Canada has a rich history of whisky distilling yet I believe it is in the grips of an existential crisis. This one’s gonna be long but interesting so buckle in or skip past the photo of the bottle for the review.
To understand let’s take a brief look at the industry, like elsewhere in the world, it can be split between the old and new guard. The old guard is composed of several large facilities spread out across the country, these are the survivors of consolidation and account for the majority of the whisky produced in the country.
Then there is the new guard, micro and not so micro-distilleries that have been built mostly within the last 15 years or so. Some of the bigger players are off-shoots of breweries and wineries, others are smaller boutique operations. It is a mixed bag with some deciding to focus solely on single malt whisky, while others are finding success in diversification often selling a lot of gin, bitters, vodka and not only as a means of funding their whisky portfolios.
So what’s the problem, Crown royal is still one of the top selling whiskys in the US, right behind Jack Daniels (don’t tell Trump! or Kentucky), Flavored whisky sales are still giving reps a hard-on and Wayne Gretzky launched a successful whisky brand…why am I being an arsehole?? What’s next? Am I going to shit on the holy institution that is Tim Horton’s?
Well the problem is that most of what is being sold, even some of the new stuff is still the same old boring shit, it just happens to be our shit and so it’s kind of comfy in the diaper if you ignore the smell. I am focusing on what is labelled as “Canadian whisky” not the single malts, that’s for another post altogether. Many stick with the smooth light, caramel, 40%ABV, kind of nondescript and boring…I don’t care if it’s finished in a wine-cask, the base is boring as old balls.
Ask many whisky connoisseurs how they feel about Canadian whisky and many don’t have a good opinion of it, there are many reasons why but they all boil down to the same conclusion. There is just too much, low proof, smooth harmless whisky being released. It’s like they got stuck in the 70’s and didn’t budge. What if people don’t want to drink high proof flavor bombs you ask? Well bourbon is flying off the shelves here, The LCBO made a Facebook event for Old Weller 107 and everyone crapped themselves and cleared the shelves within a week. Lot 40 Cask Strength almost caused a riot (well a Canadian riot so a really polite one) upon release and folks have been clamoring for offerings of the same caliber as we are getting from elsewhere in the whisky world.
Not all is lost, the tide is turning albeit very slowly, the release in 2017 of Corby’s Northern Border Collection was a major step in the right direction. Many would trace the turning point to 2012 as Wiser’s re-release of Lot no. 40 and Pike Creek but I think the true beacon and to me still one of the best examples of what good blending can bring to the category was J.P. Wiser’s Legacy.
Legacy was released sometime in 2010, it was a tribute to it’s namesake and was unique on a few points. At the time there were few “ultra-premium” Canadian whiskys (Wiser’s Red Letter and some Crown Royal Editions) but this differed in that not only did it push a very rye forward recipe but also sported a proper drinking ABV of 45%. It had a good amount of success but in the final years of it’s availability (2016-2017) was largely ignored by folks and was ultimately discontinued. (I think in part because it would have competed with Corby’s other new products) Sadly I believe it was not exported much either, so few outside of Canada had knowledge of it’s existence.
I’ve blabbed enough let’s dive in and see what makes this one so special.
Nose: Caramel corn, mackintosh toffee, golden delicious apple and a little barrel char perhaps? Then a good dose of cloves, allspice, and ginger, the addition of that Wiser’s pot-still rye (AKA Lot No 40) is very apparent here in the middle. There is a bit of a lemon pith bite, you can feel the alcohol on the nose but it’s not harsh , it gives zing and there’s a lingering creamy, buttery bread note too. Really pleasant!
Palate: Sweet oak, brown sugar, a slight mineral tang, lemon zest, pretty silky entrance from the corn which then leaves behind the spicy and fairly drying astringency, it seems like it sticks to the middle of your palate. It has this boldness that many other blends lack.
Finish: Medium in length but effective, on lingering warm spices, maple butter, cedar and a minty, coppery tang.
I like that it’s still clearly a Canadian whisky but you see what a bit of boldness and good blending chops can bring to the game, definitely a yardstick by which to measure other entries in the category.
Don’t get me wrong I am not shitting on other products, I think there is a place for all types of whiskies, I just think too many products are operating in the same spectrum and there is a notable void created by the absence of premium Canadian whisky. It’s not like we don’t have good stocks, look at how much of it leaves the country and is sold under the guises of Whistlepig, Masterson’s, Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrels and so on.
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy