Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 29, 2016
I began working on my Rum Howler 2015 Top 100 Spirits list at the beginning of July last year, and put the final touches on it in early September. Fortunately, most of the spirits I would be including were in my possession as part of my growing collection of fine spirits, and I had an opportunity to re-taste some of them side by side with others of similar quality to ascertain their rankings. However, it was also true that a number of the spirits I was considering for inclusion were no longer in my possession. I (and my friends) had consumed them over time, and I had not (as yet) re-added them to my collection. In those cases I had to make a judgement call, and my rankings for those spirits were based purely upon the memory of my past indulgences (and my review scores).
Persons unfamiliar with my website should be aware that the primary spirits of interest to me are rum and whisky. Therefore my list is perhaps weighted in favour of those spirits which I particularly enjoy. However, I have manged to taste and review many excellent examples of all of the major classes of distilled spirits, and my Rum Howler 2015 Top 100 Spirits List does indeed include outstanding examples of each class (yes, even a few Vodkas).
Here is a link to my final list, The Best 100 Spirits I have ever tasted:
Posted in Awards, Extras | Tagged: 2015 Top 100 Spirits | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 25, 2016
The 2015 Best Rum in the World
I was not sure I would be able to complete my listing of the Top 25 Rums of 2015. Last fall was so hectic. My retail store where I sell sports and movie memorabilia was extremely busy, and the ramp up to Christmas was crazier than ever. As well, upon my website, I had embarked on the ambitious plan to countdown the best 100 spirits I have ever tasted.
Compiling the Rum Howler 2015 Top 100 Spirits Countdown fortunately afforded me the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. As part of the process of compiling my list of the best 100 spirits ever, I was able to taste almost everything I needed to compile my list of the best rums of 2015.
Unlike my Top 100 Spirits list which was a listing of the best spirits I have ever tasted regardless of whether they were still in production, this list of the Top 25 Rums of 2015 contains only those spirits which are currently available. Every spirit on this list is available somewhere in the world in a local retail shop.
I should point out that when I reached the top 5 spots in this countdown of 2015 rums, I decided to add a wrinkle. Rather than using only my tasting preferences, I asked two friends to join me tasting the final five rums. The top 5 rankings were arrived using an amalgam of our 3 scores. I was quite satisfied with the results.
And so with no further ado, allow me to present my list:
Posted in Awards, Extras, Rum | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 20, 2016
On January 12, 2016, I took a little tour south of Edmonton along the Queen Elizabeth II Highway to the Hamlet of Nisku. The small hamlet, which sits adjacent to Edmonton, is surrounded by what is called The Nisku Business Park. This industrial park contains an important assortment of businesses which provide support to the Oil Industry here in Alberta. What brought me to Nisku was Alberta’s newest craft distillery, the Big Rig Craft Distillery and their Pure Alberta Spirit.
I had been invited by the company President & Head Distiller, Geoff Stewart to come on down for a private tour of the facility, and of course to sample some of their new spirit in their newly opened Big Rig Craft Distillery Tasting Room. When I arrived I was greeted by Geoff and introduced to his team which included his General Manager & Co Distiller, Mike Beile and Blenders, Adam Smith and Joanne Keller.
The Big Rig Craft Distillery opened their doors on October 17, 2015 and they already have an impressive line-up of spirits for sale at their boutique store within the facility. These spirits include their Premium 16x Distilled Vodka and Wildrose Gin; their selections of White Dog Distillate (not whisky for three years yet); and their intriguing Sugar Beet Brum. As well, they are experimenting with an array of flavoured Vodkas some of which are bottled and ready for sale, and others which are in development. The most intriguing of these flavoured spirits was their Garlic Vodka which makes an entirely delicious Big Rig Garlic Caesar Cocktail (recipe coming soon).
The Big Rig Team: Adam Smith, Mike Beile and Geoff Stewart
During my tour, the team was busy producing both Vodka and Gin, and I was able to see both the equipment and the team in action. The distillery truly is a craft operation, as the entire process from grain to glass is completed in about 2 weeks in a batch-style by the Big Rig Team.
If you are interested in how the Big Rig team actually produces these premium spirits, here is a link to my description of the full tour.
