Tag Archives: Canadian

Twelve Barrels

A number of recent additions to the LCBO catalog of Canadian whisky have piqued my interest – including this first release under the new “Twelve Barrels” brand.

The name is derived from some local lore in the town Napanee, Ontario (from whence the creator of this whisky, Cole Miller, originates). Apparently, a minor local celebrity named John took to jumping over whisky barrels on skates – eventually working his way up the eponymous Twelve Barrels.

This entry-level whisky is blended from whisky sourced from a few different distilleries. It is bottled at the industry standard of 40% ABV, and is sold at the LCBO for $35 CAD.

There are few reviews so far, but here is how it compares to other entry-level Canadian whiskies in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database:

Alberta Premium: 8.16 ± 0.67 on 12 reviews ($)
Canadian Club (Premium): 7.30 ± 0.71 on 18 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.30 ± 0.41 on 16 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.60 ± 0.47 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.20 ± 0.50 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.44 ± 0.43 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Copper Pot Reserve: 8.70 ± 0.36 on 14 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Bold 8yo: 8.25 ± 0.46 on 5 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.35 on 9 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.38 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.90 ± 0.68 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.42 ± 0.75 on 6 reviews ($)
Twelve Barrels: 8.09 ± 0.45 on 4 reviews ($$)

My sample of Twelve Barrels was provided directly by Cole for this review. All opinions in the review remain my own, of course.

Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Nose: Sweet, ultra-light corn syrup. Caramel and vanilla. Orange peel. Red berries. Dusty rye spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. Dry kindling, seasoned wood. Very rye forward, almost an American straight rye character (or a light-style, high-rye bourbon). Much more rye than a typical Canadian whisky. Acetone and a touch of glue, but not objectionable – it does seem young though. But better than I was expecting so far.

Palate: There’s that American rye again, starting out with powerful initial wallop.  Cinnamon spice, black pepper. Simple sugar syrup backbone. Orange peel again. Old cedar chest. Some creamy cereal notes (Weetabix?). There is something here that reminds me of Century Reserve 21, but not as refined. Watery, as expected for the ABV.  A cut above most entry-level Canadian whiskies so far, easy enough to sip. But a persistent bitterness rises quickly right after swallowing.

Finish:‎ Fades fast, like most of the competition in this class. Slight artificial sweetness with a dry bitterness settle in – and that glue note returns. These all point to its youth. Disappointing in this regard, honestly.

Well, that was interesting: starts off like an American rye, morphs into a Canadian corn/wheat whisky in the mouth, and ends like a typical Canadian corn whisky.‎ Similar to a lot of entry-level Canadian whiskies, the finish is rather disappointing (what little there is). But it strike a pretty good balance on the nose and palate, with more character than I expected.

Interestingly, I found I was holding this whisky in my mouth longer than usual on each sip. But not because I was waiting for something new to emerge – it was to prevent the rise of that slight bitterness after swallowing.

Among reviewers, the most positive is Jason of In Search of Elegance, followed by Davin of Canadian Whisky. The most negative is Andre of Quebec Whisky, who gives it a low score. I would personally be somewhere in the middle of all of these. Looking forward to trying what Cole comes up with next.

Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished

This whisky is the second member in Crown Royal’s “Noble Collection” – a new line of higher-end products from the Gimli, Manitoba distillery. This expression is finished for six months in freshly emptied, medium-toast Cabernet Sauvignon casks from the Paso Robles region of California.

Fresh wine cask finishes can impart some interesting notes – although not always universally pleasant ones. Unlike fortified wines, I find you can get some sourness along with fresh fruit notes in these whiskies. And while I am personally a fan of Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton, I’m not so keen on the Arran Malt Amarone Finish.

I have not posted a review yet of the base Crown Royal expression (aka “DeLuxe”) – but I find there are better Canadian rye whiskies among the bottom-shelf options (e.g. Canadian Club 100% Rye, J.P. Wiser’s Double Still or even Hiram Walker’s Special Old).  I have had some higher-end Crown Royals that I’ve quite enjoyed (e.g. Monarch), so I was keen to give this Cab Sauv finished Crown Royal.

Bottled at 40.5% ABV (oddly), it currently retails for $70 CAD at the LCBO. I picked it up for $60 during the Canada Day online sale.

Here are how the various Crown Royals compare in my Meta-Critic database:

Crown Royal: 7.59 ± 0.46 on 19 reviews ($)
Crown Royal Black: 8.21 ± 0.49 on 16 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel: 8.86 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Limited Edition: 8.30 ± 0.19 on 11 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.62 ± 0.48 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend: 8.35 ± 0.80 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished: 8.72 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.55 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
Crown Royal Reserve: 8.47 ± 0.67 on 14 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal XO: 8.56 ± 0.57 on 7 reviews ($$$)

While only a few reviews are in so far, this is a very good score for a Crown Royal – the second-highest in my database, to date.

And now for a few other non-fortified wine barrel-finished whiskies:

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish 8.76 ± 0.33 on 11 reviews ($$$)
Arran Malt Pomerol Bordeaux Cask Finish 8.35 ± 0.62 on 8 reviews ($$$$)
Arran Malt Sassicaia Wine Cask Finish 8.76 ± 0.17 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Arran Malt Tokaji Aszu Wine Finish 8.78 ± 0.34 on 4 reviews ($$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 640 Eroica 8.74 ± 0.40 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Bruichladdich 21yo Cuvée 382 La Berenice 8.57 ± 0.56 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.70 ± 0.68 on 8 reviews ($$$)
Green Spot Château Léoville Barton 8.81 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 7yo Gaja Barolo Finish 8.59 ± 0.51 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Longrow 10yo Tokaji Finish 7.47 ± 1.10 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Australian Shiraz 8.86 ± 0.34 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 11yo Cabernet Sauvignon 8.43 ± 1.15 on 11 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 12yo Pinot Noir Finish 8.84 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Longrow Red 14yo Burgundy Wood 8.54 ± 0.70 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Teeling Single Grain (Wine Cask Finish) 8.53 ± 0.32 on 10 reviews ($$$)

What strikes me in the above list is how different wine cask finishings have both enhanced and reduced the typical scores for the given distilleries – as well as having greatly increased the variability in reviewer scores in many cases. It seems that wine cask finishing can be a bit hit or miss.

Here is what I find in the glass for this Crown Royal:

Nose: Very sweet and fruity, but with a definite underlying sourness. Cola and Juicy Fruit gum note (i.e., high-fructose corn syrup sweet). Prunes, raisins, sour cherry, with red and black currants. Also gooseberries (aka ground cherries). Citrus, lemon in particular (reminds me of Pledge furniture wax, but in a good way). Earthy, with anise and some tobacco. A bit grassy. Spicy, with cloves and a bit of pepper. Some similarity to Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton, but the rye whisky is definitely present here – it is just being overshadowed by the wine cask. There is a fairly unique off-note that reminds me of a musty kitchen sponge – plus of course acetone (with all that fruity sweetness). Definitely complex and unique.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla dominate on the initial palate – surprisingly so, since I didn’t detect them on the nose. These are followed by those dark fruits and cola syrup notes.  Buttered popcorn. Definitely oaky (fresh, young oak). A lighter mint note joins the earthiness from the nose. The rest of the baking spices – nutmeg, cinnamon and all spice – join the cloves. The initial mouthfeel is rather watery (as to be expected for 40.5% ABV), but it leaves a sticky residue on the lips and gums. Subsequent sips have a decidedly alkaline feel (i.e., slippery, almost oily), but sticky after you swallow. Quite unique in my experience. Astringent on the way out, with some classic Crown Royal bitterness (sadly).

