Saturday, January 2, 2016

Lassie's top 10 memorable drams for 2015 - #1 - Changing of tides

Well, here we are January 2016 and I've not only survived what was a super crazy 2015 but probably one of the best as far as whisky discoveries. I travelled extensively and shared some old or rare drams. I also tried many of the new whiskies on the market including NAS (I don't judge any whiskies until I try them first).

As mentioned before I topped over 400 new whiskies in 2015, so how does one choose THE most memorable dram for an entire year? In this case, it truly was easy because as soon as I tasted this particular whisky I knew... and with only 3 months left of the year, I highly doubted any other whisky would knock me flat on my ass the way this one did.

I need to say one thing before I reveal what it is. A huge thanks to Davin de Kergommeaux for the introduction to the whisky madman behind this whisky. It happened on a hot summer night in New Orleans and resulted in my most exciting whisky roadtrip of the year. You see, most of the "big" Canadian distilleries don't allow visitors, tours or explanations of how the whiskies are made. The new, independent or small craft distilleries are completely the opposite and not only invite the public in but promote complete transparency. 

Don, Johanne & Dave - Tales of the Cocktail NOLA
So, when Don Livermore handed me his business card and said shoot me an email if you ever want to come to Windsor to visit our operations I was not only intrigued but somewhat excited at the thought of touring a distillery that has traditionally been off limits. Once I got back home, I started to plan my annual trip to Toronto. I emailed Don and asked about making a detour to Windsor (it's about 5 hours away) to visit. Not only was I going to get to see every aspect of the Hiram Walker Distillery, Don was gracious in extending the visit to as many #whiskyfabric friends that I wanted to bring. I put the call out to the Toronto possé and quickly received a response from 3 people. Total there would be 5 of us lucky enough to get the most comprehensive distillery tour I have ever been on. There were no corners that were off limits so we truly did see the whole experience from grain to bottle AND then some...  

Any other distillery I have ever visited has never allowed access to the laboratory. Now mind you I never asked (well except for Macallan which was an immediate NO). I can tell you that being a whisky geek, going into the lab was heaven. The discussions that took place, the information we were allowed to see AND the new strain of rye they were working on was beyond magnificent to experience. I seriously got an adrenaline headache from the excitement that day. (We also toured the Canadian Club Brand Center with Tish Harcus that day - SIMPLY WOW)

The afternoon culminated with Don bringing us on a cornucopia of scents and flavours, which again I had never experienced before in all of the distillery tours I have ever been on. I and the others there with me that day received the most interesting and educational experience when it comes to barrel science. The end of our day with Don came with a full tasting of some of their best selling whiskies as well as three new products that were coming to the market for 2015. 

1. Gooderam & Worts, which I liked much better with water then without. Davin writes about it here:

2. JP Wiser's Double Still Rye, which I enjoyed immensely and purchased a bottle to bring home to New Brunswick.


3. JP Wiser's Hopped Whisky -> Which blew my whisky mind!

Let me tell you just a little bit about this very innovative product and yes, I'm not using that word lightly. About 10 years ago Don Livermore had a goal to create something unique that no other Canadian whisky distillery was doing. He wanted a flavour profile that would encompass bitter, sweet, spicy and sour. He began to examine and experiment with hops. 158 different samples to be exact. 

He made rye whisky, then let it age somewhere between 5-9 years then post production dry hopped the whisky with Bravo(western USA style hop). The result is simply divine (in my personal opinion).

Davin had wrote about the Hopped whisky in August and I had received a marketing email about its launch. I have to admit, I sort of did the whole eye roll thing when I read it all thinking.. yeah sure, bla bla bla... new interesting whisky, sure sure!

So that afternoon when Don handed me the third and final glass with the Hopped Whisky I seriously thought to myself... well here we go with another "flavoured" whisky on the shelf... 

Don handed me the glass and said: "I'm not going to say anything about this last whisky and let you tell me what you think". I smiled politely and took my glass over to a small table. I reached for my pen and notebook and began the usual process of nosing and tasting the whisky. 

Here was my first impressions that day:

Nose: WTF?! Rich, deep, hints of very delicate floral and really malty. Winter hay (the stuff that's been sitting in the barn since July)

Palate: Smooth, roasted coffee, dark chocolate. Stout? Porter beer?!

Finish: Slightly citric, nice sweetness at the back that lingers. Grapefruit pith. 

I looked up at Don completely perplexed and honestly just a bit freaked out. He smiled a big toothy grin and clapped his hands. I walked over to the bottle and picked it up. I poured myself a second dram (almost not believing what I had tasted the first time). "This taste like a creamy chocolate porter beer" I said to everyone. Don laughed out loud and watched the rest of the reactions take place. It's something completely different than anything else I have ever tasted. It's unique and yes, dare I say innovation done right. 

Again, I'll quote Davin: "This is not the first whisky ever made with hops. From time to time, early distillers in Canada and the US would use hops to improve sanitation in their fermenters." There are currently a few American distillers using hops in their process, but not like Don did. So, this is history in the making and I'm excited to see what Don has up his sleeve next.

JP Wiser's Hopped Whisky is only available on the Canadian market, so far and from a price point sells for less than $30/bottle. It is by far the best new whisky I have tasted in 2015 and for me also boast the absolute best value for money!

I'm no Jim Murray, but I also am picking a Canadian Whisky as my best memorable dram of 2015. I know my giving this my thumbs up won't cause the masses to run to the liquor stores which is absolutely fine by me. But I will say that unlike the one Mr. Murray chose as "near perfection", I will say I give my top 2015 dram an 89 based on nose, palate, finish, price tag and enjoyment factor. If you are a huge Canadian whisky fan, you'd be crazy not to get at least one bottle of this, especially for the price tag.

I very much look forward to what Pernod Ricard has in mind for JP Wiser's. A visitor center as well as public tours are in the works. They are the first of the large distilleries in Canada who see the potential for whisky tourism and that... is not only refreshing but a changing of the tides.

That was the year that was for this Lassie. It's January 2nd and I've already tasted 6 new whiskies so it's going to be quite interesting to see what 2016 brings.



1 comment:

  1. I'm originally from Windsor and sadly have only done the historical tour. It's beautiful but I highly doubt it captures anywhere near what you experienced. Nor do they sell their spirits onsite. I don't understand the laws well enough to explain this missed opportunity. Great, exciting read. Don is amazing to hear and has unbridled enthusiasm for what he does. Now I have to ge the Hopped whisky.