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The Year In Rum – (The 2015 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 31, 2015

RH-winner2015I 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:

The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Rum

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: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Year In Whisky – (The 2015 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 30, 2015

RH-winner2015The 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:

The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Whisky

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The Year In Vodka – (The 2015 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 29, 2015

RH-winner2015There 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:

The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Vodka

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The Year In Gin – (The 2015 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 28, 2015

RH-winner2015Gin 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:

The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Gin

 

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The Year In Tequila – (The 2015 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 27, 2015

RH-winner2015In 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:

The 2015 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Tequila

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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: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Rum Howler’s #1 Canadian Whisky of 2015 – Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old (Batch 001)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2015

Canadian Rockies 21Three 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:

Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old (Batch 001)

“… 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 …”

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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: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Rum Howler’s #1 Rum of 2015 – El Dorado 21 Year Old

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2015

El Dorado 21 SAM_1893I have noticed that the El Dorado 21 Year Old (like most well aged spirits) is subject to some amount of batch variation each year. As a 21 Year Old rum which blended from various marques from various stills, this is not to be unexpected. However, I have also noticed that despite these variations in taste profile, my appreciation for this particular rum is always very high, and every year when I do my rum rankings it is right near the top. This year it reached the pinnacle, and I have named it, The Rum Howler 2015 Rum of the Year!

As a bit of background information, the DDL Master Blender is credited with the creation of El Dorado 21-Year-Old Rum which uses a blend of rums selected from their world-famous stills, the Enmore (wooden Coffey still), the Versailles (single wooden pot still), and the Albion (Savalle still). All of the rums in the blend have been aged in oak for a minimum of 21 years, making this one of the oldest production rums in the world.

Here is a link to the Rum Howler 2015 Rum of the Year:

El Dorado Special Reserve 21-Year Old Rum

“… my first impression is that I am sampling a yummy oak and toffee extract filled with rich brown sugar. The oak is at the center of the flavour, yet the tannins do not inhibit the other flavours in the rum from forming and delighting me.  Raisins, prunes, and dates give the rum an almost smoky quality while the impressions of nutty elements adds softness to the mouth-feel. Cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar create a wonderful baking spice flavour which weaves throughout, and the rum is an absolute marvel of complexity and balance …”

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You may read about and follow the Top 25 Rum Countdown here:

The Rum Howler 2015 Top 25 Rums

 

 

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#1 Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Canadian Rye (Rum Howler Top 100 Spirits)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2015

Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky was produced by Alberta Distillers Limited (ADL) (currently owned by Beam/Suntory). in 2006. The whisky went relatively unnoticed by everyone until Jim Murray (who publishes his famous yearly Whisky Bible) proclaimed that it was pretty darn good. (He named it Canada’s Best whisky in 2008) Despite the accolades the spirit received from whisky pundits (after Jim noticed it), in my home Province of Alberta consumers kept disregarding the whisky, and it never really brought the distillery (ADL) the notoriety it deserved locally (that came later with the release of the Alberta Premium 30 Year Old) five years later.

And I suppose that I have been a major beneficiary of the Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Whisky’s low profile. You see, when I travel through small towns in rural Alberta, I still occasionally find a few bottles here and there. (For a modest $29.95 no less.) When I find a dusty bottle hiding out in a bottom shelf of a rural retail store I feel it is my duty to pick it up so that I can give it a more deserving pedestal upon my whisky shelf.

Alberta Premium 25 Year Old SAM_1728To the right is my most recent acquisition, and when I re-tasted it alongside all of my favourites this past summer I found that this modestly priced spirit sat alone on top of my rankings. The Alberta Premium 25 Year Old is a spirit which brings all the goodness of Canadian Rye to the fore, yet despite its bold and spicy flavour, it is also deeply complex spirit which carries layer after layer of nuanced subtlety for the whisky connoisseur to enjoy.

The Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Whisky is the best spirit I have tasted to this point in my spirits journey.