Finish: Long. Lingering cola and dark fruits initially, turning more into wine gums over time. Mouth-puckering astringency is there, but not much bitterness fortunately. Oddly enough, it ends with a more typical rye spice finish once all the fruits/wine gums finally die down.

Water lightens the mouthfeel and doesn’t bring anything new – I recommend you drink it neat.

This is a unique Crown Royal – and a quality one at that. I can’t think of anything quite like it on the Canadian whisky scene (correction: Forty Creek Evolution is a comparable style). While I wasn’t sure on the first initial sniffs, it really grew on me as I started to sample it. I haven’t tried the cognac-finished Crown Royals (e.g. XO), but this is kind of how I imagine it could taste, given my experience with Bruichladdich Cuvee 640 Eroica. While perhaps a bit steep at list MSRP, this Wine Barrel Finished was certainly a good buy on sale – especially if you like your whisky sweet and complex.

Very popular with Jason of In Search of Elegance. and Davin of Whisky Advocate. I am not quite as positive, but would still give it an above average score for a Canadian whisky, and one my highest scores for a Crown Royal. Debbie of Whiskey Reviewer gave it a below average score (although with a positive review, and also considering it one of the best CRs). Devoz of Reddit was less positive of this expression.

Canadian Club Premium Canadian Whisky

In honour of Canada Day, I thought I’d review an iconic Canadian whisky – the base, entry-level Canadian Club (aka Canadian Club Premium).

Canadian Club is one of the best selling and widely available Canadian whiskies, available in more than 150 countries. Indeed, I have seen this one in more far-flung places around the world than any other Canadian whisky. It is produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario, under license for its current owner – Beam-Suntory.

As the legend goes, this whisky was popular in the “gentlemen clubs” of the 19th century, where it received the distinction of becoming known as “Club Whisky.” Eventually, “Canadian” was added to the label, to differentiate it from competitors of lower quality (or so the official story goes). But one way of the other, “Canadian” did eventually come to be associated with quality in whisky during this time period. Apparently it even led to fraudulent “Canadian” claims of other brands (can’t say I’ve come across that too often).

While this fact is easily forgotten, the rise of period TV pieces like Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men have helped illustrate how popular Canadian Club was among American whisky drinkers in previous times. This has likely contributed to something of a resurgence lately of this storied brand. But is the base expression actually something you would want to drink?

Here is how it does in my Meta-Critic Database, compared to other entry-level Canadian whiskies:

Alberta Premium: 8.24 ± 0.56 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.30 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($)
Canadian Club Premium: 7.33 ± 0.75 on 17 reviews ($)
Crown Royal: 7.61 ± 0.46 on 17 reviews ($)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.47 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.04 ± 0.36 on 8 reviews ($)
Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.21 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.91 ± 0.67 on 10 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.98 ± 0.47 on 8 reviews ($)
Seagram’s VO: 7.80 ± 0.69 on 9 reviews ($)

As you can see, despite its fame it actually gets the lowest score of all the entry-level Canadian whiskies above.

And here is how some of the truly “premium” Canadian Club whiskies compare:

Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.34 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 9yo: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 5 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 10yo: 8.38 ± 0.61 on 9 reviews ($$)
Canadian Club 12yo Classic (Small Batch): 8.13 ± 0.44 on 13 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 20yo: 8.63 ± 0.31 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Canadian Club 30yo: 9.02 ± 0.19 on 6 reviews ($$$$$)
Canadian Club Sherry Cask: 8.22 ± 0.60 on 8 reviews ($$)

Before I get to my tasting notes, an interesting point of distinction here: unlike most modern Canadian whiskies – where different barrels are blended at the end of production, to fit a desired flavour profile – Canadian Club Premium is “blended at birth.” This means that different batches of unaged spirit (presumably reflecting different mashbills/distilling styles) are blended together before barreling. It is reported to be aged 6 years in white oak barrels. It is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV.

Let’s see what I find in the glass for the base Canadian Club Premium.

Colour: Light gold, pretty sure caramel has been added.

Nose: Sweet with creamed wheat characteristics. Very grain-forward, with some added corn syrup notes. Red berries. Vanilla. Hay and something distinctly vegetal (composting vegetal, I’m afraid). The nose is not strong, but there are fairly prominent aspects of acetone and other organics (including rubbing alcohol). Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely seems young.

Palate: More rye forward than I expected from the nose – my initial impression is that this may be OK after all. But within seconds in the mouth, it turns into light corn syrup mixed with flat cola. That sickly-sweet cola taste always seems somewhat artificial to me (e.g., reminds me of cola-flavoured gummy candies that I’ve come across in Asia). Orange peel and some spice – nutmeg and a touch of pepper, specifically. While these extra notes are welcome, this is not a whisky to savour – I really don’t like holding it in my mouth.

Finish: Immediately after swallowing, you get hit with raw alcohol fumes. Fairly short finish, really not much here. Bitterness builds with time. Honestly, feels a bit like a rubbing alcohol rinse.

Personally, I have to give this a marginal nod over the base Crown Royal – since it is not as artificially sweet and bitter as CR. This base Canadian Club also has a bit more character (although not all of it good). I would slightly favour Canadian Club for drinking neat – not that I’m inclined to – but Crown Royal makes a better mixer, in my view. But you are much better off skipping both and going right to Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye or Hiram Walker Special Old for about the same price (or even less).

Most reviewers of this base Canadian Club whisky have a similar take, with very low scores (i.e., at or below their 5th percentile). See for example the guys at Quebec Whisky, Jan of Best Shot Whisky, Ralfy, Richard of Whiskey Reviewer, and most the Reddit reviews, like HawkI84, headlessparrot and muaddib99. Marginally more positive are Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Whisky Advocate, and Chip the RumHowler – although all give it well below average scores. The only really positive review of this whisky is (what for it …) Jim Murray.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat

I have previously reviewed Masterson’s 10 year old Straight Rye and Straight Barley editions, and am now closing the loop with their slightly older Straight Wheat whisky. Like the other Masterson’s, this is sourced solely from Canadian whisky (likely Alberta Distillers again). Please see those earlier reviews for a discussion of Masterson’s history and production.

As a straight whisky, this 12 Year Old Straight Wheat is aged entirely in new charred oak barrels. It is also a pure wheat whisky (i.e., 100% wheat). While I am generally a fan of “wheaters” (i.e., American bourbons with a relatively high proportion of wheat in the mashbill), I’ve never experienced a true 100% wheat whisky before.

