Archive for April, 2013

Is this the Golden Age of Whisky?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

John HansellI asked a veteran and well-respected whisky manager this question two weeks ago when I was in Scotland, and he said yes. He was looking at it from his company’s perspective. They can’t make their whisky fast enough, and to him that’s how he defines the Golden Age.

Scotch Whisky Association Chief Executive Gavin Hewitt posed the same question at the Keepers of the Quaich banquet, which I attended while I was in Scotland. His response what that the Golden Age of Whisky is yet to come. He described what we are currently experiencing as a “renaissance.”

Still, some whisky enthusiasts who have been drinking whisky for a long time (like me) believe that the Golden Age is behind us. One blogger in particular (Sku) argues that the golden age was from the late 1990s and lasted about a decade. Follow the link to understand his logic. I, for one, have a tendency to agree with him on most points. Whisky prices were reasonable, quality improved overall from the early 1990s, and rare whiskies were plentiful–and affordable.

However, if you didn’t start drinking–and buying–whisky until the late 1990s, you missed out on an era that was almost as good: the early-to-mid1990s. Many of the now legendary bottlings were from that time, including the Black Bowmores, some amazing Springbanks, and 1973/1974 Longrows, just for starters. Plus, whiskies were ridiculously under-priced. How about $300 for Black Bowmore, $65 for Springbank 21 yr., and Macallan 18 yr. (from the great 1970s vintages) for under $50. Many whiskies from that era are fetching up to ten times as much these days at auction. Good single malts like Dalmore 12 yr. and Aberlour 10 yr. were under $20. Plus, if you knew where to shop, independent bottled whiskies (like Gordon & MacPhail, for example) that were really nice and/or rare, were dirt cheap (albeit often at 40-43% abv and not chll-filtered).

The one main factor is stopping me from saying that the early-to-mid 1990s was also a Golden Age of Whisky: quality control. While it’s true that some amazing whiskies came from that era, I would have to say that the worst whiskies I’ve ever tasted also came from that era. These were whiskies so bad, that I dumped them down the drain. Many were from independent bottlers who should have known better. Many times industry reps told me back then that there are no bad whiskies; some are just better than others. They were wrong.

What about the future? Could there still be a Golden Age of Whisky in front of us? Well, there’s one main factor stopping me from saying yes: price. While I honestly believe that the overall quality of whisky will be better in the future than in any time in the past–and all the new craft distillers around the world will energize the whisky industry the same way craft beer has done for brewing–it’s going to come with a higher price tag.  The days of undervalued, under-appreciated whiskies (and whiskeys) are over.

That’s not to say that all this increased production and expansion won’t lead to another whisky glut (and bust) in the future. The industry is very cyclical. If we do end up with another glut from over-production and over-pricing, it could lead to another Golden Age. My gut feeling, however (and it’s just a gut feeling), is that this isn’t likely. At least not one as severe as the one we experienced 20 years or so ago.

One final point: I don’t want to dissuade new whisky drinkers from buying whisky now. Just because we aren’t in a “Golden Age” doesn’t mean there aren’t wonderful whiskies at a fair value. There are plenty. It’s just that the increased demand in whisky, diminished supply, and the proliferation of NAS (no age statement) whiskies makes it more challenging.

What do you think? When is/was the Golden Age of Whisky? And why?

Talisker: Home By the Sea

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Jonny McCormickTalisker has unveiled a new million pound upgrade to its distillery visitor facilities. Jonny McCormick traveled to the Isle of Skye to take a look.

There are precious few signs that spring has arrived on Skye.  The fabric of the mountainside is a muted patchwork of exhausted greensand intense purples from the quiescent winter grass and last summer’s heather. A severe storm is grinding itself out on the Hebrides, with dense, savage rainclouds enveloping the summits of the Cuillins on the Minginish peninsula. Rain and snowmelt have swollen the many burns and streams which cascade down steep slopes into the lochs; the unpredictable routes of the brilliant white torrents reminiscent of the legs running down your whisky glass. I approach Talisker distillery after a five hour coast-to-coast drive, the car whipped by rain every single minute of the journey. Talisker: give me shelter from the storm.

Talisker DFW in better weather 2012

Talisker welcomed 60,000 visitors last year, the highest footfall of any Diageo-owned distillery in Scotland. This is a growing brand that continues to receive attention with smart updated packaging, premium limited editions, and new no-age-statement line extensions including Talisker Storm and the new Talisker Port Ruighe.  These are soon to be joined by Talisker Dark Storm, a new Travel Retail expression matured in heavily charred casks.

