Canada's Best Whisky
Saying 'Canada's Best Whisky' is of course subjective but I do believe that John K. Hall of Forty Creek makes the best, cleanest spirit in Canada and probably one of the cleanest spirits in the world of whisky. He hails from Grimsby, a small town in the Niagara Region (near Toronto) and he is a whisky fanatic. Although he first made his name making wines he eventually followed the call to whisky making. His Forty Creek Barrel Select had been on the market for years and it's superb. Bottled at 40% a/v (and I generally don't like 40% whiskies, much prefer cask strength) it exhibits a plethora of aromas lead by coffee with a wisp of cream. Once on the palate it is mouth-filling, slightly oily with flavours of freshly baked almond croissants, fresh buttered toast, crème caramel and apricots, underpinned by pineapple and rosehip. This is a superb drop and it's worth leaning on your friends coming back from Canada to bring you some. He's just released the Forty Creek Double Barrel Reserve and it's another beauty, although very different. Beautiful bottle aside this is a serious, dry whisky exhibiting a fair whack of oak and apart from using the usual oak barrels he also uses virgin Canadian oak, something that (to the best of my knowledge) no one else has done. The resulting whisky is much drier and tighter although the aromas are quite sweet with vanilla, figs and Demerara sugar on the nose. On the palate it dries your senses and it takes a few seconds before it gives up its secrets. Beyond the first tight oak flavours there are fruit flavours akin to Christmas pudding with dried figs, sultanas, orange peel and dates. It finishes relatively short with an orange-sweet flavour left as much in your mind as on your tongue. This is a great whisky, although not a 'beginners' dram.
For more information go to the Forty Creek Web Site
A Pig Worth Whistling For!
WhistlePig is a 100% Straight Rye and it's a doozy! It hails from one of the oldest farms in Vermont in a tiny hamlet that used to go by the name of Shaksboro. Steam engines replaced the lifeblood of the town - a grist and lumber mill powered by the Lemon Fair River - which still meanders straight through farm - and the town slowly dissipated until vanishing entirely in the 1930's. The farm remained in operation until 2006 when it was purchased and renamed by WhistlePig's founder Raj Peter Bhakta. He hired Dave Pickerell as his master distiller (ex Makers Mark) who concentrates on making rye whiskey. WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey is 10 years old, bottled at 100 Proof (50% a/v) and it's in very limited suppliy. It is not obvious where the whisky is made as the micro stills in Vermont are not set up as yet and the whiskey is sourced from Canada; my guess would be Alberta Distilleries. I scored a bottle bought in the USA by a friend but even that bottle was first exported to Canada then re-imported to the USA. So it's a whiskey worth spending some 'internet hours' on. WhistlePig has to rate as the best 100% Rye I have had the joy to taste. On the nose it exhibits yeast, freshly sliced pumpernickel and candied clementines. Ont he palate the pumpernickel is confirmed with a wonderful, mouth-filling texture that immediately fills every nook and cranny of your palate. Layered citrus fruit is slowly surfacing concentrating on over-ripe peach at the finish. This is one of the world's great whiskeys and it deserves a place in the sun!
For more information go to the WhistlePig Web Site
Whisky Bible Shoot Off
Jim Murray's Whisky Bible is a book whisky aficionados world-wide look forward to, each and every year and it's been a little while (1998) since Wallace Milroy published a Malt Whisky Almanac. Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2011 just hit the shelves around the world and Wallace Milroy teamed up with Neil Wilson to release the 'Whisky in Your Pocket', a guide aimed to do a similar job. On the surface they both look alike, similar format, easy reference and something you can take along while visiting distilleries. Here, however is where the similarity ends.
Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2011 is a guide for the serious whisky-head who already knows a large number of distilleries and their various expressions. It is not as easy to read and understand for the novice as you have to familiarize yourself with abbreviations and symbols to get the most our of the guide, whereas the Whisky in your Pocket guide is full of pretty pictures making it easy to follow but, in my opinion, lacks the depth of the other guide. If you are relatively new to whisky you might want to take the Whisky in your Pocket on your first journey to distilleries but invariably, as your knowledge increases, you will need Jim Murray's guidance.
Jim Murray does one thing right: He's consistent! It's now up to you to get 'into his head' and learn how he thinks. Once you do, you'll get immense satisfaction from his book as you know what you agree with and what information does not apply to the way you perceive whisky. I compared a few entries in the two guides and I'm afraid that to my palate, experience and sensory appreciation mostly agree with what Jim Murray says and I simply don't find that depth of critical observation in the other guide.