Bottled at 50% ABV. Note that this is not a regular expression for Masterson’s, and it is hard to find now. My sample came from from the first release, and was provided as part of a swap with redditor blaw84.

Here are how the various Masterson’s whiskies compare in my Whisky Database, relative to other wheated whiskies.

Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

1792 Sweet Wheat Bourbon: 8.65 ± 0.21 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Bernheim Original Straight Wheat 7yo Small Batch: 8.46 ± 0.54 on 18 reviews ($$)
Larceny Small Batch Bourbon: 8.37 ± 0.25 on 10 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark: 8.23 ± 0.43 on 22 reviews ($$)
Maker’s Mark 46: 8.76 ± 0.33 on 15 reviews ($$$)
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength: 8.71 ± 0.39 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon: 8.42 ± 0.52 on 6 reviews ($$)
Old Fitzgerald BiB: 7.98 ± 0.39 on 4 reviews ($$$)
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo: 9.03 ± 0.21 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Old Weller Antique 107: 8.68 ± 0.41 on 10 reviews ($$)
Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon 15yo: 9.24 ± 0.24 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Parker’s Heritage 4th 10yo Wheated Mash Bill Bourbon: 9.09 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$$$+)
Parker’s Heritage 8th 13yo Wheat Whiskey: 8.77 ± 0.54 on 8 reviews ($$$$$+)
Rebel Yell Kentucky Bourbon: 7.60 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($)
Van Winkle Special Reserve 12yo Lot B: 8.69 ± 0.18 on 7 reviews ($$$$$+)
W.L. Weller 12yo: 8.87 ± 0.25 on 12 reviews ($$$$$)
W.L. Weller Special Reserve: 8.43 ± 0.40 on 11 reviews ($)
William Larue Weller: 9.18 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews ($$$$$+)

Like the Straight Barley edition, this Straight Wheat gets a lower average score than the Straight Rye – but far more consistently from reviewers.  Let’s see what I find in the glass:

Colour: One of the lightest whiskies I’ve seen, on part with younger Arran and AnCnoc malts.

Nose: Very grain forward, but in a pleasant way. Vanilla. Not very fruity, but with some light dried fruits, and a bit of orange peel. Woody and earthy, it is a bit soapy – with a touch of dry glue (unfortunately). Not much heat for 50% ABV, and not as spicy as I was expecting for a 12 year old straight whisky. With water, the sweet notes are accentuated (with maybe a bit of honey), and I’m getting some light fresh berries.

Palate:  Delicate on initial approach, with light vanilla and caramel notes. Citrus is still there, but not a lot of fruit. Getting some rye-like spices now, especially cloves. Woody notes are quite strong, with tons of menthol and eucalyptus on the way out. Also some anise. Light mouthfeel for 50% ABV, with just a bit of tongue tingle. Easy to sip neat. Water brings up the rye-like spices (adds cinnamon), and imparts a creamier sensation. I recommend adding a few drops.

Finish: Medium short, buttery finish – with a strong baked goods sensation (shortbread cookies come to mind). A bit of bitterness initially, and some astringency builds over time (but not unpleasant).

This is interesting, as it is something quite different from most other Canadian or American whiskies.  Reminds me of some of the pure grain whiskies, like Nikka Coffey Grain or Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, or Century Reserve 21 yo here in Canada.  A bit less character than the Nikka, but also fewer off notes.  I suspect most would find this an interesting oddity, but it’s not really an everyday sipper. I do recommend you add a little water – but go easy, as the delicate flavours can be easily drowned out.

Most reviewers give this a pretty middle-of-the-road review, including Davin of Whisky Advocate, Andre of Quebec Whisky, Jim Murray, Chip the Rum Howler and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer. The most positive I’ve seen is Patrick of Quebec Whisky. The least positive reviews I’ve seen come of Martin of Quebec Whisky and Jason of In Search of Elegance. I would say I fall into this latter camp as well – it is not offensive, but not something I would go out of my way to try again.

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley

I have sampled plenty of Irish single pot still whiskies, where a mix of malted and unmalted barley is distilled together (in a copper pot still). But this is a first for me – a 100% unmalted barley whisky.

Typically, malted barley is used in whisky production, where the malting process activates native enzymes, breaking down long-chain starch molecules into more easily digestable sugars (necessary for yeast to work their magic in creating ethanol).  Unmalted barley can be added into the mash (as in the case of Irish whiskies) to introduce some “green” (aka tropical) fruits flavours. Interesting, this was originally a tax dodge used in the production of Irish whiskies, but is enjoying a particular resurgence today in the hands of Middleton.

But back to the topic at hand. This whisky is part of the Masterson’s family of whiskies produced by 35 Maple Street in the US – but actually made by Alberta Distillers in Canada. Which explains a few things, as Alberta distillers makes their own enzymes for unmalted whiskies (which is necessary here). I have previously reviewed Masterson’s 100% straight rye whisky (which is similarly unmalted) – the signature product from this producer.

As I understand it, the original spirit used in Masterson’s Straight Barley was distilled in a beer column still, then re-distilled in a stainless steel pot still (which is a bit of a different process). Sold as a “straight” whisky in the U.S., it must have been barreled and aged in virgin American Oak.

Here are how the various Masterson’s whiskies compare in my Whisky Database, relative to Irish pot still whiskies and North American malt whiskies.

Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley 10yo: 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)

Bushmills 10yo Single Malt: 8.18 ± 0.30 on 19 reviews ($$$)
Bushmills 16yo Single Malt: 8.48 ± 0.48 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Copperworks American Single Malt: 8.60 ± 0.24 on 4 reviews ($$$)
FEW Single Malt: 8.44 ± 0.53 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 10yo Single Malt: 8.03 ± 0.45 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo Single Malt: 8.08 ± 0.62 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 15yo Single Malt: 8.53 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($$$$$)
Green Spot: 8.49 ± 0.38 on 16 reviews ($$$$)
Parker’s Heritage 9th 8yo Malt Whiskey: 8.41 ± 0.55 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
Powers 12yo John’s Lane: 8.82 ± 0.39 on 14 reviews ($$$$)
Redbreast 12yo: 8.75 ± 0.41 on 21 reviews ($$$)
Redbreast 15yo: 8.74 ± 0.26 on 13 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel Single Malt (All Casks): 8.27 ± 0.41 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Teeling Single Malt: 8.47 ± 0.34 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Westland American Single Malt: 8.57 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Writers Tears Pot Still Irish Whiskey: 8.49 ± 0.34 on 16 reviews ($$)
Yellow Spot: 8.78 ± 0.27 on 14 reviews ($$$$)

First thing you will notice is that the standard deviation of scores on the Masterson’s Straight Barley is higher than usual, which is always an interesting signal.

My sample comes from Jason Hambrey of In Search of Elegance, and was from the first batch bottled in 2014.

Bottled at 46% ABV, with 10 year old age statement. Here is what I find in the glass:

Colour: Golden apple juice.

