Alright, so I’m prepping for Spirit of Toronto and a dapper guy in a blazer hands me a box with my name on it and then scribbles a few notes with instructions to follow, I’m like awww shit…cue the Lalo Schifrin score I accept the mission!
Well close enough…the sample is courtesy of @paddockjudge, he did give me instructions on the order in which I should proceed with a trio of samples he provided. These we’re mystery samples I tasted blind #1 was Danfield’s 21 reviewed here the Wiser’s 35 was my second one.
Nose: Vanilla, mackintosh toffee, apple skin, a hint of buttered popcorn, soft rye spices, lots of sweet oak, really well balanced.
Palate: Honey, a good amount of oak, the rye contributes cloves, orange flower water, a slight peppery bitterness, the vanilla is present but not overbearing, a good richness.
Finish : Green bell peppers, waxed apples, fresh bread and a little lemon slices. Lots of cloves and oak.
Subtle but full the nose is much bolder than Canadian Club 40 which was a bit of a snooze. I’m not sure if this is only due to the addition of a bit of rye in the blend, or how the bonds of aged corn whisky are handled. From what I gather they tend to consolidate barrels in the Pike Creek warehouse so there isn’t as much effects of evaporation.
This 35 yr old is another whisky I would be curious to taste blind along with some older bourbon to see how it would fare.
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.
I know very little about Danfield’s 21, I do know that it was a brand that was once produced at the Schenley distillery (Diageo) in Québec and that it is now produced in Lethbridge Alberta at the Black Velvet distillery (Constellation Brands). It seems to be one of those classic Canadian whisky brands like Gibson’s Finest, which has been bounced around from home to home.
This sample is courtesy of @paddockjudge, I had the pleasure of being the recipient of a small box containing a plethora of mysterious elixirs decanted by the man himself. Three of the whiskys inside had instructions concerning the drinking order, this is the first of those samples tasted blind.
Nose: Brown sugar, vanilla and a good dose of spices that seem to stem from the wood, in this case cinnamon and a bit of nutmeg. Loads of oak, like a carpenter’s shop, a little green bell pepper and paraffin, it’s quite a bit nippy.
Water softens the nose, bring in some honey and increasing the vanilla.
Palate: Oak & cedar, warm caramel with loads of brown sugar and baking spices. Grapefruit pith, white pepper and a touch of wax. Surprisingly hot for, 40%. Nice mouthfeel.
Water brings out cardboard, more spices, reduces the bitterness a touch.
Finish. Is medium length, that sweetness you can only get from corn whisky, some astringency from the oak, a little cardboard, and chili pepper not as sweet as on arrival,
I feel like this is a perfect representation of a classic Canadian whisky, I found the bitterness a bit off putting at first but with time it seems to bring equilibrium to this blend. The wood notes are interesting because they push into the cedar/tobacco like territory. This isn’t my favorite Canadian whisky but it’s hard to deny that this is a well crafted gem in a style that doesn’t seem to be as popular.
Late last year a friend offered to mule a few bottles from South Carolina if I had them shipped to his place in advance, I attempted to select bottles I knew I would be difficult to obtain in Canada.
In the end two of the three bottles he brought back contained whisky distilled in Canada (the other was a Crown Royal hand selected barrel), the other was this bottle Whistlepig store selection, a single barrel at 56.7% abv for Third Base Market & Spirits.
At this point it’s public knowledge that the 10yr old Whistlepig whisky is 100% rye sourced from Alberta Distillers Limited, a powerhouse of a distillery that has over a million sleeping barrels of some of the best rye whisky. Sadly it’s a whisky that we rarely see on our side of the border in anything but it’s adulterated form (cut down to 40% abv or blended in the case of Dark Horse) or sold back to us by US firms under the guises of brands like Masterson’s, Hochstader’s & Whistlepig. This was the first time I was able to get a taste of ADL juice at cask strength (or nearly).
