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The Year in Cognac and Brandy (2014 Rum Howler Awards)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 6, 2015

RH-winner2014I am a little late with my 2014 Rum Howler Awards. As some of you know, I took a sabbatical from my website at the end of the summer when my wife and my youngest son were each going through some medical difficulties. My time and attention was needed on the home front rather than on the web front, and as a result I made the decision in early October to postpone the publication of my Rum Howler Awards until after Christmas. I hope that no one minds the delay.

Earlier this year, I sent out a call to my contacts in the spirits industry as I was hoping to acquire 4 or 5 VSOP Cognac samples for a Rum Chums Tasting as well as for a short series of Cognac reviews to publish. The response I received was nothing short of amazing as instead of just a few VSOP Cognac, I also received an assortment of VS Cognac, and an even larger assortment of XO and super premium Cognac spirits. This meant that instead of a few VSOP spirits to review, I had suddenly acquired a bunch of Cognac spirits, sixteen samples in all. In fact I received enough sample spirits such that I am able to add the Cognac category to my annual Rum Howler Awards. (I also had a few very old Brandies which I added to the festivities.)

And thus it is time to reveal the recipients of the 2014 Rum Howler Awards for Excellence in the Production of Cognac (and Brandy). These Awards are for the best spirits which I encountered in the year 2014.

Here is a link to the Awards Page:

The 2014 Rum Howler Awards – The Year in Cognac (And Brandy)

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Note: The awards page contains links to my latest reviews for CAMUS VS, Courvoisier VS, and Hennessy VS Cognac.

Posted in Awards, Brandy and Cognac, Brandy Review, Cognac Review, Extras | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off

Ten Great Cognac Cocktails for 2015

Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 4, 2015

Baby Doll

Baby Doll

During the month of December, I had a lot of fun tasting Cognac and researching different ways to enjoy the spirit. In the course of my research I was able to speak directly with experts from both small Cognac Houses like Pierre Ferrand, and larger houses like CAMUS. I also visited many of the producer’s websites, and the recurring theme was that the Cognac industry appears to be embracing the new cocktail revolution. In fact most of the websites I visited offered a variety of recipes for the consumer to enjoy with not just their VS Cognac, but also with their VSOP, and XO Cognac.

When I spoke directly with Richard Bush, the Area Manager (US Travel Retail, Canada and the Caribbean) for Camus Wines & Spirits, he told me that their CAMUS Cognac is not just for sipping in a brandy snifter. It can (and should) be enjoyed in a variety of other ways. In fact, when Richard served me a glass of his very special CAMUS Elegance Extra (see review here), he suggested that this expensive spirit could be tossed into the freezer overnight, and then served in a tulip shaped glass like a glencairn after it was thoroughly chilled. The idea is to slowly sip the Cognac over the course of an hour or so such that you may experience a fuller spectrum of flavours which are revealed as the spirit slowly warms in the glass. (You can try this with any premium sipping spirit, and if you do you will enjoy a similar delightful experience whether this be Rum, Whisky, or even Anejo Tequila.) Richard also offered his support to the notion that Cognac and Cocktails are partners which have a long history together.

I found myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Richard, and when I published my Cognac Review Series, The 12 Cognacs of Christmas, I tried to convey the sentiment that Cognac is a much more versatile spirit than many persons suppose. I made the point in many of my reviews that one of the great ways to enjoy this premium spirit is in a fine cocktail. I suggested that bar drinks made with Cognac are not to be scoffed at, rather they are an intrinsic part of the enjoyment of the spirit. The truth is that mixing cocktails with Cognac has a tradition which dates back to the very earliest cocktails constructed by the original American bartenders who pioneered the art of mixology.

In keeping with the theme of serving great Cognac cocktails, I thought I would give you a list of ten of my favourite cocktail discoveries which I embraced during my review series. They are listed in no particular order, and if you are interested in making one for yourself just click on the highlighted name of the cocktail to be linked to its recipe page.