Nose: Incredibly herbal – reminds me more of some gins that I’ve tried than whisky. Not woody exactly – more plant-like (bamboo maybe?). Mint. Dill. Very earthy, with moist earth notes and cedar chips. All kinds of exotic spices, like cardamon, caraway seeds, anise – and tons more that I can’t identify. Baking spices too, but much beyond the all-spice level. All-dressed bagels (Montrealers will know what I mean). Some caramel. Fruit compose, with stewed apples.  This is an unbelievable nose – I’ve never come across a whisky like this before.

Palate: Caramel and vanilla initially. Sweet and soft in the mouth (like mineralized soft water). Same exotic spice notes from the nose return at the end, along with the baking spices and a heady rush of spearmint and menthol. Rye bread. Pepper. Earthy, with peanut shells. Yowza, this is a unique whisky! And it tastes much like it smells. Doesn’t need any water (although it ups the caramel sweetness slightly if you do). Easily drinkable at 46% ABV.

Finish: Long and lingering, with many of the earlier notes making a reappearance over time. A bit musty. Ends with the earthy herbal notes, dill weed and spearmint in particular. A bit anesthetizing on the tongue (flavour fatigue perhaps?).

I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see if this ever comes back – what are an incredible herbal rush! Seems more like some sort of natural product medicine than a whisky.  Mackmyra First Edition was the first thing that really brought in some noticeable herbal notes for me (more juniper in that case) – but this is completely over the top in comparison.  A tough one to score, I would personally give it in the high eights – incredibly complex, and not a gentle sipper by any means. May be too much character frankly, but it is always a treat to come across a quality product that is so unlike anything else on the market.

And again, why is Alberta Distillers not releasing these sorts of products into the local market? It blows away anything they produce under the Alberta Premium/Alberta Springs brand.

For further reviews of this whisky, it is really a love it or hate it proposition. Davin of Whisky Advocate, Jason of In Search of Elegance and Andre of Quebec Whisky all love it. Patrick of Quebec Whisky, Chip the Rum Howler and Jake of Whiskey Reviewer would all take a pass on this one.  Personally, I’m in the first camp with the fans. This expression is not currently available, but if you ever get the chance to try it, I recommend you go for it (but wouldn’t suggest picking up a bottle without tasting it first, given the polarizing views).

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Rye

Masterson’s 10 year old rye whisky is distilled in Canada by Alberta Distillers, for 35 Maple Street in California. A similar arrangement exists with Whistlepig in Vermont – although in that case, Whistlepig does extra cask finishing of the Alberta Distillers whisky. As far as I know, 35 Maple Street simply selects the casks it wants from Alberta Distillers, and then bottles them immediately.

35 Maple Street has a long history in the California wine industry. The Masterson’s name comes from Bat Masterson, a larger-than-life adventurer of the American old west  – and one who, like this whisky, was born in Canada (and inspired a certain amount of controversy). You can read more about the history of this whisky at CanadianWhisky.org.

Ironically, coming from an American producer, it actually has to be imported back into the Canada to be sold here. That said, the LCBO website correctly identifies the country of origin of this whisky as Canada (while citing 35 Maple Street as the producer).  I couldn’t help but notice that all the bottles on the shelf at my local LCBO have a blacked-out statement on them (contrast enhanced to reveal on the right).

I won’t belabour the point, but a lot of commentators (on both sides of the border) don’t particularly like the lack of clarity around country of origin in how this whisky is presented by 35 Maple St. The LCBO magic marker solution is novel, though. 😉

Like with Canadian Club 100% Rye (also made by Alberta Distillers) and Lot 40, Masterson’s 10 yo is a straight 100% unmalted rye whisky. This means that enzymes have to be added to help break down the rye starch into sugar for fermentation.  A common enough practice in Canada (especially for Alberta Distillers, who produce their own enzymes).

In keeping with the U.S. “straight” designation, the whisky used for the Masterson’s brand is matured in virgin charred oak barrels – giving it a bolder taste than what you normally find in most Canadian rye whiskies. It is bottled at 45% ABV (also unusual for Canada).  It currently sells for $105 CAD at the LCBO – which makes it one of the most expensive Canadian ryes (although that again is probably due in part to the re-importation issue).

Here is how it compares to other Canadian rye whiskies in my Meta-Critic database:

Alberta Premium: 8.22 ± 0.58 on 11 reviews ($)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.61 ± 0.37 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($)
Canadian Rockies 21yo: 8.99 ± 0.29 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel: 8.61 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary: 8.76 ± 0.50 on 9 reviews ($$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.58 ± 0.35 on 16 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (all batches): 8.77 ± 0.42 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.03 ± 0.35 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.66 ± 0.40 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.86 ± 0.36 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Barley: 10yo 8.58 ± 0.61 on 7 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.88 ± 0.41 on 17 reviews ($$$$)
Masterson’s Straight Wheat 12yo: 8.63 ± 0.23 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig 10yo: 8.85 ± 0.43 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Whistlepig The Boss Hog (all batches): 8.82 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)

As you can see, Masterson’s 10yo rye gets a very high score for this class.

My bottle is from the recent batch 015. Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Very woody nose, with tons of oak. Lots of fruit, with bananas, peaches, apricots – and even pineapple. The rye has a sweet and light floral element to it, like cherry blossoms (I’m also getting some raspberry now). The sweetness is almost candied in fact. There is vanilla of course, and something dry, like seasoned tobacco or tannic tea. Pepper. Faint solvent note, more like toluene than the typical acetone. Very rich and deep rye nose, it’s a pleasure to keep coming back to it.

Palate: It is all sweet honey, vanilla and caramel up front. Then tons of zingy spice hit you – with hot cinnamon and all spice, mixed with pepper. It packs quite a kick, and has that candied cinnamon sensation of Swedish fish (which I like). The fruity and floral elements re-enter and linger afterwards. Interestingly, both black and red licorice make an appearance. A vague earthiness also shows up, with that tobacco note again. Good mouthfeel, leaves you wanting more.

Finish: Very long (for a Canadian rye whisky). Pepper and cinnamon lead off, but then fade as the sweet fruits and some brown sugar come in.  The tobacco note lingers throughout, with some definite leather now. Frankly, there are a lot of the palate notes coming and going during the finish on this one – very tasty, and surprisingly complex.

I can see why this a top-ranked whisky in my database – it is a very impressive presentation. The virgin oak cask aging in particular is really adding to the character here. Is it worth the retail price here in Canada (as an imported product)?  Perhaps not, but I am happy to have my bottle. Like many here though, I wish Alberta Distillers would release quality products like this directly into the home market.

Most reviewers of this whisky are extremely positive, such as Jason of In Search of Elegance, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jim Murray, and S.D. of Whiskey Reviewer. More moderately positive are Geoffrey and John of Whisky Advocate and Josh the Whiskey Jug. The least positive review I’ve seen comes from Chip the Rum Howler (and a number of reviewers on Reddit). Mark Bylok of Whsky Buzz explores the various batches of Masteron’s. Sadly, batch 015 doesn’t score as well as most of the others in his assessment (making wonder what I might have missed out on by not buying a bottle sooner).