Talisker waves in the reception areaNo wonder the parent company has invested seriously in how the distillery in Carbost presents itself to the world. It’s styled by the tagline “Made By The Sea,” and as I enter, they are not kidding around. Carved waves surge out of the floorboards, lapping at information stations that encapsulate materials central to whisky making here: copper for the stills, the wood of the wormtubs, and the curious U-bend in the lyne arms with the skinny re-entrant pipe that loops condensed spirit back down into Talisker’s wash stills. Hand in hand are the rugged elements representing the strong winds driving the waves onto the rocks in Loch Harport, yachting sails, and rigging marking the maritime positioning fitting the distillery’s exposed setting.Talisker Wash Still #2 with U bend lyne arm

The stories are rich from the distillery’s origins in 1830 with Hugh MacAskill who orchestrated the Clearances on Skye, the dependency on old Clyde puffers to bring in raw materials and take away casks to the mainland, and the night of the major stillhouse fire in 1960. The new ground floor reception area is a triumph of contemporary design and a breath of fresh (salty) air compared with the former upstairs lounge area where expectant visitors used to sip a dram in the past, while tour numbers grew to a critical mass. The new space has come at the expense of part of the sea-facing Duty Free Warehouse #4, but the tour still offers a view into this working warehouse where the oldest casks on site are maturing (currently two casks filled in 1979).

Talisker offer a basic tour at £7 (around $10-11) and an in-depth tasting tour for Talisker slogans£25 ($38) that takes around two hours and includes a tasting of five different expressions plus an opportunity to try Talisker new make. This year, they are introducing something new with a ‘tasting without a tour’ session for repeat visitors and whisky enthusiasts who have seen it all before and just want to get their nose into the new products. The new tasting room has a colorful border of jumbled texts and fonts like a wood type block, each singing out a distinctive flavor descriptor; honeycombs, smoky bacon, wooden fish boxes….

This room will host the tasting tours and visiting media representatives like today, when a party of French journalists are attending a press launch for Talisker Port Ruighe. The space where the tours conclude is my favorite part of the redesign; a versatile room that can be partitioned by a blue swing panel covered in slogans of the key messages. The areas are bounded by vertical wooden planks, each laser cut with the names and flavors of a different expression of Talisker single malt whisky.

It’s the clever little touches that impress, such as the mirrors beside the narrow dunnage warehouse windows to increase the natural light and the sail ropes that hoist the vertical planks upwards like storm covers hiding cannon muzzles on a man-of-war. When the visitor season hits full swing later this summer, the tour guides will be conducting 30-35 tours per day with tour groups coming into this area for tastings every 15 minutes.

Talisker exterior in better weather 2012 2LRI’ve been visiting Skye since I was a boy and it still takes me a second to remember to use the Skye bridge and not pull off the road at Kyle of Lochalsh down to wait for the roll-on-roll-off ferry to make the short crossing to Kyleakin. Despite today’s cataclysmic downpour, I can reassure you that the Isle of Skye looks glorious in the summertime if you are planning a trip. The impressive new million pound facilities at Talisker Distillery will handsomely reward your efforts for making the journey. This display will leave you with a deeper understanding of the necessary characteristics embodied in the spirit of the Islanders: resilient, inventive, humorous, tough, self-sufficient, waterproof, patient, lucky.

Photographs by Jonny McCormick

Scotland: a Quick Trip

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Whisky Advocate’s managing editor, Lew Bryson, reports on his recent trip to Scotland.

I was invited to join a press trip to Highland Park distillery recently. I accepted, and added on two days of my own to visit other distilleries in the Highlands. The trip was last week, and after a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the cask ale bars of Edinburgh, we flew up to Kirkwall on Orkney on a brisk Monday morning, dropped our bags at the Lynnfield Hotel, and went to the distillery. We stood in the courtyard, smelling the peat burning in the maltings, looking at tubs filled with tiny daffodils, and feeling the sleet fall lightly on our heads and shoulders. That’s Orkney for you.