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1878 Cocktail SAM_1392

1878 Brandy Cocktail

1) 1878 Brandy Cocktail (In the nineteenth century different styles of bar drinks had their own names, the Crusta, the Smash, and the Julep just to name a few. At that time, the word ‘cocktail’ was reserved for a specific type of bar drink, which closely resembles what we call the Old-Fashioned Cocktail today. How the word ‘cocktail’ evolved to encompass all classes of bar drinks is unknown to me; but if you want to go back in time and build an original ‘Brandy Cocktail’, Leo Engels’ 1878 Bartender’s Guide, American and Other Drinks (and a nice bottle of Cognac), is a great starting place.)

2) Baby Doll (Very similar the modern Side Car except that it usually specifies the use of Courvoisier Cognac as the brandy of choice and Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge as the orange liqueur of choice in the construction of the recipe. It really doesn’t matter what we call this particular bar drink; the point is that it is delicious!)

3) Heretic (Because, some of my friends believe it is sacrilegious to mix brandy or cognac in bar drinks and cocktails, I decided to create my own heretical cocktail which features both a cognac and a well aged brandy. And for the record, it is a thoroughly delightful cocktail!)

4) 1878 Brandy Crusta (I also dug this cocktail out of Leo Engel’s 1878 amazing bartender’s guide, American and Other Drinks. It is not necessarily easy to make in its original format; but with the right Cognac, it is certainly worth the trouble to construct.)

5) Blood Orange Bitters (I found this recipe on the Hennessy Cognac website (which has quite a few more great looking recipes). Hennessy and I agree that orange and lemon are great complimentary flavours for brandy or Cognac!)

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The Classic SAM_1370

The Classic

6) The Classic Cocktail (The truth is that Brandy and Cognac are perhaps the original cocktail mixers. It was not until these spirits all but disappeared in the 1870’s (until the end of the 19th century because of the phylloxera), that other spirits such as whisky, rum and gin began to dominate the mixed drink category. Here is a recipe which has its roots firmly fixed in those earlier times when Brandy and Cognac were kings of the cocktails.)

7) 1878 Mint Julep (The original Mint Julep was probably made with Cognac, not whiskey, in the early nineteenth century. The recipe I am sharing here is loosely based upon the Mint Julep construction found in Leo Engels’, American and Other Drinks. This classic cocktail has stood the test of time and tastes every bit as good today as it did almost 200 years ago.)

8) French Presbyterian (The tall Presbyterian Cocktail is a simple bar drink which mixes Scotch Whisky with ginger ale and soda water. When made with Cognac, I believe it is more appropriate to call this construction a French Presbyterian. This cocktail is hard to beat when a long refreshing dink is called for.)

9) Wisconsin Old Fashioned (This is a regional cocktail which has been receiving bit of press in the cocktail blogs lately. It is not to be confused with the more well-known Old Fashioned Cocktail; however, this favorite of the Dairyland state is definitely yummy in its own right!)

10) Medusa Coil (This is a cocktail of my own construction which evolved when I wanted to put a somewhat modern spin on a traditional (or maybe the right word is ‘classic’) cocktail. I began with a Leo Engels 1878 Brandy Crusta, and with a few additions and subtractions, I arrived at what I call the Medusa Coil. I think it is very good, and I am hoping some of you will try it as well.)

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2015 Edmonton Whisky Festival

Posted by Arctic Wolf on January 2, 2015

Edmonton Whisky Festival2015 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 14, 2015

Ticket Price: $85.00 each (purchase online here)

The Edmonton Whisky Festival is a must for any whisky enthusiast or for those new to the exciting world of whisky, and the price of a ticket includes entrance, whisky sampling, and the annual commemorative Glencairn Whisky Glass.

Please attend the festival and ejoy yourself chatting in a relaxed atmosphere with whisky and scotch principals and enthusiasts from across Canada and around the world.

Master Classes

Master classes are available again this year.  They are all from 6:30-7:30 pm, and cost an additional $25 on top of your Festival ticket cost.  The lineup is:

Compass Box Masterclass with Chris Maybin
Laphroaig Masterclass with Simon Brooking
Kavalan Masterclass with Nick Haltigin
Canadian Whisky Masterclass with Dan Tullio

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)
Telephone: 434-9444
Email: info@vineswinemerchants.com

or visit the Edmonton Whisky Festival Website

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Tickets are now available from Vines or through the event website: (purchase online here)

Posted in Extras, Festivals | Tagged: , , | Comments Off

Thank You for 2,000,000 visits in 2014

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 31, 2014

On My DeckThank you everyone, for making my website (The Rum Howler Blog) one of the most popular independent spirit review websites in the entire world!