In short for me: Jim Murray wins. Go and get yoruself a Whisky Bible 2011 now!
Moonshine Drama Time
This article was sent to me by one of AGP's long and loyal subscribers, Karolyn Wrightson from the USA. She shares my love of a dram or two and she probably knows more about Australia than many locals.
Thank you Karolyn!
According to Karolyn, Popcorn Sutton, the local moonshiner par excellence, hung himself a year or so ago when he heard the cops were going to thrown him in jail once again. His funeral was a Day of Mourning... front page stuff. The latest in this drama is attached, and I thought you'd enjoy it. Popcorn would have made a good Aussie, a fair dinkum was he!
From Asheville Citizen-Times, Nov. 13th 2010
Popcorn Sutton's whiskey goes legit with Hank Williams Jr.'s stamp of approval
By Jason Sandford · November 13, 2010
Marvin Popcorn Sutton and his legendary mountain moonshine may be gone, but a country music superstar and a former professional motorcycle racer plan to carry on the rebel's cause - one Mason jar at a time.
Hank Williams Jr. this week introduced a line of whiskey honoring Sutton that's made in Nashville and follows Sutton's own recipe. In stark contrast to Sutton's secretive manufacture of untaxed liquor, the launch of "Popcorn Sutton's Tennessee Whiskey" arrived with government taxes paid in full, a flashy party and marquee music stars, including Williams, Kid Rock, Tanya Tucker and Travis Tritt. The liquor will be distributed in Tennessee initially, and has already been delivered to some Nashville bars. And yes, it's packaged in Mason jars.
Sutton, who lived in Maggie Valley and had a cabin in Cocke County, Tenn. near the state line, committed suicide in March 2009, just a week before he was set to begin serving an 18-month federal prison sentence. The skinny, bearded 62-year-old had pleaded guilty to charges that he produced untaxed liquor after federal agents caught him with hundreds of gallons of his famous hooch.
Williams never met Sutton, but he attended the moonshiner's memorial service in October 2009, saying he was a long-time admirer. Williams hinted then that he planned to do something to honor Sutton's legacy.
"He was the last of the real mountain moonshiners that went back," Williams said in a press release accompanying the liquor launch. "Popcorn was part of the real 'Thunder Road' legend, and that is a real part of country music history."
Some of Sutton's supporters have greeted the new booze with mixed reactions. Orion Berdick ,of Asheville, who signed a petition asking the federal court to show Sutton leniency, said Friday he liked "the idea of someone bringing attention to Popcorn's story because he embodied a certain rebellious mentality about this region."
But Berdick said he wished the legal whiskey was manufactured in Western North Carolina, and felt it odd that a mainstream music star would be making a profit off Sutton's legacy.
It seems like some proceeds should go back to a cause in his honor," Berdick said.
Cooking up the whiskey will be a down-home process that's as close to Sutton as it can be, said Jamey Grosser, a former professional Supercross motorcycle racer who is a partner with Williams and Sutton's widow, Pam Sutton.
Grosser, who had endorsement deals with beer and liquor companies as a professional athlete, retired from racing and began thinking about getting into the spirits business. He consulted with friends about three years ago and decided selling moonshine was a niche he could fill, so he set out to find someone to teach him tricks of the trade.
"Someone told me I needed to talk to Popcorn Sutton. I typed him into the computer and couldn't believe it," Grosser said. "So I got on a plane and literally tracked him down through his probation officer."
Sutton and Grosser hit it off and formed a company to make Sutton's famed liquor, Grosser said. The two designed stills and Sutton wrote down his recipe for Grosser.
"He said he didn't want me to mess this up when he was gone," he said. Sutton also only wanted one celebrity to help tell his story, Grosser said, and that was Williams.
Grosser's now making Sutton's whiskey in an 1880s-era brick building in Nashville, with plans to eventually move distribution into Georgia and the Carolinas. The product has tequila, rum and bourbon notes in taste, but is smoother than traditional whiskey, Grosser said.
The plan is to keep the company close to its rebellious mountain roots, Grosser added, noting that he's turned down buyout offers from "every major liquor company out there." Grosser also said he's hoping one day to open a distillery in Sutton's old Cocke County stomping grounds.
"I'm not doing anything special," Grosser said. "I'm just not (expletive) up what Popcorn did. This is what he wanted."