Thank you to the Toronto Whisky Society and Lohin McKinnon for giving me the chance to try out these offerings. All of the below are my own thoughts, opinions, and have not been influenced by the dump truck filled with money that I’m sure is coming my way.
Oh, there isn’t one of them? I guess I’ll just have to keep on being a reviewer who attempts to be above board then. Darn.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to receive a very special bottle. Lohin McKinnon had released their first ever whisky, and I was excited to try out a new Canadian single malt. I brought it to a tasting, and while we were all concerned about a brand new, young whisky, it turned out quite nicely.
Jump ahead a bit. Turns out Lohin McKinnon didn’t just rest on their laurels. Or yannis. No, they have been trying out different malts, casks, and potentially seeing the world and really discovering themselves.
So let’s see what they’ve been up to, shall we?
Up first we have Lohin McKinnon Wine Barrel Finish (Black Sage). In this case, we have a single malt from Lohin McKinnon that was aged in ex-bourbon casks and then finished for six months in ex-Black Sage vineyards “port” pipes.
I put “port” in quotes because I’m pretty sure port needs to come from Portugal, and Black Sage is a local BC vineyard. And the Portuguese have not taken over a chunk of BC. Granted I live in Ontario and we notoriously ignore BC’s politics, so it may have happened.
So this port-style wine from Black Sage is also VQA, which for those of you not from Canada, means that:
- Wine must be made from 100% fresh BC grown grapes — no concentrates are permitted – Grapes used must meet a quality standard for each variety (measured by natural sugar content in the ripe grapes)
- No water can be added in the winemaking process
- Labels must be truthful and accurately represent the wine in the bottle
- All wines except for sparkling wines must be vintage dated and meet vintage requirements
- All finished wines are evaluated by an expert taste panel and a laboratory analysis and must meet minimum quality standards before release
The wine was made up of an equal blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. It’s then aged, those barrels were given to Lohin McKinnon, and they are used to finish their whisky.
But how does it taste? Will my love of port overpower any objectivity I have left? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: $63.45 CAD at the LCBO
Colour: 5Y 8/8
Nose: Lemon, herbal, caramel, malt
Nice lemon/herbal mix. Some sugar, some malt. Nothing that’s screaming port here at the moment. It’s closer to the ex-bourbon notes. Bit shy: I’ll chalk that up to the lower Abv or the youth, but nice to nose once it gets going.
Taste: Raspberry, grassy, caramel, malt, ginger
Ah, here we go. Now some fruit, as well as the grassy character of the malt. Doesn’t overpower it, though does rush the stage and hog the mic for a few songs.
Okay, a bunch of sons, but eventually that all balances out and it doesn’t end up like some tragic movie where the band breaks up.
Finish: Papaya, floral/strawberry, lemon zest, oak, caramel
Tropical, floral, and strawberry. This is where the wine is taking most of the song. It’s Coldplay at the end, in other words. The rest of them are ornamental. The wine influence is big, with just some oak/caramel sneaking out at the end.
Conclusion: An interesting take on the current profile. They took that grassy element and let it play second fiddle to the port cask. This had the stuff I like in the original with a bit of fruit to amp it up.
If anything it makes me want to try the port-style wine to see what it added versus how it reacted. It’s also a really smart idea, as there are port-style wines made in Canada, and they are different enough to give a change of pace.
Overall I’d want this at a stronger strength or finished longer. It feels like a start to a dram compared to other whiskies out there that have used this style of cask. I hope that Lohin McKinnon keeps revisiting these casks as their malt ages.
I’d pick this up if you’re looking for a less expensive alternative in Canada to Scotch prices. This is lighter than I usually drink, but there’s nothing objectively painful about the flavours. If you don’t mind a light dram, then it definitely scratches that wine finished whisky itch.
Lohin McKinnon Chocolate Malt aged in Sauternes pretty much has a name that steals any need for a description. Which… uh, leaves me having to scramble. I mean, didn’t they get the memo that you’re supposed to make up something and call it Gaelic to give us something to ramble about? Always thinking about themselves.
So what is Chocolate Malt? So take a barley, and kiln it at a higher level to get those chocolate/coffee flavours. Typically used in stouts and porters, aka the beers I prefer. It comes up every so often in whiskies, though typically they use distiller’s malt.
And what’s Sauternes? Why it’s a French sweet wine, typically served at dessert. Sadly I’m not typically a fan of whiskies that are finished with it, however, this is matured in Sauternes, which I’m typically the bigger fan of.