According to the information provided to me in the 2014 Annual Report (sent to me by WordPress), The Rum Howler Blog received over 2,000,000 page views in 2014. In fact, the report tells me that if my website were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 86 days for that many people to see it.

It turns out that last year people from 222 different countries (and from all seven continents of the world) visited The Rum Howler Blog. I received a visit from Vatican City, and yes, I even had a visit from a viewer in Antarctica who apparently read my blog.

I decided to dig into the numbers, and when I checked my web stats at the independent web metrics site ALEXA, I was pleasantly surprised to see that according to their calculations I was ranked as the 350,000th most popular website in the word. Considering the sheer volume of websites out there (over 20 million), that is impressive. According to ALEXA, each person who visits my website spends on average 2 minutes and 23 seconds when they visit. Taking that information along with the information provided by WordPress (which indicates that each person who visits views (on average) 2.5 pages each time they visit), this (if my math is correct) means that a total of 114.5 million seconds of time were spent by various people throughout the world reading what I have written. That translates into 31,778 hours or 1325 days spent by my followers and casual visitors reading my reviews.

All of these numbers translate into a total picture which as of December 31, 2014 ranks The Rum Howler Blog as the most popular spirit review website in Canada; and also, one of the most popular in the entire world.

I guess I want to say …

Thank You!

Posted in Extras, Howls | Tagged: | 9 Comments »

The 12 Cognacs of Christmas #1 – CAMUS Extra Elegance

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2014

c-IMAGE CAM ELEGANCE EXTRA 70CL BOTTLE

This is the final review in my 12 Cognacs of Christmas Review Series, and the final review is of a spirit which completely enchanted me, CAMUS Extra Elegance.

CAMUS Extra Elegance is a blend of eaux-de-vie produced primarily from the Borderies, Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne regions. The eaux-de-vie which make up the blend are all subject to a long aging process in cool, damp cellars which is said to allow the final blended Extra Elegance to reach its full quality.

Here is a link to my full review:

The 12 Cognacs of Christmas #1 – CAMUS Extra Elegance

“… The  initial nose brings forward a rich melding of butterscotch, oak and fresh fruit which smells truly delicious. Fine oak spices, green grapes and hints of butterscotch, maple and apricot brandy tease the breezes above the glass along with bits of vanilla, orange peel spice and nutty almond. As the glass breathes, the oak pushes forward bringing smells of freshly sanded oak and hints of white pepper and spicy sap upward into the air above the glass …”

I hope you have enjoyed my festive review series. This has been a great year for the Rum Howler,  I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Posted in Brandy and Cognac, Cognac Review | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Rum Howler 2014 – Canadian Whisky of the Year: Wiser’s Red Letter (2013 Release)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2014

rum_howler_badge-2014Wiser’s Red Letter was re-introduced to Canadians in 2007 to pay homage to the 150th anniversary of John Philip Wiser’s distillery in Prescott, Ontario 1857 – 2007), as well as to the original Red Letter Whisky which Wiser’s produced in the late 1800s. In 2009, when I reviewed the inaugural 150th Adversary Edition (see review here), I was told by my contacts within Corby, that the spirit contained various blends of whisky which (although they ranged in age) were all ten years old or more. After these mature whiskies were blended they were then finished in virgin white oak barrels for 150 days. Once the final characteristic of flavour had been achieved, the Red Letter was bottled at 45 % alcohol by volume (non chill filtered). In developing the spirit, the folks at Wiser’s apparently researched the original J.P Wiser’s Red Letter 19th century recipe using it as a guideline to construct their celebratory whisky.

Red Letter SAM_1386Last year Corby once again in a tribute to their founder J.P Wiser released Wiser’s Red Letter Whisky (2013 Release). As with the 150th Anniversary edition the whisky was finished in virgin white oak casks and then bottled without chill filtering at 45 % abv..

Although it took me a full year to acquire my sample bottle, I am glad that I was persistent, as this year Wiser’s Red Letter Whisky is without a doubt the finest Canadian Whisky I have sampled all year, and well deserving of the accolade, Rum Howler 2014 Canadian Whisky of the Year!