J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye

UPDATE October 21, 2017: This whisky has been renamed, and is now sold under the name J.P. Wiser’s Triple Barrel Rye. According to Wiser’s website, it “combines distillates from used whisky, first-fill bourbon, and virgin oak casks.” But the promotional insert on the bottles at the LCBO indicate that is just rebranded Double Still Rye.

J.P. Wiser’s is one of the largest producers of Canadian whisky.  I have happily reviewed a number of their high-end offerings in the past, like Legacy, Last Barrels, and Lot 40, as well as the budget Hiram Walker Special Old. But for this review, I have picked up one of their entry-level whiskies that I have been meaning to try.

Wiser’s Double Still Rye is widely available in Canada, currently $30 CAD at the LCBO. According to the bottle, it is a “unique blend of two exceptional rye whiskies, one crafted from a traditional copper pot and the other distilled in a copper column still”. That statement is consistent with a number of review sites, who describe this as a blend of two rye whiskies. However, on the Wiser’s website, they refer to this whisky as a “complex blend of corn and rye whiskies”. Since “rye whisky” in Canada doesn’t have to be uniquely rye (or technically, rye at all), it is hard to know what the actual composition is here. The only thing that is clear is that both copper pot stills and copper column stills are used in its production.

Double Still Rye is bottled at 43.4% ABV, which is higher than typical for this price point (i.e., the competing Wiser’s products are all at the industry-standard of 40% ABV). I don’t know if colouring is added (likely at this price point), but the colour here is a rich copper brown.

When this whisky was first released in late 2015, there was some concern it would replace the popular Wiser’s Small Batch. But a year-and-a-half later, all the long-standing <$33 Wiser’s products are all still commonly available. Actually I find that a bit surprisingly, since I don’t really understand the point of keeping five such entry-level product lines going (six, if you count the export brand Wiser’s Rye).

Here is how Double Still Rye compares to other common Wiser’s products in my Meta-Critic database. I’ve provided a bit more detail than usual on prices (here at the LCBO, rounded to the nearest half-dollar):

Hiram Walker Special Old Rye: 8.20 ± 0.37 on 9 reviews ($26)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.36 on 20 reviews ($40)
J.P. Wiser’s Deluxe: 7.89 ± 0.70 on 10 reviews ($28)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.35 ± 0.37 on 8 reviews ($30)
J.P. Wiser’s Hopped: 8.06 ± 0.53 on 5 reviews ($28)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.80 ± 0.27 on 7 reviews ($65)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($50)
J.P. Wiser’s Rye: 7.99 ± 0.45 on 8 reviews (NA)
J.P. Wiser’s Small Batch: 8.53 ± 0.26 on 11 reviews ($33)
J.P. Wiser’s Special Blend: 7.30 ± 0.84 on 4 reviews ($26)

Although the price difference isn’t great among the entry-level offerings, there is a very strong correlation of scores, with Double Still Rye coming in second to Small Batch in this class. As an aside, Hiram Walker Special Old scores particularly well for the price.

Here are how a few other competing entry-level Canadian rye whiskies compare:

Alberta Premium: 8.22 ± 0.59 on 11 reviews ($26)
Alberta Springs 10yo: 8.29 ± 0.42 on 9 reviews ($26)
Canadian Club: 7.31 ± 0.80 on 16 reviews ($27)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.33 ± 0.42 on 14 reviews ($28.50)
Crown Royal: 7.57 ± 0.51 on 17 reviews ($29.50)
Forty Creek Barrel Select: 8.46 ± 0.42 on 16 reviews ($28)
Gibson’s Finest Sterling: 8.02 ± 0.38 on 8 reviews ($28)

These scores illustrate that Double Still Rye is on par with the top offerings in the <$30 class (e.g., Canadian Club 100% Rye, Forty Creek Barrel Select).

Here’s what I find in the glass for Wiser’s Double Still Rye:

Nose: Sweet, with caramel, vanilla and brown sugar. Green apple, pear and orange citrus. Definitely a rye nose, with dry and dusty rye spices (cinnamon in particular). It is also very herbal, with a touch of cedar – an interesting mix of fruity and aromatic. A bit nutty. Faint whiff of acetone (but much better than other Canadian ryes at this price).

Palate: Sweet up front, with tons of butterscotch and vanilla – it is very oak-forward. Then the rye spices pick up, with cinnamon and nutmeg, plus pepper (giving it some kick). Same light fruits and nuttiness as the nose. Slightly oily mouthfeel, which is good (but likely would have been even better at higher proof).  A bit of astringency comes up at the end, along with that orange citrus note. Very sippable.

Finish: Medium-short (as is typical for a young Canadian rye). Some lingering sweet fruitiness, along with a bit of pepper. The astringent finish seems to be helping here, offsetting the sweetness and giving you a balanced exit.

Consistent with the Meta-Critic, I think this is better than anything else at this price point, except for Canadian Club 100% Rye from Beam Suntory (which is possibly more generally approachable, as it is more fruity and less spicy).

Flavour-wise, Wiser’s Double Still Rye reminds me of a particularly good batch of Hiram Walker Special Old I once had – but Double Still Rye is better, with more spice and less ethanol heat. This whisky would certainly be one of my top picks for the budget aisle – you get a nice range and mix of flavours, with no major off-notes.  It stands well on its own for sipping neat and works equally well as a mixer, thanks to that extra spicy kick.

The highest score for this whisky from my panel of experts would be from Jim Murray, followed by Davin of Whisky Advocate and Jason of In Search of Elegance. More moderate (and lower) scores comes from Andre and Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Chip the Rum Howler.

However, I was interested to see that it received a Gold medal at the 2017 Canadian Whisky Awards. This competition is based on blind taste-testing by an experienced panel of judges – including several of the ones mentioned above. It is interesting that the panel consistently found it to be a top-ranked whisky when they didn’t know what they trying. Worth giving it a shot, especially if you like the spicy rye style.

 

 

J.P. Wiser’s Legacy

A tremendous oversight on my part, but I realize that I never reviewed Wiser’s Legacy.  Allow me to correct that here.

“Legacy” is a tribute to one of the final recipes of Wiser’s founder, J.P. Wiser. Today, Wiser’s (owned by Corby, and produced at the Hiram Walker plant in Windsor, Ontario) is one of the largest producers of Canadian whisky.

A blended rye whisky, Legacy is made from a combination of unmalted rye grain, rye malt, and barley malt, all distilled in copper pot stills.  Indeed, the previously-reviewed Corby Lot 40 (a straight 100% rye whisky of malted and unmalted rye) is believed to be a key component of the mix.

Presumably, they are blending in some malted barley to increase the complexity of the resulting product. I’ve also read that the oak barrels used for aging are only toasted, not charred (helping to enhance the woody flavours that can resemble rye spices). The end result is a very rye-forward whisky, compared to many of the somewhat tepid Canadian “rye whiskies” out there.