Thus we have my biases out of the way. I’m sure you can sleep better at night. But how’s this whisky with a tasty sounding malt and a hard-to-spell-even-for-a-guy-who-took-9-years-of-French barrel taste? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: N/A at the LCBO at this time.
Colour: 5Y 7/8
Nose: Milk chocolate, raspberry, cotton, peach
No, it’s not the giant letters saying Chocolate malt getting into my head. This has the smell of that chocolate that comes out from roasting the malt at a higher temperature. There are some raspberry and cotton notes as well.
Nice fruit balance with the chocolate. Unless that’s not your thing, then I guess don’t buy Cadbury Fruit n’ Nut bars?
Taste: Mexican hot chocolate, lemon, rosemary, malt Spice and milk and cocoa is a wonderful combination. There’s some orange, some heat. Really it’s better if, for instance, the initial settlers to the area didn’t wipe out the indigenous tribes, who in turn were warring amongst themselves… Wait, where was I going with this?
Oh, I like Mexican Hot Chocolate and this has that. Then I started feeling all guilty.
Where this goes a bit off the beaten path (as I did at first) is the traditional Lohin McKinnon lemon/grassiness doesn’t totally jive with the sweeter, spice, rich aspect of the malt and chocolate. So you’re getting these light acidic notes with the rich and they aren’t complementing each other.
Finish: Bay leaf, peanut, cereal, chocolate, pear
Finish is herbal, nutty, and chocolate. I’ll be honest, part of it really pairs nice, with what I assume is the Sauternes giving it nuttiness and pairing well with the chocolate.
Where it’s not helping is the big herbal note at first.
Conclusion: This is a really interesting experiment that comes down to me guessing where it didn’t 100% work. First off they’ve hit on something really nice with the mixture of nuttiness and those chocolate notes. Bravo. If this ever gets the chance to be older and/or stronger, I’m hunting it down.
That said, I hazard to guess that the main yeast use is what gives us those (normally) beloved herbal notes. And it was used again, because… well, duh, it’s their character. So I hate to say it, but playing around with a new yeast may be the answer here. No one wants to hear that.
Why buy this? If you like sweets. And maybe if you enjoy (more than me) that herbal and chocolate mix. No judgement here. This is very well done due to the young age of the distillery, and I’m impressed.
Lohin McKinnon Peated Malt answers a question that comes up: Given that Canada, specifically British Columbia (the less murder-y Columbia), has a similar climate to Scotland, why not make whiskies like Scotland?
There’s a myriad of reasons why they don’t, including costs involved with malts versus corn and cheaper rye grains, the fact that Canadian peat act differently, the fact that we’ve been making less expensive whiskies for long enough that the market expects is, and probably some pact we made to calm Ogopogo from eating our children. However there are some who will tempt it, and I appreciate them. Any single malts, regardless of origin, should be made. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have ended up with the quite nice Japanese ones.
Take it a step further: We have a peated single malt, made in Canada. Made similarly to how a Scotch is made. No mention of Canadian peat though, so I’m assuming they sourced the peated barley.
But how did this experiment turn out? Let’s see, shall we?
Price: Not currently available at the LCBO
Colour: 7.5Y 9/3
Nose: Peat, brine, herbal, lemon
Yup, it’s peated. Take the herbal, lemon aspect of the Lohin McKinnon, add it to a brine and peat aspect of what I assume is a sourced barley from Scotland, and you have this nose. It’s young, but it does do that fun peat thing loves will enjoy.
Taste: Peat, peanut brittle, lemon, hop
Peat, lemon, and some fruity/floral aspect. I’m happy with the floral, and that peanut brittle note is much more complex than a younger malt typically has.
Very standard peated malt so far beyond that one note though.
Finish: Peat, lemongrass/herbal, musty, caramel
More of that herbal/lemon that we’re starting to expect from LM, but add to it the dusty, caramel, and peat aspect of the malt. Ties into the taste well, though shorter than I’d like.
Conclusion: A good start, but I feel like more time is needed to make this beyond your standard peated dram. So there are two ways to look at this.
If you’re looking for a less expensive peated malt that has some citrus and can be a daily drinker, then yeah. It’s here. They made it. Peat heads have that.
If you’re looking at this as a proof of concept and another nail in the cheaper, cranked out malts of Canada, then yeah. This is it. We can do it. This is better than some single malts from Scotland.
If you’re looking for more than that, it’s not really doing it (in my humble opinion). It needs more time. Eventually, this can be a contender. I’d love to see one with double the years and a higher abv.
World Whisky review #330-332, Canada review #110-112, Whisky Network review #1574-6