#1 – Alberta Premium 25 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky

” … I love a paradox, and here we have a beauty. Rye is spicy, and grabs your taste-buds and won’t let go. Here we all that rye flavour; but, instead of burning your mouth with spice, this sits gently and smoothly on the palate. In fact this is one of the smoothest whiskies I have ever tasted. Earthy, spicy rye flavour first, second and third, and only the lightest hint of toffee sits in the mouth. This is rye whisky as it is meant to be …”

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Note: I chose not to re-score my original review written six years ago, although if I had, I may very well have awarded my first 98.

You may find my complete Countdown list of the 100 Best Spirits here: The Rum Howler 2015 – Top 100 Spirits

Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y, Whisk(e)y Review | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Rum Howler’s #2 Canadian Whisky of 2015 – Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 23, 2015

Crown Royal Single Barrel (Davin) SAM_1633Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel is the first production Canadian Whisky ever to sold in the single barrel format. It drawn from a single oak cask and bottled a full 51.5 % alcohol by volume bottling proof.

Now the folks at Crown Royal didn’t just go into their warehouse and start checking random casks of whisky for this expression. They chose a very particular whisky to showcase as their first Single Barrel Whisky. A whisky from a rye heavy mashbill (64% corn, 31.5% rye, and 4.5% malted barley) which was distilled upon their one of a kind Coffey Rye still which is located in their Gimli facility. This is reported to be one of the key whiskies which is found in their flagship blend, Crown Royal Deluxe.

Note: Although the whiskey has no age statement, I did a little research and according to Davin’s De Kergommeax’s article in Whisky Advocate (see here), Crown Royal Master Blender, Andrew MacKay, leaves the Coffey Rye spirit in virgin oak bourbon barrels for seven years.

Here is a link to the Rum Howler #2 Canadian Whisky of 2015:

Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel

“… A fairly intense aroma of butterscotch rises from the glass with scents of fresh rye bread trailing just afterward. As the whisky breathes I notice an abundance of rye and wood spices, more butterscotch, some honeycomb cereal (you know that children’s breakfast cereal from POST) and fresh rye grain. By the time the glass is fully decanted I also notice an abundance of vanilla, cinnamon spice, sourdough and milk chocolate …”

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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: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

#2 Flor De Cana Centenario 21 (Rum Howler Top 100 Spirits)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 23, 2015

The Flor De Cana Centenario 21 Commemorative Edition was produced as a special edition bottling near the turn of the century. The number 21 refers not to the age of the blend (which is 15 years), rather it is a nod to the 21st Century and the prestige which the Flor de Cana Rum Company had began to earn as a world-class producer of rum.

Flor De Cana 21 SAM_1891When the FDC 21 Rum was introduced at the turn of the century it created quite a splash winning accolades not only for the rum inside the bottle, but also for the stunning porcelain decanter which it was sold in. Unfortunately, this spectacular rum is no longer widely available, and full sealed bottles have become collectors items within the rum world with current (2015) pricing that ranges from $100.00 to $250.00 per bottle depending upon your locale.

If you can find one of these rare bottles within a price range which you can justify, then I suggest that you pick it up. This is (in my opinion) the best rum that Flor de Cana has ever produced, and it is a rum spirit that easily sits beside the best spirits ever produced by anyone, anywhere in the world.

Here is a link to the review of the best rum I have ever tasted, and the #2 Spirit in my Rum Howler Top 100 Spirits Countdown.

#2 – Flor De Cana Centenario 21 Commemorative Edition

“… The initial nose brings forward a dominant triumvirate of oak sap, semisweet butterscotch, and spicy tobacco aromas. It is really quite nice especially how neither the sweetness of the butterscotch, nor the sharpness of the oak sap, nor the spiciness of the tobacco takes control of the breezes above the glass. Rather, each partner in this dance acts in concert with the others resulting in a melding of scents which smells quite delicious …”

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You may follow my Countdown list of the 100 Best Spirits here: The Rum Howler 2015 – Top 100 Spirits

 

Posted in Awards, Extras, Rum, Rum Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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