Here is my review for Wiser’s Red Letter (2013 Release):

Rum Howler 2014 #1 Canadian Whisky – Wiser’s Red Letter (2013 Release)

“… I taste a firm presence of sharp wood spices and orange peel, however, this sharpness ( which I am sure is also due to the 90 bottling proof) is contrasted by the silky mouth feel of a luscious corn whisky. Honeycomb and maple flavours slide through the hot spiciness of the whisky, and soon the orange peel tastes more like marmalade, and the fine wood spices more like a nice spicy maple toffee. Underpinning everything is a impression of lovely chocolate flavours which seem to ooze from the whisky as it is swallowed …”

Every year I seem to encounter a whisky gem which knocks me for a loop. The 2013 Red Letter Whisky is full of spice and attitude, yet it has its silky softer side which makes it all the more engaging. A wonderful whisky, one of Canada’s very best ever!

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Note: You may find my full Countdown list of the 25 Best Canadian Whiskies here:   The Rum Howler – Top 25 Canadian Whiskies of 2014

Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y, Whisk(e)y Review | Tagged: , , , , , , | Comments Off

The 2014 Rum Howler Rum of the Year: Dictador XO Insolent Rum

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 24, 2014

rum_howler_badge-2014This past May, I was invited by Thirsty Cellar Imports, to attend a Rum Master Class hosted by Hernan Parra Arango, Rum Master for Dictador Colombian Rum. At the event, the attendees were given the opportunity to taste the entire Dictador line-up which of course included not only the Dictador 12 Year and the Dictador 20 Year Solera Rums, but we also tasted and learned about the Dictador XO Perpetual and XO Insolent Rums.

At that Rum Master Class, I learned that for the Dictador XO Insolent in particular, the aging barrels used are pre-used oak barrels which have a significant percentage of oak obtained from Jerez Spain, as well as pre-used Port Wine Barrels. Near the end of the aging process, the barrels earmarked for the XO Insolent Rum are emptied (and the rum stored of course), and these barrels are subjected to an open flame process which caramelizes the rum soaked oak fibres on the interior of the barrel. These barrels are then refilled with the same rum allowing the spirit to draw the sweet caramelized flavours from the interior of the oak barrel. The final rum is blended and barreled at 40 % Alcohol by volume.

Of course the proof is in the tasting, and this year, the Dictador XO Insolent Rum was the very best that I personally tasted in 2014.

Here is a link to my review for the Rum Howler 2014 Rum of the Year:

2014 Rum of the Year – Dictador XO Insolent Rum

“… The aroma is simply luscious with sweet toffee smells rising from the glass tainted with impressions of butterscotch, vanilla, corn syrup, creme de brulee, maple syrup and peanut brittle. There is a backbone of firm oak sap and spice melded wonderfully into these sweeter butterscotch like aromas with delectable baking spices (cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves) and hints of milk chocolate lying underneath …”

The Dictador Insolent Rum is full of sweet and spicy character, and just might be as close to rum perfection as I have tasted. It is one of those rare spirits which I am loath to mix into a cocktail, and from me, that is high praise indeed!

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Note: You may find my full Countdown list of the 25 Best Rums of 2014 here:   The Rum Howler – Top 25 Rums of 2014

 

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Rum Howler 2014 #2 Canadian Whisky – Wiser’s 18 Year Old (2014 Edition)

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 23, 2014

rum_howler_badge-2014This year I noticed that Wiser’s had increased its Limited Release production for its 18 Year Old whisky from a total of 3500 cases produced each year to 5600 cases produced. In the past the number of whisky barrels selected to produce each batch rum was relatively small. In fact, according to Hiram Walker Mater Blender, Dr. Don Livermore, the number of casks selected for each bottling of Wiser’s 18 Year Old was in the range of only 15 to 20 ex bourbon casks per batch. With such a small group of barrels to work from, it is inevitable that variations will exist between separate batches.

Wiser's 18 SAM_1401And, I have noted in my previous reviews how this particular whisky seems to be spectacular one year, and then falls to a level of mere excellence in the next. This year, (perhaps because of a greater number of barrels used to produce a larger production rum) the whisky has moved back towards the realm of the spectacular, and the 2014 edition of Wiser’s 18 Years Old Limited Release Canadian Whisky, is number 2 on my Countdown.

