A Plethora of Great Spirits
by Margaret Swaine
As we head towards winter, more and more great spirits are being launched from our Canadian distilleries and coming to our shores from abroad. Recently I talked with Dave Broom, author of the World Atlas of Whisky about this boom in spirits.
Broom has been writing about spirits for 25 years. Two of his eight books (Drink! and Rum) won the Glenfiddich award for Drinks Book of the year. The Whisky Atlas (an updated 2nd version which includes Canada) is a visually gorgeous, well written book that would make an excellent gift for the whisky lover. You can find it on Amazon or in Chapters Indigo (indigo.ca).
Broom told me he’s a huge fan of Canadian whisky and the innovative spirit that drives our distilleries. When I showed him Canadian Club’s new Chairman’s Select 100% Rye Whisky he said he had to get a bottle before he returned to the UK. It’s distilled at Alberta Distillers who really know their rye. “Alberta Distillers makes more rye whisky than anyone else in North America. They are the experts,” said Broom.
“The rye boom has just started in Europe,” he said. “The new wave of distilleries are using rye. There are three great ones from distilleries in England now for example.”
As to Scottish whisky, he said we really haven’t seen such a distillery boom since the 1890’s. There are now 114 distilleries in Scotland with another ten in the planning. “My fear is that soon after the 1890 boom there was a bust. I hope this time people are looking properly to the long issue. It’s a long term business,” Broom said.
Ireland has about 20 new distillery applications and there are now even 7 distilleries in England (four years ago there was only one).
The trend to “finish” a scotch in a barrel that’s different from the traditional ex-bourbon barrels is starting to slow down according to Broom and that’s a good thing. “Barrel finished when it works is great. Sadly it doesn’t as frequently as it should,” he said. I just tasted Tullibardine 225 Sauternes Finish Single Malt and would say this is one that does.
Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old is matured first in American bourbon barrels, then oloroso sherry oak casks. Keep your eyes out for Balvenie Tun 1509, a single barrel sherry cask version that is expected to sell for around $163.
I’m glad to see the lovely Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt from Inverness Distillers back on the shelves. Bowmore Islay 12 Year Old Single Malt is another classic but with the peaty, briny, smoky Islay character. For a powerful hit of peat, Ardbeg Supernova Islay Single Malt delivers it in a big way.
In other brown spirits, Mount Gay Rum has just launched Black Barrel, a small batch blend of matured double pot distillates and aged column distillates finished in deeply charred bourbon casks.
Angostura is well known the world over for its Angostura bitters and for its rums. It all began in 1824 when founder Dr. Johann Siegert first produced aromatic bitters in Angostura, Venezuela (today called Ciudad Bolivar). In the 1870’s, Dr. Siegert’s three sons migrated to Trinidad and transferred the Angostura business there. Over the years, Angostura Aromatic Bitters became a required product on every bar around the world as an integral ingredient in premium cocktails. (Bitters have become a huge trend today with many other companies making their versions.)
The family’s Siegert Bouquet Rum became a Trinidadian tradition up until the early 1960’s and part of the company’s rich rum heritage. By 1965, Angostura was making more money from rum than from their bitters according to master distiller John Georges. In the 1970’s, Angostura expanded, acquiring the Fernandes family distillery, which was founded in the 1890’s by Manuel Fernandes, an immigrant from Portugal, and known for making high quality rums. This year marks the 190th anniversary of Angostura.
The company aims for subtlety and finesse in their products by using high quality molasses, a proprietary yeast isolated in 1947, continuous still distillation and aging in charred American first fill bourbon oak casks Angostura 5 Year Old aged a minimum of five years, is a light blend made for cocktails. Angostura 1919, a blend of rums up to eight years old, is pretty, delicate and silky. Angostura 1824 aged for a minimum of 12 years is a deeper, heavier, “chewable” rum.
Cocktail lovers might want to download the free Angostura app of excellent cocktail recipes. A dash of bitters in your drink is sweet heaven.
To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
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