When your whisky comes from someone in the industry, it’s all part of their marketing plan, i.e. they send samples to bloggers like us (and we are forever grateful and love them for doing this!) and we then evaluate/review the samples which will hopefully result in positive buzz for their latest and greatest product as well as an eventual increase in sales. When your whisky comes from a fellow aficionado, it’s all about trying to turn someone on to a whisky that you really enjoy, with the hope that they will enjoy it too.
The three whisky samples in the above photo were sent to me by Johanne McInnis, a fellow whisky blogger and #whiskyfabric member (learn more about the #whiskyfabric Twitter hashtag and what it represents via this excellent blog post by our other whisky blogging buddy The Coopered Tot) from City of St. John, the largest city in New Brunswick, one of the Maritime provinces of the country that we like to call Canadia.
Johanne and I have been going back and forth on Twitter since early 2012, but it wasn’t until mid-November that we started talking about a potential whisky trade. In exchange for the three whiskies that I will be discussing shortly, I sent her two small samples of the Balcones Brimstone and two small samples of the Ardbeg Uigeadail. Since she is part of a two writer blogging team, I figured that I may as well send her enough to share with her partner in crime.
Now that you know how I got my hands on these three whiskies, let’s get on with the reviews…
Here is a bit of information about this whisky from the good people at Balcones Distilling:
This is a one of a kind Texas spirit made from the finest local wildflower honey, mission figs, turbinado sugar, and natural Texas Hill Country spring water and aged to perfection in small oak barrels. Rumble defies categorization, both in ingredients as well as the final product. It has elements reminiscent of tequila, scotch, young cognac, and rum.
And now for my impressions of the Balcones Rumble…
- Appearance: The color of 100% pure maple syrup.
- Aroma: Oodles of sweetness on the nose with hints of vanilla, maple syrup, brown sugar, fig jam, and nutmeg. With a bit of water, some peppermint shows up while the sweetness mellows a bit.
- Taste: Thin and somewhat oily mouthfeel. All of the sweetness carries through to the palate with a mild cinnamon spiciness that is concentrated on the middle of my tongue. Intensifies at mid-palate and takes on an almost Hot Tamale candy heat. Long, warm, and soothing finish with all of that cinnamon and vanilla goodness coating my mouth with flavor. With water, the flavors become more rounded and the heat tones quite a bit.
- ABV: 47%
Conclusion: I found the Balcones Rumble to be surprisingly mellow when compared to the other Balcones whiskies that I have had, i.e. True Blue, Brimstone, and Texas Single Malt. I really enjoyed how the sweet and spicy elements balanced each other out from start to finish. I am also impressed at how smooth and easy drinking it is at full strength. Overall, a great gateway to all of the uniqueness that Balcones has to offer.
Once again,here is a bit of information about this whisky from the good people at Balcones Distilling:
Cask reserve is an older, barrel-proof expression of Rumble. While making the rounds tasting our barrels, Chip discovered a cache of older rumble casks that were all but forgotten. The spirit inside was remarkable—rich, delicious, and unique. We carefully mingled the best of these barrels to create Rumble Cask Reserve. The result is so special that we think it deserves to be preserved in its natural state, unfiltered and at full barrel proof. Each bottling is very small and meant to express different facets of this unique spirit.
And this is what I experienced while nosing and drinking the Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve…
- Appearance: Much darker than the standard issue Rumble. Think burnished copper color.
- Aroma: Although this whisky is about 25% more potent than the regular Rumble, the alcohol vapors are surprisingly subdued. All of the aromas from the regular Rumble carry through to this expression, but on a much grander scale. This time around, the dried fruits are rum soaked and the brown sugar has been become darker and richer. With water, some hickory BBQ notes come through.
- Taste: Bigger all around! While that cinnamon heat is still there, it’s not quite as center stage this time. I’m getting more of the brown sugar and vanilla sweetness this time around, and much like their other expressions, this whisky is very smooth at full strength. Brown sugar and vanilla carries through to the finish and lingers for a really long time. Water brings out some oaky notes which I’m sure is due to more time spent in the barrel.