Note: Please contact the Big Rig Craft Distillery for information regarding your own opportunity to tour their Craft Distillery (and Tasting Room).
Posted in Distillery Tour, Extras | Tagged: Big Rig Distillery, Distillery Tour | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 5, 2016
2016 Edmonton Whisky Festival
(In Support of the MS Society)
Once again the folks at Vines Riverbend Wine Merchants have teamed up with the Alberta Division of the MS Society to bring you Edmonton’s Premier Whisky Festival. This is a unique chance to taste whiskies from around the world and to meet and discuss the noble spirit with industry and distillery representatives. Monies raised at the event will help those affected by MS in our community, as well as help to fund research towards a cure.
Where: Edmonton Delta South Hotel
When: Wednesday, January 13, 2016 (7:00 – 10:00pm)
Ticket Price: $85.00 each (purchase online here)
The 2016 Edmonton Whisky Festival is a must for any whisky enthusiast and for those new to the exciting world of whisky. The price of your ticket includes entrance, whisky sampling, and the annual commemorative Edmonton Whisky Festival Glencairn Whisky Glass (see photo).
Please attend and enjoy yourself chatting in a relaxed atmosphere with whisky and scotch principals and enthusiasts from across Canada and around the world (The Rum Howler will be their too).
The always popular whisky Master Classes are brought to you by some of the whisky world’s most prominent luminaries. They begin at 6:30pm (and cost an additional $25 on top of your Festival ticket cost).
The lineup includes:
The Bourbon Masterclass with ‘Whisky Chef’ Matt Jones
The Adelphi Masterclass with Alex Bruce
The Bruichladdich Masterclass with Reed Pettit
The Springbank Masterclass with Ronald Watson
All proceeds raised at this event are donated to the MS Society of Canada – Alberta Division.
For more information please contact:
Vines – Riverbend Wine Merchants (Edmonton)
or visit the Edmonton Whisky Festival Website
Tickets are now available from Vines or through the event website: (purchase online here)
Posted in Extras, Festivals, Festivals and Events | Tagged: 2016, Edmonton Whisky Festival, Master Classes, MS Society, Vines Riverbend | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 31, 2015
I have come at last too what is regularly the most popular posting on my website, my annual Year in Rum – Rum Howler Awards which recognize those brands which have achieved excellence in the production of rum. For the second year in a row, sadly, I have eliminated the Regional Rum Awards as once again time simply has gotten the best of me, and tomorrow I must forge on into the year 2016 and leave 2015 behind.
This year, to determine my Rum Howler Award Winners I first checked my review scores in all of the categories of each rum I had sampled in the last two years and chose for each category the 5 top spirits based upon those review scores. Then I asked two friends of mine to rank each of the rums I had chosen within each of the categories. The only category in which cocktails were constructed to help assist in the rankings was for the white rums, and the cocktail constructed was a simple daiquiri. All other rum categories were judged neat.
I compared the rankings assigned by my two jurors for each spirit within each category with my review rankings and determined the Winner as well as the Runners-up and the Honourable Mentions for each category. The results turned out to be very consistent with my review scores although there are a few exceptions. No system is perfect, but I believe my friends and I did a thorough job with good results.
It is time for me to bring forward my 2015 Rum Howler Awards Winners. These are the spirits which have risen to the top and provided us with our greatest enjoyment.
Here is a link to my Year in Rum Awards Page:
Please remember, that the aim of my website is not to help you drink more spirits, it is to help you drink better spirits! (Wishing everyone a safe and enjoyable New Years.)
Posted in Awards, Extras, Rum, Rum Reviews | Tagged: 2015 Rum Howler Awards, Review, Rum, Rum Awards | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 30, 2015
The major story (at least as near as I can determine) with respect to whisky in 2015 is the continued resurgence of Canadian Whisky upon the world scene. I can remember a time only a few short years ago when it seemed like only Davin De Kergommeax (CanadianWhisky.Org) and myself were willing to place the Canadian spirit on par with American Bourbon and Single Malt Scotch Whisky. As both Davin and I wrote our reviews and commentaries it often felt as though we were each subject to more than a few strange looks from other whisky critics who panned the Canadian Spirit as merely a cheap blend.
