Vancouver’s Newest Distillery: Odd Society Spirits

Odd Society Spirits

 

It can be hit and miss, but this year summer in Vancouver was beautiful. One week of sun-drenched warmth flowed into another seemingly without end, an almost unprecedented stretch of clear weather. It was towards the end of this run that I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the soon-to-open Odd Society Spirits distillery.

 

Housed in a converted motorcycle garage in East Vancouver, Odd Society is a distillery and lounge developed by Gordon Glanz and Miriam Karp. After being bitten by the whisky bug, Gordon obtained an MSc in brewing and distilling from Heriott-Watt University in Edinburgh. (As an interesting aside, there’s another local connection to Heriott-Watt as the head of brewing and distilling is Professor Alex Speers, a Canadian who got his graduate degree at Vancouver’s UBC!)

 

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Bushmills Black Bush Review

Bushmills Black Bush


Ireland has long been believed to be the probable birthplace of whiskey, despite those upstart Scots stealing the limelight these days. And appropriately, the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim is claimed to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world, said license having been granted by King James I in 1608 (though the distillery wasn’t actually registered until 1784, so that seems like it may be a nice bit of blarney!).

 

The location of the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The location of the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

In common with many other distilleries, Bushmills has had a bit of a chequered past, suffering through lengthy periods of silence during the 19th century. After changing hands a few times in the last several decades though (most recently going to Diageo), it happily seems to be on a significant upswing these days.

 

As well as boosting output, quality seems to be heading in the same upward direction. My personal experience with their whiskies is limited, but a colleague brought us a bottle of their sherry-cask matured 12-year-old single malt from the distillery for a Scotch Club meeting recently and I enjoyed it quite a bit, the soft sherry tones suiting the light, aromatic spirit. The local liquor store sells a bottle of 21-year-old, tempting apart from the somewhat eye-watering price of $185.

 

But we’re not here for that today! At almost the opposite end of the Bushmills price spectrum lies the Black Bush, a gentle blended whiskey priced for the mass market. Even here in BC it’s only $38 for 750ml, which feels like something of a miracle with our local tax-gouging liquor board in control. Of course, that’s 60% higher than the UK price.

 

(Dammit, I promised myself no more complaining about local prices!

Only kidding, of course I didn’t. What else would I have to write about if I put a stop to that?)

 

The Black Bush is a blend of Bushmills’ single malt, triple-distilled of course, and externally-sourced grain whiskey, in a proportion of 80% malt and 20% grain. It’s unusual for a value-priced blended whiskey in that it’s partially matured in Oloroso sherry casks, lending it a decidedly fruity character (though not, I suspect, its dark amber colour; nowhere does it claim “no added colouring” and so I remain suspicious). This page¬†claims that the expression has been around in one form or another since 1934 and that the name is due to the distinctive black label; if that’s true then presumably “the black Bushmills” got shortened to “Black Bush” somewhere along the way. There doesn’t seem to be an official story so I’ll just go with that!

 

Bush LightThe colour, artificial or not, is very attractive and gives a good first impression in the glass. Nosing, the positive mood is continued; dried fruit, candied orange peel, brown sugar, maybe a touch of red apple all come across on a pleasant gentle alcohol base. It’s only when tasting that things fall down a few notches. First off, I find the mouth feel and the general taste and overall impact on the palate to be quite watery – I’d love to try this at a higher alcohol strength to enhance both. Even 43% would be an improvement. The promise of the nose doesn’t fully translate to the mouth, with muted reflections of the hoped-for fruit being all that comes through for me.

 

I’ll admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of blended whiskey in general, and so even the 20% of grain spirit in the Black Bush is too much for my liking. Give me my “rough” single malts any day! The softening effect of the grain further undermines the fruity character and dilutes the flavour. And despite the overall gentleness of the whiskey, the finish is short, bitter and a little metallic.

 

Despite my complaints, I have to say that as an overall value proposition I don’t think the Black Bush is too bad. I certainly can’t think of any Scottish or Irish whiskey around the same price point I’d pick over it. Personally I’d rather spend a little more and get a good single malt, but if you’re looking for a blended whiskey with a little sherry influence at the lowest possible price, the Black Bush might just be your dram.

 

(I’d like to say thank you to Johanne McInnis, the irrepressible WhiskyLassie, for setting up this flash mob project and inviting us all to be a part of it! Three cheers, Johanne. You can find the excellent whisky blog Johanne runs in conjunction with her husband Graham at http://theperfectwhiskymatch.blogspot.ca/)

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

SMWS 2-81

 

Being an emotional sort, in October 2011 I found myself overwhelmed with jealousy; jealousy aimed toward the good people of Alberta, of all things. Why would this happen? Well, the Canadian launch of the venerable Scotch Malt Whisky Society took place in Calgary that month, and due to Canada’s amazingly progressive and liberal alcohol laws (engage your sarcasm detectors please) the exclusive single-cask whiskies they deal in remained locked down to that fortunate province.

 

So what’s to get so excited about? The society was founded almost 30 years ago in 1983 as a new way to bring single-cask, cask-strength single malts (and the odd grain whisky) to its members. Bottled directly from the cask with no chill filtering and no colouring, the committee selects high-quality and often unusual examples of a distillery’s output. To avoid the preconceptions that arise from recognized brand names, they have a “secret” numbering scheme designed to allow the whiskies to be approached without the baggage you and I might have surrounding the distilleries. With time, you might be able to memorize the list, and if you’re anything like me you’ll quickly pick out favourite names and remember those, but I can attest to the fact that at least for a relative SMWS novice the approach works as intended. Each whisky is given a creative name and some whimsical tasting notes to convey the character and, to enhance the mystery, each is bottled in a very dark green glass bottle to disguise the colour and further discourage any pre-judgement. It’s all very cloak-and-dagger!

 

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