Here is my newly written review:

#2 Canadian Whisky – Wiser’s 18 Year Old (2014 Edition)

“… I let the glass sit for several minutes, and when I returned the clean wood and rye spices have not abated; however, alongside the wood spice I sense a growing sweetness of maple and butterscotch toffee. There is some lovely marzipan underneath and given enough time in the glass the orange peel begins to turn to marmalade as the orange peel spice melds into the butterscotch …”

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Note: You may follow my Countdown list of the 25 Best Canadian Whiskies here:   The Rum Howler – Top 25 Canadian Whiskies of 2014

Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y, Whisk(e)y Review | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Rum Howler 2014 # 2 Rum – El Dorado 21 Year Old

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 23, 2014

rum_howler_badge-2014The 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.

This is also one of the very best, and for the third straight year it ranks as one of the top 5 rums in the world. This year the El Dorado Special Reserve 21-Year Old Rum moved up two spaces and grabs the number 2 spot.

SAM_1390Here is a link to my review:

# 2 Rum – El Dorado 21 Year Old

“… The immediate nose is full of baking spices, orange peel, vanilla, and dry fruits. There are absolutely no medicinal notes or harsh scents associated with the aroma. As the rum decants, I begin to sense glimmers of almonds and hazelnuts weaving through the tapestry of smells, and I sense a building oakiness which is bringing more spice to the fore …”

The oak has melted into the spirit (or perhaps the spirit has melted into the oak) and the result is a special aged rum which perhaps has no equivalent in its category. This rum is a marvel of aging and blending and belongs on every serious rum aficionado’s shelf.

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Note: You may follow my Countdown list of the 25 Best Rums of 2014 here:   The Rum Howler – Top 25 Rums of 2014

Posted in Awards, Extras, Rum, Rum Reviews | Tagged: , , , , | Comments Off

Rum Howler 2014 #3 Canadian Whisky – Crown Royal Cask No. 16

Posted by Arctic Wolf on December 22, 2014

rum_howler_badge-2014Crown Royal® Canadian Whisky was originally introduced in 1939 (by Samuel Bronfman of Seagrams) as a special whisky bottling to commemorate the Royal tour of Canada by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in that year. Until 1964, the whisky was only available in Canada; however, today it is available world-wide and is in fact the number one Canadian whisky brand sold in the USA. Crown Royal is currently produced in Gimli Manitoba, at the Crown Royal Distillery which (since the dissolution of the Seagrams portfolio in 2000) is owned by the spirits conglomerate Diageo.

Cask No. 16 is according to the company website,

“handcrafted from more than 50 different aged Canadian whiskies and then finished in Cognac Oak casks from the Limousin forest in France”

Cask No. 16 SAM_1402Although rumours persist as to the demise of this outstanding blend, I note that as of the end of 2014, it remains listed on the Crown Royal website as part of the Crown Royal Family, and remains readily available in my home Province of Alberta.

And, I am quite happy that the Cask No. 16 is readily available, as I have placed it in the number 3 spot, in my Top 25 Canadian Whisky Countdown of 2014.

Here is my recently updated review:

#3 Canadian Whisky – Crown Royal Cask No. 16

“… The first sensation in my mouth was of an incredible softness that this whisky presents. It is almost chewy soft. A mellow corn whisky is up front on the palate, but rich soft butterscotch, caramel and sweet brown sugar sit under the corn flavour supporting and enhancing the experience. A nice spicy bite which has the hallmarks of pears and grapes grabs at the taste buds … “

For those who prefer a more subdued corn profile and a milder rye like burn, this is probably the perfect Canadian whisky. It is wonderfully luxurious and rich, yet full of character and complexity. Sip it neat, or on the rocks, and you will not be disappointed.

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Note: You may follow my Countdown list of the 25 Best Canadian Whiskies here:   The Rum Howler – Top 25 Canadian Whiskies of 2014

Posted in Awards, Canadian Whisky, Extras, Whisk(e)y, Whisk(e)y Review | Tagged: , , , , , | Comments Off

 
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