Unusually, Legacy is bottled at 45% ABV. That is a welcomed change for a Canadian whisky (i.e., they rarely deviate from 40%), and a sign of Legacy’s premium stature. Indeed, it was one of the first examples of the new breed of premium Canadian products when it was first released over five years. The playing field is more crowded now, but Legacy still holds its own very well, as you can see by its very high score in my Meta-Critic database, for a Canadian whisky:

Canadian Rockies 21yo (Batch 1/2): 8.98 ± 0.31 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Caribou Crossing Single Barrel 8.59: ± 0.43 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye: 8.53 ± 0.38 on 15 reviews ($$)
Forty Creek Confederation Oak (Batch C, D): 8.98 ± 0.34 on 3 reviews ($$$)
Gibson’s Finest 18yo: 9.04 ± 0.37 on 10 reviews ($$$$)
Glen Breton 14yo: 8.06 ± 0.63 on 6 reviews ($$$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 10 reviews ($$)
Highwood Ninety Rye 20yo: 8.90 ± 0.21 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s 18yo: 8.64 ± 0.41 on 14 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.36 on 15 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Red Letter: 8.87 ± 0.35 on 11 reviews ($$$$)
Lot 40 8.89: ± 0.40 on 19 reviews ($$)
Masterson’s Straight Rye 10yo: 8.84 ± 0.47 on 15 reviews ($$$$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.64 ± 0.23 on 5 reviews ($$$)

For the last several years, it has been available at the stable price of $50 CAD at the LCBO (a relatively premium price for Canadian whisky, but still reasonable).

Here is what I find in the glass:

Nose: Big bold nose, with caramel, vanilla, honey and candied cinnamon (i.e., those red Sweddish fish candies from childhood). Not a lot of fruit, but some citrus and dried banana chips. There is a light corn syrupy undertone, but with oaky elements. A bit of barrel char (oddly enough). Slight floral quality. Bolder nose than Lot 40. Touch of acetone unfortunately, indicating the likely young age of that barley malt in the mix.

Palate: Strong hit of those vanilla/caramel notes to start, with a light fruitiness (apple, pear, lemon and that banana note again). Good mouthfeel and texture, creamy almost. Strong set of rye spices on the way out – cinnamon and cloves in particular – plus some ginger and black pepper. This has definitely got a nice hit of spice and heat, consistent with the 45% ABV.

Wisers.LegacyFinish: Medium-long (for a Canadian whisky). Surprisingly dry initially, with some oaky bitterness – but it is not offensive. It is also well-matched to the persistent fruity sweetness (which actually seems to increase with time). The initial dryness makes you want to grab another sip, and the lingering light sweetness is a pleasant surprise. Some soft rye spices on the way out.

There is a reason this scores so highly in the Meta-Critic database – it is a flavour-packed rye whisky.  While it lacks the elegance of Lot 40 (and has a few off-notes on the nose), it makes up for these with a whallop of character on the palate and finish. It makes for a great sipper, with above average complexity. Indeed, I think it really is a showcase for how Canadian whisky can actually have some flavour.

This gets very high scores from Jason of In Search of Elegance, Andre and Martin of Quebec Whisky, Chip the RumHowler, Davin of Canadian Whisky, Serge of Whisky Fun, and Jim Murray. More moderate scores are from the rest of the boys at Quebec Whisky, and a couple of the Reddit reviewers. But I’ve yet to see an actual negative review of this whisky.

Holiday Whisky Gift Guide 2016 – Ontario, Canada

Welcome to my new recommendation list for 2016!

As with last year, I am breaking this up by price point, style and flavour cluster.  I will again focus on highly-ranked but relatively affordable bottles – and ones currently in stock at the LCBO. I am also going to focus on whiskies that are not necessarily available all year round – some of these only show up for a limited time around the holidays, so grab them while you can. Links to full reviews given, when available.

Hopefully this list is also relevant to those outside of Ontario, as it is based on high-ranking whiskies. As always, the Meta-Critic Whisky Database is here to help you sort through whatever possible options are open to you.

Budget Gifts < $50 CAD – American Bourbon and Canadian Rye Whiskies

You won’t find single malts in this price range (although there are some very nice Scotch-style and Irish blends, profiled below).  But let’s consider the economical American bourbon and Canadian whiskies options here first.

While Ontario is not a good place to find higher-end American bourbons, we actually do have very decent prices on what we do get in. And we have at least a reasonable selection of the more entry-level and lower mid-range stuff.

Eagle.Rare.10It’s worth breaking bourbons down into different mashbill classes. The first is low-rye bourbons (i.e., a relatively low proportion of rye grain in the predominantly corn-based mashbill). Unfortunately, one of my favourites in this class – Eagle Rare 10 Year Old – is not currently available (although you might still find a few bottles at the some of the larger LCBO stores). So the closest thing is the more widely available Buffalo Trace at $43 CAD, getting a decent 8.56 ± 0.42 on 19 reviews. This is basically the same juice, though not quite the full 10 years of age.

Elijah.Craig.12A great choice that Ontario still carries is the Elijah Craig 12 Year Old at $48 (8.68 ± 0.29 on 20 reviews). This has been replaced by a younger no-age-statement “small batch” version in U.S. Note the 12yo version has a fairly pronounced “oaky” character.

Rated even higher is Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($57, 8.79 ± 0.27 on 10 reviews) – a popular cask-strength (60%) option.

For high-rye bourbons (which typically are more “spicy” tasting), you can’t go wrong with Four Roses Single Barrel at $46 CAD (8.72 ± 0.34 on 18 reviews).  It’s worth the premium over the otherwise decent Four Roses Small Batch at $40 CAD (8.49 ± 0.44 on 19 reviews).  Unfortunately, most of the other high-ryes I would recommend are currently out of stock (and unlikely to come back this year).

But why not try a quality Canadian choice? These are typically widely available all year round.

Lot 40 canadian rye whisky bottleSure, you could go for Jim Murray’s “World Whisky of the Year” for 2015 – Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye – for $35 CAD. It gets a decent Meta-Critic score of 8.59 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews. But like many, I consider it to be only an “average” Canadian rye.Albera Premium Dark Horse bottle

As with last year, my top pick as the king of Canadian straight rye whisky is Corby’s Lot 40. Getting an excellent 8.90 ± 0.41 on 18 reviews, it is quite affordable at $40 CAD. One of the best aromas you will find in the rye selection at the LCBO.

Wiser’s Legacy is another solid choice, with an even higher 9.01 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews. Regularly-priced at $50 CAD, it has a spicy rye flavour (and is said to consist of Lot 40 in part).

As always, Alberta Premium Dark Horse at $32 CAD is a great buy – if you like a little sherry flavour in your rye. 8.62 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews.

 


 

Budget Gifts < $60 CAD – Scotch and Irish Blends

I don’t typically break down Scotch-style blends by flavour profile (as I do for for the more complex single malts below). But you can generally think of blends in two categories: those with some smokey/peaty flavours and those without.