Highland Park does floor malting of about 20% of its malt, and smokes it all with Orkney peat to between 35 and 50 ppm of phenols. IMG_0098The local peat is unique, and densely layered with heather. We went out to the peat cuttings the following day, and could see heather roots right down to the 5,000 year level. The other 80% of the malt is unpeated and is bought in. The 80/20 blend is the same in all mashing, and yields the familiarly gentle peat character of Highland Park, with a phenol level of about 2 ppm in the spirit.

Highland Park’s whisky is all aged in oloroso sherry-seasoned casks; some made from American oak, some from Spanish oak (about 50/50), but all sherry (which made for an amusing “Ah HA!” moment when we spotted a small number of port pipes; they were experimental, and may never make it to a bottling). They vary the ratios of American/ Spanish and first-fill/refill to get different character for the different bottlings. The 30 Year Old, for instance, has no first-fill casks; the 25 Year Old is 50% first-fill casks.

It was broadly hinted to us that the Edrington Group would like to reserve as much Highland Park as possible for single malt bottling (they’ve already cut back on the amount of barrels being released to independent bottlers). With the same kind of demand driving things at The Macallan, you wonder what the future is for Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.

IMAG0616After a fascinating second day getting the Orkney experience—standing stones, cliffs, more sleet, a Neolithic chamber tomb, the peat bogs, Scapa Flow, and fish and chips in a harborside pub—we left Kirkwall Wednesday morning, and I rented a car to drive to Speyside. My first stop was The Macallan, where my guide, Ian Duncan, told me that they’re now running 24/7 every day of the year, except for three weeks of maintenance in July. Yes, every day of the year, even Christmas and New Year’s, which is how they’re putting out 9.2 million liters a year (even given their “curiously small stills”).

The visitor center has an excellent display on wood, which shows the structure of oak, explaining how oak is watertight, but also, very slowly, breathes. The oak they’re largely looking at, of course, is Spanish and American oak used in sherry casks, which now cost The Macallan about £650 each, compared to £500 only two years ago. Do yourself a favor: drink more sherry!

Unfortunately, since I was traveling solo, I wasn’t able to taste anything, so I pushed on to The Glenlivet, where I was met by international brand ambassador Ian Logan. It was a bit late in the afternoon, so we had the place largely to ourselves, and we paused for a moment in the new distillation hall, a soaring place with a grand view across the valley. The stills are oil-fired, but natural gas is coming: I’d been held up by the construction along the way. The new stills are in addition to the old ones and give the distillery a capacity of 10.5 million liters a year, trying to keep up with a booming demand that had increased sales of Glenlivet from 2,500 cases a year in the 1970s to 250,000 cases in 2001, and an amazing 825,000 cases in 2012.

I asked Ian about the still geometry; why are the stills at Glenlivet shaped the way they are? He called over brewer Richard Clark, who cocked his head and said, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. But really, that’s what it is. Whatever the reason they were built the way they were, keep doing it the same way, because that’s how your spirit is.”

That led us into a discussion of quality vs. consistency. The distillation here is highly consistent because of automation. That’s not necessarily higher quality every time, Ian noted, but it makes for a regularly higher level overall, and it’s always the same. Automation may make a smaller workforce possible—there are ten people making the whisky here—but it’s still the people who make the whisky, he said.

Then we had a chat about limits. The last downturn in the industry was in the 1980s, Ian said, but Chivas kept making whisky, and Glenlivet is set for older whiskies because of that. “It will turn down again,” he said. “It always does. Everything does. Everything is cyclical.” There are other limits on growth; everyone I talked to on this trip had water on their mind, a limiting factor even here in rainy Scotland as production expands in response to demand.

I drove on up past Inverness, and spent the night at The Anderson in Fortrose, owned by an old acquaintance from Philly, Jim IMG_0160Anderson (and he has a great whisky bar). It was a short drive to Tain the next morning, where Annette MacKenzie took me around a quiet Glenmorangie that was slowly coming back to life after annual maintenance. They did a total refurbishment three years ago, and are looking at 6 million liters production this year.

It was quiet at the distillery, but things were stirring. Malt was being delivered, and steam was slowly being turned back on. “Good to hear the noise!” Annette called to the stillman. Then she told me that because the sounds of the steam and the bubbles and the gushes of the stillhouse are so important, and the stillman leans to listen to every little nuance, “You can’t sneak up on a stillman.”

I drove back southeast, backtracking to The Dalmore, where Shauna Jennens took me around. We saw the two sets of stills—the “little rascals” and the “big bastards”—with the odd flat tops of the wash stills and the unique cooling water jackets of the spirit stills.

