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Everything that's not Scotch gets the once over.
For years the spirits release was really just the Scotch release with a few bottles of Bourbon and Irish Whiskey thrown in for “diversity.” But those two spirits, along with premium tequila and Japanese whisky have become not only the fastest growing segments of the drink business in terms of revenue, but in terms of collectability as well. So for this year we’ve decided to split out the categories so everyone has some room to shine. Last week we did the Scottish whisky, this week, it’s the rest of the field in preparation for the release November 18th.
One of the missteps we (the royal we, that is) made in the early days, was not foreseeing just how rapid the price increase would be in the world of collectable bourbon. In retrospect we should have definitely entered the lottery for some of those Pappy van Winkle bottles back in the day, even if it is technically a marketing company, not a working distillery. The problem with this tsunami of interest is that it’s tough to get the really sought-after stuff outside of the US. Take the Jefferson’s Aged At Sea Very Small Batch. Sure you could pay $135 for this “exclusive” bottle at the BCL or you could buy it at Target in Bellingham for $90 – so it’s not not exactly rare.
The one exception I’m liking is the Booker’s Little Book Chapter 7. At $196, this blend of straight and malt whiskies ain’t cheap but it appears that it’s mostly sold out in the US at $150 USD, so it does hit the rarity, well-priced matrix.
Four words you don’t see often given the perpetually high price point Japanese whiskies command around the globe. The signature mild taste of most Japanese single malts has never grabbed me, which is why I find myself drawn towards the grain whiskies, although I do feel plenty of sticker shock. But I like Nikka The Grain Limited Edition Discovery for a few reasons: one, this whisky was literally just launched in North America a few weeks back so it really is new; two, in the US it carries a $175USD tariff so it’s really well priced here at $190; three, Nikka is just so cool in their design and presentation—this is truly a beautiful bottle.
The easy answer this year is the same as every year: Alberta Premium Cask Strength is the bomb now and seemingly forever. But there are two other bottles that I’m psyched about. The first is Dillon’s Rye Single Cask. It takes a lot for me, a proud Westerner, to nod to great things going on in Ontario, but the past few years have seen distiller Geoff Dillon really separated himself from the crowded pack with a broad range that still small enough to be craft and not big enough to be corporate (although to be fair the distillery is now owned by Vancouver’s Mark Anthony, but with Dillon still at the reins). His small-batch rye comes from an actual single cask with ingredients that are from within 100 kilometres and at $79, it’s not so rarified in price that you’re nervous to make an Old Fashioned with it (something I can’t say about the majority of WhistlePig bottles on offer).
I spent a week chilling out in Qualicum Beach this summer and one lazy day I threw on some shoes and drove an hour north to check out Shelter Point. The distillery that took the lead in making Western Canadian malt whisky has been on my—and every Canadian Scotch lover’s—radar since opening over a decade ago, but I had never made the trip to just south of Campbell River to see it for myself. And while I’ve always been a fan of the whisky, seeing the entire operation has made me a true acolyte: the farm, the distillery, the people. I’d say it’s like visiting a distillery in Scotland, but the truth is almost no distilleries are this grassroots over there anymore, so it’s like visiting a distillery in Scotland 70 years ago. And make no mistake, not only is this whisky the real deal it’s not priced itself out of the market for lovers of Scottish Single Malt to give it a whirl. So try their flagship Shelter Point 12-year old ($120) and you’ll be a convert like me.
The premium tequila category has been seriously expanding in the past few years and this year’s release features no fewer than 12 tequilas and mezcals. Some, like the Del Maguey Vide de Muertos mezcal are great, but not really rare. Some have silly names like the Adictivo King’s Edition Extra Rare, a $1300 double-secret-probation of a tequila that we’re taking a pass on. But then you have the sweet spot: Volcan De Mi Terra X.A. The “normal” Volcan Blanco is one my fave entry-level premium tequilas (buy it over Patron all day every day) and this new bottle seems to have Don Julio 1942 clearly in its sights in the ultra-premium category. It was released last summer in only 250 select bars around the world to build a bit of buzz, and now it’s rolling out a bit more broadly to retail, but so far the BCL seems to be the only place I can find in Canada selling it. You want a buzzy bottle for the Holidays? This is it.