Te.BheagFor those who like a bit of smoke, Johnnie Walker Black at $57 (8.27 ± 0.49 on 21 reviews) remains a staple – and for good reason.  It is higher ranked than most of the other smokey blends – but it is also priced higher.  So if you want try something a little different on a budget, the LCBO also carries the higher-ranked but lower-priced Té Bheag for only $39 (8.47 ± 0.31 on 14 reviews). Pronounced chey-vek, this whisky has a more fruity character than JW Black, and even more smoke (if you think the recipient would like that).  Another great choice is Great King St Glasgow Blend for $57 (8.57 ± 0.25 on 11 reviews) – one of the highest-ranked smokey blends I’ve seen.

writers-tearsFor non-smokey blends, these are often imbibed as mixed drinks, or the classic scotch-and-soda. There are a lot very good blends out that you may not have heard of – unfortunately, the LCBO is not carrying many at the moment. For example, they are currently out of stock of Great King St Artist’s Blend for $55 (8.58 ± 0.38 on 18 reviews), which would have been a top pick. So why not try a great Irish blend instead: Writer’s Tears for $50 (8.47 ± 0.37 on 14 reviews). Unusual for an Irish whiskey, this is a blend of single malt whisky and classic Irish pot still whisky (which is a mix of malted and unmalted barley in a single copper pot still).  Very flavourful, and a good value.suntory-toki

A personal favourite of mine in this group is Suntory Toki at $60 CAD (8.24 ± 0.63 on 5 reviews). I feel the quality here is higher than the Meta-Critic score indicates (which is based on only a limited number of reviews so far). It is delightfully fresh and clean, easy to sip neat, and is highly recommended in the classic Japanese “highball” (scotch-and-soda for the rest of us ;).  Here is a chance for you to experience an authentic Japanese whisky, without the usual high cost. It’s a great introduction to the lighter Japanese style.

There is a lot more to consider here – especially for those on a tighter budget – so I suggest you explore the Whisky Database in more detail.

 


 

Premium Gifts up ~$100 CAD – Single Malt Scotch and Hibiki Harmony NASInternational Whiskies

Single malts come in a wide range of flavours – much more so than any other class of whisky. As usual, it is worth recommending single malt whiskies by flavour “super-cluster”, as described on my Flavour Map page. I’m going to start with the more delicate examples below, followed by the more “winey” and “smokey” examples.

BTW, If you are interested in checking out another Japaenese whisky, consider the Hibiki Harmony at $100 (8.40 ± 0.61 on 14 reviews). It comes in a fancy decanter-style bottle, and has a richer yet still delicate flavour profile. Again, I think the Meta-Critic Score is unfairly harsh here – this is a lovely blend, and is a more flavourful expression than the Suntory Toki described previously.

Now onto the single malts …

Super-cluster G-H : Light and sweet, apéritif-style – with honey, floral, fruity and malty notes, sometimes spicy, but rarely smokey.
Classic examples: Glenmorangie 10yo, Glenfiddich 12yo, Arran Malt 10yo/14yo, Cardhu 12yo

Dalwhinnie 15yo bottleAt $95 CAD, the Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is my top pick in this category (8.68 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews). That is a phenomenal score for this flavour supercluster (i.e., delicate whiskies always score lower than winey/smokey ones). The Dalwhinnnie is a fairly delicate whisky, but there is a surprising amount of subtlety here. It has a lovely honey sweetness to it (but is not too sweet), and has just the slightest hint of smoke in the background. Well worth a try – a staple of my liquor cabinet.

Backup choices you may want to consider are The Arran Malt 10 Year Old at $70 CAD (8.55 ± 0.33 on 20 reviews), and the An Cnoc 12 Year Old at $80 CAD (8.62 ± 0.35 on 17 reviews). The Dalwhinnie is worth the slight extra though, in my opinion.

 


 

Super-cluster E-F : Medium-bodied, medium sweet – with fruity, honey, malty and winey notes, with some smoky and spicy notes on occasion
Classic examples: Old Pulteney 12yo, Auchentoshan 12yo, Glenlivet 12yo, Macallan 10yo Fine Oak

Amrut.FusionIt is actually on border of Super-cluster E-F and cluster I (due to the moderate smoke), but my top pick here is Amrut Fusion, from India. At only $86 CAD, and scoring an amazing 8.90 ± 0.24 on 22 reviews, this is certainly an excellent choice. It’s also an opportunity for those looking to explore some extra “tropical” fruit flavours in their whisky – check out my full review above for more info on this whisky. Note that this one is very popular, and so stock levels are already starting to drop across the LCBO.

OtMiddleton Redbreast 12yo bottleherwise, my top mid-range choice in this category is an Irish whiskey, the $80 CAD Redbreast 12 Year Old. Redbreast is a single pot still whiskey. As mentioned earlier, this is a traditional Irish style, where both unmalted and malted barley are distilled together in single copper pot still. The end result is thus closer to a Scottish single malt than a blend. It gets a very good 8.75 ± 0.42 on 21 reviews.

If you are looking for a budget option in this class, check out the Auchentoshan 12 Year Old. At $65 CAD and scoring 8.27 ± 0.26 on 21 reviews, this is a step up from your typical ubiquitous Glenfiddich/Glenlivet 12yo.

 


 

Super-cluster A-B-C : Strong winey flavours, full-bodied, very sweet, pronounced sherry – with fruity, floral, nutty, honey and spicy notes, as well as malty and sometimes smokey notes
Classic examples: Aberlour A’Bunadh, Highland Park 18, Glenfarclas 105, GlenDronach 12yo, Auchentoshan Three WoodAberlour.ABunadh.49

My top pick here remains the Aberlour A’Bunadh. I don’t understand how this has remained at $100 CAD, given the quality of the various batches.  It gets an impressive 8.95 ± 0.17 on 22 reviews overall. While there is some variability between batches, this is not usually significant. Note however that this is a cask-strength whisky, so it packs a higher concentration of alcohol than typical. And inventory tends to disappear fast around this time of year – it’s a popular one.

My budget choice, at $73 CAD, remains the GlenDronach 12 Year Old. It gets a very respectable 8.57 ± 0.22 on 20 reviews. It packs a lot of flavour.

Now, let’s dial back down the winey flavours, and instead bring up the smokey complexity.

 


 

Cluster I : Medium-bodied, medium-sweet, smoky – with some medicinal notes and spicy, fruity and nutty notes
Classic examples: Talisker 10yo, Highland Park 12yo, Benromach 10yo, Springbank 10yo, Bowmore 10yo

Talisker 10yo bottleIn addition to the Amrut Fusion already mentioned above, you would do well to stick with a classic member of this class: the Talisker 10 Year Old. At $100, it gets an excellent 8.91 ± 0.17 on 21 reviews. I don’t think you can go wrong with this choice. Also very nice, but with low availability is Longrow Peated ($101, scoring 8.79 ± 0.27 on 13 reviews). It is right on the border with the smokier Cluster J, though.

Highland Park 12 year oldA reasonable budget choice – especially if you like a little sherry in your smoky malt – is the Highland Park 10 Year Old ($65, 8.47 ± 0.28 on 14 reviews) or 12 Year Old ($80, 8.38 ± 0.36 on 12 reviews). Unfortunately, quality seems to have dropped in recent batches of the 12yo, otherwise this one would have been a a top pick (i.e., it used to score higher).

