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Great Plains Brandy Cask 18 Year Old (Batch 1)

Review: Great Plains Brandy Cask 18 Year Old Canadian Whisky (Batch 1)    94/100
Review by Chip Dykstra
Published June 4, 2020

Great Plains Craft Spirits are located in Calgary, Alberta. They are a small company which sources special whiskies for blending and finishing. The intent is to offer to the marketplace limited edition bottlings which feature custom blending and cask finishes. These whiskies can be quite rare with batches as small as two barrels as well as larger projects (up to this point) of up to twenty-four barrels.

I was recently sent a 750ml sample of Great Plains Brandy Cask 18 Year Old Canadian Whisky to review. I had previously encountered the spirit when I judged it in a blind format for the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards (CWA). I remember going back to this particular whisky sample after the reveal as it had made quite an impression on me during the judging process. In fact, it made an impression on several of the judges, and was one of the award winners being named as the CWA Best New Whisky of 2020.

I didn’t know too much about this new whisky, so I asked Victor Mah of Great Plains Craft Spirits to provide me with some details. According to Victor, although the label says this whisky is 18 Years Old, the spirit is actually a year older as the finishing period in Brandy barrels was almost 4 months longer than planned.  Apparently as the company was getting their label design finalized and printed, they ended up leaving the whisky in Brandy Casks longer than anticipated, and by the time it was bottled, the spirit had turned 19 Years Old.

This is Great Plains first release and was drawn from 22 casks of pure corn whisky which according to the back of the bottle was produced at the now defunct Potters Distillery in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. The whisky was aged for a little longer than 17 years in ex bourbon barrels and then finished in Jerez (Osborne) Brandy barrels from Andalusia, Spain.

The final spirit was bottled at cask strength (54.5% ABV).

Note: Although Potter’s produced their 100 % corn whisky at the Potter’s Distillery in British Columbia, when Highwood purchased the remaining stocks from the facility in 2005, they moved them to their aging warehouse in Alberta where they mature alongside Highwood’s own whisky stocks.

In the Bottle 3.5/5

As you read my review, you will see that I fell in love with this well aged whisky. My only point of criticism is with respect to the retail presentation. I snapped a picture of the bottle given to me, and it is shown on the left. The bottle itself is a medium tall long necked bottle with a slightly bubbled neck. It is sealed with a cork stopper which is appropriate for a premium bottling. A denser cork would be preferred as my cork was already spongy when I opened the bottle.

The label is a bit of a botched affair. It’s just too busy with so many highlights crammed onto it that nothing on the label really stands out. In fact there is so much going on that I wasn’t really sure what the name of the whisky actually was. Reading the label; it appears to be a lengthy affair, GREAT PLAINS Craft Spirits Canadian Extra Special Craft Finished Whisky.

Even the age statement is ponderous to read.  Matured 18 Yrs in Barrel including Finish of 10 Long Months in Brandy Casks.

We are not done yet, as the bottom of the front label includes a more thorough breakdown of the whisky’s aging and bottling heritage.

I would like to see the label less cluttered with a more clearly defined brand identity such that the the spirit could be more easily referenced by consumers when they ask for the spirit in a retail setting (or when they recommend it to others).

In the Glass 9.5/10

Once the Great Plains Brandy Finished Whisky was poured into my glencairn, I found that my criticism of the label was easily washed aside by the quality of the spirit I was tasting.

In that glencairn, the aged whisky has a nice golden hue which is enticing. The cask strength nature of the bottling is immediately apparent as the nose is full of heated fire, fine oak spices, and wonderful aromas of corn and grain. A mouth-watering combination of vanilla, butterscotch, orange peel and almond climbs into the air alongside. The impulse to steal a sip before more completely examining the nose is strong; but that would be a mistake, as this is a dram which grows in the glass as you let the 18 year old whisky breathe.

Oak spice builds as do impressions of baking spices (cinnamon and clove). What was before an impression of almond wrapped into butterscotch and vanilla, now smells like delicious marzipan. Marmalade has appeared in the breezes as has a lovely indication of red licorice. And then comes a rush of dry fruit (raisins in particular) lending an accent of  cognac-like goodness.

Enthralled is not too strong a word to describe my enthusiasm.

In the Mouth 57.5/60

Because this is a cask strength offering, I approached my first sip cautiously. I was glad I did as at cask strength the whisky is a full throttled spice bomb. A wave of intense spicy fine oak and grain almost overwhelms the palate. You would be forgiven for believing that you can taste rye spices alongside the oak. This is a characteristic I have noted in other Highwood Distillery corn whiskies. I believe that aging corn spirit in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies draws flavours from the barrel which are similar to rye which lends extra character to their corn whiskies.

We taste the corn as well melded into complimentary flavours of butterscotch, vanilla, and almond. Bits of red licorice run alongside hinting at the brandy cask enhancement, as indeed I swear I can taste Port dipped cigars somewhere in the background. The character of the spirit is both robust and delightful.

When I add ice to my glass, the light butterscotch sweetness is dampened; but the dry spicy heat remains. Now I taste lightly bitter flavours of rye kernel and wood tannin as well as more clear dry fruit flavours (in particular raisin) which again has brought the Brandy Cask Finish into focus.

I am loving this!

In The Throat 14/15

The finish is full of fine oak and baking spices which linger seemingly forever afterwards. It is as if little pools of cinnamon, clove and fine oak spice are left gathered in the small crevices of the tongue. My tonsils were swatted around some during the swallow, but the overall felling is one of blissful contentment.

(Fortunately there is just enough vanilla and butterscotch sweetness to offer solace to the palate and throat after the swallow.)

The Afterburn 9.5/10

As indicated previously, my only criticism of the spirit is with respect to the overly busy label which probably hurts the whisky in the retail setting. Putting aside the cluttered label, the whisky is tremendous. The combination of 18 plus years of aging, a robust Brandy finish and the cask strength bottling which concentrates these factors has done wonders for the 100% corn distillate.

I think the judges for the 2020 Canadian Whisky Awards got it right. This is certainly the Best New Canadian Whisky of 2020, and it makes a strong case for being one of the best Canadian whiskies overall. Hopefully we will see Great Plains Brandy Cask 18 Year Old Canadian Whisky released not only in Alberta but also across Canada.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Each of my review contains a rating or score out of 100 and these scores can be interpreted using the following scale:

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

 

 
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