once water is added you get a tart finish bookending the tart opening.
Comments: Astar is the “heart” of the new Glenmorangie Original and it shares many characteristics from nose through to the finish.  I would like to maybe see this bottled down around 46% ABV.  Heresy to some but that’s just my opinion.  This flavor profile is much too delicate for so much alcohol.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Without water the alcohol is dominant, but there is a strong scent of bread dough.  With water, the nose opens to a cornucopia of aromas.  Green apples (the meaty bit, not the skin), vanilla, honeysuckle, oak, and spice all dance together to a sensuous melody.
Palate: There is a lot of oak and spice here.  With water the fruit and sweetness is revealed.  Green apples, cinnamon, ginger, mint, vanilla, and a creamy sweetness like sweetened condensed milk.
Finish: Neat, there is enough burn for a bonfire.  With water, there is tartness (like green apple skins).
Comments: As with anything from Glenmorangie, I carry a slight sentimental bias.  I don’t think this is a dram for a novice, but I would recommend it for a seasoned whisky drinker.  I’m not sure the high proof is necessary.  The best bits of this whisky don’t come out until you add water.  However, that means that this bottle will last me about twice as long (which makes for better value).
Rating:  Stands Out

Overall Rating:  Average.  Not for the novice or the faint of heart.

Laphroaig 10yo

Laphroaig 10yo Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
43% ABV, 86 Proof
Around $35, Widely Available

What The Distillery Says:
Laphroaig, pronounced “La-froyg”, is an all-malt Scotch whisky from the remote island of Islay in the Western Isles of Scotland.  Laphroaig is a Gaelic word, and means “the beautiful hollow by the broad bay”.
In the making of Laphroaig, malted barley is dried over a peat fire.  The smoke from this peat, found only on the island of Islay, gives Laphroaig its particularly rich flavour.
Laphroaig is best savoured neat, or with a little cool water.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Vegetal and peaty in a way that’s second only to Ardbeg.  I also get vanilla, wood chips, and fresh pine straw.  With water the peat fades and it becomes very nutty with hints of leather.
Palate: Creamier on the palate than Ardbeg, but after an initial settling the peat begins to dominate.  Seaweed with a mild brine but not overly salty. Water opens a light honey note but kills everything else.
Finish: On the finish the salty brine kicks it up a notch.  Very little burn.  The wood and peat dominate the finish but not really in a pleasant way.
Comments: For peaty Islays I like Laphroaig better than Ardbeg but not as much as Lagavulin.  I feel that Laphroaig is a whisky that ages well but tends to need that aging.  It goes really well with seafood or cigars.  The 15 Year or the Quarter Cask are better but this isn’t a bad entry to Islay.  Oddly enough the profile of this dram changes over the course of the time spent with it.  On my initial tasting it is good but not overwhelmingly appealing.  However, as you take more sips the dram seems to open up and become a more comforting dram.  A nice quiet even by the fire drink.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Peat (of course), roasted nuts, orange pith, iodine and oak are strong on the nose.  With water, the peat fades, pulling the citrus and nut notes forward.  A little more water takes the nose to orange essential oils.
Palate: Peat (of course), brine, vanilla, orange juice and buttermilk.  A little water brings out some milk chocolate and honey (like a Toblerone).
Finish: Long on the peat with a touch of seawater and very little burn.
Comments: This is a sturdy whisky (i.e. it holds up to water).  Laphroaig is what a lot of people reach for when they first try an Islay malt.  I think that is not a bad thing.  It’s definitely a good entrance to Islay (but a little burly for the Gateway Series).  There is a creaminess and complexity that Arbeg 10yo lacks and the price point is much more agreeable than the Lagavulin 16yo (which Richard and I agree is the best of the three).
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average, a great entry into Islay whiskies.

Charbay Tequila Blanco

A word from Matt:  Let me start by saying that I am not a tequila drinker. I have not had tequila in probably eight years (apart from the very rare margarita). I have danced with Jose and Pepe and a myriad others and I always come away with a black eye, a wicked headache, and other maladies I’d rather not discuss. No matter the price or the quality, tequila has always brought the hurt. So when Charbay said they had a new tequila and they wanted me to try it, I was a little afraid to say the least. I have an open mind though. I am always a supporter of craft distilling. After all, rums are doing it, whiskies are doing it, even educated fleas are doing it. And I’ll try anything once. I was more than surprised by my findings…

Charbay Tequila Blanco
40%ABV, 80 Proof
SRP $49, Limited Availability

What the distillery says:
This is fragrant, true to the source, clean tequila. From all of the world’s distilled spirit classes, Tequila is by far one of the most challenging. We combined to traditional methods of classic tequila distillery in the Arandas area (Mexico) with our proprietary Charbay distilling methods that have developed for 13 generations. The mutual trust, respect and camaraderie with our host distillers will last a lifetime. This has been a real learning experience. (Miles Karakasevic)

During the final distillation at 142 Proof, our Tequila tasted as if you were chewing on fresh chamomile buds. Later, at 140 Proof, it started to taste like cinnamon. At 138 Proof, the flavors were herbaceous, rich agave, with a pepper spice finish. We captured all these flavors… (Marko Karakasevic)

What Matt says:
Nose: Agave nectar, vegetal (cactus?), cucumber, juniper, lime
Palate: Viscous, white pepper, herbal, whole lime that translates from lime meat to zest and back, a little burn around the edges
Finish: Short and sharp. Powerful lime zest and a side-of-the-tongue burn.
Comments: I can honestly say that this is the first tequila I’ve had in a long while that did not make me gag. As you may have guessed, I drink mostly whisk(e)y and the occasional gin. I think what I like most about this is that it is very much like a gin and not much like a tequila (from my experience with tequila). To me, that is very much a good thing. If you are a hardcore tequila drinker, this may leave you wanting. You will enjoy it, but it may not serve that craving (do people crave tequila?). I think most people use tequila as a mixer. Charbay Tequila Blanco is part of the craft movement that hopes to elevate tequila to something worthy of sipping. On that front, this is very successful. If I decide to stock tequila in my home bar, this will be the one. I always say that you should never stock a mixer that you can’t drink neat and Charbay’s Tequila Blanco fits the bill.
Rating: Stands Out

What Richard Says:
Nose: This definitely smells better than any tequila I’ve ever smelled.  The agave is still there but without the dirty jockstrap notes of other widely available tequilas.
Palate: Admittedly, I don’t drink much tequila anymore, especially straight.  That said, this doesn’t taste like any tequila I’ve ever tasted.  Fruity notes flow throughout and it is a very pleasant experience.
Finish: The flavors clear the mouth very quickly and leave only a clean crisp hint that the drink was there.  Top notch!
Comments: I was at first hesitant to review this offering from Charbay.  If I categorically don’t like a particular spirit then I don’t feel that it is my place to offer opinions on the quality.  However, I was intrigued by what Charbay might do and I can honestly say that I never knew tequila could be like this.  I’m still not going to be a regular tequila drinker but this is in a league of it’s own.
Rating: Must Try

Overall Rating: Must Try