“It’s an unbalanced distilling system,” explained stillman Mark Hallas. “The spirit’s different coming off the different stills, but over 24 hours it balances. It’s all manually controlled, they call it ‘dynamic distillation.’” He grinned. “Automate it all you want, the most important part is the meat in the machine.” He grinned again, and tapped the side of his head.

The meat in the machine at Dalmore that everyone knows best is Richard Paterson’s nose, of course, and though he wasn’t there that morning, his presence was palpable: in videos, in pictures, and in the complicated blending that’s done with six different casks and finishes for the single malts. Even a simple nose like mine noticed that the smell in these dunnage warehouses, right beside the Cromarty Firth, is unique: malt, wood, stemmy grape, and salt.

And here I did finally give in and have a small drink of Matusalem oloroso sherry; “good stuff,” as Shauna pronounced it, and it was rich, fruity, and delicious. We followed it with a bare quarter-ounce of King Alexander III, and the relation was clear. It was a very good moment, looking out the window, across the sun-beaten firth, ready to push on.

IMG_0171Push on I did, with one more stop before heading back to the Edinburgh airport to fly home. I drove east to Elgin, and then up the Spey to Rothes, where I met Fiona Toovey for a tour of Forsyths, the still manufacturers. Once kitted out with reflective vest and steel-toed shoes, we walked the yard, full of coppersmiths banging away with hammers of differing sizes, saw the large pits for the mechanical hammers, and the shop where Forsyths rides out the cyclical whisky industry with work on specialized steel welding and shaping for the gas and oil drilling industry.

They were gearing up for the summer maintenance period here as well. A warehouse was filling with new and refurbished stills and condensers, and a small army of fitters would swarm on them to get them into quiet distilleries during the short summer break. Things are good at Forsyths, and only getting better as more major distillery expansions are announced.

That was the end of my trip, but for the intensely scenic drive down to Edinburgh (and a quick stop to take a few pictures at Tullibardine for my sister). The Scotch whisky industry is successful and expanding, and looking challenges straight in the eye. Where will the water come from to make the whisky? Where will the wood come from for sherry aging? Where will the money come from to build more warehouses than current sales need (but future sales depend on)? Time will tell. For now, all is well in the glens and on the islands.

Tamdhu opens its doors (for one day only!)

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Ian Buxton, Whisky Advocate contributor, takes a look at Tamdhu: the past, the present, and a re-opening.

Tamdhu. It’s not a name that comes easily to mind, or trips off the lips of even a hard-core malt enthusiast. Which is a shame because this classic Speyside distillery, located close to the River Spey, near-neighbor to Knockando (and, not so very far away, Cardhu and The Macallan), probably deserves to be better known. But its luck is changing.

We haven’t heard very much about it in recent years, apart from the bad news of its closure.  That’s because this Speyside malt was, for the most part, operated by its previous owners Highland Distillers to provide fillings for their blends and to exchange in the market for other whisky they needed. Then they decided that their priorities had changed and decided to mothball it.

That was in April 2010.  To my knowledge, several potential buyers expressed an interest in taking it on.  But, one by one, they dropped out: the distillery was too large for one group to operate cost-effectively and the old dark grains plant represented a problem; another would-be buyer got close to the finishing line but couldn’t quite raise the finance.tamdhu-distillery

Then, to some raised eyebrows, it was smoothly acquired in June 2011 by Ian Macleod Distillers, an independent, family-owned firm of distillers, blenders, and bottlers until then best-known for reviving the Glengoyne distillery and for their Isle of Skye blend.  Macleod had, of course, previously purchased Glengoyne from Highland Distillers, so perhaps the purchase wasn’t quite as surprising as it seemed at the time.

However, successful though they had been with Glengoyne, Tamdhu represented quite a step up in scale. Glengoyne makes around 1 million liters of spirit annually; a fully-operational Tamdhu can produce around 4 times that, making it a very different challenge. What is more, the brand had less previous exposure than Glengoyne, giving them less of a foundation to build on.

But Macleod’s blended business is in good shape and, with pressure all round on stocks, it made commercial sense for them to secure a second source of supply to ensure their continued independence.  In January 2012, Tamdhu was quietly brushed up; eight full-time employees taken on and the distillery made ready to go back into production. The plant has been quietly gathering speed since then.  But there was a lot to do: 14,500 maturing casks to evaluate; new packaging to design; distributors to appoint and brief and a relaunch to plan.

