I recently came into possession of something entirely new to me, the 250 ml Jost Ice Wine finished 10 year old cask strength release of the Glen Breton rare. While not a gift from the distillery or a rep or anything of that sort, I did get this essentially for free, and as a result I feel like I might be feeling a bit more generous thatn I would've been if I'd had to spend the retail price (generally between $55-$65)
For ease, I'm going to follow Chip's format for this review.
In the Bottle (Presentation) 5/10
I really like the box this whisky comes in, it's a nice fairly simple blue cardboard with a fainter design of snowflakes which emphasises the ice wine finish, and the clean design is broken only by a large red maple leaf. The box gives almost all the information I would want to know, lacking only the amount of time that it spent in the ice wine cask. Tthe only age statement is that of ten years, and given that is the amount of time spent in oak for the normal release it is likely that there was at least another year or two spent in the finishing cask. This is a pretty typical issue I have with scotch packaging too; I only (finally) found out how long the 'extra matured' Glenmorangies spend in the second cask by talking to the Edmonton rep for the product.
Despite how much I like the box, the whisky loses a lot of points on the bottle, with a fairly cheap looking label, a huge wax stopper on the top (which took me at least 5 minutes to hack off) and a cheap quality cork, which had become weakened from too much contact with the whisky to the point that it had become somewhat mushy and the glue broke from the cork to the top. It seems that bottlers Glenora Distillers saw this coming, as there's a solidly glued down plastic sheet under all the wax which (mostly) prevented leakage but I'm a little leery that there may have been some amount of "corking" (for lack of a better term) to the whisky. I can't taste it, but still...
In the Glass (colour aroma and ambiance) 7/10
The whisky betrays both it's youth and strength in first pour. Bottled at a whopping 62.2% abv the nose is almost overpowered by an alcohol aroma, but it's still possible to pick out hints of the typical barley whisky heather and honey. Watered down (about a half oz to an oz and a half of whisky, roughly) the honey becomes more pronounced and while still subtle the heather is also noticeable. With the water and a bit of time to open, the icewine finish does becomes somewhat noticeable, in a faint sweet-grape aroma that reminds me a bit of a sweet muscat wine. Despite this opening up in the nose, the relative youth of the whisky is still betrayed in the strength of the alcohol smell.
In the Mouth (texture and taste) 6.5/10
Uncut the high alcohol content left little to comment on, and all I really have to say about the full strength taste is that it was a lot smoother than I'd have expected from the abv and nose, but the alcohol washed out the other flavours. Watered down it does open up, and I get that heather and honey on the tongue, but it's a fleeting flavour and is overwhelmed by the remarkably bourbon like body of the whisky. There is a hint of grape in the middle of my tongue, but it is nowhere near as poweful as I'd been expecting. For being finished in casks used to store such a remarkably syrupy sweet wine, I'd expected a much sweeter whisky, comparable to a Pedro Ximenez or sauternes finished scotch, but this reminds me far more of a second fill sherry cask than anything, though obviously with a more sauternes-y tilt to it. I'd been told this was made in a completely "scotch" style (to the point of hearing rumours that it was made with barley and water brought from Scotland) but I think the flavour of this gives the lie to those rumours. Assuming it's made in a scotch style, I can only credit this butteryness to the character of North American barley, but I can't help but wonder if this was made with a bit of corn in the malting...
In the Throat (The finish and aftertaste) 6.5/10
For such a strong whisky I found the whole experience remarkably smooth, again reminding me of a higher end bourbon. If I didn't know better, I would have though I was drinking a less flavourable cousin of the Jim Beam corporation's Booker's release (generally bottled around 65% abv) While the smoothness is pleasant, the finish is relatively short, the grape character departing quickly and leaving that bourbon like butteryness. Again, one would think the whisky would have picked up more from the richly flavoured ice wine than is present here.
As an experiment, I think this has been an interesting experience. I'd seen this on shelves in boutique stores for about a year and as a scotch afficionado and a fan of finishes I had been, obviously, curious. And so, when I had the oppurtunity to pick up a bottle for virtually nill, I had to take it. And I'm ultimately disappointed, much as I was with the standard 10 yr Glen Breton rare. While I find the thought of a single malt whisky made in Canada an appealing one, I think that Glenora Distillers have missed the mark with their releases. If this were priced at, say, $70-$80 for a full 700 ml bottle I would think it worthwhile as an occasional oddity, but for nearly that price for a bottle less than half that size I think it is far too bland and raw a spirit to be worth the price. I suspect that the casks used to finish this whisky were not first fill (there was a previous release of the Glen Breton Ice Wine finish bottled at 57%, and a far rarer 15 yr old) and that this lost much of the ice wine character as a result. And while I like a nice bourbon almost as much as a nice scotch under the right circumstances, this feels like it's trapped between the two styles of whisky and doesn't know what route to go down. As a bourbon, it's far too subtle but as a scotch-style whisky it's far too raw. And so it will remain, a curious, hugely overpriced oddity which I will share with scotch drinking friends to finish a night with some proper drams.
Final score: 6.25/10
Age: 10 yr
Strength: 62.2% abv
Cask: New Oak (?) and Jost Ice Wine cask
Average retail price: $55-$65 per 250 ml bottle
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