And this might be the year that future whisky historians decide that Canadian Whisky finally became relevant again. And no, it was not because of Davin or myself (although we may have each played a small (very small) part). It was because in 2015 the most recognized and influential whisky critic in the world (Jim Murray) placed one of our nation’s spirits on top of the whisky world. That whisky, Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye, was named by Jim Murray in his 2016 Whisky Bible, the World Whisky of the Year!
That is not to say that the whisky produced elsewhere is not improving as well. Whisky Advocate named a Swedish spirit, Spirit of Hven Sankt Claus, their World Whisky of the Year, and throughout the world the popularity of US Bourbon continues to rise as does the whisky produced in Japan. Of course Scottish Single Malts are as popular as ever; but the pedestal they once enjoyed upon the top of whisky world has turned more into a broad plateau with many other whisky styles from many other countries also sharing the view from on top.
And this brings me to my Whisky Awards. Let’s face it, Jim Murray may well have his opinion, and the Whisky Advocate writer’s may have theirs; but the opinion which counts for the most upon this website … is mine. And that opinion is shared every year when I publish my own Rum Howler Awards.
Here is a link to my Awards Page for the Best Whiskies produced in 2015:
Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y | Tagged: 2015 Rum Howler Awards, Review, Whisky, Whisky Awards | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 29, 2015
There seems to be a divide among vodka producers. While most producers, particularly in North America and Western Europe continue to value purity above all else, a small but growing movement (which started in Eastern Europe) of allowing the vodka spirit to express a certain level of flavour is gaining momentum. I have always maintained that there are subtle aromas and flavours which can be appreciated when Vodka is sipped or when it is consumed as a shot, and it seems that some of the producers within Eastern Europe have adherents to this philosophy as well. Hopefully this movement will continue to grow.
When I review Vodka on my website, I try very hard to convey my appreciation of those subtle nuances of flavour and pleasure which the spirit can provide.
As for those Vodka Reviews, they continue to be among the most popular upon my website. And I must admit that reviewing vodka the way I do is certainly fun. The process and methodology I utilize where my friends are invited to participate as we sample and share both cocktails and food pairings with the Vodka spirit allows me to incorporate not only my views of taste and quality, but also my friends observations.
As is the case each year, all of my Rum Howler Awards are based upon side by side tastings within each category of spirit. I taste the spirit neat, and I may also mix a few cocktails with each spirit. All spirit samples which I receive to review on my website are automatically considered for my awards. I do my review, and then I set aside the remainder of the spirit for the end of the year judging. I also include those samples which were provided in the previous year so as to have a larger field to judge, and I may receive additional industry samples specifically for these awards.
Here is a link to my Vodka Awards Page:
Posted in Awards, Extras, Vodka, Vodka Reviews | Tagged: 2015 Rum Howler Awards, Vodka, Vodka Awards, Vodka Review | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 28, 2015
Gin appears to be on the upswing, at least that is the impression I receive when I walk into the local liquor stores. I see dozens of new brands alongside the traditional favourites. One reason for all of these new brands of Gin is closely associated with the upswing another spirit entirely, and that spirit is whisky. Whisky has been increasing in popularity for many years now, and to meet the rising demand for whisky, new distilling capacity is being introduced in the form of new distilleries and micro-distilleries throughout North America (and elsewhere). Whisky (in most countries) must be aged for two to three years before it can be sold which means that start-up distilleries in need of cashflow produce and sell their own brands of gin and vodka (which do not need to age) so that they have at least something to generate income while the whisky ages in the oak barrels.
Coinciding with this phenomena is the ongoing cocktail revolution which shows no sign of abating. While Vodka was the spirit of choice at the beginning of the Cocktail Revolution, things are changing and more and more bartenders and home enthusiasts are discovering Gin. The juniper spirit, with its sharp piny aromatics is perhaps the perfect cocktail spirit to turn to when broadening the horizons of cocktail flavour.
Those who read my blog regularly know that I have joined the revolution and embraced gin as one of my go to cocktail spirits. I have embraced the Gin and Tonic, and recently discovered James Bond’s Vesper Martini.
And so with all that ado, it is time for me to pay tribute to the best Gin spirits I encountered in 2015.
