Dark days and warm spirits: Winter is for sipping whisky

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January is my prime time for comfort food. The dark days of winter, with the sun making only cursory appearances, make me hunger for stews, braised meats and rich soups.

The other shift I feel is a greater thirst for whisky, or whiskey, depending on where it’s from. While I stir up whisky-based cocktails all year long, I definitely sip more brown spirits on their own during winter. The warming alcohol, lively spice and rich dried fruit flavours just sit right.

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So, follow the lead of Ron Swanson, the whisky-loving Parks and Recreation character played so well by actor Nick Offerman, and find a comfy chair and pour yourself a dram.

Here are a few whiskies I had the pleasure to taste in the past few months. They are great on their own or in a cocktail.


Yellowstone Select

Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Few names are more synonymous with whiskey in the United States than the Beam family. The legend began in 1792 when Jacob Beam came to America. He had three sons who all became distillers. They started a family tree that is filled with distillers such as the legendary Jim Beam.

Yellowstone Select is created by brothers Stephen and Paul Beam through their Limestone Branch Distillery. Stephen was in Calgary in November sharing stories of American whiskey lore, including his great-great-grandfather Joseph Washington Dant’s practice of distilling the spirit in hollowed logs because metal was hard to get in Kentucky.

The Yellowstone brand, named after the United States’ first national park, was launched in the same year as the park — 1872. The whiskey has been available ever since, even during Prohibition, Stephen Beam says.

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As bourbons go, this is a drier style. A blend of four- and seven-year-old bourbons, with a mash bill of 78 per cent corn, 10 per cent rye and 12 per cent malt, it shows impressive density and structure, with flavours of caramel, vanilla, cardamom, honey, clove, orange peel, dried apricot, nutmeg, golden raisin and white pepper. The finish is long, clean and dry.

Price: About $65 for a 750-millilitre bottle at 46.5 per cent alc./vol. Look for it at BSW Liquor, Craft Cellars, CSN Wine and Spirits, Harvest Liquor, KJ Wines and Spirits, Safeway and Sobeys Liquor, Willow Park Wines and Spirits, Wine and Beyond and World of Whisky.



14-year-old Bourbon Barrel Reserve

Single-malt Scotch whisky

Launched in 1887 by William Grant and his nine children, Glenfiddich remains a family-owned distillery, located in Dufftown in the Speyside region of northeast Scotland.

The distillery became an industry leader in the 1960s by developing an international market for its single malt rather than a blended whisky.

Glenfiddich, which means valley of the deer in Gaelic, is noted for its triangular bottle and its well-priced 12-year-old whisky. Through the years, though, the distillery has added many unique, experimental bottles to its lineup. This 14-year-old bourbon barrel reserve stems from this experimentation. While there’s nothing new about aging scotch in used bourbon barrels, this whisky is finished in new American oak barrels, adding a bit of a different twist.

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It’s a rich and elegant dram, with sweet honey, butterscotch, date and crème brulee notes on the nose. The palate is equally rich and smooth, with elegant notes of caramel, raisin pie, all-spice, vanilla, cereal and cream. If you are a bourbon drinker looking to try single-malt Scotch, this would be a good transition bottle.

Price: About $65 for a 750-ml bottle at 43 per cent alc./vol. It is widely distributed. Check your nearest liquor store.


Elements of Islay

Cask Edit

Blended-malt Scotch whisky

Elements of Islay (pronounced eye-luh) is one of the brands operated by British whisky-loving brothers Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh.

The pair, who grew up with their parents operating a liquor store, built an online whisky empire, selling spirits through The Whisky Exchange. They sold that business to liquor multinational Pernod Ricard in 2021.

While the retail business is gone, they continue to sell their brands of whisky under their Elixir Distillers brand and also purchased Tormore Distillery in Speyside from Pernod Ricard.

Elements of Islay highlights creations from the southwestern Scottish island of Islay, known for its smoky, peaty style of whisky. This is a gentler style of Islay whisky. The traditional smoke is there, but it’s not as intense as some of the most famous brands. The smoke complements the other flavours in a nicely balanced dram. Vanilla, brine, caramel and fresh bread flavours are joined by intense spice on a peppery, rich, long and smooth finish, with notes of caramel and mocha. It’s a very refined Islay whisky.

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The Cask Edit name refers to the different styles of Islay malt whisky that are blended — in this case from refilled bourbon and sherry casks. There is no mention of what distilleries the whiskies came from.

Price: About $70 for a 700 ml bottle at 46 per cent alc./vol. Look for it at BSW Liquor, Craft Cellars and Kensington Wine Market.

Contact Darren Oleksyn at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram or X, the app previously known as Twitter. Looking for a specific wine? Because wine inventories are always in flux, it’s a good idea to call a store to confirm they have it. A search on Liquorconnect.com can give you an idea of stores that have carried the wines.

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