- ABV: 59%
Conclusion: I don’t know if it’s due to my extensive experience with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society cask strength offerings, or the fact that we simply drink a wide variety of whiskies at the “It’s just the booze dancing…” Adult Beverage Research Institute ™, but whatever the reason, I definitely prefer my whisky to have a higher ABV. While the standard issue Rumble is perfectly delightful, the Rumble Cask Reserve takes things to a whole new level. There is a depth of flavor here that makes the regular Rumble seem tame (It’s far from tame by the way. I’m just exaggerating to make a point). Once again, the downside to reviewing whisky samples rears its ugly head: I want more damn it! Rumble Cask Reserve is superb!
I have worked with many types of oak barrels, first as a wine maker and then as a whisky maker. Every wood, whether it is from a bourbon barrel, port barrel, sherry cask, French, Balkan or American oak, creates a distinctive taste expression. As a proud Canadian whisky maker, I have always been curious what a Canadian whisky would taste like aged in a Canadian oak barrel, because most Canadian whiskies are aged in American oak.
To my delight, I discovered some massive Canadian white oak trees that were growing only 40 miles from the distillery! They must have started growing just before Confederation in 1867 because they were 4 feet in diameter and over 150 years old. The selected trees were harvested from a sustainably managed forest employing the principle of “no tree before its time.” This forest has a mixture of young trees coming up in the understory, mature trees in full productive vigor, and old trees whose growth has slowed. These older trees block sunlight and rainfall from the younger trees and when over-matured, need to be removed.
I thought I could give them a second career as whisky barrels. Canadian and American white oak trees are the same species. However, the cooler growing conditions in Canada result in slower growing trees that are more dense than their American counterparts. Consequently, the aromas and flavour profiles of Canadian oak are very different due to the Canadian terroir.
This is truly an iconic whisky. Canadian whisky, aged in Canadian oak barrels, harvested from trees that first rooted themselves in Canadian soil 150 years ago during Confederation.
And here are my impressions of this expression…
- Appearance: Clover honey color.
- Aroma: When I first stick my nose in the glass, there is a definite rye spiciness, but with a good bit of sweetness to back it up. I’m getting vanilla, maple syrup, grilled pineapple, Banana’s Foster, and the obligatory rum soaked raisins.
- Taste: Very light mouthfeel, i.e. a bit on the watery side. Did I just get a hint of Connecticut shade tobacco? I don’t really care for cigars, but I suddenly have the urge to smoke one! Although the cigar tobacco flavor doesn’t go away completely, at mid-palate the cinnamon and brown sugar spiciness starts to kick in. The finish is quite dry with that lingering tobacco flavor mixed with the sweet and spicy elements.
- ABV: 40%
Conclusion: Other than the Whistle Pig Rye and one or two Crown Royal expressions, my exposure to Canadian Whisky has been quite limited. If this particular Forty Creek expression is what other Canadian whiskies are like, then I will most definitely need to dig deeper into our friendly neighbor to the north’s other whisky offerings.The Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve is a beautifully balanced and very easy drinking whisky with a soothing blend of sweet and lightly spiced flavors. I really enjoyed this whisky, but I do have one minor quibble…
Now I know that I’m going to sound like a broken record when I say this, but I truly believe that the Confederation Oak Reserve needs to be bottled at a higher ABV. I had a similar experience with the Sullivans Cove whiskies that we reviewed a short while ago, i.e. I found that the expressions bottled at 47.5% were significantly better than the expression bottled at 40%. I’m not saying that the Confederation Oak needs to be bottled at cask strength, but I truly believe that bottling it at a minimum of 45% ABV will bring out more of the whisky’s true character. As it is, this is a very good whisky that I wholeheartedly recommend, but with a bit less water, and a bit more spirit, this would be a truly outstanding whisky.
Thanks again to Johanne McInnis of The Perfect Whisky Match blog for these very generous samples! And if you want to know even more about the #whiskyfabric, check out this interview with Johanne on the Whisky Guy Rob blog. Cheers!