That will finally get underway at the forthcoming Speyside Whisky Festival when Tamdhu will open its doors (for one day only; there is no visitor center yet, though given Glengoyne’s success in that field it can only be a matter of time).  That’s on Saturday, May 4 (noon to 4 p.m.), when a Victorian-themed “Whisky Fete” will take visitors through the history from 1897 to the present day.

So what will you see and do? For the technically minded, Tamdhu has a twelve-ton semi-lauter mash tun, nine Oregon pine washbacks, three pairs of stills, and those 14,500 casks maturing in five warehouses. The tours will be led by the distillery workers themselves (no work experience students here) and, best of all, visitors will be given a rare opportunity to experience one-off tastings of some single casks, handpicked for the occasion.

There is, of course, a special Limited Edition whisky of which only 1,000 bottles will be released worldwide (price TBD).  Festival visitors will be the first to taste and have the chance to buy.

With continued growth and increased numbers of international visitors, the Speyside Festival event will certainly sell out.  But, if you’re not lucky enough to snag a ticket, don’t despair; Tamdhu will shortly be available in world markets, giving malt enthusiasts a long-lost chance to add this grand old lady of Speyside to their drinks cabinet.

Once Ian Macleod Distillers get this project behind them, we can only look forward to the next distillery they decide to bring back to life…

Age statements: how important are they?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

JB_Distillers_InBoxYesterday I received a review sample of Beam’s new Distiller’s Masterpiece: an “extra-aged” Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey barrel finished in Pedro Ximénez(PX)  sherry casks (pictured). I put a mention of it up on Twitter and Facebook.

One person (from the U.S.) on Twitter asked me if there was an age statement on the bottle, which there isn’t. I’m just told that it is “extra-aged.” Then, another person on Twitter (not from the U.S.) tweeted: “Is it just me, or are Americans stuck on age-stated whiskies? Why do most American tweeters I follow seem to be so focused on age statements?”

Well, I don’t know if Americans are more (or less) focused on age statements than the rest of the world, to be honest. I never really thought about it. But what I did start thinking about is the importance of them. Especially now.

In a perfect world, all the whisky companies would make the perfect whisky, regardless of age, and it would always stay perfect. Age statements wouldn’t matter at all, and there would be no reason for wasting our time with them. In fact, they would be a hindrance because, in theory, the perfect whisky could include some young whiskies in the mix.

But it’s not a perfect world, is it? And age statements on whiskies are dropping like flies. Wild Turkey, Macallan, Johnnie Walker, Dalmore, etc.: it seems like everybody is jumping on the NAS (no age statement) bandwagon, choosing to give the whisky some sort of cute or clever name instead.

Why would a whisky company go NAS? That’s an easy one. It doesn’t just give them more freedom and flexibility to deal with gaps in production (can anyone say “Bruichladdich?”). It also allows them to make use of some very young whisky that’s still hasn’t reached puberty yet.

This is very important. Demand has outstripped supply, so every distiller and his brother has cranked up production, and they will be chomping at the bit to get the whisky on the market, meet demand, and bring in a healthy revenue stream. Do we expect a Scotch or Irish whiskey company to put a four-eight  year old whisky on the market and give it an age statement as such? Absolutely not. But you can be sure that they will be happy to blend the younger stuff in with the older stuff and go NAS.

This has been going on for some time now, and it will only continue to become more prevalent. The whisky companies aren’t stupid. They are forward-thinking. They aren’t going to wait until they have new legal whisky coming on the market. They are planning ahead, going NAS now in preparation.

Again, in a perfect world, none of this would matter. They would just continue making the perfect whisky. We would be happy to pay for it, and the world would be such a happy place. But for some companies–and their bean counters–the temptation to “not wait for the perfect whisky” might be just too great, and you–as the consumer–need to be aware of this going forward.

Another thing you need to watch out for is what I will call “NAS age drift.” When a producer first goes NAS with a brand, it might taste just fine. But, after time, as their ratio of old to young whisky nosedives, they might be just too tempted to “tweak” the formula, slowly and gradually so most of you won’t notice, getting more of the younger whisky into the mix.

Yes, this happens more than you think. I once had a blender, when the company the person works for came out with their first NAS release, tell me “be sure to get a bottle of the first batch because I don’t have enough stocks in my warehouse to maintain the age and quality level of the brand going forward.”