Here is a link to my Gin Awards Page:
Posted in Awards, Extras, Gin, Gin Review, Howls | Tagged: 2015 Rum Howler Awards, Gin, Gin Awards, Review | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 27, 2015
In 2013, I lamented that it was a bad year for Tequila as far as my home Province of Alberta was concerned, and in 2014 things were to the point that I decided to omit my Rum Howler Awards for Tequila altogether. In 2015, I decided to do something about this state of affairs and I made a concentrated effort to make Tequila a larger part of my website. I began in May with my Rum Howler 2015 Margarita Challenge. As part of my efforts, I sent a call out to industry and asked for samples of Blanco Tequila with the aim of having a small competition to see which brand made the best Margarita Cocktail. I even designed my version of this quintessential cocktail just for the competition, the Alfred Cointreau Margarita Cocktail.
My efforts were rewarded as I managed to garner about a dozen samples and when the dust had settled I determined that a new agave brand from Patron, Roca Patron Silver was in the opinion my cast of jurors the best Blanco tequila for our summer time tequila cocktails. My competition had the ancillary benefit of drawing the attention of more tequila producers to my website, and I received not only a good selection of blanco tequila samples, but also a nice smattering of Reposado, and Anejo tequila as well as a very delicious Extra Anejo.
All of this means that my Rum Howler Awards for Tequila are back, and quite frankly, I could not be happier about that. Here is a link to my awards page for my 2015 Tequila Awards:
Note: The awards pages contain links to all of the reviews for the awards spirits, two of which have never been reviewed upon my website previously. Please enjoy the awards and stay tuned for my awards for Gin, Vodka, Whisky and Rum!
Posted in Anejo Tequila, Awards, Blanco Tequila, Extra Anejo Tequila, Extras, Reposado Tequila, Tequila, Tequila Review | Tagged: 2015 Rum Howler Awards, Anejo, Blanco, Extra Anejo, Reposado, Review, Tequila | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2015
Three years ago, I encountered Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old Whisky as a random sample in the group of 45 such samples which I was assessing as part of my duties when I served on the jury for the 2012 Canadian Whisky Awards. Whenever I participate as a spirits judge I always make note of any of the samples which strike me as being particularly good, and the small sample bottle which contained the Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old Whisky was one which I had earmarked as a superior whisky. So, when the Awards Competition was complete, it was to my dismay that I learned this particular whisky (Random Sample number 7 by the way) was a brand destined not for Canada; but instead for Taiwan.
When I wrote a brief review for this whisky in 2013 (see here), I lamented that this great whisky was available only in Asia, and I hoped that the brand owner (and the folks at Highwood Distillery) might read the review, and figure out that maybe Canada deserved this Whisky too. Perhaps my idea was not so far-fetched, as earlier this fall I was contacted by the Fountana Group, and asked to review the Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old Batch 001, a new version of their whisky brand destined for Canadian retail shelves this Christmas Season.
I placed the sample bottle in with the others my friends and I were analyzing as part of the Rum Howler 2015 Top 25 Canadian Whiskies. And it was fortunate that I did as the Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old was the unanimous choice among all judges as the Best Canadian Whisky of 2015! In addition it has also been placed on the short list of the Whiskies I am considering for The Rum Howler 2015 Whisky of the Year.
Here is a link to the Number 1 Canadian Whisky in my Rum Howler Countdown of the Best Whiskies of 2015:
“… I used the term ‘luscious’ when describing the nose, and that term deserves repeating here again when describing the flavour. I taste a perfect melding of firm butterscotch, oak spice and corn flavours. My palate is heated with little explosions of oak spice and orange peel, but then it is soothingly caressed by corn and butterscotch. Vanilla and baking spices romp through the garden of lush flavours with marzipan and marmalade chasing merrily behind. Underlying all of this are rich tobacco and leather flavours which serve to add even more depth and character to the glass …”
You may read about the Top 25 Canadian Whisky Countdown here:
The Rum Howler 2015 Top 25 Canadian Whiskies
Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y, Whisk(e)y Review | Tagged: 2015 Top 25 Canadian Whiskies, 21 Year Old, Batch 001, Canadian Rockies Whisky, Canadian Whisky, Review, Rum howler, Whisky | 2 Comments »