 


 

Cluster J : Full-bodied, dry, very smoky, pungent – with medicinal notes and some spicy, malty and fruity notes possible
Classic examples: Lagavulin 16yo, Laphroaig 10yo and Quarter Cask, Ardbeg 10y and Uigeadail

Laphroaig Quarter Cask whisky bottleFor the smoke/peat fan, you really can’t top the value proposition of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask – only $73 CAD, yet garnering a very high meta-critic score of 9.02 ± 0.27 on 21 reviews. That’s a remarkable score for the price, if you are into these peat bombs.

Surprisingly, it’s even cheaper than the standard Laphroaig 10 Year Old expression ($84 CAD, 8.92 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews). The Ardbeg 10 Year Old is another consideration for an entry-level expression ($100 CAD, 8.95 ± 0.34 on 21 reviews). If you like a wine-finish, for a very limited time you can order a bottle of this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas for $100 (2016 Madeira edition, 8.82 ± 0.48 on 8 reviews) through LCBO online.

Of course, there is a lot more to consider if you are willing to go a bit higher. Stretching the budget a bit to $123 CAD, a very popular favourite is the Lagavulin 16 Year Old. It gets an incredible meta-critic score of 9.23 ± 0.23 on 25 reviews. Full of a wide array of rich flavours, I find it a lot more interesting than the younger peat-bombs above. Just be prepared to smell like a talking ash-tray for the rest of the evening!

 


 

Again, whatever you choose to get, I strongly suggest you use the Whisky Database to see how it compares to other options in its respective flavour class or style.

Slainte, and happy holidays!

Pike Creek 10 Year Old Port Finish

Like Lot 40 and Gooderham & Worts, Pike Creek was part of the original short-lived Canadian Whisky Guild series of the late 1990s. Hearkening back to an earlier era of whisky production, these were created at Corby’s Hiram Walker facility to simulate previous production styles.

While the market wasn’t sufficiently receptive at the time, these higher-end offerings have made a strong resurgence in recent years.  This started with Lot 40, which was re-released in 2012 and remains the darling of Canadian straight rye whisky. More recently was the late 2015’s re-release of the multi-grain Gooderham & Worts.

Often overlooked in this series is Pike Creek, similarly re-launched in late 2012. Pike Creek is double-distilled in small copper column stills to a low ABV. The spirit is initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels and then finished in vintage port pipes. A 10 year age statement is included on the domestic version (which is bottled at the industry standard 40% ABV).

Pike Creek is clearly formulated to appeal to those who like their fortified wine-finished Scotch whiskies.  Indeed, you could argue Pike Creek was a forerunner to the highly popular Alberta Premium Dark Horse – where a small amount of sherry is directly added to rye whisky. 66 Gilead Crimson Rye and the recently released Gretzky Red Cask are further examples of this wine barrel-finished style.

For reasons not clear to me, Pike Creek seems to be relegated to second-tier status among these recent offerings, with relatively little buzz and promotion.  Let’s see how it compares in my Meta-Critic Whisky Database to other modern Canadian whiskies:

66 Gilead Crimson Rye: 8.30 ± 0.47 on 6 reviews ($$)
Alberta Premium Dark Horse: 8.63 ± 0.34 on 15 reviews ($)
Canadian Club 100% Rye: 8.38 ± 0.41 on 13 reviews ($)
Collingwood 21yo: 8.60 ± 0.42 on 10 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Evolution: 8.85 ± 0.64 on 7 reviews ($$$)
Forty Creek Port Wood Reserve: 8.80 ± 0.28 on 9 reviews ($$$$)
Forty Creek Three Grain Harmony: 8.25 ± 0.59 on 5 reviews ($$$)
Gooderham & Worts Four Grain: 8.68 ± 0.34 on 9 reviews ($$)
J.P. Wiser’s Double Still Rye: 8.34 ± 0.40 on 6 reviews ($)
J.P. Wiser’s Last Barrels: 8.76 ± 0.39 on 7 reviews ($$$)
J.P. Wiser’s Legacy: 9.02 ± 0.35 on 15 reviews ($$)
Lot 40: 8.91 ± 0.40 on 18 reviews ($$)
Pike Creek 10yo Port-finished: 8.27 ± 0.51 on 12 reviews ($$)
Stalk & Barrel 100% Rye: 8.66 ± 0.22 on 5 reviews ($$$)

Pike Creek is definitely at the low end of overall scores, although the variance is high here (indicating that some reviewers seem to really like it, some really don’t). Note that the overall average for Canadian whiskies in my database is currently ~8.35.

Let’s see what I find in the glass. 🙂  My bottle is a late model batch, recently bought at the LCBO ($39.95 CAD).

Colour:  Medium orange-brown. Pretty confident this has been artificially colored with caramel, for a consistent look.

Nose: Definitely getting the rye, softened with sweet fruit – most especially currants, red grapes, prunes and raisins. I also get strawberries and blueberries. A bit of red wine, followed by vanilla and a dry oakiness. Classic light rye spices, quite a nice mix overall. No real solvent smell – except perhaps for a faint hint of glue (and I can almost imagine smoke). There is a fair amount of alcohol singe for 40% ABV. It’s a nice nose, and a good start to the tasting.

Palate: The rye notes dominate, but with a surprising amount of caramel and brown sugar throughout.  Lighter than I was expecting, and not as fruity as the nose suggests (mainly berries left, but a bit of citrus shows up now). Pepper and some ginger add to the spice. A bit nutty. Watery mouthfeel overall, consistent with the low ABV – I suspect it could be quite stunning if it were bottled at higher proof. Decent, but I was personally hoping for more rye kick.

Finish: Surprisingly short. The rye and fruit seem to exit first, with a slow lingering brown sugar finish. A slight sourness, but well balanced to the sweetness (reminds me of cherry blasters candy). Nothing wrong with this finish per se, but it sure would be nice if it lasted longer.

pike-creek-portThis is definitely one for folks who like their ryes light and sweet. Personally, I was hoping for more overt port flavours and a stronger rye presence (given the reported distillation method). But it doesn’t have the flaws of most light (and young) Canadian rye whiskies. I could see this one serving as a nice daily sipper.

As such, I don’t get the low scores overall.  While not as complex as Lot 40 or Gooderham & Worts, I would still have expected this to do above-average for a Canadian whisky. Based on the other Canadian whisky examples listed above, I would personally give Pike Creek something like a ~8.6.

For positive reviews of this whisky, check out Davin of Canadian Whisky, Jason of In Search of Elegance, and headlessparrot and TOModera on reddit. The most negative reviews I’ve seen come from Lasidar on reddit and André and Martin of Quebec Whisky (although Patrick there gives it an about average score).

If you are curious to try it, you might want to hurry to pick this one up: Corby has just replaced it with a rum barrel-finished version (as of October 2016). Stocks of the original port-finished Pike Creek are dwindling fast.

 

1 2 3