Nose: Waxy, rising brioche dough, rye toast and orange peel. It has a floral cologne like note, a bit of sandalwood, there is oak but it’s restrained. There is an almost soapy note but it’s fresh and clean it works well. The payoff with this whisky is to let it air out and then it really opens up, a sweet maple syrup like note with that mineral tang. Fresh and fermented grain, coriander seed and mint finishing on a bit of prune, almost like in Armagnac (perhaps from oak?)
Palate: Dry & sharp, floral & aromatic, there is a slight heat reminded you that this is almost 57% abv. Then it bursts with rye bread, a touch of cumin, apricots, candy apple & butter tarts. Full bodied, earthy and sweet salted caramel & cracked pepper, after the initial tickle there’s very little burn on palate.
Finish: Creamy like eating flan or pannacotta, more oak, earthy sprouted rye and a slight chalkiness, green fresh coriander like feeling.
The Blab: This is a great full bodied dram, more of a winter whisky than a fresh summery one. The bottle is in it’s last third and It’s lost some steam on the nose, it’s a bit closed and lost some of it’s initial peppery-ness and full throttle in your face rye.
That said the palate has bloomed I don’t remember getting as much dried fruits at first. This is really a sipper it takes time to discover and let everything come into play, it has a pleasant mineral waxiness that goes well with the sweetness, no dill notes either… I wish I could get a group together to buy a cask of this stuff.
Whistlepig 10 yr old “Third Base Market & Spirits” store selection
On May 5th 2018 I was at Spirit of Toronto with fellow Connosr members Nozinan and Paddockjudge, we attended the Wiser’s Masterclass that was given by Dr. Don Livermore. We were presented with the 6 new expressions that would be released by the distillery in 2018, you can find parts I, II & III here.
At this point in the good doctor’s presentation we were a bit rushed as the masterclass was only allocated an hour, the crowd was well lubed with the 4 previous whiskys, it was getting a bit rowdy but still manageable The 35 yr old was the last whisky of the night I knew from the previous edition that it needs time to be appreciated, something the circumstances of this masterclass wouldn’t allow. Therefore I concentrated my efforts on this whisky
The Pike Creek Modus Operandi is a vatting of a high proportion of double column corn whisky with just a hint of rye, it’s aged in ex-bourbon and Canadian casks and then given some sort of finishing barrel.
In 2018 the 21 year old blend includes a proportion of whiskys finished in French oak & Hungarian oak 50% & 25% the remaining 25% being ex-bourbon casks. The idea from what we we’re told is the corn whisky would be a good vehicle to highlight the influence of the oak types.
Nose: Nutmeg, vanilla, that corn whisky sweetness, ginger, lots of oak, mincemeat, nougat, a little bit of red fruits.
Palate: Warm, slightly creamy and sweet, fresh ginger and apples, spicy…very spicy. A hint of Indian spices like a sweetened Garam Masala, caramelized onions with maple syrup, the oak lingers at the end.
I am really enjoying the effects of the European oak on Canadian whisky. it seems to meld well with the usual spices and grippy oak we get in most expressions. I believe this is an interesting direction that should be further explored and doesn’t feel as gimmicky as most cask finishes we see with Scotch or Bourbon. I think the key is that only a proportion of the blend is finished, this enables the blender to dial in or control the influence of the casks, rather than creating a veil over the whole thing.
Pike Creek 21 European Oak finish
84/100 *I am marking this in accordance with the environment and time I had with it, so it’s only a quick preview.
On May 5th 2018 I was at Spirit of Toronto with fellow Connosr members Nozinan and Paddockjudge, we attended the Wiser’s Masterclass that was given by Dr. Don Livermore. We were presented with the 6 new expressions that would be released by the distillery in 2018, you can find part 1 and part 2 here.
This was one of two whiskys that were an unexpected addition to our tasting. The other being the Canada 2018 release, while it was good I only had an hour so I chose to focus my attention on the four most striking.