So, do age statements matter? Sadly, in a realistic world, I think they do. On the young end of the age spectrum, anyway. An age statement doesn’t guarantee quality, but it can make me feel confident that I’m not getting ripped off paying too much for a bottle of whisky with a lot of young whisky in it.


Diageo announces new Scotch distillery, expanded production at other distilleries

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

We knew this was coming. Here’s the summary, straight from Diageo:

  • teaninich-distillery-artists-impressionDiageo has today announced Teaninich near Alness in the Highlands as the location for its plans to build a new malt whisky distillery. It will have the capacity to produce around 13 million litres of spirit per annum (mla) from 16 copper stills.
  • The company also announced a major new phase of expansion to its Scotch whisky production in the Speyside area.  This includes an investment of  £12 million to expand the existing Teaninich distillery to almost double its capacity.
  • The single malt whisky produced at the new distillery and at the expanded Teaninich distillery will be used in a range of Diageo’s world-leading blended Scotch whisky brands.
  • Diageo also announced plans to invest around £30 million in new production facilities in Speyside, including a project to substantially increase the capacity of the Mortlach distillery at Dufftown. This will involve the building of a new stillhouse, which will replicate the unusual partial-triple distillation process which makes Mortlach unique.
  • Full details at:
  • All of this activity is a key milestone of the £1bn($1.5bn) five-year investment plan which was launched last year.

The whisky boom continues.

Newly arrived from Canada: Pike Creek

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Whisky Advocate contributor Davin de Kergommeaux reports on a new Pike Creek Canadian coming to the U.S. this month.

Canadian whisky makers have a reputation, not entirely undeserved, for keeping their best whiskies at home. Heads up, America! Pike Creek, one of Canada’s finest new whiskies, is about to hit the shelves of liquor stores in ten states.

pikecreekbottleThis is a good time for makers of premium small-batch whiskies such as Pike Creek. Sales are growing rapidly, and ultra-premium Canadian whisky experienced an 18% growth in sales last year. The Pike Creek team and their Canadian whisky making colleagues feel the time is now right for Pike Creek to enter the U.S. market. Or perhaps more accurately: re-enter. Pike Creek is a reprise of an earlier version released in the late 1990s, but which drowned in a wake of seemingly disinterested management by Allied Domecq.

Initially, the reprised Pike Creek was intended as a Canada-only product. That plan was quickly revisited after a very successful pre-Christmas Canadian launch. The arrival of Ross Hendry, formerly of The Glenrothes, as the new director of international sales at Corby Distillers (makers of Pike Creek) also played a role.

“When I came to Corby it surprised me,” Hendry told me recently. “They took Canadian self-deprecation to a new level; even more surprising when you consider the quality of the juice. I’m pretty excited about taking Pike Creek into the U.S.”

Success has its challenges, though, especially when it takes a decade to make a ten year old whisky. If sales take off in the U.S., as expected, Pernod Ricard (owners of Corby) is projecting shortages a couple of years down the road. With a long-term commitment to the U.S. market, they made a strategic choice from the start. The U.S. version of the whisky has been tweaked. Pike Creek remains a 10 year old in Canada while the export version will be mostly 7 and 8 year old whisky and will not carry an age statement.

“It’s not a cost of goods issue,” Hendry assures me. “We’re just making sure we have enough liquid to supply the market.” Overall, the flavors are close enough to say it’s the same whisky. The 10 year old starts out bigger, but its new American cousin quickly catches up with a longer and more interesting finish.

A neck tag tells U.S. consumers that Pike Creek is “Crafted by the Elements,” referring to the unheated warehouses where the whisky matures. Temperatures plunge in the frigid Canadian winters and then soar in summer’s heat. Windsor, where the whisky matures, has the greatest annual temperature variation of any whisky region in the world.

Since Canada’s weather varies enough from year to year, no-one should be surprised if minor differences are noted among various batches of Pike Creek whisky, at home or abroad. The export-only Pike Creek will be a barometer of these year-to-year differences.

As the port wood finish suggests, this whisky begins with clear elements of sweet, ripe red fruit, laced with gingery hot pepper. Hints of menthol with a slight herbal edge slide into silky oak tannins. It’s a voluptuous whisky that ends with cleansing citrus pith. Beginning this month, whisky lovers in the U.S. will be able to taste Pike Creek Canadian whisky without crossing the border.