Seasoned Oak is an LCBO exclusive that will be released for father’s day (much like Dissertation and Last Barrels the two years prior). In essence it is a 19 year old blend of double distilled corn & column still rye that was aged in barrels made from staves that were traditionally air dried for 48 months, my notes indicate that these barrels we’re toasted and not charred…but I could be wrong.
Nose: Oak, vanilla, candied apples, a bit of raisins & allspice. It’s in many ways a traditional Canadian whisky on the nose but with presence and good development, it does have a touch of warm bread and fennel.
Palate: A pleasant hint of burnt wood, lots of maple, orange blossom water, the oak is complex like opening an old cigar humidor, great spice & citrus integration.
It’s the first time I get actual maple syrup in a Canadian whisky, I know many people use that as a tasting note but I never quite get that complex sweetness and underlying minerality (not a word I know) of maple syrup in most Canadian whiskys, this one though…round, warm and solidly crafted, the oak wasn’t out of hand. I would like to try this in a blind tasting in a line-up with other American and Canadian whiskys, see how it would fare.
They are also displaying the actual age on the label (from what I can see on the Wiser’s website) which is refreshing since most of the other rare cask series did not…perhaps this is to help in selling it at the price point they are looking for (100$).
*After fact checking it is aged for 18 months in traditional refill Canadian whisky barrels and only finished for 12 months in these air dried barrels, I wish they had made this a bit clearer. Nonetheless, it’s great to see what the use of this finish can do to ad complexity without going overboard and into licking a wooden plank territory like some double barreled bourbons.
JP Wiser’s Seasoned Oak (19yrs old)
84/100 * I tried these whiskys in a public event so these notes are quick impressions rather than in depth reviews.
This is my second review taken from Spirit of Toronto’s 2018 Northern Border Collection Masterclass. We were presented with the 6 new expressions to be released this year by Corby Distillers. The first part can be found here.
Dr. Livermore built his presentation in such a way that each of his talking points would culminate in one of the samples placed before us. The whisky would be the embodiment of the aspect he was trying to highlight in his talk (the points varied from Canada’s whisky history, grains, aging, the importance of wood…get your mind out of the gutter).
He joked that the next whisky was the one everyone was here for. In a way he’s right, if there’s one Canadian whisky that gets the masses hot and bothered it’s Lot 40 Cask Strength. Ever since it’s re-release in 2012 the original Lot no.40 gained a massive following and was ahead of the curve in gauging there would be a revival and solid demand for rye on the market.
Last year’s cask strength inaugural release was a really solid whisky on par with other cult inducing ryes, it showed that Canadian rye is no slouch when pitted against its American counterparts. Sadly at < 5000 bottles, few if any made their way outside of the country to retailer in US or overseas.
The 2018 release is from a parcel of 11 year old whiskys, Dr. Livermore said that his reason for choosing this specific bond was because they all exhibited a particular flavor profile which he felt was quite different than last year’s edition (he mentions a licorice/anise note).
Nose: Caramel, pine tar, orange creamsicle, the nose was so unexpected that I had to smell my friends glass to make sure I had the right sample. Steak spice, floral, rising pastry (like brioche dough) and a bit of vanilla. I am only comparing it from memory but the nose seems very different than last years edition.
Palate: Creamy, thrills gum, licorice, grippy oak, green apple. Super floral but in this context it works, cooked stone fruit, a mix of cinnamon and clove. There’s a richness to the rye produced at Hiram Walker distillery that isn’t found anywhere else, I think the use of virgin oak really helps accentuate this.
This was delicious and worthy of the frenzy it will cause at the LCBO.
The bad news is the price is going up to 99$ (for all the NBC releases barring the Wiser’s 35). I understand why they are doing this, I just don’t think all of the releases have found their legs yet.
In this era of 147$ Elijah Craig barrel proof selling out at the LCBO, I’m sure it will fly off the shelves.
Lot 40 Cask Strength
89/100 * I tried these whiskys in a public event so these notes are quick impressions rather than in depth reviews. This is just that good that it gets a high mark for quality despite not being my favorite pick of the evening.